There are many unresolved issues triggering apprehension, as Southeast stakeholders of All Progressives Congress (APC) meet today in Owerri, Imo State. Some of these issues include the question as to who serves as leader of the party in the zone, the crisis in some state chapters and perceived presidential aspiration of some stalwarts.
Although the recent enlistment of Governor Dave Umahi into the APC seems to have solved the fractionalization of the party in Ebonyi State, the situation in Abia and Enugu States’ chapters remain fluid.
Even in Imo State, which is serving as the venue of the stakeholders’ gathering, the rift between Daniel Nwafor and Marcellinus Nlemigbo over the leadership of the state chapter of the party remains dicey, especially given Governor Hope Uzodimma’s unflagging support for Nlemigbo despite court pronouncements. With the matter now before the Supreme Court, it is to be seen what posture the governor would adopt after the court of final instance rules on the protracted leadership crisis that predated his return as the governor of Imo State.
Today’s stakeholders meeting is about the first major political activity being initiated by the governor and, going by feelers around the Southeast chapter, the meeting is meant to assert Uzodimma’s place as APC leader in the zone.
Searches by The Guardian showed that the official agenda of the meeting are discussions about modalities for the planned membership registration, support for states under opposition governors, and strategies for improving the fortunes of the party in the zone.
Shortly after the 2019 general election, APC had no state governor in the Southeast. But, on January 14, 2020, luck smiled on the party as it won the governorship election petition against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Chief Emeka Ihedioha, who was returned by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as winner of the March 9, 2019 gubernatorial poll.
The recent dissolution of state and zonal executives of APC, which followed the earlier sacking of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) by the National Executive Committee (NEC), widened the leadership vacuum, which Uzodimma’s emergence sought to fill.
Not long after the emergence of APC National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC), led by Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, the Southeast representative in the committee, Senator Ken Nnamani, led cabinet members and elected representatives to pay a courtesy visit on Uzodimma at Government House, Owerri.
Nnamani’s visit, alongside some ministers and appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari, sparked controversies as some older members of the party, including Uzodimma’s predecessor, Senator Rochas Okorocha and Dr. Chris Ngige, claimed ignorance of the meeting.
But, amid accusations that Uzodimm a and Nnamani sidelined some party chieftains to settle for their loyalists, Minister of State for Environment, Dame Sharon Ikeazor, told The Guardian that she believed everybody was informed of the meeting.
Ikeazor stated: “I am strictly following COVID-19 protocols as I do not want to encourage community transmission of the virus by traveling to another state, hence my absence in Owerri.
“Ken Nnamani and Hope Uzodimma conferred with me on the meeting. Being a foundation member of the party, my dream is to see the party grow in the Southeast. The stakeholders have come together to strengthen APC Southeast and I fully support this.”
Does the leadership of Uzodimma offer hope of genuine reconciliation and internal cohesion that would guarantee stakeholders strengthening APC in zone, as the minister of state for the environment hinted?
That much would be seen by the quality of attendance and the nature of resolutions to be reached. For instance, the presence of such stalwarts as Dr. Ogbonna Onu, Ngige, Okorocha, Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, Geoffrey Onyeama, Osita Okechukwu and Anyim Nyerere, among others, would give positive indicators of the party chieftains’ seriousness to entrench APC in the zone.
Following the bourgeoning dichotomy between aboriginal APC and the newcomers, some party chieftains are grumbling that former PDP turncoats were taking over the leadership structure of the party, a situation that dampened Senator Nnamani’s enthusiasm to lead the expected change in the party.
The former President of Senate was accused of being PDP at home and APC abroad, when former Governor Okorocha sought to elevate him as the party’s leader in the Southeast. Again, with Umahi’s entry into APC, some party stalwarts mooted the idea of entrusting the leadership on the Ebonyi State governor, especially against the backdrop of his chairmanship of Southeast Governors’ Forum (SEGF) to which Uzodimma belongs.
But former Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) members did not waste time to counter that argument, stressing that unlike Uzodimma, Umahi has not been to the Senate, just as his age in the party does not warrant such early leadership post.
However, despite the disposition of some of the leaders, some older members of the party, like Senator Julius Ali Ucha, said prominent personalities should bury their personal designs and desires to build APC into a formidable platform if it is to displace PDP from the zone. Ucha, who is the convener of South East Mandate (SEM), said winning more members to APC in the zone should be accorded priority, stressing, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.”
Ucha, who was the Ebonyi State APC governorship candidate in the 2015 election, noted that the phenomenal membership drive by SEM and collaborative efforts of major stakeholders have proved detractors wrong.
Presidential craving another issue bedeviling APC’s efforts to unite in the Southeast is the presidential ambition of many of the prime movers. Sources disclosed that the modality of Governor Umahi’s dramatic entry into the governing party left the zonal leaders with the impression that his was “a mission sealed in the Presidency.”
Although the Ebonyi State chief executive has denied that no bargaining preceded his defection, the perception among the party chieftains is that Umahi was readying to contest the 2023 Presidency or be consoled with a possible presidential running mate opening.
