Rivers: APC’s Congress Of Controversy
BY ANAYO ONUKWUGHA
…….the intrigues that shaped the recent congress of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State
n Saturday, July 29, 2017, the All Progressives Congress (APC) held it’s nationwide non-elective local government delegates congresses for the forthcoming national convention of the party and the Rivers State chapter of the party was not left behind.
However confusion trailed the local government congress of the APC in the state as some delegates protested the non-availability of election materials in their respective local government areas of the state.
It was gathered that although the exercise was successful in some local government areas, including Gokana, Akuku-Toru and Eleme local government areas of the state, national officials of the party, who came into the state to conduct the congress were not visible in most local government areas.
It was further gathered that later, party members, especially those loyal to the senator representing Rivers South-East district in the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, stormed Novotel Hotel in Port Harcourt where the committee members allegedly were lodged.
The aggreived APC members were said to have stopped a vehicle allegedly conveying them from driving out of the hotel premises for several hours, insisting that they come down to tell them if there was any congress.
Addressing his supporters in front of the hotel, Abe, who alleged manipulation of the delegates list by some party leaders, insisted that the state congress that should have produced the delegates did not hold.
The senator, who is believed to be nursing governorship ambition in 2019, said the committee delegated by the national secretariat of the party to monitor the exercise in the state ended up at a hotel in the state.
He said, “Well as you can see there has been no Congress in the state. The so called stakeholders meeting in the state on Friday ended in a fiasco. The committee from the national have not come to the party’s secretariat on Forces Avenue since morning yet people have been here waiting for the materials.
“Nobody should stay in a hotel and use any list for Rivers people. It is clear there was no Congress in the state. What ever has been done will not stand.”
The aggrieved APC members later moved their protest to the headquarters of the Rivers State Police Command, forcing the Commissioner of Police, Zaki Mohammed Ahmed, who was on a working visit to Okrika, to run back to Port Harcourt, for a closed door meeting with stakeholders of the party.
The meeting, which was held inside the Commissioner’s office, was attended by Abe, State Chairman of the APC, Dr. Davies Ibiamu Ikanya and the party’s Deputy Governorship candidate in the 2015 election, Hon. Honorable Asita, amongst others.
Addressing newsmen in front of the Police headquarters after the closed door meeting, Abe commended APC members in the state for resisting attempt by the leadership of the party in the state to shut out every member that has sympathy for him at the delegates congresses.
The senator, who is also the Chairman, Senate Committee on FERMA, stated that it was obvious to everybody that the leadership of APC in the state designed the congress to shut out his supporters.
He said, “Even a child knows that the local government non elective congress in the state was designed by the leadership for one reason and one reason only, to prove that those with Senator Abe has been shut out of the party and will have no space in the affairs of the party.”
Abe, who said by resisting the act of impunity by the leadership of the party, meant that the party will grow to take over the state, commended the Commissioner of Police, Rivers State Command for his intervention pointing out that this was necessary, considering the fragile nature of the state and hope that the party leadership reciprocates this by ensuring that the grievances of party members are resolved amicably.
The senator said, “Out of respect for our party the All Progressive Congress (APC), the Commissioner of Police, Rivers State, we accepted the commitments of party stakeholders and the Commissioner of Police, in the hope and belief that these actions will bring stability to the APC and will help to restore the confidence of all members of the party.”
He stated that APC members are looking forward to how far those commitments would be implemented by the national leadership, saying, “We are still waiting to see how far those commitments would be implemented.”
But, the party’s governorship candidate in the 2015 election and Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Adol Peterside, praised the state chapter of APC for the proper conduct of a non-elective Congress and election of delegates for the forthcoming national convention of the party.
Peterside, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, commended party leaders and faithful at various levels and, congress officials for conducting a hitch free exercise that has drawn commendations across the board.
He also commended the Minister of Transportation, Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi for his leadership and the state party executive for transparent coordination of the non-elective congress.
The NIMASA boss assured faithful that the party is set to restore dignity and hope to Rivers people in the face of the breakdown of governance in Rivers state.
