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The number of those seeking the 2019 governorship ticket in Cross River state is growing by

the day. At the last count, at least eleven aspirants are known to be eyeing the job on the platform of either the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the All Progressives Congress (APC). As it is usual with the race for political office, there are pretenders and the real contenders and party primaries usually separate the wheat from the chaff. Some would deliberately step down to avoid being humiliated at the primary or in exchange for a juicy political appointment should the candidate of his party emerge victorious in the main election. The latest entrant is former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyo Ekpo. He joined the race on the PDP platform. Also in the race seeking PDP ticket to govern the state in 2019 is Emmanuel Awhan Ibeshi. Edem Duke, a former minister, equally announced his entry into the battle recently. There are indications that Senator John Owan Enoh, who currently represents the Central Senatorial District of Cross River state may soon join the race. Everyone is eagerly waiting for the senator to declare. Here is an array of the heavyweights that have joined the race, including the incumbent governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, whose case is not yet a fait accompli:

Senator John Owan Enoh: Whenever he declares, he will definitely run on the platform of APC. He currently represents the Central Senatorial District. Although he won the senatorial election on the platform of PDP in 2015, he defected to APC in 2017. He has a vast legislative experience which many believe has armed him with the capacity to govern. As a federal legislator, he has sponsored several bills such as Emergency Powers Bill, Payment Systems Management Bill, Foreign Exchange (Control And Monitoring) Bill, among others.

He has intervened in many communal crises in his constituency, brokering peace and offering relief materials to victims. His empowerment as well as scholarship programmes have also helped in alleviating the plight of people of his constituency. An opinion poll conducted by TNN recently indicated that the people know his leadership qualities that stand him in good stead to lead as governor of the state.

He may have what it takes to become governor but there is a major obstacle he has to overcome, and that is the zoning arrangement in the state. In other words, for those who take the zoning arrangement seriously, it is the turn of the north to produce the next governor to complete its eight–year tenure, since the central and the south have taken their turns. Incidentally, Owan Enoh is from the central which produced Ayade's predecessor, Liyel Imoke. In any case, this arrangement could be upturned since there is no zoning arrangement in APC. It is strictly a PDP concept that has been successfully tested since 1999.

In any case, some chieftains recently gave the indication that in the event that the senator decides to join the race, he may enjoy the support of both the APC and the PDP, his former party. He is said to be popular across board, largely because of what has been described as his large heart, humility and closeness to the grassroots. Those who are close to him reason that he takes all his calls personally and returns missed calls, no matter who is involved and also responds to text messages. His style may have endeared him to all classes of people in the state. President Muhammadu Buhari recently raised his hand in his office when he visited the president, an action that has been interpreted to mean a presidential endorsement of his aspiration. But he is yet to make a declaration for the office.

Eyo Ekpo: This former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Cross River State, and former Carnival Commission boss wants to govern Cross River state on the platform of PDP. He says he wants to restore the four pillars of governance which he said constitute the kernel of his vision for the state which are currently nonexistent.

His quest borders on the restoration of what he described as a lost paradise. According to him, “Cross River state is a state that has a plan, well designed and well-mapped out. That plan was aimed at developing the state. It became a place people desired to go to for both pleasure and business. It is no longer so. And it has not been so definitely in the last three years. And that is a function of the misgovernance of the state. If politics is what it really should be, political parties should be worried about incumbents that are not delivering wholesale to the programmes of the party and to the programmes of the state. And so, as a member of the PDP, I am worried about what is going on. I am even more worried about the fact that despite all the admonitions and advice, our government has not listened.”

With his impeccable credentials, unblemished record and experience in public service, he is eminently qualified to govern the state. Again, the zoning arrangement in his party may deny him the ticket to be PDP's standard bearer in the 2019 governorship election. The party has to find a way around the thorny zoning issue to prevent rancour and allow justice and equity to prevail. He also has to contend with the incumbency factor. However, some party leaders merely laughed off his aspiration on the grounds that they do not know him as a committed party member.

Prof Eyo Etim Nyong: This erudite professor has travelled this road twice before and the experience he had during the two governorship contests should enable him successfully navigate the political waters in 2019. He is a pioneer board member of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). His teeming supporters expect 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.

Even as an academic, he is a grassroots politician and well known for his high level of maturity, integrity and experience in sustainable development concepts. His passion to govern this state dated as far back as the 90s when he first contested for the governorship in 1999 as an aspirant under the defunct All Peoples Party (APP). In 2011, he was the standard bearer of the defunct Democratic People's Party (DPP). His supporters wish that this time mother luck would smile on this illustrious Odukpani son to clinch the elusive mandate, zoning or no zoning.  And if APC wants to match professor for professor, the party could settle for Prof Nyong to confront Prof. Ayade so that in the main election, it will be a battle of two professors.

Venatius Ikem:  He is another APC stalwart whose antecedents and experience qualify him to contest 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 in the state as Commissioner and Special Adviser to the governor. 

He believes he can do better than what he described as the window dressing the state is witnessing now as governance. He is disturbed at the level of what he described as poor governance in the state and wants to come and rescue the state. Coming from Obudu, the same local government area the incumbent governor, Prof Ben Ayade, hails from, it may be difficult for him to win over his people at the expense of the incumbent governor. it is also doubtful, if he has the financial capacity to undertake the project.

