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How COVID-19 post on social media is unsettling Enugu APC 

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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama


Anyone who has kept a tab on the activities of All Progressives Congress (APC) party in Enugu State since its formation in 2013 would readily agree that it is not new to crisis. Seven years after, one would also readily agree that internal wrangling has continued to deny the party a strong footing in Enugu politics.

In the elections held in 2015 and 2019, the party was not anywhere close to winning any of the contested positions. The 2019 election was even worse; despite controlling of power at the national level, the outcome in the state was abysmal.

Contention over who controls the soul of the party has almost brought it to its knees. One of the factions recognized by the national leadership of the party, led by Dr. Ben Nwoye, with another pseudo faction that emerged from grievances over the last congress held in 2018 is led by Deacon Okay Ogbodo, which faction allegedly enjoys the support of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama.

Members of the party have continued to function at cross-purposes along presenting opposing candidates during elections. Although Nwoye’s group had always held the larger end of the stick, activities of the opposing faction, however, continue to affect the party’s fortunes negatively.

It was this nebulous state of affairs that the party took to the 2019 general election that brought about two governorship candidates and several others in other positions that led to the poor outing.

Last week, Enugu APC was at it again. This time, it was on account of a post on social media over the ravaging Coronavirus (Covid-19). The post, attributed to the party’s youth leader in Enugu West, Mr. James Okugo Nwanjoku, allegedly accused Onyeama and his Personal Assistant, Mr. Flavour Eze, of having contracted the deadly virus. They were said to have contracted it during one of their trips abroad and sneaked into the state.

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It was an allegation that re-energized the air of discontent in the party. It was further heightened by the state government’s inability to immediately unveil the identities of the two cases that tested positive for COVID-19 in the state announced a few days earlier. The camps in the party had risen against each other in trying to either defend or condemn. While one camp saw the development as nothing, the other insisted that it must be met with sanctions whether in line with the law or not.

Onyeama and Eze, who confirmed they read the post, added that they received calls from friends and relations, who tried to confirm the veracity of the claim. In their apparent show of anger, the duo approached their legal counsel, E.C Onuoha, to seek a retraction of the said material they considered “defamatory” from Nwanjoku and a public apology, failing which they would take court action.

In a demand letter to this effect obtained by The Guardian and dated March 30, Onuoha had said: “Our clients’ instruction is that between 28 and 29 March 2020, you published in some social media platforms some pieces of information to the effect that our clients have been infected with the COVID-19 virus and intentionally came back with the virus, thereby putting people at risk.

“These pieces of information are not only blatantly false, baseless and unfounded, but also defamatory in nature. They tend to portray our clients as reckless and irresponsible citizens who will intentionally put other people at risk. These false information are likely to reduce the estimation of our clients in the eyes of right thinking members of the society but you have to publish the falsehood, particularly on WhatsApp groups using your registered phone number 08162022276. Find attached screenshots of the messages”.

The letter had further demanded that “if you fail to retract the false and libelous statements in writing within a period of 24 hours from the receipt of this letter, and also issue an apology to our clients in writing c/o the undersigned, we shall be constrained to put the necessary legal machinery in motion to seek redress on behalf of our clients.

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“The suits, which shall be commenced at the Enugu State High Court for each of our clients individually, shall be for N250,000,000 (two hundred and fifty million naira) damages for libel”.

Nwanjoku is a member of the main faction of the party led by Nwoye. He is said to have severally opposed the minister on issues affecting the party in the state, especially over his alleged role in the crisis rocking the state chapter of the party, which he is said to be using his office to fuel.

Sources said that in the case at hand, Nwanjoku had denied knowledge of the social media posting against the minister. He is said to have claimed to have read the material from one of the platforms he belonged and shared it with a friend.

Also, Benjamin Nwanjoku, elder brother to the suspect, also learnt credence to the innocence of his brother, when he stated that his younger brother copied the article from an online platform and posted on a Whatsapp platform.

In spite of their defence last Friday, a team of police investigators drawn from the Inspector General of Police’s (IGP) Special Squad had stormed the Odume country home of the party’s youth chieftain and arrested him. He was taken to Abuja.

Flurry of reactions
THE arrest of the youth leader had fuelled public debate over the veracity or otherwise of the story. Members of APC, especially those loyal to the state’s factional chairman, Nwoye, saw it as another dimension in the struggle for the soul of the party in the state. They stated that Nwanjoku was being targeted following his tacit support for Nwoye, adding, “nailing him with the post would weaken the stronghold of the Nwoye faction”

Nwoye has accused the minister of using his office to harass and intimidate party members in the state and wondered why a civil matter could lead to the arrest and detention of the youth leader.

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He condemned the alleged commando-style of arresting the APC youth leader and called on the Inspector General of Police to wade into the matter as a matter of urgency to prevent further escalation. He insisted that there was nothing that warranted such an arrest, expressing regrets that intimidation would not augur well for anyone intent on leading the party.

But Eze, the minister’s Personal Assistant, who was accused alongside the minister of contracting the virus, immediately countered Nwoye’s assertion. While justifying Nwanjoku’s arrest, Eze described as criminal and malicious the publication that caused it, stressing that it was meant to create unnecessary panic in Enugu State and malign his personality and that of the minister. He stated that it was unfair for Nwoye to politicise the “despicable and irresponsible act.
 
“Instead of the culprit and his co-conspirators to face the issue, they have chosen to rush to the media to accuse the minister of ordering his arrest and detention. Nwanjoku, a close associate of Nwoye, alleged that the minister and I are the two persons that tested positive to COVID-19 and had gone to Enugu with the deliberate intention of spreading the disease.

“He further called on the state government to arrest us. The sole intention of the malicious allegations, which he knew to be untrue, was to cause widespread alarm and panic in the state.”Eze said he personally reported the matter to the police after Nwanjoku failed to retract the write up as demanded.

Enter Enugu State Government
Perhaps, alarmed by the rising discontent by the post is generating, as well as the increasing suspicion by residents that there could be some iota of credibility in the claim with its alleged silence, the state government waded in and clarified that the two cases in the state that tested positive for coronavirus disease were not the minister of Foreign Affairs and his personal assistant.

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Permanent Secretary, State Ministry of Health, Dr. Ifeanyi Agujiobi, said the claims were untrue, fictitious and baseless as well as the handiwork of mischief-makers whom it said wanted to dent the image of the minister. 
 
Agujiobi added that the two positive cases of COVID-19, who were returnees from United Kingdom (UK) are a husband and wife from Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of the state. 

“We hereby enjoin the general public to disregard any information on COVID-19 in Enugu State that does not emanate from the state government through the State Ministry of Health or Information. Let us be well guided,” he said.

As it is, a new chapter in the crisis rocking Enugu APC has opened. How long this would subsist and the resultant effects would be remain to be determined. Although Nwanjoku had been released from detention after some notable leaders prevailed on the police and minister, the body language of those loyal to the camp of the minister, however, suggests that the issue is far from being resolved.

A member of the group loyal to Minister Onyeama, who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity, said: “We will prosecute this matter to serve as a deterrent to others who think that they can play politics with everything. What proof does he have to make such grievous allegation if not to ridicule the minister who has worked very hard with other members of the national committee on COVID-19 to control the spread of the pandemic? It is sad”.

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