By Anietie Akpan, Deputy Bureau Chief, South South
• APC, PDP differ over ownership of secretariat
• C’River Police Command warns against violence
It was long in coming, but the dust of Governor Benedict Ayade’s cross over to All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that gifted him the platform for his two terms in office, has continued to swirl.
From day one, it was obvious that the Cross River State governor was not in PDP to stay, only that the day of his expected move to APC was uncertain. Senator Ayade’s romance with President Muhammadu Buhari was very strong, especially when the former Chief of Staff, late Abba Kyari, was alive.
Just a few months after his inauguration on May 29, 2015, Ayade was able to bring Buhari twice to the state. First, was for the groundbreaking ceremony of the superhighway and deep seaport projects that are now standing as mirage. That was on October 20, 2015.
Three years later, on June 26, 2018 precisely, Buhari was in town once again for the commissioning of the Rice Seedling factory projected to generate N50billion annually. Two years now, that project simulates the vapour of Ayade’s adjectives. Maybe, with the state now among the broom states, action will match words and things working out better.
History of early perfidies
AT a time that PDP was enmeshed in serious national crisis of leadership, Ayade supported Ali Modu Sheriff, who was widely seen as an APC mole in PDP against Senator Ahmed Makarfi, the popular PDP candidate. When the Supreme Court confirmed Makarfi as the authentic national chairman early 2017, things went awry in the state.
Prior to the apex court judgment, Ayade had installed state and ward executives loyal to him as his personal structure. That arrangement did not go down well with some party elders even as most National Assembly members felt sidelined and embarrassed.
Ayade’s absence at the August 13, 2017 PDP convention in Abuja that produced Uche Scondus, raised speculations that he may leave the party ahead of 2019 poll. Based on the fact Ayade and the state chapter supported Sherriff against Makarfi at the heat of the crisis, Makarfi’s loyalists insisted that he wont be given the PDP ticket for 2019.
Ayade was also accused of not attending most PDP meetings as well as ignoring the rent for the state secretariat in Calabar. But, after much coaxing and horse-trading, Ayade got the ticket, just as he was denied the opportunity of determining the fate of his favoured National Assembly aspirants.
In apparent dismay, Ayade had, during the launch of the now crippled State Microfinance Bank in 2018, described PDP as a party that is “unfair and has got no conscience.” And embittered by the disqualification of his friend, Mr. Chris Agara, for the Cross River Central Senatorial primary, Ayade said: “In spite of it all, that he 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.”
Mr. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, member representing Yala/Ogoja Federal constituency in the House of Representatives, had accused Ayade of hijacking the earlier congresses and installed his cronies. His words: “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 picked and chose who became ward chairmen in the wards of National Assembly members and even serving commissioners, with total disregard for NASS members and other stakeholders… 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.”
On January 6, 2021 in a unanimous judgement, the apex court reaffirmed the March 7 and 21, 2020 ward and state executives’ list the PDP issued on April 26 that was signed by the national organising secretary and ratified by the National Working Committee (NWC).
The appeal by some NWC members in the state challenging the authenticity of the lists and the decisions of the Port Harcourt High Court and the Appeal Court in Abuja was struck out.
This put paid to the confusion as to who controls the party structure. The Cross River State National Assembly Caucus Leader, Senator Gershom Bassey and other stakeholders in the state hailed the Supreme Court judgement on the issue of wards and state executives, saying, “The truth has been upheld.”
With two straight Supreme Court rulings in favour of the Cross River National Assembly Caucus members, the political equation in the state was settled. The NASS members took over the party structure thus making Ayade a figurehead leader of PDP in the state. The first judgment gave them power and control of party structures from ward to state level, thereby keeping the governor in a tight corner.
The second judgement, which recognized Jarigbe as Senator for Cross River North Senatorial District, frustrated Ayade’s chances of strolling back to the Senate in 2023. It was generally believed that Ayade was the actual contestant during the Senatorial bye-election instead of then incumbent Dr. Stephen Odey, who was seen as a surrogate merely holding ground for his master’s return to the senate in 2023.
Against this background, it was clear that Ayade was on his way out of PDP as the stakeholders and National Assembly members disapproved of his actions against them. They did not waste time to wrest the state party structure from him. In the heat of the crisis, 39 commissioners in Ayade’s cabinet during a press briefing at the Ernest Etim Bassey Press Centre last year, accused members of the National Assembly from the state of exhibiting “ingratitude” and an act of “witchcraftcy” against Ayade, assuring that that would be visited with equal and proportional force.
