C'River 2023 : Top Five Politicians To Watch Out For APC Guber Ticket

As the race for who succeeds Governor Ben Ayade as the next Governor of Cross River State in 2023 gathers momentum, politicians from across the state are aligning and re-aligning ahead of the showdown battle for the soul of the state.

While several politicians in the opposition People's Democratic Party, PDP have declared their interests to vy for their party's governorship ticket, in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, some with interests are rather working quietly behind the scenes.

The reason may not be unconnected to the fact that since APC is the ruling party, the Governor would have a huge role to play on who picks the party's ticket and eventually succeeds him. As the Governor is yet to give a clear direction on who he's favoring to succeed him, people in his party with interest are still working silently to secure his endorsement before they begin open consultations like the PDP.

However, so far, amongst those who have indicated interest previously in APC before the Governor joined and when they were still with the Governor in the PDP, here are the five top contenders that are likely to get the APC ticket:

1. Sen. Prince Bassey Otu

Sen. Prince Bassey Otu 

Sen. Prince Bassey Otu is one of the major defectors from the PDP to the APC shortly after the 2015 general elections. The experienced politician is a former two times house of Representative member and also, a former Senator representing the Cross River South Senatorial district.

Otu is renowned in Cross River State as being one of the very first National Assembly members who invested heavily on empowering members of his constituency. The car, tricycle, motorcycle, sewing machines and other forms of empowerment that so many National Assembly members from the states are today into, were actually made prominent by him.

Otu who was forced out of the Senate by former Governor Liyel Imoke enjoys enormous acceptability across party lines and the state. Despite leaving office about six years ago as Senator, his name has remained a reoccurring decima across the state in the discussion ahead of the 2023 general elections. 

Although he is yet to openly declare for the race, different support groups championed by some of his close aides and associates have emerged on social media mobilizing support for him. The Governor's recent reiteration of ensuring the zoning of the position to the South in 2023 has given his supporters more impetus to drum support for him. 

Despite his popularity and acceptability, there are however concerns on whether or not, he has the war chest to bankroll the governorship election in 2023 considering how expensive elections are in Nigeria and being that he has expended so much to contest two Senatorial elections in 2015 and 2019 unsuccessfully. 

2. Engr. Ben Akak 

Engr. Ben Akak 

Another name and probably the first person from the South to have declared his interest for the 2023 Governorship election in the state is the Chairman of Ben Akak Foundation, Engr. Ben Akak. Although new in the political space, Akak popularity in the state has grown exponentially in the past few years. 

Probably one of the youngest people in the race, Akak has wowed a lot of people in the state with his philanthropic gesture. He has funded projects like pipe borne water, scholarships for orphans, renovation of churches, grants for windows and many others across the three Senatorial districts of the state. 

His aspiration is particularly appealing to young people in the state being that he's regarded as one of them who has never been part of the system. The yearning for someone that's outside the current political class in the state to emerge the next Governor perfectly favours him. 

Akak who was formerly of the PDP recently moved with the Governor to the APC. His consistency since he emerged in the scene few years ago has made him impossible to ignore. He is also said to be one of the most financially prepared aspirants in the race. 

Apart from his youthfulness, one of the sentiments playing to his favour is the argument that since everything that has gone to South in recent times including Governor, Senators and Minister have favored the minority Efik speaking, the non-efik speaking bloc who are the majority in the Senatorial district should be supported to produce the next Governor. 

Despite these sentiments that seems to favour him, his political inexperience is a huge concern. His highest form of political exposure in terms of office held is a ward youth leader of PDP in his ward many years ago. Although, he's running different businesses successfully, there's the argument that the next Governor should be someone with a wide political exposure and experience. 

3. Sen. John Owan-Enoh 

Sen. John Owan-Enoh 

One of the names that has continued to reverberate in Cross River political space since 1999 is Sen. John Owan-Enoh. Until 2019,the maverick Etung born politician was one of the longest serving politicians in the state haven started his career in 1999 as a member of the state house of assembly. 

His style of politics has always made him find favour in the sight of his people and leaders. From the state assembly, Owan-Enoh moved to the house of Representatives to represent the Etung/Obubra federal constituency. He was in the reps for three terms between 2003-2015 when he was again elevated to the highest legislative institution in the country as Senator representing his Senatorial district, the Central Senatorial district. 

