The dust over the defection of Cross River state governor, Senator Ben Ayade, to the All Progressives Congress (APC), is still swirling menacingly across Cross River with accusations and counter accusations from both political divides of All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. JOSEPH OBUNG, in this report, chronicles the behind-the-scene developments which may have contributed to the defection, and which effectively ended PDP 22 years of monopoly of Cross River politics.
While some persons, especially from the APC, have continued to hail Governor Ben Ayade’s decision to join the ruling party at the centre, others are saying the governor’s defection was long expected due to certain indices which pitched him against PDP leadership.
The bone of contention
Shortly after the 2015 general election, relationship between the Governor Ayade and his then party, the PDP, plummeted from bad to worse as the party accused Ayade of being more at home with APC leadership than the PDP.
Ayade’s closeness to President Muhammadu Buhari and by extension many APC governors and leaders was a cause for concern to the PDP.
And, due to this close relationship, within just five months as governor, Ayade was able to bring Buhari to Calabar for a ground breaking ceremony of proposed 275km super highway project.
Although the conceptualization of the project turned out to be a subject of controversy for some years, Buhari again became a guest of the Cross River state government on a June 26, 2018 when he arrived Calabar to commission the rice seedling factory.
Apart from his closeness to the centre during his time as a PDP governor, Gov Ayade saw no reasons why he should pick quarrels with other leaders of APC especially those from his state.
This may have explained why in December 3, 2016, Gov Ayade attended the thanksgiving service in honour of the then Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Usani, and in which other APC governors were in attendance. This drew condemnation from PDP leaders and loyalists especially as Ayade was the only PDP governor in that event.
In an interaction, an aide to the governor, who preferred anonymity, told this newspaper that the National leadership of the PDP was bent on disgracing Ayade, and that the governor left PDP out of frustration because the party took away its structure from the governor.
Iyadim Iyadim, Chairman of Bakassi local government council, told reporters early this week that the struggle for who controls PDP structure was the sole reason Ayade left, adding ‘PDP did not give the governor opportunity to lead the party the way he wanted.”
This, multiple PDP sources disagreed, saying “the governor had been in veiled love for the APC since 2016.”
One of the sources claimed that taking the party structure at the ward levels from the governor was just to cut him to size considering his body language, especially as the party was uncertain on where Ayade belonged.
He said, “this is a man who had one leg in our party, and another leg in APC. He himself had confessed that he was sitting on the fence. It was wise that we did not allow him to destroy the party because he had already betrayed the confidence we reposed in him.”
It was further learnt that many PDP egg-heads and majority members of its National Leadership, had expressed anger over the way the governor was openly praising the APC government at the centre. A source said the decision to take the party structure from him was so that “he would not handover the structures and everything PDP used 22 years to build to the APC on the platter of gold.
“We don’t even know how to classify him, but all we know is that he is APC body and soul, and only PDP in name. You can hardly find him at PDP events, not even during South South PDP leaders meetings, but he is always quick to speak elegantly of Buhari and his APC government, and this is a man who is supposed to be an opposition governor.”
According to one of the National Assembly members from Cross River, the PDP’s gang up against the governor was for the interest of the party and so was justified.
“Look at it this way. In terms of financial war chest, the governor has enormous resources at his disposal to run all of us out of the party, but this fight is not one money can sway, the battle to rescue Cross River PDP is being directed from above. It’s therefore, not our personal fight, it’s the party’s fight,” he had submitted.
Ayade, PDP never on same page
Investigations further indicated that Governor Ben Ayade and his then party were seldom on same page. This is because during the leadership crisis which engulfed the party, the Cross River governor refused to support Ahmed Makarfi, the Caretaker Committee Chairman, who was believed to have been generally accepted by many of the PDP leaders.
He had pitched his tent with Ali Modu Sheriff who was seen by many PDP leaders as an APC mole.
Sheriff later went back to the APC immediately he lost out at the Supreme Court which finally confirmed Makarfi as PDP chairman.
Moreover, the Governor seldom attended PDP Governors’ Forum meetings. He did not attend the August 13, 2017 PDP convention in Abuja that produced Uche Secondus as Chairman. His accusers alleged that he stayed back partly because his candidate, Modu Sheriff, lost out and that he was more comfortable with Sheriff who was soon to go back to APC, than Secondus. This was another harbinger of crisis.
This year, 2021, PDP Governors’ Forum organized two meetings in Makurdi and Ibadan. Gov Ben Ayade neither attended nor sent representatives. He did not also attend the Southern Governors’ meeting of May 11, 2021, a situation his former party men frowned at.
Governor and his previous outburst
Governor Ben Ayade had often been accused of wasting no time in lambasting his former party at any slightest provocation. For instance, when his friend, Mr. Chris Agara, lost out in the race for the Cross River Central Senatorial primary, an angry Ayade had described the PDP leaders as people without conscience, clothed with injustices.
