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Rough And Tumble Politics In Ebonyi, As Elechi Battles State With Abuja Politicians

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Ebonyi-08-03-15

ONLY those who are conversant with the nature of Nigeria in the 80s would fully comprehend the imagery conjured by Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Martin Elechi, when he let the cat out of the bag of the trickeries of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in his state. It happened that on the very day some members of the House of Assembly sat at plenary to pass a motion to serve a notice of impeachment on him, the Governor was scheduled to hold a statewide broadcast on the political upheaval in the state.

   Reading from a prepared text, Elechi chronicled the genesis of the political crisis that befell the state shortly after the ward congresses of his party. He said he decided to lay bare the issues before the public and to “let Nigerians decipher the issues and tell the nation who is working against the PDP and President Jonathan: Martin Elechi or Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the Mighty Igor?” 

   As the Governor spoke, it was obvious that the PDP top hierarchy was engaged in a hide-and-seek game with the Ebonyi chief executive for a very long time. The conduct of the ward and local government congresses to elect delegates for the party’s primary elections gave that trick out as Elechi pointed out. He said: “On Thursday November 27, 2014, the PDP Governors or Deputies from 22 states brainstormed with the President, the Vice President and the Senate President on the progress of preparations and problems, as was normal with all previous elections. The four states of Adamawa, Ebonyi, Ondo and Taraba had peculiar problems, which necessitated the participation of the national chairman, whereupon, the other 18 Governors withdrew from the meeting, leaving the governors of the four states that have peculiar challenges for further deliberation. At the time the meeting rose in the early hours of Friday, November 28, 2014; it was agreed that there would be no further congresses in those four states until their peculiar problems had been looked into. I raced back to Abakaliki in jubilation, believing that justice was about to be done.”

    But could PDP do justice? Elechi observed that, “in less than 30 hours of the directive to suspend congresses in those four states, election officials were sent to Abakaliki to conduct the congress that would elect House of Assembly members for the state, contrary to the pronouncement of the highest authority in the land.” And to show that a plot was afoot to divest the PDP structure from the governor, “the team led by one Senator Ben-Collins Ndu, proceeded to a roadside hotel in Abakaliki, neither touching the party secretariat nor paying a courtesy call on the Governor.” It was based on this clear manifestation of double standards that those loyal to Elechi boycotted the congresses. Voicing his pain, the Governor lamented: “We are today the rebels, the enemies of the PDP, while those who disobeyed the directive from the highest body stand as the pillars and light of the PDP, what an irony of fate and that was done with impunity.”

Impeachment Plot, Mutual Frustration

CHANCES are that those who conspired to disgrace the Ebonyi State Governor with the PDP structure never bargained for what they got in return. If they felt that as an old man, he could only bark and not bite politically; they got it wrong because just as all windows for participation in the electoral process were shutting down, Elechi’s supporters in PDP moved over to a previously moribund platform in the state. And so that fateful December 11, 2014, while the PDP National Convention was holding in Abuja to ratify President Jonathan’s acceptance of first refusal to contest the presidential election, the clips on National Television showing a Labour Party, (LP) State Congress holding in Abakaliki was streaming. 

  Intriguingly, most of the playmakers in the new party in Ebonyi were Elechi’s arch loyalists and cabinet members. Prior to that quick political about turn, it was popularly held that whoever clutches the PDP ticket was like having a diamond ring for victorious electoral run. But as Elechi explained in his state wide broadcast, “the majority of Ebonyi people could not stomach either the treachery being practiced within the PDP hierarchy nor give a thought to even a remote possibility of their choice in regret, but in righteous indignation to look for other openings in the political space. Most of them preferred the Labour Party and they anchored their fortune with the Labour Party.”

  As was to be expected, the mass defection of Elechi’s loyalists gave vent to a plethora of reactions. Frustrated by the unexpected division in the hitherto impregnable Ebonyi PDP, those who benefitted from the intrigues in Abuja, unleashed violence and the anti-graft agencies on the state government and its officials. What compounded the division was that even as the governor chose to stay back in the party on which he became governor, his heir, Chief Nnanna Elechi, became one of the arrowheads of the mass movement that Labour Party turned out to be. 

  Suspecting that state resources could be deployed to strengthen the Labour Party (LP), which governorship candidate is an intelligent architect from the Izzi clan, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) became effective in the state. In a surprisingly deft move that suggested that the EFCC was playing the role of prosecutor, persecutor and judge at the same, the anti-graft agency “froze the joint account of the state and local government even before concluding their investigations.”