It could not be ascertained whether the presidential ambition precipitated the insistence of some party chieftains that Umahi should not be recognised as leader of the party in the state. However, as the stakeholders meet today, in addition to the Ebonyi governor, other leaders associated with a possible presidential chase include Governor Uzodimma, Senators Okorocha and Kalu, and Dr. Onu. Dr. Ngige has continued to pussyfoot, even as speculations are rife that he would work towards the emergence of a northern candidate unless the lot falls on him.
State of the states’ guber chase
A remarkable feature of today’s stakeholders’ meeting would be the retinue of governorship aspirants from Anambra State that plans to use the meeting to orchestrate their ambition.
Come November 2021, Anambra would be going to the polls to elect its next governor and, as a party, APC has marked the state alongside Abia and Ebonyi as must-win states to guarantee the zone’s determination to throw up a Southeast presidential standard bearer for the party.
In Ebonyi, the situation became very intriguing after Governor Umahi joined the party, where some governorship contenders and aspirants have been mobilising quietly in readiness for the 2023 showdown. It is not known whether, in addition to his rumoured presidential ambition, Umahi would concern himself with pursuing a succession plan to enthrone his preferred candidate. That informed speculations of possible cross-defections by some notable aspirants.
So, alongside the party’s 2015 standard bearer, Ucha, the 2015 Labour Party governorship candidate of the state, Dr. Edward Nkwegu, is said to have refrained from contesting the 2019 governorship to prepare for 2023. Also, Umahi’s erstwhile Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Bernard Odoh, who quit and joined APC to prosecute his gubernatorial ambition, is in the reckoning.
While speaking when he hosted his supporters to a Christmas party at his Umuezeokoha country home recently, Prof. Odoh said contrary to insinuations in some quarters that he was on his way out of the party, he remains a strong contender in APC.
The former SSG said after his erstwhile boss joined the party, “it has become necessary to address this issue since speculations have continued to intensify. I am still part of the APC family. I have not defected. I don’t operate in the dark. If I have any reason to do otherwise, I will communicate our people as and when due. But, for now, I am fully deep in APC activities. So there is no reason for our supporters and Ebonyians to panic because there’s no election at the moment.”
Odoh, who participated in the 2018 APC primary election, enjoined his supporters not to panic over perceived discriminatory conduct they suffered following Governor Umahi’s defection to the party. He, however, disclosed that despite finding himself in the same party, he was not contemplating serving with Umahi’s administration again after disagreeing with it on the basis of principles.
His words: “I don’t waiver on issues and I am consistent in my style. So, if the issues that led to my exit have not been addressed, though we are now in the same party as members, as a loyal party man, when critical decisions are important, the party will take decisions.
“I am not against any man, but I am strongly against the wrong priorities of government, whether in my own party or outside it. Whatever policy that must be driven should be that which lifts the people from poverty and not those that escalate it.”
For Enugu State, despite the setting up of a caretaker committee, headed by Dr. Ben Nwoye, his rival, Deacon Okey Ogbodo, continues to insist that having been properly suspended from the party, the dissolution of the party structures should not override court decisions on the matter. Although APC directed aggrieved party faithful with issues in court to withdraw them, Enugu, like Imo, is still at daggers drawn, legally speaking, over the leadership.
In a statement, which Nwoye repudiated, Ogbodo maintained that at a meeting of the Enugu State Executive Committee of APC on Wednesday, December 16, 2020, the indefinite suspension of the former chairman was ratified in line with provisions of Article 21 of the APC constitution.
Ogbodo noted that the ratification, which was unanimous, followed adoption of reports of a disciplinary committee, which investigated Nwoye for sundry offences, ranging from anti-party activities to persistent disrespect for party elders.
While declaring that Nwoye’s suspension was with immediate effect, Ogbodo stated: “The house reviewed unwholesome activities of Mr. Nwoye, when he was party chairman and ran APC like a personal estate, making himself serial senatorial candidate, while doubling as chairman, obvious ploy to ingratiate himself to our PDP adversaries by blocking the emergence of credible APC candidates.
“We also took exception to Nwoye’s habitual belligerency and reprehensible attacks on APC national leaders of Enugu origin, including Chief Ken. Nnamani and Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Kwusike Onyeama.
“Recall too that same Nwoye had recently attacked even President Buhari, for re-appointing Onyeama as minister. Those persistent and unwarranted attacks and attempts to diminish the persons of the bedrocks of APC in Enugu State were condemned by the committee, hence the suspension.”
In Abia, the issue of who will fly the party’s flag in 2023 is also behind the silent feud among the Senate Chief Whip, Kalu, Minister of State for Solid Minerals, Dr. Uche Ogah, and Dr. Alex Otti. With the appointment of Nyerere as Executive Commissioner (Southeast) for the National Pensions Commission (Pen- Com), the factionalisation of the party in Abia may have cooled off, leaving the clash of interests and ambition at the root of new concerns.