Emmanuel Masha reports on the lingering crisis rocking the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) over control of its structure between the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe
It appears the crisis rocking the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is “a problem from hell” having defied solutions for long. It has now worsened to the point that real party faithful in the state who want it to challenge the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are now worried that the demons fighting the party have vowed to destroy it.
The monstrous nature of the crisis has forced some stakeholders’, mainly politicians who have invested heavily in the party to reflect on what really went wrong with APC in the state; how it landed in this mess and what can be done to salvage it before 2023.
But at the very beginning, Rivers APC was the shining light in the South-South zone in terms of coordination, mass support, collaboration with the party’s national body and the role it played in mobilizing support for the Muhammadu Buhari campaign team before the 2015 general election.
Recall that Rivers State under then Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who was elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led other members of his government to the APC. That initial promising step was supposed to position the party for greatness in Rivers; make it the party that should control power throughout the tenure of the Buhari administration and even beyond.
While Amaechi, Dakuku Peterside (immediate past Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency) and a few others have served in the Buhari administration at the national level, top elective and appointive positions have been the exclusive preserve of the PDP, with Governor Nyesom Wike at the helm of affairs.
Some watchers of Rivers politics who really know how serious the APC crisis is, have predicted rightly or wrongly that what happened in 2019 when the party didn’t field a single candidate to contest elective office will repeat itself in 2023.
Those who expected the political gladiators to bury their differences post 2019, to chart a new path for the party are surprised that the crisis has entered this phase of disagreement that has further created a new faction, which is led by Hon. Igo Aguma, who had queued behind Amaechi throughout the party’s formative days up until the time that Dakuku contested in 2 015 and in 2019 when the Supreme stopped it.
While some have alleged that Aguma, who emerged as the party’s acting chairman via the court does not have the party’s interest at heart, and not on a rebuilding mission as he claims, others have countered that he had to emerge to save the party in the state from total collapse.
The real problem started when Amaechi anointed Peterside as the party’s governorship candidate. When he took that decision, some party leaders, including serving lawmakers in the National Assembly faulted it. They felt that he could not take such decision singlehandedly without the input of other party stakeholders.
Besides, they argued that Senator Magnus Abe stood a better chance than Peterside against Wike (then Minister of State for Education) who contested the election on the ticket of the PDP and eventually defeated Peterside.
Nobody for sure knows the extent their disapproval impacted on the failure of Peterside to win at the poll, but some say that there were some party members who did not put in their very best during that election. Recall that Peterside came a distant third behind Prince Tonye Princewill of the Labour Party, while Wike carried the day for the PDP.
When the crisis entered its second phase, which culminated to the Supreme Court ruling shortly before the 2019 general election that prevented the APC from fielding candidates for elective offices, it had already led to the emergence of two pronounced factions of the party led by Amaechi and Abe.
Many had thought that the feuding parties and their supporters would have learned their lessons going forward to prevent the same thing from happening in 2023. However, the crisis, currently in its third phase has further decreased the force of the Amaechi camp, following the emergence of another camp led by Hon. Igo Aguma. He was a commissioner and later House of Representatives member during the administrations of Sir Peter Odili and Amaechi respectively.
Aguma, who emerged from the court as the party’s caretaker committee chairman has been battling with Amaechi faction, which had challenged his emergence in court. Aguma says he is on a rebuilding mission and that he wants to stabilize the party and stay briefly in acting capacity before handing over to an elected executive.
But the Amaechi-led faction claims that Aguma has an ulterior motive, which will not serve the party’s overall interest. This is as Aguma explained in a recent interview on why he went to court in the first place.
His words: “Members are leaving APC in droves. Some have abandoned politics to go and do some other things. We had a winning plan through Free Rivers Movement (FRM).
“We had gone deep. We did mass mobilisation. Check out our performance in the last presidential election even though we did not have a candidate. When they (APC) went to invade the court, I spoke up against it in a meeting. Like senator Abe said, the courts were annoyed with APC in Rivers State…”
However, there has been a back and forth court judgement that Aguma and Hon. Sekonte Davies, another caretaker committee chairman from the Amaechi camp over their claims as party chairmen. When a Rivers State High Court pronounced Aguma acting chairman, the Amaechi faction headed to the Court of Appeal, which removed him from acting capacity.
