The National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is at a crossroads over the botched Cross River state congress following several unresolved issues.
Amid all intrigues and scheming from the Governor Ben Ayade’s faction and that of Cross River legislators in the National Assembly and the founding members, the August 8 state congress was for the second time postponed.
The State Party executive led by the Caretaker Chairman, Ntufam Edim Inok leads Ayade’s faction while some of the Assembly members on the other side are Senator Gershom Bassey of Cross River South Senatorial, Senator Sandy Onoh of Cross River Central, Chief Daniel Asuquo (alias Dansuki) of Biase/Akamkpa Federal Constituency (all three likely governorship aspirants for 2023), Ntufam Eta Mbura of Calabar/Odukpani Federal Constituency and others.
Ayade is said to be interested in installing his Director General, Due Process, Chief Alphonsus Eba otherwise known as Okadigbo as the state Chairman while the National Assembly members and founding members are said to be favourably disposed to the former National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Venatius Ikem who is from Obudu with Ayade, to emerge as the new Cross River State Chairman of PDP.
The two groups have been strategising over who controls the party structure at the state level ahead of 2023 governorship election. The Abuja group had won the Ward and Chapter primaries and the outcome of the congresses duly endorsed by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP through a letter dated April 26 and signed by its National Organising Secretary, Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd), saying any other list like the one dated April 27 is fake. The Guardian observed that the Ayade group came out with the April 27, 2020 list, which was rejected by the NWC.
Following the directive by the NWC the ward executive committee members were inaugurated in 196 wards of the state on April 30, 2020 and were sworn into office.
Apparently not satisfied with the action by the NWC, the Ayade backed faction led by Ntufam Inok, the State’s PDP Caretaker Chairman in collaboration with some other members like Pastor Otu Edet Marshall went to court, praying the court to restrain the national leadership of the party from acting on any list except one submitted by the Cross River PDP in relation to the recently conducted ward and local government congresses in the state. They had claimed to have emerged in the ward congress conducted by Ntufam Inok-led state executive committee but was not inaugurated.
But this effort failed as the presiding vacation judge, Justice Elias Abua pulled out of the case saying, “I am a man of integrity and have worked hard to earn my reputation and would not want to soil it for any reason. I would return the case file to the Acting Chief Judge of Cross River State for reassignment and he returned the file to the Acting Chief Judge, Justice Maurice Eneji, for reassignment.
Faced with this situation the Ayade faction felt going into election with that list will be a disaster, hence security issues were raised and the National officers stayed away.
The immediate past governor, Senator Liyel Imoke who has been accused by the Ayade faction of taking sides with the National Assembly members has refused to join issues but on the eve of the botched Congress he called on “all warring stakeholders and party leaders to sheath their swords stating that the PDP is a family and they will settle their differences as such”.
In view of this, a compromise meeting held on Friday night into early hours of Saturday failed to arrive at a compromise, thus the National Publicity of PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan in a statement, said the NWC of the PDP has postponed the State Congress in Cross River State by one week.
He said, “The NWC, after due consultations and in exercise of its powers under the PDP constitution, postponed the Cross River State Congress from the earlier scheduled date of August 8, 2020 to August 15, 2020. The postponement is sequel to demands of exigencies of party administration. All critical stakeholders, elders, leaders as well as teeming members and supporters of our great party, particularly in Cross River State, are to be guided accordingly.”
It was gathered that over N700 million must have been offered to the NWC members to doctor the original list but was rebuffed by some of the NWC members and they became divided and confused on what to do. Efforts to reach PDP’s national Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbdinyan, to respond to these allegations failed as he did not take calls or respond to text messages. But top sources said the National Organising Secretary of the party and a few others have rejected the bribe attempt to alter the original list signed by him.
Vexed by rumour that the Ayade faction was trying to influence the NWC to change the original list approved by them as signed by the National Organising Secretary, the Chapter Chairmen of the PDP, on Tuesday after an emergency meeting issued a statement and called on the NWC of the party to maintain its position as it concerns the ward and chapter executive of the PDP in Cross River State.
The statement signed by Raymond Asuquo on behalf of Chapter Chairmen in Southern Senatorial District and Chief Godwin Igwe and Obule David Oko on behalf of Chairmen in the Central and Northern Senatorial Districts respectively implored all stakeholders of the party in the state to close ranks and work together to resolve lingering issues currently disrupting the peaceful conduct of the state congress of the party.
