BY MATTHEW BLESSING
The National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress on Friday inaugurated members of the caretaker committee for the Rivers State chapter of the party.
The inauguration, which took place at the national headquarters of the APC in Abuja had the party’s National Chairman, Abdullahi Ganduje, Vice Chairman for South-South, Victor Giadom and members of the NWC in attendance.
The event took place two days after the APC NWC dissolved the former state executive council to pave the way for the ad hoc committee that will oversee the conduct of a congress to elect new state executive members.
The dissolution was announced at the party secretariat by the National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, on Wednesday.
Morka disclosed that Tony Okocha was chosen as chairman and Eric Nwibani as Secretary of the seven-man caretaker committee.
Other members include Chibuike Ikenga, Stephen Abolo, Silvester Vidin, Senibo Karibi Dan-Jumbo and Miss Darling Amadi.
Addressing the newly sworn-in officers after the oath-taking, Ganduje asked them to prepare themselves for the arduous task of reconciling factions and members who had left the party.
The APC national chairman also charged them to use the six-month duration to create an enabling environment for the congress that will usher in leadership at all levels.
He said, “I want to congratulate the newly sworn-in members of the caretaker committee. I am sure you are fully aware that since 2015, the APC has been suffering some setbacks in the areas of conflicts, litigations, and counter-litigations that finally resulted in the loss of our great party in Rivers State.
“So, this new NWC has taken a look at the issues pertaining to the party both at national and individual state levels and decided to reform the party. There is no doubt we have members who have been with APC since inception. Some left the party.
Some prominent chieftains who left the party even contested against us in another political party. They now wish to come back. Those who left to form factions are also ready to come back.
“You can see that there is no better time to rejig the party than now, especially under a new state party leadership and we have confidence in you. Part of the reform system we have introduced includes electronic registration of our members and we request that you pay attention to the electronic registration of our members and do some work to spearhead the exercise.
“We expect you to constitute various committees to get more members into the party. That is the work you should do and we expect you to create an enabling environment so congresses could be conducted for the emergence of leadership at local government, state, and even senatorial levels. There should be no discrimination because you are a product of unity.”
However, a comprehensive look at the membership of the newly-appointed Rivers State APC caretaker committee shows that it was shared between loyalists of former Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, and supporters of the Minister of the FCT, Nyesom Wike.
Amaechi is officially a member of the APC while Wike is officially a member of the People’s Democratic Party.
Wike, who unsuccessfully bid for his party’s presidential ticket last year, is believed to have some influence on the APC in the state by virtue of his position as a minister in the APC-led Federal Government.
The new caretaker committee chairman, Okocha is a known supporter of Wike, even though they belong to different political parties.
His appointment as the committee chairman has, therefore, fuelled speculations that the ruling party is preparing grounds for the defection of the FCT minister to the APC.
Okocha, a former Chief of Staff to Amaechi, has been critical of his former boss lately.
Besides, the new caretaker committee chair, in the past couple of months, has been championing the campaign for the defection of Wike from the PDP to the APC.
In an interview in July, Okocha declared that his group had resolved to formally invite Wike to join the APC and take over the structure of the party.
“The group had met after the election and we asked ourselves what the position was. In that meeting, it was not part of our agenda. We had a two-point agenda.
“One, was a briefing as to what has happened? The second one was what is the way forward? In the cause of that meeting, a motion was moved from the floor saying that we should invite Governor Wike to come over to APC and take over the leadership of APC,” he said.
There are speculations that now that he has been given the structure of the APC in Rivers State with the mandate to midwife the birth of a new state executive, he would ensure the defection of Wike to the party.
On the other hand, the appointment of Eric Nwibani, a loyalist of Amaechi, as the secretary of the caretaker committee is seen by observers as some sort of a balance.
Nwibani, a House of Representatives candidate in the last election, belongs to the Chibuike Amaechi political bloc in the state.
Another loyalist of Amaechi is Chibuike Ikenga, a former caretaker chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area where the former transport minister hails from.
