By Andy Esiet, Calabar
...For now everybody is entitled to aspire, Ikem
...It will Spell Doom for PDP, Ekpo Ada
Crisis is brewing in the Cross River state People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the party executives led by Mr. Venatius Ikem, four governorship aspirants and some stakeholders have disagreed on the issue of zoning.
Unlike the All Progressives Congress (APC), the PDP is reluctant to make a clear statement on zoning the 2023 governorship slot to Cross River South Senatorial district whereas the four aspirants from the south and some stakeholders are insisting that it is the turn of the south to produce the next governor and the party should make a clear statement on it.
Significantly, all the PDP aspirants froth South, Senator Gershom Bassey; the Chancellor of Arthur Jarvis University, Sir Arthur Jarvis Archibong; former member House of Representatives (Calabar Municipal/Odukpani), Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo and current member House of Representatives (Akamkpa/Biase), Mr. Daniel Asuquo have thrown their support for power rotation except Senator Onor of PDP from Central.
To further deepen the tension, PDP chieftains under the aegis of stakeholders in Central and North Senatorial districts in separate meetings on December 15 and 16 in Ikom and Ogoja respectively issued separate communiqués insisting that governorship can start from anywhere and at the same time declared support for Onor.
The communique by Central dated December 15, 2021 and signed by Ntufam Gabe Obi Oji; the former PDP Publicity Secretary, Chief Joe Obi Bisong and 11 others, declared, “we believe in the unity, progress and development of Cross River State based on justice, equity and fairness, hence we reaffirm that the sharing of electoral positions, especially the governorship of our dear state is not and has never been exclusive for a particular senatorial district or zone in any election. We affirm that our dear Senator Prof. Sandy Ojang Onor has performed creditably well due to his capacity and desire for service delivery. We are therefore wishing him to further explore the political coast for the development of the people and the state by contesting election as Governor of Cross River State”.
Similarly PDP stakeholders in Ogoja in their own communiqué of December 16, issued by Mr. Idi Baba Yakubu; Dr. D.C Enamhe (Secretary) and 28 others also rejected zoning saying, “we make bold to state that for the Governorship, the ticket is open for all Senatorial districts.”
But in a sharp reaction, former House of Representatives member for Abi/Yakurr, Barr. Bassey Ewa declared, “anybody coming from the Central Senatorial district to contest for governorship 2023 is not from us, he is on his own. We from Central Senatorial district will support back to the South; we will support Senator Gershom Bassey”.
In a Christmas visit to the PDP executives in the state on December 27 in Calabar, Senator Bassey, said, “the governorship succession history of the state had rotated from southern senatorial district with Donald Duke as Governor from 1999 to 2007 to the Central Senatorial district with Senator Liyel Imoke as governor from 2007 to 2015; and when it went to the Northern senatorial district in 2015 to date, Governor Ayade was eventually elected, there was a caucus meeting of the party where a motion was moved and the seat was formally zoned to the northern senatorial district with a proviso that after eight years it will return back to the South”.
Toyo on her part, decried the position of some PDP stalwarts like Bisong and said, “unfortunately, the physical office/properties of the PDP on the highway have been taken over by the APC and stakeholders are unable to access the party files. In 2014, an expanded State Caucus met to discuss and decide on the issue of zoning the gubernatorial position”.
The former lawmaker opined that “the arguments presented were premised on the principle of fairness, justice and equity. After much discussion, a motion was moved by Hon Chris Etta then representing Boki/Ikom in the House of Representatives, to zone the position to the Northern Senatorial District. Before the secondment of the motion, I (Nkoyo Toyo) rose on a point of order to demand an amendment to the motion. I led the expanded caucus on a similar argument that it will be fair, just and equitable for the position to be thereafter zoned to the South as a matter of reasonable succession. My position was upheld and even reinforced by Ntufam Ekpo Okon (former state chairman of PDP), who seconded the motion as amended. If Mr Bisong is in doubt, it maybe useful for him to remind our party of how we arrived at the decision to zone the governorship to the Northern Senatorial District. It will be recalled that at the time, there was some talk of Gershom Bassey running for the position from the South and his ambition was put on hold by that decision taken by the expanded caucus.
