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Rivers APC crisis deepens as Amaechi, Abe factions fight rough

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Rotimi Amaechi

The festering crisis within the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State deepened further at the weekend, as the Caretaker Committee Chairman loyal to the Transport Minister, Chibuke Amaechi, Isaac Ogbobula, suspended Senator Magnus Abe, Igo Aguma and his media assistant, Livingstone Wechie, and former Attorney- General and Commissioner for Justice, Wogu Boms, over alleged anti-party activities. A High Court sitting in Port Harcourt had on June 9, 2020, declared the Ogbobula-led committee illegal and confirmed Aguma, a former member of the House of Representatives, chairman of the party.

Crisis in the party began in 2015, when two factions emerged – the Amaechi and Abe factions – following Abe’s interest to fly the party’s flag in the 2015 and 2019 elections, which Amaechi opposed.

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Aguma, a firm supporter of Amaechi, felt aggrieved over some perceived injustices and went to court in December 2019, seeking inclusiveness, internal democracy, and unity and that he be declared the acting chairman of the party. The court granted his prayers. Justice George Omereji’s declaration of Aguma as acting chairman further divided the party intro three factions – the Amaechi, Abe, and Aguma factions. Some party stalwarts even decamped from the Amaechi faction to join Aguma.

However, the Ogbobula-led committee, not satisfied with the ruling, appealed the judgment and the Appeal Court in Abuja stayed proceedings in the appeal filed by the appellant. The court, however, held that it could not continue to hear the appeal on the grounds that once an appeal had been lodged at the Supreme Court against its ruling, the court ceases jurisdiction pending the apex’s court judgment.

In July 2020, the court stated that in the interest of justice, the hearing of the case would be halted pending the Supreme Court’s ruling. Sequel to the stalemate, Aguma could not discharge his responsibilities as acting chairman. The Guardian gathered from his close allies that his reason was that since the matter was in court, he would wait until the court determined the fate of the party’s leadership.

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However, while waiting, he convened a few virtual meetings, which witnessed low attendance, as party stalwarts, especially those in Amaechi’s camp failed to show up. The Guardian also gathered that a few other meetings that held ended in brawls, which forced Aguma to stop calling for further meetings. Meanwhile, efforts made by party chieftains to restore peace and unity failed due to the impossible conditions each faction gave.

An Abe ally, Senator Wilson Ake, and Amaechi’s ally, Senator Andrew Uchendu had initiated reconciliation moves through consultative forums from March this year, but each of the meetings ended in deadlock. It was gathered that when Abe’s group was asked what they wanted for peace to reign, it insisted that it needed 50 per cent of the party’s structure. This demand, according to a party chieftain loyal to the minister, Chris Fineborne, was difficult for Amaechi’s camp to concede. The inability of the factions to accept each other’s preconditions for peace has festered to date.

However on December 8, 2020, the National Executive Council (NEC) of APC declared the dissolution of its executive committees across the stakes and wards.

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Following the directive, the committees in the state were dissolved and Ogbobula was reappointed to lead the party structure. But in a swift reaction, Aguma rejected the move, noting that Rivers State chapter of APC would not to benefit from the recent decision of the party’s NEC, which dissolved its structures in the 36 states and capital and constituted caretaker committees. He stated that before the said decision of NEC, APC in the state already had a caretaker committee, which he headed.

Aguma said his office was as a result of a court pronouncement, stressing that the decision of the court was yet to be reversed by a higher court, and so APC NEC’s pronouncement was not binding on Rivers chapter.

In a major twist penultimate Saturday, however, the reconstituted committee, led by Ogbobula, suspended Aguma’s faction over alleged anti-party activities. Ogbobula added that the party had recommended the aforementioned persons for expulsion, noting that the step was geared towards moving the party forward. But Aguma maintained that Ogbobula and his group do not exist, describing their act borne out of extreme desperation.

While speaking with The Guardian, an Amaechi ally and former spokesperson of the party, Fineborne said, “the caretaker committee owes its existence to the whims and caprices of the appointing authority. What I mean is, if the party’s executive at the national level or at the state level appoints any committee under any circumstance, the lifespan of that committee depends on the appointing authority. They can appoint you and tell you that the appointment has ended.”

