Many Nigerians have made presidential and governorship elections a focus of utmost attention. Some have done this with a devotion bordering on obsession while paying little attention to primaries and congresses down to the ward level, which are considered to be equally as important as the so-called ‘big’ elections.
In essence, party congresses are designed to produce delegates at various levels and the delegates are usually accredited members of the party with a mandate to take part in the selection and election processes of party members for general elections.
It is the duty of delegates at the various levels of party activity and agenda to produce candidates for the various political offices of interest, meaning that congresses are integral to the life of any political party and should be given appropriate attention.
Perhaps because of this, the ruling All Progressives Congress last weekend held ward congresses in 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory with the ward congresses for Ekiti and Osun states rescheduled because of the party’s governorship primary elections meant to take place there.
But the ward congresses of the APC ended in violence, confusion and uncertainty in many of the states.
A lawyer, Mr. Tunde Esan, blamed the violence and other problems that characterised the congresses on how the APC was formed, describing it as “a conglomeration of various interests pulling the party in different directions.”
“Members of different parties came together to form the APC. So what you see is the fight for the control of the party because strange bedfellows come together for the purpose of getting to power without any developmental agenda.
“And now that they are in power, they don’t even know what to do with it. After coming together to win in 2015, they are now looking at 2019 to take control of the party ahead of the general elections. What is happening is normal in the sense that when you have strange bedfellows coming together like that, they seek to take control even if they don’t know what to do with it.
“So if anyone thinks the party will have peaceful congresses anywhere, they should know that it is not going to happen because it is about who controls what,” he said.
As for the events of the last weekend, for instance, in Delta State, a ward chairmanship aspirant of the party, Mr. Jeremiah Oghoveta, in Ward 10, was stabbed to death during the violence that broke out during the exercise.
Ogboveta was the APC chairmanship candidate in Jeremi Ward 3/10, Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Andrew Aniamaka, who confirmed the incident, told journalists that “at about12:30pm, one Jeremiah Jacob was stabbed to death by a member of the APC, who is currently on the run. Though there are no details for now, we know that the suspect immediately fled after the incident and efforts are currently on to apprehend him”.
Similarly, in Akwa Ibom State, at least 10 persons, including the Chairman of the APC in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area of the state, Mr. Iniobong Akan, were allegedly beaten up by aggrieved youths, who were said to have also blocked the gates to the venue of the exercise and prevented party members from getting in.
It was reported that it took the intervention of the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Senate Matters, Senator Ita Enang, to douse tensions before the exercise was allowed to proceed. There were also reports of violence in Rivers State where some youths were said to have invaded the state secretariat of the APC in Port Harcourt, the state capital.
In the meantime, two chieftains of the party in the state – Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and a 2019 governorship aspirant of the party in the state, Senator Magnus Abe – who have factionalised the party in the state, have been accusing each other of causing the crisis.
In Imo State, parallel congresses were held as the state’s Governor, Rochas Okorocha, and the state’s Deputy Governor, Prince Eze Madumere, belonged to different factions of the party in the state following the governor’s move to have his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, succeed him in office in 2019.
It was learnt that some youths, chanting war songs, went to the state police headquarters to demand the cancellation of the ward congresses held in the state.
Madumere was reportedly attacked by suspected thugs at the state secretariat of the party while the Publicity Secretary of the APC in the state, Chief Nwabueze Oguchienti, blamed people loyal to Okorocha for organising a parallel congress.
Madumere’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Uche Onwuchekwa, in a statement, identified other victims of the attack as including Sir Jude Ejiogu; Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu; General Gbujie; Chief Felix Idiga; Ichie Best Mbanaso; a member of the APC Board of Trustees, Mr. Jasper Azuatalam; Deputy National Woman Leader, Mrs. Tina Adike; Chief Tony Chukwu; and Dr. Goddy Esom Obodo.
“The Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prince Eze Madumere, and others, earlier today (Saturday), escaped death as armed thugs, numbering over 200, unleashed mayhem at the party secretariat,” he had said.
Sadly, some people were injured following a bloody clash at the party’s state secretariat at Oke Ado, Ibadan in Oyo State. It was reported that weapons were freely used during a clash between suspected thugs and loyalists of the state’s Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, and the Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu.
