Enugu crisis: My story — Nwodo

The national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, has said that he cannot recall the point where his relationship with Enugu State governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime, went sour. Nwodo, who spoke for the first time on the lingering Enugu State PDP crisis, however, traced the crack in his relationship with the governor to a deliberate humiliation in his ward on the orders of the governor, when he went to be re-registered at the ward level.
“As I speak to you, I’m yet to be re-entered into the register and given a membership card. I felt this was humiliating of a national chairman, who was two years national secretary and founding secretary of the party and who was governor of this state and two-third of Ebonyi State.

“This situation continued to multiply, in the sense that when my ward chairman died, and I requested to replace him from the same village, I was not allowed to; the entire stakeholders in my ward wrote to the chairman of the party in the local government, council chairman and to the state party, that my nominee should become the party chairman of my ward; we were denied that opportunity; the deputy chairman of the ward was asked to become the chairman,” Nwodo said.
The PDP chairman spoke on this and other things.

What is the problem between you and Chime?
The story I want to tell you this morning is a story I want to tell my friends; it’s a story I want to tell my friends because my friends have been worried because of all the press bashings that I have been getting, both locally, internationally and on the Internet. We have received various phone calls asking us to state our own side of the story. I didn’t believe that going to the press to tell the story was going to solve our problem. I felt that the problem we had in Enugu was a problem, which we could solve as brothers; which we could solve in-house; which was within the capacity of the state governor and the national chairman to handle. I never wanted it to go public; because there was no need for it to go public. We had started on a very sound footing; because when I decided to make my journey back to the PDP, my first port of call was my state governor.

I informed him why I wanted to come back to the party; and primarily among the three reasons I gave him for wanting to come back to the PDP was: (a) to restore internal democracy to the PDP. I had been away from the party for some time. I had fought to restore internal democracy in the All Nigeria Peoples Party, in the Action Congress. I had tried to midwife a mega political party to see whether we could bring back internal democracy in our country. I failed; and I felt that I failed because I needed the greatest political vehicle to achieve internal democracy and that political vehicle is the PDP. I had been its founding secretary for three years, and I knew the party and I felt that with its mega membership and tentacles across the whole of Nigeria that it was the right vehicle to use to bring sanity to the political environment in our country.

I returned to the Peoples Democratic Party believing that with my friend of over 40 years, who I was his best man at his wedding and who was the chairman of the party that I had access, including that the state chairman of our party in Enugu State, Mr. Vita Abba, who is a very close friend and an in-law, I had access. I didn’t have this access when (Olusegun) Obasanjo and former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani reigned supreme. So, I found the leeway to come back, so that we can partner to bring back internal democracy. I shared the view with the governor; and when I cam back, the governor invited the entire South East and some of my friends from all over the zone, who wanted to come back to the PDP. There were former governors, important politicians; those who left and were coming back; those who were joining for the first time; they came to the Okpara Square and we all declared for the PDP. We had a good time. It was a wonderful reception.

Following that, the position of the national chairman of the PDP became vacant and we got interested in the race; I had the support of my governor and we went through the entire campaign for over six weeks and I emerged as the chairman of the party. Again, I was hosted to a mega reception in Enugu State and I was deeply appreciative to my governor. Indeed, before this time, the governor had set up an Elders Forum in which I was also appointed, in the capacity as a former governor; but if the governor did not want to appoint me, I could not have forced him to do so. I appreciated his magnanimity. The governor had also extended some legacies to former governors who had served in the state and who were born in Enugu State; namely, the late Chief C.C Onoh, Senator Jim Nwobodo, Alison Madueke and myself; by giving us luxury vehicle that we could use to make our journey. So, I was on the same page with my governor. That’s the point I want to make. We were on the same page. I believed we were on the same bed. I believed we were dreaming the same dreams.

