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Nigeria: Ayade defection another win for APC in opposition bastion

By Nwokoye Mpi
Posted on Friday, 28 May 2021 12:41, updated on Tuesday, 6 July 2021 11:01

Supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari celebrate the announcement of results favoring his All Progressives Congress (APC) party in their state, anticipating victory, in Kano, northern Nigeria Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.

It was a grand piece of theatre when Nigeria's Cross River State governor Ben Ayade strode onto the stage in Calabar to announce that he was defecting to the ruling All Progressives’ Congress on 20 May and dumping the opposition People’s Democratic Party.

In lock step with Ayade, and looking mighty pleased with their catch, were six of the APC’s top state governors.

It is a rare piece of good news for the party. Explaining his carpet crossing, Ayade said he wanted to join hands with President Muhammadu Buhari to “…build a nation that we all can be proud of.”

“As a team, we want to work with Mr President towards building a prosperous country that his succession process in 2023 will come without fear and hitches… We will make progress,” he said.

For people in Cross River, Ayade assured them his switch in loyalties would produce more federal funding for the state by working more closely with President Buhari.

“Having recognised the issue of our youths and unemployment, it is my responsibility to do what I can to assist the president in the building process. We need to position Cross River at the centre of activities and on that note, I declare Cross River as an APC State.”

Building up the southern base

To outsiders, it looks quite a feat to persuade a state governor to defect to a ruling party and president held responsible by so many for an economic meltdown and security implosion in the country.

Like most of Nigeria’s politics at the moment, half of the reason behind Ayade’s defection is local, and the other half is about staking out territory for the national elections in 2023.

Two of the governors – Ekiti’s Kayode Fayemi and Kebbi’s Atiku Bagudu – have presidential ambitions for the 2023 elections.

As power could shift southwards then, it’s important for their party to build up its southern base. Winning over Ayade is key to their strategy, strengthening their base within the party.

For Ayade, it is about calculating his political future. He insists he has lost faith in the PDP; the people who run it, rather than any ideology it might profess.

Ayade’s defection to the APC will test the governor’s personal popularity.

“I have looked at the amalgam of people who will be parading themselves [in the national elections in 2023] … I have not seen a paradigm shift, I have not seen a calcified departure from tradition, I have not seen something that the young people of Nigeria are yearning to see,” Ayade told Arise TV on 21 May. “So how will you be part of a system that you are seeing a cumulative failure downstream?”

After two terms as governor of Cross River State, it looks like Ayade is looking for a safe seat in the Senate in 2023. He reckons the best route to that is through the ticket of the ruling party at national level.

Ayade’s defection was hardly a bolt from the blue. He has been quarrelling for several months with the barons of the opposition PDP in Cross River, especially the former governor Liyell Imoke.

Some party activists thought that Ayade was going to defect before the national elections in 2019. His decision to stay with the PDP angered some of its loyalists in the state who accused him of exploiting the local machine to get elected before dumping the party to further his personal ambitions.

‘Not doing enough’

Whatever Ayade’s motives for defecting to the APC, he has dealt a hefty blow to the opposition. His move comes just six months after Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State in the south-east quit the PDP for the APC.

A professor of microbiology, Ayade was elected as Cross River governor in 2015, in a landslide win that extended the PDP’s 15-year dominance of the state.

In the 2019 general election, the PDP swept all three senatorial zones in the state and seven of the eight House of Representative seats. It also won all 25 seats in the state House of Assembly. And 70% of Cross River voters backed the PDP’s presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar.

Until Ayade’s defection, the PDP controlled all six states in the south-south geo-political zone; it also controls four of the six states in the south-east zone.

Sunday Aja, a local analyst in Calabar, blames the PDP’s National Chairman Uche Secondus for not doing enough to keep aggrieved members in the fold.

“There is impunity in the party from the national to the ward,” says Aja. “The party’s leadership seems to be at a loss as to how to stem this exodus of important personalities from the party. They prefer to support those they can manipulate at the expense of the party.”

Bassey Ita, the APC spokesperson in Cross River State, hopes that when Ayade’s arrival in the party is met with a wave of funding from the central government, it will spur other governors to defect from the PDP.

“I think that a very good example will be set …. When in the next couple of months, Cross River begins to be a construction site of various state and federal projects.”

That will test the voters’ knee-jerk loyalty to the PDP throughout much of the south-south and south-east in the country. People have backed the PDP regardless of who its candidates are.

For Lawrence Udam, a political analyst in Ogoja town, Cross River State, Ayade’s defection to the APC will test the governor’s personal popularity.

“He contested in 2015 and 2019 on the platform of the PDP and won. He did not win because he was so popular, he won because he contested on the platform of the PDP, and the party machinery was used to deliver him,” Udam says.

“Now that he has gone to APC, we would like to see how he will win election again in Cross River.”

With the exit of Ayade from PDP, it will be extremely difficult for PDP to win the gubernatorial elections in 2023, being that the national and sub national apparatus of the state would be swung against them. In Cross River, it is usually the government that funds gubernatorial elections.

Political observers in Cross River State see Ayade’s defection to the APC as coming from his inability to control the PDP structures in the state.

At the party’s state congress last year, the governor faced a revolt from a rival faction which was threatening to turn into a lengthy legal battle.

But Ayade insists his decisions are about resources for the state, and will secure more backing from the federal government in Abuja.

“I believe that if I join, as I have joined [the APC], it is easier for my voice to be heard and even louder, It is completely different when you speak from opposition.”

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