Crisis of confidence in Enugu APC as state congress holds
• Agballah, Ude in a two-horse race
Three broad issues stand out in ongoing upheavals within the Enugu State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC), as it holds its congress on Saturday, October 16, 2021. They include anticipation of the party’s plan to zone the Presidency to the South, speculations of a possible entry of another southeast governor into the party and old members versus newcomers jostling for positions.
Those factors would play out during the forthcoming state congress expected to produce members of the State Working Committee (SWC) of the party in the state. Already, the three issues have broken the party into small cells of interest groups, just as party stalwarts continue to hold meetings in Abuja, Enugu and Lagos in a bid to ensure that they remain relevant.
At the No 40 Blantyre Street headquarters secretariat of the party in Abuja, some of the foundation members of APC in Enugu State were overhead crying out, “these people have come to push us out.” The push and pull by old members and new entrants into APC is not a peculiar feature of Enugu State chapter alone, because, across the Southeast geopolitical zone, especially Imo State, the tug of war is at the root of the unease within the party.
However, the situation in Enugu had been simmering for a long time, particularly given that Governor Ugwuanyi had been using his politics of ecumenism and inclusion to mollify the stakeholders of all political parties in the state.
However, as calculations for the 2023 general elections come into play, specifically because of perceived future political interests, the struggle for ascendancy has become strident.
The real heat emanates from the contest among groups loyal to the member representing Southeast in the APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Senator Ken Nnamani, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, former governor Sullivan Chime, Director General of Voice of Nigeria (DG, VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu and embattled caretaker state chairman, Dr. Ben Nwoye.
Okechukwu and Nwoye groups that were arrayed in battle against the Minister’s subunit have now coalesced into one to fend off the bourgeoning influence of the former Senate President, Nnamani. On the other hand, stakeholders are apprehensive whether the entry of Chief Ugo Agballah into the party is to bolster Chime’s group or to serve as the unifying force for the APC in the state.
The Guardian gathered from sources within the APC headquarters, that worried by the sporadic power tussles within the Enugu chapter has compelled APC national leaders to seek a grassroots politician and mobiliser to unite the factions and position APC for effective electoral competition in the state.
Agballah’s decision to join the chairmanship contest has set off fire steam in APC because even when all the stakeholders were united in adulation and celebration of his grassroots presence and mass mobilisation prowess, some older members of the party are afraid that his influence would diminish their standing in the party.
IN a bold effort to smoothen out relations within the party and ensure a successful state congress, APC stakeholders empanelled a nine-man committee to resolve all nagging issues regarding the zoning of SWC offices in the state.
Members of the committee, The Guardian gathered, include the 2015 governorship candidate of the party, Ideke Okey Ezea, former Speaker of the state Assembly, Eugene Odoh; former National Legal Adviser to ALGON, Ozo Joe Mammel; former Action Congress governorship candidate, Val Nnadozie; former Nkanu East council boss, Chief Jerry Eneh; former Commissioner for Special Duties, Ik. Ugwuegede; Phil Eze, Mrs. Chukwuanyim and Emma Nweke.
Given the disputations over which zone between Enugu West and Enugu North to produce the state chairman, the Ezea committee is expected to affirm the zoning of the chairmanship to Enugu West, since many stakeholders believe that having zoned the governorship to Enugu East, the deputy governorship candidate would come from Enugu North (Nsukka bloc).
Both old and new entrants acknowledge the fact that the position of state chairman should ordinarily go to Enugu West, even as stakeholders from Enugu North claim that they should be compensated with the chairmanship to balance the appointment of the Minister and a DG from Enugu West.
But, the number of chairmanship aspirants from Enugu West underscores the religious adherence to zoning in the state, most especially given the popular anticipation that Enugu North would produce deputy governorship candidates of APC and PDP respectively.
While the committee is said to be burdened by the challenge of zoning appropriately to Enugu West, it has been tasked to note that since APC or any opposition party has never won the governorship poll in the state, how it handles the assignment would determine APC’s competitiveness in 2023.
The situation in Enugu APC has become a melting pot of high wire politics due to the stature of chairmanship aspirants for the October 16 state congress. Apart from Agballah, other heavyweights gunning for the position include former Military Governor of Gombe State, Group Captain Joe Orji, a former member of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Ambassador Fidel Ayogu, former Udi council chairman, Dr. Walter Oji; Comrade Adolphus C. Ude and Dr. Charles Chukwu.
Apart from Ayogu, others are from Enugu West and that is what informed stakeholders’ optimism that the Ideke committee would affirm the zoning of the chairmanship slot to Enugu West.
Although APC chieftains in the state, including a known Presidential aspirant, Emperor Chris Baywood-Ibe, express happiness that the party has become a rallying point and a credible alternative to PDP, there have been muffled voices of complaint that the calibre of chairmanship aspirants might make it hard for A. C. Udeh, who is an ally of Foreign Affairs Minister to clinch the position.
Immediate past state chairman, Dr. Nwoye, who is disposed to supporting Ude, has expressed displeasure with the antics of former President of Senate, Nnamani, whom he accused of working for the interest of PDP. Other stakeholders have dismissed Nwoye’s tantrum’s as being motivated by fear of imminent loss of influence and stake for the Enugu East Senatorial ticket in 2023.
