Abe moves to resolve Rivers’ APC maze of conflicts
After months of being mired in conflicts, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State appears set to defuse tension to pave way for a unified party ahead of 2019 elections.
The reconciliation move was at the instance of Senator Magnus Abe, whose governorship ambition has estranged his once cordial relationship with some party leaders in the state and Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi.
Their faceoff had become a simmering pot waiting to explode and most likely in APC leaders’ face.
Since Abe’s reelection into the Senate in the fiercely contested Rivers State legislative rerun in December 2016, tension had heightened in the party, leaving it fragmented, as a result of Amaechi’s unconcealed resistance to Abe’s governorship ambition.
During an expanded stakeholders’ meeting of APC in Port Harcourt, Abe had called to deliberate on President Muhammadu Buhari’s stand on the constitutional issue of elected party officials, announced the setting up of a reconciliation committee headed by Senator Wilson Ake.
The committee was to find common ground between factions in the party ahead of 2019 general elections. It is noteworthy to state that the meeting was not attended by state party executive.
The Guardian gathered from Abe’s group that the reconciliation committee is expected to talk to APC’s prospective governorship aspirants, including the Director General of Nigerian Maritime administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside and Mr. Dumo Lulu-Briggs, among others, for the purpose of rancour free primary.
Others are younger members of the party, who often take to the social media, making provocative statements and attacking Amaechi, Peterside, state party chairman, Davies Ikanya, Lulu-Briggs, and party secretary, Emeka Bekee.
Senator Ake told The Guardian that irrespective of the seeds of distrust planted in the APC and nurtured by a string of full-fledged intrigues with roots, the committee is determined to explore internal mechanisms for reconciliation, bearing in mind that their real opponent ought to be Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He said: “In democracy, the more the merrier. So, every effort you can make to get all the people to be on your side is always a welcome development.
“I believe that everybody that has been involved in APC activities should all be inclusive. We have no intention to shut anybody out and because we have struggled along together to fight for APC. So, every reason to bring everybody together should be exploited to ensure everybody is carried along, to ensure we deliver Rivers State from PDP.”
APC publicity secretary, Chris Finebone, told The Guardian that though the party executive remains uncomfortable with the term reconciliation, in politics and diplomacy it is uncharitable not to respond to an olive branch.
“If the word reconciliation is loosely used, it is okay. But if we go into the deeper meaning of reconciliation, it will amount to agreeing that there was a major crisis.
There was none. It was just people pursuing their agenda the way they deemed fit, which was not in tandem with the way leadership would have wanted it.
I can assure you that whether it is Senator Magnus Abe, Senator Wilson Ake or anybody, the party is ready to sit and look at issues. That is the party’s position,” he said.
Finebone said crisis in the party was triggered by some persons’ refusal to adhere to Amaechi’s admonition that all those who have political ambition should delay pursuing it openly because it may lead to fragmentation, especially considering the maze of conflict that engulfed the party immediately after 2015 elections and rerun elections.
He said: “It was the leaders’ belief, especially party leaders, that people should not be coming in pursuit of offices they want. Rather, people should discard that and come out to join hands to build the party.
That was his vision and often times, we must defer to leaders’ vision, because very many times, they see beyond followers. But, there were also individuals within the party, who felt there was nothing really wrong and they made very cogent argument that it didn’t matter, that the process of expressing one’s interest and pursuing it is also part of party building.
It became bone of contention. I think while all those things played out, a number of persons on both sides got uncomfortable. It is that discomfort we believe all of us can sit down to sort out.”
Though the tension in the party appears to have been suppressed, but it is not eliminated. Political observers are skeptical that the reconciliation move might achieve the desired result because mutual suspicion still runs deep.
A political analyst, Kelly Osai, explained that if the reconciliation is embraced by all the gladiators to bring about a more level-playing field in APC, it will likely spell changes for Rivers’ political configurations and dynamics.
