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Party Primaries, Zoning and Predictions in the 2023 Governorship Election in Cross River State (Pt 1: PDP in Perspective)

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By Patrick Ukim Ineji, PhD

As the 2023 general elections draw near, it has become auspicious for political stalwarts, political communicators, political reporters, political pundits and neophytes to attempt to speculate or predict the chances of political aspirants, some of which range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

No matter how ridiculous some of these predictions and projections may appear, it is not proper to dismiss them at the drop-of-a-hart. Some of the predictions are based on ill-informed judgment, hollow presumptions, emotional sentiments, sheer ignorance, prejudices and other primordial considerations.

Like other states of the federation, Cross River State is not left out in the wave of political jostling to select flag bearers in the two main political parties, the APC and the PDP in the 2023 governorship election.

In the neighbouring Akwa Ibom State, it is almost certain about the flag bearer of the PDP governorship candidate and successor to incumbent governor Udom Emmanuel who has anointed one Pastor Umo Eno with the nod of majority of National Assembly Members. 

Cross River State like any other state of the federation has three senatorial districts, North, Central and South. The Southern Senatorial district is peopled mainly by the Efik ethnic stock, the Quos and the Efut. The South has seven Local Government Areas which include, Calabar South, Calabar Municipal Council, Odukpani, Akamkpa, Bakassi and Biase.

The Efiks constitute the largest ethnic group in the South occupying five Local Government Areas while the Quos (Ejagham language) is spoken by a section of Calabar Municipality and Akamkpa Local Government Areas. Biase Local Government Area has different pockets of dialects.

The Central Senatorial district comprises six local Government Areas – Yakurr, Abi, Obubra, Etung, Ikom and Boki. The Ejagham language is spoken across Ikom and Etung in the centre, including at least two Local Government Areas in the South and at least one local government in the North, often referred to Bakor ethnic nationality.

Ikom and Etung Local Government Areas speak the Ejagham language which cuts across the Southern and Northern Senatorial districts. The implication is that it is only the Ejagham language that has the spread across all the three Senatorial zones of the state.

Let us take a close look at the situation in Cross River State as it relates to the 2023 governorship election. Although there are many aspirants in both APC and PDP the truth is that there exist both contenders and pretenders in the race for the governorship in the state. In the lineup of APC are Prince Bassey Otu, Arch. Bassey Ndem, Asuquo Ekpenyong (Jnr.) the immediate past Commissioner for Finance in Governor Ayade’s Cabinet, Ben Akak, Ntufam Hilliard Etta, Pastor Usani Usani, Senator John Owan-Enoh and Chief Chris Agara and Prof. Eyo Etim Nyong etc.

The fold of PDP has Senator Gershom Bassey, Senator Sandy Onor, Efiok Cobham, Sir Arthur Jarvis Archibong, Mrs Ima-Nsa Adegoke, Amb Nkoyo Toyo, Mkpang Coco-Bassey etc.

For indepth analysis, I shall only focus on the aspirants under the platform of PDP among which are Senator Gershom Bassey, Honourable Daniel Asuquo and Senator Sandy Onor. These three are clearly known to be in the fore front in the race in the light of consultations ongoing by the trio.

The background and antecedence of the three aspirants would put us in a vantage position to assess the chances of each of them.

Senator Gershom Bassey who is from the Southern Senatorial District is well known to former governors Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke to the extent that the three are often referred to as the “three wisemen”.

It has often been rumoured that there is a silent pact among the three to rotate the governorship in the state among the trio. It is believed that arrangement still subsist to install Senator Bassey and was only suspended for the sake of equity and fairness to pave away for Senator Ben Ayade, the present governor from the North to take a shot. 

Anti-zoning proponents have however argued that zoning is not a constitutional issue and that there was no zoning in the first instance in 1999 as Mr. Donald Duke of PDP defeated the late Mark Ukpo of APP by the whiskers in a keenly contested election.

Political pundits aver that the issue of zoning the governorship in Cross River does not hold water, especially as all the three zones have taken their turn of two terms of eight years each after Governor Ayade would have completed his two terms of eight years in May 2023, it therefore does not matter which zone produces the next governor in 2023.

The question that has therefore been asked is can the so-called perceived pact of the trio Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke and Gershom Bassey be a factor in the 2023 governorship election in Cross River State? Time will tell.

