After Stakeholders Meeting, Will Peace Fully Return to S’East APC?

Emmanuel Ugwu-Nwogo in Umuahia

The stakeholders meeting of the South-East zone of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has come and gone but its aftermath is still rippling. The meeting held in Owerri on April 2, 2024, was the first of such gathering since the recent appointment of the Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma as the Coordinator of the zone. Apparently, he convened the stakeholders to show that he calls the shots in the zone and every other power centre should fizzle out.

However, the meeting has further exposed the extant fissures in South-East APC. There was glaring absence of key stakeholders of APC at the zonal meeting and that blighted the outcome of what would have passed as family meeting. The former Senate President, Ken Nnamani and former Enugu State Governor, Sullivan Chime were not among the stakeholders that came from the Coal City state. From Abia State, the governorship candidate of APC in the 2023 poll, High Chief Ikechi Emenike was not at the Owerri meeting, so also was the Senator representing Abia North, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu.

The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, was absent at the stakeholders’ meeting. It spoke volumes that he did not send any of his colleagues from the South-East in the Green Chamber of the National Assembly or a high ranking personal aides to represent him if he was indisposed to attend the meeting. Rather, it was announced that the Commissioner representing the South-East in the Federal Capital Territory Civil Service Commission, Hon. Martins Azubuike, came to represent the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.

 Governor Francis Nwifuru, who is one of the two APC governors in the South-East zone, did not attend. He sent his Deputy, Princess Patricia Obila to lead the Ebonyi delegation. The Minister of Works and Housing, Engr. Dave Umahi, who is the immediate past governor of Ebonyi State, was not seen among the stakeholders that came from that state. Former Labour Minister, Dr Chris Ngige was a notable stakeholder whose absence was very conspicuous in the contingent from Anambra State.

Though Umahi was not at Owerri, some other ministers from the South-East, including the Minister of Science and Technology, Uche Nnaji, Labour and Productivity, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, and Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy Ohanenye were at the meeting. Senator Ifeanyi Uba, who became a member of APC after his recent defection, was among the stakeholders that came from Anambra. Expectedly, the stakeholders from Imo State, whose governor hosted the zonal meeting, graced the event. Some of them include,

Former Imo State Governor, Ikedi Ohakim, Senator Ostia Izunaso, the member representing Okigwe South Federal Constituency, Chike Okafor, and the 2019 APC governorship candidate in Imo state, Uche Nwosu.

Both the stakeholders at the meeting and those that stayed away knew quite well that all is not well with their party, no matter the aesthetics of the window dressing. Disunity has been existing in every state chapter of the party in the zone prior to the 2023 general election and has continued to widen even after the poll. In fact, it was exacerbated in the run-up to the 2023 poll following the outcome of the primary elections, especially the governorship primaries.

 Thus, betrayals, sabotage and other forms of anti-party activities all played out in the APC camps, especially in Abia, Enugu and Anambra State where the party is not in power. No doubt, the inhouse rancour and bitterness greatly affected the performance of APC in the general election. The open wounds are yet to heal; the aggrieved ones are yet to be reconciled while the estranged members are yet to return to the family fold.

This uncomfortable state of affairs in the South-East APC was not lost on the leaderships at the national, zonal and state levels. Though he was not physically present at the South-East zonal meeting, the National Chairman of APC, Abdullahi Ganduje did not engage in equivocation in his message to the meeting of stakeholders.

He pointedly called for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation among the South-East APC members, especially the stakeholders.    Ganduje, who was represented by the Deputy National Chairman, South, Emma Enukwu, said that party members should embrace reconciliation, peace and unity in the interest of the party in order to make further inroads in the South-East where it controls two out of the five states in the zone.

“The chairman has asked me to tell you to reconcile yourselves, forgive yourselves and work together,” Enukwu announced to the gathering of stakeholders. “The most important thing is the reconciliation,” he added. According to him, the party leaderships at all levels “are working seriously to continue the success” APC recorded in the Imo State governorship poll where the party won all the 27 Local Governments of the state.

To replicate the Imo success story of the APC, the National Chairman said that the ruling party would deepen its presence at the grassroots. “The party is working towards making sure that each ward and LGA, has functional offices and that is the usual way to make sure that we are at the grassroots,” he said. He also said that the party would soon embark on e-registration to further increase its membership strength, which he said presently stands at 80 million. This claim means that  35 percent of Nigeria’s estimated population or 200 million are card-carrying members of the ruling APC.

Governor Uzodimma, whose shoulder bears the burden of reconciliation of APC members in the South-East, said that reconciliation train would go round the five states to make peace. “I have been given this assignment,” he said, adding, “I will not allow the South-East to languish because someone somewhere is gossiping”. Whatever he meant on the role of gossips in the palpable disunity in his party is not quite explicable.

Apart from reconciliation of members, the host governor noted that “In (South-East) APC, our task now is to connect to the national grid”. He did not specify which one takes priority between reconciliation and national grid. However, he appealed that party faithful should “forgive ourselves”.

Explaining his call for national grid connection, Uzodimma noted that Nigeria “was formed on a three tripod: The Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. He said that while two legs have decided to move forward and expand, the other “one leg which is the Igbo is shrinking”. To achieve a seamless connection to the national grid he said that “we must stop pulling ourselves down” and also “support President Bola Tinubu in his policies and programmes”.

The Imo governor, whose mandate has been renewed for second term, commended both Mr. President and the APC National Chairman “for understanding the precarious situation in the South-East and that South-East is grossly marginalised,” adding that Tinubu “is working to de-marginalize the zone”.

The Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, Princess Obila, who stood in for her boss, spoke in the same tune of reconciliation and unity, saying that “we need brotherhood. We need to put our house together.”

She further urged her party members “to use our talents, and what we have to move our party and the South-East forward.”

In his remarks, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, expressed gratitude over the concerted efforts being made to propel the South-East forward. Kalu, who spoke through his representative and former Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly, Martins Azubuike, called on the APC faithful in the South-East zone to “work together for the success of the party.”

 He (Kalu) called for patience as the policies of President Tinubu begins to bear fruit, adding that with the passage of the South East Development Commission bill, the zone would be repositioned.

The South-East APC has a total of 19 members in the 10th National Assembly, seven in the Senate and 12 in the House of Representatives. They posted impressive attendance at the stakeholders meeting. Senator Osita Izunaso, who spoke on their behalf, lauded Governor Uzodinma “for making APC strong” in Imo and the other four states in the zone.

Taking this further, the  National Vice-Chairman of APC, South East zone, Ijeomah Arodiogbu, said that  the party’s performance in Imo “where we scored 27 over 27 has given us the bragging rights”. He also bragged about the off-season senatorial election in Ebonyi State which his party won. Even with its growing strength, Arodiogbu noted that South-East APC “need structural funding because of the debt we are owing so that we can function well”. He lamented that it has become a challenge that party members were not being empowered.

According to him, “some of our political office holders have given appointments to more opposition members” to the detriment of the party faithful. He therefore appealed to the APC office holders to “focus more on the empowerment of our APC members”.

Governor Uzodimma might beat his chest for a successful hosting of the stakeholders meeting. But the bigger task lies ahead: internal peace and unity in the party. It’s a huge challenge for the Imo Governor given the lack of trust as some party stakeholders hold him responsible for their electoral misfortunes following his alleged cross-border subterfuge and meddlesomeness.

Whatever happens, Uzodimma’s achievements as the Coordinator of APC in the South-East would be measured by his ability to bring true peace and reconciliation to reign supreme in all the state chapters of APC in the South-East zone. Without this, any dream of further electoral success of the party in the zone would be grossly jeopardised.

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