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Ward congress returns Enugu APC to crisis mode: Party torn between foundation members and joiners

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Onyeama

Members of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu state have returned to the trenches. Like it happened in 2018 during a state congress that dealt a sharp surd in the unity of the state chapter, bringing it into two factions, the ward congress election held on July 31 has restored the party to fresh contentions.

While the 2018 episode had thrown up a pseudo faction led by a non-member of the party, this one has however, brought with it a self-acclaimed “acting chairman” who until now was the Deputy state chairman of the party in the state, Gilbert Chukwunta

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Chukwunta was the deputy governorship candidate of the party in the 2019 general elections. But last week, he led few members of the party to a hotel in Enugu and announced the “removal” of the state chairman, Dr Ben Nwoye in a manner that has been described especially by founding members as “an act of brigandage”. Allegedly backed by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governor, Sullivan Chime, ex-Speaker Eugene Odo among others, he had named himself “acting chairman” of the party, amid cheers from his backers.

He had told the press at the event in which he waved a document purportedly signed by 42 members of the state working committee that the decision to “remove” Nwoye was reached during their meeting. He said that Nwoye contravened the party’s guidelines for the ward congress held in the state by “declaring the results and swearing in ward executives”, when the national leadership of the APC had not given such approval.

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Reading the resolutions he added: “There was no State Executive Committee (SEC), no working committee meeting, where we met and resolved to go on with the aberration that happened on August 2 at the secretariat. He invited people to a meeting but did not state the agenda. Those that came there were deceived into inaugurating the purported elected ward executives. That is why we are dissociating ourselves from the aberration in the party secretariat. Where did he get the results and what aspect of the constitution empowered him to embark on such action? Our party leadership has just set up the Appeal panel over the ward election. Why did he not wait until a directive is giving for such?”

Chukwunta said that the decision was taken to save the party from further implosion considering the crisis, which had torn it into factions since 2015. He said that the “removal” of Nwoye from office was in compliance with Article 21 (A) of the APC Constitution, which stipulated guidelines on how to remove such party official from position. He had denied that neither Onyeama nor Nnamani had a hand in the “removal” of Nwoye.

Nwoye

Incidentally, while the Chukwunta group was announcing his “removal”, Nwoye, who had met with members of the State Working Committee at the party’s secretariat, had slammed “suspension” on the former Speaker, Eugene Odoh, Ada Ogbu, Flavour Eze and EL- Aja, over their alleged role in the ward congress. They were said to have conspired with ward congress committee sent to the state to hijack the sensitize materials brought for the election, thereby denying party members use of the items during the exercise in the 260 wards of the state.

They stated that the suspended members allegedly procured “fake lists” of ward executives, which they entered in the result sheets submitted to the national leadership of the party.

Nwoye, while addressing the meeting, said their suspension followed the recommendations of a committee set up by the state executive to investigate their conduct during the ward congress. He said the committee headed by the Enugu East zonal chairman, Chief Anike Nwoga, found them guilty as charged, stressing that it was unfair to deny genuine party members who emerged from the congress.

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However, no sooner had he ended his address than political thugs numbering over 100 invaded the meeting and chased away members. The thugs who brandished dangerous objects seized cameras belonging to Television Continental (TVC) and Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) who were reporting the event. A day after, security operatives occupied the secretariat following an appeal from Nwoye that there was a plan to attack the place.

Nwoye’s defence
NWOYE dismissed his “removal” as a ruse. He said that some of those who authored the action were either not members of the party or are facing sanctions.

While inaugurating the ward executive at a crowded event at the state secretariat of the party on August 2, he insisted that no aspect of the party’s constitution prevented him from doing so. He had told the gathering that he was also moved to do so by the action of certain disgruntled members of the party, whom he alleged connived to write “fake names as those who won the ward congress and attempted to smuggle same to the NEC and were caught in the process.” He added that there were recorded evidences from the 260 wards on those who emerged from the congress.

He said; “I am proud of members of the APC in Enugu, they turned out en masse and elected their leaders.

But for whatever reason the man sent to monitor the Congress from Abuja, the chairman of Congress Committee Dr. Ijeoma Arodiogbu kept the result sheets and other sensitive materials to himself.

“Unfortunately, Sunday night I learnt they were busy at the South East Secretariat, they hired some people and where busy writing fake names of people who did not participate in the Congress as winners.

Sullivan Chime

“But by the grace of God you can’t bury the truth. If you do it, in time, it will self exhume. And by the grace of God we have a man who is an astute leader at the helms of affairs of APC; so we are gathering the evidence of the Congress.

