By Amaechi Okonkwo, Sunday Agbo, Joseph Kingston, Damian Duruiheoma & Uzoh Ugwueze
Violence and accusations of manipulations have trailed last Saturday’s nationwide ward congresses of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in many states across Nigeria. Widespread protests and allegations of malpractices as well as attacks have equally rocked the exercise in parts of the south East and South-South geopolitical.
The reports confirmed the fears of political watchers who had expressed concerns that, following the sharp disagreement among the party hierarchy in the Rivers APC achieving a peaceful and transparent election in the party would be difficult if not impossible.
In Port Harcourt City local government area, some chieftains of the party called on the national leaders of the party to cancel the ward congress in Rivers state and a new date fixed for the exercise following claims of hijack of election materials.
The Ward Chairman of the council, Prince David Idah claimed that no single material was sent to his ward for the congress. He also accused some leaders of the party of preventing them from exercising their rights. “We were supposed to have a ward congress today. I was called upon by the party hierarchy to give them a venue for the congress and I gave the Worlu Family Hall. We have been here since morning but have not seen anything and we are getting rumours that they are somewhere else doing the primaries”, he said.
He added; “so we are appealing to the party at the national level to come into this issue to see that things are resolved because there was no congress in ward 9, PALGA, Port Harcourt”.
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In Imo state, Orient Daily learnt that the Abuja faction led by Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, Senator Osita Izunaso, Senator Hope Uzodinma, Senator Ben Uwajumogu, Deputy Governor, Eze Madumere, amongst others, allegedly clashed with the government faction led by Governor Rochas Okorocha and his son in-law, Uche Nwosu, over congress committee officials sent from Abuja. This development caused a delay in the commencement of the exercise in many parts of the state.
The state chairman of the party, Dr Hilary Eke, and the national organising secretary of the party, Senator Izunaso were equally accused by the government faction of hijacking the congress materials and result sheets in favour of the Abuja faction.
Angered by that development, some persons, suspected to be loyal to the state government, matched to the state party secretariat and destroyed the canopies, chairs and other party properties set for a stakeholders’ meeting of the party while beating everyone in sight blue and black.
Imo Deputy Governor, Eze Madumere, Senator Ben Uwajumogu, Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba, former SSG, Jude Ejiogu, Jasper Azuatalam, business mogul, Tony Chukwu and several other leaders of the party survived the attack on the party office largely due to their police security details who rose to the occasion.
Earlier in the day, when the congress committee officials sent from the national secretariat in Abuja to conduct the congress in Imo state arrived Owerri, they were said to have come in the company of Senator Hope Uzodinma, Senator Araraume and Senator Izunaso who led them to the state police command headquarters.
It was gathered that when the member representing Ideato South state constituency, Ikechukwu Amuka attempted to join them in their vehicle, he was beaten to stupor.
A major casualty of the congress was the APC ward chairman for Omuma ward in Oru East council area, Mr. Kenneth Agu who was allegedly beaten to stupor on the instruction of the government faction of the APC which he is a member.
According to the Oru East APC chairman, Hon. Benard Nwanana confirmed the incident saying the Ward Chairman was beaten up by supporters of Okorocha’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu. He accused Agu of betraying the government faction of the APC by registering Senator Hope Uzodinma secretly and concealing it from them for the last three months.
Confirming the incident, Senator Uzodinma who spoke to journalists at the state police headquarters said, his Omuama ward chairman was beaten up for accepting his registration as a member of the APC.
The senator said he was still recuperating after his treatment in the hospital following the brutal beating he received. He condemned impunity in the political system in the state and advised those behind the action to stop or face the full weight of the law.
Meanwhile, Governor Rochas Okorocha has raised the alarm over the missing sensitive materials for the exercise, saying ‘the materials, especially the result sheets, had not been found up to about 6 pm on Saturday.”
In a release signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Sam Onwuemeodo, the governor said the argument over who was in custody of the materials had been between the man originally posted to the state for the conduct of the congresses, Chief Ini Okorie and the National Organising Secretary of the party, Chief Osita Izunaso. “While Izunaso said he handed the materials to Chief Okorie, the man himself said Chief Izunaso didn’t give him the materials.
“And this evening when the police took Chief Okorie to the residence of Senator Izunaso to resolve the issue of who among them has the materials, the man disappeared in Izunaso’s house”, the statement reads.
It added that the governor had been appealing to the members of the party in the state to remain calm and avoid actions that could lead to fracas or loss of lives, as according to him, proper action would be taken.