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He said there is no provision in the party’s constitution or in the Nigerian constitution that stipulates a specific duration for a caretaker committee.

Fineborne said; “The only argument Aguma and his people have is that the Rivers State High Court under Justice Omerije ruled that he is the right person to be the caretaker chairman of APC in Rivers, but the NWC appointed Ogbobula, who later went to appeal and got an order that the status quo be maintained. And the status quo is that he (Ogbobula) is the committee chairman. That is the situation we were in until about a week ago when the NEC, the highest decision-making body of the party, met and decided that all caretaker committees in all the states should be dissolved.
 
“And in their wisdom, the NEC decided to reappoint most of those who were dissolved. What that means is that the new committee has a new tenure, a new lifeline. So, anybody that existed before or had issues before, all those issues have been swept away by that singular action. Therefore, the existence of a caretaker committee nationwide in APC is fresh mandate, which is from NEC and nobody can argue with that. So, for somebody of the old order, who has been swept away, his tenure has gone with time. Ogbobula is on a fresh mandate, not the one he contested with Aguma in court.”

Asked what the chances of APC in Rivers State are in 2023 with all the unresolved crises, Fineborne said; “PDP at the national level faced a similar situation and went all the way to the Supreme Court before it was settled in court. There have been attempts to settle the impasse, but each time they come to a halt, as demonstrated in the last one. People were surprised to see that there were no grievances apart from the fact that Magnus Abe and his people said they should be allocated 50 per cent positions in the party.”

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He reiterated; “Senator Wilson Ake, on the side of Magnus and Senator Andrew Uchendu on the side of Amaechi, led the two teams, and at the end of the day, consultative meetings were held from March. It was difficult for the Amaechi group to accept the conditions of Abe group. At the last settlement attempt, a question was asked Abe’s group: what do you want? They insisted that the structures of the party be shared into two. This
condition is anti-democratic. So, the meeting ended in a stalemate and adjourned sine die.”

ALSO reacting, Mr. Emmanuel Deeyah, from the pro-Aguma camp, said the Ogbobula-led committee does not have the power to dissolve the Aguma-led leadership.

He explained; “Aguma got judgment before this caretaker committee was formed at the national level. That means Aguma is the caretaker chairman in Rivers State. So, when the NWC came in, they didn’t have the power to dissolve his leadership. Ogbobula later went to the Court of Appeal and, as we speak, the court has not given him judgment pronouncing that Aguma is no longer chairman. So, how can somebody who is still in court, asking for a position, come back and say they have suspended the person, who by law, the judgment of the court gave leadership position?”

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He stated that the pronouncement of the party’s NEC does not affect Rivers State, because according to him, the state does not have an elected executive committee. He insisted that the only existing committee was instituted by the court, maintaining that only the court could vacate Aguma.

He added; “People are taking the laws into their hands. We have been willing to reconcile but since the national committee came in, they have not called Aguma for a meeting. They have refused to talk to us. All you hear is this type of kangaroo thing that you hear.

“Do you think that those who are perpetrating illegality are interested in the growth of the party? We are ready for peace. Aguma has not said anything because they took us to court. We are waiting for the outcome of the court. We have extended an olive branch to them, but they refused to come, thinking we will overshadow them,
Aguma is in charge so an illegal NWC cannot remove him.”

Another chieftain of the party, who appears to be neutral and has been advocating for peace and unity in the party is Prince Tonye Princewill, a former governorship candidate under Action Congress (ACN). Princewill told The Guardian that there was nothing to fight for anymore and urged the party faithful embrace peace.

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“Princewill said; “The only beneficiary in this whole thing is PDP. Aguma is my friend and Amaechi is my brother, friend and leader. Peace is still possible even if it is an awkward one. When both sides realise this, some of us will still be here to clean up the mess. Till then, I stand on existing protocol.”

Also reacting to the development, spokesman for Amaechi’s faction, Mr. Ogbonna Nwuke, said the party would not tolerate acts of destabilization. Nwuke said in a statement he issued on Sunday that their supporters were pleased with the decision of the party to recommend the expulsion of unfaithful members.
 