Owan-Enoh joined APC in 2017 after a reported misunderstanding with Governor Ayade. His movement to the APC changed the face of opposition in the state. He won the APC governorship ticket in 2019 but lost to Governor Ben Ayade who was then the candidate of the PDP. Owan-Enoh pulled a over one hundred and thirty two thousand votes which is a record for an opposition candidate in the state. 

Although the insistent of the Governor and some stakeholders on zoning doesn't favour Owan-Enoh, he is still seen as the dark horse outside the Southern Senatorial district in the race. His wide range of contacts at national level and the outcome of the forthcoming APC National convention and Presidential primary would play a major part on whether he will pick the APC ticket or not. 

There's the belief that because of the strength he showed in the last election, if his allies emerge the National Chairman or Presidential candidate, he may snatch the ticket from the South. The major stumbling block on his way now however, is the zoning argument. 

4. Asuquo Ekpenyong, Jr. 
Mr. Asuquo Ekpenyong, Jr. 

On assumption of office, Governor Ben Ayade shocked the state when he named a young and youthful Ekpenyong Asuquo, Jr. as his Commissioner For Finance. He was in his early 30s at the time he was saddled with the responsibility of presiding over the state's finance ministry, a task he has performed to the admiration of many. 

Ekpenyong is the son of a renowned politician and entrepreneur, Chief Dr. Asuquo Ekpenyong who is touted as the highest private employer of Labour in the state. Ekpenyong Senior is the Chief Executive Officer of the largest Microfinance bank in the state, Ekondo Microfinance Bank which was established as far back as 1997 with over ten branches and five cash centers to date as well as the famous three star hotel, Channel Views. He has been the backbone of his son's political rise. 

Beyond the political capital of his father, the Havard Business School Graduate's youthfulness and sterling academic records haven graduated with First Honours from University of Reading in United Kingdom in Economics is selling him as one who understands the dynamics of the state's economy and would manage it very well if he becomes the Governor. 

His reappointment in 2019 as Finance Commissioner for second term highlighted the confidence the Governor has on him to manage the state's economy. Because of his close relationship with the Governor, there are rumours that he is one of the people the Governor is considering from his cabinet as his successor. 

One of the major things working against him however is the sentiment that the Efik speaking bloc in the South have had enough therefore, if the Governorship is zoned to the South, the non-efik should be given a chance. 

5. Arch. Bassey Ndem

Arch. Bassey Ndem 

Another name rumoured to be a top contender for the APC governorship ticket ahead of 2023 election is Arch. Bassey Ndem, a popular culture enthusiast, businessman and Cheif Executive Officer of Micromega Limited and Chairman of Axari Hotels and Suits. 

Ndem recently dumped the PDP for the APC with thousands of supporters. It was during his defection rally that the Governor who was on ground to receive him reiterated his commitment to ensure his successor comes from the South.

A Pro-zoning advocate, Ndem is a household name in Cross River politics. He's well respected in the South because of his love and support for the promotion of indigenous culture. He hinted on his interest to succeed Ayade while in PDP but left the party to join the Governor after complaining about the external influence which is threatening to hijack the party structures to favour an aspirant who's running outside zoning.

Ndem blends well as a politician and technocrat. With his exploits in business, he is seen as a perfect brand to continue with the Ayade business-module of leadership. Like Ekpenyong, he is also seen as one of those the Governor is looking at to support as his successor.

His late entry into the APC is however one of the sentiments counting against him. There are arguments that he only joined to use APC's platform to pursue his ambition and may return to the PDP whether he wins or not. For the old APC members, this doesn't go down well with them especially with Ekpo OKon who defected in the same circumstances in 2019 and eventually became the party's Deputy governorship candidate in 2019 recent defection back to the PDP.

Time changes and things can change very rapidly in politics. Twenty four hours is a lot of time in politics as such, nothing is certain yet until it's certain. Things may change in the next few months that may usher in a dark horse but for now, these are the people who are looking very likely to pick the APC ticket to succeed Ayade. 
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