From Judex Okoro, Calabar
The race for political offices across the country has been engaging, stormy and thrilling. Hundreds of aspirants have been criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country canvassing for support from party members and other critical stakeholders. Curious onlookers are at a quandary over who gets what, how and why in the sharing of political power. Both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are engaged in a sort of knock-down-and-drag-out campaign.
The Cross River State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is not an exception. Since the defection of Governor Ben Ayade on Thursday, May 20, 2020, the party has become the cynosure of all eyes as it is believed that what happens to the ruling party, to an extent, has a ripple effect to the larger politics. And as the electioneering process commenced, thousands of party faithful expect the leadership to play the politics according to plan. Besides, all the aspirants jostling for various party positions, especially the governorship aspirants expect a fair deal. They had bought into the belief that APC is committed to promoting internal democracy.
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Analysts argue that the old APC members welcomed Ayade with open arms and also believing that things would be done differently from the opposition PDP. At a consultative meeting held at one of the conference halls of Spar Shop in Calalabr, old APC stakeholders present had advised the governor to move away from the PDP alleged imposition politicking, saying it is a democratic party with grassroots support base. They also advised that there is need for wide consultations before taking decisions to forestall any form of marginalisation. Even most political appointees and the House members who defected alongside, were cocksure that the new APC would offer political El Dorado.
However, ahead of party primaries, unfolding developments from the APC secretariat indicate that all is not well within the party as aspirants and leadership are at loggerheads over the modus operandi being adopted in the selection of candidates for the 37 legislative offices comprising 25 House of assembly seats, 11 national assembly seats and the governorship slot.
The party leadership, from the outset, seemed disposed to a consensus arrangement in choosing who flies the flag for various political offices across the state. This, it demonstrated at the just-concluded APC national convention in which the state party leadership adopted the former commissioner for health, Dr Betta Edu, as the consensus candidate for the national women leader. Not minding the outcome of the national convention, hundreds of aspirants have beaten a path to the door and besieged the secretariat in the name of consultations. Most of the aspirants are no yes men and insist at nothing other than buying the forms in readiness for the primary election contest. They argue that their party is behind time as the new Electoral Act is very clear on the issue of consensus. The party, no doubt, sees the moves as yoke on the neck.
A pip into Electoral Act on consensus
A critical look at the Electoral Act 2022, Section 82 subsection 4 stipulates that the election of members of the executive committee or other governing body of a political party, including the election to fill a vacant position shall be conducted in a democratic manner and allowed for all members of the party or duly elected delegates to vote in support of a candidate of their choice. However, the Electoral Act allows for the use of consensus in the nomination of candidates in Section 84 subsection 9 (a) which states that a political party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate.
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The Act has a proviso in Section 84 subsection 9 (b) which states that where a political party is unable to secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the purpose of a consensus candidate, it shall revert to the choice of direct or indirect primaries for the nomination of candidates for the elective positions of president, governors, members of the State and National Assemblies. In other words, a consensus candidate can only emerge when all cleared aspirants, through a written agreement, give their consents and voluntarily withdraw from the race and endorse the consensus candidate.
Party again opts for consensus arrangement
Prepared to taste the murky waters of consensus once again, the party leadership, in a statement signed by the State Publicity Secretary, Mr Erasmus Ekpang, called on all aspirants not to buy forms until after consultations with major stakeholders and caucuses at the ward and local government levels. The party added that there is need to dialogue with every family member with a view to achieving a harmonious, friendly and a win-win arrangement for every member of the APC.
Daily Sun investigations revealed that at the meetings held on Monday, April 25 and Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at party secretariat in Calabar with the aspirants to various aspirants into House of Representatives, Senate and governorship seats were told that there is need for them to accept consensus arrangements as wards and local government areas that have once produced elected officers should step down for areas that have not tasted it at all. It was learnt that the party chairman informed the aspirants that there is need for the party to buy one form for each state, federal constituencies, senatorial districts and governorship as against all aspirants rushing to buy forms to contest for the various political offices.
