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Fresh worries in Enugu APC as no fewer than 10 jostle for chairmanship

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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama. Photo: TWITTER/GEOFFREYONYEAMA

The All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu State is on the march again. The party, which seemed rejuvenated following the recently concluded registration and revalidation exercise where it grew in membership, registering about 180,291 members against 64,000 it had in 2017 is getting set for the conduct of its elective congresses.

Although the national leadership of the party had again postponed indefinitely the exercise, expectations are rife that when the whistle is finally blown, the aspirants in the state would make real their intentions to contest by purchasing the forms.

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While the outcome of the congress would remain a conjecture, for now, a position that is generating interest in the state is that of the chairmanship of the party. This is because, although the position has been zoned to Enugu West senatorial zone, no fewer than ten persons are vying for it from the zone.

Spaces within the state capital have in the last couple of months been dotted with campaign posters and leaflets of aspirants contesting the sole seat from the zone. Those vying are well-known members of the party who have played one role or the other during the leadership crisis that divided the state chapter. All the aspirants have backers who are heavyweights in the state chapter. Incidentally, one of the local governments from the zone, Awgu, registered the highest number of members during the recently held revalidation/registration exercise in the state. These are issues making the contest interesting.

Indeed, those familiar with the trajectory in the APC in the state would readily agree that the disharmony, which hampered the electoral fortunes of the party, began with the congress to produce the chairmanship of the party in 2018. That state congress that held that year produced Dr. Ben Nwoye and Mr. Okay Ogbodo on opposing sides. Ogbodo, who was not then a registered member of the party, was allegedly thrown up by the group led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, He was foisted on the party after some hired thugs assembled at the venue of the congress, disrupted it midway into voting by accredited delegates at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu.

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When the accredited delegates at the venue scampered to safety, the Onyeama group allegedly announced Ogbodo the new ‘chairman’ of the party.  But the next day, delegates returned to the venue and elected Nwoye as the authentic chairman. The Minister and his group kicked and vowed to sustain the factions. That is the genesis of the crisis.
 
While the Ogbodo faction operated from his residence and at times hotel premises, the Nwoye faction, which continued to receive support from the national leadership of the party operated from the party’s state secretariat at the GRA, Enugu.
 
The discontent was carried into the 2019 general elections. The two factions produced parallel aspirants for the various positions. It later took the pronouncement of the court for Senator Ayogu Eze, who was pronounced by the authentic faction led by Nwoye to be recognised as the party’s governorship candidate in the state. Before then, the Minister’s group had paraded Mr. Tagbo Ogara for the position.

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Move To Reconcile Factions

WHEN the 2019 general elections ended, the factions were ready to continue in their path of perfidy. But the dissolution of the National leadership of the party and the appointment of a Caretaker committee that midwife the revalidation/registration exercise cut short the macabre dance.

The national Caretaker committee had dissolved the state structures of the party, after asking those aggrieved with the party and had taken such grievances to court to withdraw same and seek an internal resolution mechanism. It went further to announce Nwoye as the State Caretaker Committee Chairman.

Thus, when Senator Jonathan Zwingina led Revalidation/Registration Committee arrived the state and called a meeting of the party stakeholders at the party secretariat; all those who showed indifference had no option than to attend and made commitments to work to deepen the foothold of the party in the state under Nwoye. With the development, the registration and revalidation exercise was peacefully conducted in the state.

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Zwingina had while announcing the outcome of the revalidation/registration exercise, which recorded a massive intake of new members, at the secretariat stated that the feat was made possible by the peace and unity that had been restored in the party. He had urged the leadership to sustain the peace in the interest of the party, ahead of the 2023 general elections. He had paid glowing tributes to the “accommodating spirit” of Ben Nwoye, insisting that he “is a true party man who is ready to give his all to the success of the party.”

He had charged the members: “If all of us can develop the kind of zeal and commitment that is in this man (Nwoye), then the future of this party will be great. He ensured that this exercise succeeded. Bringing his time and resources and moving around with us and making sure there were no hitches. He is a leader very rare to find”

Yet Another Worrying Dimension
THE party attempted to forge ahead after the conclusion of that exercise. The move led to a meeting of the stakeholders where offices were zoned for the congresses expected to produce fresh executives of the party at the ward, local governments and the state levels.

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While the position of governorship was zoned to Enugu East; the chairmanship position was zoned to Enugu West and Deputy Governorship position to Enugu north, among others.

No sooner had the arrangement been announced than it came under attack from some stakeholders from Enugu north that rejected it on the guise that the zone was not carried along in the decision.

