Ayade shops for deputy amid opposition to his second term

Cross River State governor Professor Ben Ayade

Following wrangling within Cross River State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) occasioned by the fall-out of its last primaries, particularly the issue of automatic ticket, indications have emerged that the governor, Senator Ben Ayade, might trade off his deputy for a new running mate for the second term bid.

Speculations are rife in the state that Ayade is frantically shopping for a younger person and most likely from the Efik stock in Cross River South to brighten his chances against All Progressive Congress (APC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidates for next year’s gubernatorial poll.

The incumbent deputy governor, Prof. Ivara Esu, a former Vice Chancellor of University of Calabar, had promised to serve for just one term of four years in office, but intriguingly, at a rally organised for Ayade, Esu’s people requested the governor to take their son for a second term.

Already, top politicians like former Commissioner for Lands in Donald Duke’s regime, Chief Bassey Ndem, former Special Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Legislative Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa and Chairman, State’s Sports Commission, Otuekong Orok Duke, are being rumoured as possible replacement for Esu.

However, even though Otuekong Duke denied knowledge of the governor’s search for Esu’s replacement, he declared: “I am very capable of discharging the duties and functions of a deputy governor and beyond. But the decision is usually that of the flag bearer, Governor Ben Ayade, and to a lesser extent, the PDP. But I have not been officially so honoured or informed. So every information in that regard is existing within the realm of rumours.”

On the part of Senator Ita-Giwa, she was said to have declared the lack of interest despite her avowed support for Ayade’s a second term, based on what his promised drive to industrialise the state.

However, some persons have kicked against the idea of getting an Efik as Ayade’s deputy because it would amount to Efik taking the senate and deputy governor’s slots at the expense of their Biase/Akamkpa brothers.

A source said: “The politics may not be good for the South Senatorial District because if we frown at people trying to truncate the turn of the north then why should we celebrate an attempt to truncate the turn of Akamkpa/Biase. How can we carry senator and deputy from Efik land? Afterall, the Akamkpa/Biase people have people like Emil Inyang, former Chairman of Biase Council. Let’s hold on to some principle.”

Ayade and his team have so far maintained sealed lips on the matter, but it is also alleged that should Esu be dropped, Inyang may likely replace him to avoid protest votes from Biase people. They are already aggrieved with the party and the governor for denying Biase its turn to go to the House of Representatives. Their preferred aspirant, Inyang, was blocked from contesting the primaries against the incumbent, Mr. Daniel Asuquo from Akamkpa, who got automatic ticket to once again fly the PDP flag.

However, forces against Ayade are still within the party and outside, as some aggrieved PDP members, including the governor’s former Special Adviser on Security, Mr. Jude Ngaji, and former PDP state chairman, Ntufam Ekpo Okon, have left the party with their supporters for APC.

Ngaji is now APC candidate for Yala/Ogoja Federal Constituency, while Okon is strongly linked with Senator John Owan-Enoh as his deputy. Okon was disqualified from the party’s senatorial primaries after his supporters were alleged to have attacked Senator Gershom Bassey and destroyed his car.

Already, the Seven Alive group that has been championing Ayade’s second term aspiration so that the South can get the support of the North for 2023 seems to be facing some crises. Last week a meeting hosted by Senator Florence Ita-Giwa ended in fiasco. The group and some stakeholders are split among the three major governorship candidates, namely Governor Ayade, Senator Owan-Enoh of APC and Mr. Eyo Ekpo of SDP.

Multifarious troubles bedeviling PDP in Cross River State are intensifying by the day as many prominent members have vowed to drag the party to the gutters even before next year’s general elections.

Investigations indicated that the automatic ticket that the party reportedlygave to its National Assembly members during the just concluded primaries has not put the party in any vantage position as many of the aggrieved members are defecting to APC and SDP. Another senatorial aspirant, who was equally shut out, Chris Agara, has already indicated his plan to defect from the party, describing PDP leaders as ‘insensitive.’

Agara said: “The leadership of our party should be reminded that the era of political confinement and lack of alternative is over .The thoroughly bruised people of Central Senatorial District, who are even now gnashing their teeth in agony may not continue to follow the obnoxious machination of the party like herds of cows any longer. We hereby serve notice of massive wave of defection with hundreds of thousands to our supporters to more welcoming political platforms.”

He accused the party of continuous and unbridled display of institutional insensitivity and high handedness by refusing to provide a level playing field for the contest of party primaries as well as clandestinely executing the ‘automatic ticket’ conspiracy in total disregard to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.

Former PDP governorship aspirant, Dr. Paul Udayi, has reportedly dragged the party to the State High Court over his disqualification from contesting the primaries, which returned Governor Ayade unopposed as the party’s candidate.

Sources disclosed that another aspirant, Emmanuel Ibeshi, was also at the verge of heading to court over his disqualification. Ibeshi was initially cleared and certificate of clearance given to him by PDP screening committee only to be disqualified at the last minute.

Udayi, who was the first aspirant to pick up the expression of interest and nomination form to contest the governorship election in the state from PDP national secretariat in Abuja, in suit No: HC/408/2018 filed by his counsels, Chris Onugba and Bassey Okon, claimed that it was wrong for the party to disqualify him from contesting the governorship primaries, adding that any governorship primary done without including him amounts to injustice and a nullity.

Both Udayi and Ibeshi see their disqualification from the primaries as a deliberate plan to return Ayade by hook or crook as sole candidate through the automatic ticket corridor.

Ibeshi had told reporters, “I am ready to contest my disqualification and seek such remedies as are available to me under the law of this country. A political party cannot sell forms to me to contest for party ticket, collect huge amounts of money and induce me to spend money on campaigns for delegates, and at the 11th hour turn round, without reason, to withdraw the clearance certificate earlier issued me and disqualify me from the contest. The party cannot renege at will, and to my detriment.”

Besides, feelers from across the state indicate that while some are expressing disgust openly at the manner the automatic ticket debacle was implemented, others have decided to remain in the party to get their pound of flesh by surreptitiously working against the interest of the party.

From all indications, PDP is far from being the same party after the primaries even though the state chairman, Ntufam Edim Inock, had said defection in the party was inevitable. He maintained that if National Assembly members were denied automatic tickets, they can defect and same thing if other aspirants are denied, but noted that the party was managing the situation to ensure peace.

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