By Tony Edike, Enugu
THE dissolution of Enugu State Executive Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the party’s National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, has again ignited a fresh round of crisis in his home state.
Enugu State had recorded some level of political stability since the Court of Appeal upturned the decision of the Electoral Tribunal that nullified the election of Governor Sullivan Chime in 2007.
Shortly after the governorship poll, which Chime won, Enugu experienced political tension as there were fears that the governor would be removed by his sponsor and mentor, former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani, after both of them went their separate ways soon the governor was sworn in.
The Appeal Court judgment that restored Chime’s mandate, however, doused the tension as the governor settled down to implement his development programme for the state without any opposition from any quarter. But having failed to unseat the governor through the tribunal, the Ebeano political structure founded by former Governor Nnamani, factionalized the PDP in the state as it held its own State Congress of the party and installed an executive council led by Raymond Nnaji.
Chime’s group also held another congress which produced the Vita Abba-led State Executive of the party.
The PDP National Working Committee under the Vincent Ogbulafor regime accorded recognition to the Abba-led executive (Chime’s faction) and continued to deal with it as the executive of the party in the state. Not satisfied with the decision of the NWC, the Nnaji faction popularly known as Ebeano faction went to the Federal High Court Enugu to determine which of the two factions conducted the right congress of the party.
As the case proceeded, the PDP National Executive working with Chime’s faction challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case. Following the Court’s ruling that it had jurisdiction to handle the matter, the defendants (PDP National leadership and the governor’s faction) proceeded to the Court of Appeal to challenge the verdict.
The case is still pending at the Appeal Court while the substantive matter before the Federal High Court had been stepped down. The confusion within the PDP in the state which has lasted for about three years would have been laid to rest if the matter before the Federal High Court had been decided upon.
However, as the factional crisis rages, the Chairman of the Ebeano faction, Mr. Ray Nnaji in a dramatic twist dumped the group and joined Governor Chime’s camp with a promise to withdraw all cases pending in court regarding the leadership of the party in the state without due consultation with members of his former faction.
Nnaji was immediately replaced by Mr. Reuben Ochi, as Chairman of the Ebeano faction to continue with the struggle. Nnaji’s movement, however, could not make the expected impact in Chime’s camp as Ebeano faction prevented the withdrawal of the suits.
However, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had at a point written the national leadership of PDP declaring the Enugu State Congress of the party conducted in 2008 as illegal and unacceptable to the commission.
In the letter, signed by Regina Omo-Agege, Director of Political Parties Monitoring, the commission asked the ruling party to dissolve the executive committees of its chapters in nine states. INEC said the emergence of the executives in Delta, Bayelsa, Imo, Plateau, Oyo, Adamawa, Kano, Enugu and Ogun did not only breach the party’s constitution but also the provisions of the Electoral Act.
The electoral body, therefore, asked the party’s national leadership to revisit the composition of the committees, failing which it will withdraw the recognition granted the affected state chapters by the electoral body.
The Ogbulafor executive did nothing with the report especially as it affects Enugu State apparently because of the pending matter in court and his romance with the governor at the time.
But the implication of the letter is that the outcome of any election conducted by either of the two factions in the state including the party primaries for the 2011 elections would not be accepted by the commission.
But while both camps were waiting for the court to resolve the matter, the issue of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo’s appointment as National Chairman of PDP came up. Nwodo sought and obtained the support of Governor Chime and his faction for his ambition.
The governor gave Nwodo all the support he needed and at the end was picked to lead the party at the national level. As a top member of the governor’s camp puts it, the state’s support for Nwodo became the greatest political mistake made by Chime. But Nwodo on his part, continued to acknowledge the support he enjoyed from his home state pledging to work with the governor to ensure the progress of the state.
Ironically, the working relationship and political alliance between Nwodo and Chime did not last beyond two months as they disagreed on two major issues. First was the need to harmonize the two factions (Chime and Nnamani’s factions) which had been at loggerhead since 2007.
The second contentious issue that generated much tension within various political camps in the state and which Nwodo and other political leaders insisted must be reversed, was the decision of the governor’s camp to give automatic second term ticket to the governor, serving members of the National Assembly from the state as well as members of Enugu State House of Assembly all of who emerged from the PDP.
The National Assembly members from the state had revealed an agreement entered into with Governor Chime during his battle at the Election Tribunal to retain his mandate, that he would back them for another term in appreciation of their support to him.
This pact between the governor and the federal legislators, even though the governor denied it, angered most members of the camp especially those who had been nursing the ambition to contest elections into the National Assembly in 2011.
Some of them even threatened to withdraw their support to the governor and his government since he (Chime) had foreclosed their chances of realizing their political ambition by “trading off” the various tickets to their opponents.
Chime and the party’s chairman, Engr. Vita Abba had taken time to debunk claims of automatic tickets allegedly given to the National Assembly members but some party stakeholders disbelieved them because of their antecedents on such issues.
They cited a similar decision taken by the party against “automatic tickets” in the last Local Government elections in the state only for the governor to turn around to ask all those who had obtained the party’s nomination forms for Local Government Chairmanship and Councillorship positions to withdraw from the contest and allow majority of the incumbent chairmen and councilors to run for another term.
The issue would have caused a major disagreement among members of the party but the governor succeeded in calming the frayed nerves.
From that moment, the unity among stakeholders of the party began to give way as many political leaders who had supported Chime from inception of his government turned their back at him.
