Cross River PDP : Despite Ayade's Defection, Ikem's Chairmanship Ambition Still Hangs In The Balance

Governor Ben Ayade (R) discussing with PDP Chairmanship Aspirant, Barr. Venatius Ikem when the former was still in PDP

After months of uncertainty about the leadership tussle of the opposition People's Democratic Party, PDP in Cross River State, the party has finally announced the commencement of a fresh processes for its elective state congress. The processes were initially suspended owing to the disagreement between Governor Ben Ayade and some members of the National Assembly elected under its platform from the state. 

The PDP in a statement issued by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said that, "the National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has approved the procedure for its fresh State congress in Cross River state.

This is sequel to the approval of the cancellation of the earlier processes specifically the Screening Exercise for the State Congress . This was as a result of some developments that arose from the defection of  Governor Ben Ayade and some of his followers and supports to the All Progressive Congress.

Under the fresh procedure, the State congress is open to new aspirants for the various offices of the State Executive alongside those who had earlier purchased forms for the exercise. The sale of forms for only State Offices will commence from Friday, September 3 to Friday, September 10, 2021". 

Recall that the PDP concluded its ward and chapter congresses on the 7th and 21st of March 2020. The party had fixed a date  to hold its State congress afterwards to elect new executives but the disagreement from the ward and chapter congresses which divided the party into two factions; one loyal to the Governor and the other, to the National Assembly members stalled the process. 

The division led the party to producing factional wards and chapters executives. While the confusion ranged, the party was further thrown into a deeper turmoil when the national leadership, on the 26th of April, 2020, in a release with reference number PDP/DOM/GF. V/VOL. 2/20-387B, announced the "authentic list" which favours the National Assembly faction. They were subsequently inaugurated in line with the party's directives on the 30th of April, 2020.

This development threw the party into further crisis with the Governor and the State Working Committee announcing and inaugurating their own list days later. 

While the party was struggling with this crisis, another issue ensued when the party published the names of candidates cleared to contest various states positions. In the list, Barr. Venatius Ikem, the Chairmanship candidate supported by the National Assembly members was conspicuously missing, while Barr. Alphonsus Eba who had the backing of the Governor was cleared to go unopposed. 

This development exacerbated the already tensed atmosphere in the party and triggered legal battle between the factions. To douse the tension, the party suspended the processes for the State Congress. However, while the PDP was dragging foot and acting confused on how to resolve the internal wrangling, the Governor who felt disrespected that the they even contemplated taking the structures from him, dumped the party with his followers for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. 

With Governor Ayade leaving with his man, Eba to the APC, many had thought that Ikem was going to coast him to victory unopposed, being that the contest was initially between just two of them. This is however not the case going by the statement issued by the party announcing the cancelation of the initial process and encouraging new aspirants to pick forms for all the state positions, including State Chairmanship. 

Even though there was a waiver granted in the release for those who had purchased forms for various positions before, there are insinuations that such decision was taken for political correctness and nothing more. 

Ikem is career politician who holds the record as the youngest Local government Chairman ever in the history of the state, haven assumed office at the tender age of 26 years. Although he has faced some ups and downs in his political career, the Obudu born politician has had the privilege of serving as Presidential Adviser during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo,  National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Commissioner, Special Adviser to the Governor, amongst others. 

He's reputed to be one of the triunvirate comprising of Donald Duke, himself and Imoke who were handed the PDP flag to take to Cross River State during its formation in 1998. While both Duke and Imoke have served as Governors, with the former also serving as Minister, there's the notion that Ikem has not been properly compensated by the party.
Barr. Ikem


Also, being that PDP since inception is yet to produce a Chairman from the Northern part of the state, there's an overwhelming consensus of opinion among the ranks and files of the party that the next Chairman should come from the North where Ikem, coincidentally comes from. 

