2023: Matters arising as Ayade joins the APC

Cross River state governor Ben Ayade

The defection of the Cross River state governor, Professor Ben Ayade from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has elicited a lot of reactions ahead of the 2023 general elections, ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU writes

The defection of the Cross River state governor, Prof Ben Ayade, from the opposition PDP to the APC did not come as a surprise to many.

Interestingly, the leadership and stakeholders in the PDP were aware of Ayade’s move to dump the umbrella for the APC, long before he crossed over.

Unfortunately, all attempts made by stakeholders, including PDP governors for over a year to persuade Ayade to stay back did not yield positive result. 

Nigeria political observers and onlookers have continued to express their views on why the governor left the party that gave him almost everything he needed to build his political career. But a few insiders in both the PDP and the ruling party are not oblivious of the reasons(s) for his action. 

Why I Left PDP – Ayade

Explaining why he joined the APC, the governor said “having seen and known the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and his commitment to this country, his nationalistic disposition and all the efforts he has made to bring Nigeria to where we are today, it is obvious that at this point we needed to join hands with him to build a Nigeria that we can be proud of”.

Contrary to Professor Ayade’s claims,  those who know Ayade, believed he defected to the APC for the same reason a former Akwa Ibom state governor, Godswill Akpabio did.

According to them, while Akpabio’s was a self preservation move, that of Ayade was informed by the need to “rescue” someone from a discomforting situation. 

Analysts also posited that reasons for the defection of the Ebonyi state governor, Dave Umahi from the PDP to the APC last November may not be too different. However, unlike Akpabio and Umahi, who appeared to have joined the mainstream APC at the time they did, Governor Ayade chose to join a camp that has been manipulating the APC structure for undue leverage in the past one year. 

A few analysts concluded that it is obvious where Ayade has pitched his tent considering the identities of the APC governors that received him into the ruling party on the day he defected. On hand to receive Ayade was the governor of Yobe state, who is also the APC Caretaker Committee chairman, Mala Mai Buni. Other APC governors at the reception ground were the Ekiti state governor, Kayode Fayemi and Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau state. Also in the team were Governors Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi state); Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa state); and Hope Uzodinma (Imo). 

Joining forces with the anti Tinubu camp

Analysts have observed that perhaps the only purpose the recent defection of the Cross River state governor, Ben Ayade from the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will serve is to increase the number of APC governors opposed to the reported presidential ambition of a former Lagos state governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

With the league of APC governors that received Ayade into the ruling party, it is apparent that the Cross River state governor has pitched his tent with the group opposed to the presidential ambition of the former Lagos state governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu.

Many have observed that the team of APC governors that assembled to receive Ayade into the party are the leaders of camp that saw to the alienation of APC leaders perceived to be sympathetic to Tinubu’s aspiration.

Part of their game plan was to ensure the removal of the former National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in June 2020 and the dismantling of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC). 

With the appointment in June 2020 of the Yobe State Governor, Mala Mai Buni as chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee, the group succeeded in seizing the party structure at the national level. The Buni-led Caretaker Committee was given an initial tenure of six months, which was to expire in December 2020, but the Committee and its backers succeeded in getting another six months extension, which is expected to expire this June. 

Having failed in its primary mandate of conducting the party’s national convention, the Caretaker Committee is presently scheming to get a fresh extension, a plot that is being resisted by the marginalised Tinubu camp and other stakeholders as well. Insider sources in the APC say there is apprehension among party stakeholders over perceived move by the Caretaker Committee to keep running the affairs of the APC at the national level while Buni and his co travelers keep searching for pliable individuals for the party’s NWC positions. Those in the Yobe governor’s camp include governors of Kebbi, Kaduna, Jigawa, Ekiti, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau, Imo, Ebonyi and Gombe states. Governor Ayade of Cross River is a new entrant into this group. On the other hand, it was reliably gathered that those opposed to the tenure perpetuation scheme of Buni and members of his camp include the governors of Kano, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Borno and Katsina.

What is Ayade bringing to APC?

In subtle way of explaining what his bringing to the APC, Ayade said “we all need to as a team work ahead of the president by working towards building a prosperous country that the succession worries of 2023 will come without the fears and the worries the international community has for us. I believe that if everyone of us as Governor joins hands with Mr President, I think we can sit on the same dining table and fashion out a way to govern this country.

However, political analysts noted that, like Akpabio and Amaechi , who were trashed by the PDP in the last election and who are still struggling for political relevance in their home states of Akwa Ibom and Rivers respectively, Ayade will certainly face an uphill task in navigating the political landscape in Cross River in future elections. Apparently, he faces a bleak political future for the simple reason that even as a sitting governor, he failed to have a grip on the structure of the PDP in the Cross River chapter. 

The general feeling in political circles in Cross River and among nost Nigerians is that Ayade’s fate won’t be different from that of Akpabio and Amaechi who have lost the trust of voters in their states. While Amaechi could not organise the APC into a formidable force in Rivers, leading to the disqualification of the APC in all state elections in 2019, Akpabio lost election in his senatorial district on the platform of the APC in 2019. Like Umahi who failed to convince key PDP stakeholders in Ebonyi to defect to the APC, Ayade has also been struggling with key stakeholders in Cross River, who have vowed to remain in the PDP. 

Ayade is on his own, we will not follow him  – Senator Bassey

A day after the governor’s defection, the Cross River State federal lawmakers elected on the platform of the Peoples PDP declared that they will not follow him to the APC. 

The lawmakers, at a media conference recently in Abuja, described themselves as legacy members of the PDP, reiterating their commitment to the main opposition party. 

In a text of address read on behalf of the lawmakers by Senator Gershon Bassey, the legislators said Ayade’s defection will not affect the fortunes of the PDP in feature elections, especially the 2023 general election.

Senator Bassey had said: “As far as I know, till date, the National Assembly caucus remains intact. I don’t see any of us leaving. We are legacy members of the party who have been in this party for the past 15 to 20 years. So the short answer is no, we are not going anywhere”.

Also, a former governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke, said the exit of the governor from PDP was regrettable but that it did not come as a surprise as it was not unexpected. Imoke added that the people of Cross River have stood with the PDP since 1999 and that they are not ready to join the governor in the APC. 

According to him “Given the overwhelming support which he enjoyed under the PDP and the fact that PDP has undeniable strong grassroots in the state, we affirm that Cross River state remains a PDP state. An overwhelming majority of Cross River State people are PDP members. Our key stakeholders, members of the National and State Assemblies and strategic grassroots mobilizers, are still members of our great party. We as a party therefore remain virile and strong. 

Continuing, Imoke said: “Our shell remains uncracked. The leadership of Cross River state under the aegis of PDP since 1999 has led the state to a pedigree of progression and seen to the attainment of all the lofty achievements the state has been known for. Hence, the events of the last 24 hours in our state avail us an opportunity to re-strategise and realign ourselves with the ideals of the PDP the state which was characterised by a trajectory of growth and development geared towards the path of greatness”.

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