No governor in the history of Cross River State has received the kind of endorsements that Governor Ben Ayade has received for a second term. Widows, workers and women groups have openly endorsed him. However, no governor in the history of the state has also been so embattled and challenged in a bid for a second term.
By Emmanuel Una
The opposition to Governor Ben Ayade comes from far and near.
Within his political party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, party elders appalled by the fear that the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, could win the state were last month compelled to address an open letter to the national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus to find a replacement for the governor or the party could risk losing the state for the first time.
The stakeholders in a petition to Secondus alleged among others that Ayade had in three years rubbished the legacy of former PDP governors and enthroned a regime of visionless leadership and at the same time, decimated the party in the state.
The allegations by the PDP elders articulated in the petition anchored by John Offiong and Bassey Ekpo who are backed by some PDP elders, find resonance in the opposition to the governor from the opposition and even some former allies of the governor who have drifted from him.
It is perhaps on account of the deep malaise within the PDP that Ayade is often among the first PDP governors mentioned as one of those likely to defect to the APC.
However, the APC in the state is not one that is likely to be a comfortable home for the professor turned politician. Indeed, one of his close friends, Senator John Enoh left the party on account of the perceived failures of the Ayade administration to the APC.
Enoh is now mounting a challenge against his former friend.
“Our beloved state is facing the worst form of misrule since its creation on 27th May 1967 from the then Eastern Region,” Enoh, who had some stints in the House of Representatives before crossing over to the Senate in 2015 said last Wednesday.
Interestingly, Enoh like several chieftains of the PDP has crossed over to the APC on whose platform he is now mounting his challenge against his former political ally and friend.
“We are at a point where all socio-economic indicators are getting dangerously adrift amidst the huge potentials our state is endowed with,” the senator added at his colourful declaration.
Enoh pointed to the Obudu Ranch Resort which he said Donald Duke who is from the southern part of the state invested billions of naira to make a world-class tourism facility but has become comatose under Ayade, the Urban Renewal Project started by Duke and sustained by his successor, Senator Liyel Imoke to create good road network in the urban centres and rural areas but has become dysfunctional under Ayade.
His assertions of poor performance by the Ayade administration are echoed by many who cite the deterioration of the once aesthetic scenery that was Calabar. Potholes that were once a rarity in Calabar, the state capital, are now a common occurrence. Even worse, is the abundance of refuse piles on the streets of the state capital.
The opposition to Ayade by some PDP elders is despite the repeated claims of performance by the governor as anchored by several schemes initiated by the three-year administration.
The PDP critics, however, dismiss those projects including the Super Highway which President Muhammadu Buhari came down to perform the groundbreaking as comical acts of the governor, if not opportunities by administration officials to swindle funds.
Other allegedly highfalutin projects PDP and APC critics of the governor cite include the Deep Sea Port, New City of Callas Vegas, Cally Air (airline), Rice City, Cal pharm factory, Cocoa factory, and a Rice mill.
The opposition, however, does not deny the fact that the governor has completed the biggest garment factory in the region, though they whisper about the ownership of the project.
The governor’s spokesman, Mr. Christian Ita, however, dismissed the PDP stakeholders saying: ”Can a governor with over 4000 appointees, who like the civil servants are paid salaries even ahead of time, be said to be suppressing the state economy?
“Can a governor who has built 12 industries in three years and still counting, including the garment factory that has employed over 3000 workers, mostly women and widows, be said to be suppressing an economy?
The APC chieftains are even more vicious in their pointed accusations against the governor who they describe with all manner of negatives.
It is no surprise that Hilliard Eta, the national vice-chairman of the APC, South-South said: “Cross River is a low hanging fruit which the APC will pluck and add to Edo State in 2019 because Ayade is a disaster that has inflicted much harm in the state and the people cannot wait to flush him out,” Hilliard Eta, the Deputy Chairman of the APC told Vanguard.
Despite his assertions, the prospects of the APC in Cross River are seriously limited by the internal divisions that have made a serious challenge against Ayade a daunting task.
The party is divided into three parallel blocs, one led by Pastor Usani Usani, Minister for Niger-Delta Affairs, the other by Mr. Clement Ebri, former governor of the state and the other Senator Enoh.
Indeed, there is no serious support for Enoh’s governorship challenge from fellow APC stakeholders many of whom boycotted his campaign flag-off last Wednesday.
He is also not expected to get meaningful support from Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, chairman of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, given the bad blood that flowed from the challenge against Ndoma-Egba who he took the Cross River Central Senate seat from.
Also working to Ayade’s favour apart from the plethora of endorsements from workers, widows, market women etc., is the issue of zoning.
The zoning arrangement is in his favour as many people believe that the northern district of the state from where Ayade comes from should serve eight years like the south and central whose kinsmen, Duke and Imoke served eight years each. His regular payment of salaries has endeared him to workers.
“Ayade should be allowed to cross the bridge and finish his eight years like those from the south and central and I believe nobody can stop him as we are behind him to ensure he returns in 2019,” Chief Linus Okom, the chairman of the northern Caucus of the PDP told our reporter.
Mr. Ita, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor said his boss looks at the bigger picture in the development of the state and not at the smaller picture which people tend to focus on.
“He is intent on developing the state and we can see projects like garment factory which is employing thousands of people, the Rice City, the Deep Sea Port, the Rice Mill and many others which have the capacity to transform the economy of the state and we are getting there very soon by having them commissioned.”
He said the governor will soon address the potholes and gullies on the roads in the cities and urban centres and also tar rural roads which construction he flagged off two years ago.
“People talk about these projects not having timelines for completion but they fail to realise that the state is under heavy debt burden which was incurred by previous governments and even at that, he still pays salaries regularly. It takes only someone with the ingenuity of Ayade to accomplish that,” Ita concluded.