By Tony Edike, Awka and Vincent Ujumadu
THE underground maneuvering by some stakeholders in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State with the backings of some external power brokers in Abuja expectedly disrupted the partyâ€™s congress for the election of a candidate for the December 6, 2010 gubernatorial election.
The over 900 delegates elected from the September 28 ward congresses of the party held in the 21 local government areas as well as the statutory delegates had converged in Awka for the primary electionÂ Friday and were full of expectations but unknown to them the congress would not be held after all courtesy of a last minute order of an Anambra State High court.
Surprisingly, as the delegates were being conveyed to the Women Development Centre, Awka venue of the state congress where hundreds of heavily armed mobile policemen and operatives of State Security Service (SSS) had condoned off as early as 6 am to ensure that non-delegates had no access to the venue, news filtered in that an Aguata High Court sitting at Ekwulobia had issued an interim order restraining the PDP, its National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor and the Chairman of the Anambra State PDP Electoral Panel and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Oladimeji Bankole from conducting the primary election.
One Mr. Probity Adibe, believed to be acting on behalf of a prominent governorship aspirant, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, had in a suit number AG/92/MISC440/09 filed before Justice B.A. Nwankwo, obtained an interim injunction, restraining the party from holding any state congress for the primary election of the PDP fixed for October 2, 2009 for the election of its gubernatorial candidate.
The court also restrained the respondents or their agents from convening any congress whatsoever on October 2 or any other date, pending the determination of the motion on notice filed by the plaintiff.
In a prompt response to the court order, Bankole flanked by members of the electoral panel, addressed a joint press conference with the Anambra Congress Appeal committee headed by Wakilin Adamawa, Alhaji Hassan Adamu, announcing their decision to suspend the election on the strength of the court order.
Bankole who formally received the report of the appeal committee from Adamu as a prelude to the conduct of the primary election, said as a chief law officer of the federation and in line with President Umar Musa Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s adherence to rule of law and due process, compliance to the rule of law must be followed.
He declared that the committee would not proceed with the election as scheduled until further directive was received from the National Secretariat of the party.
He acknowledged that the court order by some aspirants and stakeholders who alleged widespread irregularities in the ward congress held earlier was served through a substituted service and that the partyâ€™s legal advisers were already doing something about it.
â€œSo until then, we wait because due process and respect to courts must be followed.Â For the records, the venue for the election is ready and we are standing by until the election is held,â€ said Bankole at a news briefing held at about 10 am Friday.
Chairman of the ward congress appeal committee, Alhaji Hassan Adamu had, while handing over the committeeâ€™s report to Hon Bankole, said that his committee received a total of 1387 petitions and upheld 174 of them.
According to him, only six out of the 47 governorship aspirants cleared to participate at the congress appeared before the committee, while there was no congress in two local government areas, namely, Awka North and Awka South, out of the 21 local governments in the state. Also, he said, some wards in Nnewi South and Aguata did hold the congress, adding that altogether, there were complaints in 241 wards out of the 978 in the state.
Accepting the report, Bankole said that PDP has absolutely decided to do the right thing.
Though he said that his committee would proceed with the state congress, his aides were seen 30 minutes later packing their luggage into their vehicles, even as the delegates were still waiting at the Women Development Centre, Awka,\ which was the venue of the congress.
Some governorship aspirants and their supporters who were hanging around the Barnhill Resort, Awka waiting for further directives from Abuja through the electoral panel were shocked to see Bankole and members of his panel vacating their rooms at about 1.30 pm.
Before the aspirants could ascertain what was happening, Bankole and his members boarded their vehicles and left for Enugu airport from where they took a flight back to Abuja.
The House of Representatives Speaker was said to have told some officials of the party before leaving that the presidency directed members of the electoral panel to return to Abuja.
As the news of their departure spread to the congress venue, delegates who were conveyed in about six luxury buses to an area close to the Women Development Centre were returned to their hotels, from where they later dispersed.
