Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, who has been equivocal about his defection bid, is allegedly one of the governors of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that has been perfecting plans to ditch the party for President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC).
Party insiders say his flirting with APC started before the 2019 general elections. Governor Ayade has been maintaining a robust relation with the ruling party.
Early in March, 2016 Ayade who was elected on the platform of PDP vociferously dismissed claims that he was planning to join APC, pointing out that a statement credited to Okoi Obono-Obla that he will leave PDP to join APC was not true.
Ayade’s Chief Press Secretary, Christian Ita, in a statement said his principal is a “full and committed member” of PDP and has no intention to dump his party, claiming it was APC in the state and Obono-Obla that were desperately trying to cajole the governor to “join their party given his sterling performance since assuming office.”
Continuing, Ita said the fact that the governor has a very good relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari did not, in any way, suggest he planned to join APC, adding, “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 seeming last ditch initiative to foil the crisis in the state wing of PDP, Governor Ayade has approached the Dr Bukola Saraki Reconciliation Committee to intervene in the leadership squabbles that has resulted in litigation.
PDP National Working Committee a few weeks ago set up a reconciliation panel to look into the crisis and complaints arising from the last party congress across the country.
Congresses started nation-wide in February 2020. The outcome has not only factionalised the party in some states including Cross River, but has created intractable problems and rancour among party chieftains and followers.
While Ayade foisted his candidate, Dr Stephen Odey on the party as the Senator representing the Northern Senatorial District, his opponent, Jarigbe Jarigbe, who represents Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives fought Odey’s victory at all court levels in a bid to overturn the election. He did eventually.
And, following the crushing defeat of the candidates Ayade promoted for his party’s executive positions in wards and local government areas of the state last April, he was seriously weighing his long speculated defection to APC.
The National Headquarters of the party nailed Ayade with the approved names of new Executive Committee members in the 196 wards and 18 local governments in the state. The list was released on April 26, 2020. Party sources in the state say Ayade was soundly defeated because majority of those he backed lost out.
The party sent a letter with reference number, PDP/DOM/GF.V/VOL 2/20-387B, addressed to Edim Inok Edim, state party chairman and signed by PDP National Organising Secretary, Austin Akobundu, with a copy sent to the governor, advising him that this is the “the authentic list for the 196 wards and 18 LGAs.”
Some disappointed political aides of the governor say the controversial governor is set to leave the party for the ruling APC, after the humiliating defeat in the hands of grassroots leaders of the party with whom he has waged a bitter fight after helping him emerge as governor.
However, the electoral tussle created sharp division and open confrontation between Governor Ayade and the Abuja group anchored by members of National Assembly whose boldness in confronting the governor despite the enormous power at his disposal has put the party under severe stress since January this year.
The two groups have fought fiercely over who controls the party structures from wards to state levels, leading to election of parallel executives at all levels of the party organs.
Besides, the leadership tussle has torn the party into shreds just as members are at daggers drawn.
Consequently, the in-fighting has led to a series of litigations over the outcome of the congress and northern senatorial district primary and by-election.
Worried by this ugly development, Ayade is said to have made overtures to the Saraki panel with a view to convening a peace meeting with warring factions.
Ayade is said to be making desperate calls to some of the members including former Governor Liyel Imoke to rescue the party in the state before it finally disintegrates.
Ayade is also said to be committed to a round table discussion this time ahead of the Supreme Court ruling fixed for January 6, 2021 on which faction is the authentic Exco of the party.
Insiders say Governor Ayade is expressing fears that if the ruling goes in favour of the Abuja group structures, it will spell doom for his future ambition within the party and therefore, there is urgent need to reach a truce before the final verdict.
Former Senate President, Saraki, is said to have reached out to some of the National Assembly members on the need to meet with them and find a lasting solution to the political imbroglio that may destroy all the gains the party has recorded in the last 20 years.
Imoke, who played a major role in bringing Ayade to office in 2015, has a soft spot for his successor and therefore, working round the clock to see to the end of the crisis to avoid his successor defecting to APC as speculated.
But, while the Abuja group is wary of entering into any meeting or consensus with Ayade as he has allegedly failed them in the past, there is doubt if the Saraki panel will be able to break the jinx as PDP national headquarters and other stakeholders have tried to reconcile all factions to no avail.
It is being argued that if Ayade is serious about peace and reconciliation, he should withdraw some cases he instituted in court, loosen his grip on the party and run an inclusive government since his style of administration has allegedly muscled up all critical stakeholders and rendered them completely irrelevant in the state.
Some critical stakeholders say the crisis is beyond holding a meeting, but implementing the outcome of the meeting in a sincere manner as to bring lasting peace to a once united and indefatigable one family.”
The Abuja group is of the view that Ayade is playing a double deal as he is allegedly negotiating with some APC top shots in Abuja and in the state to pave a smooth way for his defection. He is also alleged to have contacted the Presidency to intervene in the Stephen Odey and Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe debacle.
The obviously humiliated governor is allegedly promising his Aso Rock backers that if the Supreme Court rules in Odey’s favour, he would have had a Senator and two members of House of Representatives to defect with.
This, he allegedly claims, will give him a soft landing and the possibility of handing over the APC structure to him.
Already, some critical stakeholders are not comfortable with holding any meeting to produce consensus lists of Excos as the governor has fought and impoverished them to a point of no return.
Chris Agbor, a stakeholder says such reconciliatory moves will be a welcome development as the party is in tatters in the state as never seen before.
Agbor, who hails Ikom, is maintaining that there is nothing wrong in a leader calling all factions to sheath their swords if that would end the crisis, adding that party politics should be for the betterment of all and not to sow perpetual seed of discord and acrimony.
While he is advising both factions to embrace the Saraki committee so that the party can come out stronger ahead of 2023, a party stalwart, Etim Asuquo, says it is not in the character of Cross River PDP to fight dirty or even engage in litigations after congresses or primary elections.
Asuquo, who hails from Bakassi, is wondering why “family members” find it extremely difficult to sit round the table and iron out their difference, advising that the party should return to its former “conclave system” where all contending issues were tabled, argued and resolved amicably.