Peterside said, “What we are going through in the state is temporary as APC will give Rivers people back their voice and confidence. The journey of making our people part of development agenda of Nigeria begins with simple democratic exercise such as the peaceful LGA congress we have just had.”
Also, the APC in the state, said the congresses, which was was monitored by national officials of the party and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ended peacefully.
Addressing newsmen in Port Harcourt immediately after the congresses, the Publicity Secretary of APC in the state, Warisenibo Chris Finebone, said those who said the congresses did not hold were party members that failed to travel to their respective local government areas for the exercise.
Finebone said, “Let me state that there have been rumours or positions being canvassed that the congresses did not hold; that is not true. It could be that such persons did not go to participate in their local government congresses.”
He stated that the national secretariat has set up a panel to address grievances arising from last Saturday’s local government delegates congresses in the state, saying that such grievances will be taken on case by case basis and treated on their merits.
The APC publicity secretary said, “If there are grievances arising from the just concluded local government delegates congresses, they will be taken on case by case basis and looked into on their merits. I think the party has put together a panel that will address such issues as they come up.”
Finebone stated that the exercise held in all the 23 local government areas of the state in line with the timetable earlier provided by the headquarters of the APC, pointing out that at no time were materials stockpiled in a hotel and handed over to somebody.
He said, “The congresses were held in line with the timetable earlier provided by the headquarters of APC. You may recall that on Thursday, a brief stakeholders session was held where a visiting team of national officers of APC urged members to participate in yesterday’s congresses peacefully.
“From the reports we have recieved so far, the Congress held peacefully across the 23 local government areas of the state at designated locations and venues in line with the schedule of the party.
“Every local government area had the list of delegates that participated. They have the names of party officers that conducted the congresses. They also have names, visuals, and audio evidences of congresses and INEC officers that witnessed each of the congresses.
“This particular set of congresses were not supposed to be held in Port Harcourt as part where the party headquarters is. Rather, they were supposed to be held in the local government areas. That of Port Harcourt City was held at a designated location and none was to be held at the headquarters as part it’s level. Rather, they were all designated to be held at the local government level.
“For anyone who didn’t go to his local government area, of course, the person is likely not to know what happened. We have all the evidences and we are still receiving audio, visual and pictorial evidences of the congresses. All those statutorily required to participate in the congresses, including INEC officials, participated. That is what is important to us as a party.
“There was no situation where materials were stockpiled at Novotel and issued to anybody. We dealt with such logistic issues earlier, from four days before the day of the congresses. So, there was nothing left to be dealt with.”
However, the narratives surrounding the outcome of the APC controversial local government delegates congresses began to change on Sunday, July 30, 2017, when Rivers State Governor, Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike, announced the revocation of the Certificate of Occupancy of Novotel, the facility where national officers of the party were lodged for the congresses.
Speaking at a thanksgiving service to mark the end of the second session of the third synod of the Anglican Diocese of Evo, held at Saint Mark’s Anglican Church, Elelenwo, Port Harcourt, Wike alleged that the hotel has been the centre of electoral fraud and malpractice.
The governor, who directed the Special Adviser on Land, to with immediate effect perfect the revocation of the Certificate of Occupancy of the hotel, regretted that Novotel has turned itself to the state’s worst centre of electoral fraud, which causes insecurity and instability.
He also regretted that on Saturday, July 29, the facility was allegedly used to manipulate the non elective APC local government congress, pointing out that on December 10, 2016, the same Novotel was allegedly used to rig elections.
Wike said, “We cannot allow hotels to be used for unwholesome activities. The Special Adviser on Lands has been directed to revoke the Certificate of Occupancy of Novotel. Any business that is used to affect the security of Rivers State will face the music. Nobody will allow rigging in 2019. In 2019, it is one man, one vote. I appeal to APC to allow internal democracy to take place.”
The governor got knocks from both the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the APC over his decision on Novotel, which has about 600 indigenes of Rivers State in it’s employ.
One of those who criticized Wike’s action is his immediate past commissioner for Information and Communication, Dr. Austin Tam-George, who described the revocation of the Certificate of Occupancy of the hotel as disappointing and saddening.
