CHIBUZO UKAIBE captures the intrigues sparked by the defection of Cross River State governor Ben Ayade from PDP to APC.
The defection of the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) reestablished APC’s presence in the South South geo-political zone. For some pundits, it afforded the ruling APC some edge in its geo-political tussle with the main opposition, PDP.
Even though it had more states under its control, (APC- 21; PDP-14), APC seemed on the backfoot in the tussle as its presence in the South South dimmed by its loss of Edo State.
While PDP has control of at least one state in the six geo-political zones in the country comprising, North Central, South South, South East, South West, North West, North East, the APC before Ayade’s defection didn’t have a state in the South South.
APC had lost its space in the South South after Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State dumped it for PDP in the build up to the 2020 governorship election in the state.
Earlier, APC’s hold on Bayelsa, a state in the region, had been unprecedentedly short-lived because of a Supreme Court judgement which sacked its candidate and governor-elect, David Lyon.
But Ayade’s defection to APC following a crisis of confidence between him and some PDP leaders in the state, restored APC’s control of a state in the region.
The state governor battled over party control with top PDP members consisting mainly of federal lawmakers. The fight blew over with the suspension of congresses which led to constituting a caretaker committee in the state. It also manifested in the contest for Cross River South senatorial bye-election following the death of Senator Rose Okoh. Senator Sunday Odey was the governors choice for the seat while Hon. Jaribe Agom Jaribe enjoyed the backing of other PDP stakeholders.
While a governor of South South extraction was accused of instigating the crisis, a major stakeholder in the battle was Ayade’s predecessor, Senator Liyel Imoke who has since assumed control of the party’s structure in the state.
Although Imoke saw Ayade’s emergence as governor in 2015, their political relationship remained hazy and tense.
However, attempts by the PDP national leadership and the party’s governors forum to convince Ayade to stay back proved abortive. For some party members however, they argue that the governor appeared resolved to leave the party before last week.
Much like, Governor Dave Umahi, Ayade’s closeness to the President Muhammadu Buhari had unsettled some members, even though the governor made no pretenses about his affinity to the power at the center as he alluded to in his defection comments.
PDP loyalists held against him was he rarely attended National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings, a claim which can also be made against some other governors currently in the party.
Still, other analysts would argue that Umahi who defected to APC late last year was a frequent attendee of party meetings being the chairman of the PDP governors from the South East.
For the PDP, however, Ayade’s defection is as much a loss as it is a political embarrassment.
This much was stated by Governor of Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, who described the defection as an “embarrassment” to PDP, after he met with the chief of staff to the President, Prof Ibrahim Gambari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Taraba State Governor wondered what prompted Ayade’s decision, given that all his counterparts in the PDP have acquitted themselves in their respective states, particularly in the areas of education, agriculture and infrastructure among others.
But the embarrassment would seem more felt by the party leadership which could only wish Ayade “well in his new political sojourn as well as in his future endeavours,” a terse statement by national publicity secretary Kola Ologbondiyan said after the National Working Committee (NWC) rose from a meeting over the governor’s defection.
As PDP reflects on the defection, it is instructive that in the space of one year the opposition party has lost, three states, namely Imo, Ebonyi and Cross River to the APC.
This is against PDP’s success in wining over Sokoto, Zamfara, Edo and Bayelsa by the turn of the 2019 polls. Although it won Kwara in the build up to the polls, it lost it to APC after the election.
But with 2023 in sight, the tough season is far from over. Claims that more PDP governors might defect remain rife. In April this year, Kogi State governor Yahaya Bello who served as one of the front men in the APC registration and revalidation exercise had declared that 10 PDP governors, after Umahi exit, are set to dump the party.
Besides the speculation that Zamfara State governor, Ibrahim Mattawalle is likely to defect soon, rumours that the Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu and his Enugu State counterpart, Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, would join Ayade have been circulating.
Barely hours after Ayade’s defection, a Twitter handle @APCNigeria posted that Okezie was set to follow in Ayade’s tracks. But Okezie’s former chief press secretary, Enyinnaya Apollos, reacted saying “ Those of you waiting for Okezie Ikpeazu Ph.D, Governor of Abia State, to leave the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), you will wait for eternity….Please enjoy your waiting while Gov Ikpeazu, leader of the PDP in Abia working with other state and national leadership of the party to ensure a PDP presidency of Nigeria in 2023.”
The party in the state had also denied plans that the governor would defect while reacting to claims Senate chief whip and former Abia State governor, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu’s claim that Okezie would defect to APC.
Reacting however to the spate of defections that has hit it’s party, PDP in recent times, former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu said it was morally wrong for govenrors to defect to another party having gotten elected on the platform of another party.
“So a law must be established. You are elected on the platform of PDP for this period of time but for some reasons, I find I cannot go with that party, resign your job and wait till the tenure ends for you to get elected on the platform of another party,” he said.
But political analyst Maxwell Obiekwe, was quick to point out that as much as the call “by the former governor sounds good, he probably would have been rejoicing of the defection favored his party. On the other hand, do our politician have the moral capacity to resign on account of defection? Besides do they have the ideological inclination to do so”?
For APC, its sign of relief of sorts for the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker commitee as the defection comes on the back of it’s registration and revalidation exercise.
For a party whose formation was driven by a need to have national spread, its ability to regain it’s grip in the South South would help it’s image as a national party. What’s more, this is a zone PDP considers it’s strongest base at the moment.
So far, Ayade has enjoyed favorable reception by most APC leaders in the state from the likes, Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Jonas Eteng Williams; his deputy Rt. Hon. Joseph Bassey; Senator Ndoma Egba; Senator Ita Giwa; Senator John Enoh; former minister Usani Usani. This is in spite of the fact that serving federal lawmakers have said they won’t join him in APC.
Whether APC’s return to the South South would give it an edge in a region PDP claims is it’s stronghold is another matter.
Reacting however to the defection, former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu while referencing the recent defection of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, Aliyu said “it is a PDP state, we may lose some but we are going to win that state back.”
That was the claim by PDP on the Ebonyi State and the South East region when Umahi left. However, some aver that how PDP and APC zone their presidential tickets in 2023 would be a major factor in the battle for the zones. Clearly, time will tell.