Why APC Remains a Hard Sell in S’East

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The All Progressives Congress remains unattractive in the South-east geopolitical zone, no thanks to some of the anti-people policies being implemented in Imo State, writes Iyobosa Uwugiaren

The national secretariat of the All Progressive Congress (APC) is troubled by the unfolding events in Imo State, the only state the ruling party controls in the South-East geopolitical zone.

A very strategic state to the ruling party, as calculation over 2019 general election slowly unfolds, the national leadership of the party planned to use the state to market the party to the south-east’s electorate, but the actions of the state governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, seem to be hindering the party’s scheming.

‘’Imo State is very strategic to our party in our political calculation towards 2019 general election; we thought we could use the only state we control in the south-east to sell our party to the electorate in the zone, a very hostile zone to APC. But the way the governor is managing the affairs of the state is not helping us’’, a member of the national executive council of APC from the north told THISDAY in Abuja.

‘’To be frank with you, until recently, when Senator Ifeanyi Ararume rejuvenated the APC’s structures in wards, local and state levels, our party was almost dead in Imo State. There was a lull in the party; virtually all our party executives in the state were side-lined and rendered useless.’’

The national executive member who spoke on the condition that his name would not be disclosed because he was not authorised by the party to speak on the issue added that with mounting unpopular policies and programmes, non-payment of huge salaries/pensions for over 10 months, the alleged award of contracts to cronies, side-lining of the party structures in the state, the seeming nepotism in the management of the affairs of the state and the recent killings during the relocation of traders, the image of APC-led government in the state has nosedived.

A close political associate of the governor and immediate past commissioner of information, culture and tourism in the state, Dr. Vitalis Orikeze Ajumbe, attested to the crisis enveloping the APC government in the state in an interview with THISDAY.

“APC as a party has problem in Imo state; there are no meetings at the state, local and ward levels. It was like the party was dead. The party members are more like people in opposition; that is how APC in Imo State was until Araraume came and energized the party’’, Ajumbe stated.

‘’If you hear about APC now, it is because Araraume took a bold step last December to revive the party. The party members withdrew themselves to fate.”

He said that saved for the crisis that enveloped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recently, many of the APC members would have joined the opposition party.

‘’As I speak with you, if you know those who are in APC, sample their opinions and you will find out that those supporting Ararume — from the party hierarchy, are about 70 per cent’’, Ajumbe added.

Okorocha’s poor management of the party aside, the recent bloody incident that led to the killing of three people in Owerri, the state capital, has further compounded the image problem of the state government.

Three people reportedly died in Owerri when some youths protested the pulling down of the main market in the state capital, Eke Onunwa market, on the instruction of the governor. A young boy was killed allegedly by a stray bullet fired by security operatives deployed to maintain order in the area, and this worsened the situation. Unconfirmed reports said two others also died.

Against stiff opposition by the traders, the state government issued an evacuation order advising them to relocate to a new site to make way for development at the market site. But the traders said the new market was still at a foundation level.

In the past two years, the people resisted government’s plan to relocate the market from the city. The people see the market as their ancestral heritage and had instituted a court case against the government to stop the relocation. Despite the people’s opposition, the governor demolished the market.

The action of the government has attracted criticisms from civil society groups, prominent citizens and human rights organisations. The national secretariat of APC also viewed the demolition as a heavy blow to the image of the party.

An amalgamation of trade unions, the United Labour Congress (ULC), has called on Okorocha to resign, while advising the military to investigate the soldiers responsible for the violent measures taken to forcefully evict traders from the market.

In a press statement signed by its president, Comrade Joe Ajaero, ULC said the state government should have allowed the court to decide the case challenging its decision to demolish the popular market.

ULC said: “We condemn this as barbaric, unconscionable and out of sync with the dictates of modern societies that thrive on strict adherence to the rule of law and natural justice. This, once again, is a national eyesore that leaves a deep gash on our collective conscience as a people and as a country.

“We are aghast at the continued militarization of governance processes and the deployment of high-handed and violent methods in attempting to settle disputes arising out of government decisions that the people consider wrong-headed or ill-advised.’’

The trade union said any governor that could not subject himself to the dictates of the law should lose the right to continue in office, saying the governor has become a threat to democracy and democratic practices.

ULC said it did not see any reason, no matter how well thought out, for the governor to embark on self-help and lawlessness in a matter that is before courts.

The opposition party has also condemned the demolition of the market. The PDP, in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Dayo Adeyeye, called for an immediate investigation of the incident.

