The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu State is locked in internal crisis even as notable politicians in the state are swelling its ranks. Southeast Bureau Chief, JUDE OSSAI, examines the issues at stake.
IN the South-East geopolitical zone, just like any other zone, the story of party politics has taken the centre stage, as politicians have begun strategising ahead of the 2019 general election. Perhaps, it is against the backdrop that the tempo in various political parties, particularly the two dominant parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has continued to rise in Igboland
In the Enugu Stae APC fold, this is certainly not the best of times. The party has been polarised along different interest groups. The APC is divided into two major factions with the state chairman of the party, Dr Ben Nwoye leading one front and the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, heading the other. Sources revealed that the internal squabble, which is as old as the formation of the mega party itself, is as a result of the alleged inordinate ambitions of the two leaders. Both Nwoye and Okechukwu want to control the party structure in the state.
The other reasons for the great divide are obvious. While Nwoye came from the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Okechukwu rose from the then Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) flank. The CPC prides itself as the group that produced President Muhammed Buhari, hence believes that its followers should be in a position to dictate the affairs of the party in the state. But the ACN supporters think differently. They contend that nobody is a stranger and, therefore, they are equal owners of the party.
Prior to the last general election, Okechukwu and Nwoye were the last men standing in the opposition in the state. While Okechukwu, under his former CPC, fought gallantly against the perceived misrule of the PDP administration, Nwoye was at the then ACN party fighting seriously against their common foe, the PDP. With the coalition of the opposition groups that led to the formation of APC and its victory at the centre, the question becomes, who takes charge of the party structure in the state?
To Nwoye, he invested much of his personal money in the building of the party while Okechukwu contends that he sacrificed his time, life and money more than any other party member in the state. The pro-Nwoye group alleged that Okechukwu was fueling the crisis, as he was said to have been able to convince some members of the state executive that Nwoye, Chief Okey Ezea, the gubernatorial candidate of the party in 2015 poll and the zonal vice-president, Emma Eneukwu, allegedly needed to account for campaign funds to the tune of N400 million. Some of the state executive members on the side of Okechukwu include the Enugu-East Senatorial zone Vice Chairman, Chief Anike Nwaoga, deputy state chairman, A.C. Udeh; state secretary, Major General Chris Eze (retd), Mrs Kate Ofor, publicity secretary, Juliet Ibekaku, deputy governorship candidate, Lolo Queen Nwankwo (Woman Leader), Chief Onyemuche Nnamani among others.
Sources revealed that the renewed crisis in the South-East zone, especially Enugu State, started early this year, when the APC national secretariat ordered all state chapters of the party to compile 50 names for nomination for federal boards, ambassadors and other appointments. The trio of Ben Nwoye, state chairman, Hon Emma Eneukwu, zonal national chairman and governorship candidate, Chief Ezea, were entrusted with this responsibility. Reports had it that the list was skewed in favour of Nwoye and his loyalists to the extent that Okechukwu’s name, among others in Ezeagu local government area, were excluded. It was learnt that the marginalised group led by Okechukwu took the matter to the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr David Lawal and later to the national chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun. The issue stands unresolved till date.
Sources also said that anothr crisis reared its head, when the party ordered membership mobilisation, especially in weak zones like the South-East. “Since the party has the progressive ideology, it is expected that all progressive minds should be allowed to come into the party. It is because of this that the likes of Senators Jim Nwobodo, Fidelis Okoro, Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu and Dr Mrs. Dorothy Nwodo joined APC”, the source added.
Further checks showed that the bottled anger in the two camps resurfaced during the formal declaration of Nwobodo and other “decampees” held at the state APC party secretariat in GRA, Enugu. The controversy reportedly occurred in the presence of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Godfrey Onyeama, the vice chairman of the Enugu-east senatorial zone, Chief Nwaoga allegedly led the “rebellion”, insisting that Nwobodo could not boost the profile of the APC, because of the Dasukigate arms scandal.
Another nagging issue confronting the party is how to accommodate the ambition of some top party stalwarts. For instance, Okechukwu, Eneukwu and Mrs. Ibekaku who is the Special Adviser to President Buhari on Judicial Reforms, are said to be eying the Enugu-West Senatorial seat in 2019. The theory is that if the deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, is indicted, over alleged forgery for which he is to face trial, the coast will be clear for the APC candidate, with little or no resistance from the PDP in the zone. Dr Nwoye, while briefing newsmen in Enugu recently, alleged that Okechukwu was creating crisis in the state chapter of the party. Nwoye said his attention was drawn to publications in a section of the media, purporting that he sacked the vice chairman of APC in Enugu-East senatorial, Nwoga because he tongue-lashed Senator Ekweremadu for informing the international community in writing over his alleged forgery trial.
Will the crisis in the APC affect its fortune in 2019? In an interview with Okechukwu who was one of the members of APC merger committee which midwifed the party, he said, ”We are not talking of 2019 in the actual sense of the word. Rather, we are seriously pre-occupied with the Herculean task of revamping our decayed physical and social infrastructure in the land. We inherited the collapse of all the federal roads, especially in the South-East, from Enugu-Port Harcourt, Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Markurdi, Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene, to Otuchocha -Lokoja. Going by Mr. President’s program as enlisted in the 2016 Budget, we are working towards creating employment, fixing collapsed infrastructure, containing insurgency and fighting corruption.
“It is painful that our infrastructure collapsed in spite of unprecedented oil wealth which accrued in the last 16 years. When sometimes crude oil sold above $100 per barrel, it is a painful experience to inherit a squandered economy. For us, we take the economic outlook as critical because it’s the substructure, which creates the material conditions for the political superstructure. The issue of strategizing is natural in the political arena, especially when we now have surge of new members. new members who are streaming in because of the hope generated by President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory and transparent leadership. We are busy harvesting new members from our sister political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”
On the insinuation that his group was opposed to new members, he said: “Let me state clearly first that Emeka Anike is the zonal Organsing Secretary of Enugu East and authored his statement. I understand that they even wrote petition to the national chairman. Disregard Nwoye’s blackmail. He talks as if our members are imbeciles.
“It is needful to state unequivocally that we have great respect for Chief Nwobodo, he was our mentor in our days in the university, when he was governor. The only snag was that he joined via the wrong door, through one chance elements in our party, who sabotaged our efforts in every angle during the general elections. Therefore, I personally have no ill feelings against our elder statesman. They wanted to use Chief Nwobodo as a shield, so we shouted.”
The APC stalwart dismissed the allegation that the party was polarised with him leading one front and Dr Nwoye heading the other. According to him, “It is not polarisation as such, but as I said earlier, it is more or less a difference which arose between those who believed sincerely in Mr. President and worked for his victory and those who never believed that an incumbent can lose an election in Nigeria.”
On the impact so far made by the coming of politicians such as Senator Nwobodo, Onyemuche Nnamani and Dr Nwodo into APC in the South-East and the state in particular, the VON boss noted, “Chief Onyemuche Nnamani, is a foundation member of APC and the financier in Enugu State. He sponsored the great Buhari Road Show, which was one of the signposts of the campaign. I treasure the entry of eminent persons into our party very much; it makes for growth in a region where we are weak. We were very weak in our region in the 2015 general elections. President Buhari got only 22 per cent from the south, 16 per cent of which was from the old Western Region and 5 per cent from the old Eastern Region. With their entry, we surely will reverse the trend. This is our grand strategy.”
As it is, the battle of wits among the warring political lords in APC in the Coal City State seems unending.