With Governor Ayade finally leaving, many had expected a smooth ride for him. But this may not be the case given the rumours making the rounds that some top PDP members who are scared of his personality are working to stop him. If the rumour is anything to go by, then one won't be wrong to say that his dream is still hanging in the balance or appearing taller than even mount kilimanjaro. 

There are feelers that the decision to open the process for new aspirants to join the race is a calculated attempt by top PDP members to oust Ikem. It's said that those working to stop him are scared of his experience and independent mindedness. These sets of people are allegedly working secretly to bring another aspirant who will be supported by key actors against him at the dying minute. 

It's also said that a top leader of the PDP outside the state is strongly backing the move on the argument that Ikem abandoned the party at its trying times. Recall that Ikem had left the PDP for the APC shortly after the 2015 general elections where the party lost control of the centre. After attempting unsuccessfully to contest for the Governorship under the APC, he returned to the PDP few months to the 2019 election. He cited the need to help deliver the Governor who hails from the same place with him as his reason for returning to the party. 

But he fell out with the Governor shortly after the elections as he has done with many of his  political allies within and outside the state; a situation his traducers are now using to mobilize against him. 

In an exclusive chat with a PDP chapter Chairman who spoke on the condition of anonymity, it's said that now that Ayade has left, Ikem no longer ticks the box as favourite as the party is looking for a personality with different profile. The Chairman said that the only reason he was supported overwhelmingly initially by the National Assembly members was because they wanted someone from the Governor's home to use against him. 

He said that, "to be fair to you, Ikem is a great political leader, a bulldozer but what some of our leaders are saying is that the party needs someone with different profile now. The only reason he was overwhelmingly supported was because of the Ayade and Obudu factor. Now, Ayade is no longer there, so as opposition, the party is looking at different options. I'll be very surprised if he emerges Chairman at the end. I'm saying this as an insider. We need a Chairman that's a bit cool headed, someone that will galvanize support and bring everybody together. Vena, although being an experienced politician, we all know his records. We're talking of a man who has virtually fought every political leader he has worked with. 

It is because of his record of picking up fight with everybody that at his level, he's even coming back to struggle for State Chairmanship. Vena should be talking of being a Governor or national Chairman. Remember he was once the National Publicity Secretary of the Party. His political downfall started when he decided to pitch tent with IBB against Yar'Adua who his Boss, President Obasanjo wanted to succeed him". 

He added that, despite being Obasanjo's Special Adviser, he fought him. He fought Donald Duke, Imoke and even Ayade who brought him back to the party. So, we can't trust that kind of person to move us forward. Vena as State Chairman will be like Oshiomhole who almost buried APC. You think APC would have won the 2015 elections if Oshiomhole was the National Chairman? We need liberal minded Chairman not someone who will pick up fight with anybody including on social media, especially now that we're opposition". 

However, some persons have disagreed with the reasons advanced by those working against Ikem, saying that he's exactly what the party needs at the moment to give APC a credible opposition with the view of reclaiming power. 

His supporters believe that if he's schemed out, the party may likely slide into another crisis as he has served the PDP enough to earn the right of first refusal for the position. 

Speaking also in confidence, a state working committee member of the PDP said that "I've warned those making the plan to betray Vena not to make the same mistake Ayade made. When Ayade brought him back to the party, a lot of us were happy because we thought he'll gain alot from his experience but he was never given a chance. The Governor rather allowed himself to be misled by the hallelujah boys around him that he doesn't count. Vena is a political strategist, he was instrumental to the success of the national assembly members in the first with the Governor".

The PDP caretaker committee member added that, "who do they want to bring? Who's more experienced? Vena is a former local government Chairman, Presidential aide, Commissioner and party executive at the national level. Who do they want to bring that has this record? PDP needs a strong character like Vena that can take on this government not some baby politicians. Any attempt to betray Vena at this time, PDP will regret it". 

While the PDP continue to work towards holding its congress almost one year later than the expected time, spectators are watching to see those that will carry the day between the pro and anti-Ikem. 
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