The spokesman noted that the party had obtained credible intelligence, which showed that those recommended for expulsion were merchants sponsored from outside to sell ideas that were alien to the ideology and spirit enunciated by the party constitution.
 
According to him; “Let it be known that the APC will no longer tolerate acts of indiscipline and destabilization. From now on, we will cleanse the Augean Stable. The will of the national secretariat of our great party must be respected.”

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On his part, another chieftain in Amaechi’s camp, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, said the dissolution of Aguma’s committee and moves to expel Abe and others from the party signalled that the crisis rocking the party was gradually winding down. Eze said the expulsion of Abe and his group was long overdue, adding that it was one of the best things that have happened to the APC in recent times, describing it as a fantastic Christmas gift to party members.
 
Eze said with the forceful exit of Abe, members of Rivers APC could now heave a sigh of relief, noting that Abe, Aguma, and others clearly represented the antithesis of the true essence of a progressive party as their political moorings contradicted every recognised standard of civilised behaviour, international ethics, and decorum.
 
But media assistant to Aguma, Wechie, said the action of Ogbobula shows that, even as a lawyer, he has no regard for judicial processes.
 
According to him; “The public is aware that Ogbobula and his co-travelers are litigating up to the Supreme Court, struggling to upturn the court judgment that both dissolved his illegal caretaker committee and affirmed Aguma as acting caretaker committee chairman of APC in Rivers State, which executive is comprised of all statutory members of the party and he is not qualified to be one.
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“The same judgment was reinforced in another judgment of the court, which dissolved and sacked the Sokonte Davies-led illegal state structure and that judgment was not appealed.
 
“The actions of Ogbobula are just a show of extreme desperation. It further indicates that he has no regard for judicial processes and cannot wait for the court, which he approached to determine his fate.”
 
Wechie said there was no order of court anywhere restraining Aguma from functioning as the acting/caretaker committee chairman of the party, adding that the Court of Appeal, during its proceeding on October 30, 2020, reaffirmed that it did not make any order restraining Aguma from functioning as the chairman of Rivers APC.
 
He, therefore, stated that every declaration made by Ogbobula remains invalid and of no effect. Wechie urged the public to disregard Ogbobula’s illegal pronouncement against Aguma or anybody.

IN a dramatic turn on Monday and in keeping with Wechie’s declaration, the Abe faction of Rivers APC, led by Aguma’s executive, suspended Amaechi’s faction, led by Ogbobula’s executive.

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A statement signed by Aguma’s media adviser, Livingstone Wechie, said the party had written to the Rivers State Electoral Commission (RISIEC) to declare its readiness to field candidates in April 17, 2021, local government elections. He explained that the decision to suspend Amaechi from the party for anti-party activities was reached at an extraordinary executive meeting presided over by Aguma in Port Harcourt, the state capital, on Monday evening.

The statement said the meeting was well-attended by the statutory executive members, who participated physically and virtually to take major decisions affecting the party. According to Wechie, the State Executive Caretaker Committee ratified the recommendation of the State Disciplinary Committee of the party, which looked into the decision of the ward and local government chapters to suspend Amaechi, who hails from Ward 8, Ikwerre Local Government Area.

Part of the statement reads; “The State Executive Committee also accepted and ratified the decision of the State Disciplinary Committee to uphold the indefinite suspension of Isaac Ogbobula by the Ward 10 and LGA Executive of Ahoada-East Local Government Area of Rivers State. Isaac Ogbobula is hereby suspended indefinitely from APC Rivers.

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“The state chairman briefed the executive committee meeting that he received communication from the APC executive of Gokana LGA to the effect that both Ward 16, Bera and the Gokana LGA chapters of the party have expelled Chief Victor Giadom from the APC as well as a report from Emohua LGA chapter that both Ward 4 and Emohua Local Government chapter of the party in Rivers State has suspended Senator Chief Andrew Uchendu from the APC. 

“The executive committee referred both reports from Emohua and Gokana Local Government Areas on Chief Victor Giadom and Senator Andrew Uchendu to the State Disciplinary Committee for further action in line with Article 21 of APC Constitution.”

Wechie said the state executive committee mandated Aguma to write a letter to RSIEC communicating the readiness of the APC to fully participate in April 17, 2021, local government election.

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