Addressing newsmen earlier however, the National Organising Secretary of the APC Osita Izunaso said that the delay was not exactly as a result of missing materials but arose when it was realised that congress committee officials sent from the National Secretariat in Abuja meant to conduct the congress in Imo state had been swapped with that of Anambra state, an action that heightened suspicion and distrust further stalling proceedings.
Corroborating with Izunaso, Uzodinma told newsmen that the congress went smoothly in various wards and that, as of 3.pm, the exercise was 80 percent concluded. “Congress committee from Abuja is here only to observe. The power to conduct congresses lies in the state chapter of the party under the leadership of the chairman. As I’m talking to you, all the people in charge of all the wards have been dispatched to conduct the election and I can assure you it’s about 80 percent concluded. The exercise has started since morning. Go to the various wards across the state, they are videoed and being covered”, he said.
The senator confirmed that there were skirmishes here and there and that was why stakeholders came together to iron out the grey areas in order to have a seamless exercise, disclosing that they were in the police headquarters just to avoid tension in their various wards.
The factional chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Ebonyi state has accused the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu of hijacking the ward congress committee and materials meant for the exercise in Ebonyi State. Ben Nwobasi disclosed this while briefing journalists on the conduct of last week ward congress in the 171 wards in Ebonyi state.
Orient Daily gathered that while one faction led by the factional chairman, Hon. Ben Nwobasi was conducting its congresses in all the wards, the other faction, led by Hon. Eze Nwachukwu, was still at the factional party secretariat waiting for the distribution of congress materials.
Nwobasi, however, alleged that the seven-man committee, led by Mr. Ajayi Nicholas, was hijacked by the group loyal to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu.
The chairman expressed disappointment that the committee absconded while the exercise was going on in the state. “The only problem we have is that people do not want to do the right thing. They believe it is better to stay in the corner and write names. But for us, we believe there is need to sustain democracy and how do we do that? We are going to do that by ensuring that the rules must be followed to the letter.
“Congresses are going on and committee has been set, but some people hijacked the committee and took them to an unknown place. Like this morning, I tried to reach the committee, one of them told me they were in Enugu. I personally called the national secretariat and they told me that they were aware of what was happening; that we should continue with the exercise and submit our report.
“If you remember the last time we had delegates congress, it was the same thing that happened. They went to Nkwegu Ugbala and wrote the names. But on our side, what we did was to send our men to the voting point. Our men are already doing the job in the field across the 13 local government areas and across the 171 wards.
“And we are pleading with the press to report the truth because without you, there will be no democracy in the country. We sincerely believe with you that you can shapen democracy in the country.
“The hijack is by no other person other than the minister of science and technology, Dr. Ogbonna Onu. The former Labour Party guber candidate, Chief Edward Nkwegu. And, of course, you know by the time this group of people joined this party, they came with the mindset that they were going to flush us out.
“But God has never allowed them to do that and they will not succeed in all their evil plans. I have not lost hope because the people who are managing the congress at the national level have assured us of that we should do our congresses and report to them that they will accept it without delay”, he stated.
At the ward 14 Obio/Akpor, Eneka where our correspondent monitored the exercise, proceedings were peaceful and ended with a unanimous adoption of all the candidates.
As early as 1:15pm, the exercise was already concluded with a stakeholder Sandra Adiele saying that the ward was totally loyal to the leader of the party in the state, former Governor, Rotimi Amaechi.
Sign of what was going to happen emerged late Thursday when the Rivers APC leaders began to speak in different tones after the State Executive Committee meeting held in preparation for the congress. The state chairman of the party, Dr. Davies Ikanya, urged members to adhere to guidelines provided in the party’s constitution for the congress warning that any party member who perpetrated violence during the congress would be disciplined. He assured that the congress would be credible and called on members to accept the outcome of the congress as only persons of integrity would be allowed to conduct the congresses across the 23 local government areas of the state.
But the senator representing Rivers South East senatorial district in the senate, Magnus Abe, immediately countered Dr. Ikanya. In his statement to journalists, he raised concerns over the outcome of the State Executive Committee meeting of the party.
He claimed that the meeting was attended by nonexecutive members of the party and called on the technical committee set up to address the issues raised at the meeting to do so before the ward congress on Saturday.
He urged the party to implement the guidelines for the ward congress even as he advised against action capable of interfering with the ability of members of the party to elect their desired candidates.
On his part, the Director General of Nigerian Maritime and Safety Administration (NIMASA), and a chieftain of the APC in Rivers state Dr. Dakuku Peterside has denied the report that two persons were killed following the crisis that erupted at the party secretariat on Friday when some party members protested the unavailability of forms for candidates for the ward congress even when they had paid for the forms.
