By NBF News
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Before now, Cross River was predominantly a one party state as demonstrated in the last local government elections, where the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won, leaving opposition parties with just five councillorship seats out of 196 .

Besides, Governor Liyel Imoke's politics of accommodation and humility in service may have weakened the hitherto political bigwigs, who were poised to oppose PDP and his administration. This, of course, has made it virtually impossible to have dissenting voices and have brought all shades of opinion into the ruling party.

But the bubble burst in the state shortly after the PDP primaries. Majority of the members felt not only betrayed, but was shocked that the much-talked about zoning and the promise of allowing communities decide who rule them  was a fluke.

Daily Sun investigations revealed that the outcome of the primaries sparked off series of complaints and protests from some candidates who raised eye-brows over the conduct, claiming that the primaries were skewed from the top to favour some aspirants, while those of them without god-fathers were left to slug it out with the hope that every aspirant will be given a level-playing field as promised by the party.

Early last year, the leadership of the party during a tour of the 18 council areas stated categorically that 'PDP would respect all zoning arrangements adopted by party members and communities in selecting candidates for the forth coming council and general elections in the State.

Ntufam Ekpo Okon, the party chairman, said it is no longer business as usual as its tickets are no more to be seen as meal, insisting that members this time should go and canvass for votes. This statement opened the political space as many interested members jumped into the race believing that the contest will be free and fair. But that was not the case as majority of the aspirants protested against the processes.

Piqued by this, those who lost out petitioned INEC complaining that the processes were not only flawed, but that electoral guidelines were not followed in selecting whosoever that emerged as candidate. Most of them had vowed to defect to opposition parties if nothing was done to redress the wrongs.

Governor Imoke was said to have called a meeting of all aspirants, pleading with them not to do anything that would jeopardize the fortunes of the party in the forthcoming general elections.

Besides, the cold war between the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the PDP in the state has emboldened the opposition as they believe that with an unbiased umpire, the coast will be clear for anybody to clinch the ticket at the April polls.

PDP aggressive campaigns
Not wanting to be taken unawares, the PDP embarked on aggressive campaigns in all the 18 local government areas soliciting for votes and commissioning projects executed in the last four years. The campaign team which has Imoke as its Leader, Mr. Gershom Bassey, Chairman and Dr. Sandy Onoh , Director General, has been transversing the length and breadth of the state canvassing for votes.

Said Imoke: 'Our campaigns are on two folds; first to commend them for their co-operation as well as the relative peace enjoyed in their domains, and also to intimate them of the team's presence to campaign there while soliciting supports for the party, adding that it also afforded him opportunity to commission and inspect some projects.'

The PDP team also presented the party's flagbearer in the April elections which included candidates for the state and National Assemblies as well as the party's presidential candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan, while the governor used the occasion to state government's position on its projects and programmes.

Cold war between opposition parties and PDP
With this development, the race for 2011 general elections may not be a one-way win-win for PDP. The political class and major power blocs in the state have all sprang up once again, working for the emergence of their preferred candidate.

For PDP, it has been somewhat herculean trying to get its candidates cleared by INEC. Cold war is raging between INEC, and the state chapter of the party, PDP, over the conduct of recent congresses. The electoral body has stated equivocally that there were no evidences of party congresses in all the wards, thereby declaring the entire exercise a nullity.

This development has caused palpable fear and tension among candidates that emerged from the processes thereof, as most party members and their supporters are scared stiff that the face off may upset the democraric processes started barely two weeks ago.

The opposition parties have headed for court challenging the clearance of PDP candidates by INEC, signalling the beginning of yet another legal tussle ahead of the general elections.

In suit filled at the Federal High Court, Calabar judicial division, and dated January 25, 2011, the opposition parties including Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) Democratic Front for Peoples' Federation(DFPF), Labour Party (LP), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) are seeking a determination as to whether the purported primary election organised by the ruling PDP on the January 4, 6, 7 and 13, 2011, for the nomination of its candidates for the House of Assembly, House of Representatives; Senate; and Governorship of Cross River State are lawful and valid.

In the suit with PDP and INEC as defendants, the plaintiff's counsel, Chief Okoi O. Obono-Obla in the summons also wants the court to determine whether INEC, as the Regulator and overseer of the affairs of political parties in Nigeria, has the power to nullify or invalidate or cancel the purported congresses organised by PDP on the above date for the nomination of its candidates.

It is also seeking an interpretation on whether PDP is obligated to hold Congress for the election of wards, local government areas and State Executive Committees before conducting election of Delegates for the Nomination of its Candidates to state House of Assembly, National Assembly and Governorship for the General Election of April, 2011.

The changing tide
Analysts would want to argue that the tide started changing shortly after the primaries as events have shown that the stage is set for a ding-dong battle among the PDP, ACN, ANPP and LP.

As at Press time, some serving lawmakers and former PDP stalwarts have dumped the ruling party for ACN, ANPP and LP. They include incumbent legislators from Calabar South, Biase, Yakurr 11 and Boki 1 state constituencies, while former aspirants including Messer's Patrick Iwara, Alex Irek, and over four hundred of their die hard supporters have left for ACN.

