Has Peace Finally Returned to Rivers APC?

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Adedayo Akinwale writes that the recent Supreme Court judgement has finally put the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State to rest, but will all interested parties sheath-the-sword?

The leadership crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers state and the consequent litigations trailing it was finally rested with the Supreme Court judgement affirming the Isaac Ogbobula-led Caretaker Executive Committee as the Executive Committee of the party in the state.

What is however not certain is whether the Supreme Court’s judgement will bring the lasting peace to the Rivers State Chapter of the party or whether it mark the beginning of a fresh crisis.

How the crisis started

The leadership crisis that rocked the Rivers State chapter of the APC and the litigation that followed dates back to 2018 when the supremacy battle between the former governor of the state and the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe started.

It was an open secret that Abe desired to become the governor of the state. He sought to achieve this goal on the platform of the APC, while Amaechi as the leader of the party in the state was accused of having a preferred or anointed candidate for the plum job against the wishes of stakeholders of the party in the state. Clearly, there was no love lost between Amaechi and Abe. For a season, the hostility was muted. As the date for the governorship selection process in the state became closer, the high stakes in view required that every possible risk be taken. Things could not be kept in the closet anymore and the main characters in the drama went for each other’s jugular, without a care.

Because of the alleged vested interest of Ameachi, his political opponents accused him of frustrating Abe’s governorship ambition in the state. But if Amaechi thought would be an easy target to punch, he was badly mistaken. Abe proved to be a tought nut to crack, some say, because he received help from Amaechi’s traducers within and outside the APC. They readily found in Abe a willing horse they could ride on to enter Amaechi’s fortress and inflict damaging injuries on his reputation. Supporters on both sides were equally matched, or so it seemed to many dispassionate observers.

As the supremacy battle raged on between the two party stalwarts and their supporters, it later resulted in the hostilities and confusion that characterised the APC congresses and primaries. Abe’s faction fingered Amaechi’s faction of denying all those who paid for forms from participating in the ward and local government congresses. They vowed that rather than allow the Amaechi faction to run away with a ‘stolen’ victory, ti did not mind if the interest of the party was sacrificed and that is exactly what it did by sinking the APC ship that was on a seeming steady course to berth safely.

Like what happened to the party in Zamfara Statè, when it lost all the elective position to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the ensuing legal battles in Rivers led to the APC not being on the ballot during the 2019 general election. It was a bitter pill had to swallow very close to the polling day, when it was apparently late and all doors to exploit other options were shut. This led the Amaechi faction of the APC to adopt the governorship candidate fothe African Action Congress (AAC), Biokpomabo Awara.

Ever since, efforts to reconcile the warring factions and reconcile the aggrieved party members in the state have been futile. Rather, the two factions loyal to Amaechi and Abe respectively have engaged in blame games.

When it appears that all efforts to ensure that peace returns to the party in the state proved abortive, parrallel excos of the party emerged in the state, with the Isaac Ogbobula-led Caretaker Committee and the Igo Aguma-led Caretaker Committee, laying claims to being the authentic exco. While the Ogbobula-led Caretaker Committee is loyal to Amaechi, Igo Aguma-led Caretaker Committee is loyal to Abe.

However, Ameachi finally had the last laugh with the recent Supreme Court judgement declaring the Isaac Ogbobula-led Caretaker Committee, which is loyal to him as the genuine committee. The judgement ensured that the two-year supremacy battle was finally laid to rest. By way of legal battle, it is apparent that Abe has reached the end of the road.

Abe’s reaction to the judgement

Following the Supreme Court judgement, Abe has extended his hand of fellowship to the Ogbobula’s exco.

In a statement, personally signed by him, Abe pointed out that the crisis that engulfed the state chapter of the party was never about party structure which was actually not in dispute. He said it was rather about the treatment meted out to party members who felt betrayed when the reason for which they voluntarily joined the party in pursuit of justice, fairness and respect for their rights, were dismissed, with impunity, by the leadership.

He stated, “Party members, you will all recall, who paid monies for forms were not only denied their rights to participate in the congresses contrary to the constitution of the party and for which they parted with their monies for the forms, but were tear-gassed, and summarily excluded from all party activities and denied every privilege of membership.

“It was this exclusion and this treatment that led to the emergence of alternative structures within the party. The battle to establish their rights and have the APC to acknowledge its wrong-doing, led to the crises and to the courts. The party, as all of us know, paid dearly, almost fatally, for this indiscretion. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Abe said he agreed with the Learned Justices that those issues cannot be finally and effectively resolved by the courts. The courts had several times, pronounced on them, condemned the actions of the party, and acknowledged the injustice meted out to the members contrary to the party’s own rules and norms.

