Okorocha, Ekweremadu and the Next Battle for Deputy Senate President

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The recent public spat between the chairman of Progressive Governors Forum and Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu underscores another round of battle for the latter’s position, which the ruling All Progressives Congress continues to insist should rightly be occupied by one of its own. Christopher Isiguzo, in Enugu, reports

The recent court-ordered rerun election for Imo North senatorial election opened another vista in the controversy surrounding Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s occupation of the post of deputy senate president, despite coming from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. Ekweremadu had emerged against the traditional practice of having someone from the dominant party in such position.

The ruling All Progressives Congress has not hidden its opposition to Ekweremadu’s occupation of the position since the inauguration of the eighth Senate last year. APC sees the emergence of Ekweremadu as second in command in the senate where the APC has a majority as an aberration. They has, allegedly, taken different steps to change the composition of the upper chamber’s leadership.

Controversial Statement
So when the chairman of APC’s governors’ forum and Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, said recently that he would ensure that Ekweremadu was removed as deputy senate president and possibly replaced by Hon. Ben Uwajumogu, now senator-elect for Imo North senatorial zone, many opposition elements saw it as part of an orchestrated plot.
Uwajumogu, the former Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, defeated the candidate of the PDP in the rerun and supplementary elections for the zone.

Okorocha’s remarks has been seen as a follow-up to an earlier statement by the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, that APC had nothing against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, apparently, referring to his on-going trials at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Federal High Court, Abuja, but would stop at nothing to ensure that Ekweremadu was removed from office.

Odigie-Oyegun was quoted as saying in the recent interview, “I think the thing that rankled us most was the election of Ekweremadu as deputy senate president. Saraki is a member of the APC, much as the main line of the party would have wished a different result and a different scenario. But we all find it very, very difficult to accept the emergence of a PDP person as his deputy.”

Similarity
Though, Saraki, Ekweremadu and two others were recently arraigned at the Abuja High Court for alleged forgery of the Standing Rules of the Senate, political watchers have given different interpretations to the court action.
But the scenario at the senate also played out in some Assemblies where APC is the minority party. Terkimbi Kyange of the minority APC emerged Speaker of the PDP-dominated Benue State House of Assembly and Peter Azi also of the minority APC became Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly in June 2015 in the legislature dominated by PDP.

Imo Rerun
Okorocha said during the rerun election that Ekweremadu would soon be ousted from office. He also slammed the deputy senate president for allegedly relocating to Imo State during the election.
The APC had no senator from the South-east prior to the imo North rerun election, as the PDP produced all the 13 senators from the zone, while Anambra Central seat is still vacant. The situation had, reportedly, made it impossible for the APC to get any person from the zone to occupy any of the plum positions in the eighth senate.

The Imo State governor, who spoke through his chief press secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, stated that the position of Ekweremadu was threatened, as the APC senator in the waiting from Imo State, Uwajumogu, would take over the seat.
“Senator Ekweremadu had known that such development was not only feasible but inevitable and that was why he fully funded the candidate of the PDP in the re-run senatorial poll in Okigwe zone and also re-located to the state three days to the election date,” Onwuemeodo stated.

He added, “The victory of the APC in the re-run poll for Okigwe senatorial zone is a victory for the whole of South-east APC in particular and the people of the geopolitical zone in general.”
He noted that with the results recorded in the recent re-run election in the affected areas showed the new spirit of APC in the state.

But reacting, Ekweremadu said the Imo State governor was on a wild goose chase. In a statement issued by his special adviser on media, Mr Uche Anichukwu, the deputy senate president said he was not bothered by the emergence of an APC senator from the South-east.
Ekweremadu said contrary to the allegation by Okorocha that he was in Imo State during the rerun poll to influence the result, he was actually in his constituency for his annual Ikeoha Scholarship and Bursary Awards/Adult Literacy Day on the election day, June 23. He said the last time he visited Imo was last year.

Anichukwu stated, “The Senate has a ranking rule, and if Okorocha was not able to secure a principal office, even Deputy Majority Whip for the two House of Representatives members from Imo State, it is left to imagination how he would be able to appoint a Deputy President for the Senate. He is on a wild goose chase.”
He advised the Imo governor and APC leaders in the South-east to “preoccupy themselves with ending the invasions and killings by purported herdsmen, gross marginalisation of Ndigbo in the distribution of opportunities and the blessings of democracy as well as the worrisome trend of inconclusive elections.”