Apart from his estranged godfather, Dr. Nnamani, whose Ebeano camp had constituted strong opposition to Chime’s administration; he had enjoyed the tremendous support of most political leaders in the state. Following the protracted legal tussle at the Election Tribunal, which almost snatched his mandate, Chime wooed the state political leaders who agreed to back his government.
Top on the list were former governors of the old Anambra and Enugu State. Such as the late Chief C.C. Onoh, Chief Jim Nwobodo and the National Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo.
Chime also enjoys the support of Nwodo’s younger brother and former Minister of Information, John Nnia Nwodo; former Minister of State for Health, Chief Silas Iloh; former President of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani; former governorship candidates: Dubem Onyia, Ugo Agbalah; Oscar Egwuonwu, and a host of other prominent indigenes.
Chiefs Jim Nwobodo and Ken Nnamani from Enugu South Local Government were unable to push their chairmanship candidate through in last December local government election in spite of the agreement with the governor to allow the stakeholders to decide on the candidature.
Although majority of the candidates in that election emerged through the decision of the stakeholders, the party conducted a primary election to select the candidate for Enugu South, a development that angered Nwobodo and Nnamani. That, however, forced the duo to part ways with the governor.
The cold war between the governor and some of the political leaders in the state escalated after Nwodo emerged as PDP national chairman as some of the leaders formed a new alliance under Nwodo with a view to checkmating Chime’s overbearing influence in the party. With the emergence of the “Nwodo Group” as another factor in Enugu PDP, the battle for the soul of the party thickened.
Chime’s bid for second term, which analysts had believed would be a smooth sail given his impressive performance in office, became an issue while the chances of his strong supporters were also threatened by the political leaders, who are insisting on a level playing ground for all members of the party in the built up to the 2011 election.
The stakeholders who formed a new alliance under Nwodo pushed for the harmonization of the State Executive Committee to enable them have a foothold on the party. At the same time, the Ebeano faction was insisting that its congress was conducted in line with the party’s constitution and should be accorded recognition.
Latching on Ebeano’s agitation before the party and the court, the Nwodo group intensified their campaign. They believed that since Chime and his supporters would likely shut the door against them in the selection of candidates for the 2011 elections, the only option left to them was to get the party exco dissolved to pave the way for a fresh congress. This led to the current impasse between Chime and Nwodo.
The dissolution of the state party exco announced by Nwodo through a press statement by his media aide, Ike Abonyi, last week, was seen by the governor’s camp as a step by Nwodo and his supporters to seize the party structure in the state.
In an official reaction by the governor’s camp signed by the party chairman, Engr. Vita Abba, faulted the decision on of the PDP National Chairman to dissolve the state executive described his action as undemocratic, biased and self-serving. The group insisted that Nwodo had no constitutional powers to dissolve any state executive of the party.
It noted that the decision to issue a press statement purportedly dissolving the party executive without reference to the National Working Committee and the National Executive Committee of the party “is most irresponsible and smacks of hidden agenda.”
“I call on the law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute the author of the letter for purporting to have issued the letter on behalf of the National Working Committee.
We wish to state quite categorically that the PDP is not a sole proprietorship operating on the whims and caprices of some self-seeking politicians who are out to destabilize the party and the stat,” Abba further submitted. He went further to call on the teeming members of the party and the general public to ignore the dissolution order which he regarded as “sterile attempt at causing panic and to eschew violence in the state.”
But the factional Chairman of the Ebeano faction, Barrister Reuben Ochi, countered the governor’s camp saying the attacks on Nwodo by supporters of the governor over the dissolution of the party’s executive was misplaced as according to him, “the decision on Enugu was not taken by Nwodo alone.”
Ochi said that rather than attacking Nwodo, the governor and his supporters should be blamed for scuttling peace initiatives by the national chairman to re-unite various factions of the party in the state into one formidable party.
He said the crisis in the party was not a personal problem between the governor and Dr. Nwodo, stressing that the call for a fresh congress wouldn’t have cropped up if the governor had adhered to an agreement reached at a peace meeting convened in Abuja at the instance of the national chairman of the party.
Ochi said: “We want to put the record straight; the PDP crisis in Enugu State is not a personal matter between Governor Chime and National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo; the congress crisis in the state started since 2008, so it pre-dates Nwodo’s emergence as national chairman.
“There was a congress on October 28, 2008 which was held in accordance with the PDP guidelines and constitution. Before that congress, venues and guidelines for the congress were published in newspapers and names of members of the congress committee were also published. Nobody complained about the venue or membership of the committee.
The committee arrived Enugu on February 28, 2008, proceeded to the Mc Devos Hotel, which was the venue of the congress. When Nwodo became chairman of the party he inherited some of these congress problems from various states. What he did was to call senior stakeholders of the party all over the country to fashion out an internal mechanism to solve these problems.
“In the case of Enugu State he invited all of us to NICON Hilton Hotel Abuja; almost all known politicians from the state were present including former Governors, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, Chief Jim Nwobodo; Senator Ken Nnamani, Chief Dubem Onyia, Hyde Onuaguluchi, Governor Sullivan Chime, among other notable politicians.
The national chairman pleaded with us to give him the maximum support to enable him succeed as the national chairman; that we should try and bury our differences. A committee was set up to go back to Enugu State to resolve the matter; people were nominated from the three senatorial zones.