He noted that indeed, all the courts in this country, from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, itself, pronounced on these issues, condemned them, yet every pronouncement of the court ended in frustration as the party, to this day, has never acknowledged any wrong-doing neither has the summary exclusion and expulsion of party members been addressed.

He decried that the millions of Naira collected from the party members for the forms which were never issued to them after collecting their monies, remained with the party till this day.

Abe added, “While the Friday, March 5, 2021 pronouncements of the Supreme Court are now viewed, rightly, as conclusive on the issue of party structure, earlier pronouncements by the courts, including the Supreme Court, have equally resolved, long before now, the originating issues of mistreatment of members with underhand tactics. It is for the party to possess the humility and political will to address these originating issues.

“In the coming days and weeks, we will carefully watch the statements and actions and utterances of the party as it is the resolution of these issues that will bring lasting peace to the party and restore its standing, not only amongst its members, but also in the eyes of the justice-loving Nigerian public especially Rivers men and women.”

“Finally, I want to thank members of the party who have been resolute in their demand for justice, fairness, and internal democracy within the party. It is clear that there are other political options to achieving our desires.”

Abe’s loyalists dump APC

Meanwhile, Abe’s loyalists – factional leaders of the party in Rivers State, Igo Aguma, and a chieftain of the party, Mr. Livingstone Wechie, have exited the party.

Aguma and Wechie announced their departure from the party shortly after the Supreme Court rested their long-drawn legal battle with the APC over the authentic leadership of the party in the state.

Aguma in a statement said he left the APC because the party failed to protect the rights and privileges of its members.

He said, “I have received the Supreme Court judgement which dismissed my appeal challenging the Court of Appeal decision which upturned the High Court judgment that declared me as Acting Chairman of APC in Rivers state.

“It is now clear that it is not within the purview of the court to protect the rights and privileges of members of a political party, in this case, the APC. It is the APC that should protect the rights of her members but has failed to do so.

“I cannot continue to be a member of a political party that endangers and does not give any form of protection to the rights of its members and has no respect whatsoever for its own constitution at all but chooses to be run against democratic principles for self-destructive purposes. Therefore, I announce my exit from the All Progressives Congress immediately.”

On his part, Wechie said he was at the Supreme Court when the judgement was delivered adding that he respected the decision of the apex court.

He said, “I was present at the Supreme Court this morning to witness the judgements touching on the Rivers state chapter of the All Progressives Congress particularly the case of Igo Aguma v. APC.

“I respect the Supreme Court judgement which today dismissed the appeal challenging the Court of Appeal decision which upturned the High Court judgment that declared Rt. Hon. Igo Aguma as Acting Chairman of APC in Rivers state.”

Wechie said the Supreme Court in its view decided that it was not within the purview of the Court to protect the rights and privileges of members of a political party particularly the APC because it is an internal party matter.

He stated categorically that he viewed development as an unhealthy judicial precedent which should be intellectually interrogated moving forward.

Wechie added, “Moreso it is dangerous for politics and political party democracy in Nigeria that for any reason the jurisdiction of the Court should be ultimately ousted as it affects grievances by party members not minding political party arbitrariness which the Court ought to restrict in the interest of our democracy in Nigeria. Regrettably, the APC that preaches respect for the rule of Law rather than protect the said rights of her members as enshrined has failed to do so and celebrates the violation of its own constitution traditionally.

“It has been a long battle for internal democracy in the APC Rivers state to give genuine stakeholder opportunities to members. However, the status quo is unsafe for my political struggle and future which I must sustain for the good of my fatherland.

“I cannot continue to be a member of a political party where asking questions is a death sentence and a party that sabotages and trades mindlessly and selfishly with the rights of its members. Therefore, I announce my exit from the All Progressives Congress immediately. This is my decision.”

Amaechi’s faction hails judgment

Nevertheless, Amaechi’s faction of the APC in Rivers State has, understandably, applauded the judgment, saying it removed the obstacles in Rivers APC.

The spokesman of Amaechi’s faction of the party, Ogbonna Nwuke, described the judgement as an upright decision.

He said, “The Rivers people are elated by the ruling of the apex court. The decision has lifted the veil and put all who were behind the action to destabilise the APC to shame.

“We thank our leader, Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi, for his sterling leadership qualities and commend all those who fought on the side of truth. We cannot thank them enough. Now that the storm is over, we wish to state categorically that our doors are open to receive all who believe in the mission of the APC.”

