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2023: Enugu PDP, LP, APC, APGA encumbered by litigation, internal rifts

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
02 December 2022   |   4:20 am
The countdown to the 2023 governorship election in Enugu State seems not to be rosy at all for participating top political parties. Although the governorship campaigns have intensified to woo support for parties’ candidates, there are strong signs however, that litigation over rightful candidates, crisis within the parties and individual differences have effectively reared their…

Edeoga

The countdown to the 2023 governorship election in Enugu State seems not to be rosy at all for participating top political parties. Although the governorship campaigns have intensified to woo support for parties’ candidates, there are strong signs however, that litigation over rightful candidates, crisis within the parties and individual differences have effectively reared their heads to mar fortunes of the parties in the election.

Hit by this ugly development are the frontline parties ­– the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); the Labour Party (LP); the All Progressives Congress (APC); as well as the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).

Since the primaries that produced him were concluded and campaigns were flagged off, the technocrat and governorship candidate of the PDP, Dr Peter Ndubuisi Mbah has not hidden his desires to govern the state and retain the seat of power, which has been in the control of his party since 1999. So far, Mbah has launched the loudest and largest campaigns in the state.

Banking on the PDP-led state government; he has gone about his desires with so much dexterity. No day passed without his being mentioned somewhere, even as his supporters have kept the airwaves abuzz on why he remains the best person to take over from incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

In the streets, campaign posters and billboards bearing his messages are coined in phrases such as, “Tomorrow is here”. Mbah’s campaigns are glamorous and being preached everywhere. He has also continued to employ all in his kitty to win admirers, including dispensing petrol at the regulated price of N185 per litre to residents at his Pinnacle Oil and Gas stations located in the state. While petrol is sold at N250 per litre in the state, Mbah’s Pinnacle Oil and Gas stations have refused to increase price. As such, the fuel stations have become mecca of a sort as several vehicles and jerry cans line up daily to buy at the regulated price.

These notwithstanding, a major obstacle facing Mbah’s aspiration at the moment is the suit filed in court by the Action Democratic Alliance (ADA) Senatorial candidate for Enugu North Senatorial District, Comrade Chika Emmanuel Idoko, seeking disqualification of all candidates of the PDP in the elections for alleged violation of electoral act.

Listed as respondents in the suit, No FHC/EN/CS/217/22 are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and its candidates for the elections in Enugu State.  

Idoko had alleged that the PDP violated provisions of the Electoral Act, which prescribes a minimum number of days of notice before conducting the party primaries that produced the candidates that it submitted to INEC ahead of the 2023 elections, and thus should be prevented by the Court from taking part in the elections.

He had sought a declaration that “by the interpretations of the express provisions of Sections 82(5) and 84(13) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the failure of the 2nd defendant (PDP) to submit the register of members 30 days to the primary election to the INEC as statutorily required renders the 2nd defendant’s primary election for nomination of the 3rd to 38th Defendants as candidates for Governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly in Enugu State for the 2023 General Election held on 21st, 22nd, 24th and 23 and 25th May 2022 invalid.”

Other prayers before the Court by the Plaintiffs include a “declaration that by the interpretation of the express provisions of Section 84 (13) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the 1″ defendant is under a duty not to include the 3rd to 38th defendants as Candidates of the 2nd defendant for Governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly in Enugu State for the 2023 General Election.”

Last week, a curious twist was introduced into the matter when the Labour Party indicated interest to become a party in the suit. Labour party’s motion for joinder, according to court filings made on its behalf by Messrs Chukwudei Igwe, Emeka Abba, Helen Ugwu, and Oluseyi Adegbejo, was brought pursuant to Order 26 Rules 1 & 2, Order 9 rule 14 (2) (b) of the Federal High Court of Nigeria (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019 and averred that as a political party, Labour Party is an interested party in the suit, being a political party with interest in the elections.

The development is eliciting interest in view of its attendant implications. If the claims are anything to go by, it would likely deal a great blow in the impressive campaigns the party has had so far, as well as put a stop further reign of the PDP in the state. But the ruling party appears unruffled, as if such irritations are normal and would soon fizzle.

Of other worry is the composition of the campaign team with members who have been around government since 1999. Sources within the party have continued to query the rationale behind the selection of members of the team, most of who have served in almost every administration produced in the state.

A former National Auditor of the party, Chief Ray Nnaji had recently raised concern on the choice of the Director General of the campaign, who he said had served government since 1999 and was at different times, campaign director general. Others, he added were members who served in the administration of former governor Chimaroke Nnamani as commissioners and have been in government since then, stressing “what it means is that should the PDP win in 2023, they will be rewarded with government appointments that will enable them remain in the corridors of power. It is not a good development at all and does not guarantee progress. What else are they going to contribute than drawing the government backwards? Most members of our party are not happy with this development”.

FOR the Labour Party in the state, permutations had favoured it to become an alternative political platform after the primaries of the PDP that generated discontent among members. However, the confusion that set in over those who should fly the flag of the party has continued to hunt it and distort its activities.

The turbulence in the party came to a head last week when the federal high court annulled the primary that produced Chief Chijioke Edeoga as the governorship candidate in the state.  The court had asked the INEC to conduct fresh governorship primary in the state within 14 days from the date of the ruling.

The decision of the court followed a suit by Chief Everistus Nnaji. Nnaji, like Edeoga had earlier lost the governorship primary of the PDP to Mbah. He had however, dragged the Labour party and INEC to court claiming that the primary that produced Edeoga should be annulled because it did not follow due process. He specifically said that he was sidelined from the exercise after he had bought the nomination and expression of interest forms, alleging further that, the party had committed to making him a sole candidate for the election in the state.

