From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
For close observers of the activities of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bayelsa State since its drubbing by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 governorship election, the events of Friday August 18th where suspected militants believed to be sympathetic to the sacked chairman, chief Tiwei Orunimighe attempted to disrupt a meeting of stakeholders called by the acting chairman, Mr, Joseph Fafi, did not come as a surprise.
The tussle for leadership of the party between Orunimighe and loyalists of the governorship candidate of the party and former governor, Chief Timipre Sylva and the scramble for positions by members of the party in Abuja after the governorship election, have hindered the party from being cohesive. Not only that, the suspicion that the APC leadership and some of his loyalists in the state are hobnobbing with the PDP, coupled with the political naivety displayed by Orunimighe with his open challenge and brash criticism of Sylva has made it inevitable that he ( Orunmighe) would have to leave as chairman of party.
But the ugly incident at the APC secretariat which left two people dead and many people injured is an indication that loyalists of Orunmighe would not allow him to go down without a fight. The audacity of the attackers in the presence of security agents is an indication that the APC crisis in the state was far from over.
Until he was brought from political oblivion after serving as a chairman in one of the local government development centres created by late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and later handpicked to become the chairman of Southern Ijaw council, the largest council in Bayelsa State during Sylva’s tenure as governor, many people had forgotten who Tiwei Orunimighe was.
During the Sylva administration, he was very vibrant to the extent that he became one of the poster boys of the administration and because of his alleged romance with ex-militant leaders, most of whom are from Southern Ijaw area, Orunimighe was untouchable and this was noticeable in the entire state.
He was at the fore front when Sylva battled the PDP forces led by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 in his quest to retain the governorship ticket of the party. Eventually, Sylva was forced out of the PDP and he pitched his tent with the APC and shortly after, when names of state executives were complied, Sylva, it was gathered, handpicked Orunimighe to head the party in the state, against wise counsel.
At the 2015 governorship primaries of the party, Orunimighe’s partisanship for Sylva against other aspirants was too glaring. However, unknown too many party faithful, Orunimighe efforts had political undertone as he was angling to be the running mate to Sylva. The bubble eventually burst, leading to Sylva and Orunimighe parting ways, politically, when Sylva picked a retired school principal, chief Wilberforce Igiri as the running mate.
Following the decision, not only did Orunimighe mobilised his supporters to tear Sylva’s posters at the party secretariat on Melford/ Okilo Expressway, he also threatened to frustrate Sylva’s ambition of becoming governor. Aside that, he made damaging allegations against Sylva and the minister of state for Agriculture, senator Heinkein Lokpobiri, accusing the former of trading with political appointments meant for Bayelsa without consulting with the party hierarchy in the state.
It was the general consensus among party members that Orunimighe worked against the party in the governorship election in which Governor Henry Seriake Dickson won in seven out of the eight local government areas in the state.
Sylva, while commenting on the renegade attitude of Orunmighe said he was given ample time to change but he insisted on mortgaging the future of the party.
“This is a man you all know how we brought him up from nothing. From nothing, we made him a council chairman. From nothing, we made him, a party chairman. When the Acting President visited Bayelsa during the peace tour, Governor Dickson said the APC and PDP were working together. The working he was talking about is in the minds of the expelled chairman and the governor.
“We gave him time so as to allow him change his ways but he refused. He kept moving deeper into the mud. He is no longer an issue. No one should talk about him again because he is no longer an issue. This is our party and our state. We all want what is good for the people. The ship of APC is moving and we cannot take it backward,” Sylva, declared.
Daily Sun’s investigations revealed that the decision to do away with Orunimighe was reached after the non-elective congress of the party in the state. Orunimighe with some of his loyalists were said to have gone ahead to organise the congress without recourse to Sylva. Sylva on the other hand believed Orunimighe “cup of political iniquities was full and decided to end his reign as chairman of the party,” it was further learnt.
