Tension is building in the Cross River State APC after the party set up an ad hoc committee to interface with all those contending for its ticket ahead of the primary election holding later this month.
The committee is headed by a former senate leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, with Senator Florence Ita-Giwa as secretary. The other members are High Chief Edem Duke, Mr Eddy Achi, Elder Bolaji Anani, Mr. Odey Ochicha and Prince Ebuta Ayuk.
The idea is already generating so much heat, even as many of the aspirants are already showing signs that they will not step down for anybody. Part of the committee’s work is to prune the number of aspirants to two per senatorial district.
What that means is that the party would only want to have four aspirants on the whole. As at today, all the aspirants are coming from the southern and central senatorial districts. Nobody has indicated interest to contest from the north, where the current governor, Prof Ben Ayade comes from.
In the south, there are no fewer than eight aspirants, including Prince Bassey Otu, Chief Orok Otu Duke, Mr Edem Ekong, Mr Bassey Ndem, Mr Ben Akak and Mr Asuquo Ekpenyong Jnr.
In the central, there are three major contenders-Senator John Owan Enoh, Chief Chris Agara and Pastor Usani Usani.
Although, none of them has bought the party’s nomination form. But some of them have already indicated the interest to buy their own form this week, regardless of the party’s moves towards the consensus option.
Last week, all the contenders were summoned to a meeting in Calabar, where the party chairman, Alphonsus Eba was said to have extracted a commitment from the aspirants to allow him buy only one nomination form so that whoever emerges from the consensus arrangement can refund the money and collect the form.
While those in the south were said to have been totally comfortable with the idea, their counterpart from the central were said to be uncomfortable with the idea. In fact, Owan Enoh was said to have informed the chairman that his only condition for accepting the proposal was if the form would be bought in his own name.
There were indications on Tuesday that Owan Enoh may have made up his mind to buy his own form before Friday, just as Agara who declared publicly for the seat last Saturday at Ikom, with a commitment to go all out and win the party’s ticket.
In the south, the contest appears to be between Prince Otu and Ekpenyong Jnr. A few things appear to be working in their favour. For instance, Otu is very popular in the southern part of the state, being a former senator and someone with a high level of grassroots appeal.
The youths appear to be in love with him because it is said that during his time as senator, he had impacted them so much, through empowerment programmes. He is also said to be very liberal and humble.
Apart from that, Otu is believed to be easily accessible and has the heart to help. Some party leaders who spoke with TNN are of the opinion that given a transparent primary election, Otu is good enough to pick the party’s ticket. It is also said that Otu is one person that can square up with whoever the PDP will bring.
The other serious contender in the APC from the south is Ekpenyong Jnr. He is very youthful and intelligent, highly intelligent. He is believed to be very close to the governor and has his ears, largely because of the way he was able to run the ministry of finance as commissioner, before resigning from the office a few weeks ago.
The junior Ekpenyong is also believed to be enjoying the support of majority of the party leaders in the state. Also, his father’s name appears to be doing some magic for him. The senior Ekpenyong is a well revered businessman from Odukpani and commands the respect of most members of the party.
By the time the Ndoma-Egba committee turns in its report, it is likely to have the names of Otu and Ekpenyong as the preferred aspirants from the south. But that is if the others will accept to step down for them.
In the central zone, the contest is clearly between Owan Enoh and Agara. But whether Usani will yield is another kettle of fish.
Owan Enoh is widely seen as the man to beat, though after Saturday’s declaration, Agara’s rating also went very high.
Owan Enoh, having been in the National Assembly for years is said to have touched a lot of lives in his senatorial district. One thing that people appreciate him for, is his ability to relate and connect with anybody and everybody. He is said to have the habit of taking all his calls, returning missed calls, no matter who is involved as well as respond to text messages without minding those involved. He is also believed to be very humble and sociable. He has been out of public office since 2019 but is believed to be able to oil his structures and sustain his followership base toll date.
As for Agara, though he has not occupied any political office in all his life, he is said to have touched a lot of lives through his scholarship programme. Besides, he is known to have worked closely with and supported the current governor in the conceptualisation and execution of some of the agro based projects of the Ayade government. For instance, he is said to be the brain behind the rice factory in Ogoja as well as the cocoa factory in Ikom.
Apart from that, Agara is said to have single-handedly influenced the choice of Cross River State as the hub for the south south, for the location of the special agro processing zone by the African Development Bank. He was said to have used his personal funds to fight for and secure the approval of Ikom for the industrial project which is said to have the capacity to generate thousands of jobs for the people and also help farmers make more money from their farming business, once the project starts.
But the party has a tall task to deal with. It is even much more difficult because the Electoral Act clearly spells out the conditions for accepting the emergence of a candidate through a consensus arrangement. If all the aspirants do not sign to accept whoever the party may bring up as consensus candidate, then it means the effort will be a nullity and everybody will have to go to the field to battle for the ticket. So, who will be ready to step down and for who?