Impeccable sources close to the various meetings presided over by party chairman, Alphonsus Eba, said the majority of the aspirants expressed dissatisfaction at attempts by the party leadership to coerce them into arriving at a consensus and subtly forcing them to step down their ambition. Some of the aspirants, especially the governorship aspirants, wondered why APC in the state hardly played politics according to the rule.
Most of the aspirants are no yes men and insist at nothing other than buying the forms in readiness for the primary election contest. Checks revealed that those said to have bought forms at national secretariat include Chief Chris Agara, Messrs Akin Ricketts for central senatorial district, Edward Ogon and Victor Abang for Boki/Ikom House of representatives. The party, no doubt, sees the moves as a yoke on the neck.
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And determined to convince the governorship aspirants to tow a consensus line through a lucky dip sort of arrangement, the party has set up a 7-man ad-hoc committee towards achieving what it described as “all inclusive, transparent, fair and democratic process that will lead to the emergence of an acceptable governorship candidate of our party.” By implication, whosoever is picked from the dip or pool of aspirants, others would queue behind.
In a statement signed by the party’s publicity secretary, Erasmus Ekpang, the party said it set up the committee based on the “resolution of all the governorship aspirants in its meeting, April 26, 2022 where they mandated the party to purchase only one nomination form and drive a transparent process at arriving at victory at the poll.”
According to the statement, the special ad-hoc committee will interface with all aspirants for the office of governor and prune down the number in each senatorial district to two persons.” The committee is headed by Sen. Victor Ndoma Egba as chairman with High Chief Edem Duke, Mr Eddy Achi, Elder Bolaji Anani, Mr. Odey Ochicha and Prince Ebuta Ayuk with Sen. Florence Ita-Giwa as secretary. Governorship aspirants expected to appear before the committee include Sen John Owan Eno, Dr Usani Usani, former minister of Niger Delta Affairs, My Asuquo Ekpenyong Jnr, immediate paste commissioner for Finance, sen Bassey Otu, Arc Basy Ndem, former commissioner for lands, Mr Nsa Ekpenyong, Chief Chris Agara, Prof Eyo Etim Nyong, former commissioner in NDDC board, and Engr Ben Akak.
Worried by the twist of things and strong determination by the party leadership to implement the consensus, the Director General, John Owan Enoh for Governor Campaign Organization, Sir Hubert Ogar (KSM), in a statement said the campaign organization will continue to monitor keenly the unfolding developments leading up to the 18th May, 2022 Governorship primaries, reminding the party that Sen Owan “three years since after his 2019 run, has remained competitive and incidentally hails from a Senatorial District where the future victory of the APC largely depends on.”
The statement read in part: “The campaign organization wishes to state the unambiguous position of its principal at the said meeting wherein he said he agreed to the purchase of the said one form only to the extent that it was purchased in his name. John Owan Enoh is yet to be informed that this has been done with just three remaining days left for the purchase of such a form.
“The reason for the above position by our principal is clear enough. John Owan Enoh was the APC candidate for Governor in the 2019 election. Despite the contrived crisis that attended this, both the Federal High Court as well as the Court of Appeal affirmed this.
“He should therefore have the right of first refusal in any consideration of the party’s 2023 governorship candidate, to the extent he has indicated a strong desire to contest. Although even on compassionate grounds, he merits this.”
In its statement titled a necessary word of caution at this critical point, the Director General of Chris Agara Campaign Organisation, Richard Ogbeche, advised the party leadership and the ad hoc committee to be guided at all times by the Electoral Act (as amended) and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The statement further advised the party to “take only the decisions that will help in providing a level playing ground for all aspirants to the office of governor in order to avoid unnecessary disputation as a result of the conduct of its affairs and the primary elections at this critical time.”
The statement maintained that though “the party and its organs have the legitimate responsibility to conduct the primaries of the governorship race without let or hindrance, the participants also reserve the right to protect themselves and their rights within the ambit of the law,” adding that “since Agara was not denied representation, he could not be bound by any decision or agreements thereof and will not subject himself to same.
Pledging loyalty to the state leadership, the campaign organisation stated: “We are also fully prepared to protect ourselves against any decisions or acts that may appear calculated to subvert the rules of the contest in favour of one or the other candidate.”