How Atiku’s Presidential Bid is Unsettling Enugu APC

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The crisis currently plaguing the All Progressives Congress in Enugu State is largely rooted in the presidential aspiration of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, writes Christopher Isiguzo

The crisis rocking the Enugu State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been linked to the presidential ambition of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. THISDAY checks revealed that prominent officials of the party including the Deputy Chairman, Alphonsus Udeh, and the Woman Leader, Queen Nwankwo, said to be working for the former vice president were suspended by the party for alleged anti-party activities in connection with their bid to take over the party structure as well as the Buhari Support Organisation.

Political watchers had already concluded that with the influx of political heavyweights into the APC in Enugu State after the 2015 general election, the party might be stronger and possibly give the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state a serious challenge.

Among notable political leaders that have defected to the party are a former governor of the state, Sullivan Chime; former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo; former Speaker of the state assembly, Eugene Odoh and wife of the former National chairman of the PDP, Mrs. Dorothy Nwodo, among many others.
However in the midst of the defections came a major crisis, which was initially thought to be linked to how the party’s presidential campaign funds to the state in 2015 were managed. But upon closer investigation, it was discovered that it has more links with the battle for the soul of the party ahead of the 2019 presidential election. The major gladiators in the power tussle are the state chairman, Dr. Ben Nwoye, a strong supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Alphonsus Udeh, a known ally of Atiku.

However, the signs of internal wrangling began to manifest in Enugu APC soon after the inauguration of President Buhari. For a party that had long been in opposition at the federal level, expectations were high that immediately the party comes into power, all the long suffering members would get one federal appointment or another, since the state government is still being controlled by PDP.

But these expectations were dashed by the slow pace of activities of the administration. It took about six months to appoint cabinet members, and one year to reconstitute governing councils of some federal boards, commissions and educational institutions. It took equal number of months to appoint ambassadors and high commissioners. With some members obviously losing hope, and so, they started dusting their political contacts apparently to make a living.

Between, June and July this year, the party was embroiled in crisis leading to suspension and counter-suspension of some members of the SEC and other members of the party.

The crisis started from Enugu West senatorial wing of the party, where some members announced the suspension of the vice chairman in charge of the zone, Ike Omenkukwu, when he travelled abroad. He was replaced with one Tony Ibekwe. But the state leadership of the party annulled the suspension and directed Omenkukwu to retain his position.

Also, some members of the state executive committee had been on suspension for alleged financial misdeeds. Some of the suspended members, along with those scheming to upstage the chairman, teamed up to write a petition to the National leadership of the party through the office of the Acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), accusing Nwoye of financial recklessness with the funds of the party and playing double standards.

The chairman, however, responded swiftly by suspending his opponents relying on the report of a disciplinary committee led by Best Aroh. Those allegedly involved are Val Nnadozie, Mr. Elijah Ngene, Mr. Okenwa Stephen Onyekachi, Ejike Ugwu and Rev Jonas Onuorah.

But in a counter press briefing on Wednesday, June 21, in Enugu, Nnadozie accompanied by the other four suspended members, stressed that going by Article 21 of the APC constitution, Nwoye had no power to have become the arbiter in a petition written against him. They therefore contended that the suspension order was unconstitutional and unacceptable to them. They also stated that they would remain peaceful party loyalists while awaiting the verdict of the National leadership of APC on their petition against Nwoye.

Nnadozie stressed that in as much as he was not one of the petitioners, “I agree with every fact in the petition, because on several occasions I tried to call Dr. Nwoye to order, as a brother and friend, all to no avail. Instead, he continued to run the activities of the party as his personal investment.”

Having lost out in their bid to take over the party leadership, it was learnt that the pro-Atiku group also made effort to “hijack” the Buhari Support Group, which they almost changed the name to “Integrity Group” of APC but for the resilience of some staunch Buhari men like Mr. Osita Okechukwu, the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON).

Further checks revealed that Chief Ude, who was initially named the leader of the group started making moves to ensure that his co-Atiku supporters equally effectively take over other strategic positions in the group with the possible plan to dump the group by the time elections would have drawn closer and by so doing, create identity crisis and possible media onslaught.
They even reportedly schemed out Chief Anike Nwoga, the person originally tipped to head the organiSation, which was inaugurated by Buhari himself in the build up to the 2015 election shortly after Chief Onyemuche Nnamani, a former Secretary to the Government of Enugu State, had rented the secretariat.

At a point, the party in the state had accused Ude and Special Assistant to the President on Justice Reform, Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku, of being behind the schisms in the party in the state. It was so bad that notable leaders of the party boycotted a meeting convened by leaders of the Integrity Group camp of the party.

