The many storms of Benue APC

JOHN CHARLES writes on the many court cases against the All Progressives Congress in Benue State and its now ousted governorship candidate, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia

Before the emergence of the now ousted governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Benue State, Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia, the political party had been in crisis over the handling of the governorship primary up to the extent that some aggrieved members, especially aspirants, decided to seek redress in court. The angry members had maintained that the process that brought Alia as the governorship candidate was skewed against them.

One of the outcomes of the redress sought by the aggrieved members of the party was that the Court of Appeal in Makurdi, the state capital, recently ordered the APC to conduct a fresh primary in 11 out of the 23 local government areas of the state within 14 days to determine its governorship candidate.

The caveat in the judgment is that the result of the fresh primary will be added to that of the 12 local government areas where rerun primary election had earlier taken place and the aspirant with the highest votes will be declared the winner.

Three APC governorship aspirants – a onetime National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Barnabas Gemade; a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mike Aondoaaka; and Prof Terhemba Shija, were in court to challenge the process of the party’s primary.

The governorship candidate of the PDP in the state, Titus Uba, and the party also dragged the APC and Alia as well as candidates of the party’s state House of Assembly, House of Representatives and the Senate to court, challenging the processes of the primary elections.

Four cases were determined by the Appeal Court on Monday, including those of Shija and Gemade against the party and its governorship candidate.

While the Appeal Court ordered a fresh primary in 11 local government areas of the state in the case brought by Shija, it upheld the judgment of the Federal High Court, which earlier dismissed the suit brought by Gemade for being statute barred.

Other cases disposed of on Monday were the appeal of the PDP against the APC House of Assembly and House of Representatives candidates, which were also dismissed. The court held that the PDP had no locus standi whatsoever to meddle in the APC or any other political party’s affairs.

The 11 local government areas, where the fresh primary will hold are Gboko, Gwer-East, Gwer-West, Guma, Katsina, Logo, Makurdi, Otukpo, Ukum, Tarka and Vandeikya.

The appellate court had in its wisdom exempted the Buruku, Kwande, Agatu, Konshisha, Ogbadibo, Ushongo, Oju, Okpokwu, Ado, Ohimini, Obi and Apa local government areas from the fresh primary because the appeal committee of the party had on June 9, 2022  ordered a rerun in the 12 local government areas

Still pending in the Appeal Court in Abuja are cases instituted by Aondoaaka and Titus Uba, the governorship candidate of PDP,and his party against Alia and the APC.

The order of the court directing the APC to conduct a fresh primary in 11 local government areas was celebrated more by the PDP supporters in the state than the litigant, a development that has raised serious poser by residents of the state, who wondered what the interest of the ruling party is in Alia.

The entrance of Alia into the APC had caused unrest within the rank and file of the party and outside it, particularly, in the ruling PDP in the state.

In the build-up to the party’s primary, some of the governorship aspirants such as Gemade, Aondoaaka and Shija had envisaged that the APC would conduct its primary through the indirect mode.

As a result, many of the aspirants began to scramble for delegates only for the party under the leadership of Akume to opt for the direct mode of primary.

The state Chairman of the APC, Austin Agada, who gave credence to this, said a meeting of stakeholders was convened where the decision to adopt the direct mode of primary was taken.

He said, “That is true, the party leadership held a stakeholders’ meeting where most of the governorship aspirants, particularly, Prof Shija, who is at the forefront of litigation, attended and supported the direct mode.

“I think among the governorship aspirants that did not attend the meeting was Senator Gemade, who was not around, and the resolution of the meeting was forwarded to the national secretariat of the party, where they agreed with us.”

Shija did not deny his attendance at the meeting and approval to the direct mode of primary.

He said, “I was not only in attendance and I also made a speech. I said I’m a professor in a university; students don’t choose the type of exam they should be given as long as it is legitimate.

“I also said that there were three modes of primary election – direct, indirect and consensus – and I told them in clear terms that I would go for any mode accepted by the party.”

Why the sudden change of mind by the aspirants after the conduct of the primary and what is the interest of the PDP in the matter?

Shedding light on the probing question, Agada stated that some of the aspirants were moles in the party, adding that privileged information at his disposal showed that one of them allegedly received financial support from Governor Samuel Ortom to enable him obtain the governorship form.

“The reason behind the action of some of the governorship aspirants is because they have the support of the state governor while pretending to be with us. For instance, we heard from a reliable authority that the governor supported some of them to be able to obtain their governorship forms; they all know the truth,” Agada said.

But in a swift response, Shija told Saturday PUNCH that the allegation was not new, but described the reason for their grievances as the impunity of the leader of the party in the state.