The development, however, caused serious anxiety among the aspirants and the congress delegates some of who rained curses on the aspirant who â€œarrested the conducted of the primary through court ordersâ€
For now, the primary election has been placed on hold indefinitely but an insider said the move to scuttle the process leading to the election of the partyâ€™s flagbearer might not be unconnected with the alleged underground scheming by some PDP power brokers at the national level who felt that their favoured candidate cannot emerge victorious should the primary election is held because of his inability to garner enough delegates during the ward congress.
This group which is said to be backing Professor Chukwuma Soludo to clinch the PDP ticket, allegedly initiated the legal action to halt the election which if conducted, according to observers, would have seen to the emergence of Chief Chris Ubaâ€™sÂ favoured candidate, Engr.Â Bethram Dim from Uga in Aguata Local Government.
The choice of Dim was announced to the delegates majority of who were camped at Choice Hotel, Awka late Thursday night and as learnt the camp of the acclaimed godfather of Anambra politics (Uba) was thrown into confusion, as about 20 other contestants from the camp who were hopeful of clinching the ticket since they control at least 70 percent of the delegates, felt highly disappointed.
Although it was late for any of them to raise any objection few hours to the primary election,Â some of them were said to have announced to the delegates their decision to withdraw from the race.Â Even though majority was not comfortable with Dimâ€™s choice, they had to play along in demonstration of their loyalty to the godfather.
But some of them have continued to grumblealoud over the development just as they expressed fears that PDP might lose the February 6 poll to another party if a credible candidate was not given the ticket.
Vanguard learnt from the final list of delegates approved for the suspended congress that Chief Chris Uba, whose camp was in control of the state party machinery in the last few months following its endorsement by the National Working Committee, produced about 70 percent of the 981 delegates, leaving the remaining 30 percent to other contestants including Soludo, Annie Okonkwo and Nicholas Ukachukwu.
It was gathered that while Ukachukwu, an Abuja based businessman and former member of House of Representatives produced a good number of delegates next to Ubaâ€™s, the former Central Bank Governor who is a new entrant into the governorship contest, only got few delegates from his Aguata local government while Senator Okonkwo reportedly lost out in the delegatesâ€™ hunt.
Uba was said to have produced over 600 delegates and was comfortably positioned to produce the candidate should the primary held, but following the two-day deliberation s by the Hassan Adamu led Congress Appeal Panel on the 1,357 petitions sent to it, 285 delegates believed to have earlier emerged from Ubaâ€™s camp were changed and shared among Ukachukwu and Soludo.
Even at that, observers said, the duo could not muster enough delegates that could give them the partyâ€™s ticket.Â This, however, forced the duo to seek legal option through which they aborted the primary election slated for Friday.
The Appeal Panel revealed that only six out of the 47 aspirants appeared before it to defend their case as contained in the numerous petitions forwarded and they were duly heard in addition to 39 witnesses.Â According to Alhaji Adamu, while 174 petitions were found have merit and duly upheld, the remaining 1,183 petitions failed owing to lack of proof.
The panel therefore recommended that the congress should be held in accordance with the list of delegates submitted by the Ward Congress Committee led by Benue State governor, Suswan, but insisted that 285 delegates must be changed.Â Bankole accepted the recommendation saying that it would conduct the State Congress in line with the decision of the appeal panel whenever the legal tussle was settled.
â€œWe appreciate the situation in Anambra State and that is why the PDP has made it clear to everybody in the state and outside that we must to the right thing to the satisfaction of all,â€ Bankole told a news conference where he announced the indefinite suspension of the congress on Friday.
It was learnt that the PDP power-brokers at Abuja felt that since time was fast running out on the party for the submission of the candidate to INEC on Tuesday, the conflict may be resolved through the selection of the candidate via a consensus arrangement, which majority of the contestants had earlier opposed.
Many of the aspirants who spoke after the aborted congress on Friday said they might be forced to adopt the consensus option since it has become obvious that a credible primary election would not be feasible in the face of the alleged lopsided list of delegates.
However, Vanguard further learnt that a group of aspirants from Ubaâ€™s camp had approached the Ekwulobia High Court on Friday to vacate the order stopping the conduct of the primary but by press time it could not be ascertained if they succeeded.
They had argued that the order granted on September 30 was incompetent claiming that the court had no jurisdiction over the matter.