A former Governorship aspirant and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress APC in Rivers State, who is an unapologetic ally of Amaechi, but is also known to put in painstaking efforts to reconcile both sides, Prince Tonye T.J.T Princewill, while welcoming the Supreme Court judgment said it has finally cleared all obstacles in the way of the state chapter of the party.

He said, “I have received the news of the victory of our great party, the APC Rivers State chapter in the Supreme Court on Friday. This is a most welcome victory that has finally cleared all obstacles that has seen us unable to achieve our full potential. I congratulate our teeming and loyal supporters who have had to endure a series of unfortunate stop and starts. I say thank you for your unshakeable faith in our leader.” Princewill, however, regretted that he will miss Hon. Igo Aguma who immediately resigned from the party.

“At this point, let me also reflect on the loss of a friend. I received the news of the resignation of my my brother, Rt. Hon. Igo Aguma from our great party. Even though I celebrate the win in court, I cherish the time we spent in politics. I wish him well in his future endeavours whatever he decides to do. Let us reaffirm our support of the party if we are in it or join us now that our unity is certain. As leaders, we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that peace and progress continues to be the goal for our party. “I congratulate Hon. Isaac Abbot Ogbobula and his team on their victory. I charge them to use the instrument of their office to ensure the improved success of the Rivers State chapter of the APC under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. The challenge now is to add to our numbers and make the APC a home for winners in the courts and in the field,” Princewill stated.

Fresh hurdles

Political analysts believed that the decision of some of the loyalists of Abe to dump the party and a careful perusal of the statement issued by Abe after the judgement shows that he still feels hurt.

The analysts added that Abe’s metaphorical statement can at best mean two things – to wait and if the national leadership of the party will genuinely reconcile aggrieved members or stay within the party, plan a spider’s game or rather explore an alternative platform to realise his ambition.

But party sources believe that for peace to reign in the state’s APC, the leadership must rise up to resolve these fresh challenges.

A party source noted that beyond the victory at the Supreme Court, the leaders of the party in the State should humble themselves and act in the interest of all.

The source, however, lamented that what is being witnessed at the moment is quite the opposite. He added that what is being witnessed now is a divided house, where some are dancing in celebration and others are angry.

Analysts believe that rather than choose between Ameachi and Abe, it would be better to resolve the differences and embrace everyone for the party members to become stronger.

They said that the party needs to convince all the members that they would be treated like brothers and sisters, and the first step towards achieving that is to declare a ‘no victor, no vanquished’ position And forge a united front.

They added that if the national leadership of the party fails to reconcile the aggrieved members, it would further deplete the ranks of APC in Rivers State, while some aggrieved members may deicded to stay to play a spolier’s role, and ensure that they tear the party apart from within.

Without mincing words, the Supreme Court ruling is not the end of the matter, but it only helps in setting the stage for APC leaders to show leadership. It equally offers an opportunity to resolve the crisis once and for all. The major step to ensure that the aggrieved members are pacified is for Agbobula and his team to be humble in victory and reach out to all as a demonstration of seeking genuine reconciliation. The national leadership of the party should also ensure that Amaechi, Abe and their supporters are genuinely reconciled, because it when their foollowers see them holding hands that they can truly work together as friends and comrades, sharing the same interest.

QUOTE 1

Party members, you will all recall, who paid monies for forms were not only denied their rights to participate in the congresses contrary to the constitution of the party and for which they parted with their monies for the forms, but were tear-gassed, and summarily excluded from all party activities and denied every privilege of membership. It was this exclusion and this treatment that led to the emergence of alternative structures within the party. The battle to establish their rights and have the APC to acknowledge its wrong-doing, led to the crises and to the courts. The party, as all of us know, paid dearly, almost fatally, for this indiscretion. The rest, as they say, is history. Abe said he agreed with the Learned Justices that those issues cannot be finally and effectively resolved by the courts. The courts had several times, pronounced on them, condemned the actions of the party, and acknowledged the injustice meted out to the members contrary to the party’s own rules and norms.

QUOTE 2

Abe’s metaphorical statement can at best mean two things – to wait and if the national leadership of the party will genuinely reconcile aggrieved members or stay within the party, plan a spider’s game or rather explore an alternative platform to realise his ambition. But party sources believe that for peace to reign in the state’s APC, the leadership must rise up to resolve these fresh challenges. A party source noted that beyond the victory at the Supreme Court, the leaders of the party in the State should humble themselves and act in the interest of all. The source, however, lamented that what is being witnessed at the moment is quite the opposite. He added that what is being witnessed now is a divided house, where some are dancing in celebration and others are angry. Analysts believe that rather than choose between Ameachi and Abe, it would be better to resolve the differences and embrace everyone for the party members to become stronger