Can Ayade break the jinx in Southsouth?

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Can the defection of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) make any difference in future election in the Southsouth? GBADE OGUNWALE reviews the electoral losses recorded by some defectors in zone

The defection of Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) did not come as a surprise to leaders and stakeholders in the PDP.

The governor’s defection was long foretold. Since his re-election in 2019, the number of times Ayade attended critical stakeholder meetings with his fellow governors at the PDP national secretariat can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Months before he defected, governors elected on the platform of the PDP had initiated moves to persuade their colleague in Cross River to remain in the fold. A delegation of PDP governors, led the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who chairs the PDP Governors Forum, had visited Ayade in Calabar, the Cross River State capital. The governors had met behind closed doors  where they held consultations with Ayade, with a view to resolving the issues that her raised against key PDP stakeholders in the Cross River chapter.

Briefing reporters at the end of the meeting, Tambuwal had sounded optimistic as he declared that the delegation had reached a truce with Ayade and that the governor would not be leaving the PDP.

But, Ayade proved Tambuwal wrong just a few weeks after the meeting as he announced his defection on Thursday, May 20, 2021 at his office in Government House, at the same venue he had met with the PDP governors.

Ayade, months before his defection, had been having a running battle with power brokers in his state chapter of the PDP over control of party structure. In Nigerian political party tradition, a governor is deemed to be the leader of the party in his state.

Usually, as leader of the state chapter, the governor dispenses patronage and decides who gets what and how. However, in the case of Governor Ayade, the PDP structure in Cross River was being controlled by entrenched forces that had been on ground long before he joined the party.

Incidentally, it was this group of power brokers, led by a sitting governor at the time, Senator Liyel Imoke, that facilitated Ayade’s nomination and subsequent election in 2011 to represent the Cross River North senatorial district in the 7th Senate.

The Imoke-led group also ensured that Ayade secured the PDP governorship ticket in 2015 and got elected into office. The group subsequently saw to his re-election as governor in the 2019. However, cracks started emerging on the walls in 2020 when Ayade started initiating moves to assert himself as the ultimate leader of the PDP in Cross River. He met a stiff resistance in the old political horses he met on ground and in the ensuing struggle, the governor lost out completely with the Imoke group taking over the PDP structure from the wards to the state level. Having been “stripped naked” politically, the governor decided to make good his threats to dump the PDP.

 

What is Ayade bringing to APC?

Observers posit that more often, personal interests and desperation to secure a political future, have always been the reason for defection in Nigerian politics.

As it were, Ayade will be serving out his second term as governor in 2023 and he must have reasoned that he faced an uncertain political future if he remained in the PDP.

Sources in the opposition party however, say the governor’s defection to the APC comes with its own challenges. According to them, if he could not gain control of the PDP structure in Cross River, even as a sitting governor, it is doubtful if he would make any significant impact in the APC in future elections.

A source in the Cross River PDP said the APC cannot reap any electoral harvest from Governor Ayade, now or in the future. The source, who did not want to be named, said: “For a man who was being spoon-fed by others in all his political career while in the PDP, Ayade can’t add anything to the political fortune of the APC in Cross River State.

The APC leaders that lured him to join their party will sooner or later discover that they bought a pig in the poke. Cross River is a traditional turf of the PDP and a million Ayades can’t change this time tested tradition because the average Cross Riverian cannot be persuaded to vote for any other party other than PDP”.

 

The Akpabio, Amaechi experience

Not a few hold the view that Ayade defected to the APC for the same reasons a former Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, did. According to this school, it was for reasons of self preservation that made Akpabio dump the PDP for the APC in 2018 and resigned his position as then Minority Leader.

But, his electoral value was tested in the 2019 elections. Akpabio did not only fail to deliver his Akwa Ibom State for the APC, he also lost the Akwa Ibom South senatorial district election to a political adversary in the PDP. But, by fate or design, Akpabio eventually got appointed as cabinet minister by the Buhari Presidency. Also, for Mr Rotimi Amaechi, two term governor of River State (2007-2015), the sojourn in APC has not been a smooth one in terms of electoral value. Amaechi had defected from the PDP to the APC with many other notable chieftains of the erstwhile ruling party at the formative stage of APC in 2013. But, Amaechi’s APC had been vanquished by the PDP in Rivers State in two consecutive election circles -2015 and 2019. As the leader of the APC in Rivers, he could not organise the party into a formidable and winning force.

The struggle for the control of the APC structure between him and Senator Magnus Abe, led to the disqualification of the APC from all state elections in Rivers in 2019.

Like Akpabio, all Amaechi has got to show for his defection to the APC is a ministerial cabinet position, which he has been holding on to since 2015. Some political party analysts posit that in spite of its many failures, the PDP remained deeply entrenched in the South-South geopolitical zone.

According to them, it would take a formidable political force with enormous  clouts for any other party to upstage the PDP in that zone. They observed that over the years, the electorate in the zone tend to vote for party and not for individuals.

 

Ayade’s tent in APC

Some observers say judging by the league of APC governors that received Ayade into the ruling party at the point of defection, the Cross River Governor appeared to have already pitched his tent with one of the opposing camps in the ruling party. Members of this camp are seen to have hijacked the structure of the APC at the national level.

With the dismantling of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) in June 2020, membership of this group consisted mainly the APC governors that received Ayade to the ruling party.

Besides manipulating the protracted membership registration and revalidation exercise of the APC, a major task the group has saddled itself with, is to frustrate the aspirations of tested politicians in the ruling party. This has led many members of the ruling party wondering why the group has chosen to break the ladder with which the APC climbed to political power in 2015.  With the appointment in June 2020 of the Yobe State Governor, Mala Mai Buni as chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee, the group has succeeded in seizing the party structure at the national level.

The Caretaker Committee was given an initial tenure of six months, which was to expire in December 2020. But, through some maneuvering, the Committee and its backers succeeded in getting another six months extension, which is expected to expire this June.

The committee is still struggling with its primary mandate of conducting the party’s national convention where a new set of party leaders are expected to emerge. Not a few harbour the suspicion that the Caretaker Committee is presently scheming to get a fresh extension, a plot that is being resisted by the various power blocs and stakeholders in the APC.

Sources in the ruling party say that already, there is apprehension among stakeholders over perceived moves by the Caretaker Committee to keep running the affairs of the APC until they get their lackeys “elected” into the party’s NWC positions. Those that have publicly identified with this group, led by the Yobe governor, include governors of Kebbi, Kaduna, Jigawa, Ekiti, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau, Imo, Ebonyi and Gombe states. Ayade is believed to be the newest entrant into the group. On the other hand, it was reliably gathered that those opposed to the tenure perpetuation scheme of the Caretaker Committee include the governors of Kano, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Borno and katsina. Identifying with the latter group are prominent leaders of the party across the six geopolitical zones whose labour birthed the APC in 2013.

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