Uguru Usani Uguru: The former chairman of APC in the state, a former commissioner and currently the minister for Niger Delta Affairs is one of the contenders for the APC governorship ticket. He has not formally announced his ambition.

He is a son of Nko in Yakurr local government area and one of the few persons from the central senatorial district that is in the governorship race. He has a vast experience in public service which could boost his chances in the race. However, his ambition may ruffle feathers in the party as some party members have blamed him for the crisis within the party.

Since it is believed that the north should still produce the next governor in 2019, coming from the central senatorial district may narrow his chances of picking the ticket. His major undoing will be what political watchers in the state describe as his unpopularity even in his own local government.

John Upan Odey:  He wants to run on the platform of APC. He comes from the northern senatorial zone just as the incumbent governor. At just 38 years, youthful vigour is an edge he will have over other aspirants and his candidacy will appeal to the youths. He is a youth leader, banker and motivational speaker and believes he has what it takes to govern the state.

He had clinched the ticket of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2011 to contest the seat for Obudu/Bekwarra/Obanliku federal constituency in the House of Representatives. The battle was between him and another kinsman and acting governor of the state, Mr. Francis Ada. Ada was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He lost that election.

In this governorship quest, he is again up against several kinsmen. This could also affect his chances of getting the party's ticket or even winning the main election if he eventually gets the ticket. It is not clear if he can raise the needed funds and mobilise support from the party hierarchy to make a meaningful impact.

Edem Duke: The former minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan declared his ambition to run for the governorship seat about two weeks ago at his Ikot Edem Odo Ward in Akpabuyo Local Government Area.

Duke was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and served as minister from 2011 to 2015, before he defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC, the platform on which he intends to run. While making his declaration, he said under the current administration, Cross River has lost its status as “a jewel in the crown of Nigeria”. But how far can he really go?

Paul Adah: He declared his ambition long ago and if given the party's ticket, he could give incumbent Governor Ben Ayade a big fight if both of them meet in the main election. He has a rich political resume, having been a two-time member of the House of Representatives. He also hails from Obudu. The former commissioner representing Cross River State on the board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) stated unequivocally that he is on a rescue mission, while declaring to run for the governorship seat late last year.

He is also the kinsman of Governor Ayade and says the governor's performance has made the task of APC assuming the mantle of leadership in the state an easy one. He is described as a consistent and dependable leader. He says APC members in the state owe it as duty to vote in a new governor in 2019.

Nya Asuquo: This Nigeria's Ambassador to Uganda wants to run on APC ticket because, according to him, the current leadership in the state had failed. But age may not be on his side at 70 and so, the head of Ikot-Offiong clan in the Odukpani Local Government Area of the state, says he is ready to back a younger, capable person gunning for the office.

He said the current leadership in the state lacked vision and was less productive and only relied on monthly federal allocation. He wants the current zoning arrangement that is in favour of the northern senatorial district to be set aside in 2019 to allow contestants from the other zones take a shot at the governorship seat. If his wish is ignored, the issue of zoning may constitute a hindrance to his ambition.

Emmanuel Awhan Ibeshi: He has officially declared his intention to contest the governorship race against his kinsman who is the incumbent governor of the state. He brought some party leaders and his supporters to Transcorp Hotel in Calabar, the state capital, recently where he explained why he wants to run as governor of Cross River state. A Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria, Ibeshi 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 was elected into the House of Representatives in 1992 during the short-lived dispensation. While in the House of Representatives, he served as the Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency.

Just like the incumbent governor, he is from Obudu local government area in the northern senatorial district. He sought the governorship ticket of PDP in 2015 but lost. His sterling qualities qualify him as the man for the job. But with a crowded field, many from the northern senatorial zone, especially from Obudu, it won't be easy getting the ticket. However, is Ibeshi really serious? Has he got what it takes to take his ambition through?

Prof Ben Ayade: There is so much talk about the second term bid of the incumbent governor who comes from Obudu in the northern senatorial zone. The zoning arrangement of his party 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, though his aides and ardent supporters believe his industrialization drive that has earned him accolades from President Muhammadu Buhari and won him award attest to unmatched performance for which he deserves the return ticket. It is not yet clear if he will be given right of refusal for the PDP ticket before he goes for party primary along with other aspirants. Ordinarily, that should be the case, being an incumbent governor.

Although he keeps getting endorsed for a second term all over the place, his critics say he does not deserve the ticket because he does not have much to show for being in power for the past three years. Even some of his kinsmen who are aspiring to take his job think along this line too.

In spite the criticisms, he has some signature projects such as the rice city, the cocoa processing plant, the rice mill, banana plantation 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, some have concluded that the governor has not done well. However, his sea of supporters are convinced that he has done well and deserves a second term ticket to complete some of the projects that are on-going. With thousands of political appointees throughout the state working for him during the election, he may return in 2019, unless the political godfathers decide otherwise. Besides, workers in the state appear to be on his side because he pays them regularly, sometimes in advance.

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