The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) has been at the helm of affairs in Cross River State since 1999. But, it has been embroiled crisis in recent times and the conflict may affect its chances in future elections. The major opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), is equally destabilised by internal squabbling. Correspondent NSA GILL writes on the state of the two political parties in the Southsouth state.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), which has been the governing party in Cross Rivers State since the return to civil rule in 1999, suffered a setback recently because of the growing crisis over the control of the party structures. Its state congress to elect new executive committee members has been stalemated for almost a year. This has resulted in the extension of the tenure of the state exco, which was initially meant to act as a caretaker committee for a period of three months. The tenure of the committee has since been extended indefinitely by the national leadership.

Also, the control of the wards and local government executive committee structures have been a subject of dispute between stakeholders and gladiators. For instance, there were, until a recent Supreme Court Judgment, two factional wards and local government executive committees.

Governor Ben Ayade and his group are said to have lost out with the recent judgment by the Supreme Court.

The other group contending against the one that enjoys the governor’s backing is being backed by many National Assembly members and founding stakeholders. The group also referred to as the Abuja Group have challenged  the governor over the list of executive committees. They have also challenged Ayade’s interest in who becomes the Senator representing Cross River North in the National Assembly.

The Abuja group got a favourable Supreme Court Judgment, which has taken the control of the wards and local government structures away from the governor. The premise of the judgment on the authentic list of the executive committees is the same as the premise of the case with Jerigbe Agom as the senatorial candidate, who got an Appeal Court Judgment that cancelled the initial INEC certificate of return issued to Dr. Steve Odey, who was earlier declared as the senator-elect for the Cross River North and sworn by the National Assembly after a recent by-election.

Odey, who lasted only 24 hours in the Senate chambers, is supported by Ayade. He has appealed to the Supreme Court and the Appeal Court Judgment that aided Jerigbe to be issued a Certificate of Return.

Odey pointed accusing fingers at Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, who is the financial backbone of Jerigbe because he wants the control of everything in PDP. Odey has insisted that he was duly elected, both at the primary and at the election of December 5, 2020.

Political pundits believe that the division in the Cross River PDP is risky for the party ahead of the 2023 general election. A party member  said: “By the provisions and practice within the PDP, a governor is always the leader of the party and it has never happened in the state where the governor’s interest is washed off from the list of party exco, be it ward level, local government and state.

“The implication of the recent Supreme Court judgment is that the list of ward and local government excos which is supported by the Abuja Group is what has been authenticated against the list of the governor’s group. The same list, which has been authenticated, is what Jerigbe based his arguments on. If the Abuja Group wins again, then, the governor may be pushed to the wall.”

However, Chairman of Cross River State National Assembly Caucus, Senator Gershom Bassey and other stakeholders have hailed the Supreme Court judgment. The crux of the matter is which of the two factions has control of the executives in the state.

Bassey, like other stakeholders, said with the judgment of the apex court, “the truth has been upheld”.

Bassey enjoined “all party men and women to come together to move this great party, the most successful political party in the history of Cross River State, forward to even greater heights. He said: “For me, this puts the PDP back on track.  Let’s put this behind us and move forward. It’s a victory for democracy and the democratic process. The governor is the leader of the party. He will bring the entire party together. It’s his inherited responsibility and knowing him, he will live up to this responsibility.”

On his ambition for 2023 and the role the National Assembly Caucus played while the tussle lasted, Bassey said: “2023 is two years away. Let’s focus on our current mandate. The caucus insisted on strict adherence to the NEC approved party guidelines for the congresses.”

A member of the Caretaker Committee, Chief Austine Edibe, said the Supreme Court ruling showed that the people’s will shall always prevail. His words: “The list the Supreme Court has authenticated emanated from various wards and local governments and we are all Cross Riverians. We have tested the validity of the process and the court said this is a valid process. This, therefore, has put paid to all doubts and controversies surrounding the congresses.”

Another stakeholder, Venatius Ikem, urged the executives to live up the expectations of the people, by offering credible leadership, devoid of bitterness and divisiveness. He added: “Remember that no meaningful development can take place in an atmosphere of chaos. You must therefore, rededicate yourselves to work, towards achieving a tranquil political environment within the party that is favourable to peaceful coexistence and development.”

Ikem, a former National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, added: “Never lose sight of the fact that the challenge of making peace is more difficult than winning a ‘war’. Let me use this opportunity to advise that you extend your hands of fellowship to all those who may not have been favoured by this judgment through no fault of theirs. As all can see, the executive committees is a contribution of the most diverse interests of various stakeholders that have ever emerged in the history of the party in Cross River State.  Therefore, there should be no fear whatsoever of any dominance of any political tendency, moving forward.”

APC:

The APC in Cross River State prides itself as the alternative political platform. But, the party could only win a seat in the National Assembly at the last general elections. For Senator John Owan Enoh, the governorship candidate of the party in the 2019 election, the party is truly the alternative platform, adding that would get stronger and better in the next election.

He expressed confidence that the just concluded by-election for Cross River North, in which INEC declared PDP winner, will be retrieved back at the tribunal by the APC.

John Ochalla, former acting chairman, said  APC is trying to repositioning itself. Another chieftain, Patrick Bassey, said the APC crisis started when the former Chairman, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani, was appointed as a minister in 2015. Usani, he added, felt he could use his new status to achieve his long-standing ambition of becoming governor, by manipulating the state executive to get the 2019 governorship ticket at the primary.

Bassey said: “Usani’s deputy, Sir John Ochala (now acting chairman) refused to play ball and insisted on a free, fair, transparent and credible primary. That did not go down well with Usani and he rather formed a parallel state structure headed by one Etim John. This crisis led to both Senator John Owan Enoh and Pastor Usani Uguru Usani emerging from parallel primaries and laying claims to the governorship ticket. The courts however, declared Enoh as the legitimate candidate.”

In search for a lasting solution to the crisis, stakeholder meetings were held and leaders were urged to make sacrifices for the party to  Ochala, the State Chairman (as he then was) and Etim John ( Usani’s factional chairman) decided to step aside and allow for a neutral chairman that will be accepted by the majority of the party faithful. This brought about the emergence of Senator Mathew Mbu as acting chairman.

The new caretaker committee chairman, Mbu, held stakeholders meeting where he pleaded with the party faithful for patience and sacrifice for the party to move forward. He also encouraged both divides to harmonise and come up with a unified executive.

Stakeholders have applauded the current moves towards reconciliation. The caretaker chairman said there was a crack in the party  and he was committed to reconciling all into a united party.

However, some stakeholders who pleaded anonymity noted that one of the major problems of the APC is that of external financiers and influencers. He said: “For instance, since after the 2019 elections, major appointments given to party members in the state were decided at the national level without taking the major stakeholders in the state into confidence. They particularly mentioned Chief Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transport, as one of the external influences working against the local interest that would have kept the party stronger in the state.

Some stakeholders said more sacrifices have to be made. One of them said: “For instance, the issue of which zone should produce the next governorship candidate is very critical and the party must zone it to set the ball rolling. The external influencers should not ignore the local interest, but allow for internal democracy.”

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