The lawmakers are said to be piqued that in spite of the total support they have given to Imoke and leadership of the state House of Assembly, they allowed them to be rubbished at the fields during primaries. To them, therefore, the only option is to opt out of the 'one family' that has rejected them after sacrificing to build the party.

For ACN, they are fighting like a wounded lion as most of their candidates defected from PDP and felt wounded. So, now is the opportunity to not only feel liberated, but to prove their political relevance.

Confirming the mass exodus of PDP members to ACN, the state chairman of the party, Comrade Cletus Obun, said 'for now, ACN is the beautiful bride in town and we will surprise a lot of politicians who behave as if PDP is a demi-God that cannot be touched; we have fielded quality candidates and most of them defected from the ruling PDP.'

Obun said, 'as I am talking with you, some heavy weights in PDP are in touch with us, and we have assured them of our readiness to work together and liberate the state from the shackles of anti-democratic forces that have ruled us for over a decade now and I can tell you that the revolution is on; no stopping us.'

Obun said, 'as I am talking with you, some heavy weights in PDP are in touch with us and we have assured them of our readiness to work together and liberate the state from the shackles of anti-democratic forces that have ruled us for over a decade now and I can tell you that the revolution is on; no stopping us.'

He disclosed that the party is fielding candidates for the governorship elections, three senatorial districts, the eight House of Representatives seats as well as 24 candidates for the state House of Assembly elections.

The candidates include   Matthew Mbu Jnr as gubernatorial candidate with his deputy; Mr. Patrick Agba, Patrick Iwara and Professor Eyo Etim Nyong running for the Central and Southern Senatorial Districts respectively.

'We have eight members for the federal house who are all here present, and today we have 24 members out of the 25 contesting the 25 state Houses of Assembly constituencies. With this line-up, and a full team, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Cross River State is fully prepared for the forth-coming elections in April 2011,' he stated.

Protest votes
The much-talked about one party state seems to be gradually giving way as some PDP members have vowed to use the pending polls to take their pound of flesh by working for the opposition from within.

Daily Sun investigations revealed that in some communities in Calabar  South, Municipality, Bakassi, Odukpani, Yakkurr, Obubra, Boki, Ogoja and Yala are gearing up for protest votes in the pending general elections for alleged outright imposition of candidates on the people without caring whose ox is gored. Sources close to these political heavy weights hinted that some communitites this time will vote for individuals and not on party basis as was the case.

It was learnt that some of these communities are not only angry with the powers-that-be in the state, but felt betrayed, used and dumped by the PDP leadership which has consigned them to the background by simply applying all means to vote out their preferred aspirants and in its place 'planting favoured sons and daughters'  as winners in the primaries.

Further investigations by Daily Sun have shown that some PDP stalwarts are discreetly working hand in glove with some ACN candidates to ensure the ruling party is booted out, if not across the state, in some local government areas to reduce their grip on the polity. Some of the campaign coordinators and canvassers of ACN candidates are said to be all PDP card-carrying members who have defied the party to support their own choice.

Reacting to the development,  Emmanuel Okoh, a youth leader from Ogoja, said the way and manner the PDP went about the primaries has left much to be desired  as members may end up voting for opposition parties.

Oko, who led a group of protesters around Igoli and Okuku in Ogoja recently to protest against the non-conduct of primaries by PDP for the Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency, said the party subverted the process, threatening that should Oko remain the standard bearer for the party for the post of House of Representatives, then the constituents have no option than to vote for an alternative party to protest the outright imposition.

In a telephone interview with the PDP state publicity Secretary, Mr. Abu Eyo, he said 'those who dumped our party are not fair, because losing election at the primaries is not an excuse to engage in anti-party activities as the party will go all out to discipline anybody or group who dares the leadership.'

According to Eyo, 'PDP will still carry the day, and we are working extremely hard by campaigning in all local government areas to earn victory; we will not lose one seat to opposition, and we are not bothered by their threats because we are used to it.'

But observers are worried that the leading opposition party, ACN, has not embarked on a massive campaign.

However, the court matter seems to be the opposition parties' joker as they are optimistic of getting justice at the Federal High Court, and if unsuccessful will proceed to higher court.

Chief Mike Agbor, a PDP stalwart from Bekwarra in Northern Senatorial District, admitted that the race will be tough in the state considering the mood of Nigerians, and what is happening across the Arab world.

Agbor said, ' in times like this people might want a change of leadership, but it also depends on how the oppsition is able to galvanise the system to turn things around. Definitely, it would not be total victory as usual as the tide indeed, has changed. Since 2003 this is the only time an opposition party is fielding candidates in all positions from state to National Assembly, an indication that the battle line is drawn.'

He maitained that opposition parties will  definitely secure seats at the state and National Assemblies as people will not be fooled into casting their votes for PDP, adding, 'the positions will be traded off. If Imoke wants to win, his tickets, as he cannot afford to carry all the good and bad candidates along.'

To some political observers, though Imoke might finally clinch the second tenure ticket, the battle might not be the usual carry-go-style.