May 27, (THEWILL) – The just concluded Guber Primaries of the People’s Democratic Party, has once more proven the power of the people in choosing its leaders.
The primaries, the first to be conducted by the party as an opposition party since its inception in 1998, saw democracy tower above the deafening call for zoning.
Zoning has been a critical aspect of Guber elections in the state and it was placed right at the front burner in the build up to the 2022 governorship primaries in the state.
Cross River State has three senatorial districts like all other states in the country and there has been a gentleman’s agreement or an understanding for power to rotate among the three senatorial districts.
Starting from 1999, the party has fielded candidates for governorship elections based on the senatorial district power that has been presumed to have been zoned to.
In 1999, Mr Donald Duke emerged flag bearer of the PDP and eventually became governor from the Southern Senatorial District.
Following the completion of his two term tenure, he was succeeded by Senator Liyel Imoke in 2007 and he held sway till 2015, where he was succeeded by Senator Professor Ben Ayade.
Though the zoning arrangement was unwritten, the party was able to enforce this, largely because it was the party in power and the governor had his way in who emerged as the candidate.
However, the game changed in 2022, largely due to the defection of the state governor, Professor Ben Ayade, to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The governor’s defection, which hit the party like a thunderbolt, altered permutations in the political equation of the state.
Firstly, the delegates were disenchanted with the defection and felt zoning has not really paid off.
This is due to the seemingly poor performance of the incumbent administration.
In addition, the people seemed fed up with the culture of imposition and anointing of candidates and there was the firm belief that the next governorship candidate of the party must emerge from the express will of the people.
The southern senatorial district, where the next governor of the state was presumed to emerge from, had very credible candidates to assume the governorship of the state.
However, the huge number of candidates from the district and their inability to reach a consensus, ultimately counted against the area in the race to choose a successor.
A straw poll was conducted for governorship candidates in the south under the instance of former governor of the state, Donald Duke.
The poll rated University Chancellor, Arthur Jarvis, as the preferred candidate, but this was outrightly rejected by other candidates from the area and this idea was rested apace.
The entry of Professor Sandy Onor into the race came with a momentum that was impossible to derail.
Professor Onor, who is the current senator representing Cross River Central in the national assembly, had maintained that he has the competence and capacity to lead the state.
He has overtime warned that the state should not sacrifice competence on the altar of zoning and his message sank deep into the minds of delegates of the party.
In addition, his Caterpillar Movement, which is a grassroots based socio-political organisation, was able to garner support for his aspiration from the 196 wards of the state.
State chairman of the party, Venatius Ikem, had all along played down on the issue of zoning.
He stressed that the party will rather “zone through elimination” and all aspirants are free to go round and market themselves.
He maintained that as an opposition party, the party ought to provide a level playing field for all candidates, so that the best candidate who can take back power from the APC can emerge.
Reacting to the successful primaries of the party, the state party chairman said the party created a level playing field for everybody.
“From the margin I am seeing, it is only about sixty something votes between the winner and his closest rival.
“For me, that tells you that there was a level playing field, and that everybody had the opportunity to express himself and the delegates actually had the opportunity to express themselves.
“That is why you can see that margin of support across the state”, Venatius Ikem said.
On his part, winner of the PDP primaries, Professor Sandy Onor, said, “democracy is deepening in Nigeria and indeed changing for good.
“The panel did a good job, were impeccable in their conduct and the results show there is peace, tranquillity and hope”, Professor Sandy said.
He described the campaign as beautiful, saying they have deepened the roots of democracy in the state through a robust campaign.
He said the PDP gave them the liberty to go round saying everyone had the opportunity to sell himself or herself across the length and breadth of the state unmolested and the people spoke from the depths of their hearts.
A political commentator in the state, Nelson Asuquo, has described the victory of Professor Sandy as a new page in the political development of the state.
He said democracy has come to stay and the election of Sandy shows people need candidates who can deliver as against zoning.
“I think the state has turned a new page in its political evolution and development.
“I personally don’t like zoning because it has the potential to throw up incompetent candidates who will end up doing nothing tangible.
“The idea of zoning is to ensure that all regions get a taste of the governorship and with the state’s governorship having gone round the three districts, it is equal.
“It is now time we elect leaders based on merit and this is the right way to go in our quest to move our dear state forward”, he said.