CLEMENT JAMES reports on the controversy trailing the recent takeover of the Cross Rivers State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the Governor Ben Ayade-led All Progressives Congress (APC)
It is no longer news that Prof. Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross River State is now a card carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), having decamped to the ruling party at the centre on May 20. Although his movement had long been speculated, nobody knew that the governor had an ace up his sleeves.
Justifying why he dumped the Peoples Democratic Perty (PDP) through which he won the governorship position of Cross River State in 2015 and 2019, Ayade said: “Having seen and known the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and his commitment to this country, his nationalistic disposition and all the efforts he has made to bring Nigeria to where we are today, it is obvious that at this point we needed to join hands with him to build a Nigeria that we can be proud of.”
He added: “We need all governors to recognize that it is not party that matters. It is character, it is honour, and it is commitment to the vision of this great nation. We all need to, as a team, work ahead of the president, working towards building a prosperous country that the succession worries of 2023 will come without the fears and the worries the international community has for us.
“I believe that if every one of us as governor joins hands with Mr. President, I think we can sit on the same dining table and fashion out a way to govern this country.”
Four days after those words, Ayade reportedly took over the secretariat of the PDP in Cross River Stae and immediately painted the building on APC’s colours. As expected, the PDP raised an alarm, claiming that its documents and other vital items had been damaged or mutilated.
The party also accused the police of providing cover for APC to hijack its secretariat. Addressing a press conference the day APC took over its secretariat, the Caretaker Committee Chairman of the PDP in the state, Mr. Efiok Cobham said: “This morning, armed policemen cordoned off the Cross River State PDP secretariat at 42 Murtala Mohamed Highway, Calabar, and cre ated cover for thugs from the Governor Ben Ayade faction of the APC to invade the PDP state secretariat with the intention of converting the property to the state secretariat of the APC.
“Currently, properties of the PDP, especially vital documents and records of the party, that have been built up for over 20 years are either vandalized, destroyed or in the custody of Governor Ben Ayade. Members of the newly constituted PDP State Caretaker Committee have been prevented from accessing the property by APC thugs and men of the Nigerian Police. The building is currently being painted in the colours of the APC.
“Accordingly, we vehemently protest this primitive invasion of the PDP secretariat by the APC on the instructions of Governor Ben Ayade. PDP has a subsisting tenancy over the property. We have the tenancy agreements and receipts evidencing payment of the rent for the current tenure in respect of the property.
“The Lessor of the property has clarified that the tenancy of the PDP in respect of 42A Murtala Mohamed Highway is still subsisting,” Cobham said. While alleging that the invasion amounts to criminal trespass, Cobham continued: “This invasion amounts to criminal trespass, malicious damage to property, and constitutes conduct likely to lead to a breach of the public peace.
We are surprised that it is Governor Ayade, who has the constitutional responsibility, as chief security officer of the state, for maintaining law and order that is promoting this type of dubious and vicious conduct.
“When the ordinary man on the street copies this behaviour and moves into any house or property that catches his fancy, including Governor Ayade’s newly acquired sprawling properties in Cross River State, we hope this will be taken as political fair game.
“I understand that the property is right now being painted with APC colours and I am calling to say that I have no agreement whatsoever with APC. I hereby state that PDP’S tenancy is still subsisting and they remain my legal and recognized tenant.”
But the APC did not keep quiet as media handlers of the governor called the bluff of the PDP, saying their cry was an attempt to draw sympathy from the public, when it did not pay the landlord of the property until Ayade paid for the rent and collected receipt, reason why it was no longer PDP secretariat but that of APC.
Christian Ita, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity said: “The same officials of PDP who occupied the property when it was secretariat of the PDP still occupy it, having switched allegiance and moved to the APC with the governor.
So, the claim by Cobham (chairman of PDP caretaker committee) of forceful entry is fraudulent and criminal and should be ignored. “His claim that the PDP still has tenancy right over the property is pathetic. Pathetic because Cobham failed to realize that the same person who renewed the rent three months ago has moved to the APC.”
The police was also caught in the fray. The spokesman of the state police command, Irene Ugbo, in a statement said: “The attention of the Nigeria Police has been drawn to plans by some individuals and groups to disrupt the renovation work going on at a building on No: 142 along the Muritala Mohammed Highway, Calabar.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the property is a rented property and that tenancy is not in contention. As a responsible command, we will not sit back and watch any person(s) come to disrupt the relative peace we have worked tirelessly to achieve. All are warned to maintain peace, law and order.
“The current situation is a wakeup call to men of character to rise up and put resources together to replace structures that will not be contentious in future,” the command said. Speaking on the development, counsel to the owner of the property,
Theresa Asuqu, initially issued a quit notice to the PDP which rented the place to quit and hand over the property by September 30, this year.
Although the letter was dated March 10, our correspondent gathered the date was meant to facilitate the quitting of the present occupants, the APC which took over the secre-tariat as the landlord had earlier said it has nothing to do with the party.
However, an earlier correspondence between the estate of Lawrence Ene Asuquo (owner) and Theresa Asuquo (Lawyer to the owner), had on April 20 this year, acknowledged receipt of N5 million from the PDP as part payment for the building with an outstanding N6 million to be paid between now and July 2022.
Part of the quit notice, which was addressed to the state chairman of PDP reads: “I, Theresa Asuquo, Executrix of the Estate of Lawrence Ene Asuquo, your landlord and on behalf of the estate do hereby give you notice to quit and deliver the possession of the situate at N42A Murtala Mohammed Highway, comprising of a three storey main building and a storey building (Annex) which you hold of her as a yearly tenant there on or before the 30th day of September, 2021.”
However, a source privy to the development in the state, and who wanted to be shielded from the public told our correspondent that PDP has no business with APC and whatever the government of Ayade was doing.
“We have existing rent agreement with the owner of the property and our rent subsists. Donald Duke was the governor of the state and Liyel Imoke also came and they paid the rent.
Even the so-called rent that the present governor is said to have paid three months ago was in the name of PDP.
“What we are concerned about is the fact that since they have invaded the secretariat of our great party in the state, they may have tampered with our documents.
That is our concern. For the building, they will have to deal with the owners who will tell them whether they rented out the building to APC or PDP,” the source said. Before the governor moved to APC, there was about three secretariats for the ruling party. The original secretariat was along Marian/Barracks road.
The fictionalization of the party prior to 2019 election in the state created another secretariat along Ndidem Usangiso road.
However, after the “collapse” of structures by the warring contestants, Usani Usani, John Owan-Enoh and the appointment of Senator Mathew Mbu as interim caretaker chairman, another secretariat was acquired along the same Ndidem Usangiso, not too far from the secretariat used by Usani Usani in the last election.
So far, the story of the “invaded” secretariat has not ended as PDP has approached the owner of the building to retrieve the secretariat from the grip of APC, promising to support her should the matter go to court.
On its part, the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secundus, who was in Calabar recently to open a new secretariat of the PDP along Mary Slessor, hinted that his party will ensure that Ayade leaves the former party sec-