APC in quandary in South-East

South-East Bureau Chief, JUDE OSSAI, writes on the precarious position of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the face of internal crisis bedeviling the party in the zone.

THE 2019 general election may have come and gone but the losers are still licking their wounds, while the winners are basking in the euphoria of their victories at various levels of the poll in their respective political parties and constituencies, the ongoing litigation in respect of the elections notwithstanding.

In the South-East zone, two political parties — the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) — dominated the political landscape before and during the elections, with the PDP having the upper hand after the electoral exercise.

Despite the media hype, there was no upset in the results of the governorship and National Assembly elections as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The APC lost Imo State with the victory of the former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Emeka Ihedioha of PDP, as governor.

In the Igbo enclave, PDP now controls four states and these are Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo while Anambra State, where the tenure of Governor Willie Obiano is still running, is under the control of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

Investigations revealed that the South-East APC seems to have fallen short of its dream thereby putting it in dilemma over its future, especially in the race towards the presidency in 2023. This development had prompted leaders of the party to embark on peace reconciliation so as to redress what went wrong during the 2019 elections.

Prior to the poll, the theory was that APC (the main opposition party in the zone) was going to turn the tide against the PDP as some of the party leaders sold the dummy that they were drawing their strength from the presidency.

However, further checks showed that the leaders of APC in the zone did not go to the last poll as a united front as parallel primaries were held by the party in Igbo land, thus the first indicative that the party had planned to fail.

In Enugu State, while the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu and the state chairman of APC, Dr Ben Nwoye, mended fences. Another problem that reared its head was the feud between Nwoye and a former Foreign Affairs Minister, Godfrey Onyeama.

Indeed, it was like a theatre of war in Enugu APC during the party’s primaries as high profile politicians, who included former Senate President Ken Nnamani, immediate past governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime; Osita Okechukwu and the APC national vice chairman (South-East), Emma Eneukwu, had to run for their dear lives at the Indoor Sports Hall of Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium Enugu, venue of the congress, which was invaded by political thugs.

The crux of the matter was whether to adopt direct or indirect primaries by APC in the state. Nwoye dissociated Enugu APC from the purported meeting held at the instance of Onyeama, who supported direct primaries in the state, describing the statement credited to the former minister as absolute and blatant falsehood.

“We were directed to choose from direct, indirect and consensus and we held a meeting of SEC and 57 members in attendance adopted indirect and consensus. The decision was taken by SEC,” Nwoye said.

Although the major factions led by Nwoye and Onyeama endorsed the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari for the 2019 election, the struggle over the control of APC structure in the Coal City State ahead the elections continued to create a great divide in the party.

Reports from Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi and Imo states were similar as there were claims and counter-claims by different camps, with no sign of ceasefire by the opposing camps few months to the polls.

In Abia State, the leadership crisis that rocked the state chapter of APC over the allegations of misconduct against the chairman of the party in Isiala-Ngwa South almost marred the fortune of the party. It was gathered that some stakeholders had, in a communiqué dated March 10, 2019, accused the party chairman of running the APC as a personal business and trying to sell the party to moneybags ahead of the 2019 elections.

Reports had it that the imbroglio that engulfed the Abia APC took a different dimension as the factional governorship candidate of the party in the state, Chief Ikechi Emenike, sued Honourable Donatus Nwankpa and demanded the sum of N1 billion for an alleged defamation of character.

In Anambra State, an attempt by some people to jettison the zoning arrangement in Aguata federal constituency almost tore APC apart in the area. Aguata is the constituency of Senator Andy Uba and Chief Chris Uba, the two brothers that contested for the Anambra South Senatorial District seat on the platforms of the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The quarrel, which came into the open was on zoning arrangement as an APC chieftain, Dr Oliver Ezeudeude, noted: “Since the present democratic dispensation, we have an unwritten zoning understanding between Aguata North and Aguata South state constituencies for the positions of House of Representatives and local government chairman for the area.

“To date, Aguata South had produced members of the House of Representatives for 16 years, while Aguata North had produced for only four years. In the spirit of the zoning arrangement, all the stakeholders, including traditional rulers, presidents general of the various communities and the clergy, are unanimous in their position that the next member of the House of Representatives should come from Aguata North.”