The party primary in question was a repeat primary conducted on August 4, 2022 in Enugu, after the place holder who is also the state chairman of the party, Chief Casmir Agbo had withdrawn from the race and had committed in writing that he was doing so to enable Edeoga become the candidate. It was a primary witnessed by the INEC and national officials of the party.

Since the ruling of the court, election campaigns of the party led by Edeoga have scaled down as more efforts and resources are now geared in upturning the judgment at appeal. Although the party leadership has insisted that Edeoga remains the candidate and has supported the appeal against the directive for fresh primary, the development is widening divisions in the party, as sound bites from the Evaristus Nnaji group has continued to unsettle and confuse members in the state.

Earlier in the week, Nnaji had flooded the streets with his campaign billboards and posters claiming to be the rightful governorship candidate of the party in the election. His supporters have continued to sponsor articles on why the party should have consented to fresh governorship primary as directed by the court than opt for appeal. They have continued to dismiss Edeoga as unfit for the job,

Supporters of Edeoga have denounced this, through Titus Onuora Odo, who is referred to as “State Publicity Director” of the party. He had dismissed Nnaji, saying he is not a member of the party and is an “impostor”. He had reaffirmed confidence in Edeoga, stressing that the case at the Court of Appeal would restore his ticket for the Labour Party in the state.

But responding to the Odo in a statement he signed as “State Publicity Secretary” of the party on November 30, 2022, and made available to The Guardian, Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike, faulted his position as misleading.  Ezike, who has apparently crossed over to the camp of Nnaji while trying to justify his (Nnaji) actions had insisted that “it sounds absolutely retrogressive and misleading to regard a man who has gone to court to see redress against perceived injustice and infringement of his rights as a party member and won as not a member of the Labour Party”.

He added: “For the avoidance of doubt therefore, Capt. Evarest Nnaji, rtd is a full-fledged and respected member of our party with all the rights to aspire to become our party’s governorship candidate like any other qualified Party member. It is important for us to always try as much as possible to make our utterances as civilised citizens of Nigeria not minding our individual interests. It is also very important that we don’t allow people who are not qualified to speak on behalf of the party to do so and continue to bring the party to ridicule. God gives power. We do not know who God would eventually ordain as our flag bearer.

“Therefore, we should avoid throwing stones against the glass houses or into the crowd or pull down the house in case we turn out to become the occupants of the house. If we make uncomplimentary remarks against persons who are assets to the party, if we war and kill our personalities at this stage, how could we come together to work as a team to achieve maximum success at the polls in 2023 when one of us emerges as the candidate?  
 
He continued: “Let me inform all and sundry, that the national leadership of the party is making efforts to resolve all issues and arrive at a legitimate option or process that will guarantee peace, unity and victory for all at last. The Enugu State Labour Party has implicit confidence in our national leaders, especially in their tireless efforts to amicably resolve the matter and bring all parties to a peaceful table. As we await further directives from Abuja, we urge all our members and supporters to remain calm and be working hard for victory come 2023”.
 
Before the court order that put a question mark on his candidature, Edeoga had provided the trappings that put the PDP on their toes for campaigns and run for their money. His choice of running mate and campaign strategies provided an obligation, which other parties have continued to fight hard to defray.

IN the All Progressives Congress (APC), the governorship candidate, Chief Uche Nnaji is still struggling to be accepted by members of the party. No thanks to the governorship primary, which did not make room for any other member of the party to contest. Most members of the party still see him as an “imposition” and would not commit their time and resources for his success in the election.
 
He is seen as an offshoot of the state leadership of Chief Ugochukwu Agballah. Agballah since emergence has remained at loggerheads with the party’s foundation members who have refused to accept him as their boss in the state.  These members are more disposed to working for the party’s presidential candidate or other parties, than the governorship candidate of APC in Enugu State.

A few days ago, the party had listed some of its leaders in the state including Comrade AC Ude, El-Aja and Group Capt Joe Orji as allegedly working for the PDP campaign team, stressing that “it is now evidently clear that the activities of these men have all been geared towards destabilizing APC as a strong party in Enugu State”

 
Apart from attending the Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry Mines and Agriculture (ECCIMA) for Business and Professional Association (ECOBA), where he spoke about his intentions if elected governor, Nnaji is yet to unfold his manifesto to the public like the four other front line runners in the election including PDP, Labour Party and APGA have done; a development that has been attributed to the rift that has become the lot of the party in the state.
 
The APGA may not have been well accepted in Enugu State. Although there are no squabbles within its fold over the governorship candidature of the former Minister, Chief Frank Nweke jr, however, those who contested the primary ticket of the party with him have moved their support base to other candidates in other parties.
 
Nweke has continued to intensify his campaigns and has seized every opportunity to insist that he remains the best candidate for the number one job in the state in 2023, however, issue of rightful leadership at the national level between Edozie Njoku and Victor Oye has continued to impact the party negatively.
 
Njoku was not in the picture when Nweke emerged as governorship candidate. But on the day he visited Enugu to receive the founding National Chairman of the party, Chief Chekwas Okorie back to the fold; the members who had gathered at a different location had resorted to protest and solidarity with Oye as the authentic national chairman of the party.
 
As it is, how these parties deal with their individual issues will greatly impact the success of their governorship contestants in the 2023 elections in the state.