APC Ward Congresses: Party more divided in Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa
The recently held ward congresses of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the South-South zone, like in other zones have re-opened old wounds even as fresh ones are opened, largely due to scheming and permutations ahead of 2023 general elections. Godfathers and aspirants know that the exercise is the first step towards the realisation of their ambitions.
DELTA: Accusations and counter-accusations trail exercise
APC in Delta State was enmeshed in crisis even before the 2019 governorship election, over which of the three senatorial zones and which aspirants should fly its flag.
The disagreement boiled over to the recent ward congresses, with both notable camps accusing one another of manipulating the process.
Following the congress, members of the state working committee and party leaders, in a publication called for the cancellation of the exercise and drew attention of the national headquarters to what it termed “the brazen undemocratic acts, non-compliance with congress guidelines and serious case of exclusion in the conduct of July 31, 2021 ward congresses in Delta State.”
In a paid publication by Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo; the party’s 2015 and 2019 governorship candidate, Chief Great Ogboru; Chairman, Board of Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Jabi, Abuja, Dr. Alex Ideh; former speaker of the state Assembly and Executive Director, NIMASA, Mr. Victor Ochei; another former speaker of the state Assembly, Mr. Monday Igbuya; former member of the House of Representatives and director in the NDDC, Dr. Cairo Ojougbo; former member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) BoT, Mrs. Mariam Ali and others, the group alleged that the three-man committee for the exercise from the national secretariat of the party, George Ojong Egbe, Mrs. Abibu Madina and Mr. Nkem Sunday, informed state executive council members on arrival in Delta State on Tuesday, July 20, that they were not met by the state chairman, but directed by a personal aide of Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, to another aide, who impersonated the State Organising Secretary and with the assistance of Police detail who escorted them from Abuja to Asaba, zoomed off with the six bags of election materials.
“Thus, the aides of the Deputy Senate President snatched/hijacked materials for the Delta State APC congress. This led to the blatant disregard for guidelines of the party,” they stated.
The group also stated that as a result, sales of forms did not commence until Saturday, July 24, after the committee had got clearance from Abuja to commence sales after three of the bags were dumped at the party’s state secretariat late in the night of Thursday, July 22.
They contended: “At the close of sales and submission of ward congress forms on July 28, 8,600 aspirants who had paid into party accounts and arrived with their tellers could not obtain forms due to non-availability of forms.
“Aspirants who bought forms from the three bags of returned forms dumped at the party secretariat by unknown persons from the initially hijacked/snatched six bags could not submit same due to the absence of officials.
“The Women Rep in the CECPC, in a meeting on Friday, July 23, at ELOMAS hotel, in what smirksk of complicity, prevailed on state officials to kill the story of snatched/hijacked materials. She promised that in the event of scarcity of forms, she will make available enough forms, but did not fulfill the promise.
“The screening of aspirants meant for July 29 and 30 did not take place. The seven-man Ward Congress Committee (WCC), comprising members from outside the state set up to conduct the exercise did not do their jobs. They did not call a stakeholder meeting to intimate party faithful about their assignment.
“The three-man Local Ward Congress Committee (LWCC), as stipulated in the congress guidelines to oversee the exercise in the 270 wards all over Delta State, was not constituted.
“The venues of ward congresses were not communicated to stakeholders. All the activities contained in the guidelines were meant to ensure inclusiveness for all party members.
“The conduct of ward congress on July 31 in Delta State is a case of exclusion of over 8,000 aspirants who bought forms before the close of entries and armed with their tellers, but were not given forms due to the unfortunate situation above.
“The leadership of the party in Delta State frantically called on CECPC members to address the above anomaly, but nobody was ready to take any decision.”
The group said to disenfranchise over 8,000 aspirants is the most blatant act of internal democratic tyranny that must be abhorred by all, saying if allowed to happen or sustained, would consign “our democratic credentials as a ruling party to permanent hall of infamy, such that the party and its leaders will suffer irreparable integrity dent, as well as loss of political democratic esteem.”
They insisted on the cancellation of the exercise, adding: “We, therefore, call on the CECPC and President Muhammadu Buhari, whom we have copied as the leader of the party, to save Delta State APC by cancelling the ward congress of July 31 and re-conduct a ward congress in the state with duly constituted local organising committee for the 270 wards, with the input of critical stakeholders to have an all-inclusive congress in Delta State.”
But in a strongly-worded reaction condemning the position of the group it described as “a few noisy and confused rabble-rousers,” the state secretariat in a publication on Monday, August 9, expressed satisfaction with “the overwhelmingly successful outcome of this generally peaceful process in our state in particular.”
The state APC Caretaker Committee, led by Prophet Jones Ode Erue and State Caucus commended and passed a vote of implicit confidence on the CECPC, bearing in mind the words of the Chairman of the state Ward Congress Committee, Mr. Matthew Omegara, who told newsmen in Asaba on Sunday that the congress went smoothly and peacefully.