Both chieftains of the party have allegedly been fighting a cold war over the control of the party structure in the state.
Similarly, the governorship primary of the APC in Ekiti State was suspended amidst violence and protests that broke out at Oluyemo Kayode Stadium in Ado-Ekiti, where the election held.
A fresh primary election, which was initially scheduled to hold on Friday, May 11, 2018, was later rescheduled to hold on Saturday (today).
Some of the prominent 2019 governorship aspirants of the party who took part in the primaries were the Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Deputy National Chairman of the APC, Segun Oni; Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu; and a former Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Opeyemi Bamidele.
It was learnt that trouble started when the agents of some of the aspirants complained that the electoral process was being manipulated and following that, some thugs smashed the ballot boxes, emptying them.
However, a political analyst and National Publicity Secretary of the Action Democratic Party, Otunba Yemi Adetoyinbo, identified one of the causes of the problems that emerged at the congresses as the power tussle between people seen to be close to President Muhammadu Buhari and seen as his men, and other party chieftains in affected states resisting the pressure to take over control from them.
Adetoyinbo said, “You can see factional issues in the ward congresses there. In Oyo State, there is a faction loyal to the governor, Ajimobi, and another faction belonging to one of Buhari’s ministers, Shittu, who wants to become the governor in the state. Shittu contested against Ajimobi in the last APC governorship primaries in the state before he was appointed minister and Ajimobi just does not like him.
“Shittu’s people were saying they were not allowed to enter the venue of the congress, and that ballot papers were not seen and that they were only issued to government supporters. So we have a situation where Buhari’s men are against the governors of some states.
“In some cases, you may have a governor who is not in the good books of Buhari and a minister who belongs to another faction or a governor who is in Buhari’s good books and others belonging to another faction like we have in Kaduna and Kogi states.
“In Ekiti, Oni is a strong party member who may have the support of the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, but we also have Fayemi, who is a minister and Buhari’s man. This has created two factions. In Kaduna State, Governor Nasir el-Rufai is Buhari’s man and he is against Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi and Senator Shehu Sani, who are very popular with the people.
“So in most of the states, Buhari’s men want to have the upper hand and lord it over the others. It’s because the President also wants to control the party this time round. For instance, Bauchi State Governor, Mohammed Abubakar, is loyal to Buhari, so you will know that if the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, is not on the same page with Abubakar, they will have factions there because the Speaker will also have people loyal to him. But whoever Abubakar presents to Buhari is the person Buhari will accept.
“In Kwara State, Senate President Bukola Saraki, and the state governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, are on the same side, but if Buhari decides to support anybody apart from their choice in the state for the governorship position, it will create another faction. Now that the President is in power, are we sure the APC will have a free and fair presidential primary election in the party ahead of 2019? So Buhari’s men are riding on the might of the Federal Government and they are being resisted by other strong politicians in the states.”
Adetoyinbo also blamed the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agents for the poor conduct of the congresses and the APC governorship primary election in Ekiti that was disrupted, saying they appeared to be bias.
“The most important part of the electoral process is primary election; it is significant and important in any election. We need acceptable primaries.
“It is high time INEC made a clear statement on the APC congresses. If the problem is not checked, it will rob the electorate of their rights to the freedom of choosing who leads them as guaranteed by the constitution. So these people are not only violating the constitutional procedure, they are also robbing the society of good governance and democratic ethos. And if they don’t buckle down, smaller parties like the ADP can surprise the big parties.”
Also according to Prof. Egboh Amaechi of the Department of Political Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, it is unfortunate for the APC to have failed to conduct “ordinary ward congresses” across the country “successfully”.
He said, “Look at Ekiti State, for example, where over 30 candidates contested for a position; it shows lack of internal discipline and that the party in the state was not well organised. None of them wanted to concede to one another probably because they felt they had an opportunity to defeat the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state because the APC is a dominant party in the South-West.
“Hopefully, the APC will get its act together and do something better in future. Nigerians were disappointed with the APC because it showed lack of discipline. There is no other way one can assess what happened last weekend other than to blame it on lack of discipline, greed and over-ambition amongst many of them. What happened spoke of a national disgrace for a party in power but it is not too late to improve. I believe the party must have learnt its lessons.”