…Reasons party chieftains held parallel congresses in states
Onyedika Agbedo (Lagos); Tony John (Port Harcourt); Raphael Ede (Enugu); Judex Okoro (Calabar); Gyang Bere (Jos); Paul Osuyi (Asaba); Layi Olanrewaju (Ilorin); Femi Folaranmi (Yenagoa); Bamigbola Gbolagunte (Akure); and Oluseye Ojo (Ibadan)
Barely nine months to the 2019 general elections, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), no doubt, is struggling to put its house in order. The decision of the national leadership of the party to hold elective congresses amid preparations for the election instead of extending the tenure of the current executives of the party at all levels appears to have created more troubles for the party than it ever envisaged.
The decision has now left the party battling to forge a common front before going into the general elections after the ward, local government and state congresses resulted in factionalisation in many states of the federation that hitherto had common objectives.
In Rivers State, for instance, there is no gainsaying the fact that the APC is presently divided. The division is between the party leader and Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, and the member representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe. At the root of the division is Abe’s governorship ambition, which Amaechi is vehemently opposed to.
Abe’s camp believes that Amaechi has an over bearing influence on the party and so is opposed to a situation where only a man decides what happens in the party. The group was, however, willing to participate in the May 5 ward congress, maybe to test their popularity. But on the eve of the congress, crisis erupted at the party’s secretariat when many aspirants perceived to be Abe’s supporters claimed that they paid for nomination forms, but were not issued the forms. At the end, the group rejected the outcome of the ward congress.
Consequently, the party’s national leadership later canceled the congress and rescheduled the ward, local and state congresses in Rivers for May 19, 20 and 21. But on Saturday, May 19, Abe’s camp announced a boycott of the congresses. The camp, through the immediate past state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Worgu Boms, cited a High Court order stopping the congresses. Amaechi’s camp went ahead with the congresses, which led to the emergence of Ojukaye Flag-Amachree as state chairman.
A Rivers State High Court last Wednesday nullified the congresses. Justice Chiwendu Nwogu ruled that the process leading to the congresses were fraudulent and ordered the party to return to the status quo of May 11, 2018, pending the determination of the substantive suit. He adjourned the case till June 26 for further hearing. How the emerging scenario would play out remains to be seen in the coming months.
In Imo State, the plot by the state governor, Rochas Okorocha to install his son-in-law and Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu, as his successor, pitted him against other chieftains of the party in the state now called Imo APC stakeholders or Coalition group. The group, led by his Deputy, Eze Mmadumere and National Organising Secretary of the party, Senator Osita Izunaso, is said to be upset by the governor’s attempt to install Nwosu as successor after sidelining them from the affairs of the party in the state and his administration. To checkmate Okorocha, they allegedly connived with the committee sent to organise the ward congress in the state to ensure that sensitive materials meant for the congress did not get into the governor’s hand. The result was that all the congresses from ward to the state level held in the state without Okorocha’s input. The governor has been crying foul ever since the ward congress was held, but there appears to be no help in sight for him. Amid recent speculations that he was contemplating defecting to APGA with his teeming supporters, he came out recently to declare that he would not leave APC for his traducers. Interestingly, Imo is the only state controlled by the APC in the South-East and ought to be used as the base to strengthen the party in the other states, but that appears far in sight with the development. The party also held parallel congresses in Enugu State in what could be described as a hangover of the leadership crisis, which led to the indefinite suspension of some members of the state executive committee and other party chieftains. Among those suspended by the state chairman of the party, Dr Ben Nwoye, for alleged violation of Article 21 (a)(v) of the party’s constitution were the Special Adviser to the President on Justice Reform, Juliet Ibekaku, former governorship candidate of the party, Mr Valentine Nnadozie; his deputy state chairman of the party, Adolphus Udeh; Woman Leader, Lolo Ngozi Nwankwo; Youth Leader, Mr Ikechukwu Oloto; Assistant Secretary, Mr Louis Okolo; ex-Financial Secretary, Mr Sydney Eze; ex-Treasurer, Mr Ebere Okolo; Mrs Maris Jidefor.
Others are Barr. Ejike Ugwu, Rev. Jonas Onuroa, Mr Elijah Ngene; Mr Tony Ibekwe, Mr Amos Chinenye, Mr. Desmond Agu, Mr Greg Ngwoke, Mr Obinna Okwo, Mr Rufus Nwagu and Mr Godwin Ani.
The suspension was later affirmed by the party’s state caucus led by the chairman of the party’s reconciliation committee (a standing committee) and former military administrator of Gombe State, Group Capt. Joe Orji (rtd).
At a point, Nwoye even petitioned the State Security Service and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), alleging misappropriation of the party’ s fund by some members of the party who, according to him, were being sponsored by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama and Ibekaku.
So, with this animosity, the suspended members decided to remove Nwoye at all costs at the congress. But on getting wind of the plot, Nwoye called for a reconciliatory meeting at the party’s secretariat where he apologised to members and asked that he should be forgiven, even as he declared that he had forgiven those who wronged him. But the Minister, the supposed leader of the party in the state, and Ibekaku were not in the meeting.