The group led by Ude is said to be working round the clock to ensure that they take control of party structures in the state. They were however disappointed at the poor turnout at the meeting despite using the name of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama.

Among those who did not attend the said meeting sometime in June included the National Vice Chairman, South-east, Emma Eneukwu; Okechukwu; immediate past Governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime; and Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu.
Following the absence of these party bigwigs, the minister, instead of taking a final stand with the Integrity Group on the simulated intra-party crisis in the zone, opted for consultations, and due process as enunciated by the constitution of the party.

James Okugo Nwanjoku, Zonal Organising Secretary of APC from Enugu West Senatorial Zone, described the minister’s stand to plead for peace, consultation with key stakeholders and due process as enunciated by the constitution as a big setback to the Integrity Group.

“The Minister’s stand to plead for peace, consultation with key stakeholders and due process as enunciated by the constitution of our great party is a big setback to Integrity Group. Comrade Ude had hoped to railroad His Excellency, Geoffrey Onyeama, into his bid to hijack the APC Structure.

“Comrade Udeh wanted by all means to hijack the APC via Enugu West Senatorial Zone, so as to demonstrate to His Excellency, Abubakar Atiku, that Enugu APC is in his hand. But it has collapsed, because his bid to impose zonal vice chairman on the zone was buried in the last meeting, Engineer Ike Omenkeukwu remains the authentic vice chairman, Enugu West Senatorial Zone,” Nwanjoku said.

Udeh, late last year, was eased out as the chairman of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), following his attempt to hijack the pressure group by allegedly infusing BSO/Integrity Group in an invitation text message of BSO. His conduct raised eyebrows from members of the original BSO like Okechukwu, Nnamani, and Chief Anike Nwoga, who queried him, pointing out that BSO was not ambiguous and that President Buhari was the only rallying point.

Udeh, believed to be armed with huge war chest, moved on with Integrity Group recruiting prominent people like Ibekaku, a former deputy governorship candidate of the party in the state.

Asked what the next move was, Nwanjoku said for them in the BSO, and the party in general, they would rely on the due process and the rule of law as enshrined in the constitution of their great party as the Integrity Group has resorted to all manner of brigandage and brinkmanship.

“My understanding is that the Integrity Group is becoming more desperate, otherwise how on earth can a rational Group petition the Inspector General of Police, charging the party chairman of Udi local government area, Jude Anyadibe, of plotting to kill a party man, without exhausting the peace channels open in the party.”

When contacted last Wednesday on the phone to explain his stand on the raging matter, Ude declined comment, asking: “You want to know my position before or now? Anyway, I don’t want to say anything for now.” His suspension from the party was ratified by both the State Executive Committee (SEC) and the party’s caucus.

As it stands, nobody has boldly come out to declare allegiance to the Atiku, but the signs are there, even as those staunchly supporting the president are equally working round the clock to ensure they are not taken unawares.
A party official, who craved anonymity said, “I can tell you that we are gradually easing out the saboteurs in our system. We are totally for the president and we have no apologies for that. Remember, the day we held rally for the president’s safe return from medical vacation, everybody that is somebody in the party was there at the BSO office. That should tell you that Enugu is intact.”

In the same vein, the Enugu chapter of BSO has shrugged off the controversy trailing recent public endorsement of Atiku for the 2019 presidency by the Women Affairs Minister, Senator Aisha Alhassan, and insisted on a second term for the president. The group in a statement by Nwoga said President Buhari at no time told anybody that he would not run in 2019 and therefore called the minister a ‘liar and agent provocateur’, for claiming that President Buhari told her that he would stay only one term in office.

The group said the president needed eight years to consolidate on his achievements in office and that he was already revamping decayed infrastructure, war against corruption and insecurity, hence laying a solid foundation for economic prosperity.

“Whereas Women Affairs Minister, Jummia Alhassan has the inalienable right to support anybody of her choice for president in 2019, we are of the candid opinion that President Muhammadu Buhari should complete his 2nd Term.

“From all our interactions and that of our leadership, with President Buhari before the election, there was no day the issue of one term was discussed. Rather, from day one, we had always known that the rot left behind by the successive Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) squandermania regimes was deep and that President Muhammadu Buhari needed eight years in order to cleanse the Augean Stable. And to be exact, he needs to consolidate the war against corruption, insecurity in the land and to consolidate the solid foundation for economic prosperity.”

The development in Enugu is clearly setting the stage for 2019 with the camps already aligning along Buhari/Atiku lines. And from what is evident across the country, the other states of the federation are fast catching the bug. Perhaps, the battle of 2019 would be more of APC versus APC than the ruling party versus another.