By Andy Esiet
Elders and opinion leaders from North, South and Central senatorial districts of Cross River state are divided over 2019 governorship seat.
Already some elders of Northern and Southern senatorial zones of Cross River state have formed an alliance to unanimously return Governor Ben Ayade of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for a second term in office come 2019.
The two zones also resolved to formally rotate the position of governorship among the three senatorial zones of the state and promised to meet with elders of Central in a subsequent meeting.
Top sources close to the meeting said the elders were however not happy with the governor as he was not picking their calls and even the planned facility tour of his projects could not hold even though the meeting was with government collaboration.
One of the elders who pleaded anonymity said “a leopard will never change its spot. Even as we are needed most now, the powers that be still exhibit a well known unbridled arrogance and I-know-all-attitude. No matter what, he supposed to have come and welcome his elders”
The three zones have governorship candidates for the 2019 race but with this latest alliance, the elders of North and South have jettisoned the candidature of Senator John Owan-Enoh of the All Progressive Congress (APC) who is from Central.
Rising from a protracted meeting last weekend at the residence of an elder from the South, Chief Asuquo Ekpeyong whose son and Commissioner for Finance is rumoured to be the anointed one to take over from Ayade by 2023 if the Governor wins, the Northern and Southern Senatorial District elders said the meeting was of “the leaders, elders and opinion moulders from the two Senatorial districts to fashion out terms of engagement and future alliances”.
The meeting had in attendance, from the north, a former military Administrator of Rivers state, Brigadier General Anthony Ukpo; a PDP chieftain, Chief Linus Okom; one time chairman of the defunct National Republican Party (NRC), Chief J. I. C. Igbe; a top businessman, Mr. Idih Yakubu, former General Manager Nigerian Chronicle, Chief Charles Abuo; former House of Assembly member in the days of defunct SDP Mr. Marc Enahme.
Others were the Northern Senatorial District Forum’s secretary Mr. Leonard Anyogo; Mrs. Theresa Ezama and others while those from South include the host, Chief Ekpenyong; former House of Representative member, Amb. Nkoyo Toyo, serving House of representative member, Mr. Eta Mbora; a former commissioner in the state Prof. Ayara Ayara, immediate past State Chairman of PDP, Elder John Okon, former Commissioner for Lands in Donald Dukes era, Chief Bassey Ndem and few others.
Consequently, the meeting therefore resolved “that the principle of rotation and zoning of the governorship seat should be maintained and sustained amongst the three senatorial districts of the state in all future elections. That such rotation and zoning consist of allowing each senatorial district complete its eight years of two terms as this was the case in the Southern and Central Senatorial Districts of the State.
“Upon completion of the second term of the Northern Senatorial District which will be in 2023, the rotation/zoning shall recommence in the Southern Senatorial district and followed in that sequence as earlier instituted.
“There is need for further engagements starting with a meeting between the North and Central Senatorial district, this will be followed by a tripartite meeting of all the elders, leaders, opinion moulders and stakeholders of the three senatorial districts of the state to consolidate this arrangements and make them broadly acceptable to the people of the state, as a means of ensuring peaceful political coexistence and stability”.
Before the combined meeting, the Northern Senatorial district meeting had met same day in Asadam Hotels Calabar. During the meeting, Gen. Ukpo said the forum will meet with other zones on the need to maintain the current zoning formulae and “we have been watching the turn-up of events, and we felt it was time for us to come together again to hold another meeting to review and see how we can move forward.
“At the meeting in Ogoja, we decided that we were going to nominate a subcommittee of the whole to engage with both the central and the southern senatorial district in other to solicit their support. So those that are present here today constitute that committee that is going to be engaging with other senatorial districts to appeal to them, this time to appeal to the electorates no more to the parties, to go along with the zoning and rotation principle that we have so far adhered to in Cross River State”.
General Ukpo and other elders noted that before political parties did their primaries, the Forum had advised parties on the need to produce governorship candidates from the North on the grounds of equity and fairness.