   And while it was becoming obvious by the day that the inchoate Labour Party was enjoying mass appeal and gaining political momentum in the state, the remnant PDP structure resorted to violent attacks, pulling down billboards. Elechi alleged that, “apart from vandalizing of billboards, vehicles and buildings; a prominent young man, by name Emeka Nwigboji, was identified in a Labour Party meeting by a surveillance team of PDP adherents. The young man was ambushed and stabbed to death on his way back from the party meeting.” The incident, which occurred in the governor’s Ikwo local government council on February 3, 2015, is now a matter with the Police. 

   Feeling frustrated by Governor Elechi’s ambivalent political position, some PDP bigwigs settled for the impeachment option, which actually was tabled as option B by the planners at a strategic meeting in the Abuja residence of an Anambra oil magnate and PDP financier, according to investigations. The impeachment plot continued to simmer until it became very obvious that Elechi was not prepared to capitulate in his support for his political allies who defected to Labour Party. The governor pointed this out in his broadcast. He narrated: “No day passes without one or more national dailies reporting the thickening of impeachment plot against the Governor of Ebonyi State. The reports border on effort to assemble sufficient number of signatories or investigation to justify the impeachment. It is interesting for Nigerians to know that the decision to impeach the Governor preceded the finding of justifiable reasons to do so. It is simply the case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it.”

   While arguing that under an ideal situation a legislator must be convinced that an impeachment is justifiable before s/he can consent to it, Elechi noted, “but because there have been no justifiable reasons, many honorable members of Ebonyi State House of Assembly received threat messages to either append their signatures or risk assassination and or a kidnap of their family members.” He said other legislators were coerced from the National Headquarters of PDP to give their bank particulars so that inducement money could be paid into them. 

  Disclosing the names of those instigating the impeachment, Elechi added: “The accused agents in this regard are, respectively, Uche Secondus, (deputy national chairman) and Olisa Metu, (national publicity secretary). In consequence of the foregoing many honorable members of Ebonyi State House of Assembly have either fled the state or are in hiding.” Having identified the agents, the Ebonyi State chief executive stated that, “from newspaper reports, it is no longer secret that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, recently made a frantic effort to get the enlarged caucus meeting of the PDP (to) pass a resolution for the impeachment of Chief Martin Elechi, the Governor of Ebonyi State. It is also common knowledge that the President and national Leader of ruling PDP, stoutly opposed such a measure and preferred the path of reconciliation.”    

Echoes Of The Past

   AT the onset of the present democratic experiment in 1999, Anyim Pius Anyim, contested and won the Ebonyi South Senatorial seat in the Senate. He was later to become President of Senate after what looked like musical chair turnover of Presidents. At the build up to the 2003 election, the former Senate President became the rallying point of some ambitious politicians in Ebonyi State, in their attempt to pull the rug off the feet of Dr. Sam Egwu, the then governor of the state. Anyim was solidly behind Dr. Lawrence Nwuruku, who defected from PDP to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and became the Ebonyi governorship candidate of the party. In the end, Nwuruku, Anyim and their co-travelers failed woefully in that enterprise. But while the supremacy battle lasted, development was arrested in the state, even as lives and property were lost and destroyed in the incessant skirmishes that characterized the struggle for power. Embittered by the loss and perhaps discovering that population and voting strength were skewed against his Ebonyi South Senatorial zone, in favour of the old Abakaliki bloc of Ebonyi North and Central Senatorial Zones, Anyim took temporary sabbatical from partisan politics and flinched from seeking a second term in the Senate.

   While Anyim’s political sparring partner, Egwu, was serving out his second term as governor, he settled for Chief Martin Elechi as his preferred successor, premising his choice on the need to have someone that could carry everybody along in the scheme of things in the state. Before settling for Elechi however, Egwu had been stressing that only God and Ebonyi people would choose his successor, a position which fired such politicians like the former Culture and Tourism Minister, Ambassador Franklin Ogbuewu, to contest the governorship.  

