The defection of Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) did not come as a surprise. It was not beyond expectation.
However, it was a moment of grief for the PDP national leadership, which had tried to avert the defection, but without success.
Prof Ayade dumped the platform at a time the PDP had intensified its criticisms of the APC-led Federal Government. As the opposition party tries to paint the ruling party as a failed organisation, its members are rejecting the umbrella and embracing the broom in droves.
Ayade’s defection underscored a curious survival battle for a star governor, who due to obstacles within, decided to seek refuge outside his political family.
The defection meant that the APC now has a footing in the Southsouth. It is a sort of relief, having lost Edo State to the main opposition party in last year’s governorship election. Instructively, APC had also made a dramatic in-road to Ebony State, where Governor Dave Umahi, parted way with the PDP.
To the PDP, Ayade’s departure is a major loss. The PDP Governors’ Forum, which failed to pacify him, despite frantic efforts, is depleted. However, not all supporters of the governor dumped the party. Thirteen state lawmakers defected with the governior; 13 are against him.
The implication is that although the governor left, the structure of the PDP still remains formidable. This formidability will be put to test in 2023.
Ayade defected, according to sources, as a last resort. As state party leader, his influence was ebbing away, unlike his colleagues in other states who have consolidated their hold on their party’s machineries.
The failure of incumbency power is instructive. Despite the overwhelming resources at his disposal, the governor, as recent events have shown, has been deserted by the majority of party faithful. Two years to the next general elections, the diminutive scholar and politician has become a lame duck battling with a fading influence in the PDP.
He took a decisive step to save his career. The landlord packed out from his legitimate house; a familiar terrain and structure that made him a senator for four years and governor for two terms. He has now embraced strange bed fellows, some of who are not likely to willingly accept his automatic leadership of the Cross River APC, the same chapter he had vowed to cow at the height of his political influence in the PDP. The end, as it is said, will justify the means.
Ayade has left PDP, amid contrasting perceptions. The national leadership of the PDP treasured him as a vital asset because he is governor. But, the state chapter is divided in their assessment of his role as a unifying factor.
To observers, the Cross River governor betrayed the trust and confidence of his colleagues in the PDP Governors Forum, who had stormed Calabar, the state capital, few weeks ago, to persuade him to continue to endure his tribulations in the party and jettison the defection. But, he does not owe them a permanent loyalty.
Like many politicians, the governor is not an ideologue. He is not a pretender. He operates in ideological vacuum. Yet, the step he had taken can be rationalised. There is a thin line of demarcation between the two major parties. They are mere vehicles for seeking power.
Besides, the most important thing in politics is not the morality of power, if it exists at all in any political lexicon. There is no permanent friend or foe in politics; what is paramount is permanent self-interest.
Will PDP suffer from the defection? Will APC be able to dislodge the PDP in future polls in Cross River because it has caught a big fish?
Many factors motivated the jumping of ship. The governor’s excuse that Cross River was in opposition does not hold water. It is a fake explanation.
The governor’s camp had complained that external forces were bent on upsetting him through their undue interference in Cross River PDP affairs. They, in particular, pointed accusing fingers at Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike for giving a tacit support to Ayade’s detractors.
But, the governor also had an axe to grind with the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) for not protecting his interest, when he was boxed into a corner by certain gladiators at the state level.
Ayade had gazed into the future and realised that it was gloomy. He is at loggerheads with his predecessor and benefactor, Senator Liyel Imoke, and other notable party leaders-Senator Gershom Bassey, Senator Sandy Onor, Apostle Essien Ayi and Agom Jerigbe. Their complaint was that the governor sidelined them in state affairs.
Reconciliation was difficult. The feeling in the Southsouth state was that the governor had started gravitating towards President Buhari of the APC and persuading him against defection would be an exercise in futility.
They spoilt for war. The council poll presented a veritable opportunity. While Ayade positioned his candidates as councillors in 196 wards and chairmen in 18 local governments, these leaders, working in concert with National Assembly members from the state, succeeded in pulling the rug off his feet. They prevailed on the national leadership of the party to endorse their list of ward and local government executives, to the surprise of the embattled governor.
It was evident that the camp opposed to Ayade had control over the majority of delegates. They bared their fangs at the senatorial primary for the by-election in the governor’s senatorial district.
While the governor endorsed Dr. Stephen Odey as standard bearer, the National Assembly Caucus queued behind one of its members, Jerigbe. Although Odey was announced as winner, the court disagreed, saying that he was proclaimed winner in error.
There was an allegation that Ayade supported Odey, with an intention to later succeed him in the Senate in 2023.
Thirteen House of Assembly members defected with Ayade. But, he is not yet in a comfortable zone. Are 13 PDP members of the House not threats? Can the federal might save him from impeachment, if the lawmakers move against him? He will need deft skills to get more state legislators to his side. Many of them do not belong to his camp.
Is Cross River APC a bed of roses? The acrimony in the APC is not a wide departure from the PDP. The chapter is divided by the struggle among its big wigs for the control of its structures. The various factions or groupings are working at cross-purpose. It is doubtful if Ayade’s defection will unite the tendencies in the crisis-ridden chapter.
Ayade, from yesterday, became the automatic leader of Cross River APC. The challenge of harmonisation is pending. Will the gladiators accept his leadership?. Definitely, they have no choice. But, will they transfer their loyalty to a new comer who joined the party, not in his ward, local government area or senatorial district, following negotiation with APC leaders forum at the party’s national secretariat, Abuja?
Definitely, there is a fresh challenge of reconciliation in the Cross River APC.
Will APC win Cross River in the next general election because of the Ayade factor?
Time will tell.