There is a grand conspiracy against the return to office of Prof Ben Ayade as governor of Cross River State. Two former governors, as well as a former chairman of the PDP are believed to be spearheading the plot to get the governor out of office.
While the past governor, Senator Liyel Imoke is said to be making clandestine moves in this direction, particularly in getting the PDP to deny him the party's ticket, Donald Duke is said to have started holding meetings in his palatial home, with men of like minds.
But Ayade's men have dismissed the plot as non -existent. Even those of them who see the possibility of such a conspiracy were quick to argue that with the performance of the governor in the last three years, it would be difficult to stop the governor in 2019.
Another aide reasoned that even if Duke and Imoke decided to come together for the purpose of sacking Ayade, the duo lacked the financial resources to prosecute the agenda. In fact, the aide said Duke had more personal financial issues to tackle to be able to sponsor a successful campaign against Ayade.
For Imoke, another aide said the former governor was not good with giving out money, much less to pay his way to stop his successor.
But TNN learnt that series of meetings have been going on in Calabar, Lagos and Abuja, on the agenda. Duke is said to be angry that Ayade had not given attention to some of his projects, including Tinapa. Although, Ayade's commissioner for commerce and industry, Peter Egba had told TNN in a recent interview that some investors had indicated the interest to revive the Tinapa resort.
Imoke and Ayade have not been in good terms in the recent past. In fact, Imoke was once quoted as telling close friends that he was through with Duke. However, the Ayade-must-go project appears to have brought two of them together. Imoke is believed to be unhappy that Ayade was not living up to his expectations.
Some former aides of Imoke and Duke are believed to have already joined the fray. In a recent interview, Eyo Ekpo, a stalwart of the PDP in the state and former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under the administration of Duke, raised the issue of killing of the vision for the state by the governor and called for the retrieval of the 2015 mandate given to him during the forthcoming election.
Ekpo said Cross River was no longer a destination but a place where people run away from. “The Ayade administration has failed to make Cross River a tourism destination of Nigeria.
“What the state needs now is a governor that has our best interest at heart; that wakes up in the morning and thinks of how best he can develop the state,” he said, adding that good governance was not an academic proposition and that the drift in governance must be arrested.
Philemon Ogbeche, a public affairs commentator, in a recent post on the social media, gave a pointer to Duke's involvement in the plot when he quoted Soni Abang, a former PDP chairman, as having confirmed that Duke had convened a meeting at his home, targeted at an Ayade ouster.
A certain Etim Bassey, in another social media post, alluded to the anti-Ayade conspiracy, saying “they are on the prowl and their prime target is Governor Ben Ayade. On their lips as a refrain is the fatally flawed narrative of how undeserving Ayade is for a second term in office.
“And to think that this is a governor who enjoys massive support among the broad spectrum of ordinary Cross Riverians on account of his verifiable people-oriented projects spread across the state beats the imagination. It is only in the realm of the blind that Governor Ayade is a non performer. The people of Cross River do not share this warped and myopic sentiment.
Of course, if those whose Ayade's sure second term in office causes incurable nightmare are blind to his unfailing commitment in paying workers salaries before month end, workers of Cross River State civil service are not. It is on the account of his prompt payment of workers' salaries that the workers themselves have nicknamed him "Salary Master," and openly endorsed him for a second term in office. The workers are Ayade's number one fans and do not tolerate any idle tale of non performance. No amount of lies, coloured and veiled insults directed at Ayade will erase this.
Only recently, Bishop Josef Bassey, General Overseer of God's Heritage Centre, Calabar, criticized the administration and said the governor had taken the state 30 years backward in the three years he has been in power and called for regime change in 2019.
Already, meetings and consultations are taking place with a view to arriving at the right decision. It was gathered that Imoke is expected to produce a new governorship candidate, while Donald Duke is to produce the running mate. Months ago, it was speculated that Duke is likely to pick his son in-law and current commissioner for finance, Asuquo Ekpenyong Jr. as running mate to whoever emerged as the PDP governorship candidate.
According to sources privy to meetings being held in connection with who should get the ticket in PDP, the governorship candidate that will emerge for the 2019 election will come from the northern senatorial district and must agree to run a single term of four years to complete the term of the north which began in 2015 and was to end in 2023.
This decision is in line with the zoning arrangement in PDP in the state since 1999. Both the southern and central senatorial districts have taken their turns and the incumbent governor is from the northern senatorial zone and would complete his first term of four years in 2019. He is expected to go for another term of four years but with the coalition against his return, he may fight the political battle of his life to get the second term ticket from the same godfathers who facilitated his emergence as the standard bearer of the party for the 2015 governorship election.
In the past, there were speculations that the governor himself was aware of the plot to place hurdles on his way to getting the second term ticket and that he was contemplating defecting to another political party. But unfolding events showed that the speculated plan to defect to the APC may not have been true after all.
As part of efforts to stop Ayade, TNN learnt that he may not be given an automatic ticket but would be made to go through the rigours of contesting the party's primary with other aspirants. An all-season governorship aspirant, Emmanuel Ibeshi was quoted in a recent interview as having confirmed this.
Long before the plot to stop him began, the governor was endorsed for a second term by several support groups across the three senatorial districts of the state. In other words, all the 18 local government areas endorsed him for 2019. However, opposition APC in the state dismissed the jamboree, describing the endorsements as political gimmick that will not amount to victory at the polls.
In spite of these criticisms about his poor performance, the governor's aides and thousands of his political appointees hold a different view. They believe Ayade has done very well and point to his signature projects such as the rice city, the garment factory, Calapharm, Cocoa Processing plant, Rice Mill and on-going road projects in parts of the state.
His supporters believe he is the best thing that has happened to Cross River state and should be allowed to run for a second term in 2019. They insist that only the blind or those who have refused to see what the governor has achieved that say he has not done anything in the last three years.
Ayade's Special Adviser on Orientation, Anthony Undiandeye who spoke to TNN on the issue at the weekend, said “I am not aware of any plot to deny the governor his second term ticket. Such a plot doesn't exist, I can tell you that authoritatively.
“Governor Ayade's chances of getting the ticket are very bright. We are not losing any sleep about it. They can meet but it will not work. It is mere speculation.”
Augustin Ogar, who works in the press unit of the governor's office, praised Ayade's industrial revolution, adding “apart from his intellectual acumen, Ayade has displayed excessive zeal, energy and panache to create an Eldorado out of Cross River. This is to say that, in Ayade's Cross River, 'intellect meets hardwork', a fitting tribute to a man who has digitalized governance and development in Nigeria.”
Both Imoke and Duke did not take their calls when TNN made efforts to reach them for their comments.