  Perhaps, having seen the damage potential of political crises, Elechi, when he mounted the saddle as Governor, decided to focus on service delivery while shunning any patronizing tendency towards the major political overlords. That this disposition irked certain individuals like Anyim was evident especially in the unfolding political squabble in the state. Moreover, when Anyim and Egwu contested for the position of national chairman of PDP, which was zoned to the State, Elechi decided to side his benefactor against Anyim, who appeared a better candidate for the post than the former Ebonyi Governor, said to have been favoured by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Those who have worked closely with the Ishiagu-born SGF say he seldom forgives or forgets injury done to him. 

  At the exit of Obasanjo, the former President of Senate rekindled his interest in active politics and even went a step further by identifying with the Ebonyi PDP, something he swore not to do. He once donated N10 million to the party. However, when he wanted to nominate a candidate for the Ishiagu Community Development Union, (ICDU) Anyim was effectively checkmated by his political nemesis, former school mate and benefactor, Chief James Aroh Nweke, who informed Abakaliki that Pius wanted to impose a candidate on the community and through that position control the revenue accruing to the community from the abundant granite deposit and quarry activities in the community. Again, when Anyim wanted to nominate a candidate as council chairman of Ivo local government, his candidate could not sail through as the state chapter decided that former council chairmen should be given automatic return tickets. Given these cycles of defeats, Anyim sulked away and renewed his distance from Abakaliki until fortune smiled on him with his appointment as the SGF. With the new position, old animosities started reverberating in the Senator’s heart.

Elechi Style, Succession Plan:

    IT happened that while Anyim bided his time, he and his allies saw the 2015 election as opportune time to “retire the old man from politics.” Part of the plot, according to investigations, was to ensure that the Governor does not have a say on who succeeds him. But even when the groups were strategizing to battle Elechi over his plan to hand over to his deputy, the Governor continued his clamour for power shift to Ebonyi South Senatorial zone. However, the tide turned against him when he settled for the former Minister for Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu. Anyim and his group decided to rally round Elechi’s deputy, who had been eyeing the governorship for a very long time. And thanks to his foresight in deploying loyalists in the House of Assembly from his position as State chairman of PDP, it was obvious that Umahi has the much-needed resources to wage the battle against the incumbent. 

  In rejecting Prof. Chukwu’s candidacy, Anyim and his group claimed that Elechi did not consult them before making the choice. But while making his consultations, the Governor was informed that the old Ohaozara division of the Ebonyi South Senatorial Zone had enjoyed 12 years of deputy governorship, eight years of Senate seat and four years of chairmanship of Ebonyi PDP. In contrast, the old Afikpo division had only enjoyed four years of deputy governorship position, eight years of Senate Seat and four years of chairmanship of state PDP. From that distribution, the Governor was convinced that the old Afikpo division should produce the next governor in the interest of fairness and even spread of political influence. But despite the unassailable argument, the choice of Prof. Chukwu, sparked off much furor, not minding his sterling qualities and prodigious curriculum vitae. It happened that when the great defection happened, Prof. Chukwu declined the governorship ticket of Labour Party, preferring rather to stay back in PDP.

Elechi’s ‘Sins’

DUE to what is framed as Elechi’s sins, outside influence contributed to the face-off between Elechi and Anyim/Umahi. In the beginning, the PDP national chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, was said to have expressed some misgiving that Elechi does not want to cede the PDP ticket to his benefactor and former governor Dr. Sam Egwu for the Ebonyi North Senatorial seat currently being occupied by the Governor’s brother-in-law, Senator Chris Nwankwo. As in the Ebonyi South Senatorial zone, the Izzis and Ezzamgbo clans share the Senate seat alternately. Elechi had at one of the meetings to address the Ebonyi political ulcer told the national leadership of PDP that he would not be discussing the issue of Ebonyi North Senatorial seat with Egwu in Abuja, stressing that that could be easily at home. 

   But apart from political considerations, the Ebonyi Chief Executive was accused of blocking the Sir Cletus Ibeto from enjoying the fruits of owning controlling shares in the premier cement factory, NIGERCEM. Elechi was also alleged to have put a wedge to the economic integration plan for the Southeast on the claim that his state was still backward economically to compete with other states in the region on an even kiln. “There is no way you can run a mile race with bathroom slippers and shoes on either legs,” the governor told journalists on the impracticability of the economic integration agenda. Then some of those who joined hands in the onslaught against the Ebonyi Governor contend that the governor was instrumental to the lack of enthusiastic support the socio-cultural organization of Nd’Igbo, Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, is receiving from state governors. It is the combination of these entrenched interest groups that the Governor was alluding to by recalling the wrestling bout between Mighty Igor and Ray Appollon in 1984.

