By Uchenna Okafor (Member, Abia APC )
Party congresses are supposed to be an exercise where leaders at various levels of the party hierarchy are democratically chosen. One would expect that since it is a ‘family affair’ of the party, and should be harmoniously conducted. But nothing could be more controversial than the APC’s recently-held Ward Congresses across the seventeen local government areas of Abia State, with the Aba North chapter of the party as a case in point.
Members of the party in the local government area were more prepared for the exercise as a result of the activities of Abia APC Rebirth Movement which had overtime sensitised party members on the need for transparency and all inclusiveness in all electoral processes of the party. This, perhaps, made it difficult for one man to impose leaders on the party this time.
What should have been a peaceful exercise turned out to become an apple of discord. Indications that all was not well (and probably still not well) with the party in Abia State emerged when a few hours to the Ward Congress which was slated for Saturday, 31st July, a number of the leaders of the party met at the residence of Rt Hon Chief Emeka Atuma, one of the chieftains of the party, to ‘ratify’ the suspension of High Chief Ikechi Ememike.
Prior to that exercise, speculations were rife that the said Ikechi Emenike had bought up the nomination forms, and that aspirants who were not loyal to him across the 184 electoral wards in the state would not get nomination forms, let alone vie for the positions of their choice. How that issue was resolved, and how members of the other faction later got nomination forms, remain unknown.
It is pertinent to state that while Enyinnaya Harbour was the chairman of the faction sponsored and led by Ikechi Emenike, Hon. Donatus Nwankpa was the recognized state caretaker committee chairman and had prior to that period, been the substantive state chairman of the party – a position he held since 2014.
Issues came to a head when on July 31 (the day of the LG congress), Chief Donatus Nwankpa, the state caretaker committee chairman of the party, raised the alarm that the process had been hijacked by the ‘suspended’ Ikechi Emenike. Donatus Nwankpa alleged further that officials of the party sent from the national secretariat of the party to conduct the exercise had disappeared with the sensitive materials.
At the end of the day, parallel congresses were held in the 184 wards which produced parallel ward executives. All efforts said to have been made by some concerned members of the party to harmonize the varying interests proved futile, with the case of Aba North chapter proving more complex.
In some Aba North wards, thugs who some members alleged were hired by Uche Moses, the local government caretaker committee chairman for Aba North, beat up aspirants and party members not loyal to him and Prince Paul Ikonne. This adversely affected the conduct of the exercise in the affected wards.
It took the timely intervention of the Abia APC Rebirth movement to remobilize members across the 12 wards of Aba North local government area for a successful congress that produced winners who emerged largely through a democratic and transparent process.
Unfortunately, matters were made worse for the Aba North chapter when the winners of the Ward Congress from the other LGAs were invited to be sworn in at the state party secretariat by the Hon Donatus Nwankpa, without Aba North elected leaders being sworn in alongside their counterparts. This generated a crisis at the venue.
As party members across the state were waiting and hoping in earnest for the warring factions to set their differences aside and work in harmony, another bizarre twist was added to the already polarized party on the day the Local Government congress was held.
To the surprise of many, Hon Donatus Nwankpa, who had earlier denied that the party was factionalized, cried out to the press that the process had been hijacked the second time by the same Ikechi Emenike. He did not spare any effort in alleging that the team sent by the national secretariat to oversee the exercise had pitched their tent with the Emenike faction. During another bizarre press interview held on the same day, the leader of the team of national secretariat representatives did not mince words in stating that it was the exercise conducted by the Emenike faction that they would monitor. By this open confession coming from no less a person than the team leader, it became evident that the Emenike faction was having the upper hand.
There was great confusion across the local government chapters of the party, with members not knowing which direction the party was headed. In the Aba North chapter, for instance, Hon Bunch Adiele and Hon Uche Moses – the two candidates who were vying for the office of the chairman of Aba North local government chapter, all came out with their mammoth supporters.
After long hours of endless and futile waiting for one Meme (real name not yet known) who was sent from the State party secretariat to conduct the election and was said to have disappeared with the materials meant for the conduct of the exercise, party members, encouraged by party stallworths and major stakeholders including Chief Mascot Uzor Kalu, Prince Paul Ikunne, Hon. Dame Dr. Blessing Nwagba, Dr. Alex Otti and Dr. Uche Ogah, took their destiny in their own hands by conducting the elections themselves.
This self-help effort produced Hon Bunch Adiele as the local government chapter chairman and 26 other executive members representative of various interest groups in the party.
The passion with which his supporters conducted themselves and the exercise leaves no doubt that he was the people’s choice. Indeed, it felt like a turning point in the fortunes of the party, because, for the first time, the Aba North chapter of the All Progressives Congress achieved a free and credible internal political election. On the other hand, it is not clear, up to now, who the Emenike faction chairman is. This is another riddle yet to be resolved.
The story was quite different in the other local government areas, as controversies trailed the exercise. At the end of the state-wide exercise, it was discovered that each faction submitted results and names of those who emerged ‘victorious’ in their parallel congresses, most of which never held.
Another drama of the absurd was aired on 9th October, a day the elected local government executives were to be inaugurated at the state party secretariat. Hell was let loose during the inauguration when the duly elected, Bunch-led Aba North contingents were not called out for inauguration. The disorderliness took hours to be brought under control.
Matters were made worse for the party when, on 16th October, another round of parallel State congress was held. As was expected, the State conducted congress produced a chairman, in the person of Hon Iheanacho Obioma, while the Emenike-led faction produced one Enyinnaya Harbour.
This theatre of the absurd seemed to favour Ikechi Emenike as another set of the officials sent from the party’s national secretariat stated in unmistakable terms that it was Ikechi Emenike that they recognised, and would accept the outcome of his congress. One of the major things that bother discerning minds is Chief Ikechi Emenike’s mobilization power. All their activities seem to be shredded in secrecy as no one has ever seen where his factional members met for meetings, except of course during congresses.
It is left to be seen how this quagmire that has engulfed the party would be resolved preparatory to the National Congress where only validly elected state executive members would represent their various states.
Many questions bother the public. Can a member who has been ‘suspended’ by his state chapter still be recognized by the national secretariat over the state chairman of the party? Can the outcomes of the congresses conducted by a faction led by a ‘suspended’ member be valid against the one conducted by the state chairman of the party?
Observers wait with baited breath to see which of the factions will be recognized by the national body, as the appeals committee set up by the National Caretaker and Convention Extraordinary Committee has assured party members and the public at large that the matter will be resolved.
While party members wonder how a party that wants to take over power in less than two years remains so fragmented, in Aba North, party members and stakeholders are showing leadership by setting their differences aside in the overall interest of the party.
The question is, will the stakeholders and party stalwarts allow themselves to be railroaded against their will, or will they take a cue from the phenomena in Aba North, proclaiming the death of imposition and the birth of transparency in the body politik of the state?