However, the embattled Chairman of the APC in Rivers State, Emeka Beke, has urged Ganduje to reverse the National Working Committee’s decision to dissolve the party leadership in the state.
Beke, who is an ally of Amaechi, made the appeal on Thursday in Port Harcourt, saying the party’s executive in the state has yet to expire.
Emeka claimed that under the party’s constitution, only the NEC has the authority to dissolve an elected state exco.
He stated, “What does the constitution of the party say? Only NEC has the moral right. I am surprised the NWC said it has that power. I don’t think there is any time the NEC gave them (NWC) the power to do that. It is so shocking and surprising.”
Crisis-ridden state executive
Since 2018, the Rivers State chapter of the APC has been enmeshed in crises.
That year, the Federal High Court nullified both the direct and indirect primaries conducted by two factions of the party in the state.
The factions conducted parallel primaries that produced two sets of candidates.
While the faction loyal to Ameachi produced Tonye Cole as its governorship candidate, the other loyal to Magnus Abe, produced him (Abe) as its candidate.
The Supreme Court subsequently affirmed the nullification of all APC candidates in the state.
The development gave Wike a smooth sail to be re-elected for a second term as a PDP governor in 2019.
The APC almost went through the same experience again in 2022 in the build-up to the 2023 general elections.
The pro-Amaechi faction again produced Cole as its candidate, prompting some aggrieved aspirants to approach the court.
It took the intervention of the Court of Appeal for the APC to be on the ballot in Rivers State.
“For the very first time since the return of democracy, a party other than the PDP was declared winner of the presidential election in Rivers State. Wike claimed credit for APC’s surprising victory in the state”
However, immediately after the general elections, the party went into another crisis as some members of the state executive committee suspended Emeka Beke, the state party chairman, Iheanyichukwu Azubuike, legal adviser, and Darlington Nwuju, publicity secretary.
The deputy chairman of the APC, Omiete Eferebo took over the running of the party. His supporters also got an order restraining Beke from parading himself as chairman of the APC in Rivers State.
Wike and Amaechi have been in continuous struggle for control of the political structure of the state for about a decade.
Wike had served as chief of staff to Ameachi while the latter was governor before he (Wike) moved to Abuja as Minister of State for Education.
But since 2014, when Amaechi left PDP for the APC in the twilight of his second and final tenure as governor, both have been in different political parties.
While Wike remained in the PDP, Amaechi, alongside some governors, defected to the newly formed APC. He would later become the Director-General of the APC presidential campaigns.
However, the 2023 general elections changed the political arrangement in the state.
Amaechi, who lost the presidential primary election against then co-presidential aspirant, Bola Tinubu, in 2022, has since been largely withdrawn from the activities of the APC especially at the national level.
He also faced allegations of working against the party in the state.
On the other hand, Wike led a group of aggrieved PDP governors named the G5 that openly opposed Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP.
For the very first time since the return of democracy, a party other than the PDP was declared winner of the presidential election in Rivers State. Wike claimed credit for APC’s surprising victory in the state.
Tinubu, the APC candidate in the election, polled 231,591 votes in the state to emerge the winner.
In gratitude for Wike’s contribution to the success of the APC in the state, President Tinubu appointed him FCT minister, prompting protests by some elements within the pro-Amaechi’s camp.
“The Rivers State Chapter of the APC has no representation at any level of governance in our country. There isn’t a single Rivers APC member appointed at any level of the federal, state or local government,” Cole told Ganduje in September during a visit to the party’s national secretariat.
The protest over appointment was dismissed by Okocha, who stated that all appointments should be routed to the state through Wike.
“We have said whatever is due to us as our own slot in Rivers should be handed over to Wike because he knows who and who worked for Tinubu in Rivers,” he said.
The recent move by the ruling party is coming amid ongoing fight between Wike and his political godson and successor, Governor Siminalayi Fubara of Rivers State.
The two politicians are currently locked in a battle over the political structure of the state. As a result, the timing of a rejig in the leadership of APC in the state is fueling the speculations of a possible defection of the FCT minister from the PDP to the