August 27, 2022

2023: C’River APC plots to make Ayade Senate President

Army preventing our children from writing NECO, cries C'River community

By Emmanuel Unah

Alphonsus Ogar Eba, popularly called Okadigbo is the APC State Chairman in Cross River. He spoke with Vanguard on the contentious Cross River North Senate ticket and other trending political issues in the state. 

There was a high number of aspirants who indicated interest to contest for elective positions on the APC platform, now that the primaries are over, how is the party reconciling with those who lost?

Like you rightly observed, a lot of persons aspired to contest for positions. For the twenty -five member House of Assembly alone, we had over five hundred aspirants but with the wisdom of God, and the energy to withstand all those late night discussions constituency by constituency, local government by local government,  we laid bare to them the facts that for each constituency they are from, only one person would occupy the seat. We made them understand that the APC as a party is not keen in making money from them. Therefore, they should return to the drawing board and check themselves if it is worth spending two million naira to buy form when they knew deep inside them that the zoning does not favour them or the other person could do better . Let us forget about the issue of imposition as it is being alleged by some people. I told them in plain language that the party was very sensitive to giving opportunity to those who are seeking re-election and as such if any of them came from a constituency where a member of the House of Assembly is on his or her first term, we would give him or her the right of first refusal. it is not the issue of saying ‘the party deceived us’ – we were very clear on that from the start. 

Except for the federal constituencies of Ogoja/Yala, Abi/Yakkur where we had sitting first timers whom we gave automatic tickets, the House of Assembly, about eight persons, apart Etung State Constituency where people are not allowed to seek second tenure, we gave tickets to Yala One and Yala Two State Constituencies, Ikom One, Abi, Odukpani, Obudu, Obanlikwu and Bekwara. These people were given right of first refusal and who would throw away an opportunity to return to the House of Assembly if you ask me? Others were competitive and the process was free and fair where delegates voting system was used . However, in every contest they will always be losers and those who did not win will not only see themselves but will become bitter about it. I have contested several elections so I know how the turnout is always happening.

What I am asking ,is the reconciliation really working?

Yes. What I did and I must commend the cooperation of the aspirants themselves when we came up with the idea of setting up a reconciliation committee, we were sincere in what we did. I could recall during the screening exercise some of them had obvious reasons to be disqualified for poor filling of the form and breach of certain rules and regulations but we tempered justice with mercy to give them the opportunity to showcase themselves by going round their constituencies to solicit for support but what we tried to achieve then was to see that we could harvest materials that we could use for leadership tomorrow. We were impressed with the kind of campaign during the build up to the primaries. We however, cautioned them against being very transactional in their politicking and also against spending too much money because it was not the amount of money one spent that would give him the ticket but his acceptability by the people and some variables we considered. So far so good. We made minimal enemies – it was not such a process that people were not bruised. From the reports we are getting from the the reconciliation committee, the healing has begun and when we get the document we would look at it and thank God, we have the buy-in of the governor we would then implement realistic demands coming from the people who could not become candidates. What we want is inclusiveness and recognition of everyone. like I tell people, in 2011, I contested election for the first time as a young man, the party then did not bother to say, ‘our boy come here, you have tried, there would be another time but all I got were threats ‘you will suffer, you will never see the light of the day. ‘ So I told myself that any day I have opportunity to sit in a position to manage the party, one thing I would do is to extend hand of fellowship to aggrieved persons . Even those who ran for governor, I have gone to them. I have visited Senator Owan Eno along with my deputy and we had a meeting for three hours with him. I have had a lengthy meeting with Barrister Chris Agara, even those who surrendered to the consensus building I have spoken with them again and again. I am hoping that during the yam harvest, we would have more time for reconciliation and those who got tickets would celebrate with those who did not get the opportunity this time around 

The other contentious issue is the Northern Senatorial District ticket which His Excellency Senator Prof Ben Ayade has taken over. Many people are branding figures, ranging from three billion to five hundred million which his Chief of Staff allegedly got to relinquish the ticket. what is the truth about it?

