From Tony John, Port Harcourt
The battle for which political party would occupy the Brick House (Government House), Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in 2023, is daily gaining momentum.
Presently, 14 political parties have produced their governorship candidates for the 2023 election. The parties and their candidates are: Accord Party,(AP), Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Action Alliance(AA), Benjamin Olimini Abednego, Action Peoples Party(APP), Lessi Gborogbosi, African Action Congress(AAC), Joseph Obele and African Democratic Congress(ADC), Mr. Tonte Ibraye.
Others include: African Democratic Party(ADP), Mr. Victor Fingesi, All Progressives Congress(APC), Tonye Cole, All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA), Prince Ugo Beke, Allied Peoples Movement(APM), Rev. Ekwu Innocent and Labour Party(LP), Mrs. Beatrice Itubo.
The rest are: National Rescue Movement(NRM), Mr. Sobomabo Jackrich, Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), Siminalaye Fubara, Peoples Redemption Party(PRP), Etete Sobere and Young Progressive Party, YPP, Mr. Danagogo Wenike-Briggs.
Though the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has not produced a governorship standard bearer, speculation is high that the former lawmaker that represented Rivers South-East senatorial district, Magnus Abe, might pick the party’s ticket to fulfill his governorship ambition in Rivers State.
Since 1999 till date, the PDP has held grips of Rivers State politically. In fact, the present government of Governor Nyesom Wike has made Rivers look more of a one-party state. This manifested itself in the 2019 election.
In that election, no political party produced any lawmaker, whether at the federal or state level. At the National Assembly, all the senators and House of Representatives members are from PDP. Similarly, the 32 House of Assembly seats are from the ruling party.
But, in the forthcoming election, uncertainty has continued to trail the PDP with permutations that its candidate for 2023 governorship race is not popular in the state.
They had argued that the likes of Bro. Felix Obuah, the immediate past state chairman of PDP would have picked the ticket considering his wide acceptability among the party’s stakeholders in the state.
The argument is that the PDP’s governorship candidate, Fubara, had never been in the political scene and was literally unknown in the state chapter of the PDP, except few weeks to the governorship primary.
According to them, Fubara was “anointed” by the governor, hence his emergence in the governorship primary election.
At the primary that produced Fubara, out of the 898 votes cast, Fubara scored 721. Obuah, who was the most popular aspirant, was reported to have scored only two votes although he boycotted the exercise.
Meanwhile, Obuah in a “Thank you Message” to his teeming supporters on Thursday, May 26, 2022, after the election on Wednesday, said he withdrew from the race because the party’s interest was supreme.
He declared: “I hereby submit and surrender to the decision of the party. Election is not, and should not be a do-or-die-affair. Moreso, power comes from God. I cannot be a party to anything that may obstruct the course of victory for our party both at state and national levels, or cause disaffection among our party leadership and members.
“I, therefore, enjoin my faithful supporters across the state not to be dismayed or lose hope, for where there is a will, there must be a way.
“Sadly, that hope, that faith and joy may appear to have been dashed. This is the reason for this special message of hope and appreciation to all of you, my dearest friends, my supporters and my people.
“Let me first assure you that no hope is lost. The choice of who succeeds our dear governor is an exclusive party affair. This is what party loyalty is all about. It is not a personal affair.”
There was also another governorship aspirant, who went farther by suing the flag-bearer. He urged the court to nullify the process that produced Fubara. But, court threw out the application for lack of merit.
With a strong challenger from any of the other participating political parties, the “battle” will not be easy for PDP. This is because the standard bearer seems to depend only on the political structure of his godfather (Wike).
With the uncertainty about the governor’s stance after the presidential election, coupled with several visits by high ranking politicians from different political parties to woo Wike, surprises might play out politically in the nearest future.
Very importantly, being that the governor is in the last lap of his administration, he might not get the usual support he had enjoyed in his earlier administration.
In Rivers State, the party that is prepared to give PDP a tough challenge is the All Progressives Congress (APC). This will depend on the willingness of the party to unite and form a common front ahead of the 2023.
In the last seven years, APC in Rivers State has been factionalized. One is loyal to the party leader and former Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi. The other supports Senator Magnus Abe.
The two factions have remained adamant to their respective interests as long as the governorship ambition matters. Their disagreement and legal battle had de-popularised APC in Rivers.
Abe himself has interest in governing the state. But, Amaechi, who is the leader of the party was alleged to have steadily truncated his (Abe) ambition.
But what has remained intrigueing to Rivers people, especially Abe’s supporters, is that the former lawmaker has never given up. He has assured them that he would be on the ballot paper as a governorship candidate in 2023.
Another suspense, which Rivers people are yet to understand is, on which party’s ballot paper would his name appear as a candidate? This is because Amaechi’s camp had already produced a candidate in the person of Tonye Cole. His candidature was recognized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Moreover, Abe has been a staunch supporter of the party’s presidential standard bearer, Bola Tinubu. His camp was among the first groups to form an organization to promote Tinubu’s presidential ambition.
