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Editorial News of Sunday, 30 May 2021


What’s Ayade’s political net worth?

Governor Ayade recently defected to the opposition PDP Governor Ayade recently defected to the opposition PDP

With Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade’s defection to the ruling APC, the PDP needs to put on its thinking cap ahead of 2023, writes Bassey Inayng

On May 20, 2021, the Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the platform on which he was elected in 2015, and joined the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The immediate consequence of Ayade’s dumping of the PDP, swiftly changed the roles of the parties in the polity of the state with the APC becoming the ruling party, and the PDP becoming the leading opposition party, after dominating political affairs of the state for 22 years, since 1999.
The turn of fortunes for the PDP confirmed the threat issued by Ayade in March this year, when he warned that he would change the political configuration of the state, if one more injustice was done to him by the party.

“I cannot blind myself to the challenges of PDP and decide not to know what to do at the right time for their (Cross River State’s) sake. I know you are somebody that doesn’t take injustice. One single injustice they will see a new Cross River State. And I say it as a warning, because it does appears that your party seems to celebrate people, who threaten and stress them,” he said.

It is not clear whether another injustice was done to him, before he made good his threat to change the political configuration of the state, at least for now, by ensuring that his former party became the main opposition party in Cross River State.
However, having actualised his threat, will he be able to sustain it, and defeat the PDP in 2023? Former governor Liyel Imoke appears set to prove Ayade wrong in due season.

About three days after Ayade left, Imoke while addressing PDP stakeholders on Sunday night at Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel, Calabar, boasted that the PDP would be stronger without Ayade.
“I thought I have retired in politics. I was retiring in bits and handing over to some people, but I had to come back at this time. Our tradition in PDP was destroyed, so, we have to come back. Our politics is sweet; we don’t play politics of fear. We don’t play politics of intimidation, and we don’t play politics of harassment. PDP is not dead in Cross River State.

“He left at his own volition, and his movement is divine, because those who made the PDP what it is at the grassroots in the state are still in the party and the party will be stronger without Ayade. The party does not belong to the governor. We are taking it back to the people. I won’t talk much today, so we don’t reveal our secrets. We are not going to reveal the secrets of our strategy.

“We are just putting everyone on notice that the PDP is back. For those who don’t come from Cross River State, you will have to understand that Cross River State is a PDP state. The movement of one person does not change that fact. Even among those who have moved, plenty of them call me and say,’’Oga, e get as things be. Make we just move. We no join, we dey come….”
All things being equal, with Ayade’s defection, the state is set for an epic battle between political forces loyal to Ayade of the APC, and those loyal to the opposition party, the PDP in the state led by Ayade’s predecessor, and its defacto leader, Senator Liyel Imoke.
The battle, which has just ensued es expected to peak in the 2023 general election, when both opposing forces fight for the elective positions.

To the average politician, and politically exposed person in the state, Ayade isn’t a very popular politician, perhaps, not as popular as Imoke, who literally made him governor in 2015, and certainly not as street-popular as Donald Duke, who was the governor between 1999 and 2007.
This factor is largely responsible for the level of opposition he suffered in the hands of the PDP establishment in the state, represented by most of those, who funded the party in 1998, and some of the 10-member strong PDP caucus in the National Assembly.

In September 2016, the PDP denied Ayade outright at the Supreme court and urged the court to declare the appellant Mr. Joe Agi, SAN, governor-elect of Cross River State, following a case of perjury instituted by the plaintiff, who came second to Ayade at the PDP governorship ahead of the 2015 general election. Ayade survived the Agi appeal, because the Supreme court rejected the plea of his party.

Again, it is generally known that Ayade was literally forced to engage in trade-by-batter against some of those he favoured to fly the flag of the PDP, especially, for National Assembly seats during the 2019 polls. At an outing sometime in November 2018, after the primarily elections preparatory to the 2019 polls, Ayade, who is usually emotional, complained about the treatment meted out by the PDP to Chief Chris Agara, who was one of the leading senatorial aspirants for the central zone of the state before he was disqualified by the party.

Speaking at the launch of the State Microfinace Bank, Ayade lamented: “But God is strong. God has shamed them. If that is all we have achieved in this politics – that blood is stronger than politics. That is what Chris Agara has demonstrated. That inspite of it all, 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 wait for them. So for my brother, I asked you to be strong and abide in the faith of God, because it is God’s will. But for those who the devil has used to stop the instrumentality, challenge and direction of God at the fullness of time, Holy Ghost would visit them with their own mighty fire.

“The devil will rise, the demon will rise, but Jesus, when he rises, he would quench all of them and he has brought peace and calm; he has brought tranquility; he has restored brotherhood and in his own words, it has only deepened our brotherhood. We would put them to shame. He is going to direct the campaign, direct the politics, direct the future, and together, we would build a better Cross River State.”