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“Because when I was called and they said they were not going to start until result sheets come in, I directed them to start. Those authorized to go to the 260 wards are not the seven-man panel; they don’t have the ability. In line with instructions from the National Secretariat I authorized the local Committees to start and conduct the Congress; but they should document their results and the events with video and they did.

“Starting from Eke ward, those favoured by certain powers scored one vote as against the people’s choice that scored over 1000 votes. It was shown on NTA and other stations. There were some big men busy writing results at the South East Secretariat; we have those on record and at the end justice will prevail.

“Those who won are celebrating because they won; those writing results in piece of paper, they don’t know that in party its human beings you use. Those who are calling people to bring people and boasting they want to install a state chairman by writing names. They want to hold the ward structure so they can install a fake state chairman.

“They will find out that in APC under my leadership in Enugu State justice always prevails. We are determined people. We are the founders of this party. Those who joined us because they felt some injustices had been done to them by their former party PDP, they are now here to mete out the same iniquities and injustices they claimed to run away from. We will resist it and we have resisted it.

“We have Congress results, they are on video tapes. Journalists monitored and reported it; INEC monitored all and INEC have their report. So it’s shame on the chairman of the committee; he is a medical doctor who swore the hippocratic oath; he breached it. Because instead of saving lives he came into Enugu State to kill people’s political lives.

“The young man who believes he can go round and commit injustice from state to state for financial gain; Enugu State will be his last stop. We are going to show him that we are Wawa people; he may be looking down on us because he came down here and showed us the 260 summary sheets, 7,207 sheets; packed it up and left with it. And sold it to the highest bidder.

Nnamani

“We are Wawa people we don’t back down; we don’t shift; our ancestors are warriors but we don’t just go to war. It’s a mind game and he will find out why Wawa people are special breed of all the Igbo species. We have temperament to absorb. He may think he has hit us hard and ran away; but we are resilient.”

How it began
THERE has never been a time that the crisis in the state chapter of the APC was resolved. Springing from the merger of the defunct Congress for Progress Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2014, its members in the state had seen themselves as strange bedfellows.

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They never believed that party would survive. That was why the first major crisis that erupted among its leadership was the issue of the campaign funds, which allegedly entered individual hands and not deployed for the elections in 2015.

However, with the victory of the party at the presidential election of that year and appointments that followed, the party began to take shape. Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, who was never a member, but registered and joined by virtue of his appointment into the Federal Executive Council saw himself as the leader of the party in the state, a development that was stoutly resisted by the legacy members.

An opportunity to prove the point came in 2018 when he allegedly invaded the state congress at the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium with some political thugs and chased away the delegates. He in turn installed Deacon Okey Ogbodo, who was not registered with the party as the “state chairman”. However, the delegates returned to the venue the next day and returned Ben Nwoye to continue for a second term in office.

The factions were nurtured and strengthened afterwards. Former senate president, Ken Nnamani, who joined the party in January 2017 from the PDP, had pitched tent with the Minister.  Sources said he took sides in the crisis to gain recognition, after he was allegedly neglected by the state leadership after he joined.

Sources recalled to The Guardian that APC members who gathered at his Amaechi Awkunanaw country home, Enugu south council were disappointed that despite his towering political heights; on the day he was being handed over the broom by the state chairman, Ben Nwoye, to signal his formal entry into the party, none of his supporters defected with him.

It was this development that led many into the conclusion that he could reckon as a ‘Pope without cathedral’ and subsequently his alleged sidelining in the scheme of things in the state chapter. Therefore, throwing his hearts into the ring to capture the soul of the APC in the state was justified and should be fought from all fronts.

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The battle, which was sustained till the conclusion of the 2019 general elections was to continue until it was given a break in 2020. Then, supporters of the faction loyal to the Minister including former deputy state chairman, Adolphus Ude and former State Woman leader, Queen Nwankwo, among others returned to the main fold and pledged loyalty to the Nwoye-led state leadership.

In April this year, the fragile peace was given further boost when the Jonathan Zwingina Registration and Revalidation Committee arrived the state to conduct fresh revalidation of the membership. The committee was mandated to deal with the state leadership in the secretariat of the party.

The development had brought the opposing camps into one fold under Nwoye. In the end, from a paltry 64,000 members it registered in 2017, the party registered 180,291 new members from the exercise.

There were minor disagreements that erupted after the Zwingina committee concluded its assignment and departed the state, especially with the decision to zone the offices in the party as well as the governorship seat in 2023.