Nwoye was then advised to call another meeting where the duo would be present. However, this didn’t happen before the congress and at the eve of the ward congress, the minister called for a pre-congress harmonisation meeting at the party’s secretariat, but Nwoye and his group abstained. Consequently, the minister and his group decided to hold a parallel congress. The scenario is akin to what played out in Cross River State as the tussle over who controls the structure of the party in the state led to the polarisation of the party into the Pastor Usani Usani and Senator John Owan/Hillard Eta camps. This led to the conduct of parallel ward and local government congresses, as well as boycott of the state congress by the Owan/Eta group.
While the Owan/Eta faction cried foul over alleged irregularities and attendant violence allegedly perpetrated by the Usani group and subsequently boycotted the state congress held at Cultural Centre Calabar, the Usani camp described the congresses as ‘very peaceful,’ leading to the election of the state executive headed by Mr Etim John.
Investigations by Sunday Sun revealed that the conduct of parallel congresses in the state was as a result of long-standing leadership crisis that erupted since the appointment of Usani, who was the state chairman of the party, as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
Usani, it was learnt, refused to hand over the state structure to his deputy, Mr John Ochalla, thereby creating a leadership vacuum. Again, the mass defection of politicians from PDP and LP to APC shortly after the 2015 general election created political tension and acrimony between what they called ‘original APC’ and ‘PDP/LP APC.’ This development was said to have climaxed into the congress as both factions went into the field and tried to outwit each other, leading to the present political imbroglio.
In Plateau State, even though the congresses were peaceful, the days ahead may stir crisis in the party as a state chairmanship aspirant, Hon. Johnson Podar, recently walked out on the state Congress Appeal Committee who rejected his petition and declared Hon. Latep Dabang as duly elected chairman of the party in the state. Podar had petitioned the Appeal Committee demanding the cancellation of the election into the position of the chairmanship, following his disqualification by the congress committee. But the Appeal Committee led by Mr Babatunde Monday resolved that there was no evidence to suggest that Podar was a member of the party as at the time the congress was conducted. The Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung, Sunday Sun learnt, sponsored Podar. Podar was unsatisfied with the verdict of the Appeal Committee and has vowed to petition the National Working Committee (NWC), noting that he would proceed to court to seek redress if the party denies him justice.
At the root of the factional crisis rocking Delta State chapter of the party is the manner the party evolved in the state and the scheming by the various stakeholders for the 2019 governorship ticket. Shortly after the 2015 general election, Great Ogboru, then governorship candidate of Labour Party, led his political group, Light of Labour, to join the APC. Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was a member of the group. They met a struggling party in the state, which was peopled mainly by other defectors particularly from the People Democratic Party (PDP) and largely being sponsored by Olorogun O’tega Emerhor.
The coming together of these political heavyweights in the state set the stage for conflict of interests. Ogboru, who contested for the governorship of the state in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, as the sole candidate of the smaller political parties like the AD, DPP and LP, is said to be eyeing the 2019 governorship ticket of the APC. He had before the congresses attempted to pressure all the local government chairmen of the party to endorse him as sole candidate, a move that was foiled, but which blew open his plot to control the party machinery. That set the stage for the re-alignment of party stakeholders in the state, with the state chairman, Jones Erue aligning with Ogboru, who is his former ally in the DPP. So, the Ogboru/Omo-Agege/Erue camp is working for the emergence of Ogboru from Delta Central as governorship candidate, while the Emerhor camp is working for the emergence of a Delta northerner with Victor Ochei, Pat Utomi and Cairo Ojougboh, among others, in the cards. The belief of the Emerhor camp is that with a Delta northerner as candidate, the party stands a better chance of defeating the incumbent PDP government of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa who is also from the zone. This was the setting before the ward, local government and state congresses, and with the two tendencies bent on achieving their desires, they held parallel congresses where they installed their loyalists. Similarly, in Kwara State, parallel congresses were also held as a result of the various elements that fused to form the party in the state. The various interests in the state chapter of the party include the nPDP led by Senate President Bukola Saraki; the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which has the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed as its leader; the Congress for Progressive Change and a faction the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), among others.
In 2015, the nPDP bloc filled most of the party positions in the state due to Saraki’s over bearing influence. He dictates who gets what in the state without recourse to other legacy parties to the disappointment of the other blocs. But apparently to draw the attention of the national leadership of the party to their plight, the aggrieved blocs, which pride themselves as the Legacy Group, decided to hold parallel congresses. They were further emboldened by the allegation of marginalisation against the national leadership of the party by the nPDP wing and the ultimatum to address their grievances or they would quit the party. They reasoned that the nPDP was about to exit the APC and so opted to hold parallel congresses in demonstration of their preparedness to continue to drive the party in the state should the nPDP make good their threat.
