• Abdullahi: we won’t recognise illegal exercise

Our Correspondents

The crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) showed no sign of receding as violence marred the state congresses of the party held saturday nationwide, with 10 states hosting parallel congresses. The states where factions of the party worked at cross-purposes were Lagos, Kwara, Delta, Rivers, Ondo, Enugu, Kogi, Bayelsa, Oyo, and Ebonyi.

However, APC has said any congress not conducted by the committee appointed by the party is illegal and whatever result it generated is null and void.

Speaking with reference to the controversies being generated by conduct of parallel congresses by aggrieved stakeholders in some states during the congress, the National Publicity Secretary, Bolaji Abdulahi, said as far the APC was concerned there was nothing like parallel congress.

Abdulahi, who responded to THISDAY’s enquiry through text message last night, said, “There is no such thing as parallel congress. The only recognised congresses are those organised by the congress committees charged by the party to organise such congresses.”

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party had foreseen the trend of parallel voting and attempted to prevent it by extending, for one year, the tenure of its members from the ward to the national level.

But an uprising against the move forced President Muhammadu Buhari to compel the NEC to shelve the idea and conduct elective congresses.

However, it has been like a Tower of Babel since the exercise started from the wards three weeks ago, through the local governments last week, and the states saturday.

The APC in Kwara State saturday returned 34 members of its state executive committee by consensus, with Alhaji Isola Balogun Fulani retaining his chairmanship position. However, an opposing group in the party held another state congress coordinated by Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at Arca Event Centre in Ilorin.

That was as Senate President Bukola Saraki called for the practise of politics without acrimony in Nigeria, while insisting that his home state of Kwara would not be left out of the political calculations in Nigeria by 2019.

The state congress of the party held under the supervision of Saraki, which took place at the Banquet Hall, Ilorin, was witnessed by all members of the House of Representatives from the state, the other two senators from the state, Governor Abdulfattah Ahmed, his deputy, Elder Peter Kisira, and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmad. Also in attendance were National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, and representatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from Abuja and Kwara.

Chairman congress committee of the party, Senator Salihu Hussein, who supervised the exercise, expressed delight at the consensus arrangement, and said it made the committee’s job easy.

Speaking at the congress, Saraki said, “This is the third stage of the journey that started with ward congress, which was adjudged the best in Nigeria. In Kwara we don’t have problems of people fighting themselves and that is why you can see two former governors sitting together to participate in an electoral process with the incumbent.”

He said, “Those making comments that Kwara does not matter in the 2019 political calculations should go and have a re-think.”

At the end of the other state congress held at Arca event centre, a new 36-member state executive council of the party was produced, led by a former governorship aspirant in the state, Alhaji Basiru Bolarinwa.

A similar thing happened in Delta State, where a group in APC loyal to Senator Ovie Omo-Agege held a state congress to elect a state working committee, despite the postponement of the exercise to May 21 by the national leadership of the party. One Olugbenga presided over the congress held at Saint Mulumba Primary/Secondary School, Okpanam, adjoining Asaba.

Omo-Agege represents Delta Central at the Senate, and although he became a senator by winning election on the platform of the Labour Party in 2015, he defected to the APC. The currently embattled senator, who is believed to be in the good books of President Muhammad Buhari, has been in league with the 2015 governorship candidate of the APC, Chief Great Ogboru, in an attempt to control the state APC leadership. The faction is said to have the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, as its major chieftain.

Nonetheless, the leader of APC in the state, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, told THISDAY last night that there was no cause for alarm as things would eventually ease up after the state congress on Monday (tomorrow). According to the 2015 APC Delta State governorship candidate, “Some members of the congress panel tried to compromise the delegates list. Time was, therefore, needed to validate the list; and, the panel was reconstituted.” He however assured, “Unity will come once the valid winner EXCO members emerge.”

In Rivers State, APC members loyal to Senator Magnus Abe shunned the rescheduled congress, citing a court injunction. The national chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, had in a statement issued in Abuja on Friday, announced the cancellation of the two previously held congresses in the state and announced new dates for the exercise as May 19 for ward congress, May 20 for local government congress, and May 21 for state congress.

