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Unending PDP crisis in Anambra

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Oguebego” is an Igbo word or name which means “the war is over”. Therefore, in the spirit of the recent reconciliation efforts in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which is driven by the Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, appointed in that capacity by the leadership of the party, it is expected that this will bring about an end of hostilities by the party’s various warring factions in different states of the federation particularly in Anambra.

So was the tone underlying Governor Dickson’s address to AnambraState stakeholders of the party invited to a parley with his committee in Abuja early August.

The meeting which had in attendance almost all the 23 governorship aspirants and other notable party chieftains was, contrary to expectations, devoid of acrimony and rancour that used to greet similar parleys in the past. The state chapter of the party has been embroiled in factional war that saw it torn between Chief Kenneth Emeakayi-led state executive supported by the leadership of the party, and the other led by Chief Ejike Oguebego being backed by INEC and its Senate committee chairman Senator Andy Uba.

At the end of the meeting, speaker after speaker expressed the feeling that the agreements reached would go a long way towards ensuring a lasting peace in the party.

Surprisingly, that was not to be. Events turned sour as the two different factions held parallel primaries to select their respective candidate in the Anambra governorship election scheduled for November, thus signaling the fact that the war is far from being over. While Tony Nwoye emerged the winner of the primary conducted by the committee empanelled by the national leadership of the party, Ejike Oguebego’s faction produced Senator Andy Uba as the winner of its primary.

Meanwhile, this is not the first time Anambra PDP is involved in this kind of drama. In fact, it is said to be the trend in the party as far as Anambra is concerned. Preparatory to the 2011 general elections the party was embroiled in a similar controversy that saw the emergence of two sets of candidates in two different primaries, one by the Waku committee that was set up by the national leadership of the party, and the other by the state executive led by Benji Udeozor. INEC had accepted the list of the Benji Udeozor candidates claiming it recognised his faction, and that it monitored their primary.

In the confusion that ensued, and without resolving the imbroglio, all the candidates jumped into the field campaigning side by side each other. It was not clear to the voting public who among the candidates they were voting for on the election day. That was how some of the candidates on the side of the state executive claimed PDP victory by default in the constituencies won by the party in the national and state assemblies election. The successful ones among them were sworn into offices while their counterparts dragged them to court, crying for justice.

Sometime last year, the Supreme Court gave judgment in the appeal brought to it by Prince John Emeka challenging the earlier decision of the court of appeal declaring Mrs. Margery Okadigbo, a member of the Waku list, the candidate and senator-elect on the platform of the PDP. In the lead judgement on the matter, the apex court held that Prince Emeka did not participate in the party’s primary election, having not submitted himself to the primaries conducted by the national leadership of the party but to that of the state executive led by Mr. Benji Udeozor.

The court declared that Prince Emeka, by so doing, participated in an illegal primary.  On the basis of that judgement, Mrs. Okadigbo was sworn in as senator representing Anambra North Senatorial zone.

In May the same year, the Supreme Court had dismissed an appeal brought before it by Chief Ikechi Emenike against the election of Governor Theodore Orji on the platform of PDP. Chief Emenike had claimed he won the party’s primary election and as such should be declared the candidate of the party and the winner of the governorship election. The verdict of the apex court according to Justice Afolabi Fabiyi who delivered the judgement is that Emenike failed to substantiate his claim that he was the duly selected person to run for the office of governor on the platform of PDP.

These decisions are not only instructive, but also buttress the need to maintain discipline in political parties. On the contrary, state chapters of various parties have been acting in a manner that tended to suggest that they are independent of the national leadership of their parties. Though the trend is common among the three major parties in the country, it is more prevalent in PDP with respect to Anambra, Abia, Ogun, Akwa Ibom states and CPC with respect to Katsina and Nasarawa states in the build up to 2011 general elections.

This is the unfortunate situation Anambra PDP has found itself once again. It is perhaps note worthy that the audacity of the Oguebego faction to conduct a parallel primary in defiance of its non-recognition by the headquarters of the party was given impetus by the seeming meddlesomeness of the INEC in the internal affairs of the party as was the case in 2011.

The electoral body had insisted that it will not recognise the Ken Emeakayi-led faction of the state executive, forgetting that the critical question here is not the faction that is recognised by it, but on who is entitled to organise primary election, present and sponsor a governorship candidate as in this instance, state or national.