He said; “I want say with a great sense of conviction, we did not lose a single soul yesterday in the buildup to today’s congress. Nobody died, I hope I am clear enough about that. There is absolutely no need for Governor Wike to commiserate with anybody because nobody died and he has no authority, no moral authority to talk about violence because Governor Wike and his party are the harbingers of violence”.
The APC ward congress was feared to be associated with violence following protests by some delegates of the party on Friday over some perceived irregularities.
The delegates who had gathered at the party office to complete their forms ahead of the congress raised the alarm over delay in the sale of forms for the congress.
Some of the delegates who trooped to the party secretariat complained that they could not get the forms even after they had completed payment for them fearing that non-availability of the forms might affect the conduct of the ward congresses.
One of the delegates who refused to give his name for fear of victimisation asked; “If there is no sale of forms how can there be congress tomorrow? There are some conditions precedent, certain things that ought to be done, before there would be congress; those things are not done”.
His colleague, who gave his name as Wokoma, claimed the forms had been taken to a hotel saying; “party activities are done at the party secretariat, not at the hotel. I am calling on Buhari that today as we are speaking, that nothing has happened. I don’t think that tomorrow’s will hold because there are no materials; there is nowhere to buy form, nothing is happening here; tell me how we are going to go to congress tomorrow”.
The protest later got violent leading to vandalism of facilities at the secretariat and claims of death of two people.
In a reaction, the Rivers state Publicity Secretary of the APC, Chris Finebone, assured that the sale of forms would shortly commence. He explained that the delay was due to late arrival of officials of the party.
“We got a message from Abuja that they were having flight delays and so they will arrive about 3:00, 3:30pm because they will be on the 2 o’clock flight and so we have decided that, having made these efforts so far, we won’t allow further delays in selling the forms and, therefore, in the next hour or so the sale of forms will begin at the secretariat of the party”.
APC stakeholders and prominent leaders in Cross River state have accused the John Oyegun-led National Executive Council of sending the chairman of the ward congress panel, Dr. Stanley Ekezie, and his team to the state to rig the exercise, thereby precipitating crisis in the chapter.
They also berated the newly elected State Chairman of the party, Etim John, and other state officers of connivance.
Orient Daily correspondent, who was at the party state secretariat to monitor the ward congresses, reported that riot policemen deployed to the secretariat saved the day from degenerating to a bloody confrontation as loyalists of some of the key leaders were battle-ready to unleash mayhem.
After accusations and counter accusations over the handling of the exercise, leaders said the panel conspired with the state chairman “to compromise, undermine and rig Cross River ward congresses.”
In a press release by the Zonal Chairman, South South, Ntufam Hillard Eta, Sen John Owan Enoh, Prof Eyo Etim Nyong, Chief Barr Okoi Obono Obla, Hon Paul Adah, Mr Vena Ikem, Barr Utum Eteng, as well as the three zonal Chairmen of the state, amongst others, the people said they lost confidence in the panel.
The release read in part: “this morning at Danic hotel, Ekorinim, Calabar, vigilant members discovered already prepared and filled result sheets and other incriminating documents in an SUV vehicle belonging to one Etnyin Umanah…also found was the list of documents showing that the venues for the ward congresses in the 196 wards in the State have been surreptitiously changed and altered.
“It was discovered that the State Chairman of APC, Etim John, was in the hotel with the nefarious plot… it was further discovered that the Chairman of the APC Cross River State ward congress, Dr Stan Ekezie was in league with Chief Francis Ekpenyong, Etim John and Eteyen Ekpeyong aka Orator.
“It is pertinent to note that the APC Cross River State ward congresses, Dr Stan Ekezie, failed, refused and also neglected to adhere to the guidelines for the conduct of ward congresses…In the light of the above, we the undersigned stakeholders have resolved that we do not have confidence in the Chairman, Dr Stan Ekezie, and other members of the APC Cross River State ward congress, to superintend credible, free, fair and transparent ward congresses in the state.”
Speaking to journalists, the National Vice Chairman, South-South, Ntufam Hilliard Eta condemned the development, describing it as “fraudulent and unacceptable.” He regretted that the outgoing national chairman, Chief John Oyegun, was leaving the party in such fractured state with crisis across states.
“It was our expectation that we will be improving on the processes of 2014, having spent about four years as a party, but what we have found today is that the party that was handed over to Chief Oyegun has actually fallen on bad times. And having been a keen watcher of the political history of Nigeria, I can tell you that this was what we used to see in PDP,” he stated.
