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2023: Southeast APC moves to deepen party in the zone

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Last Thursday, the sleepy Uburu community in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and country home of Science and Technology Minister, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, came alive as stakeholders in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Southeast zone met in what was regarded as an attempt to deepen the presence of the party in the zone ahead of 2023 elections.

Last year APC lost Imo State, the only state it controlled in the region, to the opposition People Democratic Party (PDP) during the general elections. Three other states, including Abịa, Ebonyi, and Enugu are also controlled by PDP while Anambra is controlled by All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

Although the event hosted by Onu was not the first time the leaders were meeting at the same venue, having met before the general elections last year, this one, however, became even more urgent because it provided opportunity for them to review progress made so far and how to tinker a direction for the party in the zone. It further provided a platform to discuss other challenges facing the party in the various state chapters and seek ways to address them.

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The meeting indeed charted a way forward for the party in the zone as it endorsed Onu as its leader in the zone. That position never existed in the zone since the formation of the party. Onu, who is widely seen as a bridge-builder, has led the struggle for peace and unity in the party.

To kick-start the fence-mending process of the party after the 2019 general elections, Onu had on December 23, last year, met with leaders of the party at its Enugu State Secretariat, where he challenged them to sustain the support for the party at all levels. He had stressed the need for unity and forgiveness, appealing to those who were aggrieved at the outcome of the primaries of the party to forgive and return to the fold to enable the party forge ahead.

He had sounded in clear terms that the ingredients that would at all times make politics thick and interesting were the disagreements that could breed discordant tunes, but quickly added that the ability to realign for the greater good was paramount for the survival of the party and democracy. The minister had told the gathering why APC should be the delight the people of the zone, insisting that the party had come to stay and would attempt to win three states in the zone in the 2023 general elections.

Although he agreed that the zone was alone in not producing an APC governor, he, however, stated that he was confident the party would do well in 2023 going by the outcome of the 2019 elections where the zone gave more votes to Buhari than it did in 2015 elections

He said: “We are the only zone without a governor elected on the platform of APC. Is that right? Is that correct? Is it what we want? So, we want a change. We have our best people representing us and the national working committee of our great party will be giving us good leadership.

“We believe strongly that by 2023, we should be aiming at a minimum of three governors elected on the platform of APC in the Southeast. We will have the majority of the seats in the National Assembly coming from the Southeast.

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“We will also have the majority of the seats in the Houses of Assembly in our various states so that we will produce a minimum of three speakers.”

He stated that the percentage of the votes the party received in the last elections indicated that the zone ranked the highest among other zones of the country, stressing that, “this signal is reassuring and is telling all those who can look deep into matters that there is the potential for the Southeast to turn around and be the base of APC in the future”.

The former Abia governor noted that the level of infrastructural improvement in the zone under Buhari which was hitherto abandoned by the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) despite the support they got throughout its 16 years was a factor that the party could leverage upon.

“There are so many things the Buhari regime has achieved, but our people know little or nothing about them,” he said. “Think of the Enugu International Airport that the president released N10 billion for its repair. We may not know the importance of this project until it is fully completed. The minister of aviation has given us his word that by Easter the airport will be up and running. This will boost the economy of the Southeast, among other benefits.

“Think about the Second Niger Bridge. The president said he is not going to play politics with that project as the PDP government did in 16 years.”

The minister also noted that the administration had accorded honour to two of the zone’s illustrious sons and leaders – the late Nnamdi Azikiwe and the late Alex Ekwueme, in recognition of their contributions to the growth of Nigeria, saying such feat should not be forgotten in a hurry.

Nevertheless, the gathering was of the belief that the party could have done better than it did in the 2019 but for rancour, factions and campaigns of calumny among others that played up in the various states before the elections. At a post-election meeting in Enugu early last year, one of its members and Senator representing Abia North (but now in prison), Orji Uzo Kalu, had alluded to how the crisis affected the performance of the party in the election and called for a probe into the role played by some of its the leaders in the zone during the elections.

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He had alleged that some party leaders in the zone compromised the process and wondered how the party could not secure more votes than it did in the elections with the caliber of politicians in its fold.

Kalu had specifically referred to the bargain for 25 per cent votes for President Muhammadu Buhari, when, according to him, “he should have garnered more”, stressing that, “our leaders willingly gave themselves out for the sake of money”.

Prior to his call, some members of the Ebonyi State chapter, who were candidates in the election, raised similar sentiments attributing it to why they lost the state to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

At a post-election press briefing in Enugu, the candidates had asked the national leadership to probe the role of their leaders in the exercise in the state. They also sought sanctions for party officials and federal appointees from the state, who did little or nothing to ensure APC succeeded in the election.

Led by the senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South Constituency, Onu Nweze, who incidentally is the younger brother of the minister, Onu, they insisted that internal sabotage by APC’s party leaders within and outside the state worked against their chances of victory. They alleged that some of them openly worked for PDP and were used as mole to divulge strategies and scuttle the chances of the party in the election.

While comparing the role of their leaders with those of the Southwest, they had argued: “It is public knowledge that APC national leader, who is from the Southwest, Bola Tinubu, along with cabinet members and other party leaders, played major roles that led to APC’s success in their zone. In the South-South, Rotimi Amaechi’s impact cannot be overstretched. Lai Mohammed led the liberation of Kwara State in the North Central. We are constrained to ask where our leaders, including Ogbonnaya Onu, were present throughout the struggle to liberate the state during the election.