Ikeoha Foundation
Ekweremadu also spoke on the matter when over 30 traditional rulers from his Enugu West senatorial zone presented him with the traditional ofor, a symbol of authority. They vowed that no matter the efforts of those seeking his “downfall” he would emerge stronger from his travails.
Ekweremadu spoke at his Ikeoha Foundation Adult Literacy Day and 2015/2016 Scholarship and Bursary award ceremony, his pet project, at Ezeagu Council Headquarters, Aguobu-Owa, where over N40 million was spent on scholarships and bursary to over 400 indigent undergraduates. Two hundred and fifty sewing and grinding machines were also presented to widows at the event.

Addressing his constituents, Ekweremadu said, “I decided to handover N400, 000 to each of the 20 students as scholarships for their education for four years. Ordinarily, it would have been N100, 000 each year but since I am not sure if I will continue as deputy senate president until tomorrow, we have decided to give it out at once to ensure that nothing happens to the education of these young ones.

“Whether they succeed in chasing me out or not, you will continue to go to school. But, I have to assure you that nobody will remove me. It is not by power or by might but by the Grace of God. Our trajectory is from God. Nobody will do us anything. No matter what is happening, I can assure you that we shall survive them all.”

A former Majority Leader of Enugu State House of Assembly, Hon. Jonny Obidinma, has also reacted to Okorocha’s remarks. He dismissed the governor’s comments on Ekweremadu’s alleged relocation to Imo State as laughable.
Obidinma said, “On election days, the police restricts movement within the area an election is taking place; in this case within Imo North senatorial zone, that law is binding on everybody. Is he saying Ekweremadu disobeyed the law? We have also acknowledged that Ekweremadu was at a function at Ezeagu, Enugu State, on the same day the rerun was taking place, even APC confirmed that in a statement. How then was he seen by Okorocha in Imo state, did he double himself?

In Ekweremadu’s Defence
Kinsmen and Ekweremadu’s constituents numbering over 3,000, comprising youths, old men, women, traditional rulers and the political class have also risen to the defence of the deputy senate president. They accused the federal government of deliberately attempting to silence the lawmaker and by extension, the opposition PDP. They spoke during a solidarity rally in honour of the deputy senate president at the Enugu West senatorial headquarters, Awgu, Awgu local government.

The people alleged that the on-going trial of Ekweremadu was a “political persecution” and vowed to resist any attempt to oust Ekweremadu from his position.
In a position paper delivered by a prominent traditional ruler from Okpanku in Aninri local government, who is a former director-general of the Nigeria Defence Academy, Prof. Sam Ukpabi, the people said the stakeholders in the senatorial zone had reviewed the state of the nation, especially the “political bitterness, nepotism, hate and crushing economic hardship, with a narrow cabal in the All Progressives Congress,” and resolved to condemn the “politically motivated persecution” of Ekweremadu on trumped up charges of forgery.

They said, “While the current political persecution has not come to us as a surprise, the Attorney-General of the Federation is yet to tell the world how he generated the names of Senators Ekweremadu and Bukola Saraki for trial, when the petitioners, all senators and National Assembly bureaucrats interrogated by the police, and indeed the police report itself did not mention or indict Senator Ekweremadu or Saraki in any way.”

Edochie
A move in defence of Ekweremadu also came from a rather usual quarter. A renowned actor, Pete Edochie, left some words for the APC leaders, especially the party’s governors’ forum, on his Facebook wall.
Edochie stated, “If Ekweremadu’s removal will help stabilise the economy, then, they should do all within their power to remove him. If Ekweremadu’s removal will stop Nigerians from losing their jobs, then, it is a task that must be done. If Ekweremadu’s removal will curtail Fulani herdsmen from killing of helpless Nigerians, then, Ekweremadu should vacate both his office and the senate immediately.

“If Ekweremadu’s removal will stabilise the prices of food and common commodities in the market, then, I am joining them in asking Ekweremadu to vacate the senate. If Ekweremadu’s removal will make Buhari to abandon his 97% and 5% policy, stop Buhari from seeking to turn Nigeria to a fiefdom where the only capable hands are only people from a certain part of the country, then, Ekweremadu’s immediate constituency should recall him from the senate.
“But where the reverse is true, all the APC governors seeking Ekweremadu’s removal should tender their resignation letters and handover notes. God bless us and God bless Nigeria.”