To people of Cross River State, out of the avalanche of political parties and importantly the presidential candidates, there are only three presidential candidates they would likely vote for on February 16.
These are the two frontline candidates of the APC and the PDP: President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar respectively. The third person is of course the son of the soil and former governor of the state, Mr Donald Duke. But the crisis currently rocking the Social Democratic Party (SDP) where Duke intends to run for the presidency seems to have affected his ambition. Factions have already emerged in the SDP. If the latest politics of endorsements is anything to go by, his presidential aspiration may have been hampered by the party whose two factions have endorsed both President Buhari and former vice president Atiku.
The chances of President Buhari to get a considerable number of votes in the state have been enhanced the defection of political bigwigs who have always influenced the direction of votes and power to the national ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The APC can now boast of the former Senate leader and former chairman of the board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, the embattled minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Usani, the ever popular APC gubernatorial candidate, John Owan-Enoh, the crowd puller Senator Prince Otu, former state chairman of the PDP, Ekpo Okon, who incidentally is the running mate to Owan-Enoh, the national vice chairman of the APC for South-South, Hilliard Eta, Chief Clement Ebri (former governor of the state), Chief Okoi Obono Obla, special assistant to the president on prosecution, Alex Egbonna and countless others. These people are crowd pullers who are politically influential in their local communities and state.
The coming of these influential political stalwarts have increased the population of APC members in the state. This is seen as a greater advantage for the APC presidential candidate, Buhari.
Analysts say the sharp division existing in the party occasioned by the struggle for party leadership and governorship candidature by the minister of Niger Delta Affairs Usani cannot dissuade party members and supporters from voting for Buhari. Pundits say the division may, however, affect the March 2 governorship election.
Already, there is a sentimental factor that the president has shown the state remarkable love and support during his first term, a development which made the sitting governor, though a PDP man, to say that the president loves the state because he works more for him than many APC governors. The fact that the president has given sons and daughters of the state some key federal government appointments in also considered as a plus to his chances as the beneficiaries are expected to naturally reciprocate this kind gesture by mobilising electoral supports for their boss.
However, the current suspension and travail of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, who hails from the state, may affect the number of his expected votes.
Analysts say though people lament over the general outcry about economic hardship in the state and the country as experienced in Buhari’s first term, the unprecedented turnout and show of love for him when he came to the state for his campaign on January 30 are seen as an indication that the incumbent president can garner appreciable number of votes in 2019 than the 28,000 he got in 2015.
As it looks, the APC may likely grab Cross River State from the PDP as many members seem to be disenchanted with the state ruling party.
Equally, the PDP presidential candidate has a number of support groups who are tirelessly mobilising for him. These supporters claim that Atiku is more articulated, more endowed and has better capacity to fight the ills of the society and turn around the socio-economic fortunes of the country.
The PDP campaigners are trumping up the issue of ethnicity and the recent suspension of their son, Onnoghen, to dissuade people from working for the incumbent president.
Besides, the PDP in the state claimed that it has the structures, massive supporters and influence to garner more than one million votes for their presidential and governorship candidates, Atiku and Prof Ben Ayade respectively.
The immediate past governor, who is regarded a master strategist in the state, Senator Liyel Imoke, was reported widely as saying that Cross River remains a PDP state and that its spirit and influence have been entrenched in the subconscious of the people no matter what the defectors say. Imoke was said to have also corroborated Ayade’s assertion that opposition cannot win election in the state.
The governor claims that his work in the areas of industrialization, massive appointments, and regular payment of salaries among others have warmed him into the hearts of the electorate, especially the widows and the youths. Therefore, he is certain of raking home massive votes for Atiku and himself.
But some pundits says whether the president or Atiku wins in the state is not of concern to the Cross River people as they expect from the eventual winner to look into social infrastructures such as fixing the major federal roads, supply of constant public power, availability of foods and reduction in the high cost of living.