At a meeting attended by former Speaker, Eugene Odoh; former Ambassador, Fidel Ayogu among others at the residence of Tagbo Ogara, they had rejected the arrangement, saying it was skewed against Enugu north. The zone, they said, was interested in producing the state chairman of the party and not anything less.

They had insisted that they would field candidates for all elective positions in the party and called on members of the party in the area to brace up for the exercise.

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Shortly after they showed their discontent, an imaginary conflict had arisen at Umuozzi ward 7, Igboeze north local government council in Enugu north, when some members of the party rose against their governorship candidate in the 2019 general elections, Senator Ayogu Eze.

The members, who claimed they were leading the party in the ward, had accused the Senator of anti-party activities as well as disobeying the constitution of the party, stressing that they had suspended him indefinitely. They had written the national Caretaker committee of the party conveying the alleged suspension.

The development had however caught the ire of the state leadership, which did not waste time in dismissing their action. It insisted that Senator Ayogu Eze remained a committed and loyal member of the party in the state and nationally and had no guile in him.

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State Caretaker Committee chairman, Dr. Ben Nwoye clarified: “We saw reports in a section of the media misinforming people that the distinguished Senator Ayogu Eze was suspended from the party. That cannot be farther from the truth. The distinguished Senator Ayogu Eze is a well-respected member of APC in Enugu State and indeed South East and at the national level. He joined the party and he ran for governorship, got the ticket and because of his popularity has taken the party to greater heights.

“Very recently, he received a vote of confidence based on what he had done to grow the party beginning with most recently, our membership registration. His efforts culminated in tripling the number of registered members of APC in Enugu State. We have independent people who could verify that. The chairman of the registration committee for the state, distinguished Senator Jonathan Zwingina was in Enugu State and he hosted him and other members of the committee. He made sure we had a great turnout of members.

“Through the help of the leadership of Sen. Ayogu Eze and other leaders, we have risen from 63, 000 to 184, 294 registered members. These are real members and not made up.

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“Before that, during the pandemic, Sen. Eze donated immensely to our purse, making it possible for the outreach which we did in 2020 and early 2021. We were able to procure relief materials and visited hospitals, homes for the elderly, disabled and orphans. He also regularly provided for members of the party.”

Nwoye accused a former chairman of APC Ward 7, Mr. Nwokedi Ugwuoke of allowing himself to be used to embarrass the party.

He said; “So, it came to my notice that a former chairman who had been removed may have connived with people and started peddling falsehood, fake news that the distinguished Senator has been suspended from the party. So, this is not true. This is a pure falsehood, a sponsored news item that is only meant to finish the already risen profile of the senator.

“His caretaker executive of the ward had duly removed him according to our constitution. The fact is that his own caretaker executives passed a vote of no confidence against him unbeknownst to Sen. Eze or anyone including myself. They brought a letter following the due process; they had removed him and brought in another gentleman, Comrade Obeta as chairman of the Ward. Sen. Eze has no hand in whatever happened to the former chairman. It was the handiwork of mischief-makers to embarrass him.

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“As of the time he wrote the letter purportedly suspending Sen. Eze, he was no longer the chairman of Ozzi, Ward 7. We have 260 wards and 17 local governments in Enugu State. So, one out of 260 rushed down somewhere to Abuja and engaged fake news merchants. It was a hatchet job and we won’t allow that to stand because we have grown this party to this point”.

The national leadership of the party had in the same guise given Sen. Eze a clean bill of health and warned authors of the petition to desist or be ready to face sanctions from the party.

MEANWHILE, an investigation by The Guardian revealed that the purported suspension emanated because Senator Eze refused to join in the bandwagon against the call for the rejection of the party’s zoning arrangement being championed by some stalwarts from his Enugu north zone.

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Ayogu Eze was said to have vehemently told his brothers that there was no way the zone could get the chairmanship of the party when it had been the only one presenting governorship candidates in the state since the party was formed, adding that the scheming for the 2023 governorship in the zone would be jeopardized.  His position was said to have infuriated the group, which plotted his removal through his ward on the guise that his presence in the party would continue to derail their plans.

Minister’s Meeting Creating Further Fuss?
AS the fuss over the Igboeze north matter is subsiding, the meeting called last Sunday in Enugu by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama for stakeholders in Enugu West senatorial zone has opened another can of worms.  In fact, since the meeting took place, the Minister had been accused of attempting to replay the 2018 scenario that created division in the party. This is due to the way invitation to the meeting was handled. Many stakeholders have risen to demand the motive for the meeting.

