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Benue: Despite Alia, APC leadership’s peace parley, crisis festers

Despite the much-publicised peace parley between Benue State governor, Hyacinth Alia and the state leadership of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the crisis…

Despite the much-publicised peace parley between Benue State governor, Hyacinth Alia and the state leadership of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the crisis has assumed a new dimension with the factionalisation of the party’s leadership.

In the past few days, two personalities have now assumed the position of party’s chairmanship with the emergence of a new acting state chairman of the party, Benjamin Omakolo, despite the party’s national secretariat insisting that Austin Agada, the embattled chairman, remains the authentic leader of the party in the state.

Daily Trust reports that political observers have said the crux of the crisis lies on the doorstep of Gov Alia and his perceived ‘godfather’, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume, over alleged control of the party structure in the state with their loyalists doing the exchanges on their behalf.

While the state governor and party leadership, last month, said they had decided to bury the hatchet and work together, the latest development, according to observers, indicated that all is not yet well between the warring groups. But Alia had denied any rift between him and the SGF, despite the continuous war of attrition between his appointees and party leaders considered loyal to the SGF. Both the governor and the SGF have, however, failed to publicly condemn their ‘loyalists’, leading to the insinuation that both are going after each other through proxies.

This crack, observers noted, became more obvious with the role of Governor Alia in the emergence of the party’s Welfare Secretary, Benjamin Omakolo, as the party’s acting chairman following the suspension of Agada, an ally of Akume, by a faction of his Ehaje ward 1 executive committee and a court order temporarily secured to stop him from parading himself as the party’s chairman.

But the state publicity secretary of the party, Daniel Ihomun, vowed that members would resist any attempt to cause disunity in the party, while describing the appointment of Omakolo as “another failed attempt to undermine the party leadership and constitution by anti-democratic agents bent on causing confusion within the ranks of the APC in the state.”

He said Omakolo had earlier been suspended as a member of the State Executive Council, and, as such, his inauguration by Governor Alia as acting chairman of the party “has no bearing whatsoever in the constitution and precedence of the party and is therefore null and void, having no effect whatsoever on the party.”

He recalled that the party’s National Secretariat had since restored the status of “Agada as member and state chairman of the APC in Benue State and all well-meaning members of the party have returned to the status quo,” thus, wondered why the state governor would decide to preside over a meeting to produce an illegality.

However, the party’s state organising secretary, James Ornguga, in a chat with our correspondent, argued that the state chairman, Agada, had been suspended, and the court had given an order restraining him from parading himself as chairman.

Ornguga added, “In this difficult circumstance, the party in the state has been left without leadership and our secretariat has been taken over by the police.

“Worried about what is happening, the Executive Governor of Benue State, who is a member of the State Executive Committee of the party and is supposed to preside over State Executive Council (SEC) meetings, directed that an emergency State Executive Committee meeting of the party be summoned and 29 party officials cutting across the state executive and local government officials attended as well as principal officers of the state assembly, who are SEC members.

“During the meeting, a letter from Benue South Elders nominating Benjamin Omakolo to act as interim chairman was read and adopted by the SEC. With this development, Omakolo will act in that capacity until the suspended chairman sorts himself out in court. This is the position of things.”

Daily Trust gathered that during the meeting, the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, Aondona Dajoh, the Secretary of the APC in Ogbadibo Local Government, Abba Isaiah, the Chairman of the APC in Konshisha Local Government, Aginde Daniel, as well as the Assistant Legal Adviser of the party in the state, Ajuma Success, in their separate remarks commended the Zone C APC stakeholders for pressurising the governor to fill the vacant position of the state chairman assuring that they will support the acting chairman to succeed.

On his part, the acting state chairman of the party, Omakolo, said he was overwhelmed by the trust the party faithful reposed in him, promising to unite the party to enable it to win more elections in the future.

It will be recalled that Agada was suspended by the APC Ehaje Ward 1 Executive of his Owukpa hometown in Ogbadigbo Local Government Area of the state led by the Ward Chairman, Godwin Abah, on behalf of eight other executive members, who signed and passed a vote of no confidence on him.

But their action was promptly overturned by the party’s national secretariat, which declared that Agada remained the chairman of APC in the state.

Consequently, one Peter Onoja, who claimed to be the authentic ward chairman of Owukpa APC Ehaje 1, led his over 22-member executive the next day, being February 1st, to pass a vote of confidence on Agada at the party secretariat in Makurdi.

Onoja’s visit was, however, disrupted by security operatives who broke into the Tinubu Hall of the party’s secretariat where he was addressing the press and chased everyone out. The security operatives have remained strategically positioned inside and at the entrance of the APC secretariat located along Joseph Sarwaun Tarka Road in Makurdi since then.

Subsequently, on February 2, a restraining order in a suit instituted by a member of the party, Agaba Moses, directed the state APC chairman to vacate his office.

The presiding judge, Justice Lilian Tsumba, one of the three justices of the state High Court sworn in by Gov Alia on July 6, 2023, thereafter granted the prayers in the motion.

But in a twist, the Chief Judge of Benue State, Justice Maurice Ikpambese, on February 12, overturned the restraining order as he ruled that the order was granted in error because the judge does not have the jurisdiction to order the interim injunction.

Following Justice Ikpambese’s ruling, the embattled chairman, Agada, on February 13 returned to his office amid tight security stationed in the premises of the APC secretariat.

Agada while addressing journalists and party supporters noted that his return followed the High Court ruling which vacated an interim order restraining him from parading himself as the state chairman of the APC.

He thanked the judiciary for restoring order, stressing that, “The past few weeks have witnessed feverish but unnecessary clandestine plots for the soul of the leadership of the APC in Benue State.

“I do not intend to use this platform as a narrative to tell the orchestrated chain of events that has taken us down this unnecessary – route. I only wish to assert that the APC under my leadership in Benue State is forging ahead on an irreversible train of service delivery to our people and I call on all and sundry not to be left behind.

“We reiterate our support for the APC administration of Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Iormem Alia. We call for synergy amongst all party members and those in public offices to collectively deliver APC’s campaign promises to the long-suffering people of Benue State,” he said.

On the other hand, our correspondent gathered that the Omakolo’s faction of the party’s leadership sought to gain entrance into the state secretariat a day after his rival returned but was stopped by the security operatives mounting surveillance at the premises.

However, our correspondent could not independently confirm Omakolo’s move at the time of filing this report.

In the meantime, the atmosphere between the warring factions appeared tense as neither of them was prepared to shift grounds just as spectators eagerly waited for the party’s NWC to calm the storm.

 

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