Race for APC Cross River and Imo North senatorial bye-elections

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Governors as shadows on Senate race

The challenge of replacing deceased Senators in Cross River, Imo and Plateau States is proving more controversial than the initial process that threw up the last occupants of Cross River North, Imo North, and Plateau South Senatorial seats in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly. Findings by The Guardian show that while incumbent governors of Imo and Plateau States are eager to ensure that their party, the governing All Progressives Congress () retains the seats previously occupied by their members, the situation in appears most confusing.

Unlike Imo and Plateau, the former occupant of the vacant senate seat, Senator Rose Okoh, belonged to the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (), which is in control of the state government. Before their deaths, Senators Ben Uwajumogu and Ignatius Longjan were members of . Senator Uwajumogu, who was re-elected for a second term, was a former speaker of House of Assembly, just as Longjan, an erstwhile career diplomat, served as Chief of Staff and later, deputy to former Governor Jonah Jang before he was elected into the Senate in 2019.

Uwajumogu was involved in the political hostilities that trailed state congress in after the then governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, plotted to hand over the state structure of the party to his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, who he wanted to succeed him as governor. But, barely a month after Uwajumogu’s sudden death in Abuja, Nigeria’s Supreme Court ruled on January 14, 2020 that the governorship candidate in the March 9, 2019 governorship poll in , Senator Hope Uzodimma, was the actual winner.

Having been declared the winner and inaugurated as governor at the expense of the occupant, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, Uzodimma, who was part of those aligned against Okorocha, sought to broaden alliances to consolidate his mandate.

It would be recalled that immediately after the apex court’s pronouncement declaring him governor, Senator Uzodimma visited Senator Ifeanyi Ararume in Abuja and convinced the former governorship candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the same election to accompany him to his inauguration in Owerri, . No sooner had the duo alighted from the chartered aircraft that brought them to Owerri than words started making the rounds that Uzodimma was bringing Ararume back to , ostensibly to continue the battle against Okorocha.

True to predictions, Ararume later announced his return to APC, which he left at the onset of the political dingdong with Okorocha, even as stakeholders in his native Okigwe Senatorial zone (Imo North) expressed optimism that as governor, Uzodimma would reciprocate his (Ararume) support with the APC ticket for the vacant senate seat. That optimism was cut short when a straw poll organised by APC chieftains at the instance of the governor revealed plans to favour Sir Frank Ibezim.

Upon learning about the plot, Ararume quietly identified with the Augustine Nwafor faction loyal to Okorocha, where a parallel straw poll, in which he emerged victoriously was organised.

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Meanwhile, the nine-man consensus panel announced Ibezim as the consensus choice of the party, despite the fact that Ararume did not attend the meeting. It was gathered that the panel, headed by the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mr. Cosmas Iwu, adopted a simple method of having the aspirants as electors by casting a vote for themselves and one other. Ibezim was said to have emerged as the next best candidate by three other aspirants, thus beating 12 others with four votes.

However, the division within the ranks of APC continued to the senatorial primary, where the two contending factions, led by Nwafor and Marcellinus Nlemigbo, held a parallel exercise. Sources within Imo APC disclosed that although Ararume was more popular among the aspirants, his decision to shift allegiance to Nwafor’s faction loyal to Okorocha made Uzodimma interpret his move as a possible new alliance to checkmate his political designs.

With the emergence of Ararume and Ibezim as parallel APC Senatorial candidates, it is to be seen how the party would fare in the Imo North bye-election against .


Pacific Plateau

THE common notion in Plateau State is that Senator Longjan was a peace advocate, who before his death was the deputy chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. Like his colleague in Imo North, not long after his death was announced, many politicians from the Plateau South Senatorial District began scheming to replace him.

At the point of his nomination as APC candidate for the district, there were intense speculations that both Governor Lalong and the Minister for Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, were interested in ensuring that whoever represents the zone would be loyal and ready to yield to them in 2023. Prior to her appointment by President as a minister, Tallen contested and lost the APC ticket to Longjan, who was Governor Lalong’s preferred aspirant.

It is not yet clear whether Lalong, a former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, is interested in retiring to the Senate or keeping his political options close to his chest due to plans by some APC chieftains to have a presidential flag bearer or running mate from the north.

Although the governor’s loyalists, including Mr. John Dafwan, who is currently a legislative aide to Hon. Idris Maje, Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives and Mr. Isaac Kwallu, were associated with the senatorial ambition, the emergence of Prof. Nora Dadu’ut put all those speculations to rest.

