The Enugu State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) is sitting uncomfortably presently. Just months to the 2023 general elections, the party appears to be heading towards the path of failure. It is this path that has held it down since it emerged as a political platform in the state.
In the two general elections as well as local government elections it had participated in in since 2015, the APC had failed to make a mark; a development created by crises of leadership that always arose when it mattered most.
Ahead of the general elections, the party has returned to trenches. The latest conflagration is the suspension and expulsion of the state chairman of the party, Ugochukwu Agballah. Agballah who assumed leadership of the state chapter on October 16 last year, was allegedly expelled from the party, by his Udi/Agbudu Ward.
The letter conveying the decision of members of his ward to expel him was signed by the Chairman and Secretary, Aduma Ferdinand and Onyia Francis, respectively and dated 19th August 2022. The letter stated that he was “suspended and expelled” from the party for failing to appear before a disciplinary committee to answer to allegations leveled against him.
A petition was said to have been received by the executive from a member, where he (Agballah) was accused among others, of not being a registered member of the party at the ward, allegedly facing criminal charges at the Federal High Court, Abuja, bordering on falsification of the APC party card, embezzlement of party funds during the primaries, replacing registered members with unregistered members as well as non-resignation from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The ward leaders stated that he was “requested to respond to the allegations but failed to do so,” adding that his removal was with immediate effect and in the best interest of the party. They stated that since assumption in office, he had refused to attend ward meetings of the party.
SINCE the letter became a public knowledge, the centre has refused to hold in the state chapter. The inroads which the party claims it is making towards winning an election for the first time in the state is now threatened by the sharp division among its members. In fact, what the development has done is to strengthen the camps within the APC. Those who have been against him from the day he emerged (especially foundation members) are insisting that he desists from parading himself as chairman, while those that joined the party with him are saying otherwise. Agballah had made an initial reaction to his expulsion through the State Publicity Secretary of the party, Charles Solo Ako, when he tried to dismiss them as “impostors”. He had categorised their action as “orchestrated plan of the enemies of our great party, the oppositions and political detractors aimed at defacing the party from our determined goal counting on the immense support, acceptability and popularity of our party and her 2023 candidates.”
He had further described the authors of the letter as “fake executives of the ward”, stressing that as non-executives, they cannot build something on nothing and advised them to tender an apology within twenty four hours or be prepared to face consequences of their action in full swing of the law.
Two days later, his Media aide, Kenneth Oforma, had in justifying the claim that those who signed the letter were “impostors”, stated that, “the person whose signature is there as chairman is not the chairman of the ward. The chairman of the ward is Chinedu Ezeago”.
However, when he realised that it was now a battle and that he cannot win with the feeble defence by his lieutenants, Agballah was moved to summon a stakeholders meeting of the Udi/Agbudu ward, which held last Tuesday, August 23.
At the meeting presided by Ezeago as the new chairman of the Ward, the group disclaimed Aduma and Onyia as non-members of the party, stressing that they had joined the PDP in the state in February this year. They had further stated:
“Mr. Ferdinand Aduma and Mr. Francis Onyia have both joined PDP since February 2022, having openly campaigned, voted and worked for PDP during the chairmanship and councillorship election of 23 February 2022.
“Which sane APC party members or executives of APC will be suspending, expelling and debarring their most hard working state chairman few months to election if not those who are afraid of the impending victory at the polls? This impending APC victory is made possible by the competent, capable and fore-sighted state chairman.
“There was never a meeting of APC Udi/Agbudu Ward where the issue of suspension, debarment or expulsion or otherwise of our state chairman, Hon. Ugochukwu Agballah, was ever raised or any time any manner of report was raised against him or any disciplinary committee set up on such a report or disciplinary action taken, as our state chairman has not committed any infractions against the Constitution of the party. We met last week on Wednesday, 17” August 2022. The meeting was recorded on video and the minutes captured in our minutes notebook. At that meeting, we had 248 (two hundred and forty eight) members in attendance and nobody raised the issue of any report whatsoever against our hardworking state chairman.
