By Emma Ula
There is palpable anxiety in the cross River State chapter of the All progressives congress, APC, following the tussle for leadership of the party in the state, with observers asking questions if the party would be able to pull its acts together before the fast approaching 2017 elections.
The ongoing battle for control of the party in the state among party members, is not only along the lines of the Action National Congress, ACN, All Nigeria People’s Congress, ANPP faithful and new entrants into the party from Labour and PDP but also along loyalty to two notable personalities of the party in the state who are functioning on parallel flanks.
These two personalities are Senator Victor Ndomaegba, the Niger Delta Development Commission Chairman and former Senate leader who joined the party soon after the 2015 elections on the one hand and Pastor Usani Usani, Niger Delta Affairs Minister and a former governorship candidate of the All Nigeria Congress, ACN, in 2012 on the other hand while Mr Obono Obla, Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution is oscillating between the two .
The battle which started soon after the 2015 election when there was an influx of People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and Labour Party , LP, members into the APC after it won the national election has been raging as ‘old” members of the party have not been comfortable with the new entrants who seemingly have overbearing influence on the party and have “usurped” positions and offices both at the national and regional levels.
Aligning on each side of the divide are prominent political figures in the state, which has kept the battle raging since each side is fortified with resources and strategists. On the side of Ndomaegba are people like Hon Ernest Irek, former member, House of Representatives, Mr John Ochala, Acting State Chairman of the party, Mr Cletus Obun, the deputy state Chairman Central of the party, Mr Utum Eteng, a legal practitioner, Dr Chris Acgigbe, Mr Clement Ebri, former governor of the state and several other foot soldiers.
On the side of the Minister are other notable political bigwigs in the state like: Senator John Owan Enoh, Senator representing the Central Senatorial District of the state, Senator Bassey Otu, former Senator representing the southern district of the state, Dr Julius Okputu, former Commissioner for Works and governorship aspirant on the platform of the PDP in the state, Mr Casmir Obok former Special Adviser to Senator Liyel Imoke, Mr Awa Awa, a prominent legal practitioner, Mr Etim John and a legion of foot soldiers too.
The ongoing raging conflict is the contention for the state chairmanship post of the party. After Usani who was the state chairman was appointed minister, his deputy, Ochala assumed the position on acting capacity and has since then been holding on to the post for close to two years. This has not gone dowm well with loyalists of the minister who are calling on him to relinquish the post to make room for someone from the central to take over inorder to give room for a balance in the power structure since other key posts are occupied by those from the south and north.
“Obviously the party is riddled with factions and in this instance, the point of disagreement is the post of Chairman of the party in the state. The position is for the central since the south occupies the post of secretary while the north has the post of central organising secretary of the party at the national level”. Jonathan Amba, a member of the party said .
According to him, the Constitution of the party is explicit on when the chairman of the party at the chapter, state or national level is not available to perform his functions, the deputy acts on his behalf for a limited time and not in perpetuity.
“The Acting Chairman has become belligerent following a rebuff by the people of the central senatorial district to allow him perpetuate himself in office as the substantive Chairman of the party after the appointment of the erstwhile Chairman, Mr Usani Usani as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs”.
He said four chapter chairmen of the party, those from Etung, Ikom, Yakkur, and Boki along with their secretaries and State Woman Leader of the party, Mrs Patricia Takum have been placed on suspension by Ochala after they met on the 27th of July to adopt one Etim John, former Chairman of Etung Local Government Area as the State Chairman of the party without following due process.
The action of the chapter chairmen and their secretaries in the central district according to Ochala is illegal and unconstitutional which warranted their suspension. He said if the party officials in the district felt aggrieved, they ought to have petitioned the zonal executive of the party and if still not satisfied, should have gone to the national executive council of the party and not engage in unconstitutional action by holding an illegal meeting to adopt Etim John.
“The action of those people is illegal and we had to wield the big stick because we have been tolerating acts of indiscipline among party members for too long” Ochala said
He said claims that he is trying to perpetuate himself in office are not true because he is ready to vacate office but was waiting for directives from the national executive of the party to decide what to do.
He said the decision to suspend the party members was taken by the state executive of the party and not an individual decision and therefore claims that he is high-handed do not hold water.
One of the suspended chairmen, Mr. Amba Bitty of Etung Local Government said the suspension is a ruse aimed at silencing contrasting opinions.
“At the inception of the APC, the three national executive committee positions were allotted to Cross River State: National Vice Chairman went to the south, the Central got the State Chairman and the North got the National Zonal Organizing Secretary but with the recent development, the Acting Chairman and the National Zonal Organizing Secretary who come from the same Northern Senatorial district are members of the NEC with the National Vice Chairman from the Southern Senatorial District, leaving the Central without representation” Mr Bitty stated.