All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State still has many rivers to cross as the countdown to the 2023 elections begins. Its rank and file are apprehensive that there could be a repeat of the 2019 elections when the party lost the opportunity to field candidates for elections in the state due to an uncanny power play by the main power brokers. Already, the party is haemorrhaged by a wave of resignations and defections by prominent members due to protracted crisis and lack of compromise among the chieftains, with some pundits that all this could sound a death knell to the party ahead of the 2023 general election. As at the last count, at least eight APC bigwigs had either resigned or defected to other parties adducing different reasons for their action. And there are indications that many supporters and associates of those chieftains are on the verge of following their footsteps.
Some of the party chieftains, who have so far resigned include: Ibim Semenitari and George Tolofari, both former commissioners under the administration of Honourable Rotimi Amaechi as state governor; Prince Tonye Princewill, Dewari George and Theodore Georgewill. They were members of the Amaechi faction of Rivers APC. Others who have also resigned are: Golden Chioma, Chidi Wihioka and Senator Magnus Abe, who all belong to the Abe faction. Many other APC leaders and supporters are also likely to resign in the days ahead, in a trend that began after the conduct of the primary and selection of running mates by presidential candidates of the parties with the Muslim-Muslim choice of the APC eliciting the most reactions.
In fact, one of the chieftains, Princewill hinged his resignation from APC on the issue, despite his open declaration of loyalty to his friend and leader, Amaechi. In his resignation letter to the APC national chairman, Princewill said: “I can’t argue for equity in my state and defend inequity in my country. While I appreciate my leader Honourable Rotimi Amaechi and all his efforts, 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 the peace of mind of its citizens.
“I’m so sad to leave. But an APC party that totally disregards the basics of the same equity we preach, is alien to me. President Muhammadu) Buhari resisted the same temptation and chose a little known (Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and won. By doing this, Tinubu is saying that a northern Christian has no electoral value. My staying means I agree.”
But, George, in his own letter, which he addressed to his APC Asari-Toru ward 1 chairman did not proffer any reason for his resignation. On his part, Senator Abe gave reasons for dumping the APC. He explained that having led his supporters to boycott the governorship primary of the APC in Rivers, he needed another platform to pursue his ambition. So, he finally left the party which he claimed he was part of its pioneer members in the state and swore not to leave it. “My decision to quit is not unconnected with Senator Bola Tinubu’s seeming unwillingness to negotiate with me since he expects me to remain in the APC, hence my resolve to seek alternative platform to actualise my gubernatorial ambition in Rivers State,” Abe stated. “I feel it is time to move on with my ambition, having served this country as lawmaker in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Secretary to the State Government (SSG) of Rivers State, and Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In the coming days, I shall tell Nigerians my next political decision,” he stated.
Some days after, he joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which adopted him as its candidate for the 2023 governorship election. The party substituted its earlier candidate, Pronen Maurice with Abe. In a statement issued by APC publicity secretary in the state, Chris Finebone, on the same day, the party expressed suspicion saying that Abe, who represented the Rivers South East at the Senate, was known to be headed for the SDP. At a press conference on July 20, 2022, during which APC reacted to the rising resignations from the party, Finebone also explained that the conference was a direct response to the anxiety and concerns of members. “To start with, we believe that movements of politicians in and out of parties in Nigeria have become part of the culture of politicians, especially towards the end of every election cycle. It cuts across all political parties,” he said. He categorised those politicians involved in resignations into two with the first comprising “a few persons, who either resigned to pursue other interests in life or exercised their right of free association by seeking greener political pastures elsewhere. To these persons, we acknowledge the contributions of some of them to the party and wish them well in their future endeavours.” He grouped Abe under the second category. He alleged that they were individuals who had, “for the past couple of years, spoken and acted in every way to destroy the APC in Rivers State. Led by Abe, these persons tried all they could to factionalise our party in the state. They connived endlessly with the governor of Rivers State and used some elements in the state judiciary to frustrate and destroy our party. The culmination of their machinations was the exclusion of Rivers APC from the ballot in 2019.”
Finebone added; “Tired of Abe’s antics, majority of his supporters openly joined the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state while others found their way back to the mainstream of the party. However, it recently came to our attention that Senator Abe and the few persons still with him had concluded plans to join the Social Democratic Party (SDP) on whose platform Abe will run for governor, hence their persistent hype to the effect that Abe will be on the ballot come 2023.” The APC spokesman added: “In what appears to be a carefully planned exit plan, close associates of Abe started resigning from the APC and making heavy weather of their exit in the social media as part of their exit plan as though they have been functional members of the party, just to hoodwink the public. This press conference is essentially to explain to you and the public that Rivers APC considers the formal exit of Abe and his associates from the APC as good riddance. Rivers APC can now heave a sigh of relief from sustained destabilising onslaught by Senator Abe. We wish him well as he joins the SDP. We pray that he takes everything he exhibited in APC, to his new party so that the world would see him for who he truly is. We make bold to state without an iota of doubt that Senator Abe and his supporters had, by their actions and utterances, long ceased to be functional members of APC. They shunned and refused to participate in the membership revalidation exercise that was carried out nationwide by the party. They also abstained from other legitimate activities of the party, making their recent purported resignation a mere formality and part of their face-saving exit strategy aimed at deceiving the public.”
In an interview in Port Harcourt, an APC chieftain, Kingsley Wenenda Wali, explained that prominent members of the party were resigning from the party to avoid being suffocated. He condemned a situation where one person, who is holding a government appointment, would still be the leader of the party at the local government area, the party’s candidate in the same local government area and a national delegate of the party at the same time. He said: “If we begin to have a situation where people are thinking that the party is being run like the bank of a chief executive and four executive directors, it is significant to know that four is a critical number in APC. It might be an attempt by the leader to develop a succession plan but I don’t think I agree with that kind of scenario where whatever comes goes to certain people. Fortunately for me, I am not an appointment-seeking person, I am not a political office-seeking person. I am free to speak my mind. So, you begin to ask yourself, what about other people from that local government? Or are you saying there are no other people who can actually protect the interest of the leader in that local government? So, these are the kind of things that suffocate people; that choke people. And rather than being choked, they move and fix themselves somewhere. Some went back to their houses, their businesses or other political parties.”
However, some analysts said what was happening in the APC is narrowing the political space in the state and conferring undue advantage on the PDP, which ironically is also is grappling with its own internal challenges.