To ensure his clinical sack from the party, the allegations of anti-party activities against Orunimighe his deputy, Eddy Julius and secretary, Marlin Daniel which was lodged before the Zonal Executive Committee was dust up. It was the National Secretary of the party, Alhaji Mai Mala Buni who issued a letter of expulsion with reference number APC/NDQ/552/31/017/002 to Orunmighe, Julius and Daniel.
Buni, in the letter disclosed that the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party had adopted the recommendations by the Zonal Executive Committee “which deliberated on the Report of the Disciplinary committee that investigated your anti-party activities in Bayelsa State to the effect that you be suspended and ultimately expelled from the party.”
It further directed Orunimighe specifically to hand over all party property “in your possession to the Zonal Vice- Chairman, Bayelsa senatorial district with immediate effect, while the National Vice- Chairman, South- South shall coordinate the state chapter of the party.”
A letter from the National Vice- Chairman, South – South, Prince Ntufam Hillard Eta appointing Fafi as the acting chairman finally nailed the political coffin of Orunimighe.
The letter reads: “On behalf of the National Executive Committee of our party, the All Progressives Congress, the National Working Committee at its 23rd Regular meeting adopted the recommendations of APC South- South Zonal Executive which deliberated on the report of the Disciplinary committee that investigated the anti-party activities of the state chairman, deputy chairman and the state secretary in Bayelsa and concluded that the named officers be suspended and ultimately expelled from the party. Consequently, the office of the National Vice- Chairman, South- South which I occupy has been mandated to coordinate the Bayelsa State chapter of the party. By this letter, you are hereby instructed and authorised to act as state chairman of the party pending the ratification of same by the National Working Committee of our party. You are therefore to coordinate meetings, deliberations and to ensure the full functioning of the Bayelsa State APC secretariat.”
In defence of Orunimighe
Some leaders of the party led by a former Nigeria’s ambassador to Venezuela, Felix Oboro, have rejected the expulsion of Orunimighe, insisting that due process must be followed in removing him.
“The problem is that the congress we held, Timipre Sylva and the minister of state for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri submitted another list to Abuja. And from the blues we had a publication that they have suspended or expelled Orunimighe, Marlin and Eddy Julius for anti-party activities. We do not understand how. We saw the letters on the social media, same letter, and same reference. One is suspension, one is expulsion. We the elders of the party have stated that we reject the suspension or expulsion.
“To suspend a state chairman, the suspension must start from the state executive. It is the state executive that has the right to suspend a member and forward it to the National Secretariat that would now look at it and forward it to the BOT for approval. If you want to expel a member, such member would face a disciplinary committee. As far we are concerned, Orunimighe is still the chairman of our party. “The original crisis was between Orunimighe and Timipre Sylva and the national leadership invited us to Abuja and we expressed our views. The national leadership directed that the status quo should remain which means Tiwei should be the chairman. The national leadership did not recognise Fafi as acting chairman. They realised later that if they are to follow due process, discipline matter should go to the Zonal Executive first, so the Zonal chairman set up a committee to look into what the national leadership had done before. I was among those interviewed. The Zonal committee was to reconcile the two parties; in fact we repeated all the statements we made in Abuja. This was since November or December. Since that time it was for the Zonal leadership to tell the national leadership how the reconciliation was going. But we did not hear anything from the Zonal or national leadership,” the former ambassador, said.
He alleged that Sylva and Lokpobiri have a hidden agenda which they want to execute and as such see Orunimighe as a threat to their ambition.
“They should not be in a hurry to remove him but wait for an elective congress. There is no problem. The congress we held had resolved whatever problems we had in the party but it appears Sylva and Lokpobiri have a hidden agenda. They have political ambition and they believe that Tiwei is working to install another person, which is their suspicion. Their main concern now is to get Tiwei out as the state chairman because they believe with him as chairman; it would be hard for them to manipulate the party. NWC cannot start the suspension of a state officer, it is the state executive that can suspend, and then refer it to the NWC.”