EMMANUEL MASHA reports on the gale of defections among chieftains and members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State since after the National Assembly rerun elections in the state in which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged victorious
A few months before the legislative rerun elections in Rivers State, the camp of a senatorial candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) was bubbling as party leaders expressed optimism about the party’s chances in the election. But, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the result, it was a huge blow for the party.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) almost cleared the vacant National Assembly seats. The outcome of the rerun election forced some APC chieftains in the state to have a rethink on their membership of the party. In December when the rerun held, the discontent among some members of the party was not visible enough to predict the defection of prominent members.
The common thinking was that the defeat would usher in a new strategy on how to make the party stronger in 2019. In Rivers politics, the governorship is the main trophy, and remains a contest entered for by serious-minded and well – organised individuals, who must understand the dynamics of politics.
The leadership of the APC clearly recognise this fact, having driven the political process for more than a decade as PDP members. But, shortly after the rerun election, Governor Nyesom Wike, saw a crack in the APC and declared his readiness to welcome new members into the PDP. He also declared that the APC has never been on ground in the state.
Leaders of the APC in the state, including the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi; Senator Magnus Abe and the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, know that they have a formidable opponent in Wike, and that their political future depends on how they outsmart him.
This means they must keep the party intact, especially the majority of the members they made to join the party from the PDP. After all, it was the commitment displayed by these members before, during and after the 2015 elections that kept the party’s hope alive, and made the APC led Federal Government to consider the party’s leaders for appointment.
But the recent defection of members, including a few, who wield appreciable level of influence in their senatorial districts or council areas presents the party as not yet ready to wrestle power from the PDP. The question against this backdrop is: Why would a party whose members are holding key positions in the Muhammadu Buhari administration suddenly lose over 16, 000 members in a matter of days?
One observer said the development proves the point recently made by Wike that APC has no future in Rivers State, hence it cannot stand in the way of the PDP in 2019. But even if the governor was right that the APC lacks what it takes to win the state in 2019, what move did the leadership of the party make to prove him wrong? The fact remains that APC has started losing some of its foot soldiers, who would help spread the news about the party and counter the campaigns of the PDP in the next general elections.
The door-to-door campaign, which proved effective in the 2015 elections, became a huge minus for the APC considering the sudden switch by its members. A few days ago, the Shark Stadium in Port Harcourt, the state capital, came alive as APC members, who used to wield brooms covered themselves with umbrellas bearing the red and green colours of the PDP.
Those who spoke at the defection ground said they were misled to join the APC, claiming that throughout their sojourn in the party, their hearts and minds were with the PDP. Before the defections started, there had been complaints of unfulfilled promises by APC leaders. Initially, there were no talks of defection, but as the complaints persisted and nothing tangible was done about them, these aggrieved members started reaching out to the leadership of the PDP.
One of the earliest defectors was Hon. Cassidy Ikegbidid, a known and respected leader in the politics of Ahoada axis of the state. He was twice elected as chairman of Ahoada East Local Government Area. When Ikegbidid defected, some political observers felt it was an oddity, which won’t repeat itself. During the last days of the Amaechi administration when protests and rallies against the Goodluck Jonathan administration were common, Ikegbidi was very active.
The former council chairman, who announced his defection in January, told New Telegraph that he joined the PDP because of the impressive footprints of the Wike administration. Perhaps, the biggest catch by the PDP from the APC fold is Chief Glory Emeh, a former Commissioner for Transport and one time Chief of Staff, Government House.
His defection has caused ripples because he was one of the leaders, who helped give the APC footing in his senatorial district. On why he defected to the PDP, Emeh said: “In APC, I found out that the people were totally unorganised. I would not have known that from outside. I knew when I got in. There is no leadership, no organisation.
There is no structure, no thinking, nobody thinks, everything comes from behind. Once PDP strikes, APC comes from behind. Shortly after Emeh’s defection, his followers stormed his Port Harcourt residence to declare their support for him. They told him that they would follow him to any party he goes to.
Responding, he told them that the key to success and reward in the administration of Governor Wike was hard work, urging them to put in their best to ensure that the current government succeeds in providing the social and physical infrastructures required to enhance the quality of life of Rivers people.
The leader of the delegation, Miss Assurance Olomi, said they had been working with Chief Andrew Uchendu, an APC chieftain, and former House of Representatives member, who contested and lost the last senatorial rerun election, but found that there was no hope for them in the APC, hence their resolve to decamp to the PDP with Emeh, in order to support the Wike administration.
But there was something Emeh said about APC that forced the party to react. He had touched on the poor leadership structure of the APC, while claiming that many party members had made contacts to join the PDP. “APC is marking time, I must confess to you. The leadership forum of APC is about 84 persons and more than half of them are with us.
They know and I told them I will say so when I grant an interview. They are with us. There is no hide and seek about it. More than half of those still attending the management meeting of the APC are with us. They will pull out, nobody will want to wait till the ship sinks, I jumped out, so others are on their way out,” he said.
The APC, while reacting to the defection, through its chairman, Dr. Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, said it knew all along that Emeh had resolved to leave the party for the PDP, describing him as a politician that contributed nothing to the APC while he was a member. He also said that the former commissioner did not command the kind of influence he claimed to have in his area, and could not have joined the PDP with a meaningful number of supporters.
At the Sharks Stadium where Wike officially received APC decampees, he declared that the PDP keeps growing amidst serious distractions, stressing that God would always intervene whenever the party comes under serious attacks from opposition parties.
His words: “Let me tell you, so that nobody will start telling you different stories. There is no crisis in PDP. What the Federal Government is doing is because they have seen that the APC is crumbling and they want to cause crisis in PDP by using Ali Modu Sheriff. “I can tell you to relax. We believe in God and He has never disappointed His children. With the problems of Rivers State, God will intervene.
So, we will continue with what we are doing in the state; we will not be distracted and nobody will distract us. “They thought they will distract us but they are shocked that we are not even bothered about what they are doing. We are still moving forward.” To the decampees, he said: “This time you have taken out today will not be in vain.
Continue to be loyal to the leadership of the party, which is very important. As I said before, there will be no discrimination. I have told the party chairman to ensure that you are fully integrated and that everybody should be treated equally.” In his remark, the former PDP Acting National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, welcomed the defectors and their leaders back to the PDP, declaring that with the number of APC members that have defected to PDP, the APC has crumbled in the state.
Among those received by Wike were Chief Emeh; over 200 former councillors of the APC; the former Commissioner for Culture under Amaechi’s administration, Sunny Wokekoro; APC leader in ONELGA, Merino Okiraija; former Chairman of Emohua LGA, Bob Okala; APC leader in ASALGA, Hon. Orolosama Amachree; former Chairman of Ahoada East LGA, Chief Cassidy, and many others.
With the spate of defections, the question among observers is: who will be the next to defect though on the reverse, the APC has attracted Chief Barr. Dumo Lulu-Briggs, a chieftain of the PDP, who recently declared and registered for the party in Ward 4, Akuku Toru Local Government Area.