It is possible that the stakeholders of Plateau South Senatorial District had an eye on the fitting replacement for Longjan in the Senate, not only as a peace-builder but also one that could serve as deputy chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Prof. Dadu’ut of the Department of French Studies, University of Jos, who defeated five other aspirants to pick the APC ticket for the October 31, 2020 bye-election, fits the bill. Governor Lalong, while congratulating Dadu’ut on her victory after a keenly contested APC senatorial primary in Shendam, expressed optimism that the party would retain the Senate seat.

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The governor, who is also the chairman of Northern States’ Governors Forum (NSGF), said: “We have been preparing for this primary as one united family to ensure that we produce the best candidate to represent APC at the main elections.

“Whoever the delegates choose, we shall rally round and market him or her to the electorate in order to ensure that we retain our seat. We are very optimistic of victory as our party remains the dominant party in this Senatorial District with records of good performance.”

Cross-River Confusion
UNLIKE the peaceful atmosphere that pervaded the primary in Plateau South, confusion trailed the exercise in Cross River North Senatorial District as two aspirants are insisting that they won. The APC national officers that conducted the primary at Ogoja on September 4, 2020 declared a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Joe Agi winner, saying that he beat the outgoing Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Professor Zana Akpagu, and three others to emerge with 113,229 votes, while Akpagu polled 8,635 votes.

Chairman of APC Electoral Committee, Alhaji Suleiman Nakowa, supported by the Secretary, Mr. Jenkins Gwede, submitted the result and report of the exercise to the Director of Organisation for a formal announcement. After submitting the result, they announced Agi winner and as the APC candidate for the October 31, 2020 bye-election in Cross-River North Senatorial district.

However, shortly after, some persons from Obudu and other parts of the state announced outgoing Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Prof Akpagu, as a winner. Going by the result declared by Mr. Lazarus Undie, as the Returning Officer, Akpagu was said to have polled 75,492 votes to beat his closest rival, Agi, who was also said to have scored 12,813 votes.

Undie stated: “Based on what we have declared here, we state that Professor Zana Akpagu, having scored the highest number of votes in this contest, is the winner of the APC Senatorial primary election.”

The result, which was purportedly witnessed by an Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) official, did not indicate the official’s name, but Joe Agi has extended ‘olive branch’ to Zana and his supporters.

Also, top party sources in Abuja said the APC leadership had asked Akpagu not to contest the primary, ostensibly because the Minister of State, Mr. Jeddy Agba, and Governor Ben Ayade are all from Obudu Local Government Area, which makes it unfair to take Senatorial position there. The sources explained that APC leaders contended that it was fair to zone the position to Yala\Ogoja, where Agi and others hail from.

Reacting to some of the allegations, the Secretary of the Election Primary Committee for the APC primary, Mr. Giane said, “I just want to be very polite otherwise I will be very harsh… The party rules do not permit you to go to your state to do primaries. They only post you outside your state. So, from the onset, that is faulty because his argument is that when the people left they authorised him (Undie) to read the result on their behalf. The question is, where is the letter of authority and if they authorised you, why will the committee come and read a different result from the one they authorised you to read.

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“I am, by the grace of God, the Secretary of the committee. We went to Ogoja and an election was conducted and the result was declared there. Joe Agi was declared as the winner of the primary election. The chairman and I signed and declared the result there in Ogoja. Joe Agi won the election and we came back to Abuja the following day and declared the same result. There was a press conference at the party secretariat. We submitted our results and left. So, how can somebody come and say that Zana won; that is not correct. Unless it is a UNICAL (University of Calabar) election that he did and he won there in UNICAL”.
 
On whether disciplinary action will be taken against any erring member of the party as a fallout of the primary, he said “that is at the party’s national level; it is not our work. Ours was to go and conduct the election and report to the party and we have done that and have given our report. If they want to take action against Zana for lying, or whosoever, it’s at the discretion of the party at the national level”.
 
Agi thanked the people for giving him massive support, noting, “I am going to win the election and I am assuring you that Cross River will become APC in 2023. I want the state to move fully to APC to belong to the mainstream of governance in Nigeria.”

While reacting to the development, a political analyst and social critic, Dr. Joseph Odok, said: “There is no point crying over spilled milk. The legitimate organ to announce primary results for the APC CRS Northern Senatorial district is the APC Primary Committee set up by the national organ of the party. This organ has announced Joe Agi, as the APC candidate. It is unheard of that a candidate will set up a primary committee to announce himself as the winner.”

Odok stated that although the disloyalty and action of the loser in setting up a primary committee to announce himself could be forgiven, pushing her desperation so far as to further divide the party would never be condoned.

However, knowing that APC is not in control of the governorship of , the idea of factoring Ayade’s election into the party’s calculations leaves room for speculations, especially against the backdrop of insinuations that the governor has his tentacles spread across party lines.

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