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“APC won nothing in the state. Those who wanted to challenge the elections in court were discouraged from doing so. Chinedu Ogar, the candidate in the election, who refused to submit to the circumstance, took the initiative to challenge the “victory” of PDP’s Lazarus Ogbee at Ezza/Ikwo Federal Constituency election. He had his mandate restored and remains the only APC member that emerged from the election in the state.

“In Enugu State, sentiments that set in during the conduct of the March 2018 Congress have subsisted. Some members, acting on a prepared script, had invaded the Nnamdi Azikiwe venue of the exercise with thugs and disrupted its smooth conduct.

Delegates were chased away. Their agenda was to install a factional chairman and ensure the party did not win an election in 2019. And when the delegates had scampered to safety, they returned to announce Okay Ogbodo, who was not known to the party the new ‘chairman’. With Ogbodo, acting the script of those, who installed him, the party in the state continued to play at cross-purposes with the validly elected state leadership of Ben Nwoye.”

The divisions in the party reached a crescendo during the primaries for the 2019 elections. Each faction presented candidates for the various positions. While Sen. Ayogu Eze emerged from the Nwoye faction as the governorship candidate that had the endorsement of the national leadership of the party, George Ogara emerged from Ogbodo’s faction without the endorsement of the national leadership.

He (Ogara) resorted to legal tactics and used every legal means at his disposal to ensure that the programmes and strategies the party planned in the election were distorted and that Eze never had a smooth sail. A few weeks to the election, he had secured a controversial ruling that asked the party to substitute Ayogu Eze’s name on the ballot paper with his as the rightful governorship candidate in the state. Emboldened by the ruling, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which had earlier published Eze as the party’s candidate, had erased the same and waited for the submission of Ogara’s name by the party.

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The order of the court dealt rude blows on Eze’s campaign programmes. The campaign did not progress as planned and the court order was never vacated until a few days to the election. The vacation notwithstanding, restoring Eze’s name on the ballot as the party’s rightful candidate was never implemented by INEC despite threats from the party until the election was over. APC had gone into the election without any candidate’s name affixed to it on the ballot paper.

Eze attempted to go to court to challenge the outcome of the election, especially the omission of his name from the list by INEC. Whatever made him drop the move is still not public knowledge. The crisis also snow-balled to Enugu West Senatorial zone, after the national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, made a phone call to stop a smooth primary at the UNEC Stadium, where Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu was coasting to victory.

A few days after the annulment of the exercise, a presidential aide, Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku, was ‘awarded’ the ticket. Okechukwu had protested. His effort to recover the ticket and get the party play by its rules earned him a suspension and he resorted to verbal attacks on Oshimhole. This dampened his spirit in the election. The crisis did not help the party in Enugu State. Residents who thought it would be tough for PDP was disappointed that the election became the easiest so far for PDP with its candidate polling over 97 per cent of the votes cast.

Imo State almost became a theatre of war over who gets what in the party’s primary. Two factions emerged from the state chapter. Okorocha controlled one while the national leadership controlled the other. Tickets were issued according to the dictates of the national leadership. Okorocha wanted to call the shots. His preferred candidate for the governorship slot and his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, did not sail through. He took him to another party and began campaigning for him abandoning APC. The interplay of forces did not help matters and in the end, APC lost the state to PDP. Like Okechukwu, Okorocha was also suspended.

In Abia, the party failed to muster enough political will to oust the PDP, despite various boasts by Orji Uzo Kalu, who, of course, hails from the state. His presence failed to bolster the chances of the party in the zone. It managed to secure the senatorial seat of Abia North and House of Representative seats for Umunneochi/Isuikwuato and Bende/Ohoafia Federal Constituencies.

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The story was the same in Anambra State, where the party ended up in the list of “those that equally ran”. It made no appreciable impact despite the permutations that took place before the elections.

Drawing reference to the challenges in the five states, Onu simply told the gathering: “I will like to appeal to all our members in the Southeast, please no matter how the party offended you, no matter what any person may have done against you, please try and forgive. We no longer want to have factions; we have seen that in Nigeria, APC is the governing party and this party is very strong and will keep governing Nigeria for a long time to come”.

A chieftain of the party, Mr. Jerry Igwe, told The Guardian: “I think this meeting should be a continuous one because we are making progress. The results have been positive. We are trying to deepen our strength and acceptance in the zone as well as find ways to heal wounds inflicted on members during the last elections. The state chapters should work in unity not in factions to achieve the best results. We expect that we will be better positioned in the zone in the months ahead”.

Former governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, had also expressed confidence in the ability of the party to turn around things in 2023 in the zone with the modest achievements of Buhari.

He had said: “PDP is taking glory for the achievements of the APC government. Something they could not do in 16 years; now those things is being done and they are now posing as if they are the ones doing them. We need to create a lot of awareness to let our people know what is going on”.

Igwe said the initial crisis in the party was expected and meant to strengthen and deepen its acceptability, stressing that the APC had come to stay.

Also at the meeting were the National Vice Chairman (Southeast), Chief Emma Eneukwu, Senator Ayogu Eze, Chief George Muoghalu, Ambassador Fidel Ayogu, and Chief Mark Wabara, among many others.

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