Implications Of Ebonyi Battle

INDICATIONS are all over the place that the 2015 election would be replete with violent exchanges. For PDP, the prospect of defeat is too dreadful to contemplate. Things are no longer what it used to be – possession of PDP ticket no longer translates to sure victory at the polls in the state. The contest for various positions would dominantly be a straight fight between PDP and Labour Party. PDP has itself to blame for self-inflicted wounds. “Some members of the State Working Committee of the PDP are suspended indefinitely without fair hearing. The campaign materials from the Presidential Campaign Office, which are meant to be disbursed by the State Governor/Coordinator of the Presidential campaign for the state are diverted and utilized without the knowledge of the Governor. The N80 million given to Ambassador Ogbuewu, Deputy Director for the January 16 rally at Abakaliki was paid into his personal account, nothing has been heard of it till date,” a source alleged. 

  It is obvious that President Jonathan does not seem to be in control of the party structure, or that if decisions are taken, his consent is over ridden. Or could it be that the President is also part of the hide-and-seek against Elechi? What if the President is merely keeping quiet so as not to upset things and succeed in his second term ambition? Would the backlash not mare the chances of the party and that of the Presidency? 

  Governor Elechi raised salient issues about the effect of the intrigues on the party’s prospects. His words: “If as a result of the foregoing atrocities, the electoral fortune of the President plummets, who should be held responsible, Martin Elechi or Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, (the SGF)? If the bank account of local governments is frozen by the EFCC, such that the January 2015 salaries of workers are not paid in what is the most difficult month of the year, how will the family members and dependents of such workers, vote in the next elections? If senior government functionaries like commissioners, permanent secretaries, Accountant-General, council chairmen become the object of weekly pilgrimage to the EFCC and ICPC to their anguish and consternation, how are they expected to vote? If innocent people are shot at, unproved or arrested and stabbed to death in broad daylight by agents of a known political party, how are their surviving relatives expected to vote? If party faithful who have been loyal to the party for a long time are ignored and a ministerial appointment is given to a decampee of the party, whose atrocities while in opposition were such that he was denied re-admittance into PDP, how are the party faithful expected to react? How are the communities and families whose property were burnt, whose relatives were either killed or maimed, react to the elevation of criminals? These are some of the burning questions that all lovers of PDP must look for answers to?” 

  Despite Elechi’s pain over the ugly treatment meted out to him in PDP he declared: “We in Ebonyi State are pro-Goodluck Jonathan because, he is a naturally good person, has proved beyond doubt that he can wedge the destiny of Nigeria to its highest destination and because the process of his emergence was both transparent and in full compliance with the electoral guidelines, constitutional and party’s requirements. We cannot say the same of every PDP candidate, some of who emerged through fetish administration of oath and financial inducement. All political parties have an obligation to aspire to higher moral levels in order to attract followership and membership through justice, fair-play, rather than suppression of rights, intimidation and humiliation with unbridled arrogance.”     

Impeachment, Constitutional Bottlenecks:

    THE attempt to impeach Governor Elechi threw up not a few constitutional issues. For instance, could an impeachment notice be served by less than two thirds of the total members of the State House of Assembly? If going by the argument of the pro-impeachment lawmakers that having declared the seats of four members vacant, the correct interpretation of two thirds of the 24- member legislature is now translates to 12 (two thirds of eighteen), was that the intendment of the constitution? Could be that that fifteen members that signed the impeachment motion merely obliged the sponsors in order to benefit from the N25 million largesse, knowing that the impeachment kite was dead on arrival? Better still, knowing the socio-cultural tendency in the state, is it plausible that legislators from the old Abakaliki bloc or Umu-Ekumenyi would consent to sack their kin barely two months to the end of his tenure? What if indeed the statement that Umahi is being encouraged to pay tuition fees for political tutelage holds true, does that assuage the psychology trauma the impeachment brouhaha elicited? Did the gamble pay off? More than anything the attempt to impeach Elechi, whether real or contrived to extort financial advantage succeeded in welding a we-feeling among the old Abakaliki bloc.