Also in Ebonyi State, it was life and death for many of the APC faithful, as the death toll from the violent clash at Onueke, Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State during the party’s primaries was up to three.

Loveth Odah, the state Police Public Relations Officer, confirmed two bodies of the casualties were discovered by the police in a nearby bush around the venue of the primaries.

She recalled: “While APC [members] were having their senatorial primary at Darling Star Hotel, Onueke in Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, sporadic gunshots were heard from a nearby bush. Policemen deployed in the area for the exercise quickly mobilised and repelled the assassins. Upon combing the nearby bush, unfortunately, two lifeless bodies — a man and a woman were found in the bush.”

In Imo APC, the major headache is how to reconcile the ambition of the immediate past governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha, with his party faithful as the former governor was accused of attempting to install his dynasty by allegedly imposing his son-in-law on the people.

However, the permutation that Okorocha’s desperation was hinged on his 2023 presidential ambition seems to be over as his critics believed that having his son-in-law as a governor would have given him an unfettered access to the state’s resources with which to prosecute his presidential ambition has met a brick wall with the loss of his alleged surrogate to the PDP candidate in the last governorship election in the state.

The chairman of the state APC caretaker committee, Prince Marcellinus Nlemigbo, had lauded the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) for suspending the former governor, even as he alleged that the women Okorocha hired to protest against his suspension in Owerri were members of the Action Alliance and not the APC.

According to Mlemigbo, “the problem with former Governor Okorocha is that he is playing god. He has been using the name of the president to commit a lot of havoc, boasting that he controls the president and the Imo State Commissioner of Police.”

Perhaps, in realisation of what is ahead of them in 2023, APC leaders in the South-East have begun moves to resolve the protracted crisis engulfing the party in the zone with a view to repositioning the party in Igbo land. To this end, a committee has been set up by the leadership of the party to reconcile aggrieved members in the five states in the South-East.

The chairman of the committee, Emeka Wogu, told reporters in Enugu that its members were given the mandate to reconcile and make peace with a view to strengthening and repositioning the party in the whole of the South-East, taking into consideration that certain members of the party felt so dissatisfied with the process of congresses, primaries and the main elections.

His words: “They feel aggrieved and that is the reason this committee was set up. The committee will speak to authority and speak truth to leaders of the party and on the need to reconcile and ensure that APC remains one-big-family just as its logo, the broom, depicts. “We have agreed that every state should come with its peculiarities or what led to the disorganisation and lack of peace in their states. And at the end of the day, we will distill issues and visit all the states.”

“We will also visit our leaders in the states and speak truth to them and find a way of repositioning the party in the South-East to face the evolving realities of political dialectics of our party and of our country. So that by 2023, we be in a position to win the elections that

we hitherto couldn’t win because of internal wrangling which led to sabotage against our party.

“So in 2023, we will do well and then we will look at all positions available in this country, not limited to only the National Assembly and the governorship, but including the big one (presidency). We need to go for it, negotiate for it and become relevant.”

The former Minister of Labour and Productivity noted that the assignment of the committee was enormous but with the calibre of its members, it would work hard and deliver on its mandate unbiased and without fear or favour.

To many APC faithful, the party must be united and strong in the South-East to support the efforts of President Buhari to reposition the party and as well as to continue to deliver on his

developmental strides. “We are resolute in supporting President Buhari and assisting him to achieve his positive desires by ensuring that South-East APC is peaceful to take over the whole political positions in the zone,” Wogu said.

With the current zoning arrangement by major political parties, the South-East is the only region in the southern part of the country that has not produced a President since the inception of the Fourth Republic. Be that as it may, the victory of a former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, in the Abia North senatorial poll is expected to boost the fortune of the APC in the zone.

The fears expressed by Chike Okafor, who represents Okigwe South Federal Constituency on the platform of the APC, came to pass as Ndigbo lost out in the current leadership of the National Assembly with Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe securing just the position of the Minority Leader. Okafor had insisted that the only way the South-East can fully embrace the APC ahead of 2023 is for the party leadership to give the zone a sense of belonging.

“In the last presidential election, we swam against the tide, we staked our pride and we put our resources on the line just to give the APC a strong foot in the South-East. It is on record that we gave President Buhari 435, 000 votes in the 2019 presidential election. There is no geo political zone that doubled its vote of 2015 in 2019,” he was reported to have said.