He also pointed accusing fingers at the National Organising Secretary of the party, Senator Osita Izunasor for allegedly being behind those that were sent to Cross River State “to carry out a hatchet job to suit some selfish interests.”
Also speaking, a former governor of Cross River state and APC Board of Trustees member, Chief Clement Ebri, condemned the national leadership for “not living up to expectation in promoting due process and transparency”.
He explained that, up to the eve of congresses, forms meant for aspirants who had paid at the designated bank accounts were yet to be issued to many of them, and that “some party officials were alleged to have hoarded the forms and trying to manipulate a very simple process”.
When our reporter ought Dr Stan Ekezie’s opinion on the development, he simply said, “I do not have anything to say, the people have spoken.”
The ward congress of the All Progressives Congress, APC, held in Enugu at the weekend amidst protests. However, Orient Daily reports that the exercise was largely peaceful, except for complaints in few areas. Indication of possible crisis emerged on Friday evening during a stakeholders’ meeting convened by the National Vice Chairman of the party, South-East, Mr. Emma Eneukwu.
A source at the well attended meeting told our correspondent that Eneukwu preached for peace among the various stakeholders for a peaceful congress. However, trouble started when some stakeholders demanded that the congress panel from Abuja should come to address them at the hotel, a demand turned down by Eneukwu.
“Eneukwu told them that the party’s constitution provides that the congress panel should address members at the party’s secretariat and not in a hotel. Former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani, who was at the meeting toed same line. Their position was greeted with shouts of ‘no, no’,” the source said.
Meanwhile, our correspondent who monitored the exercise, reports that it ended dramatically in Eke ward, Enugu state. Eke is the home of the foreign affairs minister, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama and the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria, Mr. Osita Okechukwu.
While the congress panel was rounding off the exercise, Onyeama arrived the APC secretariat in Eke.
During the exercise, which held under a very peaceful atmosphere and observed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), all the ward executives and the delegates to the state and local government congresses were elected.
Among those elected were Philip Eze (Chairman), Cletus Chikelu (Vice Chairman), Ikemefuna Theophilus (Secretary) and Udeh Ifeanyi Secretary (Financial Secretary).
Although the congress commenced by 9 a.m. as scheduled, the minister arrived at the venue around 1 p.m. with a large entourage of heavily armed policemen.
The entrance of the minister who was rooting for the re-election of the former party chairman, Ozo Austin Umeh, led to a faceoff between a few of his supporters and the majority who refused to be cowed by the presence of armed security operatives.
Amidst the growing tension at the party office, Mr. Charles Buolu, the chairman of the electoral panel, announced that the election was over.
Following the announcement by the chairman of the electoral panel, majority of the party faithful, walked out of the party office, leaving the minister and a few of his supporters behind.
In the meantime, notable chieftains of APC in Enugu state have applauded the peaceful and hitch-free conduct of ward congress of the party in the 260 political wards in the state. They expressed deep appreciation as APC party members in their thousands defied the continuous showers of rain to turn out en mass for the exercise in their various localities.
Chief Jim Nwobodo, former governor of old Anambra state, noted that the enthusiasm and commitment shown by the party members was an indication that Ndi Igbo had understood the need to join a progressive party at the national level. Nwobodo, who spoke at his Amechi East Ward 1 in Enugu South local government area, said that the large turnout in his ward and elsewhere shows that more people in the South-East were identifying with the party.
He noted that it was clear that party members were willing to make the necessary sacrifice for the party to take over the entire zone. “The large number of people you see here at this ward congress implies that APC is the party to be reckoned with and we are already having massive followership in the South-East and Enugu state,’’ he said.
On the ward congress in his ward, Nwobodo, who is an elder statesman, said that the exercise was very peaceful and conducted in an orderly manner; while party members displayed comportment during the exercise.
Senator Ken Nnamani lauded the party for adopting the open and transparent option A4 for its voting system at the ward congress, adding that “Option A4 and the friendly atmosphere the ward congress election was conducted guarantee its success.”
Nnamani, who spoke at his APC Ward 2 in Amechi-Uwani near Eke-Out Market in Enugu South local government area, noted that the tap root of politics was at the ward level. He added that APC had got it right by putting its house in order from the ward level of politics.
Chief Emma Eneukwu, National Vice Chairman of APC South-East, adjudged the entire exercise as “very peaceful and orderly’’ while the turnout was “unprecedented in the history of political ward congresses in Enugu”.
Eneukwu, who spoke at his Obinagu Ward in Udi local government area, said that the large turn-out and general comport of all showed the importance the party members attached to the exercise. On the congress in his ward, he noted that the ward executives were returned opposed as the people wish “they continue their good work for the party.”