The governorship contest in Cross River state in 2019 will be a very keen contest given the array of heavyweights that have joined the race. Like every titanic battle, the race is not for the faint-hearted. For those who have thrown their hats in the ring, they will contend with gargantuan forces and all kinds of intrigues to become the standard bearers of their political parties and even win the main election. The incumbency factor may play a key role in who will emerge as governor but the issue of zoning could equally influence the outcome. Only members of two political parties, the ruling PDP and APC in the state have so far shown seriousness about aspiring to occupy that position. Among the two parties, APC has the largest number of aspirants. There are six aspirants and still counting in APC, while in PDP, only one aspirant, Emmanuel Ibeshi, has come out to challenge the incumbent governor, Prof Ben Ayade. With a level playing field, the antecedents and credentials of any of the aspirants who eventually emerge as candidate could enable him clinch victory at the polls. There may be pretenders and real contenders in the mix. But time and party primaries will eventually separate them. At the moment here are some of the governorship aspirants in the state:
Prof Etim Nyong (APC)
If there is any aspirant eminently qualified to be elected as the state governor in 2019, Prof Eyo Etim Nyong fits the bill. The pioneer board member of the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC) has passed through this road twice as governorship aspirant and his teeming supporters hope and pray that this third attempt would result in victory for him. As an academic of no mean repute, he commands a great respect across board both in the academia and in political circles beyond the state. And if the APC gives its ticket to him, and on the other hand, the PDP gives it ticket to the incumbent, then it would be a battle between two professors, during the general election.
But Nyong, a grassroots politician, is known for his high level of maturity, integrity and experience in sustainable development concepts. He has an unassailable passion to govern the state and this passion dates as far back as in the 90s when he contested for the governorship in 1999 as an aspirant under the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) and in 2011, when he ran again for governorship under the platform of defunct Democratic Peoples Party (DPP). His supporters believe this may be the opportunity for this illustrious Odukpani son to fulfil that mandate which was lost in the past.
His chances are bright but it is uncertain whether the zoning arrangement in the state will not torpedo his ambition. Although APC does not have any zoning arrangement, some stalwarts of the party keep hinting at the fact that it will still be the turn of the north to produce the next governor in 2019 so that the zoning cycle could be complete and by 2023, the south could take its turn again. It's a delicate balance and it remains to be seen how the party will work around it to get the desired result that will be devoid of rancour.
Venatius Ikem (APC):
Venatius Ikem, a lawyer, is another APC stalwart whose antecedents and experience qualify him to vie for the office of governor of Cross River State. He has been a key political player both nationally and in the state, over the years. He was the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a presidential aide before he defected to APC. He also served at the state level as commissioner and special adviser to the governor.
He believes he can do far better than what he described as the window dressing the state is witnessing now as governance. He is alarmed at the level of poor governance in the state and wants to come and rescue the state. Coming from Obudu, the same local government area with the incumbent governor, Prof Ben Ayade, it may be a herculean task for him to convince his people to ditch their loyalty for the governor and embrace him.
If Ikem eventually emerges as the standard bearer of the APC, it is difficult to say how he would fare in the main election. It is likely the votes in the northern senatorial zone may be split between him and the incumbent governor if the PDP gives the governor a second term ticket.
Usani Uguru Usani (APC):
He is one of the contenders for the APC governorship ticket. The former chairman of APC in the state, a former commissioner and currently the minister for Niger Delta Affairs has not formally announced his intention to vie for the coveted seat. He must have confided his intention in a lot of people for the grapevine information to be everywhere.
Pastor Usani hails from Nko in Yakurr local government area. He is one of the few persons from the central senatorial district that is in the governorship race. With a vast experience in public service, Usani's pedigree stands him in good stead if given the chance to pick the ticket. However, his ambition is said to be ruffling feathers in the party within the state. Not a few stakeholders want him as their candidate. Not a few natives want him as governor. Those who should know believe that he is the cause of the disaffection in the APC, apparently because of his ambition. There are also insinuations that he may be looking up to the minister of transportation to help him out.