The ward congresses held across the state as directed by the national leadership of the party and the exercise, though poorly attended, was very peaceful.

But addressing journalists in Port Harcourt yesterday, chieftains of the APC loyal to Abe said there was a subsisting interlocutory injunction from the court restraining the party from going ahead with the congresses. Immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Worgu Boms, who read the resolution of the group, faulted the letter from the national leadership for the rescheduled congresses. Boms said the document was not dated, the national chairman’s name was altered with a red ink, and the party’s national legal adviser did not sign the letter. He said, “We are not party to the congresses because it is illegal. The matter is in court and coming to conduct the same process amounts to subjudice of court. We will only participate when the matter is heard and vacated on the 26th of June.”

In Ebonyi State, Chief Sylvester Nwambe emerged Ebonyi APC chairman amid allegations that policemen from the state police command barred delegates from a faction of the party loyal to the former APC governorship candidate, Senator Julius Ucha, from gaining entrance to the venue of the state congress. Ucha’s group, however, relocated to the APC party secretariat to hold its own congress where Dr. Sylvester Nwambe emerged as the state chairman.

THISDAY gathered that factional delegates loyal to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, were allowed inside the venue before the arrival of other delegates.

While the Ucha group is said to be working for the emergence of former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole as national chairman, Onu’s group is believed to be working for the re-election of the Odigie-Oyegun.

There was fracas during the state congress in Enugu State, which ended in the election of two parallel executive committees. Notable chieftains of APC in the state, including former Senate President Ken Nnamani, former Governor Sullivan Chime, National Vice Chairman, Emma Eneukwu, Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, and former Gombe State military administrator, Joe Orji, escaped mob attack at the congress.

Some party members invaded the Indoor Sports Hall of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, venue of the congress about 2:30pm, when accreditation of delegates was about to commence and started destroying chairs, tables and everything in sight. The mob overpowered security agents at the venue. They had surged into the hall at the same time when foreign affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, Senior Special Adviser to the President on Justice Reforms, Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku, and a former Secretary to the Government of Enugu State, Chief Onyemauche Nnamani, arrived the venue. They claimed that the congress committee led by Mr. Charles Brown had mapped out strategies to disenfranchise some delegates who emerged from the parallel ward and local government congresses.

While the chieftains scampered for safety, the group loyal to the minister stayed back and continued with the congress when the commotion simmered. They elected Chief Okey Ogbodo as chairman, Comrade Alphonsue Ude as deputy chairman, Prince Ikechukwu Oloto as secretary, and Mrs. Queen Nwankwo as women leader, among other officers, using the option A4 method.

Onyeama told newsmen that he was outraged that the party leadership decided to disenfranchise majority of members and delegates, who, according to him, were prepared to participate in the democratic process by electing officers of their choice. He noted that such was at variance with the stance of Buhari who he said had firm belief in allowing the people to freely choose their leaders.

When contacted on phone, the DG of VON, Okechukwu, said the party will make an official statement on the fracas that broke out at the congress venue. “We left the place to avert commotion. How can someone lead thugs to congress venue. The party will issue statement,” he said.

The election of state executive committee members of APC yesterday in Bayelsa State was largely peaceful, though, a faction of the party held a separate congress where it elected its own executive.

The congress by the mainstream members under the leader of the party in the state, former Governor Timipre Sylva, held in a fully packed venue at the state APC secretariat in Yenagoa. It was supervised by chairman of the state congress committee Col. Ahmed Usman, a former military administrator of Ondo and Oyo states, and witnessed by officials of INEC.

At the end of the exercise, Jothan Amos, who was unopposed, emerged chairman. Ogeibiri Orubebe was elected vice chairman, and Martin Alabo emerged secretary. Journalist, political activist, and media aide to Sylva, Mr Doifie Buokoribo, was voted as state publicity secretary, in what members said was an attempt to reposition APC in Bayelsa State.

The other gathering took place at the Azikoro Primary School, Azikoro Village, in Yenagoa, and was sponsored by an ex-acting governor of the state, Nestor Binabo, and supervised by secretary of the state congress committee, Ambassador Soni Abang. Joseph Fafi was elected chairman by the group.