“From a careful reading of the laughable and phantom expulsion letter, one can deduce that the writers of the debarment, suspension and expulsion letter are not conversant with the constitutional procedure for disciplinary actions as contained in our party’s Constitution. Section 21.3 vi (b) of the APC 26” March 2022 Constitution as amended stipulates that if there is a report against a member at the ward level, the Local Government Area executive shall be the adjudicators.
“Therefore, the Ward executive lacks the powers to look into any complaint at the ward level. Ignorance of the party Constitution explains why the writers debarred, suspended and expelled at the same time. Secondly, no reason was given for such an action and neither was any offence alleged or stated in the ill-conceived fake letter.”
Sources said authors of the letter sacking Agballah were the actual executives of the Ward that emerged from the congress last year and whose names were submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the National secretariat of the APC.
Apparently to the dispel notion that they are “fake” as reported by Agballah and the segment of the stakeholders of Udi/Agbudu ward, Aduma and Onyia had written to the INEC, asking the Commission to furnish them with them with report of the Ward congress in the area.
The letter had read: “We humbly apply for a certified copy of INEC report on Udi/Agbudu Ward congress held on 31st July 2021. The congress was observed by INEC officials at the congress venue on the said date. This is to enable us update our records and for official purposes.” The outcome of their request to the commission was not known as at press time. Aduma has also insisted that Ezeago who was used to call the “gathering” by Agballah was not known to the party, explaining that, “there was no going back in the quest to salvage the APC.”
It was gathered that Aduma had held meeting with Agballah a week before handing down the purported expulsion where he queried the manner in which funds meant for delegates for the party’s senatorial and governorship primaries meant for his Ward members were disbursed, accusing the chairman of deliberately “shortchanging members of his Ward for his personal benefits,” among others.
He was said to have raised concerns on sidelining the stakeholders of the party in an election year, insisting that the party would not make any headway unless those who founded it in the state are given opportunity to work at their various wards and local governments.
The development is currently compounding things for the party ahead of the 2023 general elections. Few days after the Udi/Agbudu incident, the party was ejected from its state secretariat at the GRA, Enugu.
It was gathered that the owner of the property ejected the party following their failure to renew their rent.
Agballah had not operated from there since he took over, apparently due to the bitter quarrel that emanated when he emerged. Although, he was duly handed over the office, he placed it under lock and key and had been operating from the south east zonal office of the party.
But immediate past state chairman of the party, Dr Ben Nwoye, while lamenting the development stated that the crisis could not have resurrected if there were proper congresses held in the state, adding that the action of the Ward executive had legal backing.
Nwoye, however urged Agballah to accept the expulsion in good faith, noting that former national chairmen of both the APC and PDP had been removed from office by members of the Ward executives, stressing that attempts to resist the sack would plunge the party into further crisis.
He also regretted the massive defection of members of the APC to other political parties since Agballah took over, explaining that his leadership style was the key factor that contributed to it and advised him to stop parading himself as the chairman of the party in the state.
Nwoye said that already, some leaders of the party had met and were ready to foster unity to ensure victory for all the candidates in the 2023 general elections.
Another chieftain of the party, Jerry Onah said that what was happening now was “long foretold when one of the leaders of the party imposed certain strange bed fellows on members during the congresses last year.”
He regretted that certain founding members of the party decided to quit following the leadership style of Agballah. He named those who have quit the party in the state as former Nigerian Ambassador to India, Major Gen. Godwin Eze (rtd); former governorship candidate, Okey Ezea; former Ambassador, Fidel Ayogu; former governorship running mate, Chikwado Chukwunta and Chief Emma Okenwa, among others.
Sources also stated that the manner in which the primaries were handled such that candidates who emerged from the process were brazenly substituted in the state made many to abandon the party while those who decided to live with it have refused to associate with his leadership.
It could be recalled that Agballah, who was joining the APC from PDP less than two months to its congress held on October 16, last year, emerged after some paid thugs allegedly drove away some contestants from the venue of the exercise. Although a parallel congress that held at the party’s secretariat had produced another set of state executives, those who allegedly imposed him on the party, later had their way when they insisted on merging the contending forces in the state.
Since then, Agballah had presided over affairs of the party even as issues surrounding the congress that threw him up as well as his membership of the party are still being looked into by the courts.