Divided They Stand In Nigeria's Cross River

Imoke (l) and Abang will battle for the PDP gubernatorial ticket.

Imoke (l) and Abang will battle for the PDP gubernatorial ticket.

 Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State and his erstwhile political ally, Soni Abang, fall apart over governorship ticket

Imoke (l) and Abang will battle for the PDP gubernatorial ticket.

Few months ago, the Cross River State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, prided itself the most peaceful chapter of the party and the ruling clique the most united. The thinking informed the designation of the party hierarchy in the state as a “Conclave”, a Roman Catholic Church term used in the election of a new Pope. In the Cross River PDP context, however, “Conclave” was coined to emphasise the impenetrability of the party’s unity.

Only a few figures actually comprised the Conclave: Donald Duke, immediate past governor who was its leader; Senator Liyel Imoke, then influential Minister of Power and Steel, who stood next to Duke; Mr Soni Abang, the then state Chairman of the party, who in the political hierarchy occupied the third position, and a few others drafted in at will to serve certain interests.

The ‘Conclave’ decided the fate of anyone in the party in terms of appointment and candidacy. It is widely believed in the state that it was significantly on the strength of the Conclave arrangement that Mr. Kanu Agabi, a senior advocate and local arch-rival of Mr. Duke could not realise his governorship ambition for two consecutive times. It was also a Conclave arrangement that assisted Imoke to succeed Duke in 2007. When Imoke became governor, Soni Abang moved from being state party chairman to an Ambassador posted to Mali, while Duke relocated to Lagos to enable him oversee his businesses.

Times have, however, changed for the Conclave politicking. The friendship between the three friends has not only gone awry, it has turned to bitterness. Duke has since resigned his membership of the PDP, ostensibly to expresss his displeasure with how leaders of the party in the state were running its affairs. Abang, understood to be angry with the party leadership in the state that his name was missing on both the ministerial and ambassadorial nominees submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan, is throwing his hat into the ring to contest the PDP governorship primaries against Imoke, his once political soul mate, in the governorship election holding in April 2012.

Though those queuing behind Abang are still operating from behind the scene, it is believed that a considerable number of Duke’s political family, many of them out of political power and reckoning since the exit of their principal from office, are backing his ambition. “Recently, there was a meeting in Donald’s (Duke’s) estate at Diamond Hill and one will not be wrong to conclude that Abang’s ambition would top the agenda, considering the fact that most of his boys were in attendance,” Ojong Alam, a journalist with a local tabloid in Calabar, told TheNEWS. It could not be established whether Duke himself was at the meeting.

Not surprisingly, some groups have publicly declared their support for the incumbent governor in his re-election bid. The first group, Consensus for Senator Imoke 2012, on 14 August in Ogoja, a northern part of the state, declared total support for him. “Our support is for Senator Imoke and we, therefore, call on anyone from the north or any part of the state to sheathe such ambtion till 2016 when it is the turn of the north,” the group stated.

The Consensus group said it is supporting Imoke because “he has in the past four years opened the rural areas in the state, rehabilitated hospital infrastructure and given primary and secondary schools a facelift.” Therefore, the body maintained, he should “be allowed to complete his good works and then hand over to the north”. Dr. Matthias Offoboche, one-time deputy governor of the old Cross River State before Akwa Ibom State was excised from it, echoed the same sentiment.

Also rooting for the governor is the PDP caucus in the Central senatorial district of the state. Leading the group is Mr Bassey Okim, a former State Security Adviser when Duke was governor and currently the Legal Adviser to Imoke.

Okim and 37 other members underlined their support in a signed statement: “We reaffirm the declaration of 10th April 2010 at Ikom Guest House in which we expressed solidarity with the people-oriented policies of Senator Liyel Imoke and endorsed him as the sole candidate of the PDP for the gubernatorial race in Cross River State.” The group mentioned Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba as their leader and as also solidly behind Imoke “against the immoral, vaunting and opportunistic ambition of Soni Abang”. Ndoma-Egba would not directly confirm or deny his support for Imoke. Instead, he quipped: “In politics we have stakeholders and each time I indicate interest to contest any election, I consult. Soni has not consulted me yet. When he does, I will know what to tell him.”

But Papa Abua, an Abang supporter, described “all those who are hurriedly endorsing Senator Imoke” as “spent forces”. Abua wondered whether Okim could win any election in his ward or Offoboche could create any impact in Ogojaland. “When you see an Ekpe or Nabor masquerade, nobody tells you to run away. At the appropriate time, we shall know which leg of the chicken takes the rope,” he declared.

At the Boki New Yam Festival on 18 August 2011, the refrain among the Boki people, Abang’s kinsmen, was: “One of us is set to become governor of the state. This is our turn.” This magazine observed that many top politicians in the state stayed away from the feast for, as one source said, fear that they would be tagged Abang’s backers.

As the date for the primaries approaches, it will become clearer who will take the day. Will Abang’s resolve to defeat Imoke come to pass, or will Imoke garner majority votes to retain the PDP flag and win the April election to continue as governor of Cross River State?”


For more stories, visit www.thenewsafrica.com

Load more