According to Shija, the process of the conduct of the primary was shrouded in secrecy, which needs to be corrected.

He said, “Using the direct mode of primary is not the subject of controversy as far as I’m concerned. If they decided to go for direct primary, they should have done the right thing, but they didn’t do it. They simply sat somewhere and wrote names and ascribed zero votes to some of us in 16 local government areas.

“Akume himself said that some, with obvious reference to me, because he later mentioned my name in other places, that I went to Ortom to collect money because where else would I as a professor get such money to buy form?

“This is a direct insult to me. Here is somebody (Akume) who I led into politics. By 1992, I was already in the National Assembly. I led his campaign in 1998  and this man thinks I am not connected enough to get money to run in an election and what even annoyed me was when he said I came to cause confusion.

“Do you know that these people stampeded my children out of social media with insults that ‘your father is a mole? He doesn’t have a reputation; your father cannot be governor’. I’m impervious to whatever they say, and that is why I went to court. The court is there to protect me.

“Some people have been asking me to withdraw the case since I’m from the same local government with Rev Fr Alia, but the historical record will show that I got zero in some local governments.”

However, political pundits in the state are of the view that the emergence of the Catholic priest will change the political equation and bring to a halt the alleged maladministration of the PDP in the state.

While some believe that the PDP governorship candidate, Uba, is not sellable, there is also the fear of the Catholic priest, who the masses believe can uproot the ruling party in the state. This, many believed, could have propelled the ruling PDP and its candidate to drag Alia to court.

But the state Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Bemgba Iortyom, dismissed with a wave of the hand the belief in the state that the party was jittery because of the emergence of Alia, saying that what the PDP wanted was that the opposition APC should do the right thing in nominating its candidates.

He said, “It is not a matter of being unsettled but purely a matter of legality. There are legal requirements political parties should follow in nominating their candidates for elections and it is the responsibility of every political party to ensure that its opponents are in compliance with the provision of law.

“If we in the PDP do not do the right thing, other parties can point out to the relevant authority that things must be done correctly. The APC could have done the same thing to us if we went out of line.”

Asked if the PDP also took such interests in the other parties’ primaries that produced governorship candidates in the state, Iortyom said aside the APC, other parties in the state followed the right step in conducting their primaries.

Meanwhile, a staunch supporter of the Catholic priest, who is an ex-banker and entrepreneur in the state, John Agbangya, submitted that from history, changing the status quo had been a serious business because those benefitting from it would not want a change.

Agbangya said, “You know that changing the status quo is usually a challenge. Don’t expect that it will be smooth. It is a general trend everywhere and Benue State is not an exception.

“There has been a pattern of governance with few people as leaders, who have established dynasties and order. This is a state which has been broken and yearning for a change.

“It is not so much about the person of Alia, but the yearning of the people for a source of hope, for leadership that will restore values, pride and dignity. So, anybody that personifies that, the people of Benue State are ready to go for such a person.

“Alia has overtime endeared himself to the people because of his spiritual practice. He is very kind to others; leadership is about sacrifice and he has that sincerity of purpose to make sacrifice for the people. He is coming to change the established order that has overtime failed to prioritise the needs and aspirations of Benue people.”

Now, the question on the lips of every right thinking citizen of the state is will the priest be able to wriggle out of the many storms facing him and the APC? Time will surely tell.

The state Publicity Secretary of the APC, Daniel Ihomou, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH on why the internal crisis was allowed to linger to its current level, explained that there was nothing new about the crisis, adding that even in a nuclear family, there was bound to be misunderstanding.

Ihomou said the party had tried its best to apply the internal mechanism to resolve the dispute, adding that some of the aggrieved members remained adamant and rather proceeded to court, a development he described as “their fundamental right.”

He said, “There is no rancour in our party; Shija and others are members of our party. They have the right to challenge any infraction in court as free citizens and members of our great party. Of course, the party has internal mechanisms for settling disputes, but if any member of the party still feels otherwise, such a person can proceed to court.

“As a law-abiding party, we have accepted the decision of the court in good faith and we are looking at options from there and we have adhered to the order of the court to go for a rerun.”

Asked the type of intervention the party made to resolve the dispute, the state publicity secretary of the APC said, “Our party applied all internal mechanisms to resolve the matter. For instance, the national secretariat of the party set up an appeals panel to handle matters regarding the primary, but as members, they have the right to accept the report or recommendation of the panel or challenge it in court.”He, however, submitted, “But as far as we are concerned, the party remains strong and is poised for the forthcoming general elections. What happened is just a family affair; it will surely go away and the party will be stronger than ever.”

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