C'River 2023 : Anti-zoning Campaigners Winning Debate As Others Sit On The Fence

By Inyali Peter 

With less than fifteen months to the next general elections, the debate in Cross River State now is which zone will produce the next Governor after Governor Ben Ayade's second term in 2023. Political actors across the three Senatorial districts of the state have argued for and against power rotation. 

In the current democratic dispensation, power started from Cross River South with Mr. Donald Duke from 1999 to 2007. Sen. Liyel Imoke from central took over from him and was in power for eight years. He handed over to the incumbent, Sen. Ben Ayade who hails from the North in 2015. Ayade won his second term election in 2019 and will leave power in 2023. 

Being that South would be out of power for 16 years when Ayade's tenure ends, some social media users have opined that for equity and fairness, power should rotate to the Southern Senatorial district. Others, however, are of the opinion that power is struggled for and not served a la carte. 

The proponents of no-zoning are insisting that the South have not shown enough readiness for the seat in 2023 hence, it should be thrown open for all interested people across the three zones. 

Both arguments have dominated political discourse in the state for some time now but gradually, the voices of those who say that the Governorship should be thrown open are beginning to get louder than those in support of zoning. 

While several political actors in the state who are against zoning have come out to firmly state their positions, others whom many had expected that should come out and take a strong position too, being that their body language suggest they're proponents of power rotation have continued to sit on the fence. 

For instance, in the past three weeks alone, prominent politicians like the Senator representing Cross River North Senatorial District, Senator Jarigbe Agom, former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Usani, former Special Assistant on Prosecution to the President, Chief Okoi Obono-obla, Retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Joseph Mbu and many others have come out to speak very loudly against zoning. 

Even Senator Gershom Bassey, the Senator representing Cross River South Senatorial district who had hitherto called for zoning of the seat to his Senatorial district while reacting to the allegation that he's depending on zoning for his rumoured governorship ambition, declared that he doesn't want zoning again. 

Although, Senator Sandy Onor, the Senator representing Cross River Central Senatorial District has not openly spoken for or against zoning in 2023, his aides and supporters are some of the leading anti-zoning advocates in the state. He has also not denied his rumoured governorship ambition. Being that he's central, this is a clear indication that he's in support of what his aides and supporters are saying about zoning. 

Similarly, the opinions of some prominent Southern leaders previously against zoning is now coming back to hunt them. 

The position of the Obong of Calabar and custodian of the Efik Kingdom, His Eminence, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi V against zoning prior to the 2019 election has resurfaced online. The royal father, when addressing the APC governorship candidate who paid him a visit said that zoning was dividing the state. 

Former Governor Donald Duke as well as former PDP State Chairman and Deputy governorship candidate of APC in 2019, Ntufam Ekpo Okon who is also from the South had spoken against zoning in 2017 and  2019, respectively. 

Also, in 2018, the former Nigerian Ambassador to Uganda, Chief Nya Asuquo said there have never been zoning of Governorship position in Cross River history. He opined that the 2019 governorship election and subsequent ones were free for all. 

In the same vein, prior to the 2015 elections, former Deputy Governor, Barr. Effiom Cobham was reported to have led some southern leaders to advocate against zoning. 

All these positions, previously canvassed by prominent Southern politicians have resurfaced online without any prominent voice kicking against it. 

The anti-zoning campaigners are seemingly having a field day in the state now because a lot of other leaders like the Governor, former Governor Liyel Imoke amongst others whose body language suggests are Pro-zoning agents have continued to sit on the fence.

While the debate would continue undoubtedly, it's important that opinion and political leaders that are in favour of zoning  begin to speak up to balance the debate because body language or social media influencers opinions alone may not be enough. 

Moreso, it's an open secret that a lot of politicians make some political statements depending on their interests at a time. This goes to say that, most of the Southern political leaders who hitherto spoke against zoning would have done that for political exigencies at the time they did thus, it's important for them to come out now like their anti-zoning counterparts to speak. 

Telling, pro-zoning leaders sitting on the fence should note that, in the end, if the no-zoning crusaders carry the day by sensitizing the electorates to think towards their direction in 2023, they'll be as guilty as those who kicked against zoning.

Ahead of the election, nothing will be more interesting than seeing leaders from all sides coming out to debate on this with the view to arriving at a common ground for peace and development of the state. 
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