Speaking during the congress at the APC secretariat, Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, said the party was ready to take over the state from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Lokpobiri accused Dickson of squandering the resources of the state.

In Ondo State, there was factional voting amid fighting. While Mr Ade Adetimehin and Alaye Adesina emerged as the chairman and secretary, respectively, of a faction, Mr Idowu Otetubi emerged the chairman of another faction while Mr Gani Mohammed emerged as his secretary.

Groups loyal to the state government were alleged to have attacked and injured factional members that gathered at BTO Hall along Ilesha-Akure Road. During the attack, some politicians, including a member of the House of Representatives, Hon Bamidele Baderinwa, were injured while some journalists, including THISDAY Correspondent, James Sowole, and The Nation’s Correspondent, Damisi Ojo, were beaten. Other journalists sustained injuries while attempting to escape from the violent scene.

At the end of the exercise, which had delegates from the 18 local government areas of the state, all the new state officers were returned unopposed through affirmation, except for the position of the state chairman. Apart from the voice vote, delegates were given ballot to officially endorse the chairman.

Oyo State also witnessed two congresses, which elected parallel executive committees at the main bowl of the Lekan Salami Stadium and Obafemi Awolowo stadium (formerly Liberty stadium), both in Ibadan.

While loyalists of the state governor, including former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala and the former Senate leader, Teslim Folarin, held theirs at Adamasingba, the breakaway group under the banner of Oyo APC Unity Forum, comprising Minister for Communications, Adebayo Shittu, Senator Monsurat Sunmonu, nine House of Representatives members, and two gubernatorial aspirants, Prof Adeolu Akande and Dr. Yunus Akintunde, converged on Liberty Stadium. Both congresses were attended by INEC officials and delegations from Abuja. Both gatherings retained majority of the members in the outgoing executive, as the former chairman, Chief Akin Oke, was retained by Ajimobi’s group as chairman while the unity group adopted his deputy, Alhaji Isiaka Alimi, as their own chairman.

However, the chairman of the congress committee and the former governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abdullah Gwarzo, who attended the Adamasingba congress, said he was not aware of the parallel congress in the state.

Kogi State also had two state congresses. The Alhaji Hadi Ametuo faction held its congress at St Peter’s Primary School, Felele, Lokoja, and was observed by officials of INEC, while the faction loyal to Governor Yahaya Bello held its congress at the Confluence Stadium, in Lokoja. While Ametuo emerged as chairman from his group, the faction of the governor elected Abdullahi Bello as state chairman.

The congress at St. Peter’s Primary School Felele had aggrieved members of the state APC who are supporters of the Audu/Faleke political group.

APC in Lagos State equally produced two chairmen from two parallel congresses. While the Senator Uche Ekwunife-led APC state congress committee and officials of INEC witnessed and approved the congress held at the Acme Road, Ikeja party secretariat, a faction of led by Alhaji Fouad Oki conducted another primary at the Lagos Airport Hotel, where he emerged chairman.

The congress held at the party secretariat produced Alhaji Tunde Balogun as the state chairman; deputy chairman, Chief Sunny Ajose; secretary, Mr. Wale Ahmed; women leader, Mrs. Jumoke Okoya; vice chairman, Lagos Central, Hon. Bamgbola Hakeem; vice chairman, Lagos East, Ashipa Kaoli Olusanya, and vice chairman, Lagos West, Hon. Funsho Ologunde, among others.

The parallel congress on the other hand named Oki as its chairman, deputy chairman, Alhaji Sola Oyedele; state secretary, Wale Oshodi; deputy state secretary, Talabi Kehinde; assistant state secretary, Oloruntobi Raphael; state treasurer, Kufisile Aremo; assistant state treasurer, Sunday Fayose; and state auditor, Banjo Alabi.

Ekwunife, who described Lagos as a “politically stable state,” said, “We are the only one assigned to conduct congress in Lagos. If there is any other meeting going on anywhere, it is an illegal gathering.”