He, however, warned that if stakeholders fail to cut the umbilical cord and relentless appetite of imposition of candidates, by ensuring transparent participation of all candidates, who possess ability to win election, they would have, of their own volition, sealed the party’s fate and allowed Governor Nyesom Wike a second term on a platter of gold.
He said: “Despite the façade of reconciliation, beneath the veneer of APC is distrust, division and lack of internal democracy, which has torn the party apart. One of the most prevalent fallacies you keep hearing is that there is no crisis in APC.
I strongly feel that multifaceted political conundrum cannot be resolved without adherence to tenets of internal democracy.
Some of us have questioned neutrality of the party’s state executive, which has been overtly loyal to Amaechi, who has repeatedly sworn to thwart Abe’s aspiration. I fear that a party leadership that submits to whims and fancies will undermine the current efforts at reconciliation.”
Another political observer, Ms. Christy Nweke, explained that the planned ward congress is likely to complicate or even derail the reconciliation efforts in the coming weeks because hawks in the party will use the opportunity to shut the doors in the face of those perceived to be against the minister’s succession plan.
In her view, if all contentious issues are not thoroughly negotiated and reconciled before ward congresses, any other attempt to piece them together would have been in vain.
“It will be naïve of anyone to assume that the reconciliation would easily enable APC to close the door in the face of enemies and rivals of the party, who may try to take advantage of disputes between Amaechi and Abe, if the two former allies fail to allow trust to be cultivated.
If the party fails to promote the rule of law, then the reconciliation will just be a superficial process.
I also think those on both sides of the divide in APC need to be on the look out for bats of darkness. I mean those whose interests would be impaired by the reconciliation, may try to sabotage it,” she said.
A political commentator, Obi Simeon, said all concerned must ensure that the created atmosphere for reconciliation is utilised. He explained that in the weeks ahead, it would be incumbent on APC leaders to put personal agendas aside and take steps to heal the party.
Otherwise, the proactive reconciliation proposal could nonetheless be elusive.
“Rivers State desperately needs leadership, whose vision, strategy, sagacity and willingness to sacrifice for the common good will heal wounds. The seeds of animosity planted in the APC must be scorched, if it wants to make impact in 2019. Rivers people will not support any divided party.
So, it is in their interest not to squander the prospect of reconciliation. The APC must open its eyes and see it is as a threat to its existence in Rivers State,” he said.
The PDP, which APC wants to wrest power from, has remained cohesive and is already reaping from the disunity in the opposition.
Just last month, some APC members led by the APC lawmaker representing Tai State Constituency in Rivers State House of Assembly, Matthew Dike, defected to the PDP.
It is anticipated that the lawmaker representing Tai/Eleme/Oyigbo Federal Constituency, Barry Mpigi, might join the ongoing exodus of their members into PDP.
Ake stressed that the reconciliation effort’s real goal is to form a united political bloc to wrest power from Governor Wike. He dismissed insinuation that Abe’s extension of the olive branch stems from realisation that he needs Amaechi’s support to defeat Wike in the event that he gets the party ticket.
He said: “If the minister were to cast his vote for somebody, he will not do so for two persons. He can only cast for one person. So, if he prefers somebody else to Magnus, he has one vote and everybody following him all have their votes. He cannot vote for everybody.
Everybody will vote for himself or herself. I think he has a right to choose whom he wants to support and vote for, as every other person has the same right, which is the beauty of democracy.
“Beside coming from the senatorial district, where all of us believe should produce the governor of Rivers State at this point, he has demonstrated in previous elections that he has capacity to fight for an election.
Presently, we can say his senatorial district is the face of APC, as it stands in Rivers State. Putting all factors together, he is the most appropriate person APC can use to win forthcoming election.
If Abe wins the primary, I assure you that the dynamics of Rivers State politics will automatically, change and you will see the mass movement and massive support he will enjoy.
PDP knows that once Abe becomes APC candidate, they have an uphill task before them. As long as he is working hard, I believe Abe is the candidate to beat.”