In Cross River PDP, old wound takes time to heal

Cross River State governor, Senator Ben Ayade

There is an atmosphere of uncertainty in the politics of Cross River State as fallouts of the national leadership tussle of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was resolved on July 12 by the Supreme Court, are threatening the peace of the ruling party.

The apex court had recognized the leadership of the Chairman of the party’s Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi after a long-drawn legal battle that pitched him with Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.

Already speculations are rife that the state governor, Senator Ben Ayade, who had openly declared his loyalty to Sheriff while the crisis lasted, may dump the PDP for another platform if proper reconciliation is not carried out with other members of the party.

This is because many members of the party, who stood behind Markafi despite the governor’s loyalty to Sheriff, are said to be planning to exert more influence in the party if a complete take-over is not achieved in the next convention.

In the wake of the Appeal Court judgment in Port Harcourt, the state government and the PDP in the state had declared loyalty for Sheriff saying they have to respect court decision. But a conflicting statement that supported Makarfi also emanated from the party.

The State Publicity Secretary of the party, Egbun Samuel issued a statement declaring the party’s support for the Makarfi faction but the State Chairman, Ntufam Edim Inock, suspected to have acted with instruction from the governor, in a statement made available to newsmen, countered Samuel and declared support for Sherriff as the National Chairman.

In the statement, he said, “The People’s 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 conflicting positions of the party on the issue made some persons who were loyal to Makarfi to insist that Ayade and the executive in the state cannot be trusted since they were not firm in their position. They accused them of jumping from one person to another.

They argued that Makarfi leadership should not listen to Ayade and his PDP executive and in the words of one of them, “when we talk of loyalty, it should be total and not wavering as is the case here in Cross River. In a war situation it is dangerous to flirt here and there and want to benefit when others sacrificed and achieved victory. That is exactly what Ayade and his group were doing and such is not acceptable by us.”

Another party chieftain said, “Ayade was just gambling. Cross River state government and the PDP is one of the few states that stood by Sheriff after the Appeal Court judgment. In politics you cannot be in two places at the same time hiding under the law or court judgment to be dancing around.”

But Inock said he was not commenting on the matter on phone and fixed an appointment to meet with The Guardian on July 21 at the party secretariat along Murtala Mohammed Highway at noon, but he was not there and calls put across to him were not answered.

However, Ayade’s Special Adviser on Inter Party Affairs,  Austin Ibok maintained that the governor was not moving to another party and “I have always say we will abide by the decision of any court of competent jurisdiction, whatever the court says that is where the state is going.

“There was a time Makarfi was there and the Appeal Court later said he was not the one and it was Sheriff and the state totally adhered to it. With this one too, there is no how, in as much as the judgment is out, that the state will go contrary. So the state will go totally with what the court has said.”

On the issue that the party and the governor were not standing with Makarfi from day one to the end and they may be sidelined, he said, “for me as a party man and as a stakeholder in Cross River state, I don’t envisage that. Most of the things that happened are all insinuations. I have never seen the governor saying he was with Makarfi or Sheriff. It is all the people who are working at different levels who make their own opinion.

“I can tell you that I do not envisage us having any issue because all hands must be on deck for us to see what we can do in order for us to wrestle power in 2019. So we cannot start now to divide our house. For us to start quarreling now will pull the party down, what we need now is that since the court has pronounced somebody as authentic chairman of the party we totally align to it.”

A party stalwart and former Director, Rural Roads Development Agency (RUDA) during the Liyel Imoke regime expressed excitement with the judgment saying, “this has doused tension but first is to congratulate all parties because there is no victor and no vanquished. If decision was taken at the national convention then every party member is bound by that decision.”

On the issue that the governor’s support for Sheriff may affect him, he said “the governor as an individual, I know that at some point some people alleged that he was supporting Sheriff and I also know that at some point he was having sympathy for Makarfi.

“Perhaps at some point you can excuse him if he says he is for Sheriff because that was what the court said at a point in time. So now that the court has spoken otherwise, I think the governor will not have any option than to lead us into reforming the party and supporting whole-heartedly, the leadership of Makarfi.

“The judgment opened an opportunity for us to look at so many things especially our selection process which has been hijacked by people who call the shots in the party at the expense of the owners as the name implies, Peoples Democratic Party. The PDP has to give power to the people to decide whom they want, whether it is councilor or local government chairman, state legislator, senator or governor. Let the people decide through the process of direct primaries.

“If we have direct primaries within the party, contestants will see the need for them to go round and campaign. So for the party to be able to rebuild, it has to be focused and move power from a group of people. People just sit down and compile names and that is why people are losing interest in the party. We should practice democracy.”

Commenting on the judgment, Ayade on July 19, shortly after his arrival from Abuja, said it was a healthy development for the people of Nigeria and indeed Africa as “Nigeria is the leading light and our democracy must also demonstrate that we are the leading light in all aspects. I think that PDP has a great opportunity to put our house together and work as a team and a solid party.”

Special Adviser to the Governor on NDDC Affairs, Victor Ekpo said, “the Supreme Court is the last court and we congratulate Senator Ahmed Makarfi for his victory and we are ready to work with him. But I want to sound this very clear, Professor Ben Ayade is our leader in Cross River State and he is the governor. I want to say this without any fear of contradiction; Ayade can win election even tomorrow in any party. It is not about Makarfi or Sheriff, in Cross River State we are for Professor Ben Ayade.

“If peradventure our governor says, ‘oh I am leaving,’ everybody in the state will follow him to wherever he is going to. He is our leader and leader of the PDP in the state. Ayade will win election anytime any day even if there is independent candidacy.

“So we do not have any fear but we are willing to work with Ahmed Makarfi group and we are also assuring him that anywhere our governor is, that political party will win election in the state. There is no need to panic and there is no fear whatever.”

Another PDP stalwart in the state, Charles Eko said, “I think reconciliation should be the way out. For a party that wants to challenge a ruling party as an opposition, it is good to put their house together early enough because so much damage has been done.

“If proper reconciliation is not done, there will be conflict of interests. It needs maturity and it is a give and take thing. Crisis in the state if not well managed will take the party back to the field. From the look of things it is not yet Uhuru.

“Activities for election will start full swing in 2018 and the PDP has two things to resolve, that is to have a united party and then using it to win election. If they hurry in trying to build the system and then carry that kind of system that is not well packaged into election, it will not fly. In Cross River State, there is an uneasy calm and people are thinking of an alternative ways of doing things.

“I even see crisis of interest on who should attend the Abuja convention between the two groups and that will be the first area of dispute for us here. The best thing is for us to come together, resolve the two interests and move on.”

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