John Upan Odey (APC):
Youthful vigour will be one of the advantages that will make people settle for 38-year-old John Upan Odey, as governorship candidate of APC. He is a youth leader, banker and motivational speaker who believes he has what it takes to govern the state.
He believes he has the capacity to turn around the dwindling fortunes of the state. He had in 2011 contested to represent Obudu/Bekwarra/Obanliku federal constituency in in the House of Representatives under the platform the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He contested against acting governor of the state, Mr. Francis Ada, who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Since he also comes from the northern senatorial zone, his votes will be split with the incumbent governor if both of them meet at the main election. His candidacy will appeal to the youths. But he must overcome other considerations to be given the party's ticket.
Paul Adah (APC):
Another politician that has seen it all and could give incumbent Governor Ben Ayade a big fight if both of them meet in the main election, is two-time member of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Paul Adah who is also from Obudu. The former commissioner representing Cross River State in the governing board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) did not mince words when he said he was on a rescue mission while declaring to run for the governorship seat late last year.
He is also the kinsman of Ayade and believes the governor's poor performance has made the task of APC assuming the mantle of leadership in the state an easy one. Described as a consistent and dependable leader, Adah says party members owe it as duty to dislodge the incumbent governor in 2019. He accused him of lying and deception resulting in woeful performance. One advantage he may have is his sincerity.
Nya Asuquo (APC):
He is Nigeria's Ambassador to Uganda. He declared his intention to contest for the governorship election because the current leadership in the state had failed. Knowing that his age (he is 70 now), may constitute a barrier to his ambition, this head of Ikot-Offiong clan in the Odukpani Local Government Area of the state, is ready to back a younger, capable person gunning for the office.
He described the current leadership in the state as visionless and less productive and only relies on monthly federal allocation. He also does not want the current zoning arrangement that favours the northern senatorial district to take effect in 2019 in order not to deprive other contestants from the other zones from contesting. The issue of zoning may constitute a stumbling block to his ambition.
Emmanuel Awhan Ibeshi (PDP):
He is the first PDP member and the only one at the moment to challenge the incumbent governor for the ticket. This distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria was one of the pioneer members of the PDP in the state and in 1999, he was elected the first national publicity secretary of the party. He had worked with the Federal Mortgage Bank as Corporate Affairs Manager and elected into the Federal House of Representatives in 1992. While there he served as the Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency.
Just like the incumbent governor, he is from Obudu Local Government in the Northern Senatorial District. He aspired for the governorship position under the platform of PDP in 2015 but was denied the ticket. Many attest to his sterling qualities and see him as the man for the job. But with so many aspirants from the northern senatorial zone, especially from Obudu, votes there will be split among them.
Prof Ben Ayade (PDP):
This is the big masquerade himself as far as the contest is concerned. The incumbent governor comes from Obudu in the northern senatorial zone. The PDP zoning arrangement is in his favour to pick the ticket for a second term. However, he has many forces to contend with ahead of the 2019 election. His performance has been called to question a couple of times. It is not certain if he will be given an automatic ticket by PDP. Ordinarily, that should be the case, being an incumbent governor.
However, in spite of the massive endorsements he has received from various support groups, his critics say he does not deserve a second term ticket because he does not have anything to show for being in power for the past three years. Even some of his kinsmen who are aspiring to take his job do not spare him from acerbic criticisms. They say the state has deteriorated terribly under his watch.
He has some signature projects such as the super highway, the deep seaport, the rice city, the cocoa processing plant, the rice mill and several other projects that are yet to be commissioned. These projects, if completed, could change the economic fortunes of the state. But because that has not happened, three years after, some have concluded that the governor has failed the performance test. His critics deride the signpost that advertise that 'Ayade Is Working', saying 'if he is really working, let what he is doing speak for itself.' However, his supporters are convinced that he has done well and deserves a second term ticket to complete some of the projects that are ongoing. He has thousands of political appointees throughout the state, but it is uncertain if they are actually going to work for his re-election.