The political atmosphere in Rivers State is becoming increasingly turbulent, two years to the next general elections. Chieftains of the two dominant parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) are jostling for relevance ahead of the 2023 general elections. While the PDP is relatively stable under the leadership of Governor Nyesom Wike, the APC has been gasping for breath, torn apart by internal crisis under the leadership of the Transport Minister and former Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
Peace has been elusive with unity considered a scarce commodity in Rivers APC. The party is currently divided into two major camps. One of the camps is led by Amaechi, while the other owes its allegiance to a former Senator Magnus Abe, who represented Rivers Southeast in the upper legislative chamber. The division, which started before the 2019 general elections with grave consequences of denying the party participation at the poll, has continued to rear its ugly head.
A group of APC members, who later became loyalists of Abe, felt cheated at the congresses conducted by the APC to constitute its various structures in the party ahead of the 2019 election. They were particularly angry that after purchasing forms and complying with the party’s guidelines for the congresses designed to elect executive members of the party structures, they were denied participation.
They decried lack of internal democracy, undertook some internal processes to correct what they referred to as an anomaly but were ignored by the party. While the party carried on as if they were insignificant, the aggrieved members began a legal journey that later paralyzed the APC and kept the party out of the corridors of power in the state. It became a bitter pill for the APC faction led by Amaechi to swallow when a few days to the election, the court ruled on the case of the aggrieved members barring the party from participating in the general election.
Efforts to reverse the judgement proved abortive as the Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the lower court. All desperate efforts by the Amaechi’-led faction to bounce back, including adopting the candidate of the African Allied Congress (AAC), Biokpomabo Awara, to wrestle power from Governor Wike and return his party to reckoning proved abortive.
The ugly development threw APC members into political wilderness making Rivers a one party state dominated by the PDP. Confusion and frustration enveloped the party. Its members scattered and in desperation to eke out a living some of its leaders defected to the PDP. Since then, the APC has been in and out of the court seeking a resolution to its internal crisis.
In June 2020, the court in its attempt to heal the festering sore of the party, gave the Abe-led camp a judgement that empowered one its members, Igo Aguma, to chair the party’s Caretaker Committee, pending the conduct of its congress. The judgement deepened the crisis, as the Amaechi camp kicked against it and immediately appealed it.
The dissolution of the Adam’s Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee further widened the cracks in the Rivers APC. The two camps supported different groups in the crises that ended Oshiomhole’s regime. In fact, people had thought that the later decision of the Mai Buni-led National Caretaker Committee to dissolve all the structures of the party across the country would end the protracted impasse in Rivers and give the party a fresh beginning. But, the strategy flopped, as Abe’s group insisted that the decision had nothing to do with the Rivers APC.
Also, the recent Court of Appeal decision recognising the Isaac Ogbobula-led Caretaker Committee, which was put in place by the National Caretaker Committee as the authentic interim leadership structure of the party in Rivers has not solved the problems of the APC in the state. Aguma has since gone to the Supreme Court to nullify the judgement, while his camp immediately nominated Golden Chioma to act in his stead.
The proposed revalidation of membership exercise in APC ahead of the 2023 general election has further caused bad blood between the Amaechi camp and the Abe faction. There are fears in the camp of Abe that the exercise, which may be undertaken by the Ogbobula-led committee is a plot to deny them revalidation and easily remove them from the party. The camp has made frantic attempts to stop the exercise through a judicial process but the court recently failed to grant the order.
An independent observer, Dr. Sofiri Peterside described the resurgence of disagreements in the party as unfortunate. He said people expected the Rivers APC to have learnt from their 2019 experience. He, however, observed that ego among the leaders of the two camps was responsible for the continuous disunity in the party.
He said: “Honesty, the crisis persists even though the national leadership of the party has tried to see the extent to which it can solve problems in the party, particularly in Rivers State. It dissolved all the structures of the party from the state level to the ward level. So, one had thought that, perhaps, the idea emanated from the fact that it is the only way to resolve the problem in the party.
“But, it does appear that it actually may not solve the problem because one of the parties still maintains that whatever is happening is happening outside the context of the judgement of the court which they say is subsisting and therefore refuse to accept that.
“But, what is very important is the fact that a suit was filed and only just recently, the court refused to recognize one of the caretaker committees, the one led by Igo Aguma and the court decided to return the case file to the office of the chief judge to reassign. But, of course, that again did not solve the problem, as the faction favoured by the decision of the court saw it as victory, while the Abe faction felt that the decision was not in order.”
