APC Kogi: Yet no bridges across the divides
• Faction Blames National Leadership, Oyegun For Protracted Crisis
Unless the recently inaugurated reconciliation committee saddled with uniting the different camps of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kogi State, lives up to its charge, the protracted crisis that had set that state chapter against itself since taking over power in the state in 2016, could linger in the confluence state beyond this term.
The APC caused an upset in Kogi State on November 15, 2016, when it defeated the PDP after 13 years rule. But despite that victory there has never been a moment of respite for the party.
Then APC governorship candidate, Abubakar Audu, while certainly coasting to victory against incumbent Governor Idris Wada of the APC, had died moments before the final collation of the results. Audu’s running mate, Hon James Faleke’s bid to be declared winner of the election met a stonewall as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the process inconclusive. Backed by the APC-led Federal Government, Yahaya Bello, runners-up in the APC primaries was drafted in to replace Audu in the supplementary election, which was tantamount to a mere ratification of victory for the APC and Bello. The protracted litigation that followed all ended at the Supreme Court in favour of Bello.
But the apex court’s decision also signaled doom in Kogi State APC, as peace took flight. There were no bridge across the divides and the in-house opposition in APC is second to none in the history of Nigeria, in the words of the zonal chairman of the party, Kogi West Senatorial District, Chief Lawrence Gbenga Asagun.
As it were, the governor is up in arms against the state executives of the party, 16 out of 21 local government party chairmen, the lone APC senator, Dino Melaiye and Faleke.
While the Faleke/Dino camp holds firmly to the soul of the party, Bello controls power. Both camps have maximized their influences to the detriment of their party and governance. The legislative arm of government has not been spared as a result of the division. Consequently, the state House of Assembly has witnessed a change of leadership three times in less than two years of the administration.
Together, the anti-Bello camps in APC forged a common front in the opposition within and have questioned the administration’s commitment to the supremacy of the party and the welfare of civil servants. They have been more vociferous in their opposition than other political associations.
In the wake of the irreconcilable differences in APC, the PDP, which seemed to have withdrawn to it’s cocoon since its defeat at the 2015 polls has regained its voice. Capitalizing on the division in the ruling party amid unabated allegations of non-payment of salaries and pensions running into several months, championed mainly by aggrieved APC stalwarts, the PDP had at a well attended meeting of stakeholders held in Lokoja appealed to it’s members who left for APC on the heels of the 2015 polls to return “home.”
A frontline PDP leader in the state, Senator Tunde Ogbeha, who hosted the PDP stakeholders meeting, described the sojourn of the defectors to APC as fruitless. He made a mockery of the APC saying; “ those who decamped thought they were decamping to the APC for greener pastures, but have found themselves in the desert, with nothing to eat or celebrate. They are just suffering, we are anxious to take them back and we can assure them that there would be comfort in PDP.”
He described the APC government in the state as a total failure, stressing that the people, especially civil servants and pensioners, have suffered untold hardship and job loses as a result of unending screening exercise and lack of political will to pilot the affairs of the state. According to him, it is a misnomer to keep public servants and pensioners who have served the state meritoriously starved for several months without salaries and pensions, using the screening exercises as face saving measure.
Awakened by the reality of a reinvigorated Kogi PDP, APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, on Monday set up a seven-man reconciliation committee to mediate between the principal factions in the state chapter.
Chaired by Idris Garba, with the party’s Deputy National Secretary, Victor Giadom, as the secretary, other members of the panel included Don Etiebet, Patricia Etteh, Rufai Garba, Umar Lawan Kareto, and Joe Orji.
Speaking during the inauguration ceremony at the APC National Secretariat, Abuja, Odigie-Oyegun said the party’s leadership wanted peace and settlement in its Kogi State chapter, noting that they were ready to give every possible opportunity for a settlement.
His words: “What triggered the events in Kogi was very tragic in their nature. So for us as a party, we are bending over backwards to say, ‘yes we understand your feelings. We understand what you have been through, we understand the work that you have put in to get the APC elected; we understand also that God who disposes of power, brought somebody at the last minute to be the beneficiary of all the work and labour that everybody obviously has put in. So we are bending over backwards and we have assembled this very top-level team so that those on the ground there will see that we mean everything we say when we say ‘we want peace in Kogi state.’ So your responsibility is a very great one.
“Fortunately, we had a fact-finding committee that has done a lot of the basic work and submitted a report, which will be made available to the reconciliation committee. We know the principal parties in the various groups in Kogi; we know what their grievances are.