INEC’s position contradicts that of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which held that the party so mentioned in the constitution is the party at the national and that a state executive of a party does not qualify to hold a primary election for the party or sponsor its candidate in an election. Short of saying that INEC does not have any business dealing or interfacing with the state chapter of a party in matters relating to or in connection with conduct of primaries, sponsorship or presentation of candidates for any election.

The present situation in Anambra PDP together with INEC’s intransigence has risen to a worrisome level. The 2011 incident happened by mistake. It will not happen again. Anambra voters are becoming wiser by the day. You cannot continue to deceive the same people by replaying the same trick every time. Allowing the confusion to thrive unresolved would certainly affect the chances of the party in the election. Unless the party makes a serious move to resolve the crisis by doing the needful, Government House, Awka, which is a finger snap away from it will be completely forgotten.

On the other hand, this time round, INEC must try to redeem its image battered in its shoddy handling of the 2011 irregular nominations. The electoral body must live up to the role expected of it as an unbiased umpire.

It should make sure that only those candidates whose names were submitted to it by the national executive committee of their parties are allowed to step into the field to campaign, not the ones it chooses for the parties in utter disregard to the provisions of both the constitution and the Electoral Act. It is only by so doing that election can be said to be truly free and fair.

Interestingly, there was no Kenneth Emeakayi or any of the members of his faction of the state executive at Saturday’s primary that produced Tony Nwoye. In other words, having not appeared at the venue or voted as should have been the case, INEC will find no excuse, even though it does not have such powers, to go against the candidate that emerged in that election.

Where INEC claims it did not observe the primary conducted by the panel set up by the national leadership of the party, as in the case of Hope Uzodimma and Osita Izunaso, the Supreme Court has this to say… “the non observance by INEC of the primary does not affect its legitimacy.”

If the state chapter holds no power to conduct primary election except by a committee empanelled by the national executive committee, it is incumbent on it to adhere strictly to the provisions of the constitution of the party. It also follows that those who seek to hold office at the state level must be knowledgeable of the processes and power structure of the party. This will make for free flow of authority and observance of the law.

Those errors and confusion of the past must be avoided this time around. Organizing a primary election parallel to the one conducted by the national leadership of the party is tantamount to insubordination, rebellion and mutiny. Nothing can confer legitimacy on that kind of factiousness and pervasion, for there is no alternative or rival to the central authority of a party. The party must not keep mum on this without calling a spade a spade. Crime thrives where there is no punishment or enforcement of one. Such contrariness calls for severe sanctions to allow peace reign in Anambra PDP instead of papering over the crack every time.

If peace continues to be elusive to the party in this way, the imperative is that its hope of recapturing Anambra Government House will be a mirage. This is notwithstanding the generally held belief that AnambraState is a PDP state both in body and in spirit.

Can PDP and President Jonathan deceive highly placed party men such as governor Shema of Katsina State, his counterpart from Gombe Dankwabo believed to be his ardent supporters, and the senate leader, Senator Ndoma Egba into fooling themselves by coming to Anambra to conduct and monitor an election whose result will not be respected by the party, or with the tendency of being upturned by INEC and overzealous factional aspirants who do not want democracy to survive in the country.

The present situation in Anambra PDP together with INEC’s intransigence has risen to a worrisome level. The 2011 incident happened by mistake. It will not happen again. Anambra voters are becoming wiser by the day. You cannot continue to deceive the same people by replaying the same trick every time. Allowing the confusion to thrive unresolved would certainly affect the chances of the party in the election. Unless the party makes a serious move to resolve the crisis by doing the needful, Government House, Awka, which is a fingers_snap away from it will be completely forgotten.

On the other hand, this time round, INEC must try to redeem its image battered in its shoddy handling of the 2011 irregular nominations. The electoral body must live up to the role expected of it as an unbiased umpire. It should make sure that only those candidates whose names were submitted to it by the national executive committee of their parties are allowed to step into the field to campaign, not the ones it chooses for the parties in utter disregard to the provisions of both the constitution and the Electoral Act. It is only by so doing that election can be said to be truly free and fair.

Mr  Chike Anyaonu, a media practitioner & Director International Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law, wrote from Lagos.

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