In Bayelsa State, the majority of the party leaders pitched their tent with former governor Timipre Sylva and the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri for the congresses. But two chieftains of the party, former Speaker of the state House of Assembly and acting governor, Nestor Binabo and Mr Preye Aganaba held parallel congress. The duo, who are believed to be backed by former governor of Rivers State and Minister of Transport, Hon Rotimi Amaechi, rejected what they called attempts to pick executives for Sagbama and Kolokuma/Opokuma local government areas and decided to conduct parallel congresses. Investigations, however, revealed that representatives from INEC and the panel from the National Working Committee did not attend congresses they organized, but graced those organised by Sylva and Lokpobiri. It remains to be seen what would become of the congresses held by Binabo and Aganaba.
Before the congresses, the Ondo State chapter of the party had been enmeshed in a prolonged crisis, which reached a climax during the state congress. The crisis, it would be recalled, started during the last governorship primary election, which produced Governor Rotimi Akeredolu as the standard bearer of the party against the wish of national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who allegedly sponsored Dr Segun Abraham. The outcome of the governorship primary also led to the defection of Chief Olusola Oke from the APC to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) with notable members of the party, including the Osun State Commissioner for Regional Integration, Mr Bola Ilori. But in February this year, Oke returned to the party, while Abraham, who came second in the governorship primary, has been seeking redress in court over the emergence of Akeredolu as the party’s candidate. Abraham’s case, which is currently before the Supreme Court, often generates tension in the state, with occasional clashes between his supporters and those of Akeredolu.
Thus, the party has been polarised in the state since the emergence of Akeredolu as the party’s candidate with two persons laying claim to the position of state chairman. Former state chairman of the party, Mr Isaac Kekemeke was frustrated out of office after Akeredolu was sworn in as governor, as he was alleged to have worked for Abraham during the party’s primary and also for Oke of the AD during the main election. Kekemeke’s deputy, Mr Ade Adetimehin, was subsequently appointed the acting chairman of the party and no sooner had he assumed office than he announced the suspension of Kekemeke for alleged anti-party activities. Not done with that, Adetimehin also expelled some individuals, most of who were loyalists of Kekemeke, Abraham and Oke from the party for allegedly failing to appear before the party’s disciplinary committee set up to investigate allegations of anti-party activities against them. Both Kekemeke and Adetimehin has been claiming to be the authentic chairman of the party in the state and at different times presided over meetings of party stakeholders.
While Akeredolu and his deputy, Mr Agboola Ajayi; members of the State Executive Council and those of the state House of Assembly were behind Adetimehin, members of the National Assembly from the state, especially Senator Ajayi Boroffice and Hon Baderinwa and Osun State Commissioner for Regional Integration, Mr Ilori were with Kekemeke. There were claims that that Kekemeke’s faction has the backing of Tinubu, while Adetimehin’s faction was being sponsored by Akeredolu and also had the support of the party’s national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. The crisis, however, became worse when some members of the Kekemeke faction who converged on BTO Hall, Akure, for the parallel state congress were attacked by political thugs allegedly sponsored by Akeredolu’s faction. The attack notwithstanding, the faction went ahead with the parallel congress, which eventually produced factional leaders for the APC in the state, just as Akeredolu’s faction also produced leaders, which they claimed were authentic as the congress was attended by national officers of the party.
Talking about Oyo State, one of the major events that led to parallel congresses in the state is the manner by which the party’s candidates emerged for the Saturday, May 12, 2018, local government election.
The candidates emerged on Friday, March 23, at Lafia Hotel, Apata, Ibadan, through consensus arrangement. The emergence actually widened the gulf between the two dominant groups in the party.
The groups are SENACO and Lamist. SENACO is an acronym for Senator Abiola Ajimobi Campaign Organisation and it is peopled by those loyal to the state governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi. The Lamists are APC members loyal to the former governor of the state, Alhaji Lam Adesina.
Sunday Sun gathered that for each of the chairmanship and councillorship seat, the leadership of APC at the local government and ward levels were asked to submit three names, which they did. But at Lafia Hotel, the party with active participation of the governor opted for consensus and picked one person each from the three names submitted for each category. Thereafter, members of the Lamist assembled themselves and also absorbed other aggrieved members of the party to form APC Unity Forum in the state. The group alleged that Ajimobi imposed candidates for the council poll on them, and that he purportedly favoured SENACO members in his appointments, especially during his second term in office. But the governor described the allegation as a blatant lie, explaining that he did not choose the candidates, but the party’s leadership did.
When the national headquarters of the APC fixed the dates for the ward, local government and state congresses, the Unity Forum renewed their battle against the governor. They planned to take over the party’s structure away from the governor by stopping the alleged imposition and ensuring internal democracy within the party. When the ward congress held, there was no parallel congress, but there were claims and counter-claims between the two groups about payment for nomination forms by one of the groups. This resulted in the parallel local government and state congresses. The groups are still awaiting the decision of the appeal committees set up by the national headquarters of APC. From the foregoing, it is clear that the APC house is presently not in order. And ahead of the national convention of the party, which comes up later this month, pundits are of the opinion that the APC would be further factionalised after the event.