There is a grand plot to deny some currently elected political office holders in Cross River state a return ticket for the 2019 general elections.
Those to be affected cut across board, irrespective of the political office they currently occupy and the political party they belong to. The reasons they may not get return tickets are not far-fetched. They are varied but prominent among them is alleged non-performance.
TNN findings reveal that the affected elected political office holders have begun intense lobbying of political godfathers and stakeholders in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to get return tickets. This is aside clandestine, nocturnal meetings being held by the kingmakers in PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) and those who matter in the state's politics, to decide the fate of those seeking re-election, as well as new aspirants.
The days and weeks ahead of the parties' primaries will witness an even more intense lobbying. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2019 general elections recently.
According to the timetable, party primaries for the Presidential, Governorship, Federal and State Elections would begin on August 18 to end on October 7, 2018.
Lobbying for tickets is part of the power play that will culminate in the emergence of the governorship candidates of the two leading parties in the state. Sources said there will be some surprises considering sound bites from stakeholders of the parties in the state. And some politicians whose godfathers are not happy with their performances have seen the writing on the wall and are desperately making efforts to curry the favour of their godfathers for return tickets.
TNN gathered that some of the godfathers who are being blamed for the woeful performance of their elected godsons or protégés have vowed not to back them for return tickets in 2019. The other sin of the elected politicians is that they usually snubbed and sidelined their godfathers and party stakeholders, while taking crucial decisions and also failed to fund their parties, thereby making the parties lose their vibrancy and a measure of their support base. It was gathered that some party executives in the state had even threatened to resign en masse recently because they were being starved of funds to run the affairs of the party.
Sources told TNN that elected office holders in this category are now running from pillar to post to get the tickets during the party primaries. Getting the tickets from their existing political parties is said to be Plan A. And if this failed, they will settle for Plan B, which is to quickly move to another political party to realize their ambition just as was the case in 2015 when most political office seekers who were denied tickets in their parties in what was described as lack of internal democracy, jumped ship. The aspirants contested on new party platforms but lost.
TNN further gathered that zoning may play a crucial role in the selection of candidates for some of the political offices such as state House of Assembly, National Assembly and governorship seat in both PDP and APC. Some party stakeholders are insisting on maintaining the status quo, while others are determined to upset the apple cart in their belief that justice will be better served if other sections of the state take a shot at any of the political offices in contention.
Recently, key stakeholders and youths under the auspices of Cross River Northern Senatorial District Consultative Forum insisted on retaining the governorship position currently occupied by someone from the zone in 2019. They want the area to complete its second term in office in line with the zoning arrangement which has been in place since 1999. The south and central zones had served two terms each in previous years. Gen. Anthony Ukpo (retd ), former military administrator of the old Rivers State is the leader of the group which is a non-partisan assembly of elders, opinion leaders and youths in five local government areas of Ogoja, Yala, Bekwara, Obudu and Obanliku.
The group, after wide consultations and considerable deliberations, concluded in a communiqué that the existing zoning structure should remain, without necessarily backing any candidate in the zone and that whoever emerges as governor from the zone should keep to the time-honoured zoning arrangement by staying in office for only four years, notwithstanding the constitutional term limits or provisions and party position and by 2023, the governorship of the state will commence with a new rotation, with the south taking another shot.
In the communique, stated that “the appeal is not in support of any governorship candidate from the northern senatorial district and should not be so construed. This appeal is rather made in recognition of the abundance of people from the northern senatorial zone with requisite capacity to lead the state. From this pool, the political parties may choose their standard bearers and provide the people of Cross River state the opportunity to choose their next governor.”
It is left to be seen how far this appeal would go, considering the emergence of aspirants from other zones for the governorship tickets in the two leading political parties in the state. It will not be the first time many governorship aspirants will emerge from the three zones, the zoning arrangement notwithstanding.
It happened in 2003 during governor Donald Duke's era when he was seeking a second term ticket. It also happened in 2007 and in 2011 during former Governor Liyel Imoke's time. Several candidates also contested for the governorship seat in the state in 2015. PDP, the dominant political party in the state, has been ruling since 1999 and has orchestrated and perpetuated the zoning arrangement. Some have criticized it and said the arrangement does not allow the best person to emerge as governor and that the entire process be thrown open to all the zones rather than restrict it to a particular zone.
Like never before, the zoning arrangement is likely to be put to the most severe test in the 2019 election. But how will things turn out eventually? Will incumbent political office holders lose their tickets? What will the losers of the bruising battles for tickets do? Jump ship as usual? Time will tell as we inch closer to political parties' primaries.