2023: Dizzying echoes from Rivers APC

By Chris Ezeonoh

Politics by its very nature encompasses some measure of uncertainties and palpitations without which it loses most of its attributes.

Ahead of the 2023 general election, some of those attributes are beginning to manifest in different shapes and colours.

In recent years, Rivers State has been attracting more than a passing attention in every election season due to the style and modus being adopted by the dramatis personae in the murky game.

The state is rich in hydrocarbon resources which is the nucleus of the national economy, and this may also define the mindset of the political actors in their cut throat struggle to clinch power and preside over the resources.

Since 2015, the PDP and APC have remained the dominant political force in the state and have been locked in a supremacy battle to out-do each other and call the shots.

However, the APC which is a party put together in 2014 after the merger of different political groups has not been able to find its rhythm in the state. The party has largely remained a replica of the legendary soap opera, ‘Fuji House of Commotion’, always bickering and tearing itself apart.

Even after what befell the party in 2019 general election where it was wiped out of the ballot and could not field any candidate in the election, almost four years after, the party is still pointing fingers at imaginary directions for its problems even as its leadership continues to display stubborn disinclination to enthrone due process amongst its ranks.

According to some observers, the Amaechi-Abe seeming intractable feud which is the genesis of the crisis in the party has remained so largely because of the apparent refusal by Amaechi, leader of the party in the state to allow due process to reign in the party.

The party had plunged into its governorship primaries in May with the baggage of grievances some of its critical stakeholders were carrying, pretending that all was well.

Before then, the announcement of Arch. Tonye Cole, the oil mogul as the consensus governorship candidate of the party by some elders after their meeting in Abuja at the instance of the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had raised tension in the party.

The primary eventually did not produce any dramatic result as it was mere ratification of the choice of Cole. And so to most Amaechi apologists it was eureka as everything seemed to be working according to plan.

But according to some observers, the growing list of disenchanted members of the party were only holding out for the conduct of the presidential primaries of the APC where Amaechi was a major contender before making a decision on what to do next.

“Now with Amaechi losing out in the presidential primaries and also out of office where he could dispense some favours and create opportunities for his followers and Cole who doesn’t command the respect and followership of critical stakeholders of the party as governorship candidate, many felt it was to your tents oh Israel”, said an analyst who craved anonymity while reacting to the wave of defections and resignation sweeping across the Rivers APC.

Indeed, the Rivers APC is a troubled entity with the recent events in the party. Interestingly many of those who had one of their legs in and the other out of the party without openly speaking out are now justifying their resignation and defection on the ground of the Muslim-Muslim ticket adopted by the party for its presidential and vice presidential candidates.

However, of all the heavyweights who have resigned from the party in recent times including former Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC) and former commissioner for Information, Mrs Ibim Semenitari, Prince Tonye Princewill, former Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, Dr Dawari George, Hon. Golden Chioma, etc, the one that rang the bell the most was that of Hon. George Tolofari, former Commissioner for Transport.

Tolofari headed the committee formed by all the governorship aspirants from the riverine extraction of the state before the governorship primaries. The committee had produced and assented to an accord to support any one of them who emerged victorious in the governorship primaries since the choice of a candidate was narrowed to the riverine axis by the party.

And so when eventually the committee that met in Abuja nominated Tonye Cole as the consensus governorship candidate, Tolofari came out boldly to defend the decision of the committee.

In an epistle to the party faithful, Tolofari argued forcefully why the choice should stand, making references to the accord by the riverine aspirants.

Hear him, “…I write with a deep sense of commitment and loyalty to our great party and to all of you who have stood to defend this party, her leadership and her ideals over the years.

“The event that took place on Friday, 22nd April 2022, has brought about mixed feelings and reactions from across many quarters because some expectations were not met. Many of you were disgruntled, sad, shocked and even surprised to say the least.

Some of you as a result have reached out to me and other party leaders privately and openly to vent your spleen. Sincerely, we feel your frustration and understand how it feels when the lot does not fall on you because we’ve all been there before at one time or the other.”

