From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
UNEASY calm appears to have returned to the Delta State chapters of the two major political parties – All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after the court judgments validating the leadership of the frontline parties at various levels.
For the APC, the Court of Appeal, Benin division upheld the election of the state Executive Committee, under the chairmanship of Prophet Jones Erue, laying to rest the crisis generated by the congress that produced the executive in 2014.
The Supreme Court on the other hand, also ended the protracted national leadership crisis rocking the PDP by sacking Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as national chairman and affirmed the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee as the authentic national leadership of the main opposition party.
Both judgments which came within a space of one week settled several untold scores within the state chapters of the parties, giving birth to a rather fragile peace which if not properly handled may lead to another storm in a tea cup, Daily Sun’s investigations reveal.
Shortly after the emergence of APC as a national political party, a caretaker committee was put in place in the state to midwife the conduct of a congress to elect state executive members.
Chief Tom Ikimi who was one of the founding fathers of the APC inaugurated that committee in Asaba which had Prophet Jones Erue as chairman.
Erue was of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) stuck, one of the legacy parties that formed APC, but his fiercest rival, Chief Adolor Okotie-Eboh of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) kicked against the caretaker committee, saying that his legacy party, the ACN was not adequately accommodated in the committee.
The situation, it appeared, was not properly managed, hence after the carefully planned congress where Erue emerged as the substantive state chairman of the party; Okotie-Eboh approached a Delta State High Court, Asaba, to seek redress.
Okotie-Eboh who though stood as a chairmanship candidate in the election, prayed the court to nullify the congress on the ground that its conduct did not comply with the party’s constitution and guidelines for conduct of state congresses.
Okotie-Eboh got judgement, as the High Court declared that the congress the produced Erue and members of his executive was null and void, and ordered a fresh congress. The verdict came as a rude shock to the APC followers in the state as they least expected it.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the court, Eru approached the Court of Appeal to possibly upturn it. The legal battle, no doubt stagnated APC in playing its opposition role in Delta State, to the extent that a powerful section within the party began to call for a caretaker committee to run the party while the appeal was being prosecuted.
At some point too, some critical stakeholders within the party under the aegis of Delta State APC Elders and Leaders ran out of patient as the national leadership continued to ignore the call for a caretaker committee to run the party.
The APC Elders and Leaders under the leadership of the late Senator Spanner Okpozo after being frustrated by the national secretariat took the bull by the horn and inaugurated the caretaker committee.
This was another crisis that jolted the opposition party in the state, such that the embattled state chairman, Erue became restless. He had to run to the national secretariat and ensured that the caretaker committee was not recognized.
And the national secretariat waded in to calm the situation by disbanding the caretaker committee and urged all stakeholders to return to status quo and wait for the outcome of the case pending at the Court of Appeal.
Since Okpozo’s death last December, the Delta State APC Elders and Leaders forum went underground until July 5 when the Court of Appeal set aside the judgment of the lower court and affirmed the Erue-led state executive committee.
APC leaders react to the judgement
Reacting to the judgement through the state acting publicity secretary, Leonard Obibi, Erue described the legal battle as a long-drawn case which for years now had cast a blight on the legal standing of the executive committee.
He emphasized that the ruling was an impetus to refocus and harness the strength of the party into a formidable organ that all its members would be proud of, declaring that there was no victor, no vanquished.
“It is now time to pull our internal capacity together, as this will be necessary to dislodge the PDP from power in the state in the forthcoming elections.
“Today is a day for mutual forgiveness; and it is important to begin a new phase that will erase divisions in our midst, while preparing all our members to redirect their energies towards our common interests,” he stated.
Although, the elders and leaders forum accepted the ruling, describing it as an unimpeachable victory for the constitution of APC, it however suspected the olive branch extended by Erue.
At a meeting in Ogwashi-Uku, the forum stated that as law abiding citizens with zero tolerance for non-compliance with court orders dissolved the caretaker committee which it earlier set up but held that the constitution of the party should apply with equal force to all members without undue favoritism.
