Cross River APC : Internal wrangling steers towards precipice
Like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Cross River State is deeply factionalised. However, unlike the PDP, which the factional crisis is like a cold war but deep, that feud in the APC is open and bitter.
The two warring factions are those, which have the National Vice Chairman, South South, Ntufam Hilliard Eta; former governor of the state, Chief Clement Ebri and their supporters on one side, while the other faction, which is loyal to the national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and the National Organising Secretary, Mr. Osita Izunaso, has in its fold, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Usani, and their supporters.
At the centre of the crisis, is the February 24, 2018 state congress that was said to have been ordered by Odigie-Oyegun, without the approval of the National Working Committee (NWC), and the National Executive Committee (NEC).
During the congress Mr. Etim John, who was backed by the Usani group emerged as chairman, while Dr. Mathew Achigbe, that got the backing of the Eta’s group lost out.
Since the congress came to an end, all has not been well with the party in the state, as the state secretary is said to be running the Barracks Road office, while John, allegedly operates from a parallel office along Ndidem Usang Iso Road, by Value Mart. Checks by The Guardian, however revealed that the said building is unoccupied, as all gates were firmly chained and locked with keys.
That notwithstanding, there are fears that the crisis in the state chapter of the party, if not resolved in good time, would rob it of chances of sending the PDP packing from the Government House.
National officers of the party, led by Mohammed Idebawa, ignored court processes and went ahead to conduct the election at the party secretariat, along Barracks Road, and Eta in a telephone interview said, “We must know that our campaign to take over power from the PDP was predicated on the principle of change. We are a law-abiding party, the court processes were served on the party and the party correspondingly served on the committee. I, as the National Vice Chairman, South South, served the committee and asked them to stop the process, but because they were carrying out the directives of the cabal that is intending to destroy the party in the state, they went on with the exercise.”
Eta said the Deputy National Chairman of APC, Segun Oke, “had sent a message to that committee to return to Abuja because of the court processes served on the party, but Izunaso the organising secretary, who is Pastor Usani’s hatchet man gave the committee a counter directive to continue with the illegal process, and anything that is built on illegality cannot stand.
“Mr. President in his wisdom, set up the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu Reconciliation Committee to resolve and reconcile our members in crisis-ridden states. Consequent upon this, I personally wrote a letter handing over the Cross River State APC matter to the committee officially. So, when Asiwaju Tinubu wrote (to Mr. President) about the sabotage that has attended his national assignment, as conducted by the national chairman, he was on point because the national chairman is working at variance with the reconciliation committee…”
Eta maintained that Sir John Ochala, the acting chairman of the party in the state remains in charge of the party and “since a court order has been served, parties to the dispute must maintain status quo ante until the litigation comes to an end. I had instructed the committee, based on the court processes served us in Abuja and Calabar, to stop the exercise. As the national vice chairman, it is my duty to see to the operations of the party in my zone. On the basis that we are law abiding and cannot go against the law, I hereby nullify the congress.
“The issue of filling the position of state chairman of the party had been in contention thus attracting litigation. Those celebrating such a nullity as a victory have further exhibited their folly of the law and displayed flagrant disregard for court orders. They have again exposed their folly of the law and of due process. It is a caricature of sort that these folks still live with the mentality of their former political platforms,” Eta stated.
Commenting on the impasse, Pastor Usani said he was an observer in the entire exercise and was not even aware of any court injunction restraining anyone from conducting the congress, as the essence of the exercise was to revive the party in order for it to deliver come 2019.
A faction of the party in the state, through King Edom Vincent Odey, had filed suit number FHC/ABJ/C5/193/2018, seeking an order of injunction “restraining the 1st defendant (APC) whether by itself, national chairman, or any other officer authorised by him from conducting the special congress for the election of a state chairman for the Cross River State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress, slated for February 24, 2018.”
However, still aggrieved with the outcome of the February 24, 2018 congress, Dr. Achigbe called for the annulment of the congress saying that it defied article 25 of the APC constitution that states that at least a 14-day notice should be given, which he said was not the case in this instance.
Achigbe in a letter of appeal to the NWC, protested against the conduct of the congress to elect the state chairman of the party, which office had remained vacant since 2015 when the former occupant (Usani) was appointed minister.
He said: “The congress was conducted by a committee led by one Muhammed Indabawa, a retired police assistant inspector general. My grounds of protests, which I seek redress and particularly ask for the said congress to be rendered ultra-vires, null and void are: the said congress used suspended party members for the election, particularly the contestant, Hon. Etim John, and chairmen and secretaries of Yakurr, Ikom, Etung and Boki chapters, against the spirit and in defiance of the Electoral Act. 2010 (as amended), particularly as the state chapter had no formal letter transmitting the lifting of the suspension, or confirming whether the strange decision was coming from the appropriate organ of the party. Over 980 delegates from the 196 council wards were disenfranchised during the election.”
