Saturday, 26 May 2018

2019: The Looming danger to the PDP by Mary Asu

The political situation in the central senatorial district of Cross River State portends danger to the PDP if not handled tactfully and pragmatically. In issue is the contest for the Senate seat of the central senatorial district. While there is a strong statewide agitation for the senatorial seat to go to Old Obubra Division of the central senatorial district which consists of Obubra LGA, Yakurr LGA and Abi LGA, an agitation supported by former Governor Liyel Imoke, there is a challenge to this position posed by contenders to the senate seat like Mr. Chris Agara and Dr. Sandy Onor. Dr. Sandy Onor has even termed the Old Obubra agitation for the senate seat as "a fraud".

The elections of 2019 in the state and even the country will be hotly contested by the PDP against the APC. The situation is distinctly different from how it has been in the past where anyone who obtains the PDP ticket is an automatic winner of the elections. In this regard therefore, where PDP to fail in handling this situation with the strategic pragmatism that it deserves, the senatorial district may fall to the rival APC and correspondingly put the Governorship in jeopardy. The central senatorial district has played the pivotal role in tipping the scales in Governorship contests in the state in past elections.

The agitation for the central senatorial seat to go to the Old Obubra Division is predicated on the fact that since the commencement of democratic politics in 1999 the senate seat has been occupied by indigenes of the Old Ikom Division. The first senator in 1999 was Senator Mathew Mbu Jnr. After him the seat was occupied for 12 years by Senator Victor Ndoma Egba. The seat is presently occupied by Senator John Owan Enoh. These people come from Boki, Ikom and Etung respectively all LGAs that constitute the Old Ikom Division.

The whole concept of zoning political offices in a multi ethnic and culturally diverse political society such as Nigeria is to create or build a sense of unity and common purpose among the different ethnic communities that constitute Nigeria. This sense of unity and common purpose is built when the different segments of the political society are freely given a chance to hold political office and thus engender in the members of the different ethnic communities a sense of belonging. Zoning political offices has therefore become a veritable and in fact indispensable element in the political culture of Nigeria. It is this morale that drives the agitation for the senate seat to go to Old Obubra. None of the LGAs that constitutes the Old Obubra Division has produced a senator to represent the senatorial district since 1999.

Those who challenge this agitation are quick to point out that the Old Obubra Division has produced all the Governors and Deputy Governors that have been zoned to the central senatorial district. They further argue that the Old Obubra Division has produced all the Federal Ministers that have been chosen from the zone. Their argument is that the Old Obubra Division has not been politically marginalized. For the agitators of the Old Obubra cause, there is an inherent lie in this argument which renders it immoral and unjust. They posit that the office of Governor or Deputy Governor is not an office shared in common between the peoples of the central senatorial district.

 The Governorship of the state is determined by the people of the whole state. The office of Minister is not an elective office for which the people of the senatorial district have to choose. It is an office which is given purely at the discretion of the President of the country. The office of senator representing the zone is however an elective political office which is held and determined in common by the peoples of the central senatorial district. It is for this reason that fairness, equity and justice demand that the seat goes round the various peoples of the senatorial district to promote unity and inclusiveness among the people.

Notwithstanding the arguments of both parties, one must take a pragmatic political view of the situation in the central senatorial district viz-a-vis the politics of the PDP against the APC.

Out of the six LGAs of the central senatorial district, only 2 LGAs have not produced the senator to represent the senatorial district. These are Yakurr and Obubra. Out of these 2, Obubra after a 16 year wait have now produced the Member of the House of Representatives representing Obubra/Etung Federal Constituency to which they are entitled another term in 2019. The House of Representatives seat for Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency has been zoned to Abi, Yakurr having held since 1999. Within the PDP circles therefore Yakurr LGA is left with no meaningful elective office from the PDP by 2019.

In contrast, the current leadership of the APC in the state is largely domiciled in Yakurr. The APC led federal government has placed a considerable number of federal appointments in Yakurr LGA making Yakurr the hotbed and rallying point for the APC in Cross River State. Some in Yakurr have begun to comment that APC is the Yakurr peoples Party because in addition to the federal appointments held by Yakurr people, a good number of the traditional political leaders of Yakurr have moved over to the APC from the PDP.

