There are fears of mass defection by aggrieved members of the Peoples Democratic Party in some states of the south-south, including Cross River, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states, following the decision of the party to give automatic return ticket to its members in the National Assembly.
Between Saturday when the news broke out and Monday, scores of politicians from the party had indicated the interest to defect. They viewed the party's position as anti-democratic and oppressive.
Scores of PDP members in Cross River even stormed the state secretariat in calabar to protest the party's decision on the automatic ticket. They displayed various placards to register their position.
In fact, one aspirant from Bayelsa State told TNN that the agenda would not work in his senatorial district because there has been an age-long agreement on power sharing. He said the automatic ticket police cannot work because it would go against the power rotation policy.
In Cross River State, a former aide of the governor who was to contest for one of the seats in the National Assembly has already given signals of his readiness to defect to another party where he would be given the ticket to run.
The aspirant is believed to have the support of a former governor in the state and was tipped to get the party's ticket against the incumbent, before the announcement came from the party.
He was said to be very angry on Friday night when the governor, Prof Ben Ayade called a meeting of all stakeholders and announced to them that all members of the National Assembly from the state had been given an automatic ticket. He was reported to have said that the party fooled him by allowing him to spend so much on the nomination form, only to stop him midway.
The news was received barely 24 hours after the state chairman of PDP, Ntufam Edim Inok Edim, announced that there was no zoning for those contesting for National Assembly seats and he advised all aspirants, irrespective of those seeking return tickets, to go to the field and test their popularity and capacity.
Edim had promised that a level playing field would be provided for all the aspirants. Now, that will no longer be possible with automatic tickets thrown at incumbent office holders.
The political arena in the state was already charged with many aspirants taking to the streets with their supporters carrying all manner of banners and posters on sensitization ahead of the primary and the real election. The frenzy witnessed recently will now subside in the days ahead as many aspirants in PDP will have to withdraw into their shells.
Many were expecting a titanic battle during the PDP primaries in the southern senatorial district after former state chairman of PDP, Ntufam Ekpo Okon had joined the fray.
He had entered the race for the party's ticket and people were discussing how he would fare against the incumbent senator representing the zone, Senator Gershom Bassey. But the epic battle will now shift from intra to inter party duel as incumbent Gershom Bassey of PDP has just the APC and other parties' senatorial aspirants to contend with, among them Prince Bassey Otu of the APC. Okon is believed to contemplate defecting from the party.
Daniel Asuquo a.k.a. Dansuki, the PDP aspirant who represents Akamkpa/Biase state constituency in the House of Representatives will wait to know his opponents after other parties' primaries as his party has handed him an automatic ticket like other party members.
One of the worst hit aspirants is Chris Agara. He was seeking the central senatorial ticket and had done very much to actualize his aspiration before automatic ticket was awarded to other aspirants at his expense.
Agara, a friend of Ayade, could not have been affected if not that Ikom, the local government he comes from, has an incumbent House of Reps member, Chris Agibe who has picked automatic ticket of his party. By the zoning arrangement, a local government cannot have a senator and a House of Reps member at the same time.
The case of the central zone is peculiar because there is no incumbent PDP senator in the senatorial district. The incumbent senator, Owan Enoh, is in APC and is running for the governorship of the state.
Because of the automatic ticket, all those jostling for the House of Reps tickets in various state constituencies have to forget their ambition. Chris Agibe representing Ikom/Boki state constituency has automatic ticket in his kitty.
So this knocks out three of Ayade's aides who were seeking the same ticket. They are the secretary to the state government, Tina Banku Agbor, the Commissioner for New Cities George Ekpungu and the Commissioner for Works, Dane Osim. Both Ekpungu and Osim had recently resigned their appointments to join the race and now their hopes have been dashed.
Those also eyeing the Etung/Obubra state constituency will have to wait till 2023 as the incumbent House of Reps member, Mike Etaba has been handed an automatic PDP ticket. The same goes for Bassey Ewa, the Abi/Yakurr state constituency rep. Ewa wanted to go to the senate but will now return to the House. But he will have Dr Alex Egbona of the APC to contend with.
Senator Rose Oko will also benefit from the automatic ticket. She represents the northern senatorial district in the Senate. Jarigbe Agom who represents Ogoja/Yala state constituency will equally have an automatic ticket to contest. Other serving lawmakers at the federal and state levels are beneficiaries of the PDP automatic ticket.
Some of the contenders who do not wish to defect are already daring the party. An aide to Ayade, Dominic Kidzu said in a post on his facebook wall on Sunday that “I am glad to inform all the leaders of Ikom and Boki Local Government Areas, cordinators of Hon. Engineer Dane Osim Asu Campaign Organization and all men and women of conscience in our two local government areas, that our campaign train remains alive and should hit the road beginning from tomorrow(Monday).
“We wish to inform you all that we are determined now, more than ever before to push through with our ambition to offer the much needed critical and effective representation of the people in the National Assembly. We realize that a few of our teeming followers have been demoralized by the recent campaign of half - truths to the effect that PDP tickets for the forth coming elections have been farmed out to a group of selected Abuja - based politicians. Nothing can be further from the truth.
“In the system of government we practice, tickets to represent political parties at elections are won or lost at the primaries of the party. It would therefore be foolhardy for anyone to claim otherwise before the Primaries, or to begin to throw palm wine parties in celebration of a victory that is still in abeyance.
“While we remain loyal and faithful party members, and will do all that is required to ensure its victory at the polls, we must point out that nobody, no matter how highly placed, can divide the destinies of our party members who have decided to run elections in 2019, apart from His Excellency, Prof (Senator) Ben Ayade.”
In Akwa Ibom, the same scenario is playing out. Critical stakeholders have already reisted the agenda to hand over automatic ticket to members of the National Assembly.
Aspiring lawmakers have said the arrangement will not see the light of day, except the PDP wants its members to dump the party.
Speaking with TNN, the PDP South South Publicity Secretary, Bishop Etim Ante who denied knowledge of the development, queried whether such automatic tickets would favour his kinsman, Nse Ekpenyong, a member, Oron Federal Constituency at the National Assembly.
Etim Ante is equally contesting for the Oron Federal Constituency seat in 2019 against the incumbent, having already secured his nomination and expression of interest forms.
Meanwhile, Ekpenyong whose case of certificate forgery with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) since 2016 is yet to be concluded, has also secured the forms for re-election.
Another aspirant for the same post, under the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Asuquo Unuyu Esq stated that automatic ticket was undemocratic and denied political players the right to test their popularity.