The Guardian gathered that the meeting was called for “select stakeholders”, aimed at discussing the chairmanship position of the party that has been zoned to Enugu West and other offices in the elective congress. But while some stakeholders from the zone who attended were allowed access into the meeting, others were prevented from gaining access into the venue by a team of men from a private security outfit he hired at the venue for the purpose.

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Their restriction was basically because they did not receive text messages from one of the Minister’s aides, who was said to have been asked to invite people. The aide, who was said to be instrumental to furthering the factions in the party, had used the opportunity to invite all those loyal to the former faction and leaving the majority of the other.
The security men, dressed in black attire said to have been handed an instruction not to allow anyone without evidence of his text message had capitalized on it to shout and turned back many.

State Secretary of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), Mr. Godwin Onwusi; Secretary of APC in Udi council, Felix Ebubeagu and another Chieftain from Ezeagu council, Mr Okenna Agubuzor were among those not allowed into the meeting.
They had accused the Minister of attempting to replay the mistakes he had made since joining that party that had taken the state chapter back, stressing that he succeeded in “mobilizing unknown people to scatter APC in Enugu”.

Onyeama was not registered with the party until he was appointed Minister after the 2015 general elections. Since joining the party, its foundational members view his actions as trying to usurp the functions of the state chapter of the party.

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They accused him of capitalizing on his position to want to lead the party in the state, insisting that it was such development that created the fuss during the 2018 state congress.

But defending his action, he insisted that the meeting was not for everyone, stressing that it was called to assuage feelings and rumours making the rounds about the possible imposition of candidates in the elective congress. He had assured that gathering that “views and preferences of the members will be respected in a transparent and open system”.
“APC has been looked upon as a joke in the state in the last 5-6 years. APC in Enugu State has faced so many crises but this is not time to apportion blame, we have to move forward”, he said.

Apparently feeling so pained by the level of crisis in the party in the state, the former governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, who was in the meeting called by the Minister had sought to know what could be done to move the party forward.

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Reeling out his experiences with his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he stated that as governor, “In the PDP, there were many demi-gods. But we changed all that when we came in; we gave everyone the opportunity to participate and imposition disappeared. We allowed the people to choose and come and tell us; those who knew nobody became somebody, people had the opportunity to contest without godfathers.

“That’s the type of politics we played, without bitterness, but the type of politics in APC is strange to me. There is so much acrimony.”

Chime advised that to move the party forward, “we should get brand new faces as members of the party executive at all levels in the state, all those who have held one position or the other should give way.

“I don’t think we can move forward with any of the factional leaders, we want the camps to disappear. We don’t want camps, factions again. We should not impose things on people, a lot of people will identify with us. If we are presenting someone as chairman of the party in the state, we must get someone with credibility and clout, character, ready to absorb insult, let’s leave personal interest, let’s eschew personal gains.”

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Nwoye’s Assurances
IT was perhaps in realisation of the damage the quest for chairman had done on the party and may continue to do in the future if not well handled that Nwoye earlier, summoned a meeting of all the aspirants gunning to lead the party in the state.

Speaking at the State Secretariat of the APC, during an interaction with the chairmanship aspirants, the 260 ward chairmen as well as members of the State Executive Committee, Nwoye, insisted that the seat (chairmanship) was not up for sale to the highest bidder. 

He stated that the party belonged to the people at the ward, whom he described as the “true owners of the party”, and that anyone interested in holding any position must get their support. 
 
Some of the aspirants at the meeting included:  the chairman of Oji River Council Area of the State, Chief Benson Eze; chairman of the State Contact and Mobilization Committee, Chief Comrade Adolphus Ude; Chief Ude Okorie John; former Local government Chairman of Udi LGA, Dr. Walter Oji; a medical Dr. Chiadikaobi Charles Chukwu, among others. 

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Nwoye, advised them to discountenance claims that some persons had already been selected ahead of the party’s elective congress, saying, that such rumour were unfounded and held no water.

He said: “I am here to give you the true picture, sale of forms has not commenced, until we hear from our national chairman, either directly or indirectly through the national Secretary, until we hear from any two of them, any other story is fake news”.

Indeed, the aspirants had expressed satisfaction with the explanation of Nwoye, praising him for the efforts in building a party “that has become a source of pride to the people of Enugu state”, even as they promised to uphold the ethos of the APC in the state.

Are these assurances from the aspirants good enough to be counted? Can these minor grievances be buried for the party to forge ahead or will it multiply with the yet to be determined congresses? All eyes are now on the APC.

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