Okechukwu

But events of July 29 leading to the ward congress indicated that the fragile peace had seriously broken down. It was a day that members of the party gathered at the state secretariat to await the briefing for the ward congress by the Ijeoma Arodiogbu-led committee, but ended up not briefed by anybody. No member of the seven-member committee was in the state for the scheduled meeting and this raised tension that the materials meant for the exercise had been hijacked.

However, on the eve of the exercise, the committee members had flown into Enugu in chattered flight, accompanied by Ken Nnamani and Onyeama. They had rejected the hotel reserved for them by the party leadership and instead opted for the one reserved by few stakeholders. Their arrival into the state in chattered flight had raised suspicion that they were working for an interested party. Many had queried the source of the money used to charter the flight and one of the best hotels in the state.

But Arodiogbu, who addressed the worried delegates had allayed their fears over reports that the materials for the congress had been hijacked and asked party members to return to their wards and prepare for a peaceful congress the next day. He had assured that sensitive materials were intact and in his possession and waved some of it to the agitating members. He had insisted that his committee would be not be used to derail the existing peace in the state chapter. He had added that he decided to “chatter a flight with his members because of flight issues in Abuja.”

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Onyeama, Nnamani and Sullivan Chime, who spoke at the event also assured of their desire for a peaceful congress, stressing that it would be the beginning of efforts to win elections in the state.

Chime, had stated that the state chapter had experienced enough crisis and would use the congress to strengthen the bonds of the “new found unity” among its members. Nnamani stated that he had no intention to impose any candidate anywhere in the state, while Onyeama pleaded that whatever grievances that transpired before then, should be forgotten to build a stronger party.

Promises Turned Empty
THE promises however, turned empty. While party members had thronged the congress venues in their large numbers to vote, the voting materials were not available. In all the 260 wards of the state, none experienced result sheets. Rather, the committee members allegedly handed the documents to few stakeholders, who retired to the yet to be inaugurated zonal secretariat of the party at Independence layout, Enugu, to enter names of certain persons as “winners” of the ward congress into the result sheets.

They were said to have been protected by security operatives procured by the leaders.

Nwoye’s Upper Cut
APPARENTLY, realising the implication of allowing the “fake lists” to sustain, Nwoye, four days after the congress was conducted without any formal announcement of the results, summoned those that allegedly emerged in the 260 wards, according to the results submitted to the party secretariat and inaugurated them. He had asked them to continue to work for the party towards winning the 2023 elections.

He had insisted that it would not be under his watch that suffering members of the party who stood and won elections could be denied by “few disgruntled elements that hijacked congress materials and presented fake names”.

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This was the stroke that broke the camel’s back. Those allegedly privy to procuring the “fake lists” had cried foul and plotted his removal. They had allegedly planted Gilbert Chukwunta as his replacement, a development that has now returned to the party to war path, as those favoured by him (Nwoye) have vowed to resist them.

Party’s position
A STATEMENT from the state chapter, signed by the State Publicity Secretary, Mrs. Kate Offor, which condemned the face off, had appealed to Nnamani, Chime and Onyeama to give peace a chance.

Mrs. Offor clearly stated that the crisis was borne on the desire of the joiners to hijack the party from its foundation members. She insisted that former members of the PDP who joined the party had decided to cripple it in the event they could not capture its soul.
“One is appalled that the assemblage of the high profile persons seems to be leading to a clash of interest between the newcomers who flaunt their wealth and intimidate the original members of the party.

Chukwunta

“We subscribe to the axiom that united we win and divided we lose. Once more, I call on them to note that we lost the 2019 general elections in Enugu State principally because of the factionalism they unleashed during the 2018 State Congress.

“Therefore, I was alarmed when I woke up this morning to learn that Enugu APC secretariat is once more sealed as in 2018 by the Police.

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“We weep because one had assumed that the excellent reconciliation works of His Excellency M.M.Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) has yielded result when Nnamani, Chime, Onyeama and Co publicly recognised Dr. Ben Nwoye as the authentic chairman of Enugu State APC.

“We plead with them to stop harassing Dr. Ben Nwoye because one is at a loss to locate the reason or what happened between May this year and now when they jointly dropped Deacon Okey Ogbodo, their factional chairman, and endorsed and embraced Nwoye?”

Nwoye had declared that he was not interested in re-contesting the position he occupies at the moment, despite being qualified for it. Political pundits had suggested that since he is not returning to office, the state congress should have been allowed to hold to remove him in the next few months, other than the latest attempt that is creating ripples in the state.

As it is, it is not certain that the rest of the congresses in the state would be conducted peacefully. The members are divided between Nwoye , Onyeama and Nnamani. How the party will get out of this and still be together is a matter that coming days will unveil.

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