Former Special Adviser to the governor, Inter Party Affairs, Mr. Austin Ibok, had in an interview with The Guardian declared: “I don’t know if the governor will leave, but I will be one of the frontliners of Ben Ayade, I am a diehard, wherever Ben goes is where we go. If Ben does not want to move we will tell him we have to move. Most of those people are former governors, Senators, commissioners and during their time, was anybody treating them this way? Were they not the ones that controlled the structure of the party and everything?”
In September 2016, the Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Christian Ita, stated: “Governor Ayade has said several times that he is not leaving the PDP for any reason. Perhaps, the people in APC are just like my Governor. In a recent briefing with newsmen, the governor stated in very clear terms that he is a member of PDP. The fact that the governor has a very good relationship with President Buhari does not, in any way, suggest he wants to join the APC.”
But, in a last minute ditch effort to stop Ayade’s defection, the PDP Governors’ Forum (PDP GF) led by the Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, alongside Delta and Enugu States’ counterparts, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa and Dr. Ifeanyi Uguwanyi, came to Calabar two weeks ago to put pressure on Ayade to shelve his planned exit to APC. Tambuwal told journalists that the meeting “was a fruitful, peaceful and productive engagement with the stakeholders of Cross River.”
He said, “We’re here on the mandate of the PDP-GF, which was sanctioned by the NWC to come and engage with our colleague, Prof. Ben Ayade, and the stakeholders of our party here in Cross River on the issues of the congresses held here in the state that became contentious.
“We’ve engaged and the feelers we have is that by the grace of God we’ll soon resolve these issues and the party will bounce back as one…There were lots of concerns about how the congresses went and every one of us is interested that we restore normalcy to ensure that the family is brought back and work together for the common interest of Cross River State.”
However, despite the intervention, Ayade was not convinced and political analysts said all the squabbles and last minute failed effort by Tambuwal and his team certainly hastened Ayade’s exit on May 20. Recall that prior to May 20, Ayade and his media team had oftentimes vilified newsmen for reporting his plans to leave the PDP for APC.
Reacting to Ayade’s exit, some PDP stalwarts in the state said: “Let him go. He was playing political truancy in PDP and using our people as pawns in a chess game. He was just a mole in PDP…The three highest-ranking officials from Cross River in the Buhari administration were Chief Justice (Walter) Onnoghen, Head of the Civil Service, Winnifred Oyo-Ita, and Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas. All of them were either unceremoniously booted out, or unjustly forced out by General Buhari.
“Onnoghen was forced out, because he was falsely accused of meeting Atiku in Dubai, while Oyo-Ita was forced out after a clash with the late Abba Kyari, because she was suspected of leaking the memo regarding Maina’s promotion. Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas was sacked along with Buratai, although he had no known human rights or disciplinary issue.
“The only known Special Assistant to Buhari from Cross River, Mr. Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, was sacked and declared wanted by the ICPC. Yet, their governor, Ben Ayade, who should have protected them, now claims he joined APC because of Buhari’s ‘nationalism’? A nationalism that has reduced Cross River next to nothing in the Federal Government.”
PDP chairman for Akpabuyo Council, Prince Etim Bassey Effiong and that of Obubra Council, Chief Godwin Igwe, in separate statements dated May 21 appealed to party members to remain steadfast, unified and work together for the task ahead, “especially as our people now look to our party for direction at this key period in our state’s history.”
On his part, state Chairman of African Action Congress (AAC), Citizen Agba Jalingo, recalled how Governor Ayade, not long ago told all and sundry that his erstwhile party, PDP has pushed him to the wall and he was ‘sitting on the fence’ and threatened that, if they make one more mistake, they will see a new Cross River State.
“But, what I know is that, on a general note, his departure from PDP spells a degree of good fortune for Cross River State. In the interest of the general good of our state, it is this move that will inject the needed impetus for a semblance of checks and balances in our polity. In the end, it will help to fuel plurality,” Jalingo stated.
But, former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN and the APC Cross River North bye-election Senatorial candidate, Mr. Joe Agi, SAN congratulated Ayade on his historic defection, saying his coming to the party at the centre will certainly benefit the state.
WHILE Ayade’s escape to APC unfolds, the party on Saturday morning forcefully took over PDP Secretariat in Calabar, even as it began renovation works, and painting it in APC colours, as well as, hoisting APC flag.