Yet, despite declaring open frustration with the PDP, and hoping that a day would come for the emergence of a new Cross River State, the party supported him and ensured he got a second term. It was like empowering one’s foe, if not future foe even when the signs were ominous.

Ayade’s greatest political strength is his ability to make himself underrated by his opponents, until they are boxed into a tight conner where his support or lack of it would either lead to the political survival or destruction of his opponents.

In 2015, Ayade from the blues, and even without a campaign secretariat or campaign poster became governor, mostly because the PDP establishment then, which was confronted by an implosion needed help desperately, and he provided the much needed help without hurting the main opponents of the establishment.

In 2019, despite complaints from the sidelines and scheming to upstage and stop him from having a second term, Ayade triumphed again, because the PDP knew the implication of discarding a sitting governor while being confronted by no less a formidable opponent with “federal might” as the APC.
It is obvious the PDP thought it wise and rightly so, not to fight from two fronts: one against a sitting governor, and against the APC, whoever their candidate would be. So, Ayade got his second term, and all the candidates of the PDP, except one – the PDP candidate for Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency –where Imoke’s homestead is located, won their elections.

Besides, Ayade’s strength lay very much in the zoning formula for election of the governor since 1999, even though the most obvious zoning was done in 2015, when the major parties, the PDP and the APC presented candidates from the Northern senatorial district, where he hails from.

The zoning formula helped Ayade to rally support across the state, especially, from the Southern Senatorial District, which believes it is their turn to produce governor in 2023, and the Northern Senatorial District, where he hails from. Of course, supporters of the zoning formula in the PDP even voted for him against Senator John Owan-Eno, who flew the governorship flag of the APC under very internally rancorous environment. The zoning formula would definitely play a serious factor between the PDP and the APC in 2023.

Currently, more than 80 per cent of Ayade’s about 6,000 political appointees have defected with him to the APC and so also, the Deputy Governor, Professor Ivara Esu. At least, two House of Representatives members have joined him, a senator has joined him, and at least 18 members of the 25-member state House of Assembly, including the speaker and his deputy are now carrying the broom with Ayade.

Almost all the elected councillors and the 18 local council chairmen have moved with Ayade to the APC. For now, the defection of these categories of people is a huge loss to the PDP, and a huge gain for Ayade and the APC, and the numbers could play a huge role in who emerges victorious in 2023.
In Cross River State, since 1999, the power of incumbency, and financial war chest, usually at the disposal of the government in power, played a major role in the eventual winner of elections in the state. While the PDP was in control of these extremely important election enablers, they only lost a House of Assembly election for Obubra 2 constituency in 2011 to the defunct ACN; and the loss owed more to infighting within the PDP.

The PDP is strong in the state as other states in the South-south region. It controlled power for 22 years in Cross River State, and can therefore not be wished away with the wave of the hand, just because a governor and some of his followers and supporters defected. The party can be likened to a religion with multitudes of followers, who have been informed or misinformed through religious and ethnic messages to hate everything and anything linked to President Muhammadu Buhari. But what matters the most is the ability of the PDP to keep the massive followership, amidst possible lack of sufficient funds to keep their support.

Insinuations are already making the rounds that the PDP would largely be financed from Rivers State, which has more than a huge war chest to checkmate whatever the APC would boast of. And as often stated, all politics is local and the factors that influence every election differ.
The fact is that the PDP in Cross River has lost members and would need to think out of the box to address that in a state, where most of the people, especially, those of the younger generation look up to the state government for food on their table.

It is obvious that some of those, who defected with Ayade did so for their economic survival rather than convinction. But, what is the assurance that they would abandon their present economic comfort zone in their new party to answer the call of their former masters in the PDP?

Though Imoke said the PDP would not expose the strategy it intends to deploy to reclaim the state, he however declared further: “Our people cannot go to a party, where there is disunity, fight, killings and all sorts of things. No, that is not the best for our state. We will work together as a team and as one to defeat them.”

The APC, as it appears today, is a complete parade of superstars of the politics of the state. They include Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, Senator John Owan-Eno, Senator Prince Otu, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, Pastor Usani Usani, Professor Eyo Etim Nyong, Dr. Alex Egbonna, Mr. Jedy Agba, Mrs. Mary Ekpere Eta, and so many others.
In 2019, the superstar composition wasn’t much different, but the party lacked cohesion and direction,because it was leaderless. Ayade then of the PDP capitalised on that and further balkanised it to his advantage.

Perhaps, the PDP would be looking out for any slip into confusion by the star-studded APC to capitalise on and defeat them as Ayade did in 2019, when he was in the PDP.

However, with Ayade officially declared the leader of the APC in the state, the PDP would really need to put on their thinking cap to regain power in 2023.