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Rivers 2019: APC’s unresolved issues put party at risk

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Tonye Cole

Except a last-ditch effort to end protracted conflict in All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State is achieved, the party is headed for rancorous primary to nominate its governorship candidate for 2019 general election.

Presently, there exist two parallel party secretariats, presided over by Ojukaye Flag-Amachree and Peter Odike respectively.  Ironically, these offices are located along same Aba-Port Harcourt Road in Port Harcourt.

Prospective APC nomination seekers include the party’s 2015 governorship candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, Senator Magnus Abe, who represents Rivers South East in the Senate, a lawyer and son of an oil magnate, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, oil magnate Mr. Tonye Cole and Dr. Sokonte Davies, among others.

Rivers APC had found itself in hot water since early 2017, when the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi and his estranged ally, Abe, locked horns over the latter’s governorship ambition.

Amaechi’s unflinching resolve to not soften his stance on Abe’s candidature, and the tactical exclusion of perceived Abe supporters during the APC state congresses, had necessitated a legal dispute that has further deepened the gaping wound in the party’s heart, leading to establishment of two secretariats in Port Harcourt.

While addressing party members at the commissioning of the Odike-led state executive committee parallel secretariat penultimate Friday, Abe, who had already formally declared his governorship ambition, said since a state High Court voided the party’s congresses and ordered the party to return to status quo, it would only be rationale for aggrieved sides to align with Odike’s faction.

With opening of the two parallel secretariats ahead of the crucial governorship primary, an APC insider told The Guardian that the party’s national leadership is seemingly caught in a dilemma over Rivers State intra-party fiasco. Apparently, the lingering dilemma is not clearing out soon, as both the Flag-Amaechree-led state executive committee, which is aligned to Amaechi and Odike’s faction, which is pro-Abe, have continued to lay claim to party leadership in the state.

Supporters of Abe, who is of the Ogoni ethnic extraction, reckon that the congresses conducted under the leadership of the former State working committee was a precursor to possible ultimate emergence of any of Amaechi’s heir apparent, presumably Dakuku in the party primary. They argued that unilateral announcement of Dakuku’s candidature in 2014, which they consider runs contrary to the idea of consensus, is the reason for the crack in the party.

Though Peterside has not formally declared his intent to contest APC governorship ticket, there is a strong suspicion within Abe’s group that he remains Amaechi’s heir apparent.

On why he was yet to declare his intention, Peterside said it was not who takes off first that matters, but who ends well. He explained that, if and when he ultimately makes up his mind to run, he would without no doubt be the candidate to beat. He stressed that, if he joins the race, he would be starting with an advantage.

He said: “I ran the most robust campaign ever in the history of Rivers State in 2015. I don’t think anybody will deny that. In the course of running that campaign, I built structures in every community, in every electoral voting unit, and in every ward of the state.”

On the crisis rocking the party, Peterside said in any association, such as a political party, where people compete for power, it is obviously not possible for everyone to hold the same opinion. He pointed out that while opinions and interests must differ, at some point, members must aggregate their diverse opinions and interests. He pledged to support whoever emerges winner.

Abe and Dakuku, both APC frontrunners, are from Rivers South East Senatorial district, which has never produced a governor since 1999.

The Guardian gathered that they have meanwhile started serious lobbying within and outside the state. They both believe that if they secure the party ticket, their victory at the polls will be guaranteed with the assistance of federal might.

A political observer, Matthias Izidor, told The Guardian that with factionalism simmering barely a few weeks to party primaries, the APC no doubt faces difficulties in nominating a single candidate for the race. He regretted that the party’s national leadership has failed to battle the ambitions of feuding APC leaders in the state.

He said: “Considering the bad blood that runs deep in Rivers State APC, whoever gets the ticket between Abe and Dakuku, the other will take offence and will possibly work clandestinely against the party candidate, or will be inactive during elections, thus dividing the party’s votes. Rather than stakeholders working together to dampen the tension, they have allowed it to fester. It is obvious that Governor Wike’s name will be submitted as People Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for the election. APC’s biggest hurdle is itself, as there is a deep division in its ranks over who becomes the standard bearer.”

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Another analyst, Kachi George, observed that with the two parallel working committees, even if either side is to conduct the primary, the other faction won’t have the confidence that a free, fair, and participatory election will be possible. He warned that if the prevailing scenario does not change in the coming days, and Governor Wike goes ahead to win the 2019 polls, the conflict between Amaechi and Abe would be blamed for the party’s defeat.

He said: “I fear that if the President or APC national leader is unable to prevail on feuding parties in Rivers, any candidate nominated amid this crisis will suffer humiliating defeat at the polls. For a party that is desirous of wresting power from an incumbent governor, picking a wrong person to contest the polls will only translate to a dismal performance of at the polls.”

Considering the short time left for party primary and unresolved legal issues on the last APC congresses in the state, it is obvious that the two parallel state working committees will most likely organise separate congresses. As at the time of filing this report, the APC was yet to vacate a court order that nullified the congresses and declared that the status quo be maintained. It was on this basis that the former vice chairman, Odike, decided to assume position of an acting chairman.

But as the crisis rocking the APC lingers, a pro-Tonye Cole group, the Rivers Unity House, is hopeful that he may emerge the consensus candidate in 2019.

The group, whose members have become vociferous on social media, recently took to the streets of Port Harcourt, imploring Cole, another core Amaechi ally, to harken to their appeal and run for the office of governor. It is their belief that Cole will use his vast experience in the private sector to turn around the state’s economy.

Those rooting for Mr. Cole, who is from Rivers West senatorial district and of Ijaw ethnic extraction, are of the opinion that power should be conceded to people from the riverine area of the state.

The call for rotation of political power from Rivers hinterland to the coastal area has become strident. Peterside, who is an Ijaw from Opobo in Rivers South East district attested to this.

He said: “The general thinking is that after 20 years of the upland being in charge, it is only fair that the riverine section also be given a fair chance to contribute to governance. That movement is on and it is not championed by the APC. I am aware that a number of Rivers people are championing this, as they think that is the path to peace and equity. It will not be fair for one side to dominate.”

It is on record that the Ijaws have produced two civilian governors since the creation of Rivers State, and three deputy governors in succession since 1999, including Sir Gabriel Toby, who hails from Opobo.

The president of a socio-cultural organisation in Ogoniland, KAGOTE, Dr. Peter Medee, however, insisted that Ogoni, which is the largest ethnic group in Rivers South East and has never produced a governor, deputy governor, Speaker or a Chief Judge since 1967 should be given a chance this time around.

Former spokesperson of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Bari-ara Kpalap, said Abe’s aspiration should be seen as an aspect of Ogoni campaign for justice.

He said: “In a situation where Ogoni has been detrimentally marginalised to cement its political exclusion, it is doubtful there would be reform in attitude and approach without pressure. Therefore, adequate representation as of right in all Rivers institutions, in our view, would not be fulfilled without our occupying governor’s office. While we are not averse to other interested citizens aspiring to the office, we are longing for an even playing ground.”


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