Since 2016, there has been heightened speculation about the possible defection of Governor Benedict Ayade to the APC. Political watchers and pundits are of the view that Ayade carries on like a man who is wedded to two political suitors – partisan polygamist of some sort, if you like. There is no doubt that since the inception of the fourth republic in 1999, Nigeria has unwittingly adopted a binary political disposition where two political parties seem to dominate the landscape with a constellation of smaller and fringe parties jostling for crumbs from the rear. Governor Ayade has maintained the divisive elite horse-trading and deal making posture which is perhaps his own style of keeping afloat in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. This measure has left him balanced with a deep affiliation to the PDP in the state while patronizing the APC at the national level.
One might as well allude that Governor Ayade has adopted this double marriage to two political families as a means of seeking advantage in the polity against his perceived opponents and a way of warding off a searchlight on his administration from the center. The recourse to such a position is a clear suggestion that His Excellency wants to buy more snooze time whilst leaving the impression of being vicariously committed to governance in the state. To many watchers of political events in the state, the governor’s embedded hot romance with two political parties is a pointer to a confounded and confused leadership bequeathed to us in 2015.
In any case, those who are hauling platitudes at the festering political romance of Governor Ayade with two political parties do not think deeply that the man is only content to play his own brand of politics. Ostensibly, the governor seems willing to continue to play the game on his terms as time goes. Well, His Excellency may not have seen any qualitative difference between his party, the PDP and APC in tempers and ideas after all. We must remember that Governor Ben Ayade was the only PDP governor who publicly declared support for Ali Modu Sheriff faction while the tussle for the soul of the party lingered. It goes without saying that Governor Ayade does not really belong to the same political cut of cloth with the current PDP leadership at the national level.
For any discerning mind, the critical question is: what would be the attraction for Governor Benedict Ayade to defect to APC? Needless to say that Cross River APC has been embroiled in a protracted internal crisis. The governor understands that PDP is still the most dominant party in the state. There is no doubt that with the current situation in the APC, PDP still holds the elixir as the most viable option for anyone to ventilate his or her political ambition in the state. For obvious reasons, the governor would want a sustained internal wrangling in the APC because he is the chief beneficiary of the fallout. A united APC in the state could become his political albatross as that would engender positive engagements against him as the main opposition. Sadly, since 2015, APC in Cross River State has been in an endangered position which the governor is leveraging and latching on.
At the moment, there is near absence of any vigorous contestation of ideas and viable opposition against the ruling party in the state. The governor is having a field day and basking in the lethargy of those who were suppose to be engaging him tit-for-tat to deliver good governance. It won’t be out of place to assert therefore that the political space in the state is completely ceded to the governor and his latitude is without restrain. As long as the gladiators in APC in the state remain reluctant to put their house in order, Governor Benedict Ayade will continue to steal the political show.
Though all indices of development in the state are dangerously adrift under his watch, Governor Ayade is not facing rigorous scrutiny from any organized political platform to deliver salutary performance. The governor is having a jolly, swell time and he comes across as a man for whom statecraft is exclusively a matter of self aggrandizement. He’s proved overtime that no magnitude of the catalogue of our socioeconomic woes would stand in the way of him having his raunchy dance which has become a routine.
Already there are reports that the state electoral umpire, the Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC) has given its knot to the list of candidates submitted by the Etim John led faction of the APC in the state. This is contrary to a subsisting court judgment that recognizes the John Ochalla led faction as the authentic executive of the party in the state. This illegality can only be made possible at the behest of the governor who has chosen to recognize the Etim John led faction that constitutes less than 15% of the strength and capacity of APC in the state. As a build up to the forthcoming local government election, the two factions of the APC in the state had submitted different lists of candidates for the election to the state electoral umpire.
It is on record that the John Ochalla led faction complied with the party’s constitution and electoral guidelines with the organization of a state-wide primaries where candidates for the local government elections where elected. The primaries produced councillorship candidates for each of the 192 wards and 18 chairmanship candidates for the 18 Local Government Councils in the state. On the other hand, the Etim John led faction could only muster 30 councillorship candidates in a state with 192 wards and primaries were not conducted.
Again, another twist in the fantasy of Governor Ayade’s defection to the APC borders on the governor’s gesture to the people of Ekureku Ward 1 and 2 in Abi Local Government Area. In the build up to the Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency rerun election in January, 2020, the governor threw some spanners in the works. Barely one week to such a critical election, Governor Ben Ayade in his usual unending bazaar of political appointments curiously extended his largesse to the sons and daughters of Ekureku with 35 appointments all of whom were from the PDP.
These appointments were provided as strong ammunitions against the APC candidate. They were ostensibly meant to ennoble the conscience of the Ekureku people and sway their support in favor of the PDP candidate. So, how could such a man be seen as desirous of defecting to a party he is up in arms against in the state? The said appointments were actually Greek gifts to the people. There are reports that after APC won the rerun election, the appointees were barred from the usual documentation and enrolment with the state government.
The governor is said to be facing a groundswell of opposition from some key stakeholders in the PDP, particularly serving members of the National Assembly on the platform of the party from the state. Their grouse against him is centered on his overbearing attitude and his style of running the party in the state like a fiefdom and a family dynasty. At the last count, no serving Senator or member of the House of Representatives was given the privilege to nominate even a councillorship aspirant for the forthcoming Local Government election. This blatant alienation has stirred up the hornet’s nest within the ruling party in the state and the occupants of Wadata House have been petition on the matter.
Judging from his abysmal performance, there are genuine fears in high places of the PDP that Governor Ayade’s continuous control of the levers of the party in the state will be inimical to the fortunes of the party as we approach 2023. It is reasoned that if the governor is given the right of first refusal to nominate his successor, Cross Riverians would roundly rebuff such a candidate and this will spell doom for the party. Against this backdrop, there are strategic intentions to whittle down his dominance in the party. If this move is successful, the governor might just contemplate a defection. At this point, Governor Benedict Ayade will be leaving the PDP as a weakling without any meaningful political capital. But for now, the governor is still in charge and his image is looming almost larger life in Cross River PDP.
So, for those who are front and center in the debate on Governor Benedict Ayade’s possible defection to the APC, they might just be in for a very long wait to see the fruition of their dreams. Nevertheless, in life, anyone and everyone is free to feed his or her fantasy.
Missang Oyama a socio-political analyst, wrote in from Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory.
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