“We condemn the forceful demolition of the popular Eke Ukwu market and violent eviction of traders in Owerri by the Imo State Government using men of the Nigerian Police Force and other security agencies during which three people including a 10-year-old boy were extra-judicially murdered and several other people were injured’’, the party stated.

PDP said the violent eviction of the occupants of the market was even more condemnable because it was carried out in violation of a pending order granted by the state high court restraining the state government from demolishing the market and evicting the traders.

It accused the state government of promoting and pursuing anti-people policies.

“This action, sadly, follows a pattern of the use of the apparatus of state security to forcefully and violently carry out evictions of ordinary Nigerians from valuable property in blatant violation of court orders.

“As much as we acknowledge the need for development and the construction of critical infrastructure, these ideals must be pursued within the confines of respect for the rule of law as well as in a humane manner that preserves the dignity of indigent Nigerians while giving them viable and affordable alternatives regarding where to live, grow and trade.’’

On his part, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who is from the state, faulted the deployment of men of the armed forces in matters relating to the internal security of the state.

Ihedioha said the action was not only provocative but an orchestrated action to cow, intimidate and forcibly take over Ekeukwu market for obviously selfish objectives.

The immediate past Director-General, Consumer Protection Council, Imo State Chief Kingsley Ufere, is also not happy with Okorocha.

‘’Many people believe that Rochas has not done well in the last two years or thereabouts; and that his inability to perform might work against APC in the next election, unless a credible person is put forward as the candidate of the party. I agree with them’’, the APC chieftain from Ideato North Local Government Areas, told THISDAY.

‘’I am talking as an insider. I left the government, because I felt he was not doing well.’’

The governor however disagreed with critics saying that he had denied himself rest in order to make the state one of the fastest growing in the country.

While inspecting some of his on-going projects in the state recently Okorocha said, “My interest is to make sure that by the time I finish my second term, Imo State must have been developed more than it is now.

‘’I find it difficult to sleep now because I want to change the entire face of Imo so that people from all over the country will come and relax. This will be my joy. If you look at the current urban renewal programme, we are constructing three tunnels, two flyovers and eight lane roads to enable us open our state for transformation to take place. ‘’

But Chief Paul Emeziem, also a chieftain of APC, told THISDAY that he could not say whether the governor’s projects were qualitative or quantitative,

Emeziem said: ‘’The governor talks about his projects; but I cannot assess whether the projects are qualitative or quantitative. Again, the costs of those projects and contractors executing them are not known to us.

‘’He has not carried the people along. People are complaining; everyone wants a sudden change. He has looked aside from what people feel; he has not carried the people along; he does not understand that some people’s lives depend on government. Many people have not received their salaries and pensions for months.’’

The President-General of Olu-Okigwe, a socio-cultural group in Imo state, High Chief Chiedozie Anyanwu, shared Emeziem’s view, accusing the governor of running the state like his private business.

‘’The governor’s so-called projects are self-serving; they are not people-oriented projects. He has abandoned everybody who helped to bring him to power. He is running the state with his entire family.

‘’His brother-in-law is the chief-of-staff; his sister is the deputy-chief-of staff, the deputy governor used to be his general manager in his private business.’’

Anyanwu accused the governor of destroying APC in the state with his ‘anti-people’ programmes and policies. Others APC members who are very disenchanted with the state government include former Mayor of Owerri zone, Hon Lambert Nnodi and Chief Emeka Iroka.

They told THISDAY that APC would lose the state in the next general election unless the national leaders of the party move very fast to work with Araraume to revive the party.

Anyanwu stated. ‘’Do you think the pensioners, civil servants will vote for APC? Do you think they will help you again? They will not. Is the civil service that is almost dead? Is it the retired permanent secretaries or is it the traders or artisans who have been relocated. Some of them have left their businesses and now riding Keke (bike), tell me who will vote APC in the state?’’

However, the Imo State Deputy Chairman of APC, Chief Nzekwe, told journalists that APC remained very strong in the state.

He said: ‘’If people are involved, there are certain things you must see in a party. When you don’t see competition and political manoeuvring, it means there is no democracy.

‘’These things exist in every political party. That doesn’t imply crisis or fight. Politics is a game of interest. Sometimes interest can be collective or individual.’’

He said efforts were being made to bring everybody on board in the general interest of the party.

He added, ‘’The problem is that not everybody in the state is supporting one particular person. And that is politics for you. Our party is not like what you see in the PDP, where one person will say he is the overall leader.”

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The people see the market as their ancestral heritage and had instituted a court case against the government to stop the relocation.