The Southeast and Southsouth political zones have remained strongholds of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999. But since 2015, when former President Goodluck Jonathan, who flew the flag of PDP for re-election, lost the presidential election to President Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressives Congress (APC), the politics of the two zones have witnessed dramatic changes.
Today, as the country prepares for the 2019 elections, APC boasts of many prominent members who are bent on ensuring that the party, which performed abysmally in the two zones in 2015, will become APC controlled zones even as they evolve fresh strategies that will give victory to APC’s presidential candidate.
The specific plans in the various states differ even as various states have different political leaders at the helm affairs. The overall impact of the activities of the various teams is a pointer to how the 2019 elections would be fought and won in 2019.
Since the commencement of the present democratic dispensation in Cross River State, never has the opposition been in such an advantaged position to take over power in the state as it has today.
Given the widespread feeling of disaffection with the present Peoples Democratic Party-led government within the political class and the masses in the state and the fact that the party at the federal level, for the first time, is the opposition, and also for the first time there is an array of political gladiators across the state within the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), political analysts are skeptical to assume, as they would normally believe, that the ruling party would easily retain its position in the state.
In a paradox of sorts, it appears the only thing standing between the opposition and taking over the state next year is not the ruling PDP, but the APC members themselves.
At the moment, the party is embroiled in a bitter in-fighting that is threatening to consume the soul of the party and give the ruling PDP little or nothing to worry about as they look to extend their dominance in the state next year.
Signs of trouble within the APC in the state became obvious in January this year, when the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Usani, was indefinitely suspended and recommended for expulsion to the national leadership by the then executive council of the party in the state led by Sir John Ochalla.
Usani, a former chairman of the party in the state, was accused of indiscipline. Ochalla had alleged that Usani was into organising illegal meetings, which was not in the best interest of the party, even after several efforts to reconcile their differences. Ochalla, who was with the National Vice Chairman, Southsouth, Ntufam Hillard Eta, told reporters that Usani’s aim was to install a state chairman of the party that would do his bidding. It was alleged that the minister’s aim was to set himself up to run for the governorship of the state on the platform of the party.
In a swift reaction, the decision to indefinitely suspend Usani, from the party was described as nullity and cheap blackmail by some executive members.
A communiqué signed by the then State Organising Secretary, Ekpe Owan Ayang; Legal Adviser, Lazarus Undie and others accused Eta of being behind the development and also went ahead to declare that Ochala and Eta have been suspended.
They said there was no resolution by either the State Working Committee or the State Executive Committee of the party to suspend the minister from the party and no allegation was raised or was pending against him.
The minister himself said he was not aware he had been suspended from the party.
However, on February 24, in a special state congress, conducted by a five-man screening/election committee, led by Mohammed Indebawa, which held at the party’s secretariat in Calabar, Mr. Godwin Etim-John, a loyalist of Usani, emerged as the chairman of the party. Etim-John polled 56 votes while Dr. Mathew Achigbe got 36 votes to come second.
However, a suit filed by one King Edom Vincent Odey, among other things, sought an order setting aside the directive for the holding of the special state congress, in which saw Etim-John emerged. Usani, who was an observer at the congress, said he was not aware of any court injunction.
Besides, the issues of an injunction against the congress that brought Etim-John, Achigbe, who rejected the exercise, had accused the party’s National Chairman then, John Odigie Oyegun, and National Organising Secretary then, Senator Osita Izunaso, of compromise.
Addressing reporters at the time, he urged the National Leader of the party, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to intervene and save the party from imminent collapse before the 2019 General Elections. Achigbe said what transpired at the congress was illegal and would be challenged to a logical conclusion.
Achigbe said the congress defied Article 25 of the APC constitution, which states that at least 14 days’ notice should be given before the conduct of a congress. He also alleged that even suspended members of the party, including Etim-John, were allowed to participate in the congress. He alleged that the congress was not even witnessed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as provided for in the 2010 Electoral Act as amended.
After much ado, another state congress for the election of a party Executive Council was organised on May 19. This was again rejected by Achigbe and some major stakeholders of the party in the state.
The new state congress, which was conducted by Hon Useni Adamu, saw the new executive emerge through voice votes at the Cultural Centre Complex, all unopposed.
The congress, which was boycotted by these stakeholders, again saw the emergence of an Etim-John led executive council. The stakeholders, who boycotted the exercise, accused Usani of manipulating the entire process to have his way. They accused the minister of quarantining the congress committee to do his bidding.
Those who accused the minister include former governor, Dr. Clement Ebri; National Vice Chairman Southsouth, Hilliard Eta; Senator John Owan-Enoh; Hon Cletus Obun; Prof Eyo Etim Nyong; Hon Venatius Ikem; Hon Paul Adah; Barrister Utum Eteng; Chief Ernest Irek; Mr. Odey Ochicha; Dr. Chris-Valentine Eneji, among a host of others.
