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Internal fracas revives fear of imminent poll violence in Enugu State APC

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The recent attack on the campaign headquarters of rival All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial candidate in Enugu State, which led to the destruction of two campaign buses, renews public apprehension about the threat of violent poll in the state.

Two crucial issues give rise to the fear of possible breach of peace during the forthcoming gubernatorial election in the coal city state. In the first place, Enugu State has a foolproof power sharing arrangement in which governorship is rotated among the senatorial cum socio-cultural zones. Beginning from Enugu East or Nike-Nkanu bloc in 1999, through Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, who served for eight years and yielded to Enugu West, comprising the Agbaja cum greater Awgu bloc with Mr. Sullivan Chime, the zoning moved over to Enugu North or Nsukka cultural zone of the incumbent Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration.

Secondly, at the build up to the 2015 election when the governorship baton was to be passed to the Nsukka cultural bloc, two hefty politicians from the zone, namely Ugwuanyi and Senator Ayogu Eze, wrestled for the guber ticket of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Eze, who was at the time the chairman of Senate Committee on Works and Transport, believed that Ugwuanyi, then chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport, was not his match for the governorship.

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Each of the gladiators pulled his political strings according to their respective clouts, to the extent that a parallel governorship primary was held, which threw both as rival candidates of the same PDP platform. But while the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recognised Ugwuanyi’s candidacy based on the recommendation of PDP national leadership as required by law, Eze, in protest, approached the court with a pre-election suit against Ugwuanyi’s candidacy.

The plaintiff argued that the governorship primary from which Ugwuanyi emerged was conducted with doctored delegates’ list contrary to the one authenticated and sent by PDP NWC. He therefore prayed the court for an order declaring him as the validly nominated candidate of PDP for the 2015, as well as a consequential order prohibiting Ugwuanyi from parading himself as PDP candidate and for INEC to hand him the certificate of return for the election.

Believing that the delegates’ list upon which his faction based the primary was the bonafide list, Senator Eze climbed mountains and crossed rivers as he moved from High Court through Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court in search of favourable pronouncement on the Enugu governorship. In the end, with just barely seven months to the end of Ugwuanyi’s four-year term, the apex court described Eze’s suit as lacking in merit and threw it out.

Yet, determined to make a final go at the governorship seat as zoned to Enugu North, Eze crossed to the ruling APC in the belief that what he lost at the court, the facility of federal might could recompense him.

But no sooner had he declared his intention to join APC than internal protestations ensued. Having joined the party barely weeks to the governorship primaries, which were predicated on the direct method, Eze was losing to one George Tagbo Ogara before a contrary position from the national headquarters of the party decreed an indirect method of candidate selection. Ogara cried foul, so also a rival leadership of the party in the state.

It was while the intraparty feud raged that most residents of Enugu State began to show apprehension over the likelihood of violence besmirching the 2019 poll in the state. The Deacon Okey Ogbodo faction accused Eze of being an impostor who was desperate for political power, stressing that he was perfecting plans to cause pandemonium in the state to warrant a postponement of the gubernatorial poll in the state. But the Ben Nwoye faction dismissed the claims, saying that it settled for Eze because he seems to possess what it takes to prosecute the governorship election in the state.

Divine intervention
Disturbed by a series of security reports about covert plans by the opposition to disturb public peace and instill fear on the electorate, the state government decided to seek divine intervention by calling for a seven-day prayer and fasting “for peaceful, transparent and violence-free election in 2019.”

The prayer session was programmed to precede the commencement of the governorship campaign. In his remarks at the kickoff of the exercise, the Director General of PDP governorship campaign organisation, Dr. Charles Egumgbe, who was flanked by the secretary, Ikeje Asogwa, explained that this prayer exercise was in keeping with Governor Ugwuanyi’s tradition of entrusting the affairs of the state to the hands of God.

Egumgbe enjoined citizens to pray for issue-based, smooth and successful campaigns in the state, even as he assured the people that “PDP government would through God’s grace, continue to maintain the tempo of peace and security in the state.”

However, despite the appeal to divine intervention, as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lifted the ban on open campaigns for the governorship and House of Assembly candidates, vicious attacks on the state government have filled the airwaves amid rumours of clandestine plans to import political thugs from neighbouring states, particularly Kogi and Edo States.

The development elicited further public statement from the PDP governorship campaign organisation. In a statement entitled, ‘Rising Spate of Campaign of Calumny in Enugu State,’ PDP Director of Media, Nana Ogbodo, said: “We have observed with consternation the unrelenting spate of hate and deliberate falsehood being peddled by some political actors in the state in the guise of campaign, both via conventional and social media platforms.

“Coming just a few weeks ahead of the 2019 general elections, we find this recent surge particularly worrisome, especially given its capacity to breach the peace,” even as it assured that as “a campaign organization, we will continue to play by the rules, demonstrate utmost decorum in our conduct and always make our campaign issue-based as espoused by the PDP standard bearer in the governorship election, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi,”

Desperate tactics
Recent political developments in the state could be said to have stoked the desperate tactics by the opposition. Shortly after PDP lost the 2015 presidential poll to APC, some notable former stalwarts of the party ran away from PDP. Prominent among the defectors were the former President of Senate, Dr. Ken Nnamani, former governor of old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo and immediate past governor, Mr. Chime.

Although the APC has continued to parade those big names, the reality on the ground shows that their exit did not receive enthusiastic support of their members, most of whom remained behind in PDP.

Nonetheless, buoyed by the big names and flouting perceived resources to defeat the incumbent, Senator Eze, working in cahoots with the APC NWC, was said to have ruffled the party’s governorship primary thereby leaving Ogara in suspense.

Although Ogara is in court challenging the process that threw up Eze, he alongside the chairman of his faction, Ogbodo, has persisted in running a parallel governorship campaign structure to the discomfort and chagrin of Eze.

What has been simmering between the two factions boiled over last week when the campaign vehicles belonging to Ogara were destroyed. The Ogbodo camp cried foul, pointing accusing fingers at the other faction.

Ogbodo, in a statement, said: “I condemn in the strongest term possible the bombing last night of the campaign office of the authentic APC gubernatorial candidate in Enugu State, Barrister George Tagbo Ogara, by agents of darkness.”

Giving an inventory of what his side lost in the attack, Ogbodo disclosed that two of the six branded Toyota Hummer campaign buses of ‘Ogara for Governor’ parked in the premises, located opposite Fire Service Headquarters, at Otigba area of Enugu were blown up with what is suspected to be a controlled explosive device.

Barrister Tagbo Ogara

He added: “I do not have doubts in my mind that this pre-meditated, unwarranted attack on our candidate’s campaign facilities was orchestrated by Mr. Ben Nwoye and his pay masters, including the imposter, Ayogu Eze and ex-governor, Sullivan Chime, who are all desperate to wrestle from me the machinery of the party in Enugu State and its gubernatorial nomination, which Barrister Tagbo Ogara had won fair and square.

“I also legitimately posit that this was why Mr. Chime had personally threatened, not long ago, in a widely reported interview, that the 2019 poll in Enugu State ‘would be war’. It would appear that these desperate turn-coats have commenced this so-called ‘war’ on our law-abiding citizens with hitherto unprecedented procurement and use of illegal explosive devices on the campaign office and facilities of Barrister Ogara, who believes in the rule of law, and is firmly in court to affirm his mandate as APC legitimate flag-bearer in Enugu State.”

While urging immediate investigation, Ogbodo maintained that the “attack is a desperate end-time action by an unpopular cabal with hardly any prospect, influence or political structure on ground, but intent on reaping where they did not sow.

This mindless resort to high level dissident, violent action as unleashed last night on our candidate is abhorrent, primitive and a dangerous dimension to intra-party disagreement in the body politics of our country, bearing in mind that we are not yet thinking of our common enemy at the polls – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which our people badly desire to change in Enugu State. How can a house divided against itself stand?

“It beats my imagination why and how any practicing politician who ought to seek power only for the public good would initiate, commission or sanction violence against his opponent, and in this case, rather than wait for the outcome of law suits subsisting in various competent courts of law in the land. The idea of trying to intimidate a political opponent through lethal threats, as in this case, is not only primitive, but also unhelpful in a civil democracy, and should be condemned by all and sundry. This unfortunate attack on our candidate has clearly corroborated the popular opinion that rather work hard for a united and strong APC front in Enugu State, those in Ben Nwoye group are spoilers and indeed agents of PDP who have been hired at great cost to destabilize our party and whittle down our ability to mount a credible electoral challenge for the Lion Building next year.”

But in a swift response, the Eze camp denied responsibility or culpability in the attack and destruction of Ogara’s campaign equipment. In a statement made available to The Guardian, the media officer of Ayogu Eze Campaign Organization, Mr. Okey Ugwuada Ezirigwe, described the attack as not only spurious, but also expressed doubts on the authenticity of the claim.

While supporting the call on the police to carry out full investigation into the attack and bring the culprits to book, Ezirigwe said the nefarious action must have been masterminded by supporters of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which he alleged were keen on distracting Eze’s electioneering ahead of next year’s governorship poll.

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Adopting a line of his principal’s argument, Ezirigwe asserted that Ogara was not a threat to Senator Eze, stressing that his person or pretensions could not therefore necessitate “any supporter of Senator Ayogu Eze to waste precious time and energy to attack a moribund campaign office. Our campaign is focused on issues of mis-governance and has no time for violence. Our principal, Senator Ayogu Eze abhors violence and will not condone it by any of his supporters or anybody within his campaign structure.

Nwoye

“It’s a stage-managed hoax, designed to distract the Choice Campaign Organisation from the serious issues of election and to waste precious time joining issues with a non-existent candidate, known only in the delusional imagination of those who have been funding and goading him into a mission impossible.

“We don’t believe his so-called office was attacked but if it was, it must have been orchestrated by him to draw attention to himself. If the police are investigating the attack as the poorly coordinated fake news claimed, why rush to name anyone as suspect even before the police come out with their investigation?”

As the 2019 election draws near, there are indicators that ego, prestige and outside interests would clash during the governorship poll in Enugu. Going by the zoning arrangement, only Enugu North or Nsukka cultural zone could announce the repudiation of their first choice for the office of governor.

Therefore, as the zone has not made such recommendation or renunciation, they are stuck with Ugwuanyi, because other zones, especially Enugu East, whose turn it would be in 2023, won’t encourage any development that could shortchange or elongate their wait.


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