“We appeal to the NWC of our party that the unity, peace and continuity of the party is paramount and must be maintained. We plead with the party to maintain status quo as it concerns ward and chapter executive members as communicated to our former Chairman, Edim Inok in a letter dated April 26 2020”, they said adding, that the NWC confirmed their authenticity as duly elected members of the party at local government and ward level in Cross River State and they will protect their mandate legally.
The Chairmen said they were duly inaugurated and the letter captioned ‘Approval of new ward and local government area executive committee members in Cross River as signed by the National Organising Secretary Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd), published by the National Working Committee and duly acknowledged by INEC” .
On the said disqualification of some aspirants for the rescheduled Congress, they Chairmen said, “As a party that promotes and protect members rights, we strongly admonish the NWC to eschew arbitrary disqualification of Aspirants to the state and other congresses unconstitutionally”.
They, however, pledged their loyalty to Gov. Ayade, who they described as the leader of the party and members of the National Assembly who are also critical stakeholders of the party in the state. The member representing Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Mr. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe said the party was heading for disintegration if nothing was done.
Jarigbe said that the party was in disarray in Cross River and may completely disintegrate if nothing was done to curb the megalomaniac disposition exhibited so far by the leadership in the state.
He alleged that the leadership of the party in the state was trying to arm-twist National Assembly members and other major stakeholders by talking about harmonizing a process that had already been completed and officers at Ward and chapter levels already carrying out their duties.
He said, “The PDP in Cross River State is factionalized, especially in the north, we are no longer together and this is not unconnected to the high-handedness of the leadership of the party in the state. I want to say that if the situation is not cured in the state, PDP will never be the same again in Cross River again, a house divided against itself cannot stand; implosion is worse than explosion. We are not together in the PDP north, there is serious faction and if that is not also cured, I don’t think PDP would be a party to beat.
“There is difference between military government and democratically elected government. If you behave like the party is your personal enterprise, it is natural for people to revolt against it, because people cannot allow themselves to be arm-twisted. We are not captives.”
Jarigbe said, “The megalomaniac posturing by wanting to take everything is very humiliating and the level of arrogance is legendary. Ayade wants to destroy the party. The NWC of the Party must be dispassionate in their dealings. They are trying to arm-twist us to talk about harmonization when they had already completed a process, endorsed and published the names and they now want to reprobate this will lead to a complete collapse of PDP in Cross River State.
“If the list of Wards and Chapter Executives is distorted, it will lead to a total collapse of PDP; their tenure has already started running and the officials have stated carrying out the duty entrusted to them. I strongly feel that National Legal Adviser of the Party is totally compromised and he is advising the NWC of the party wrongly.”
On allegation that Imoke is backing a faction, the former Director General of Rural Urban Development Agency (RUDA), in Imoke’s administration, Mr Eko Atu, rising in defence of Imoke said in a chat with The Guardian that, “Imoke has told me severally, Eko, you know my position. I am like a father to all of you, so if there is disagreement between the National Assembly members and governor Ayade, I should be in position to settle them so I cannot get involved. If I take sides it will be difficult for me to call them to a round table.”
However Atu said, “The party he (Imoke) left is not the same again and he needs to intervene. He has been intervening in other states as a national leader and I expect that he should also be upright and forth coming in his own state. You can’t have a situation where all the national Assembly members except two are not on your side. As it is now, I don’t even know why the crisis should have arisen in the first place.”
As at last Friday, three different lists of candidates were in circulation in the state for the congress purported to have been produced by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party in Abuja. One of the lists carries the names of the three Chairmanship candidates, that is, the former National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Venatious Ikem who is from Obudu and is supported by the National Assembly faction, the Director General, Due Process, Chief Alphonsus Eba, otherwise known as Okadigbo said to be backed by the state governor, Senator Ben Ayade and Mr. Frank Adah, an ex-Speaker of the State House of Assembly.
On the other hand, the second list is said to be a fake list from the state government, carrying the name of Eba alone for the Chairmanship position excluding Ikem and Adah . Ikem was alleged to have been disqualified from the race but he denied insisting that he was fully in the race.
A public analyst, Prince Ekpenyong Asuquo said the disqualification of Ikem is in order, saying, “it is indeed appalling for a man who knows from inception that he has not met the constitutional requirement for election to hoodwink, deceive and mislead his party members and resort to blackmail, grandstanding, intimidation and gangsterism to achieve an ambition of which he is legally deficient, politically imbalanced and socially reprehensible, obnoxious and reproachable.”
He said, “The constitution of PDP under S. 49 (4) clearly provides that unless the party grants you a waiver, you must spend 18 months before you can stand election.”