The stakeholders led by Ebri, who addressed reporters after the exercise, accused Usani of trying to destroy the party in the state. They demanded that a “proper state congress” be held.
Usani had dismissed these claims, saying the congress was legitimate having been endorsed by the national secretariat.
However, about a week later on May 27, the group made up of those who boycotted the earlier exercise had gone ahead to conduct another state congress in Calabar.
The exercise this time was conducted by the National Vice Chairman, Ntufam Hillard Eta, who said they used lists of delegates from the ward and local government congresses conducted by the chairman of the Congresses Committee, Major General Umar (rtd).
The exercise was to hold at the Ikot Ansa Town Hall in Calabar, but the venue was barricaded by dozens of armed policemen. It was later held at the premises of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital.
The new 36-member executive council, which emerged at the State Congress, through affirmation, had Dr. Mathew Achigbe, as chairman.
Speaking at the end of the exercise, Achigbe said there was no other legitimate executive council of the party in the state.
However, the Etim-John group described the congress that produced Achigbe as a nullity. Both groups with two secretariats in Calabar, the state capital, held that they were the legitimate executives of the party. The Achigbe group had gone ahead to obtain a court injunction restraining Etim-John from parading himself as the chairman of the party.
In the heat of the crisis, the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Frankland Briyai, had recognised Etim-John as the chairman during a stakeholders meeting on the conduct of the by-election for the Obudu State Constituency of the Cross River House of Assembly which was slated for August 11, 2018. Loyalists of the other group had accused INEC of compromise. But reacting to this, the Secretary of the Etim-John faction of the party, Chief Francis Ekpenyong, said INEC’s position had settled the issue, as they were the legitimate party executives in the state.
Ekpenyong had said that INEC had laid to rest the matter at the stakeholders meeting, when the Resident Electoral Commissioner informed everyone that the state chairman of APC in Cross River State is Godwin Etim John.
According to him, the injunction obtained against them was a motion exparte, which by law had expired on its own in 14 days, which had long expired.
But with the National Convention of the party that saw Comrade Adams Oshiomhole emerge as the National Chairman, the two state executive councils were dissolved by the national secretariat and a date fixed for a new state congress.
Etim-John had dragged Oshiomhole, the secretary of the Convention Committee, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, and the party to court over grievances about the conduct of the convention. They were aggrieved that they were marginalised.
On August 22, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, inaugurated a new executive council, led by Dr. Mathew Achigbe. The Etim-John group boycotted the exercise.
The executive council was inaugurated after being elected in a state congress conducted by a five-man congress committee led by Mr. Henry Idah Agbom and monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). They emerged through voice votes.
Oshiomhole, who was represented by the National Vice Chairman, Southsouth, Ntufam Hillard Eta, said it was the wisdom of the National Working Committee to dissolve all the state executive councils and elect a new one to move the party forward in the state.
Despite the fact that Oshiomhole swore-in the Dr. Mathew Achigbe-led State Executive Committee at the party’s National Secretariat on August 28 in Abuja, the Etim-John faction still insists it remains the authentic executive council of the party in the state. The faction said the congress was an illegality given that there was an injunction from an Abuja High Court stopping the exercise.
Agbom, a lawyer, had in a response to a query by our reporter denied knowledge of such injunction.
At the moment, it appears all is settled with the swearing in of Achigbe as the chairman of the party, but a closer look will reveal that the problem of the party is far from over. Despite having a majority of the political heavyweights across the state in its fold, the brawl within the APC in the state is threatening to destroy the party. The fear is that the party may be spent dealing with its own internal crisis rather than preparing to wrestle power from the ruling PDP.
Both sides keep saying there is no division in the party, but it is very clear the acrimony within is far more dangerous than any external aggression. Also, both sides keep accusing the other of working with the ruling PDP to run the party down. Concerned party members have continuously called on both sides to bury the hatchet and move forward united, but by all indications, there is no letting up by either side. It is apparent the APC may break their own pot with their own hands even before they begin to prepare the meal.
“If all the APC in the state speak with one voice, they have a very good chance of flushing out the PDP. All the top political players across the state are now in the APC, but there is a lot of acrimony and discord in the party. If the APC can set aside their differences and work together, there is a very good chance Cross River would be an APC state from next year.
“But the first step to solve a problem is even acknowledging there is a problem. This is something both factions have not even come to terms with yet and it is likely to destroy the party. A fight from within is more dangerous than a fight from outside. If nothing is done to bring everyone together, despite the new exco and the array of political gladiators within the party, they will definitely crumble and there is no way they can win anything with such infighting,” a political observer noted.