The social media is always an opportunity for people to fill the emptiness of what they don’t know with rumours. As I said on the 14th of July during the by-primary, eulogising Chief Martins Orim, you can see clearly what is going on in Yobe where a sitting Senate President, while he went to contest for presidency, had a mindset that if he did not get it he would fall back to his Senate post. But till this moment, the coast is not clear. But the scenario is clearly different in Cross River State where the governor set his eyes on becoming the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which by calculation we considered fit because this is a man who came, used the proverbial rod to strike the rock and bring out water in Cross River. We hoped that he could replicate same for the country at a point like this. However, while we spoke ,it did not favour him and God choose Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the APC Presidential candidate today. If you have been conversant with the political trajectory in this country since 1999 you would probably remember that when Obasanjo was President ,Senate Presidency was in the South East, and when Yar’adua was President, Senate Presidency was in North Central and with the circumstances that led President Jonathan to become President, Senator David Mark continued because he held the ground very well. When in 2015 President Buhari became President, North still retained the Senate Presidency , so with the emergence of Ahmed Tinubu , the next President, God willing, we thought it wise that having a man that was in the Senate and also looking at the array of those also going to the Senate , Akpabio being in the Senate in 2015, Adams Oshiomole fresh Senator and Omo Agege going for the Delta State governorship seat, we felt the only highest ranking Senator in 2023 from South South would be Professor Ben Ayade who became Senator in 2011. It then became an issue because he was not interested which was the reason he gave his Chief of Staff the go ahead to run but after the governor lost out in the Presidency, Chief Martins Orim went to him to ask that he takes over the ticket . And when the political permutation became very clear that he could become the next Senate President to come from the South South people began to appeal to him to take over the ticket and he never called on his Chief of Staff to say, “people have called me and I am ready to take over the ticket”. So the rumours about money changing hands are not true 

Does the time table favour him?

The time table for the conduct of primary ended last day of June 2022 except for replacement of those who resigned or died. In Cross River North district, where we took clear understanding of the law,  particularly Section 29, section 84, section 31, section 33, section 152 clearly guided our actions.

Section 29 says parties should conduct primaries and those who would emerge should have their names forwarded by the political party to INEC and INEC must have witnessed the conduct of such primary and only those who emerge from such process would have their names published and thus graduate from being aspirants to candidates of the political party. Section 84 regulates the conduct of primary whether by direct or indirect primary and guides any one who is aggrieved on the procedure to follow . 

In Cross River North Senate seat, Chief Martins Orim was cleared, contested the election with Mrs Cecilia Adams . I have never seen that woman before .We gave our clear guidelines and since the party in its magnanimity said women should get free forms,  it was through that process that the woman got the form but she had zero votes in the primary against Chief Orim. Martins filled the form, uploaded his credentials which were published which section 31 recognizes him as the candidate of the party. The party does not have powers to change Orim if he does not withdraw voluntarily. Chief Orim went to court himself to depose to an affidavit, forwarded it along with a written letter to INEC stating that he is a candidate of the party for the district but in the interest of the party, he was withdrawing from the election and that gives the party fourteen days to sell forms and conduct another fresh primary to elect another flag bearer . There is no better name to call the process a by- primary as in the case of a by-election. Governor Ayade had run for President, it did not favour him, he came back,  bought form and went through a fresh process,  not like the case in other states.

We did all these not because I sit here as Chairman of the party but a lawyer who has clear understanding of the provisions of the new Electoral Act . Some of the people touting and making a lot of noise have not even seen the law. In fact, yesterday,  my attention was drawn to the fact that Barrister Cecilia who is being guided by wrong interpretation of the Electoral Act and PDP elements who are afraid of meeting the governor in the field are deceiving her to go to court. The young man who tells them he is Senator who did not win any election is coming up with similar antics and criminal designs he did last time but this time around, like the new colloquium says, we will flog him and his party wotowotor.

Can you with confidence say APC candidates beginning from House of Assembly to governor will win their elections?

Yes, though we are not undermining the opposition but that only serves to prepare us for the election. We are not going to rest on our oars. Our confidence is borne out of the fact that there was a political revolution in Cross River State on May , 20, 2021 and you know in our state, we follow government. It is purely a civil service state with very few people divorcing themselves from the system to stand alone. What we did when we moved out of PDP was to completely conquer the party where we were before we left. You have seen that in the Ogoja/Yala by- election as a testament. APC had barely spent nine months and a as a nine -month old baby flogged a 22 years old man. There is what we call presumption of regularity in law, that is , if we beat them yesterday, as it relates to our new home, we will beat them again . We are building on those things which have endeared us to the people and so victory at all levels is sure.