Speaking in the same vein, the Senior Special Assistant, Media to the national vice chairman, South South, Bassey Ita, said, “The zonal echelon of the party is insisting that what was done on February 24, 2018 remains a sham, and as such should not hold, based on the fact that the National Executive Council (NEC) of the party never recommended congresses for Cross River State as at then. What happened was at the discretion of the national chairman, and that cannot be taken as a legally binding, or the position of the NEC. So, that is where the crisis is, and that is the difference between the NEC and Odigie-Oyegun.
“The National Vice Chairman, South South of the party, Hilliard Eta has declared that congress as a nullity. In other words, the Etim John arrangement stands as a nullity, but sadly, John has been parading himself as the state chairman of the party, and in the process attracting the ire of the zonal executives, to the extent that Eta wrote to him not to parade himself as such any longer.
“It will not be out of place to say that already the party is divided along the lines of legality and illegality…Two offices or secretariats are now in place- one along Ndidem Usang Iso Road, Close to Value Mart, and the other along Barracks Road. The administration of the party, for now, is being handled by the state secretary of the party…some officials of the party are still of the view that Ochala is still the chairman of the party. They are insisting that if they are contesting the forthcoming elections, as far as no congresses have been held Ochalla will be the one to sign their nomination forms to further authenticate his position as the state chairman.
“The danger in this is that if Etim John signs anybody’s nomination form and that person wins in the field during the general election, he might be ousted by the court, and that will be dangerous for the party. Some gubernatorial aspirants still believe that Ochalla still remains the state chairman of the party.
“If this crisis is not resolved, definitely it would affect the party’s chances in the general elections. All what is happening is a matter of the law and constitutionality… the NWC never even recommended congresses for the state as at February 24, or for it to even come up at NEC for ratification, it was Odigie-Oyegun out of his whims and caprices that decided that the state should go for election, and INEC whose responsibility it is to monitor and supervise such processes was not communicated to. As matters stand, if we take part in an election that is conducted by INEC today and a contestant’s nomination form is signed by Etim John, it therefore means that we will be celebrating illegality. But I think that the coming general congress, which will affect all the states, will fully authenticate the state executive of the party because all positions will be contested for.”
Rising in defense of Usani, a stalwart of the party, Chief Sam Bassey said, “the congress first and foremost was very successful, peaceful, orderly and all the major stakeholders voted. Former governor of the state, Clement Ebri, senators Bassey Otu, Victor Ndoma-Egba, and John Owan Enoh all voted, as well as, the Director General, Women Development Centre, Mary Ekpere among others, except the National Vice Chairman, South South, Ntufam Hilliard Eta. The congress went very well as ordered by the NWC of the APC.
He continued: “If you talk about wrangling, its natural that anybody who looses an election would not feel too happy at the initial stage, but would get over it after sometime. I believe that in no time we will be on the same page. It is not wrangling that we should be talking about now, but how to move the party forward and bring about the much needed development and stable government in Cross River State.
“The views of the national vice chairman of the party, with due respect, cannot overrun the view of the entire Cross River State APC. That office he is holding, he is holding it in trust for Cross Riverians; he is not there for himself, but for Cross Riverians. So, the opinion of APC Cross River State over rules his opinion. Cross River State has spoken that Etim John is their new chairman and that is it.”
On allegation that the Minister of Niger Delta hijacked the entire process, Bassey said, “how can you accuse the minister of hijack? Which process did he hijack? Is it the process, where Ebri, Ndoma-Egba and others voted? Does it mean that the minister hijacked all of them? Mathew Achigbe, scored 36 votes and Etim John scored 56 votes at the end of the contest, so everything was orderly.”
While it is common knowledge that the party in the state still remains factionalised, the state publicity secretary Mens Ikpeme disagrees saying, “APC in Cross River State does not have any faction, we only have people of interest, who agree to disagree. We held our congress on the February 24, 2018, and that congress produced Ntufam Godwin Etim John as the state chairman. Everything that happened there was normal. It is just that people have their interests, but we never had any problem; it was just a matter of interest.”
Asked if the various conflicting interests have been resolved, he said, “the party is one, and we have met severally and we have discussed, and the party is moving as far as I am concerned. We held a congress and every APC member including Ochalla was present. The contest was between Etim John and Dr. Mathew Achigbe, and the election was free and fair, and at the end of the day, Etim John came out victorious with 56 votes as against Dr Mathew with 36. The committee that came from Abuja pronounced Etim John the chairman of the party, so I don’t know who is talking of factions.”
On whether the different interest may affect the party in the general election, he said, “with all due respect, the party is one. If you talk about interests, the party knows what to do. When it comes to the general election, that is a different ball game entirely. APC is doing everything to make sure that we send Ayade out of the Government House, Calabar. We are going to win this state, and we are going to win PDP embarrassingly.”
Ikpeme further denied allegations that the party has two offices in the state capital saying, “that is not true. We only have a proposed office, which we are thinking about.
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