Despite the existence of a State Executive Committee, the elders and leaders’ forum went ahead to set up what it called broad based platform – Consolidated Dynamic APC (CDA) to accommodate divergent political tendency.
Reacting to the development, a political analyst, Dr. Emeka Ndukwe told our Correspondent that the Court of Appeal ruling has not finally resolved the internal crisis rocking the state APC.
“From the tune of the elders and leaders’ forum, it is clear that they are yet to accept Erue as the state chairman of the party. How can they set up an organ within the party without the knowledge of the chairman?
“I think that Erue is not fully in-charge of the party in the state. Instead of rebuilding the party for the elections ahead, we already perceive another round of crisis just days after the ruling that was supposed to unify the party,” Ndukwe contended.
The PDP and Supreme Court judgement
The PDP on the other hand, has had to contend with the factional leadership crisis at the national level since the party lost the presidential election in 2015.
While the state governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa and majority of the party followers belonged to the Makarfi faction, his kinsman, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh who is the deputy national chairman of the Sheriff faction was the arrow head of the Sheriff’s faction in the state.
After the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt division shockingly declared Sheriff as the authentic national chairman of the party; some followers of the governor had divided loyalty, as the future became very bleak for the umbrella party.
There was the tendency to either hobnob with the Sheriff faction which had the upper hand at the time or decamp to the APC. This played out during the bye-election for Warri South state constituency.
While majority of the PDP followers within the said constituency moved into the Accord Party to deliver the proffered candidate of the governor, the remnants got stuck with the Sheriff faction which presented the recognized candidate for the PDP.
Despite the sharp division, the APC could not take advantage as the Accord Party candidate won the election, affirming the supremacy of the governor as a leader in the state.
But with the recent Supreme Court judgement, the coast appears clear for Okowa and his loyalists to assert their dominance in the party. In asserting this dominance, however, the governor must be wary of spoilers as the remnants of the Sheriff faction are still very much around, it was further learnt.
According to Dr. Ndukwe, the governor, as a matter of fact, must begin to take steps to assuage the conscience of his rivals within the PDP if he wants a smooth sail to the party’s governorship ticket in 2019.
Ndukwe noted that the governor must commence a process of balancing act in terms of appointments for his core loyalists and those who belonged to the Sheriff faction with Austin Ogbaburhon as state chairman and Dr. Ojougboh as leader.
“The governor has a lot to do in ensuring an enduring peace within his party. There is need for him to sacrifice some of his loyalists in the state PDP executive and bring on board some of the aggrieved persons in the Sheriff’s camp,” he suggested.
Indications that the remnants of the Sheriff faction were still around emerged at a meeting in Warri recently where Dr. Ojougboh emphatically stated that they are still under the umbrella, urging party faithful to remain committed to the party as they await the outcome of the interpretation of the Supreme Court’s judgment by its lawyers and the decision by the national executives on the way forward.
Ojougboh noted that counsel to Sheriff was still waiting for the printed copy of the judgment in order to fully digest it and come up with the necessary advice to the national executive on the next line of action to be taken by the group.
He urged the party faithful in Delta to return to the grassroots and woo people to strengthen the party while they await directive from the former executives of the party.
Okowa, others react
Governor Okowa and the state party chairman, Barr. Kingsley Esiso had in separate reactions hailed the court judgement, describing it as victory for democracy.
The governor through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Charles Aniagwu stated that “this judgement is victory for democracy because, the judiciary had always proven their independence and wisdom, it is a reawakening for our great party to provide the much needed leadership for our country, Nigeria. It was a case of PDP Vs PDP, so, we should remain united and committed to the slogan of the PDP – power to the people.
“As the biggest political party in Africa despite losing the presidential elections in 2015, it is time for us to rebuild our house, remain united, accommodate those who are leaving other political parties to the party that is truly democratic and believes in the rule of law, a political party that has the interest of the common man on the street at heart and continue to ensure that the best is achieved for the country.”
Esiso on his part, called on the Sheriff’s action to see the judgement as the decision of God, noting that the PDP Would surely bounce back to take its rightful place at the national level, adding that “it is not time to apportion blames, it’s time for all party faithful to work together and speak with one voice.”