That the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC is in dire straits requiring reinvention through reconciliation, is to say the obvious. The party is in a coma, unable to exact the influence commensurate with its popularity and strength.
In 2015, when the APC was violently ousted from the Rivers Sate Government House, many blamed it on the use of federal might, buoyed by former President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience.
Since then, the Rivers State chapter of the APC has lost another election in 2019. This time, the party was stopped not by a conquering federal might but by its own internal wrangling.
Litigations by aggrieved members stopped the party from fielding candidates in the 2019 elections and brought to abrupt end the political aspirations of not only governorship, national and state assembly candidates, but also the lofty dreams of many members. The Rivers APC self-destruct and did not produce even a local government councilor.
The Peoples Democratic Party governs Rivers State virtually unchallenged, aided by the disunity within the Rivers APC. The 2015 defeat and the inability to sponsor candidates in 2019, led to the tumble of Rivers APC to total irrelevance in national and state political equations.
The recently constituted National Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Committee led by Governor Mai Mala Buni, has unfolded plans for a “nationwide reconciliation” to restore peace and cohesion in the ruling party. This opens a vista of opportunities for the Rivers State APC to put its house in order and stage a comeback.
The first step to reconciliation for the Rivers State APC is to identify the main cause of the crisis, which is unarguably, the total absence of internal democracy in the ‘selection’ of party officers and party candidates for elections. The malaise is nationwide.
The leader of APC in Rivers State is accorded that status because he was the Governor of the state when the APC was founded and he is a Minister in President Buhari’s cabinet since 2015. He is regarded as the leader of the party by the entire leadership and membership.
Despite the bitter and protracted conflict in the party, the leader is still referred to as the leader of the party by persons who vehemently disagree with his leadership style. They all regard him as the leader but he does not treat all fairly.
The Rivers State APC leader has his clique within the party. He harnesses the hard work of all party members only to dispense the benefits to members of his clique. If he could, he would not allow people outside his clique to be appointed into federal positions, even though they all call him leader.
The leader’s clique includes his friends and associates who may not be registered in the party, but are brought in to take coveted party tickets. This has angered many influential party stalwarts who have either left the party or engaged the leader in protracted legal battles.
The matter between Senator Magnus Abe and the leader and that of Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs and the leader is a classic illustration of how the membership rights of party stalwarts are violated.
The leader stopped Senator Magnus Abe from contesting the 2015 Rivers State governorship election. The leader was again reported to have gone to Senator Abe’s house to warn him not to contemplate running the 2019 guber race.
This time, the Distinguished Senator felt that he has had enough from the leader and when the leader attempted to manipulate the congresses, court cases were initiated, which disqualified the party from fielding candidates in the 2019 general elections. The party has since remained factionalized in the state.
To cushion the devastating impact of Distinguished Senator Magnus Abe’s “revolt”, the leader sought new alliances within the party and got the amiable oil industry mogul, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who had joined the party in April, 2017.
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs distinguished himself as a much loved, courageous and generous team player, who became one of the leading 2019 governorship aspirants of the party. He worked so hard to reposition the party and stabilize the leader, who was then under tremendous heat from ‘dissenters’.
But when the chips were down, the leader didn’t find any of the governorship aspirants in the party worthy of the Rivers APC ticket. He brought in a total stranger. To ensure that neither Magnus Abe nor Dumo Lulu-Briggs came second in the primaries, the leader asked an uninterested person to pick a governorship nomination form.
Even when his “stranger candidate” couldn’t contest because of the mass disqualification of APC candidates, the leader still didn’t find Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs worthy of support, even though Dumo had taken the Accord Party ticket and was campaigning vigorously for President Buhari. Rather, the leader supported an adventurist in AAC, who had for the fun of it, filled the governorship forms of one of the many nominal political parties.
The problem is not so much in the endorsement of candidates by the leader but in the manipulation of party primaries by party executives that were earlier manipulated into office by the leader, without which the leader has minimal electoral influence.
The absence of internal party democracy within the APC is the heart of the matter. The Governor Buni’s National Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Committee therefore has a lot of work to do. To reconcile the Magnus Abes and bring back the Dumo Lulu-Briggses to the party. Above all, to instill internal party democracy, in the party that professes a progressive ideology.