The significance of this fact is that where the PDP to ignore the agitations for the senatorial seat of the central senatorial district to be zoned to Old Obubra and consequently zoned to Yakurr LGA which will be the only LGA in Old Obubra without a National Assembly seat in 2019, the PDP would have unwittingly surrendered Yakurr LGA to the APC. It would be difficult to convince Yakurr people that PDP as a Party has anything for them. This could even be made worse if the rumors spreading round in political circles that the current Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani seeks to contest the Governorship of the State under the banner of the APC. A direct consequence of Yakurr falling to APC would mean that PDP would most likely lose the Abi/Yakurr federal constituency seat to APC as it is Yakurr that has the dominant votes in that constituency. Where this to happen it means Abi LGA would have fallen as well to the APC. The effects would also be felt in Obubra. This is because quite a significant number of Obubra PDP leaders believe that since Obubra currently holds a National Assembly seat, the Senate should go to Yakurr so that when the Yakurr turn is completed, the senate seat will naturally go to Obubra and that by this time they would have adequately prepared themselves with a viable candidate to assume the office. To them depriving Yakurr of the senate seat jeopardizes their future claim to the office. These sentiments will weaken the resolve of PDP leaders in Obubra thus giving an edge to the APC. It must be understood that historically Yakurr has a lot of influence over the politics of Obubra right from the old days where all were grouped as one Obubra Local Government Area.

The significant point to emphasize is that the PDP stands to suffer greater potential damage should they ignore the current agitations for zoning of the senate of central to Old Obubra and particularly Yakurr LGA than they stand to lose were the seat to go to Etung LGA for instance where Dr. Sandy Onor hails from and which by the way is the LGA of origin of the incumbent senator or to Obubra where Mr. Chris Agara now claims as his origin as Obubra already is holding a National Assembly office. It is significant as well that Etung is by far the smallest LGA in the central senatorial district with fewer polling units than Boje which is just one village in Boki LGA.

The challenge of Dr. Sandy Onor and Mr. Chris Agara for the senate seat of the central senatorial district would appear to lend credence to perception in certain political circles that it is a challenge to the political authority, leadership and standing of the former Governor HE. Senator Liyel Imoke. Where any of them to emerge and HE. Imoke loses his federal constituency (Abi/Yakurr) it would diminish HE. Liyel Imoke politically particularly at the national level of the Party where he is viewed as a formidable party leader.

Among many political actors within the PDP, Mr. Chris Agara being a close friend and confidant of the current Governor HE. Prof. Ben Ayade, is perceived as the instrument to be used by the Governor to challenge HE. Imoke in the centre. This is a perception that neither the Governor nor the Party can afford. Dr. Sandy Onor on the other hand is a historical opponent of HE. Imoke (he was sacked by HE. Imoke as a Commissioner). He has only just returned to the PDP from the APC where he had decamped to from the Labour Party, the platform which he used to fight the PDP during the 2015 elections for the office of senator. He has loudly and brashly boasted of his friendship with the Governor of Rivers State HE. Nyesom Wike on whose backing and orders the Party must surely grant him the senatorial ticket.

These perceptions would appear to pit the Governor against the former Governor, HE. Imoke. This certainly portends danger for the PDP going into the 2019 elections. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Though HE. Liyel Imoke is no longer Governor of the State, there is no doubting his entrenched political network in the State. He is still largely seen as the Leader of the Party in the state. He is the political godfather of the incumbent Governor and the word on the street is that the Governor has conceded to him the choice of who gets the Party ticket to contest political offices in the central senatorial district. Whether or not this is true, what is clear to keen watchers of politics in the state is that the PDP will be better off if there is unity between these two political leaders than if there were squabbles. While it is clear that the Governor would need the cooperation of HE. Liyel Imoke to enhance his second term bid for the office, he doesn't need his friend Chris Agara nor Dr. Sandy Onor as much to achieve his bid.

On the whole, politics is a strategic game of numbers. The need to properly strategize in order to win the most number of votes in any elections should be the paramount concern of a political party. The PDP should thus be aware.