2019 race splits PDP in Cross River along Makarfi, Sheriff lines

Ben Ayade

The race for 2019 has started in earnest in Cross River State, splitting the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state along the camps of the national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi-led national caretaker committee.

The state governor, Ben Ayade and executive members of the party have purportedly sided with Sheriff while some members of the National Assembly alongside the immediate past governor, Senator Liyel Imoke are said to be sympathetic to Makarfi.

Soon after the Appeal Court ruling in Port Harcourt declared Sheriff as the valid chairman of the party, PDP in the State issued conflicting reports on their stand. The State publicity secretary, Mr. Egbun Samuel issued a statement declaring the party’s support for the Makarfi’s faction but the state chairman, Ntufam Edim Inok in another statement countered him, declaring support for Sheriff.

Inok said: “The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Cross River State Chapter supports Senator Ali Modu Sherriff-led executive. This is in line with the Appeal Court’s judgment delivered in Port Harcourt in favour of Senator Sherriff as national chairman of PDP.

“This statement also refutes the earlier report credited to the state publicity secretary of the party. As law-abiding citizens, we are committed to the rule of law and also respect court decisions at all stages. The Cross River State executive of the party calls on all to join hands in moving the party forward while urging all to continue to support the PDP.”

Since this development, fears are prevalent that the governor who is alleged to have fallen out with his predecessor, who played a major role in his emergence, might probably not be favoured by the Makarfi group to get the governorship ticket for 2019 if he remains in the crisis ridden PDP.

This has prompted speculations that the governor may decamp from the party as most of his actions have been interpreted to indicate sympathy for the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Besides, it has been rumoured that the Deputy, Prof Ivara Esu who is a close friend of Imoke, may find himself sidelined or at best ask to go to the Senate so that for the first time the Atam ethnic group in Cross River South senatorial can produce someone in the Senate, if the crisis deepens.

All these while, the Efiks has always made it to the Senate. Permutations are that an Efik would replace him as deputy governor. It is also alleged that Ayade is teaming up with Sherriff instead of Makarfi because it would be easier to secure the second term ticket from that camp.

Some leaders of the party in the state have accused the governor of running a one man show without bordering to take care of the party executive, his cabinet members or even identifying with the party at the national level.

The result, sources claimed is that an influential member of the National Assembly controls the executive as he has them under his payroll. “The governor is not interested in doing small day to day things that keep governance and the economy, body and soul running. Everything is about the superhighway and Bakassi deep seaport and any other thing,” the sources added.

A party stalwart who pleaded anonymity said, “I think the issue is between Ayade and Imoke. From what I am
hearing it is like a political strategy. What is making rounds is that a National Assembly member from Central wants to challenge Ayade for governorship in 2019. Whether it’s true or false I don’t know. So the fear is that Imoke may support him against Ayade. Again there is no love lost between some National Assembly members and Ayade and there is the suspicion that Makarfi group may not give him the ticket for second term and since they do not want him, Ayade decided to pitch tent with Sherriff.

“Again his (Ayade) offence is that he does not really support the PDP in all its activities and crisis so they do not see him as their real member. Now he is looking for a quick entry so that when the time for peace and reconciliation comes between the two sides, he can come in through Sherriff without having to struggle to justify his absence from the PDP at the top. I think it is a game. Remember when Joe Agi took him to court, he went to Makarfi with Imoke and they listened to him. We are sure when the time comes with liquid he can do the same again. He is just grandstanding but it can backfire.”

Feelers also indicated that the PDP governors are worried by the alleged position that Ayade has taken with the Sheriff camp as they have commenced a high level lobbying to put its house in order. A lobby team led by the Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose who is the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum and Gombe state governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo were spotted at Transcorp hotel, Calabar recently and reliable sources close to Ayade hinted that the two were in Calabar to woo Ayade back to the Makarfi camp were most of the PDP governors belong despite the Appeal court ruling.

Similarly, Sheriff was in Calabar apparently to consolidate his hold on Cross River, and was reported as saying, “I enjoy the support of 29 states including Ekiti out of the 36 states in the country.”

He described the Ekiti state governor as a “loner” who he contended was acting a script of his benefactor to wreck PDP, and at the same time, declared Ayade the best governor in the country and charged others to emulate him.

Commenting on the crisis, former member of the House of Representatives from the state, Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo stated, “I don’t think it is a crisis that has engulfed the party. I think it is a leadership struggle. All the elders and other organs of the party are intact. I think we will continue to see bit of differential on where some people belong … The case is in court and the issue is whether the judgment in Port Harcourt is a legitimate one or not. That is where we are now.”

A PDP stalwart in Calabar South, Peter Bassey decried the role Sheriff is playing in the PDP saying, “What he is doing is just killing the party for his presidential ambition. He should know that majority of the party members are not with him and trying to impose himself is not acceptable.”

Reacting to the matter, the governor’s Special Adviser, Inter Party Affairs, Mr. Austin Ibok said, “the PDP has a constitution and the nation itself has a constitution and whatever we are doing we are bound by constitution. The
constitution is also made up of different institutions at different levels. Once there is a court judgment against whatever processes, to a certain level we have to respect the rule of law. So Cross River state is totally loyal to the rule of law. When there was no judgment against Makarfi faction, Cross River state PDP was totally working with Makarfi.

“Whatever the court says is what the government of Cross River state and the PDP in the state will totally adhere to. Politics is all about interest, alliance, discussion or forming an alliance at different levels.”

Asked what may be the fate should Makarfi win at the apex court, Ibok added: “Unless the Makarfi group does not want the party to grow then they can do so. If you want the party to grow, you cannot use it against a particular state because they declared support for a particular group per time which the judgment said so. So if peradventure the court judgment favours them and they say they want to use it against us, that means they want to kill PDP in Cross River state.”

Ibok debunked rumours that Ayade has fallen out with Imoke and was making plans to dump the PDP for APC saying, “It is all speculation … as at today the governor of this state is a member of PDP. For now I can tell you authoritatively that the governor of Cross River state, is member of PDP until otherwise, I can tell you there is nothing to show that the governor is moving to APC.”



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