“From here we have decided that we are going to have an interaction with elders of the Southern Senatorial District and the purpose is to solicit their support to ensure that the Northern Senatorial District returns Governor Ben Ayade, being the only candidate from the North. This is a consultation and we are also going to go to the Central to also solicit their support.
“At this point in time, we are talking about the electorates, not the parties anymore because the parties have finished their primaries, that is where there would have influenced zoning the position to the North. But since they didn’t all do that, we are now saying directly to the electorates through the Elders forum of the various Senatorial districts to say that they should vote for the only candidate from the North which in this case happens to be Governor Ben Ayade”
But one of the APC stalwarts from the south who was not at the meeting, Chief Sam Bassey, has maintained a different opinion saying, “for me in Cross River state there have never been zoning especially the governorship position. I say so because in 1999 governor Donald Duke contested and he had my good friend, late Mark Ukpo as contender. Donald contested on platform of PDP and Ukpo contested on platform of APP (defunct All Progressive Party)…When he tried second term he also had Ambassador Obi Odu, Emmanuel Ibeshi as candidates from the North. In 2007 when Senator Liyel Imoke contested, he had Prof Eyo Etim Nyong from the South who contested; he had Emmanuel Ibeshi from the North, Pastor Usani Usani from Central who contested.
“All these years we have never had a situation where one zone, be it South, Central or North was allowed to be the only zone to produce the candidate. All other zones have been having a foray into the contest, so we cannot start now”.
The Nigerian Ambassador to Uganda, Chief Eyoma Nya Asuquo from the south also rejected the position by the alliance as he said, “since 1999 the north has been challenging others for the sit. The position is not reserved for any zone but through contest. So they should show me any piece of paper that talks about zoning but there is nothing like that. It is just by convention that PDP has been ruling this state since 1999 so if their convention favoured that arrangement okay but others contested.
“If there was zoning nobody from any other zone will contest. Nobody should talk about zoning. We should not go down to mediocrity. Zoning does not necessarily bring development or personal benefits what we need is good leadership and that person that can give us is Senator John Owan-Enoh”
In his reactions to the said alliance, Barr Eyo Ekpo, SDP governorship candidate said “that day in 2012 when Liyel Imoke stood up in Ogoja and said that he believes the next governor of Cross River should come from the north, he was not talking about zoning. He was talking about fairness, two very different things, right!
“This State has had Governors from across the State except for one part which is the north, some of them have gone twice, so a certain sense of fairness demanded that lets look for a candidate from the north and let them present one.
“But let us now go back to history because we have now had governors from all parts of the State. The first time Donald Duke contested elections in 1999, there was no discussion about zoning. We had people from across the state opposing him both at the primaries of his party and the general elections.
“The next time he came back in 2003, he had to fight for his second term, it was not automatic. In spite of the fact that he actually did things that this State had not seen before for the people not for himself, as we have today.
“Liyel Imoke came and he was opposed both internally and externally and second term was probably the most graphic, he was knocked out of his seat twice. Do you remember, the first person to help knock him out was somebody from the north, Mark Ukpo from Yala. So the only person in this State that has taken office by common consent on a regional basis is Ayade.
“The best the North has given to us is Governor Ben Ayade. And I am saying, it’s not me alone saying it by the way, it is the north that has been saying it the loudest that Ben Ayade is not good enough. This is not about where you come from now. If we are to speak on the basis of fairness, then nobody in his right mind should tell me that somebody that we all agreed with common consent particularly, his own people, that he has failed, should remain in office.
Fairness means that Ben Ayade should be opposed by anybody that thinks right and means well for the state. We have taken this issue of zoning to a point that we actually look foolish. Ben Ayade does not come from the North, but from Ben and Frank local government area. Because he exists as governor only for himself, his brother and their families, this is the truth.
“So let’s leave this thing about zoning, everybody has had his turn. If you want to apply this zoning principle, you are only entitled to a first term, you need to go and fight for your second term and let Cross Riverians, of their own accord, decide. So let’s leave that talk about zoning.”