Looking at the whole picture, it will appear that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in Cross River State may struggle at the March 18 governorship poll.
This is not unconnected with the growing clout of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which over the past two years invested considerably in its effort to reclaim power in the state.
Many are also quick to point out that APC has never won a governorship election in the state.
Should APC prevail at the poll, this Saturday’s Election is going to be the first time the party would win the governorship election in Cross River.
Since 1999 when the country returned to democracy, PDP had been the dominant party, until May 20, 2021, when Gov Ben Ayade defected to the then struggling APC and made the party formidable.
But a closer look at the picture tells a different story.
As both parties head to the March 18 gubernatorial election, it is APC that holds the trump card with its decision to abide by the power rotation policy which has been sacrosanct to date.
The agreement, though unwritten, rotates power among the three senatorial districts of the state. This rotational arrangement produced Donald Duke from South (1999-2003), Liyel Imoke from Central (2003 – 2015) and Ben Ayade from the North (2015 – 2023).
Now, the APC insists the successor to the incumbent Governor Ayade must come from the Southern Senatorial District as a way of ensuring political power stability in the state. As a demonstration of loyalty to the arrangement, the party picked its candidate, Prince Bassey Otu, from Cross River Southern Senatorial District.
The move is backed by influential APC stalwarts from both northern and central senatorial districts.
One of them, Senator John Owan-Enoh, from Central Senatorial District, openly canvassed: “This time, [it] is for the South. We must do all possible to ensure the rotational power shift stands. I have unleashed all my structures in Central which enabled the party to win the presidential election on 25 February 2023.”
The PDP, on the other hand, argued that abiding by the principle of power rotation does not give room for quality.
Its gubernatorial candidate, Prof Sandy Ojang Onor, even avowed that “power has to be taken and not awarded.”
Onor further argued that he, too, has strong roots in Akamkpa LGA as his two parents have the Ejagham nation ancestry, but his position and that of his party run contrary to popular sentiment.
What’s worse, weakened by the long-drawn wrangling between its presidential candidate, Abubakar Atiku, and the rebellious G-5 governors, led by Gov Nyesome Wike of Rivers State, PDP is not properly aligned to pull its weight behind its Cross Rivers guber candidate.
With the party broken into different factions, not all PDP supporters and members are backing Sandy Onor’s ticket. Given the cloak-and-dagger sentiment that prevails presently in the party, some elements would work as fifth columnists to ensure the other faction loses at the poll as a payback.
Although, former governor Donald Duke has been vocal that allowing APC’s Prince Bassey Otu to emerge as governor will mean “elongating the tenure of Ben Ayade,” he has been vilified for his view.
Duke was the target of his kinsmen, who at a news conference in Calabar on Thursday, depicted him as Judas.
A statement signed by 26 leaders and stakeholders of Southern Senatorial District rebuked him thus: “For our son, Duke, to equate the principle of orderly and equitable rotation of power encapsulated in the “Back To South” slogan and rather equate it to “Back To Status quo, Back To Ayade” is a most unfortunate betrayal.”
The group further said: “It is even more painful that this is coming from someone from South who benefitted so much but left the South stranded, impoverished and impotent at the end of his flashy reign.
“It is very bad when leaders who know better, try to deceive our people to think that after taking office, Senator Prince Otu will be anybody’s stooge or surrogate.”
As it stands, APC is riding on a popular sentiment that may well deliver the governorship ticket to the party at the polls.