The face-off between the five governors of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also known as G-5, led by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and the Presidential candidate of the party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, over the refusal of its national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, to step down has polarised members of PDP in Cross River State.
Investigations reveal that if the party leadership does not move fast to resolve the crisis and goes into the 2023 elections divided, its chances of victory will be very slim.
Since PDP presidential primaries, which former Vice President Atiku Abubakar won, all has not been well with the party, as the G-5 have remained insistent that Ayu resigned for equity, fairness and justice.
This face-off is already taking its toll in the state, as its chairman Mr. Venatius Ikem and some members of his executive; the party’s governorship candidate, Senator Sandy Onor and his deputy Emana Duke; senatorial candidate in South, Ntufam Ekpo Okon; the incumbent Senator and senatorial candidate for the North, Agom Jarigbe Agom; House of Representatives member for Calabar Municipality/Odukpani Federal constituency and candidate for the party, Ntufam Eta Mbora; former governor Donald Duke; former deputy governor Mr Efiok Cobham (Onor’s campaign Director General in the South), a state lawmaker (Calabar Municipal), Mr. Efa Isua; all the state House lawmakers and almost all the House of Assembly candidates and many others have pitched their tents with G-5.
On the other side, former Governor Liyel Imoke, Cross River caucus chairman in the National Assembly, Senator Gershom Bassey; Cross River Central Senatorial candidate, Mr. Bassey Ewa; the Abi/Yakurr Federal Representatives candidate, Mr. Eko Atu; former Bakassi Local Government Council chairman, Mr. Emmanuel Etene and others have publicly expressed their support for Atiku.
Only recently, Wike donated 25 branded buses to Cross River PDP, which did not have Atiku’s pictures. The buses carry pictures and campaign messages from the governorship to House of Assembly candidates. Onor’s campaign offices in Calabar and other parts, billboards and banners by the Wike team showcasing their candidates in the state are also without Atiku and other candidates supporting him.
Similarly, in Atiku’s campaign office in Calabar, posters and banners pasted on the walls do not carry pictures of the candidates loyal to Wike.
Both sides in the state are running divided campaigns and programmes and do not speak with one voice as the usual one big family. But top party sources said candidates loyal to Wike discretely solicit for votes for themselves and Atiku since they are the ones in the 2023 race.
When the Wike camp took delivery and commissioned the 25 branded bus in Calabar in November, the group loyal to Atiku was not there. In same vein, when the Atiku’s camp performed the inauguration of Atiku/Okowa campaign council office in December, Wike camp was absent.
Observers of events in the party say this division among party members will weaken the party in the 2023 elections. The crisis caused Senator Gershom Bassey from South Senatorial District the governorship ticket. He lost to Senator Onor from Central.
Ordinarily, PDP would have leveraged on its past, as the most dominant party in the state but the defection of Governor Ben Ayade in 2020 to APC, and the current crisis may affect the party’s chances.
Imoke and Bassey had, during the inauguration ceremony of the Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign Office in Calabar in December warned that if Atiku failed in the presidential election, all the PDP candidates in the state contesting other positions will fail and vice versa, if he wins.
But Imoke, who is the Deputy Director (Operations) of the Atiku/Okowa National Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), spoke with certainty that the PDP family in the state is set to win all elections with the calibre of people inaugurated into the Youth and Women wings of the PCC.
At the inauguration ceremony, the Vice Presidential candidate of the party, who is the incumbent governor of Delta State, Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa and some of his South-South counterparts boasted that PDP is in-charge in the state, “PDP will win, recover, rescue and rebuild Cross River State, the South-South zone and the nation from the sinking ship of the APC,” they emphatically stated.
On his part, the Chairman of Atiku/Okowa National Presidential Campaign Council and Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, who inaugurated PDP National Youth Campaign Council and Women Wing of the Presidential Campaign Council, said the party has never lost any election in the state since the advent of democracy in1999 and 2023 will not be different, as South-South governors are united with PDP family to win again.
