A former Commissioner for Information, Chief Abia Onyike, who is also the Director of Media and Publicity, Anyichuks Grassroots Organisation, a group led by a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Ifeanyi Odii, talks to EDWARD NNACHI about the crisis in the party
What is your reaction to the division within the Ebonyi State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party?
First, it would be inappropriate to keep harping on the fact that there is a crisis. There is no crisis whatsoever, but all political conflicts and I think those conflicts are being resolved as much as possible. The primary election generated a lot of heat and tension, because of the new methods that were introduced in the process of electing a candidate for various positions. Before this time, the party used statutory delegates for its primaries, in addition to the three-man ad-hoc delegates. But suddenly, the role of the statutory delegates as voters during primaries was jettisoned leaving out only three-man ad-hoc delegates as the only people qualified to vote. So, this sudden adoption of the new rules and regulations created tension and the contest became much more intractable. So, that development jolted the political permutations of many aspirants, to the extent that before the new rules were announced, the state congress of the party had held on May 7 and it was during that congress that the three-man ad-hoc delegates were elected. And so, in a place like Ebonyi State where you have 171 wards, what we got was three delegates per ward. So, if you work it out, it’s about 514 or 524. But if the statutory delegates were going to vote, we would have more than 1,500 or 1,600 delegates actively involved. So, the drastic reduction of that number was what was responsible for that palpable tension. And in all of these scenarios, the national secretariat of the party was not consistent.
What do you mean?
It was subjected to all kinds of pressure. Then the Electoral Act also came with so many radical changes.
Can you describe what transpired on May 28 and 29, 2022, when your party primaries were said to have been scheduled to hold?
Before these dates, the national secretariat of the party, in a letter that was duly signed by the national chairman and national secretary, directed that the Ebonyi PDP would have its primaries on those dates – for the House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate and governorship elections. They sent their officials for the exercise. The Independent National Electoral Commission was put on notice and at the end of the day, the exercise went on and produced candidates and the candidate is Dr Ifeanyi Odii. Odii scored the highest number of votes – 349. Also, the various positions for the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate were contested and filled. But just as the exercise was about to come to a close, rumours filtered in that it had been cancelled and so people began to wonder why and it turned out that the cancellation was a product of influence-peddling or power struggle because we were told that a highly placed political leader from Ebonyi State approached some influential members of the NWC to have the primaries cancelled.
Did you later find out why the exercises were cancelled?
We heard they did that because their candidates did not emerge. So, Dr Odii and his camp that emerged went to court to challenge the cancellation whereupon a Federal High Court in Abakaliki directed that the status quo ante bellum should be maintained and that they should return to court on June 7. After that, some of us who were critical stakeholders were invited to attend a meeting in Abuja and at the Abuja meeting, the NWC tried to wade into the matter, saying that all cases in court should be withdrawn. But what was manifestly clear from that Abuja meeting was that some of the bigwigs of the party from Ebonyi State had their inclinations and one of them, a very prominent personality, whose name I don’t want to mention, was supporting Senator Obinna Ogba, who is the main challenger to Dr Odii, and probably, his efforts led to the so-called cancellation.
It was alleged that Odii conducted a primary against the NWC’s instruction. Is that correct?
The primaries were not conducted by Dr Ifeanyi Odii but by the national officers of the PDP and everything was on tape. Remember the exercise was covered by a TV station and transmitted live so the national officers were there and they covered that exercise and the names are there for the records. There is no way aspirants will conduct primaries all by themselves. The problem came from the national headquarters of the party; if they knew they were not ready to conduct an election, why did they authorise that the election should commence? And if the election had commenced and they felt it could not go on, why did they not direct their officers to pull back and return to the headquarters of the party? So, it is for them to sort out their internal contradictions. What I’m telling you is that their officers conducted the exercise and it was conclusive. The Independent National Electoral Commission, which monitored that exercise, pronounced through its report, that the exercise was quite conclusive and met all the extant rules and regulations regarding the conduct of primaries in line with the 2022 Electoral Act.
What is your reaction to the allegation that Odii boycotted the rescheduled primaries?
No individual ignored the rescheduled exercise. It was collectively ignored by all the well-meaning stakeholders of the PDP in Ebonyi State because when we saw that some people were trying to be very funny by using their influence to manipulate the process, we became uninterested. And so all the aspirants pulled out of it and all the delegates who were legally elected at the state congress of May 7, 2022, pulled out as well. So, the rescheduled exercise, which took place on June 4 and 5, 2022, was an exercise in futility because it bothered on criminal activities of somebody parading himself falsely. It was based on this that a Federal High Court in Abakaliki nullified the exercise and upheld the primaries of May 28 and 29, 2022, which produced Dr Ifeanyi Odii, as the candidate.
How will you respond to the allegation by the opposing faction that your preferred candidate is an intruder into the PDP?
In Nigeria, people just talk anyhow. What makes him an intruder? Just because the game is not in their favour, they talk anyhow, resort to name-calling, and all kinds of negative campaigns. As far as I know, Dr Ifeanyichukwuma Odii has been with the PDP right from its inception. Nobody ever questioned his membership at any point in time. He indicated interest to run, went through the normal process of screening by a high-powered committee set up by the national body of the party to screen aspirants and he was screened and found worthy and was cleared to contest the election. So, nobody can talk about him being an intruder and these people, who are saying these things are those who have depended on him for their political activities.
But there are insinuations and allegations that he was sponsored by some persons not necessarily to win an election, but solely to destabilise the PDP in the state.
There is no truth in that. It is because the young man came, organised himself properly to wrestle power from the people that contested with him that those who lost out fabricated all kinds of lies against him. He cannot get involved in things of this nature.