However, the Landlord of the property, Mr. Lawrence Asuquo, in a statement yesterday to some newsmen decried the attempt by APC to take over Cross River PDP Secretariat saying, “PDP remains his tenant and he has no dealings with APC.”
Part of the statement read: “My attention has been drawn to the fact that the property situated at 42A Murtala Muhammad Highway, Calabar, which PDP holds as tenant is presently being painted in APC colours. On behalf of the Estate of E.A Lawrence and myself as the administrator, I hereby state that PDP’s tenancy with the family is still subsisting and they remain my legal and recognised tenant. APC has never approached me for any such agreement, so I am surprised to know of this development.”
It would be recalled that the Landlord in a letter dated March 11, 2021 and signed by Theresa Asuquo as Executrix of the estate, had issued a quit notice to PDP to vacate the place on or before September 30, 2021.
However, some persons have argued that going by the quit notice, it means PDP is still the legal tenant of the property at 42a Murtala Mohammed Way up to September 30, 2021, and nobody or party can take possession of the property before the stated date, since eviction is usually done by Landlord and not the tenant.
Already the state Police Command had cordoned off the Secretariat as a press statement on Saturday by the State’s Commissioner for Police, Mr. Sikiru Akande said “the attention of the Nigeria Police has been drawn to plans by some individuals or group to disrupt the renovation work going on at a building on No: 142 (a ) along the Muritala Mohammed Highway calabar” .
The statement, which was signed by the State’s Police Public Relations Officer, Irene Ugbo for the Commissioner of Police, said: “For the avoidance of doubt the property is a rented property (and it’s) ‘tenancy’ is not in ‘contention’.
According to Akande, “as a responsible Command, we will not sit back and watch any Person(s)come to disrupt the relative peace we have worked tirelessly to achieve. All are warned to maintain Peace,Law and Order. The current situation is a wake up call to men of character to rise up and put resources together to enplace structure that will not be contentious in future. The Cross River Police Command will not hesitate to deal decisively with any unlawful action with the full weight of the law”
Following the decamping, the PDP dissolved the former state PDP caretaker committee led by Edim Inok and put in place a new one led by the immediate past deputy governor of the state, Mr. Efiok Cobham.
In a sharp response to the forceful takeover of the PDP secretariat by the Ayade led APC, Cobham in a statement dated May 22, 2021, said, “members of the newly constituted PDP state Caretaker committee have been prevented from accessing the property by APC thugs and men of the Nigeria Police. The building is currently being painted in the colours of the APC.
“Accordingly, we vehemently protest this primitive invasion of the PDP secretariat by the APC on the instructions of Governor Ben Ayade. PDP has a subsisting tenancy over the property. We have the tenancy agreements and receipts evidencing payment of the rent for the current tenure in respect of the property. The lessor of the property has clarified that the tenancy of the PDP in respect of 42A Murtala Mohamed Highway is still subsisting.
“This invasion amounts to criminal trespass, malicious damage to property, and constitutes conduct likely to lead to a breach of the public peace. We are surprised that it is Governor Ayade, who has the constitutional responsibility, as chief security officer of the state, for maintaining law and order that is promoting this type of dubious and vicious conduct. When the ordinary man on the street copies this behaviour and moves into any house or property that catches his fancy, including Governor Ayade’s newly acquired sprawling properties in Cross River State, we hope this will be taken as political fair game.
“We therefore call on the leadership of the APC in Cross River State, and the national leadership of the APC, to reject Governor Ayade’s infantile behaviour and allow the PDP the peaceful occupation and use of its property. We also demand the return of all documents, property and equipment removed from the PDP secretariat by the APC. We believe that President Muhammadu Buhari can encourage Governor Ayade to respect law and order and desist from conduct that further exacerbates the security situation in the country”.
Meanwhile, the Cross River State government has debunked claims by the PDP caretaker committee led by former deputy governor that the former PDP Secretariat belongs to the PDP.
A statement yesterday, by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Christian Ita, said the claims “by the caretaker committee of the dead and now buried PDP in the state is nothing but a tissue of lies and a cocktail of fraudulent claims. Obviously, this leadership of the PDP led by Effiok Cobham is driven by greed, avarice and laziness. It is a tactless and clueless leadership.
“The puerile statement was an infantile attempt to mislead the public and whip up undeserved public sympathy. But Cobham and his gang failed woefully.
“First, the said property is a rented property which is not owned by the PDP. It will interest the public to know that the rent for the said property was only renewed three months ago by the same PDP that has now totally collapsed into the APC.”