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Primaries Debate Deepens Rift In Rivers APC



The debate over what pattern of party primaries to adopt ahead of the 2019 general elections has, like other states, worsen the rift in Rivers State Chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, writes.

On Thursday, August 30, 2018, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) adopted direct primary election to select its presidential candidate for the 2019 election.

The NEC meeting, which had in attendance President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, however adopted indirect primaries for the selection of the party’s governorship candidates and other elective position.

However, it was gathered that the body agreed that State Executive Committees (SEC) of the party in the various states are at liberty to choose whether to adopt direct or indirect mode of selecting their candidates.

This move has since exacerbated the rift within the APC in Rivers State. The party in the state, had been split between the camps loyal to former governor, and now minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi and Senator representing Rivers South-East senatorial district, Sen Magnus Abe.

And so when the Rivers State chapter of the party, like some other state chapters, held it’s expanded SEC meeting on Thursday, September 6, 2018 and adopted indirect primaries for the selection of its candidates, there was a high tendency for an opposition to emerge.

At the meeting of the faction loyal to the minister, the party said their decision to adopt indirect primaries  followed reports of insecurity in the state and lack of a coordinated membership data base for supporters of the party in the state as presented by the executives present at the meeting.

According to reports, a total of 106 SEC members voted in favour of indirect primaries, three voted for consensus while one person  voted for direct primaries for the party.

Addressing newsmen at the end of the meeting, APC chairman in the state, Hon. Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, said the party resolved to adopt direct primaries after a long deliberation.

Flag-Amachree stated that the decision to adopt indirect primaries was based on issue of insecurity in the state, noting that the party does not want its members to be attacked during the process.

He said: “After the meeting of the Expanded Executives of the party, the party has decided to use indirect primaries in electing our candidates.

“The reasons for this decision are, one because of issues of insecurity in the state and the lack of membership data base. We will transmit this decision to the national body of the party.”

Giving further reasons why they adopted indirect primaries, the senator representing Rivers East district in the National Assembly, Senator Andrew Uchendu, described the resolution to adopt indirect primaries as apt.

Uchendu said: “We may not have a safe venue where we will have security for direct primaries. You know there is a government here in the state that does not want to see APC. That may be an avenue for attacks.

“It will be good that we spread out so that if they try to attack us, before they will attack two places, security men have taken charge.

“Since the inception of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, as a foundation member of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and now in APC, the norm has always been indirect primaries, which he said is election by delegates. Therefore there is no reason to alter the process.”

The senator also identified the precarious security situation in Rivers State as reason for the choice of indirect primaries to select candidates for the 2019 general elections in the state.

He said: “With the security situation in Rivers  State where the party has been denied venues for programmes, it will be difficult or even unsafe to gather as much as one million party members at a place for direct primaries. So the best bet is indirect primaries and that was what the State Executive Committee(SEC) has adopted during their meeting.”

Hon. Victoria Nyeche, the member representing Port Harcourt 1 Constituency in the Rivers State House of Assembly, also agreed.  For her it will be easier to manage about 300 delegates through indirect primaries, than to manage the entire party faithful in direct primaries.

Nyeche, who stated the indirect primaries will be cost effective as compared to  direct primaries, dismissed insinuations  that some members will be disenfranchised through indirect primaries.

She said: “Is like Port Harcourt 1 constituents complaining that they are not speaking ,when they have elected me to speak for them at the Rivers State House of Assembly as a legislator. Again this has been the pattern since 1999 and it has been working, so you don’t change a winning team.”

The lawmaker stated that the decision of the SEC members, comprising the ward, local government and state is enough to produce acceptable flag-bearers for APC in the state for the 2019 general elections.

Former leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Chidi Lloyd, said direct primaries would have caused disaffection in the party, adding that indirect primaries is safe and less expensive to organise.