If the ethnic toga is to be flaunted in the canvass for support during the party primaries or election proper, Senator Bassey would have the upper hand in the South because of the high population of the Efiks in the zone. The success of Senator Bassey also depends largely on the endorsement and support of Senator Imoke and Donald Duke.

Senator Imoke is held in very high exteem and regarded as the leader of the party in the state, especially with the defection of Governor Ayade to APC. Will Senator Imoke, an astute politician and leader openly throw his weight behind Senator Bassey? Will he play the role of a father to all by being neutral?

Cogent answers to these questions are pertinent. Former governor Duke has not been stable and vocal in the affairs of PDP since his “Sabbatical” to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in his controversial bid as presidential candidate in the 2019 elections.

With the foregoing, Mr. Duke may not be in good stead to be counted upon by Senator Bassey as he no longer has a firm grips in the affairs of PDP in the state. With his passive disposition, Senator Bassey may not need to rely on him for any tangible support. But unfortunately for the Senator, he has to compete and canvass for delegates votes among three other aspirants from the South which will invariably weaken his chances of getting majority vote from the South.

Honourable Daniel Asuquo who is currently representing Akamkpa/Biase Federal Constituency is also an aspirant to reckon with. Daniel Asuquo who is of Ejagham ethnic-linguistic stock stands to enjoy support from the South, Central and North if the ethnic toga comes into play as Ejagham language is spoken across the entire zones in the state.

He enjoys ethnic-linguistic affinity in some local governments in the state, two in the South, two in the Central and one in the North. He would also enjoy massive support from Akamkpa his Local Government of origin and Biase, his constituency. Like Senator Bassey, the Hon. Member has three competitors from the South which is a minor for him.

Senator Sandy Onor who is the Senator representing the Central zone in the senate shares similar ethnic-linguistic affinity with Hon. Asuquo. He hails from Etung Local Government and is of Ejagham ethnic stock which cuts across the three senatorial zones of the state.

He is a close friend of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. It is still fresh in our minds how he bulldozed his way with the backing of Governor Wike to grab the PDP Senatorial ticket from Chief Chris Agara, a close ally of Governor Ayade.

That financial support which was deployed by the Rivers State Governor is still at his disposal. Like former governor Imoke spoke eloquently about Wike during his declaration in Calabar for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023, “if Wike is supporting a cause you can go and sleep”, implying that his support for a cause is total.

The overwhelming influence of Imoke in the affairs of PDP in the country is well known. What is going for Senator Onor is that he is the only aspirant from the Central zone.

Another factor to be considered seriously during the PDP primary is Senator Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe who is regarded as leader of PDP in the Northern Senatorial District. He holds sway in the North.

Although, PDP lost narrowly in the Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency bye-election, the role he played was impactful. Which of the aspirants would he support, between Hon. Asuquo and Senator Onor both of which are of Ejagham ethnic-linguistic stock like himself? The pendulum may likely swing towards the direction the Senator may desire.

During the party congresses in the state last year, Senator Jarigbe cornered most of the statutory delegates in the North which gave him victory over Dr. Stephen Odey up to the Supreme Court.

It is believed that Senator Onor has the backing of Senator Jarigbe who remains appreciative of the support he got from the former during his legal battles for the Senate. Senator Jarigbe sees this opportunity as a pay-back-time and owes Senator Onor the reciprocal gesture of supporting him to achieve his governorship ambition. It is a moral obligation he has to discharge.

If this thesis is anything to go by, then Senator Onor is already coasting home to victory in the PDP Governorship primary.

Invariably, the north is the beautiful bride to woo and win during the governorship primary. It is therefore certain that whoever gets majority votes of delegates from the North is likely to emerge the winner in the primary.

The truth is that each of the aspirants is not leaving any stone unturned (to chance). Intense consultations are going on across the length and breadth of the state by all the aspirants.

All the aspirants are experience politicians who know what to do during consultations of this magnitude. At least, they are aware that such consultations are not devoid of enormous financial resources to placate party loyalists and members. We are not oblivious of the huge incentives dished out to canvas support from party delegates during the primaries. 

In all these, individual charisma, sagacity, tenacity, commitment and dedication of aspirants will go a long way in garnering support for each of them. 

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