Peterside said the division in the APC has affected the true meaning of democracy and political participation. He said it has reduced competition, making Rivers a one-party state. He observed that if the contentions continued unresolved till 2023 election, the people would be left with no competitive alternative choices.
He added: “It is likely that the contention will continue until election again. If there are two parties contesting, it means both will bring their programme to the electorate. And the electorate has a right and opportunity to make a choice under normal circumstances.
“I think that what is at stake here is also ego. When you allow that kind of emotion to cloud your sense of reasoning, then there is a problem. I pray they will be able to resolve their differences to allow political competition in the state instead of one party having its way.”
To resolve the contending issues, Peterside said the two camps must meet at the negotiation table and must embrace tolerance. He asked party leaders to stop carrying themselves as if others below them were inconsequential.
Amidst the crisis, the APC has received some defectors from the PDP ahead of the 2023 poll. Former commissioners under Wike’s administration such as Chief Alabo Michael West and Dr. John Baziah were among those who led their supporters to join the party. Others are Chima Obinna and Chief Salvation Ezengwogwo.
The camp of Abe has remained unhappy that the Buni-led committee disregarded all the court processes and handed the interim leadership of the party over to the Amaechi camp. Abe is particularly aggrieved that Ogbobula’s committee went ahead to inaugurate local government and ward caretaker committees without any attempt to carry other members of the party along.
He said the party was about repeating the same mistake it made in 2019. Abe described the development as an act of impunity, saying the party leaders failed to consult widely before carrying out the inauguration.
Abe said the inauguration was masterminded by the Minister of Transportation. He said it was the same attitude of insensibility that has kept the party in comatose in Rivers State.
He said: “It is this imperial approach to the challenges facing the party without the input and consultation of other stakeholders that is responsible for the crisis in the party. It is clear that those who believe in the power of man are once again on the move.
”It is indeed unfortunate at this critical time in the political game that the APC in Rivers State has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. It appears that the minister and his supporters are still hell-bent on having their way. The end result of this kind of behaviour is not difficult to predict. As usual, it will end in failure. When it fails, Nigerians should note that the choice of impunity, disrespect for party members, exclusion of critical stakeholders, contempt for judicial pronouncements and petty arrogance over humility and inclusiveness is the foundation of our serial failure as a party.”
While APC has remained in comatose, the PDP has been bubbling with a plethora of political activities. The party effectively controls the Government House and the House of Assembly. Since 2019, it has known no opposition. Governor Wike has demonstrated his mastery of the Rivers political turf and carried on as a no-nonsense field marshal.
As the party leader, Wike has been able to organise the Rivers PDP, getting it set for another major political battle in 2023. At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the governor led his party to a series of congresses that culminated in a peaceful transition of power. Without significant rancour, the congress led to the constitution of new executive committees of the party from the ward to the state levels.
In fact, no dissenting voices are heard in public from PDP leaders about their party. Those who disagree with the running of the party are too scared to engage the leadership in open confrontation.
But, it is not yet Uhuru for the party. There are signs that the bottled up grievances within the party will soon explode into open warfare ahead of the 2023 poll. Analysts believe that shopping for a replacement for Uche Secondus, the National Chairman of PDP, who hails from Rivers, will surely upset the party in Rivers. While Secondus is planning to retain his position, his governor, regarded as the generalsimo in the PDP and most of his colleagues in PDP-controlled states want him replaced. Wike has been lambasting Secondus and his National Working Committee (NWC) over some unpleasant development in the party.
Without mincing words, observers believe that the process of choosing Wike’s successor may eventually tear the PDP apart. Party leaders are said to be warning up to confront the governor, if he eventually anoints a candidate for the election.
Aggrieved by what they described as Wike’s autocratic style of leadership, some PDP leaders have abandoned the party for the APC. A former Commissioner, Chieftaincy Affairs, Dr. John Baziah, who recently joined the APC, said Wike had usurped the party.
But, the governor had earlier said Baziah left because he was not reappointed as a commissioner in his cabinet. He also gave reasons why he refused to return him to his cabinet. The governor said: “When we talk about defection, who and who defected? What are the qualities of those who defected? The two people who defected, who knew them in my cabinet? Have you ever seen them speak on behalf of the party one day? Have you heard them speak about my administration?
“There are people who defect and it will worry the government because these are internal members of the cabinet. Not everybody who is a commissioner is a commissioner. Chidi Lloyd defected to the PDP; we knew who he was in the APC. Who are these people who defected from the PDP?”
Like Wike said, the PDP is also harvesting notable APC leaders who abandoned the party because of its internal crisis ahead of the 2023 poll.
Source: The Nation NG