“So the issue now is really to call just the principal groups and say look, this has to stop, how do we go about it? The governor of course will be there to say his piece and give you all the assistance necessary to make your task successful.
“We want peace in Kogi State; events there have been very unusual but like I said, given the emotive nature of the event that led to it, we have decided to stretch the opportunities for reaching peace.”
This is coming months after the Tony Momoh-led fact-finding panel turned in its report and recommendations. The warring factions have welcomed the development.
Reacting, Asagun, who spoke exclusively to The Guardian on behalf of the APC state exco in Lokoja said the latest peace move was long over due.
“That is what we expected the national leadership to have done a long time but they kept tarrying for one reason or another until it has affected the base of the party. As far as I am concerned, we have discussed it with the state chairman; it is a very good thing for APC in Kogi State. At least we can sit down and talk and see how it goes. Some people are skeptical about it due to the complicity of the national leadership in the past. A fact finding committee was set up five months ago but we did not hear anything about it anymore but it is a good thing they have done something, eventually, we cannot preempt them for the fact it has been left for too long, it is better late than never. We don’t know what is on their minds but we don’t want the APC that we struggled to build in Kogi State to die just like that. So we will participate in the reconciliation and see what happens after. I hope we achieve the best after the exercise.”
Asked to comment on the atmosphere in Kogi APC, the deputy chairman continued: “Everyone knows that Kogi APC is not one like when we went into election in 2015. Governor Yahaya Bello came into office and decided to marginalize about 95 percent of those who formed the party and those who worked for the victory of the party, including the state and local government executives, before the mandate was gifted him on a platter of gold.”
Against the backdrop of the reported disappearance of the APC state chairman, Haddy Ametuo into the thin air and that he is nowhere to be found, Asagun said the chairman was not on the run. “He is only fearing for his life because he needs to be careful. Sometimes he is in Abuja, sometimes, he is in Okene. The situation is so tensed up to the point that none of us can go to the Secretariat again because you never can tell what this government can do. You can be intimidated, you can be harassed and you can be attacked at anytime. In the history of Nigeria’s politics, we have never witnessed this type of marginalization and intra-party opposition within the state chapter of a political party. Even in PDP that we were before, things were not this bad, there was respect for party supremacy. After a victory has been achieved after an election PDP will do what we called basketting. But you can imagine that the governor Yahaya Bello went ahead to conduct ward congresses supervised by his political appointees. 26 out of 35 state APC executives are not with him, 16 out of 21 local government party chairmen are not part of it. So how can they say they have held a congress? At the end of the day, it was the national leadership that created the commotion.”
Investigations by The Guardian revealed that personal grievances between the governor and the state party chairman, Ametuo over the role of the latter during the APC primaries remained unresolved at the time of formation of government. Bello and Ametuo hail from Okene in Kogi Central Senatorial District. The Governor was said not to have forgiven the latter for allegedly shifting his support from him to one of the aspirants from Kogi Central, Sanusi Gamji in the last hours to the primaries. Sanusi eventually came third in the primaries election held in August 2015 and won by the now late Audu. Bello came second.
Insiders disclosed that the list of nominees forwarded to the governor for appointment into his cabinet by Ametuo on behalf of the party executives was dumped by Bello, albeit on second thought, after the governor initially asked for it.
“None of the names on the list forwarded by the party made it to the governor’s cabinet, be it commissioner, special adviser or senior special assistant,” revealed a source. “Then followed the announcement of local government administrators, the governor followed the same pattern by appointing his coordinators who worked with him during the governorship primaries as local government helmsmen. This is the real cause of the crisis and to those of us on the other side of the APC government, the national leadership, the national chairman in particular is the number one culprit.”
A top official in Bello’s government who craved anonymity in a telephone conversation with The Guardian said the governor had always been open to dialogue hence his disposition to the latest reconciliation move is no different. He recalled that Bello had made himself available for dialogue when the Tony Momoh committee invited him and was ready to cooperate with the newly inaugurated peace panel and the national leadership of the party in anyway that will help move the party forward in Kogi State.
He added a caveat: “You have to accept that the governor is the leader of the party in the state, the moment they realised this, the problem is solved. You cannot say because he is young or because of any other issues surrounding the way he emerged as governor and disrespect him. We must be careful not to politicize the reconciliation process if we must achieve anything out of it. It is in the interest of our party men and women who worked for the success of the party but are out there in the cold due to the protracted crisis that I as an individual am happy with this development. The Governor, I am sure is willing to not only make his door open but be seen to be open.”
He declined to make any further comments when confronted with allegations of marginalisation of the party executives and non-payment of salaries and pensions to workers and pensioners.