Placed alongside Orji, Ayogu, Chukwu, Oji and Agballah, Ude’s clout seems to be under serious challenge and this may have informed Nwoye and his group’s apprehension about where Enugu State APC was headed.
Coming into the chairmanship contest after participating in the gubernatorial elections in the state on two occasions – first in 2003 on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and in 2007 on ACCORD Party (AP)-Agballah’s entry stoked much public discussion.
A lot of people wonder as to why he should be interested in being chairman, alleging that his coming is to pave way for a robust campaign for a Presidential candidate. Watchers of Enugu politics readily recall that Agballah was part of major political tendencies in the state ranging from Chief Jim Nwobodo, Rev. Hyde Onuaguluchi, the Nwodos, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani and Governor Ugwuanyi.
Like Agballah, Ayogu had contested the 2003 gubernatorial poll after which he was appointed Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ethiopia. Ayogu had also served as council chairman of Igboeze North and state chairman of United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP).
Ayogu, who had run unsuccessfully for the Senate, came into the chairmanship race in the belief that being the only aspirant from Enugu North, he would defeat other aspirants from Enugu West. That was before Agballah’s surprise declaration of interest.
On the part of the former MILAD of Gombe State, his previous governorship and Senatorial contests in addition to deep pockets were seen as potent factors to swing the votes in his favour against Ude and Chukwu from Enugu West.
THE quiet membership recruitment drive going on in APC had been attributed as part of the success story of the Mai Mala Buni CECPC. But, in some states like Enugu, which had no dominant presence, that blessing has now come to be viewed as a burden.
The fact that influential politicians who joined the party were given waivers to contest elective positions has thrown up mixed reactions among the party faithful. While some are excited by the infusion of vibrant politicians into the party, others express misgivings about the prominent considerations being given to new entrants on the party administration and structure.
The mixed reactions also trail the endorsement of the chairmanship aspirants. A. C. Ude, whom most party faithful call Jagavan, was wallowing in the euphoria of popular endorsement by the various groups, especially the Foreign Affairs Minister, Nwoye and Okechukwu, but that enthusiasm has cooled off ever before the likes of Agballah joined the fray.
Matters took a worrisome turn recently when Agballah mobilised all his political contacts in the state in what has been tagged the mother of endorsements within the APC fold. The endorsement has painted a scenario of a two-horse race, which the Nwoye camp describes as an insurgence of newcomers.
At the state-wide meeting held at Codial Hotel Enugu, various groups including Oganiru Enugu and Igbo Improvement Union, which he founded, were well represented, just as his former colleagues in the Enugu State cabinet during the Chimaroke era and religious leaders attended.
Speaking at the event, Agballah enumerated why the wisest thing for any forward-looking politician to do is to join APC, stressing that it is possible to turn the party into a winning and all-inclusive platform since there was the absence of godfathers.
He stated: “It’s time for APC to take over the government of Enugu State. We are not pretentious about our mission and vision to take leadership. We are also determined to offer the people of Enugu State a credible alternative platform as our contributions to the deepening of democracy in our lifetime.
“One party system is currently available in the state is inimical to democratic culture, civil rights development and the dignity of man. In the wrong hands, it can blossom into authoritarianism. What we want to do this time is to raise men and women that will take Enugu House of Assembly, House of Representatives and the Senate.
“The task ahead is enormous. The job requires energetic, vibrant, upwardly mobile and visionary young leaders with extensive political structure and contacts. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is disintegrating, it’s now a house divided against its self.”
Alluding to political happenings in Anambra State, Agballah noted that for PDP and APGA lawmakers and other key stakeholders to be joining APC in their numbers is a positive indicator that “APC is where we should be.” And referencing his past electoral misfortunes due to power of incumbency and federal might, he recalled: “We won elections in the past but we were not able to hold the police, army, INEC, because we are not in the ruling party. So they forcefully took our victory. But this time around nobody will try that again, nobody will snatch our victory again.
“The Bible according to the book of Ecclesiastics says that there is time and season for everything. This is our time and this is our season. Now is the time to go and strengthen APC in Enugu State. If we miss this timing, Enugu State will regret it in future.”
Earlier, a former chairman of Enugu North council, Chief Ben Onyia, commended CECPC chairman, Buni, for “encouraging grassroots politicians and men of value to join the APC,” stressing that leaders like Agballah are what the party needs to turn its fortune around, particularly in Enugu State and the Southeast in general.
He stated: “I am here to represent the forum of 34 former LG chairmen in the state. We have chosen to identify with character and integrity as the crucial requirement in a leader that will birth a new administration in Enugu State.”
In a chat, the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, said it was erroneous for some leaders like Nnamani to accuse him of stoking trouble, stressing that all that he is after as a founding member of the party is to ensure that nobody was side-lined.
“To say that because I have been reappointed for another five-year term DG VON I should keep quiet is criminal blackmail. We have toiled for this party as opposition as such we must continue to point the way for a better future and health of the party.
A group of APC women in the state last weekend announced their decision to stand by A. C. Ude, saying that he has paid his dues, even as the coordinator for Grassroots Support for APC (GSAPC), Chief Harry Mba, said members of his group want Comrade Adolphus Ude to become the state chairman and ventilate their interest in the party.