Zoning : Why The Race For Ayade's Successor May Be Open To All Senatorial Districts In 2023

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When Cross River State Governor, Sen. Ben Ayade will complete his second tenure in 2023, the three Senatorial districts in the state would have produced Governor for eight years each in the current democratic dispensation.

The mantle started with former Governor Donald Duke who hails from Akpabuyo local government which is part of Cross River Southern Senatorial district. Duke assumed office in 1999 and was re-elected for another term in 2003. He left office in 2007 after serving eight years and was succeeded by his friend estranged and political ally, Sen. Liyel Imoke.

Imoke who is from Abi local government area in Cross River Central Senatorial District was also in power for eight years, between 2007 to 2015. As he was leaving office, natural justice had zoned the Governorship position to Cross River North which was the only Senatorial district at the time that was yet to produce Governor.

The emergence of the incumbent Governor, Sen. Ayade who hails from Obudu local government area in Cross River Noth in 2015 was applauded as a just political call. As others before him, Ayade was re-elected after fierce battle with Sen. John Owan-Enoh of the APC and Barr. Eyo Ekpo of the SDP. Owan-Enoh is from Etung and Nsa Odukpani, which form part of Central and Southern Senatorial districts, respectively.

AS the battle for the soul of the state heats-up ahead of the 2023 general elections, they have been different agitations from different interest groups regarding the Senatorial district that should produce Ayade's successor. 

While some are of the opinion that the South which would have been out of power for 16 years by the time Ayade will leave office should produce his successor, others have argued that since the position has gone round, another round of the zoning can and should start from anywhere. Both positions have dominated the political discourse in the state for some time now. 

But, while the voices gunning for South to produce the next Governor seems to be gathering more momentum, the stiff fight put up by Eyo Ekpo of the SDP to stop Ayade vis-a-vis the North from doing eight years as other in 2019 is one of the major issues working against the South now.

Ekpo, a former Attorney General in the state is from Odukpani local government area which is part of the Southern Senatorial District.

Undoubtedly, between 1999 to 2019, there's no governorship election that has been contested solely by candidates from one Senatorial district. In 1999, Duke contested with Mr. Kanu Agabi from Bekwarra, Cross River North and others from other Senatorial districts. Imoke on the other hand, had Ambassador Obi Odu from Ogoja, Cross River North and others as opponents during his election. 

Despite the reality that all the three Senatorial districts have participated in all the Governorship elections since 1999, they are people who believe that the elections that the all-round participation in the elections involving Duke and Imoke were justified being that no main political party agreed on any zoning formula at the time. The position according to them was open for grasp by any Senatorial district with the wherewithal. 

Nigeria was just returning to democratic rule in 1999 when Duke emerged Governor. So, the seat was opened for any Senatorial district to pick. With Agabi and others challenging Duke, the election was very competitive. It was even rumoured that it was a dying minute political maneuvering by Duke and his party, the PDP that stopped Agabi whom many had projected was coasting home to victory. 

After Duke, stakeholders could not still agree on which Senatorial district to produce his succcesor. While Duke himself favoured his deputy, let Dr. Walter Eneji from Bekwarra in Cross River North to succeed him, Imoke used his national influence haven built a strong bond with former President Olusegun Obasanjo whom he served in his government as Minister of Power and Steal, to shade-off all obstacles to emerge victorious. 

But in Ayade's time, the case was different as the two major political parties in the state agreed that since the North was the only Senatorial district yet to produce Governor, the position should be zoned to the senatorial district. 

Both Ekpo and Owan-Enoh were top members of PDP when the party took the decision in 2014. That they came back to use other platforms to fight the decision they participated actively in reaching has been perceived by many as sheer greed on their part and an attempt to undermine the North and by extension the political peace enjoyed in the state. 

While it's rumoured that the Etung born Owan-Enoh is still nursing the interest to run for governorship in 2023 on the hills that since all the senatorial districts have done eight years, so the "open-air" formula which was adopted in 1999 has taken natural course, political leaders however, from the South have continued to warn people from other senatorial districts to steer clear. 

A lot of mixed reactions have continued to trail their warnings with many believing that it's coming a bit too late, after failing to publicly reject or caution Ekpo in 2019. 

Would Cross Riverians, especially the North that seems to have one of the largest voting strengths in the state now despite being minority with five local governments against the South and central that has seven and six respectively, listen to them or wants to pay back by filing a candidate? Would they align with the central to challenge the South? Would the central heed to the call from the South to steer clear of the governorship race? 

The answers to these questions and many more would be clearer with time but for now, what's clear is that, the governorship ambition of Ekpo in 2019 has opened the door for all the Senatorial districts to push for the top seat; and it's looking more likely that candidates will come from across board than just South as some interest groups are agitating.

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