As the race for the governorship of Cross River State hots up, the two major political parties in the state are likely to go head-to-head in a battle Royale; neither of them has a clear winning edge over the other. Already, forecast on which party will carry the day is too close to call in view of the evolving political drama. The battle ahead promises to be the fiercest and most competitive in the state’s political history. After the keenly contested 1999 elections that saw the PDP marginally trouncing the defunct APP, the state became mainly one party with minimal or near absence of opposition. The PDP held on as an unchallenged hegemony for twenty-two years.
The defection of Governor Benedict Ayade to the APC has no doubt altered political calculations in the state, and the stakes have become higher leading up to the 2023 polls. It has also fanned the embers of opposition politics and broadened the spectrum of democracy in the state. However, the resurgence of opposition politics in the state began in the 2019 general elections when the APC almost clinched the governorship but for the internal wrangling in the party. The party gave a good showing with an enviable traction in its campaign across the state. That fact must not be lost on us.
Nonetheless, the burning question from political watchers is: Is Cross River truly an APC state? That question is not far-fetched considering the unfolding events in the state. The answer to that question, should be proffered with a sincere reflection on available statistics or empirical facts. Again, the reality that confronted the party in the aftermath of the last bye-elections has added fillip to that mindboggling question. As a member of the APC, I won’t be economical with the truth here. The truth is, my party must win the 2023 Governorship Election to seal the status of Cross River as an APC State.
After the defection of Governor Benedict Ayade from the PDP to APC in May 2021, of the seven House of Representatives members elected on the platform of his former party, five did not jump ship with him. Similarly, three of the serving Senators refused to kowtow to the governor’s whims; they instead kept faith with their party. Consequently, PDP has all the Senators and five members of the House of Representatives currently serving in the National Assembly. No discerning mind attuned to the political situation in the state can undermine such huge mileage leading up to the race for who occupies the Peregrino House in Calabar in 2023.
Judging by the last bye-elections, the APC has so much to contend with, based on acceptability and popularity against the main opposition. Three Local Government Areas (Akpabuyo, Ogoja, and Yala) were in contention in the said elections, and the PDP won two leaving the APC with one. In a state where the incumbent governor is APC in addition to the State Chairman of the party, an isolated election in their Senatorial Zone for the House of Representatives seat (Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency) took something in the neighborhood of brute force; almost demanding an arm and a leg to win. That calls for serious concern from all stakeholders in the APC.
It is even more scary for the APC considering that in that bye-election, the party lost two of the three State Constituencies in Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency to the PDP. That Federal Constituency embodies three State Constituencies and the PDP is clearly pulling its weight against the APC. It is nauseating to note that Akpabuyo State Constituency, a hotbed of the majority of those who are clamoring to fly the party’s ticket as gubernatorial candidate on the grounds of zoning to the South was lost to the PDP in the bye-election.
The scenario playing out in the state lends credence to the idea that the APC has the government, whereas the PDP is still far more entrenched. So in terms of popularity, visibility, and acceptability, PDP is holding the aces going into the next elections. That means the APC though in power, cannot underestimate the possibility of the PDP springing a return to power in 2023. To this end, the soul of the state is up for grabs by either of the two political parties. In the ensuing battle, neither of the parties will be playing as an underdog in the game.
There is no doubt that the APC garnered more strength with the foray of Governor Ayade into its fold. Nevertheless, the party must build on that strength, and the governor, as the leader of the party in the state, must show purposeful leadership and work with strategic acumen. He should not be too fixated on a decision he took at the time that could now undermine the chances of his new political family. Times have changed!
It is no longer a given in our state that when the governor anoints a candidate in his party, the person wins the election even before the contest. That era now belongs to history. The earlier the leadership of the APC wakes up to this reality, the better. A leader should not only be creative and innovative in decision-making. He must equally be dynamic with a recalibrated mindset to fit into current peculiarities.
Leadership must constantly reinvent itself to fit for purpose. That is the difference between success and failure in any leadership process. It won’t be out of place to hazard a guess that if there is no urgent and radical change in the thinking of the leadership of the APC in the state, the outcome of the last bye-election might be a clear sign or visible pointer of things to come.
To think that there won’t be elections in 2023 and that we will be riding on the crest of the power of incumbency and federal might with the intent to mindlessly rig elections or stuff ballot boxes might be mere wishful thinking. That is akin to living in the clouds. APC must quickly test the pulse of Cross Riverians and appreciate how savvy and determined the people have become politically. Besides, the INEC recently introduced Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in the new Electoral Act has sufficiently whittle down the advantages previously conferred on the power of incumbency and federal might.
It should sink into our subconscious that there will be elections and a highly competitive one at that. APC, like other political parties, must prepare to face the Cross River electorates. The party cannot wear blinders and pay deaf ears to the formidable force it will confront in the field. It is worrisome that the main opposition is determined to field a governorship candidate with the capacity to win the election irrespective of the drum of zoning being beaten by some leaders in its fold. But unfortunately, APC, without the zoning provision in its constitution, has become unduly attached to that concept and other primordial considerations.
Over and above any consideration, the APC should be more concerned about winning the election. It behooves the party to put its best foot forward to make that happen and retain power. Zoning is not a wrong concept, but we are in peculiar times. Therefore, the leadership must wear its thinking cap and do so fast. PDP is giving its governorship ticket to a popular candidate who has the vault of a particular oil-rich state to bankroll the election.
The APC leadership must redirect its thinking, allow for a fluid process, shop for an acceptable and formidable candidate in its fold with the war chest to match the opposition, and deliver victory for the party regardless of where the individual comes from in the state.
The forthcoming governorship election in the state will not be a test game for greenhorns or a platform for serial losers to reinvigorate their already dead political careers. It will be a battle of heavyweights. For the APC, the party’s victory will be a function of the quality of its candidate. The onus is, therefore, on the leadership to do the needful. Otherwise, the chances of the party will continue to stutter as we etch towards the elections.
Oyama is a public intellectual and member of APC in Olulumo Ward, Ikom Local Government Area. firstname.lastname@example.org
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