Since Tinubu’s emergence as APC’s presidential candidate, Abe has intensified his governorship campaign. He has formed “SMA Project 2023”.
He has visited several groups to woo them to his side ahead of the 2023 governorship election. Among the groups he had visited were automobile mechanics, auto spare parts dealers and students.
No governorship candidate in Rivers State has reached out to the electorate, especially at the grassroots, like Senator Abe. Rivers people are yet to understand his game plans.
Recently, chairman of his faction, Golden Chioma, announced his resignation from APC. According to a statement credited to him, he did not want to suffer for another eight years.
So, another question many people are asking is, why did he resign his membership at the time he would be highly needed, especially having worked with Abe for several years and for Tinubu’s emergence.
Another unhealthy development happening to the former Minister of Transportation’s camp is the spate of resignation from APC by his supporters. Most worrisome is that the individuals resigning from the party were his staunch supporters.
In the last two weeks, Amaechi has lost no fewer than nine strong loyalists. Latest among them to quit the party was his former Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, and Prince Tonye Princewill.
Among other stalwarts, who had announced their resignation from the APC in their letters to their respective wards chairmen were Dawari George, Marvin Yobana, former Africa’s Representative at the World Youth Assembly, Nkemka Amadi, Celestine Akpobari and Robinson Elechi.
However, all of them have remained silent on the next decision of the political party to join. In their separate resignation letters, they had thanked the APC for giving them opportunities to serve at different capacities.
Semenitari, a former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), in her resignation letter wrote: “I write to resign my membership of the All Progressives Congress with effect from today.
“I appreciate the friendship, camaraderie and opportunities that this platform has provided me to serve my state, region and country even as I wish the party well.”
Princewill, in his letter of resignation to the chairman of his ward, attributed his decision to withdraw his membership to the party’s Muslim-Muslim ticket against protests by Nigerians.
He stated: “I can’t argue for equity in my state and defend inequity in my country.
“While I appreciate my leader, Rt Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and all his efforts, I cannot defend the decision of my party, in fielding a Muslim-Muslim ticket, especially at a time like this, against all protestations from well-meaning Nigerians, across religious and political divides.
“It sets a very wrong precedent. It is totally insensitive and even if you win, will prove bad for good governance.
“Under these dire circumstances, I find no justification to still remain in good conscience, a member of a political party that subordinates electoral victory, over the safety of lives and the peace of mind of its citizens.
“The men and women of our party here in Rivers are the most loyal and faithful supporters I have met. They know right and they know wrong. And they know me. I enjoyed working with them and I’m so sad to leave.
“But an APC party that totally disregards the basics of the same equity we preach, is alien to me. Buhari resisted the same temptation and chose a little known Osinbajo and won. By doing this, Tinubu is saying that a Northern Christian has no electoral value. My staying means I agree.”
Similarly, George who was a strong ally of the Minister of Transportation and a former Commissioner for Youths under Amaechi’s administration, lauded the party for the support he got to serve it.
He was also the former chairman of the reconciliation committee of the party in Rivers State. He, however, did not state the reason for his decision.
The letter of his resignation was addressed to the chairman of APC Ward One in the state’s Asari Tori Local Government Area.
Meanwhile, Yobana, in his resignation letter, cited certain actions of the party which, conflicted with his personal interest and political ideology as reasons for quitting the party.
These APC chieftains and Amaechi’s allies’ exit came after his recent return from Abuja, where he took a second position at the party’s recent presidential primary.
This latest development happening in Amaechi’s camp is a serious blow that would not do APC in Rivers State any good in the 2023 election. Nobody knows who would be next to tender his or her resignation from APC in the coming days.
Looking at Abe’s camp again, there is high speculation that the senator’s faction has plan “B”. According to political pundits, that could be the reason he (Abe) always confidently tells his supporters that “we will be on ballot paper”.
The recent exit of his factional chairman, Chioma, has been described as a planned deal to clear the way for the senator in another political party. Even his (Chioma) recent Sallah homage to the National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Abuja, Alhaji Shehu Musa Gabam, was a pointer.
But, if the speculation is anything to come by, APC’s votes in the forthcoming election would be divided with the SDP. The outcome is, it would give the ruling PDP the leeway to sail smoothly to victory in the 2023 election.
However, the recent development in Rivers State, has put to rest Rivers residents’ speculation about the body language of Senator Abe, which indicated that he has abandoned APC.
The former lawmaker on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, said that he had since left the party. He made declaration when he appeared on a television programme, while debunking a purported resignation letter to the party’s national chairman.
He said: “I have since left the APC in Rivers State. But, the letter circulating round is not from me. I am still part of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s family and has no issue with him whatsoever.
