New leadership, old battles for APC in Enugu
After eight years of crisis that has crippled the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu State, especially its fortunes at the polls, all eyes are on Uche Nnaji to reunite members and make the party strong again, LAWRENCE NJOKU writes.
One factor that set Enugu State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) on the path of crisis in 2015 after the party won the presidential election was the appointment of immediate past Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, by former president, Muhammadu Buhari, to take the slot of the state.
The foundation members, who rose against the then Minister, said he was not a card-carrying member of the party as at the time of election. They argued that he was unknown to the party and did not vote in the election that produced Buhari and never worked with the party in the state during the campaign period.
They insisted that his appointment was in error and did not reflect the essence of belonging to a political party. They, therefore, distanced themselves from him and resisted his moves to have a hold on the party.
The development, however, snowballed into a full crisis that factionalised the party in 2018. It was the congress year of the APC. While the rest of the members met and agreed that then state chairman, Dr Ben Nwoye, would be returned with his executives to continue in office, Onyeama needed to have a foot in the affairs of the party, and therefore, hatched a contrary plan.
On the day of the congress, members had gathered at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, waiting for the process to commence, when some political thugs allegedly sponsored by Onyeama invaded the venue and chased away delegates. Under his watch, Mr Okey Ogbodo, was installed as the new “chairman” of the party.
Ogbodo was not a member of the party and has since returned to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and now serving as a Commissioner in the state. The next day, party delegates returned to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium venue and reelected Nwoye to continue in office as State Chairman with members of his executive. This was the development that tore the party into two factions.
While the Nwoye group, which enjoyed the support of the national leadership, operated from the state secretariat of the party, the Ogbodo group, which enjoyed the support of Onyeama, operated from the residence of Ogbodo.
The two factions initiated suits in courts over the true leadership of the party. APC members, however, carried the love lost into the 2019 general elections and filled parallel candidates. They opened parallel campaign offices and campaigns. At the end of exercise, the party lost woefully. PDP retained all elective seats in the state.
In 2021, however, the party members attempted to work together again through the state congress of that year. This was not to be as parallel executives had emerged. Like Ogbodo, Ugochukwu Agballah who was not a member of the party as of the time of the congress, emerged as chairman from the exercise held at a location in the state, while Adolphus Ude, a former deputy chairman of the party, emerged as chairman from another congress held at the party secretariat same day.
Although foundation members had resisted Agballah as an ‘imposition’ with processes filed in different courts over the development, he (Agballah) carried on following the backing of the national leadership of the party, which relied on his nomination by Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State.
The crisis between Agballah and Ude factions maintained almost similar trappings with that of Nwoye and Ogbodo crisis, except in the nomination of candidates for the 2023 general elections. Agballah had produced all the candidates for the elective offices including the governorship candidate, Uche Nnaji, who is now Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology.
The Ude group, which included the foundation members of the party, did not work with him. Nnaji with his emergence as Minister became the leader of the party in the state. Will this development restore sanity in the state chapter that had been engulfed in the last eight years or will he continue to align with the faction that gave him the governorship ticket of the party?
Nnaji, who contested the governorship seat ended in the fourth position following the crisis in the party that was imported into the election. But soon after the 2023 general elections in which the party experienced its worst performance in electioneering so far in the state, Agballah summoned a press conference where he announced sanctions ranging from suspension and expulsion on foundation members of the party.
In what he termed “in house cleansing of those who worked against the party,” through the Secretary of the party, Dr Robert Ngwu, the Agballah group announced the expulsion of former governor, Sullivan Chime; Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu; former Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Eugene Odoh, as well as Flavour Eze, an aide to former Minister for alleged anti-party activities.
Similarly, he had suspended former Senate President, Ken Nnamani and Onyeama for allegedly undermining the party and its activities in the state.
“The party is fully aware of the nefarious activities of the previous administration of the party in the 2015 and 2019 general elections. With that in mind, the party reviewed various petitions and reports from the fact-finding committee and the disciplinary committee against some individuals,” state Secretary of the party, Ngwu, had announced.
Those affected by the sanctions immediately dismissed it as “not only childish” but “a desperate attempt by imposters to hijack the party.” They accused Agballah of attempting to cover the shame of a poor electoral outing, as well as cases of alleged corruption against him and vowed to do all that was lawful to ease him out of the party.
This is the burden trailing the APC in Enugu State at the moment for which all eyes are geared towards Nnaji to proffer solutions. While his election campaigns lasted, he never hid his disdain for party members whom he accused of “working for APC in the day and PDP in the night,” attributing it to the cog in the wheel of progress of the party in the state.
He vowed to tackle the issue in order to strengthen the party. Will he insist that the foundation members who allegedly worked against the party be shown the exit door or will he turn his back completely against the party, having made a mark in his political career?
Nnaji shot to political limelight in 1999 when he won the senatorial ticket of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) for Enugu East. Although he was favoured to win the election, he had stepped down to pull support for Chief Jim Nwobodo, who eventually won.
A source however, indicated that he was part of the “imposition in the party by the way the governorship ticket was allocated to him, as well as in the membership of the state,” stressing that there are two cases in court over leadership of the party. One of the cases was said to be filed by Kingsley Udoji and another by Obed Eneh
Although former Chairman, Nwoye, believes that the cases in court would not solve the crisis of the party, he however, called for political solution, stressing that the appointment of Nnaji as Minister has nothing to do with the crisis as it was bound to continue, “as long as Agballah continued to disrespect party elders and major stakeholders.”
He said, “For the Enugu APC to get together again, every member must be integrated with the party. The over160,000 people who were registered by the APC, and were disregarded must be brought back. You cannot bring them back when you bring unknown faces to lead the party, the crisis will continue.
Those people will form cells within the party. The only way you can bring them together is by bringing a leader who can accommodate others. It is not the- I -can -do -it -all attitudes now being exhibited by Agballah.
“You cannot grow APC by going to the different wards to pick ward chairmen not known to the party stakeholders. Until those things are addressed, you cannot move forward. You can’t brush every leader aside and think you can make headway. You can’t. This is what Agballah has done in the past one year and the result of it is the poor result in the last elections, among others.
“If the party will go on, the new national chairman needs to call the leaders. Those old members are still there and waiting. They have not joined the PDP or decamped to the Labour Party. I am, however, not in the position of changing Agballah, but for him to change his attitude to the party. It is a political issue and the party must resolve it politically,” Nwoye stated.
For Ngwu, certain actions taken by the party against some members have not been swept under the carpet, adding, however, that the issue in the party was not irresolvable.
“After the state took certain actions against erring members, the party in the southeast ratified what we did in line with the Constitution of the party. So, the next step is to go to the national executive committee for final ratification.
Ngwu stated that the Minister and Agballah led executive were interested in a formidable party that “can win elections any day in the state”, stressing that, “with the appointment of a Minister, who is a party man, we will leverage this to build an APC that will stand the test of time in Enugu State. It is a new APC and we are committed to doing what is right.”
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