Speaking in the same vein, the Chairman of Cross River State Presidential Campaign Council, Senator Bassey, assured everyone that the party is already in the trenches working to win the general elections, asserting that the state has never lost any presidential election in the state because winning is a culture for the PDP family in Cross River.
He said: “APC in the state is trying to learn the game of electioneering from PDP and will never know it enough to outclass the masters. The PDP will cruise to victory and Atiku Abubakar will win Cross River State convincingly.”
Until recently, Duke, Imoke and Bassey were the three musketeers running the affairs of the state under one big umbrella.
Efforts to get the state chairman of PDP and Publicity Secretary, Mr. Mike Ojisi failed.
However, the national coordinator of Atiku/Okowa Unifier Next Door support group, Mr. Peter Ofuka, in an interview with The Guardian, said: “The 2023 race will be difficult to succeed under this circumstance because a house divided against itself can not stand. We are trying our best to see how we can get out of the troubled water. By now if not for the crisis, PDP would have done very well. A lot of people have started taking positions and many people are supporting APC because of this crisis. So, it has been a difficult task for PDP in Cross River State.”
On the chances of Atiku winning in the state, he said: “Atiku will win in Cross River but I don’t know of the governorship on how it’s going to look like, because I believe a lot of people have taken sides to support the Cross River South senatorial candidate in the state.”
Though Wike has been accused of being unnecessarily overbearing, a top PDP chieftain in Calabar, Mr. Moses Oko, rose in his defence, saying the Rivers State governor has done nothing wrong, rather he should be honoured for standing for truth and justice.
“I am very certain that the crisis will not effect us in the state. What happens at the higher level may not happen at the lower level in the sense that at the higher level, it is too remarkable but here, we are closely knit. I am for Sandy Onor and he will win.”
Amid the crisis, another PDP chieftain and a former commissioner in the state, Rev. Grace Ekanem, said: “Anywhere the house is divided, you know there is a problem, so, they have to sort themselves out if they want to succeed else they will fail at the national level. If they are sensible they should sort themselves out. A divided house cannot stand. Let them forget about their ego and sort out things. For the party to succeed, they must be united.”
Also, the former lawmaker for Calabar Municipality/Odukpani Federal Constituency of Cross River State, Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo, said: “It is true that the party is divided, but between its rank and file every member wants the party to win and return to governance.
Toyo said that it is dangerous for the PDP to go into the 2023 elections divided, warning: “Today, access to power and all the instruments to power are in the hands of APC and it is competing against PDP. For me, to put it mildly, it will be fool hardy to think that we in PDP as a whole to think that we can face this election, first as opposition, second without the resources of the state, as well as the support of the state organs and institutions that hitherto we used to have and then decide that it is okay for us to split ourselves in the middle.
“I think there is sense in which some candidates owe their success to Wike, I can name them, Jarigbe in the North, Sandy Onor as governorship candidate, and by extension, few other persons here in the South got their tickets courtesy of that arrangement. Wike has been the source of funding for them.
“In the absence of other funding sources that are dedicated to their elections, they have to be careful about which direction they take their anger and concerns to. Like we say in politics, one day is a very long time as so many things can change in one day. If you go beyond these persons that have had direct contact with Wike on the basis of their candidacy, you would hardly find anybody that is split between Wike and Atiku.
“So, this crisis we are dealing with is an artificial construct because we in the PDP are not in doubt as to how we would win this election. We know for certain that if for example, Atiku wins the first election, the bandwagon effect of his victory would be such that in two weeks, a lot of states would begin to support on their own.
“For anyone to come in the middle or less than quarter to the election, saying that there is such a friction between us to the extent that we cannot come together will be stretching the argument too far. I may be wrong about this but to my own understanding so far, Wike has been the source of support for certain persons in this election and it is only natural for them to stay loyal.
“If you watch their election campaign pattern, they have been quiet on the candidacy of Atiku and not to propagate the candidacy of any other person. And the hope is that at some material time, some wisdom or revelation will come on everybody and make us realise that it is more important that we unite and win this election.”
Reacting to allegations that the Wike group may give their support for the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, Nkoyo said: “They cannot do that. It is totally impossible and a figment of the person’s imagination because how would they do it?”