It stated: “It is on record that on July 31, a tiny ‘Axis of Artificial Troubles’ publicly called for a boycott of the congress in Delta State. These few noisy and lawless mischief-makers, operating outside our party’s constitution as Delta State APC Leaders Council, did so on the outrageous and cheap propaganda that the CECPC has been declared illegal vide a non-existent decision of the Supreme Court.
“Unmistakable in their choice to abandon the ward congress, they published thus: ‘We hereby categorically state that we have since informed all party members to boycott the said ward congresses, as same is devoid of any legitimacy in both procedure and substance as it relates to the guidelines (and in the face of the Supreme Court judgment, the legitimacy of those guidelines may be called to question later).’
“Indeed, they contended unequivocally that”… the official actions of Governor Mai Mala Buni serving as Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee in respect of our great party is a nullity.”
The party noted that earlier, the same people had laboured in vain to abort due conduct of the congress in the state through disruptive public acts calculated to grievously harm its image by ridiculing Buni’s national leadership as either dysfunctional or dead and buried.
It further alleged that the same people also levelled spurious criminal allegations against over 7,000 dedicated grassroots leaders of their party who contested congress across the 270 Wards and won convincingly, just to bring APC to public opprobrium, adding that party caucus worked under the leadership of Omo-Agege in the spirit of give and take for the success of the congress.
The party stated: “No leader got all he or she wanted, but everyone is by and large satisfied with the mutual respect accorded every willing leader as a precursor to the Ward Congress. This is how it should be, and it essentially made the Ward Congress a great success. Those who are crying foul are those who hate both healthy competition and compromise, which are necessary for collective success in politics.
“Having needlessly boycotted and excluded themselves from the successful Ward Congress, and now obviously confused, this tiny group of mainly electoral eunuchs and newspaper tigers, on Friday, August 6, 2021, callously and unashamedly called on the CECPC, in a paid advert, to cancel the duly conducted Ward Congress, which they still falsely and unrepentantly claim on record lacks the legal competence to conduct in the first place.
“Clearly, an arrogant penchant for mischief has robbed this small group the capacity to appreciate that the Ward Congress, as an internal matter of our great party, was conducted pursuant to guidelines duly issued by the CECPC. By the said guidelines, there is a simple mechanism for responsibly resolving possible human errors in the process, if any.
“Deliberately targeting our party and its leadership, key figures, members and strategic interests with wild allegations, vicious lies, blackmail and empty threats is not part of conflict resolution process prescribed in the guidelines. Rather, there is a time-bound appeal process, which nobody submitted to, because there is no credible evidence whatsoever supporting the noisy attempt to annul the successful Ward Congress, which was duly monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies.”
Crisis deepens in Akwa Ibom
AKWA Ibom State is known to be a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stronghold since the return of democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999, but it has a strong opposition in the All Progressives Congress (APC), even though the latter has not made any visible electoral impact.
The Saturday, July 31 ward congresses has added to its woes, with the party in disarray due to claims and counter-claims, allegations and counter-allegations, accusations and counter- accusations that trailed the conduct of the exercise.
The congress pitted the National Secretary of the party’s caretaker committee, Senator James Akpan Udoedehe against Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, but both have distanced themselves from the crisis.
According to a group, APC Elders’ Forum, led by a former military administrator of Rivers and Ogun states, Grp-Capt Sam Ewang (rtd), the insistence of Akpan Udoedehe to have a consensus arrangement, as against elective ward congress in the 329 wards caused the exercise not to hold, as the materials were left in Abuja, allegedly on the directive of the national secretary.
This, the party stakeholders noted, must have triggered youths to go on rampage, setting ablaze some sections of the state secretariat located along Ikot Ekpene road. The youths carried placards with the inscription, “We want a free and fair congresses, not consensus,” among others.
An APC chieftain, who craved anonymity, attributed the crisis to Udoedehe’s hijacking of the party in the state and manipulating the congresses for his selfish motive. He stated: “What you are witnessing today is a revolt against one man, who is hell bent on pocketing the party. Majority of us had told the national secretary of the caretaker committee that there should be an open ward election, but he insisted on consensus.
“The APC in the state will not succumb to his antics, because he doesn’t own the party. Can you imagine that there were no materials for the ward congresses and no national official of the party was sent to conduct the congresses?”
Another member from Etinan Council, Mr. Uduakabasi Ikpatt, stated that there was no congress in any ward in the area due to the absence of materials. He blamed Udoedehe for the situation, insisting that right thing must be done if the party is to remain as one in the state ahead of 2023 general elections.
However, spokesperson of the party in the state, Nkereuwem Enyongekere, said the congresses went on smoothly without any hitch, adding: “The congresses took place in the 329 ward centres and not at the APC state secretariat in Uyo. So, what materials are they complaining about? The congresses have been concluded. If you want video clips of my own, I will send it to you.”