A statement issued in Port Harcourt by Tam-George reads, in part, “The revocation of the certificate of occupancy of Novotel Hotel in Port Harcourt over the weekend by Governor Nyesom Wike disappoints and saddens me.
“If a business premises is suspected or established to be a crime scene, the police, acting on a court order, could move in to take control. It is extraordinary for a State government to revoke the certificate of occupancy of a business, simply because opposition politicians lodged there.
“Politicians in the state might think this is part of politics. But it is a hostile signal to the business and investment community that Rivers State is a toxic environment, and that a 99-year land lease could be withdrawn impulsively at any minute, by the governor.
“As Commissioner for Information in Rivers State, i held 41 media events, including world press conferences and television appearances, to make the case for the state as Nigeria’s best investment destination. Even now, the Wike administration is running an expensive advertorial on CNN, inviting foreign direct investment into Rivers State.
“The whimsical attack on Novotel feeds the noxious narrative that Rivers State is a risky place to invest. It is a direct kick in the face of the administration’s own efforts to attract investors to the state, in order to create jobs.
“As governor of Rivers State, Mr Rotimi Amaechi made similar wrong-headed and extreme decisions. I urge governor Wike to avoid taking the same intemperate path, in the interest of the state.”
For Hon. Brave Wobo, APGA’s House of Representatives candidate for Port Harcourt Federal Constituency 1, in the 2015 general election, the action of the governor was “a malice taken too far”
Wobo, who stated that Wike’s decision is not only ill-conceived but borne out of hate and immaturity, said the only reason the governor revoked the hotel’s C of O was because that is the hotel the former Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi lodges when he is in Rivers State.
He called on Wike to realize that he is the Chief Security Officer as well as the Chief Marketing Officer of the State and so must not act in ways and manners that erode investors’ confidence.
The APGA further advised the governor to rise above his trademark pettiness and focus on serious business of governance as the planned revocation would not stand in court because the reason for the revocation does not fall under overriding public interest.
To Hon. Ogbonna Nwuke, who is a chieftain of the APC and former member of the House of Representatives, the revocatin of the Certificate of Occupancy of Novotel, by Wike was politically-compromised.
Nwuke stated that what happened at the hotel and in the state capital at the weekend was an internal matter of the APC that had nothing to do with the state government or the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He said, “What happened in Port Harcourt was an internal matter of the APC; it had nothing to do with the PDP and it had nothing to do with the government of Rivers State. To tie what happened on Saturday to what happened on December 10, 2016 shows that political considerations were responsible for the utterances of the Rivers State government in this matter and it should not be.
“Those people who came there are from the National Secretariat of the APC. They were housed there to conduct congresses which took place in the grassroots, in the various local government areas. So, theirs was to receive results that were coming from the grassroots. Anybody who was part of the congresses should go to the grassroots where the exercise was taking place.
“To beseige a hotel premises and trying to hold National Officers hostage in a hotel premises is not the fault of the hotel. Not to talk about going on on the account of that to revoke it’s Certificate of Occupancy. It is a dangerous step to take. I think the decision was taken at the peak of emotions.”
Nwuke, who is also a chieftain of the APC, said the decision of the state government was wrong for business development in the state, ax investors who may have chosen to investment in the state will be discouraged.
The former federal lawmaker said, “If you revoke the Certificate of Occupancy of an existing business, how do you want to boost the confidence of investors who want to come to do business in Rivers State? They can’t come to invest in Rivers State when government can wake up in the morning and revoke a Certificate of Occupancy. It is neither here nor there.
“The law itself is very clear because of the Land Use Act, properties can be only revoked in general interest. To tie political issues to a the revocation of a business occupany is a very wrong thing to do. It is dangerous.
“Now, you cannot justify the fact that something that happened in the political realm will have something to do with any business where they are paying their tenament rate and other levies and operating as a good corporate concern in Rivers State. We are not looking at those things; those are not the issues at stake this time.
“When you look at the action, politically, it is wrong. What the law says is thst the governor can revoke a Certificate of Occupancy in the general interest. As we speak, there is no evidence that the government of Rivers State had ever invited the management of Novotel to lay any complain that it’s premises, for example, of being used for untidy things. What is rigging? Only the courts can define rigging.”