On what transpired in Abuja, Tolofari revealed thus: “What many of us may not know is that all the aspirants from the Riverine Ijaw extraction came together and surrendered their rights to the party to choose for them since they could not reach a consensus amongst themselves. Hence, the decision taken by the committee was in the best interest of the aspirants, the party and all of us after a thorough scrutiny of all concerned.

“Some of you have erroneously accused and cast aspersions and insults at our leader for imposing Tonye Cole on the party, but unknown to you, our leader, The Minister of Transportation recused himself from the process and asked us to freely exercise our rights in the best interest of the party which we did.

I appeal to us all to stop the unwarranted attacks on our leader because he has done nothing wrong, rather he set the stage for free deliberations and consultations. If he had wanted to impose a candidate on us, he would not need to set up a committee. He would have just announced his preferred candidate and asked us to support him, but this he didn’t do. It may even surprise some of you that our leader’s preference may not have emerged but he allowed the majority decision of the party elders to fly.

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“I was part of that process and all decisions taken by the larger majority of the committee members are binding on me. I will say that again for emphasis. Although expectations of all party faithful may not have been met as some of us had wished our ‘principal’ emerged. I do not believe in that system where when it favours me, I applaud the leadership and its process and castigate leadership and its process when it does not favour me. As painful as it is, we must exercise restraint. We must not destroy APC because we didn’t get the endorsement of the leadership this time around.

“Many of us have been beneficiaries of the same consensus decisions at some point in time and when it favoured us, others were probably displeased and when it favours others we may be displeased also. That is a common human factor. I, George Tolofari benefitted from consensus in the past. Dakuku Peterside, Sokonte Davis, Emeka Beke, Victor Giadom, Dawari George, Ojukaye Flag Amachree and a host of us are all beneficiaries of this same system however, it was arrived at.

So we must learn the principles of give and take at times like this and also understand what party loyalty means. Loyalty is a very costly commodity and difficult to find and it’s no loyalty until it is tested. Indeed, we are in for a loyalty test once again.”

This was in April/May and now in July, Tolofari is singing a different song: “The above subject matter refers. Joining the APC was based on personal conviction, but having reviewed the general state of affairs of the APC-led government in the country, I’m no longer convinced of my continued stay in the party.

“The APC came on the mantra of anti-corruption, justice, equity and insecurity. But today that hope is dashed as insecurity; corruption and injustice stare us squarely in the face and threaten the very existence of our beloved country.

“To my dear leaders and die-hard party faithful in Bonny who see me as a role model and a loyal party man, I’m sorry to disappoint you by my decision. I guess I’m human after all, forgive me.

“My gratitude goes to my leader, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and the party for the opportunity to serve the state and the party in the recent past.

“Although this is a very difficult and painful decision to make i believe it’s time to move on. Let me also take this opportunity to wish the APC all the best in the forthcoming elections in 2023”, Tolofari had written in his resignation letter to the chairman of his ward in Bonny Local Government.

Earlier, in his own epistle to communicate his resignation, Tonye Princewill had written, “I cannot defend the decision of my party, in fielding a Muslim Muslim ticket, especially at a time like this, against all protestations from well-meaning Nigerians across religious and political divides, it sets a very wrong precedent; it is totally insensitive and even if you win, will prove bad for good governance

“Under these dire circumstances, I find no justification to still remain in good conscience a member of a political party that subordinates electoral victory over the safety of lives and peace of mind of its citizens….”

In the same breath; Senator Magnus Abe who has been leading a faction of APC in the state announced his resignation, saying the party would not provide him with a platform to actualize his governorship ambition.

But reacting to all these disturbing developments in the party, the APC in the state accused Governor Wike and Magnus Abe of being the mastermind of the misfortunes the party has suffered over the years.

“The culmination of their evil machinations was the exclusion of Rivers APC from the ballot in 2019.

“Evidence exists how Senator Abe and his lieutenants broke into celebration the day the Party was excluded by the court”, the party said in a press conference in Port Harcourt.

Chris Finebone, Publicity Secretary of the party in the state who addressed the press conference said “Rivers APC considers the formal exit of Abe and his associates from the APC as good riddance. We liken it to a successful excision of a debilitating cancer from the body.”

He said the party can now heave a sigh of relief “from the sustained destabilizing onslaught by Senator Abe” and wished him well “as he joins the SDP”.

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