“It is important therefore to conclude that zoning and rotation are not optional issues, they are requirements of our constitution as PDP. The PDP is obliged as it did in 2014, (must as a matter of the rule of law) to undertake zoning. Otherwise, why did PDP zone the chairmanship of the party to the North of Nigeria (in the case of the National Committee set up by NEC) and in the case of Cross River to the Northern Senatorial District. The emergence of Barrister Venatius Ikem as chairman is a product of such zoning”.
She concluded that, “parties are governed by their constitution not the sentiments of its members. The decision of the party organs on this matter, will lay to rest this burning issue”.
Worried by the continuous silence and body language of the state executive led by Ikem on zoning, the Director General of Gershom Bassey Campaign Organization, Mr Ekpo Ada, predicted doom for the party if it zones the 2023 governorship ticket to Central Senatorial district as he warned, “if the PDP does not come out strong within the next one month to state its position on power rotation and zoning, the consequences on the party may become disastrous.
“If the PDP does not put its house in order forthwith by streamlining party members aspirations, the party may be heading for a total rejection in the southern senatorial district whose turn it is to produce the next Governor of the state, come 2023″ insisting that “the southern senatorial district will only support parties that zone power to the south and nothing less, Cross River cannot be an exception as other states in the country have embraced zoning as a workable policy to achieve peace, equity and political stability” .
Cross River youths under the auspices of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) with Comrade Dan Obo as its Chairman, said the youth council is totally in support of power shift and rotation to the south come 2023 because “it is the turn of the south as all the senatorial zones have taken their turn and by fairness and equity we are supporting the South and Central Senatorial should stay clear and even if they come here with bullion van we will not accept”.
Another PDP 2023 governorship aspirant in the state, Sir Archibong also warned against jettisoning the famous Calabar-Ogoja accord saying such an action will be counterproductive for the state because it is a win win affair for all and working against it is dangerous.
Already Elders of the three senatorial districts of Cross River state may soon come out with a template on who should be the future governor of the state so as to put paid to current scrambling and jostling for the position of governor in the state.
The communique signed by the Convener, Senator Bassey Ewa Heshaw (former Senator for Cross River South) and 14 elders from the seven Local Government Areas that make up Cross River South Senatorial district and made available to some newsmen in Calabar recently said, “the decision of the parties shall not be based on imposition but rather on open consensus in order to reduce acrimony and bitterness in the polity… political parties “shall formally zone the governorship to the South and encourage only aspirants from the South to contest. This is without prejudice to the rights of other individuals to contest, if they so wish”.
However, the State Chairman of PDP and the party in a phone interview differed on the position of aspirants and some stakeholders on the Cross River South Senatorial producing the governorship candidate for the PDP, saying, “I cannot decree that. It will be on the strength of the politics that will play out on ground. While we watch development, at the appropriate time the appropriate organs of the party will sit down and discuss and take a position. But for now our position is that everybody is entitled to aspire”.
Making a pronouncement on zoning, Ikem said, “a lot of things guide us. I think the position we have taken as an executive is that we cannot be stampeded into what anybody thinks. PDP has a robust history presenting candidates for election and winning elections for the past years. So we will do what is appropriate for our party at the appropriate time. I prefer to allow the politics to play out and we listen to the sentiments and ultimately we take a decision in one way or the other”.
When asked if the delay in taking a decision on zoning could be counterproductive or cause severe damage to the PDP, Ikem said, “absolutely not, rather I think it is the opposite. The truth is that we are not the party in government and we need all the aspirants to galvanize all the support they can from all nooks and cranny of the state before we sit down and resolve whatever we get to resolve. So having a plethora of aspirants is an advantage as an opposition party”.