When Aguma was suspended, Sekonte Davies said: “Igo Aguma was granted the privilege to be chairman of the caretaker committee and other statutory members are not challenging the court’s judgement. We are only saying that Aguma contravened the order of the court by running the party as a sole administrator from his private residence, taking unilateral decisions. Each time he is questioned for that, he gives flimsy excuses; that is why he was suspended.”
But Aguma has petitioned the Acting Chairman of the APC National Working Committee (NWC), Governor Mai Bala Buni, urging him to set up an independent committee to tackle the issues of factionalisation of the party in the state. He stressed that it was contrary the directive of the leader of the party, President Buhari, that all litigation should seize.
Aguma enjoys the support of Senator Abe, who condemned his suspension as acting chairman by the Amaechi facion before securing the Appeal Court judgement. Abe, in a statement said that the decision of the faction was inconsequential due to the subsisting court judgement.
“Even if the judgement is set aside, the action of the State Executive Committee (SEC) members was already in defiance of a subsisting court judgement, considering the time they took the action. They should have collected the signatures of SEC members and served a notice to Aguma with a demand to summon a meeting. There are provisions in our party’s constitution to summon an extraordinary meeting of the SEC of our party,” he explained.
For Prince Princewill, who is in Amaechi’s camp, the crisis has created more than two factions with the emergence of Aguma.
He said: “There are more than two factions. There is the Amaechi faction which is by far the majority of the party, then there is the Abe faction which successfully thwarted us from presenting candidates in the 2019 election. In recent months, there is now the emergence from the same Amaechi faction of an Igo Aguma faction. When it emerged, I raised the alarm because I saw it as just as disruptive, if not more so..
“A lot of water has now gone under the bridge and ego has been severely bruised. Trust is now a major problem. As many of you know, there are two major political parties in Nigeria. When you despise your own party members so much so that you don’t mind them losing an election to the other party, a line has been crossed. Incidentally, the dynamic between Aguma and the Amaechi faction is also similar.
“For those of us who belong to what I prefer to call the ‘peace faction.’ we are very realistic. We don’t see them as coming back together like before. Not again. This is why Amaechi has his opponents in Abuja. They see him as a threat in 2023. They will do whatever they can to promote his worries at home and since he has chosen not to focus on the state politics, but instead focus on his national assignment, his silence is leaving a vacuum. My view is his opponents will continue to exploit it. Not sure how long it will last, but underestimating Amaechi is not wise. I would not advise it.
“What I would advise is that my fellow leaders waiting for Amaechi need to behave like leaders and take their destiny in their own hands. We must make peace and promote unity. That is my message to them; a war is not in anybody’s interest. We can’t wait for Amaechi to run to Port Harcourt to put out flames. That would be an indictment on us and our leadership.”
Speaking on the issue, Davies (factional chairman of the Amaechi camp), said the perceived standoff between the minister of Transportation and Senator Abe was not responsible for the party’s crisis in Rivers State.
Davies, who spoke during a press briefing in Port Harcourt, on Wednesday, said: “Nobody owns the grassroots. There is no faction at the grassroots level. Abe and Amaechi are not in contention; the problem in Rivers APC is mismanagement of ambition and grievances.”’
He added: “We have the capacity to run the party and make it enjoyable in the state. We are not taking anyone to court. We want to build the party and to strengthen it and to carry everyone along. We have tried to reach out to all of those we feel are aggrieved; we have called them personally to discuss. We have started a reconciliation process on time headed by Senators Andrew Uchendu and Wilson Ake.
“Igo Aguma was granted the privilege to be chairman of the caretaker committee and other statutory members are not challenging the court’s judgement. We are only saying, Aguma contravened the order of the court by running the party as a sole administrator from his private residence, taking unilateral decisions. Each time he is questioned for that, he gives flimsy excuses; that is why he was suspended.”
Interestingly, hardly anyone hear Amaechi and Abe attack each other directly or engage in open confrontation like some politicians would but their body languages and the intrigues that have characterised Rivers APC since late 2014, is nothing other than supremacy battle between two former allies who want to control the party in Rivers.
While the silence of the duo appears golden, the regular outbursts of their supporters, including persons who occupy or once held top positions, have moved the crisis to a stage where these supporters could openly rebel if they decide to beat a retreat and choose the peace option.