He said, “In spite of it all, that he (Agara) has spent more money than any other candidate in this state, a party that is so unfair and has got no conscience, a man came ready for election and you take out his name from the ballot. You take out his name, because you know he is too powerful. When people use God-given opportunities to do injustice, injustice would await them.” Analysts believed these utterances may have precipitated distrust and ill feelings.
PDP’s initial attempt at cutting Ayade to size
It could be recalled that as relationship between PDP and the governor soured in 2016, the party had made initial attempt at shoving him off their shoulders but for last minutes intervention from some party leaders.
In 2016, PDP decided to lend their support to Joe Agi who had sought the removal of Gov Ayade from office. The appellant, Joe Agi (SAN) had sought the removal of Gov Ayade on the basis of an alleged falsification/perjury and loss of membership of the party during the December 8, 2014 PDP primary.
Surprisingly, the PDP lawyer, N. Ibegbulam, had told the Supreme Court that the party was in support of Agi’s appeal against Ayade.
A source at the PDP secretariat told this reporter that the party’s decision to pay Ayade back with his own coins was thwarted by serious political compromises initiated by some leaders from the state and with the ‘help’ of the then Chief Justice of Nigeria.
In 2019, the PDP again made an attempt to frustrate the governor out of the party by denying its ticket but a source who sounded very angry said some party leaders again prevailed on the party to sheath its sword. Our source said the governor breached a term of agreement by again distancing himself from the party leaders in the state and refusing to consult them on major political issues.
Roles of NASS members and other stakeholders
It was further learnt that some National Assembly members from the state, founding fathers of the PDP and other stakeholders had alleged that the Governor was hijacking party structures and singlehandedly selecting local government chairmen and councilors without inputs from other leaders.
Arrowhead of the fight, Mr. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, member representing Yala/Ogoja Federal constituency in the House of Representatives, had expressed disagreement over Ayade’s handling of party matter in the state.
He said, “How has my dear Governor played politics with ethics? Is it by handing over the PDP structure to his younger brother? The last ward and chapter congresses of the state were conducted from the comfort of his younger brother’s living room.”
He had accused the governor of “picking and choosing who became ward chairmen with total disregard to NASS members and other stakeholders, adding “we are in a democracy and this affords us the opportunity to challenge non participatory and dictatorial decisions. We did not give you (Ayade) the party as a franchise.”
Besides, a group, Movement for the Restoration of Cross River Peoples Democratic Party (MFTROCR) had, mid-last year called for the suspension of Governor Ayade and five others for dragging the national PDP and its officers to court over congresses.
The coordinator of the group, Comrade Raymond Takon, had said, “we are aware that some of his (governor’s) diehard loyalists are advising their boss to quit PDP if they refused to allow them have their way in terms of who takes over the party structures. We also have it on good authority that the Governor has been discreetly discussing with some top APC members in Abuja on how to defect.
“Against this background, we call on the national party leadership to take drastic action against the state leadership led by Ntufam Inok by sanctioning all those who took the party to court and their sponsors.”
Some PDP leaders disagree with party
Investigations showed not all PDP leaders were flexing muscles with Gov Ayade. A former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, during his visit to Calabar some months ago, threatened that many PDP bigwigs, including himself, would leave the party should Ayade be forced to defect over controversy surrounding who controls the party structure.
In what analysts saw as a veiled reference to a South South Governor, Fani-Kayode had warned “You cannot and must not undermine a sitting Governor or attempt to humiliate him in his own state and before his people. Some of those that are advocating and behind this nonsense would never allow it to happen in their own states.
“No-one, no matter how big or powerful, should think that they own the PDP.
If there is any attempt to undermine Ayade it will spark off a crisis in the party that will split it right down the middle and the consequences will not be limited to Cross River state.” PDP leaders seemed to have given deaf ears to the warning.
Permutations over 2023
While the issue of party structure is regarded as immediate cause of disagreement between PDP and Gov Ayade, findings indicated that many PDP leaders had on several occasions expressed readiness to ensure the governor has no hands on who takes over from him in 2023. A Source said PDP was afraid Ayade could bring up a successor who could take after him as such were hell bent in giving him a fight.
Politics in Cross River redefined
Political watchers are of the opinion that the stage has been set for one of the biggest political battles in the history of Cross River state. And with 22 years of PDP’s political monopoly of the state brought to a dramatic end by the governor, analysts predict interesting political battles ahead.
While the APC and PDP boast of political heavyweights, financial muscles and the know-how on political maneuverings, youths from both political divides have vowed to ensure their principals emerged victorious in the oncoming contest but which party outsmarts the other would be decided in 2023 when all dices would have been thrown on the table.