There is so much heat within the Cross River State chapter of the APC. It is all about the ticket of the party for the gubernatorial election.
Let’s do a flashback. Early last year, Ayade had vowed that he would hand over the baton of leadership to someone from the southern senatorial district. That was after he had left the PDP for the APC. While addressing APC stakeholders in Calabar, Ayade was reported to have said “we inherited a brand of democracy which is not Afrocentric, neither does it have the sensitivity of the African culture and morality. Democracy is so primitively blind that it reduces itself to numbers. The higher your population, the more you win. So there is nothing like balancing, there is no equity in democracy.
“There is no moral conscience. Democracy is blind to ethnicity, it is blind to religion, it is blind to fairness, it is repugnant to natural justice.
“So, to be able to balance that, as governor, I still uphold my declaration that my successor will come from the south and indeed, he would come from the south. The south had taken a turn to produce a governor in Donald Duke, the central had also produced a governor in Senator Liyel Imoke and the north has produced one in me.
“So, it is common sense that we must go back to the south for equity. Every zone should know that their turn would come one day.”
Before this, Ayade had, in January 2019, while he was still in the PDP, made a similar promise. That was on the day he received a former attorney-general of the state Mrs. Nella Rabana, SAN, back into the PDP fold, after she had joined the Labour Party and was nominated a deputy governorship candidate.
At the event, Ayade had said: “Any man who says that he will take another man’s turn is not a good person. It is the turn of the north and for you from the South; you know that in four year’s time, you are the one to produce the governor.
“If you allow it to go to the central, it means that you are extending your stay out of office for another 20 years because you have been out for almost 16 as it were, if you add my total tenure.”
The governor appears to not to have reneged on that promise. He truly wants power back to the south. Whether he will succeed after the general election is another issue. But within the APC where he holds sway as the leader, Ayade has not hidden his preference for a southern successor.
Last week, his party chairman, Alphonsus Eba inaugurated a committee headed by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, to interface with all the aspirants for the office and come up with recommendations, on who should be taken as consensus candidate, so that only one form would be procured for the person.
They were to recommend two aspirants from each of the two senatorial districts currently contending for the ticket-two from the south and two from the central.
The Ndoma-Egba Committee’s Recommendation
Last Friday, Ndoma-Egba committee submitted its report to the party chairman. Since then, the committee’s report has been shrouded in secrecy. None of the committee members would want to speak on what they gave to the party as recommendations. Even the chairman referred TNN to the party. He said he would not disclose anything to anybody, as it was only the party that could do that.
TNN reached out to the party leadership but nothing came out. However, it was gathered that the committee scored Prince Bassey Otu highest in its rating of aspirants from the south, followed by Mr Asuquo Epenyong Jnr. In the thinking of the committee, it is only an Otu that can defeat the PDP in the general election.
The other persons that were recommended, in that order, were Ben Akak and Eyo Nsa.
From the central zone, even though Senator John Owan Enoh and Chief Chris Agara are considered very strong contenders for the ticket, the committee was said not to have considered them, apparently because of the governor’s belief in power shift to the south. Regardless, Owan Enoh and Agara have already bought their forms and ready for the primaries. The duo believe that they are popular enough to win at the field and could not be zoned out by anybody.
The Owan Enoh Debacle
Owan Enoh has since been engaging delegates. He was in the field talking with delegates in the state when information came that all the aspirants needed to be in Abuja to discuss and bury the consensus matter.
An online statement from one of his aides was to plead with the delegates who were waiting for their turn to show understanding, as the planned meeting with the senator had been put on hold, to enable him get to Abuja for the meeting.
Before putting off subsequent meetings, Owan Enoh was reported to have said that the party ought to have given him the first right of refusal, considering his place as a former gubernatorial candidate of the party and contributions to the party.
A statement from one of his aides said “the leading and frontline aspirant for governor of Cross River State, Senator John Owan Enoh met with the 64 honourable councillors of Central Senatorial District out of 66 representing their council wards of Abi, Boki, Etung, Ikom, Obubra and Yakurr at Jorany hotel, Ikom.
“In the meeting, Senator John Owan Enoh welcomed the honourable councillors who turned out in their numbers to grace the occasion, except for Nnam ward in Ikom Local Government Area and Itaka ward in Etung Local Government Area who refused to defect to APC.
In his address, Owan said, “some faces are not new to me because I had worked with them and had enjoyed my service.” On why he invited. He asked, ‘how many are ready to sign my nomination form”? He stressed that, “is not compulsory as a councillor to sign. But if you should sign my form, you should know that you won’t sign any other aspirant’s form”!
He announced to them that he has bought his nomination form to run for governor of Cross River State, and if the party wants to buy one form his name should be in that form, because he is the most qualified to run. He said, in 2019 went he ran, he supported all the candidates in APC that ran for that election financially, except Distinguish Senator Victor Ndoma Egba. He said “I also sent support to most councillors went they ran their elections. And I have every right to run for governor with the kind of supports I have given to the party. I deserve to be given the right of first refusal.”
He said, when he met with the 7-Man Committee in Calabar, I told them what happened in the recent elections which was conducted in Yala/Ogoja and Akpabuyo. And that, in 2023 APC must present a candidate who will be force to the people to like because our people are more familiar with the Umbrella (PDP). An APC candidate must be strong to influence people to vote for APC. The 2023 election will get tighter as compared to that of 2019.”
TNN learnt that all the stakeholders have been talking at Abuja to decide on the matter. It was even learnt that there was a suggestion that the governor should plead with Owan Enoh to accept the position of running mate so that with a combination of he and Otu, the party could win whoever the PDP will bring as its gubernatorial candidate.
Agara fights on
Agara , known everywhere to be Ayade’s closest friends is not taking things lightly. He has promised to fight on. As at Monday, TNN could not get him on the phone to know his current stance. But before now, Agara had promised not to give up the fight, having already bought his nomination form.
But it is still doubtful if the governor would look at Agara in the face and tell him to drop his ambition, especially without an alternative offer, considering the fact that in 2019, Agara was made the sacrificial lamb for the governor to be able to secure his return ticket of the PDP, at a time that a top stakeholder in the PDP was said to have told him to choose between his return ticket as governor and an Agara ticket to the senate. It was not clear if Agara attended the Abuja truce meeting. But he did not attend the Calabar meeting where the aspirants were said to have agreed that the party chairman should buy only one nomination form which would be given to the chosen consensus candidate.
There were expectations that Monday night would be the decision hour, after all the stakeholders would have met in Abuja. The governor is currently under intense pressure on the matter, according to sources within the party. In fact, TNN learnt that whereas the Ndoma-Egba committee recommended Otu, the governor was being pressurised not to accept the recommendation, but should go for Ekpenyong, the youngest of all the aspirants, who until now was the finance commissioner in Ayade’s government. The belief is that the junior Ekpenyong would do well as governor, given his youthful energy.
The Fear of Sandy Onor
Within the APC, Senator Sandy Onor is dreaded. Or so it seems. The APC’s calculation is that if they make a mistake in the choice of a candidate, it would be a walk over for Onor, known in the state as the leader of the caterpillar movement, largely because of his bulldozing and penetrating capacities.
It is argued in political circles that it is only Otu that can square up against Onor, currently believed to be on top of the list of aspirants in the PDP. Onor’s director of campaigns, Dr Joe Bisong is upbeat that the senator is the man to beat, as the aspirants file out later this month, for the primaries.
Onor is believed to have in his back pocket, the support of majority of the delegates from the central and the north, while also having a good followership in the south, where Senator Gershom Bassey and Ntufam Daniel Asuquo will be expected to drag for delegates’ votes.