C'River By-elections : Lessons For APC, PDP As Power Returns To The People

Chief Jude Ngaji (L) and Dr. Edet Ekeng 

The Ogoja/Yala federal constituency and Akpabuyo State Assembly by-elections which held yesterday, February 26th with the major parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and the opposition People's Democratic Party, PDP, winning one seat each of the elections will go down history as a defining moment for Cross River politics. 

Aguably, the elections will be remembered as one of the most keenly contested between the ruling and the opposition parties since 1999 as it remains one of the very few elections in the state were winners were not known after political parties primaries nor at the beginning of the elections. All the parties were under immensed pressure from the beginning of the electioneering process till results were formally announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

After the final count, the ruling APC's candidate, Chief Jude Ngaji  was declared winner of the Ogoja/Yala federal constituency, scoring a total of 22,778 votes against PDP's candidate Hon. Mike Usibe's 20,590 votes. In the Akpabuyo State Assembly by-election, PDP and its flagbeaer, Dr. Edet Ekeng won with over 500 votes margin. 

Cross River political watchers will agree that this development is a paradym shift from the old oder where candidates of the ruling party will only go into the general elections for affirmation. Before now, there was no serious opposition in the state which means that the then ruling PDP decided the outcome of the general elections before even the elections days. 

When Governor Ben Ayade dumped the PDP for APC, the jubilation that came with that was beyond the ordinary. While the APC were happy that for the first time, it'll have the opportunity to be the ruling party haven suffered defeat in 2015 and 2019 in the state, a large chunk of others were happy because the Governor decision was opening a new chapter in the politics of the state. 

Shortly after the Governor's defection, Sen. Jarigbe Agom who was a member of the House of Representatives then won Ayade's protégé in the race for the Cross River North Senate. Haven left PDP without any Senator as even his protégé, Sen. Stephen Odey at the time remained in the PDP, Jarigbe's victory meant that the PDP had all the three Senatorial seats in the state. 

This, of course, gave the party a solid foundation to build on to begin its journey as opposition for the first time in the state and indeed, with the party (PDP) having more house of Representatives members, everyone knew that it wasn't going to be a roller coaster for any party. 

This is because, since 1999, Cross River has not had a formidable opposition as it is today. Today, the ruling party takes-it-all syndrome that used to dominate the state politics has been demystified. People now believe that anybody can become anything even without State powers. 

Similarly, the myth that Cross River is PDP has become a thing of the past as the success of the APC in the Yala/Ogoja federal constituency by-election has indicated. Out of the two elections held yesterday, APC won the bigger seat, leaving PDP with the state assembly seat. 

Already, PDP is a minority with just about five State Assembly members, so, adding one member to the minority won't affect the APC's overwhelming majority with eighteen members. This perhaps explains why the APC concentrated more in the house of representatives election than the assembly election. 

Above all, one of the biggest lessons of the by-elections is that power to elect leaders has left a conservative few as it were and has returned to the people. Whether for APC or PDP, political parties in the state now know that the people are motivated, committed and prepared to elect who leads them going forward. 

The days of impunity, rigging and manipulation of candidates selection processes by powerful individuals to impose unpopular people on the people are over. Beyond the strength of the two political parties that won the two elections, one of the things that worked for them is the choice of candidates. 

Chief Ngaji, winner and  candidate of the APC in Yala/Ogoja federal constituency by-election is a household name in Cross River politics haven served as Deputy Chief of Staff, Chief of Staff, State Security Adviser. He has large followership not just in his constituency but across the state and enjoys good relationship with many leaders across party lines being a PDP defector too, himself. 

PDP Ekeng too is a popular name in Akpabuyo and enjoys support across the ranks and files of the party in the state. He didn't need too much campaign to market his candidature as his people already knew him. 

So, going forward, especially as the 2023 general elections draws closer, any political party that fields any unpopular candidate or someone who doesn't connect with the people will suffer. APC as a ruling party must be wary and not allow the advantage of being a ruling party get into its head by fielding unpopular candidates in any election especially the governorship if the party has interest to remain in power beyond 2023. 

The only two elections that the APC has won in Cross River; the Abi/Yakur federal constituency and the yesterday by-election are largely products of fielding candidates that both the people and leaders accept. This is the winning formula for the party and it must be maintained when selecting candidates in 2023. 

The PDP too that has been notorious for imposition in the state should know that the fact that they lost the house of representative by-election despite being the constituency of a popular Senator like Agom should teach them a big lesson that it's no longer business as usual. The people have learned and are ready to elect who they believe is closer to them and will represent their interests. 

In all the talking points from the by-election, the biggest point remains that it's not the political parties that have won, it's the people of Cross River because power has returned to them and once again, they'll be seen as the greatest asset and trustees of democracy and not the minority few in position of authority. 
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