Immediate past Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, is at the centre of bitter political infighting among four factions of Ebonyi State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) over who occupies the state’s federal cabinet slot.
Up until the build up to the March 9, 2019 gubernatorial poll, APC in Ebonyi was divided into two main camps, with Onu and the 2015 standard bearer of the party, Senator Julius Ali Ucha, leading each faction respectively.
However, as the 2019 general election approached, two other stalwarts joined the party.
While a former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Bernard Odoh and his not-too-young group joined the party quietly, the former Senator representing Ebonyi South Senatorial District, Mr. Sonni Ogbuoji, teamed up with the Onu camp.
At the buildup to the 2019 poll, the issue of delegates nearly robbed the party of participation, but the factions cooperated with the national leadership of APC and patched up the dissolute situation. The party’s governorship primary ran into trouble, when Ogbuoji and Odoh engaged in mind games such that while demographic consideration favoured Odoh, who is from the populous Ezza clan of Ebonyi Central Senatorial District, Ogbuoji, whose Edda in Ebonyi South Senatorial District has lower population of registered voters, was returned as the winner of the primary.
Irked about that unexpected outcome, Odoh petitioned the party and went to court, alleging that Ogbuoji substituted authentic delegates with fictitious characters unknown to the party. Although the Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki dismissed the case, Odoh and his group insist that the judgment was technical and dependent on the facts even when they decided not to appeal the ruling after Governor David Umahi of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was returned as winner of the gubernatorial election.
HAVING lost the governorship and all the three senatorial elections in the state, no sooner had President Muhammadu Buhari been inaugurated for a second term than the scramble for ministerial position became a new battlefield for the various factions. The situation is compounded by the fact that virtually everyone who contested for the governorship and senatorial positions are angling to be considered for one federal appointment or another.
As the quiet scramble continues, APC stakeholders question the contribution of the so-called leaders to the success of the party in terms of votes recorded in the 2019 poll. For instance, in a cart flying about both in the state and social media platforms, the votes garnered by APC and PDP in each of the candidate’s ward are displayed for comparison.
For Onu’s Obiozara with 7,535 registered voters, APC returned 313 votes for President Buhari against 2,346 posted for Atiku Abubakar and PDP. In contrast Ucha, who was APC’s senatorial candidate in the election garnered 2,394 for Buhari against 2,986 votes cast for PDP out of the total of 16,176 registered voters in his Ezza-Agu ward.
While Ogbuoji, the governorship candidate, contributed 1,737 votes to Buhari’s tally against PDP’s 431 out of the 8,495 registered voters in Ebunwana ward, the party’s senatorial candidate, Prince Nweze Onu, from the same ward with the former minister, had 313 votes in the presidential poll against PDP’s 2,346 votes. In Ebonyi North Senatorial District, PC candidate, Chief Matthias Adum from Ndiabor ward gave Buhari 1,080 votes against Atiku’s 1,571 votes out of the 11,074 registered voters.
The two original APC factions led by Onu and Ucha have been vociferous in their agitation for their principal to be preferred by Buhari to the other for consideration for appointment as minister. Both camps have been flaunting their contributions to the growth of APC in the state to support their agitation. In the cross of ambitions, both camps have been going for the jugular.
Onu’s supporters recall easily how Ucha defected from PDP to ANPP to contest the governorship, but gloss over the fact that his move earned the opposition a seat in the House of Representatives and two state constituencies.
On the other hand, Ucha’s supporters allege that Onu, who was the national chairman of ANPP at the time, worked against the electoral fortunes of the party in Ebonyi to spite Ucha’s rising profile, which they said led to his defection to Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). They says that having served as minister, Onu should take a rest and allow the president inject a new blood in his second term cabinet, stressing that as a former speaker and Senator Ucha is an asset for export by the party.
At the founding of APC, the two political leaders found themselves once again in the same platform, thereby renewing their unrelenting supremacy fight. After the 2015 election in which Ucha unsuccessfully contested the governorship, Onu was appointed minister despite speculations that he was to be made Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF).
The ministerial appointment of Onu sustained the factionalisation as the deputy state chairman of APC, Pastor Eze Nwachukwu, announced the suspension of the chairman, Ben Nwobasi, who was loyal to Ucha.
The wrangling continued, leading to a parallel state congress that produced Dr. Sylvester Nwambe and Nwachukwu as rival state chairmen. Attempts by former Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, and other stakeholders in Southeast to broker peace between the two warring camps proved abortive.
In the course of the botched reconciliation process, Okorocha was said to have reminded Onu that since he claims to be interested in taking up appointment, in the event that he fails to clinch the SGF he should cease from angling for another appointive office.
“You ought to carry yourself like Bola Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande to be respected as party leader,” Okorocha reportedly told the former governor of old Abia State. “There is nowhere a chef goes to sit with his master at meetings.”
Second cold war
AS President Buhari gets set for his cabinet nominees, the two Ebonyi APC leaders and their supporters are roiling the polity once again. It all started when speculation made the rounds that the immediate past Minister of Science and Technology was on his way to replacing Boss Mustapha as the SGF. Stung by the massive publicity given to the speculation, a group known as Southeast Youth Congress (SYC) wrote an open letter in which it accused the former minister of orchestrating the rumour to attract attention to himself.
Noting that the rumour always surfaced when appointments are due, SYC said it has become a source of embarrassment to Southeast, especially the youths. The open letter, signed by Hon. Chidi Duruji and Obiora Nwakalor, states: “It is on record that Igbo of Southeast are not known for political desperation. But the way and manner Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu has been going about in the pursuit of his ambition for the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and now cabinet minister create such impression.
“Indeed, many sane Igbo men and women are beginning to see the former governor of old Abia State as one who has set out to ridicule and destroy the hard-earned reputation of the hardworking and enterprising Igbo people both at home and in the Diaspora. Our people, Ndigbo, are known for the value they place on self-worth.”
Titled ‘Open letter to Mr. President: Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu’s Obsession for Political Appointment, Re: Campaign from SGF to Cabinet Minister,’ SYC noted that though “there is nothing wrong in one pursuing an appointive position, it is painful that the channels Dr. Onu and his army of attention-seeking opportunists choose for their efforts offend good taste.”
However, as soon as the open letter was made public, The Onu Political Organisation (TOPO) blamed the rumour on the handiworks of those frightened by the former minister’s shining credentials. In a rebuttal signed by its national secretary, Chief Egwu Chima, TOPO described the rumour of Onu’s appointment as SGF as not only “unfounded, but mischievous and has no iota of truth.”
Maintaining that Onu is not one that dwells of speculations, the statement added: “First and foremost, the organisation believes that Onu is qualified to be appointed into any political position in Nigeria.
“But the mode of the news and the mode of the announcement of the appointment is one which organisations like ours must question and we questioned it. What we are saying is that neither the political organisation nor any member of the organisation has heard any hint from him that something like that will be coming our way.”
There is no doubt that President Buhari’s reluctance to announce his cabinet has opened a new window for intra-party wrangling and unease. However, whether merit or sentiment would guide the choice of minister is a question that only Buhari can answer.