   But the position of the pro-Elechi lawmakers brought the dicey situation into great relief. The group of nine legislators described the moves to sack the Governor from office as an exercise in futility, stressing that the House did not constitute two-third majority as required by the Constitution to impeach the Governor. Speaking on behalf of his colleagues in the G9, the member representing Afikpo South West, in the Assembly, Eni Uduma Chima, contended that 15 out of the 24 members of the Assembly that signed the impeachment notice did not constitute two-third of the membership. He said 16 members is the magic number for the purpose.

   Chima said that a motion for a resolution that a notice of allegations of gross misconduct purportedly made against the governor by fifteen members of the 24-member House lacks foundation. He asserted: “The said resolution was purportedly passed in clear contravention of Section 188 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended) which provides that; a motion of the House of Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of the House of Assembly.”

  The lawmaker noted that every desperate attempt and overtures were made to induce and intimidate the nine lawmakers into yielding, against the demand of justice and good conscience, to the plot. “We resolved that none of us (G9) should attempt to go to the House of Assembly complex to forestall a possible breakdown of law and order and to ensure the security of the lives of our people,” he added, alleging that the Speaker, Chukwuma Nwazunku and his cohorts had taken the attendance register of the House of Assembly to their principals in Abuja, for the purpose of cloning the signatures of members for their faction. Chima, disclosed that the declaration of six lawmakers’ seats vacant was a subject matter before the Federal High Court in Abakaliki, adding that the concerned lawmakers are seeking among other reliefs for an injunction restraining the defendants, the Speaker from declaring their seats vacant. His words: “The Speaker and the Independent National Electoral Commission being parties to the suit, were duly served with the originating processes and are represented in the matter. Instead of waiting on the court, Mr. Nwazunku and his cohorts preferred to vacate seats of Honorable members and sought to justify the purported vacation through paid Radio and Newspaper commentaries.”

PDP Elders Council

   HOWEVER, a member of PDP Elders Council, Ambassador Ogbuewu, while addressing a press conference stated that between August and November 2014, each member of the council participated in various meetings where Governor Elechi canvassed support for power shift from Ebonyi Central to South senatorial zone of the state. He said the Governor lacks the right to further back a candidate (Sir Edward Nkwegu) from the old Abakaliki bloc, which had already produced a governor for 16 years. Ogbuewu therefore concluded that Elechi’s decision to stay back in PDP was to manipulate the system in PDP, while the entire structures of his government and all the expenditure of that government go to the Labour party. The former Minister decried the attacks of the Governor on prominent sons of the state, especially the SGF, himself and former INEC Commissioner, Chief Fidelis Nwankwo, even as he called on Elechi to desist from statements capable of maligning, tarnishing or defaming law-abiding citizens whose interests he was elected to serve. However, for inexplicable reasons, Ogbuewu failed to address the issue of having N80 million presidential campaign fund, allegedly housed in his private bank account, when it was raised by journalists.

Protests, Solidarity Marches

   THE attempt to impeach Elechi sparked off a plethora of protest and solidarity marches in the state. At a mega solidarity rally in Abakaliki Township Stadium, speakers warned that any attempt to remove the Governor would snowball into a major crisis. Youth went a little further to demonstrate their feelings by displaying placards with various inscriptions. Earlier while addressing the protesters at Government House gate, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Boniface Chima, reminded those of voting age to protect their PVCs and use them as weapon to vote out bad politicians. He enjoined the youth to vote for a good leader who has the masses’ interest at heart even as he came down hard on politicians in the state who want to secure power at all costs for dishing out falsehood about government to misinform the people.

  They described the impeachment plot and burning down of the State House of Assembly as a threat to peace in the state and country and called on the National Assembly, Civil Liberties Organisations, international community and the Nigeria Bar Association to intervene on the matter. 

Alleged Impeachable Offences Against Elechi

   THE House of Assembly had accused Elechi of appointing 13 caretaker council chairmen and 28 Development Centre Coordinators without the approval of the House. The 15 legislators also alleged that the Governor appointed some members of boards, agencies and companies without prior approval of the Assembly as well as obtaining a loan of N3 billion on behalf of the state without House approval. Other allegation included; obtaining another loan of N6 billion from a commercial bank without the House’s approval; inflation of contract awarded to Labour Party gubernatorial flag bearer; and setting up of cement company with the governor’s son and other cronies as shareholders.  

Rapprochement

    PRESIDENT Jonathan is billed to visit the state today in continuation of the re-conciliatory efforts. It is left to be seen what would come out of the fence-mending.



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