“I am a part of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s political family and I’m also part of his own family, and that is a very separate thing, from the politics of Rivers State.
“Yesterday, there were some funny letters circulating on the internet, that I have resigned from the APC because Asiwaju refused to intervene in the politics of Rivers State. That is ridiculous, all politics is local, I have no interest whatsoever in the APC in Rivers State.
“When people talk about resignation, how do I resign from the party I don’t even know who the ward chairman is. So, I couldn’t have written a letter to people that I don’t know. What I know from the constitution of the APC, and the constitution of the country is that there are several means by which you leave the party, and one of the means by way of resignation. So, resignation is just one of the ways that are available to members to leave the party.
“You can leave by resignation, you can leave by death, you can withdraw your membership, you can join another political party, the way the APC is sinking in Rivers State, it makes no sense for any politician that has serious political interest in the state to remain in the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State.
“I have no stake in the APC in Rivers State. I don’t know anybody that is in the entire executive of the APC in all the 319 wards in the state. I don’t even know who my ward chairman is, I don’t know any ward ex-officio, officer of the party, I don’t have anybody who is running for any office in the APC in Rivers State that I know, except Asiwaju who is running for President.
“I have absolutely no stake in the party in Rivers State and all politics at the end of the day is local. And so, it will be irresponsible of me to stay in the APC in Rivers State and support a party in which I have no stake in their victory.
“So, it is clear to everybody who is watching the politics of this country that my future in the politics of Rivers State is not tied to the All Progressives Congress and so it is clear that I’m no longer a member of the APC in Rivers State as far as that goes, but the purported letter flying around wasn’t authored by me and I know absolutely nothing about it and it does not reflect my views and my opinions as far as the politics of Rivers state is concerned.
“I have said in the coming days, a lot of things will unfold but the issue of me and the APC in Rivers State, I think that was decided a long time ago.
“So, I don’t know why people are still speculating and writing letters on an issue that I have made public a long time ago that I’m not part of the APC as far as Rivers State is concerned.”
Reacting to Abe’s statement, the Chibuike Amaechi-led faction of APC said the exit of the lawmaker and his supporters was inconsequential because they had since distanced themselves from all the party’s activities.
State Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, in a press statement on Wednesday, accused Abe of fraternizing with the state government and the judiciary to deny them participation in the 2019 election.
Finebone noted: “It has also come to our notice that a few persons that are loyal to Senator Magnus Abe have also resigned recently. These are individuals who have, for the past couple of years, spoken and acted in every way to destroy the APC in Rivers State. Led by Abe, these persons tried all they could to factionalise our party in the state.
“The culmination of their evil machinations was the exclusion of Rivers APC from the ballot in 2019.
“Evidence exists how Senator Abe and his lieutenants broke into celebration the day the party was excluded by the court from participating in that election due to their litigation.”
According to Finebone, Senator Abe and his supporters had since concluded plans to join the Social Democratic Party (SDP), where he (Abe) wants to actualize his governorship ambition in the state.”
Finebone observed: “However, it recently came to our attention that Senator Abe and the few persons still with him had concluded plans to join the Social Democratic Party (SDP) on whose platform Abe will run for governor, hence, their persistent hype to the effect that Abe will be on the ballot come 2023.
“In what appears to be a carefully planned exit plan, close associates of Abe started resigning from the APC and making heavy weather of their exit in the social media as part of their exit plan as though they have been functional members of the party, just to hoodwink the public.
“This press conference is essentially to explain to you and the public that Rivers APC considers the formal exit of Abe and his associates from the APC as good riddance. We liken it to a successful excision of a debilitating cancer from the body.
“Rivers APC can now heave a sigh of relief from the sustained destabilizing onslaught by Senator Abe. We wish him well as he joins the SDP. We pray that he takes everything he exhibited in APC particularly his nuisance value to his new party, so that the world would see him for who he truly is.
“We make bold to state without an iota of doubt that Senator Abe and his supporters had, by their actions and utterances, long ceased to be functional members of APC. They shunned and refused to participate in the membership revalidation exercise that was carried out nationwide by the party.
“They also abstained from other legitimate activities of the party, making their recent purported resignation a mere formality and part of their face-saving exit strategy aimed at deceiving the public.
“We appreciate your understanding that there is no blanket exit or exodus of well-meaning members of Rivers APC. We believe that you and the public would appreciate that our party is, by far, better off without Abe and his motley supporters.”
Two other governororship candidates, whose votes may count in the 2023 election are Dumo Lulu-Briggs of Accord Party (AP) and Sobomabo Jackrich of National Rescue Movement (NRM). But, no serious move has been seen from any of them.
So far, Rivers people are kept guessing and speculating. No serious political activity is going on now, except the youth wing of the PDP, Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI), which is sensitizing members of the public on the need to get their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC).