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Issues as APC makes quiet inroad to Ebonyi State

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National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole accompanied by members of the National Working Committee addressed a post-presidential election press conference.


The All Progressives Congress (APC) may not have made much inroad in the Southeast since its inception. The party, which came to limelight by a fusion of some political parties in 2013, had penetrated the landscape with winning elections in some zones of the country but not so for the Southeast. The case of the Southeast has remained a not-too easy ground for APC and outcomes of concluded elections have created the impression that the party was not wanted by the people of the area.

But this perception appears to be changing gradually with the victory of the party’s candidate for Ezza/Ikwo Federal Constituency at the Court of Appeal division, Enugu, last week. The court had sacked the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Lazarus Ogbee and awarded victory to Mr. Chinedu Ogar of APC, as the winner of the February 23 election. APC had never won election in Ebonyi State before now. Its participation in the electoral process of the state since the inception of the party in 2013 had been abysmal.

But in 2019, many had hoped that the party would spring surprises in the state with the galaxy of politicians it paraded.  They were, however, disappointed when the results were declared in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. The development did not go down well with candidates of the party who participated in the elections. Some had stormed Enugu, even before the votes were counted and results announced, to reject its outcome, allegedly on the grounds that it was highly manipulated against them. They had vowed to challenge its outcome in court. Last week, however, the Appeal Court had agreed with Ogar that he actually won the election and not Ogbee. Justice Ignatius Agube, who delivered the ruling, had dismissed the petition of PDP’s candidate, Ogbee, as lacking in merit.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had earlier declared Ogbee winner of the election, but his victory was upturned by the elections petition tribunal in Abakaliki after Ogbee challenged it.

INEC which had returned Ogbee as winner had announced that the PDP’s candidate scored 31,296 votes in the two local governments that make up the federal constituency, including Ezza South and Ikwo to beat APC’s candidate, who scored 27,700 votes. This energized Ogbee to return to the House of Reps. Ogar had protested that the result did not reflect the outcome of the election. He had petitioned the tribunal to insist that he won the election and not Ogbee and had asked to be declared the winner and awarded certificate of return.

The lower tribunal, headed by Justice Sika Henry, who ruled on the matter, agreed with him. He had declared that he (Ogar) scored the highest number of votes and not Ogbee. He had declared Ogar winner of the election and asked the INEC to issue him with fresh certificate of return.

In arriving at the decision, the tribunal had said that APC scored 8,311 votes in Ezza South and 27,92 votes in Ikwo, making a total of 36,238 votes against PDP’s 17,139 votes in Ezza South and 16,127 votes in Ikwo, making a total of 33,316 votes.

“It is the petitioner that scored the majority of the lawful votes, having scored 36, 238 votes as against the PDP candidate, the first respondent who scored 33,200 votes. We entirely agreed with the petitioner that he scored the majority of the lawful votes from our own computation.

“The certificate of return issued to the 1st respondent by the 3rd respondent (INEC) as representing Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency is hereby withdrawn forthwith and must be issued to the petitioner, Comrade Chinedu Ogah as the winner of the election conducted on the 23 February 2019 to the membership of the House of Representatives to represent Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency,” the tribunal ruled.

It was this ruling that Ogbee appealed against and lost. Ogar’s victory is being interpreted as a gradual inroad by APC into the states of the Southeast. The case of the Southeast being a not an easy ground for the party is gradually changing. This wrongly held narrative could have perhaps fired Ogar’s zeal to challenge the election in court.
 
Imo and Anambra were the first states where APC berthed in the zone in 2015, winning the governorship, National Assembly seats as well as seats at the State House of Assembly. The party extended to Abia State in 2019, winning seats at the senate and House of Representatives in the election. That of Ebonyi did not come until the Court of Appeal adjudicated on the matter. Enugu now remains the only without a showing by the APC.

The development had thrown supporters of the party into wild jubilation last week. Those who witnessed the celebration that followed the judgment said there was a motorcade of members of party, who moved through various streets of Abakaliki town, and ended up at the candidate’s house, where an all night party commenced. They insisted that the victory would further strengthen the party and restore the confidence of members in it, stressing that lack of cohesion, lack of team spirit and internal wrangling were responsible for the defeat it suffered during the elections in the state early this year. It was gathered that many members of the party worked underground against it and were used by the ruling party to cause disaffection that affected the performance of the party.

A chieftain of the party, Prof. Bernard Odoh, had come close to confirming this recently when he said that APC in Ebonyi could not manage the challenges of the party very well. He said: “Abia, for instance, scored less votes for APC, but was able to win a senate and two House of Representatives seats. We didn’t manage our challenges well and this robbed us of the desired victory. Buhari’s stronghold states remained intact and more votes poured in from Southeast, more National Assembly seats were won by the party in the zone in the just concluded elections.
 
“Ebonyi, which incidentally gave Buhari the highest number of votes in the region, could not win a seat in the state and that is because members were not committed to the cause of the party”.

It would be recalled that one challenge the party in the state faced before the 2019 general elections was the factionalization of its membership. While one group allegedly loyal to a former Senator, Julius Ucha was led by Ben Nwobasi, the other said to be loyal to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, was led by Eze Nwachukwu. The crisis in the party became pronounced during the last congresses that brought to office incumbent executives as each of the factions held their separate exercises where officials emerged.

The intervention of the national and Southeast zonal leaderships of the party which tilted towards the Nwachukwu-led executive brought some sanity that paved way for the conduct of primaries for the emergence of candidates for the elections in the state. Yet at the elections proper, members of the party were allegedly used to work against the interest of the candidates that participated in the process. Onu Nweze, the senatorial candidate of the party for Ebonyi South Constituency, confirmed this much when he led candidates who participated at the National and State House of Assembly elections in the state to brief the press in Enugu, where they asked the national leadership to probe the role of their leaders in the elections. They also sought sanctions for party officials and federal appointees from the state, who did little or nothing to ensure that APC triumphed at the election.

They alleged that although the elections were characterised by widespread rigging orchestrated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led state government to retain power, most federal appointees from the state did little or nothing towards APC’s success.

The candidates who include Jude Okpor of (Ezza North East), Ngozichi Okorie (Ohaozara East), Jonathan Ebe (Ishielu North), Obinna Udenwe (Abakaliki South) and Emeka Nwoko (Ezza North West) state constituencies, argued that they contested against a desperate incumbent administration that promised to crush any opposition element that stood on its way. They also insisted that internal sabotage by APC party leaders within and outside the state worked against their chances of victory.

“It is public knowledge that APC’s national leader, who is from the South West, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, along with cabinet members and other party leaders played major roles that led to APC’s successes in their zone. In the South-South, Rotimi Amaechi’s impact cannot be over-stretched. Similarly, Lai Mohammed led the liberation of Kwara State in the North Central. We are constrained to ask, where was our leader Ogbonnaya Onu throughout the struggle to liberate Ebonyi during the election?

“We also learnt that some fifth columnists within and outside our party are doing everything possible to smear the image of our gubernatorial candidate, Sonni Ogbuoji, with the intention of causing disaffection, disunity and crisis among party faithful and Ebonyi people to pave way for Dave Umahi’s defection to APC. We condemn this in the strongest terms.”

A chieftain, Ekene Igwe told The Guardian that the state chapter would go places should there be less friction based on the gaps created by the ruling PDP, stressing that, “our people are mainly those of the grassroots who believe that we have what it takes to turn things around for better.”


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