On the allegation of Udoedehe trying to hijack the party, Enyongekere said: “Hijack what? This is the most transparent congress ever conducted in Akwa Ibom State, very democratic. Otherwise, from the inception of this state, it has always been writing of names.”
Two days later, a statement from the state working committee of the party suspended 17 caretaker committee chairmen and two other members for allegedly sponsoring youths to protest against the conduct of the congress.
The statement, signed by Enyongekere, condemned the pockets of protest at its state secretariat by the youths, adding: “The State Working Committee (SWC), sitting on Monday, August 2, reviewed the ward congress elections conducted in the state by a seven-man Ward Congress Committee (WCC), led by Yusuff Sherriff Banki, sent from the national headquarters of the party.”
He stated that the committee, party members and leaders had adjudged the exercise as the most peaceful, free, fair, transparent and successful direct ward congress elections ever conducted in the state, noting with concern, that despite the developments recorded, there were “very minimal pockets of agitations and distractions deliberately and purposefully concocted and showcased to defame the party and to make the entire exercise appear rancorous.”
He added: “The SWC decided to view the action of sponsored youths at the party secretariat, burning some tyres, instead of reporting at their various ward centres to cast their votes, as senseless and misplacement of priority.”
But the Ewang group declared the action as null and void, saying at a press briefing, that the SWC has no powers to suspend the ward chairmen, as the state caretaker chairman and his team had earlier been suspended by ward chairmen in the state, just as he insisted that there were no ward congresses in the state.
He called on President Muhammadu Buhari, as the leader of the party, and other party leaders from the state, including Akpabio, Senators Ita Enang and Udoma Udo Udoma and other eminent stakeholders to rescue the party from imminent disintegration due to “the desperate antics of Udoedehe to usurp the party structure and powers for his selfish interest.
“We unanimously reject in totality, the deployment of Udoedehe’s ‘Man Friday’ and apologist, Mallam Shehu Sheriff, from Abuja to superintend over the conduct of ward congresses in Akwa Ibom State.”
The party’s ward chairmen in the state also blamed Udoedehe for its electoral misfortunes and called for his removal as national secretary, even as they suspended the state Caretaker Committee Chairman, Dr. Ita Udosen, for spearheading the confusion that attended the ward congresses.
Chairman of the state APC Ward Chairmen Forum, Mr. Saviour Williams, said: “We have passed a vote of no confidence on Udoedehe based on his biased role in the failed congresses and call for his removal, as his governorship ambition is not bigger than the party.”
But the national secretary’s media aide, Mr. Ata Etuk, said: “Udoedehe is a founding father and a unifying force in the party who cannot do anything to destroy the party. Whatever fifth columnists in APC are doing to destroy the party they don’t have any reason to call for his removal.
“Of worthy to note is the firm belief by APC family that despite this festering brouhaha that seems to be rocking the party, its foundation has not been shaken and it is poised to take over the state come 2023.”
Ewang concurred that APC, irrespective of the internal crisis rocking it, would take over the seat of government by 2023, urging members not to be deterred by the current crisis, as it was building structures that would sweep off PDP in the 2023 polls.
He said, “No matter what is happening in the party, it will be well. There is nothing that is happening now in the party that will be new. It’s a normal thing to have issues in a party. We must keep APC in form; APC must take over the leadership of Akwa Ibom State. We are building our structure and I know it shall be well”
The Uyo senatorial youth leader, Mr. Imoh Enang, added that what is going on is normal, especially now that the election year is by the corner, “but it will be rectified at the end and everyone will put their heads together and make sure the party moves forward. All this is because of 2023 and it will be resolved amicably at the end of the day.”
RIVERS: Amaechi, Abe factions still disagree
IN Rivers State, an old crisis appears to have been further escalated by the conduct of the ward congresses, as the Chibuike Amaechi and Magnus Abe camps failed to come to a compromise during the exercise.
The state chapter of the party has not known peace since 2015, when the face-off between the Minister of Transportation, Amaechi, and his estranged political ally, Abe, started over who becomes the party’s governorship flag bearer.
The crisis, which has threatened the existence of APC in the state, marred its participation in the last general elections in 2019, as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) excluded it from the ballot due to multiple litigations.
On July 30, a day to the congress, Abe disclosed that his faction was allegedly denied participation by the Amaechi camp and their decision to boycott the exercise, noting: “The division in our party is rather against our entire state, but I, for one, remains committed to peace and unity of the APC and I will not sell out.”
He said majority of APC members know that what is currently happening in the party is wrong and that they had held several peace meetings with a view to achieving final resolution without headway.