Expectedly, the camp loyal to Senator Magnus Abe, disagreed with the indirect primaries notion. Abe, a governorship aspirant, outrightly rejected the adoption of indirect primaries by the party to elect its candidates.

Speaking in a live television programme monitored in Port Harcourt, Abe said: “Rivers State is one of those states where we cannot have indirect primaries. The entire structure of the party in the state is embroiled in legal controversy with about four or five Court cases. So if you want to do indirect primaries, which particular list of  delegates are you going to use and which particular congress?”

The governorship hopeful, who stated that indirect primaries breed corruption through financial inducement of delegates, said: “They say where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit. What you call indirect primaries is a situation where known party members meet in a place to elect candidates.

“These known party members are invariably part of a structure that is already organized. So when people have control of such structure, the entire exercise is predetermined because they already know who they are going to elect.

“You have to understand that life is dynamic and part of what we promised Nigerians is that we were  going to bring change in to the country and make it better. Part of the challenge people have with indirect primaries is like I said the outcome is predetermined.

“Secondly, it is very vulnerable to financial inducement because the delegates are known and you can’t target a particular number of people as those that you need to service in order to get your nomination.

“So, this has led over the years to a vast increase in corruption in terms of financial inducement for delegates. In bringing our message for change in Nigeria, there is therefore every need for us to look at these things and improve the processes as the country grows older and our democracy matures.

No matter the argument one may have or may not have, I believe that as far as Nigerian democracy is concerned, the days of indirect primaries are fast drawing to a close,” the party said.

However, less than two hours after the Amaechi camp declared it’s resolution to adopt indirect primaries, Abe’s  faction of the party, prepared to make its own stand known as a former APC vice chairman, Prince Peter Odike, announced that it will hold it’s own expanded SEC meeting on September 10, 2018.

As expected they adopted direct primaries for the selection of its candidates for the 2019 elections. A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, said the faction’s decision was pursuant to Article 12.1 and 12.8 of the party’s Constitution.

The communiqué, which was read by Odike, said direct primaries will afford its members the opportunity to participate in the process.

It further said the decision was in consonance with the APC’s position and desire to make the elections in 2019 and beyond reflective of the will and aspiration of the people.

The communiqué reads in part: “The State Executive Committee (SEC) commends His Excellency, Adams Oshiomhole, National Chairman and members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of our great party on their recent decision to entrench internal and participatory democracy in the party through the approval of the use of direct primaries as the mode of selecting candidates for election in our party.

“The SEC commends the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari for repositioning Nigeria for continued greatness.

“The Rivers State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) is grateful to Mr. President for his style of leadership which has rekindled our belief and hope in democracy.“The State Executive Committee, unanimously adopts and affirms the use of direct primaries for choosing all our candidates in the forthcoming 2019 elections, it affords party members the opportunity to participate in the process.

“The above decisions are in consonance with party’s position and desire to make elections in 2019 and beyond reflective of the will and aspiration of the people.”

To Abe, who is also the senator representing Rivers South-East in the National Assembly, members of the party’s factional SEC should be commended for adopting direct primaries as the mode for choosing candidates of the party for the 2019 general election in the state, saying their position was in tandem with all tenets of democracy.

The senator said: “Let me start by thanking members of the State Executive Committee of our great party for holding this great meeting today and for taking this very noble position that is in tandem with the position of our President, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The only kind of democracy that works is the democracy in which the people truly decide their future. Direct primaries  is a reflection of the wishes of the people.

“So, let me thank members of the State Executive Committee for taking that position that is in tandem with all tenets of democracy. Mine is not to reopen an issue that has been nobly decided by this great house. Mine is just to make a few remarks,” he said.

As it stands, the fortunes of APC in Rivers State seems set for more decline as prospects of both camps reaching a truce continues to fade away. This is more so that the camps appear to have preferred aspirants to fly the party flag. So far,  the Amaechi-led camp seems to have adopted oil magnate, Tonye Cole, while Abe seems poised to clench the  ticket under this other faction.