An APC Chieftain loyal to Abe, Mr. Golden Chioma, said no congress was held in Rivers, but Amaechi loyalist, Chris Fineborne countered, insisting that congresses were actually held in the state’s 319 wards on July 31, as scheduled, describing the exercise as very successful.
Speaking further, Chioma explained: “The party is supreme to personal interests and the party authority said our leadership will be filled with consensus and that entails negotiation by all the party members.“So, we expected the leader of the party, who doubles as the Minister of Transportation, Amaechi, to call for an all-embracing meeting where consensus will be discussed and issues resolved. That meeting was never called, so any congress that is said to have been done thereinafter cannot be said to be a congress.”
He maintained that party members were still waiting for Amaechi to call a meeting and for the national leadership to resolve the dispute in Rivers State, adding: “There was a directive that was communicated to us that we will be revalidated. We are still waiting for that revalidation and we are still eager that peaceful means will be served ahead of the 2023 elections.”
He, however, disclosed that some members who feel aggrieved went to court, but noted that their leader, Abe, has assured them that things would be resolved amicably through political means and not legal, just as he hinted that some members felt it was appropriate to get a legal interpretation to their matter.
On his part, Fineborne insisted: “We held our ward congresses successfully in the 319 wards on July 31. On Monday, August 2, we got a court summon by some alleged party members. We are already at the Appeal Court contesting the jurisdiction of the state High Court to entertain their suit.
“On August 5, the Justice of the High Court agreed that he could no longer go ahead with the matter, declaring his court functus officio on the matter. That is where we are.”
“We are happy to hear that APC Governors’ Forum that met recently gave a pass mark to the conduct of ward congresses nationwide. We give God all the glory.”
BAYELSA: Court Halts Congress
THE crisis bedeviling the party in the state seems not over, as the state High Court sitting in Yenagoa, halted proceedings following the suit seeking to stop the state chapter from conducting the ward congress on July 31. The court also adjourned the case until September 27, this year.
Presiding Judge, Justice Iniekenimi Uzaka, gave the order after Counsel to the APC, Shuaibu Aruwa, informed the court of two separate notices before the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, seeking orders for the lower court to stay execution on its interlocutory order and stay proceeding on order stopping the ward congress.
The hearing into the interlocutory order at the court was, however, not without drama, as two counsel emerged at the court claiming to represent APC, as both Aruwa and C.T. Olorogun claimed to have been directed by the party to hold brief for it at the state high court.
Olorogun claimed to be the legal officer of APC in the state and had received the processes filed by the claimants against the party stopping the congress, insisting his appearance was legal and mandated by the party.
Party chieftains present during the court proceedings, including the acting State Secretary, Alabo Martins, and member representing Nembe/Brass Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Israel Sunny-Goli, were shocked by the unfolding drama, with noticeable protests, until order was restored.
Aruwa, however, presented to the presiding Judge, copy of a letter from the party’s national headquarters mandating him to hold brief in the matter before the court, saying Olorogun had been suspended and expelled from the party for alleged anti-party activities.
Justice Uzaka, after hearing the positions of both counsel, upheld Aruwa’s argument that he was the authentic legal Counsel of the party due to the fact that Olorogun, who was the legal officer of the state chapter had been expelled alongside others and was not with needed authority letter from the national headquarters mandating him to represent it in court.
Aruwa subsequently notified the court that APC had filed a notice of Stay of Execution and Stay of Proceedings on the matter at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division and sought the court’s adjournment sine die, pending hearing and determination of the Notices before the appellate court.
But the Counsel to the claimants, Perekedou Fawei, objected and kicked against the oral application of APC’s Counsel for the court to adjourn sine die, arguing that the oral application was against court rules and would not allow the appellant the opportunity to respond.
Fawei pointed out that the oral application was an abuse of court processes and accused APC Counsel of speaking from both sides of the mouth, insisting such should have been backed by affidavit, application and motion.
Justice Uzaka, however, adjourned the hearing on notice until September 27, pending the outcome of proceedings on Notices before the Court of Appeal.
Speaking with newsmen after the proceedings, both counsel disagreed on the interpretation of the court verdict.
While Aruwa said though the decision of the court to stay proceeding was to allow Court of Appeal decision not to affect the subject matter at the lower court, he, however, argued that due to the rule of the court, the life span of the Interlocutory Order issued by it, which has a seven-day span, had expired, saying: “It cannot go beyond seven days. So, as we are talking, there is no court order stopping APC from conducting its ward congresses in Bayelsa.”
However, Fawei described the position of the APC counsel as an “apprehension of the law,” noting that the life span of the Interlocutory Order stopping APC from conducting ward congress is seven days, safe for where the court expressly elongates or vacates it.
“The Interlocutory Order subsists until the motion is taken. That was why the matter was adjourned till today for the motion to be taken. But, of course, the motion was not heard. That means the Interlocutory Order subsists until the motion is heard.”