What then happened that it seems you and the governor are no longer seeing eye to eye?
If something went wrong, I am yet to be told why. I want to recall again, that while these went on, I went home to inform my ward that I had come back to the party; and we organised a ward meeting and I invited my entire senatorial zone to the meeting. I invited the state chairman of the party to chair the function. I was embarrassed on that day when it was time for the welcome address to be read and my ward chairman could not be found. I was embarrassed that when it reached the highpoint of the function for me to be re-registered in my ward, my ward secretary was not there. The register was not there, and there were no membership cards there. I complained over 10 times to the governor, to the chairman of the party in the state and to the local government functionaries of the party. As I speak to you, I’m yet to be re-entered into the register and given a membership card. I felt this was humiliating of a national chairman, who was two years national secretary and founding secretary of the party and who was governor of this state and two-third of Ebonyi State.

This situation continued to multiply, in the sense that when my ward chairman died, and I requested to replace him from the same village, I was not allowed. The entire stakeholders in my ward wrote to the chairman of the party in the local government, council chairman and to the state party, that my nominee should become the party chairman of my ward. We were denied that opportunity. The deputy chairman of the ward was asked to become the chairman. I felt that these were manifest hostility for me as chairman of the PDP; because we are preaching internal democracy, we are preaching level playing field; we are preaching that there should be no more godfatherism in our party. The mantra in Enugu then was that all elected people, whether in the party, local government, House of Assembly and National Assembly will have automatic tickets. I did not see any democratic document anywhere in the world that guaranteed this kind of transition. We know that the late Kennedy was going back to the Senate but he always went and asked for the people’s mandate and became the longest serving senator in America. He became the best senator in America, but he was never given an automatic ticket. He always went back to the electorate.

I felt that that was the epitome of democracy. I felt that our people needed to go back to ask their people for fresh mandate. If they were doing well, I do not see why people should not give them a fresh mandate; if they were not doing well, I do not see why the people cannot choose a new person who can do better; that is the beauty of democracy. As we have continued to preach that there was going to be a level playing field, as we continue to preach that there will be no influences of godfathers, a lot of people from Enugu and across the country developed interest to contest for the ticket of the PDP for various offices they desired to occupy. Indeed, I don’t believe that in the history of the PDP, the party has got in more money than they did on this occasion; because of the comeback syndrome; because of the trust that the people had that they could vie on the PDP ticket and they had a chance to get the ticket.

Are you saying that Enugu State government did not want internal democracy?
As people developed interest to contest election in Enugu State; the party in the state saw it as a challenge to the government of the state because of the stated objective that all those who are serving will have automatic tickets. All those who are vying for political offices, because they were not allowed to get registered in the party; because their supporters were not allowed to get registered in the party, hired buses and came to Abuja and complained. They complained that INEC had actually penciled down Enugu State among seven other states in which there were inconclusive congresses and they wanted Enugu to have a fresh congress. I believed that between myself and the governor, we could keep this under wraps; that we could indeed do a harmonization, which would come before our people for acclamation and which will be acceptable to INEC. I canvassed this several times with him and each time I met a brick wall.

You mean the governor did not want it?
There were interventions from the president, vice president, and the Catholic Church in Enugu, but we still met brick walls. And we had this letter from INEC. INEC, indeed, had been writing to the party since 2008 that congresses in various chapters of the party across the country were inconclusive and did not meet the expectations of the PPD constitution. The party had not made any response to these letters. When I became chairman, I figured that what the law said was that INEC should be invited by the political parties to observe their congress. I did not figure out that INEC, in observing, would also dictate what happens as a result of the outcome of those congresses. So, I took their letter on board with members of the working committee, in trying to resolve the crisis we have in various states across the nation. When the last letter that came in August, saying that if the party does not go back to conduct fresh congresses in eight states INEC will not accept candidates of PDP from those eight states in the next general election, we quickly asked the eight governors to come to Abuja, and we read this letter to them. They thought along the same line, as the party, that INEC did not have the authority to do so; and we decided to approach INEC to clarify this matter.

INEC was now working on the present Electoral Law, which has changed the word ‘observe’ to monitor the congresses. Based on this change of one word, the law has changed to ‘will monitor and implement as a regulatory body.’ We tried along with the governors, our legal adviser, our national organising secretary, attorneys-general of the affected states and chairmen of party of their state to persuade INEC that this was otherwise. INEC stood its position that we must repeat the congress. We then wrote to INEC and gave them dates when we would conduct these congresses. The congress has been conducted in Anambra State. The congress has also been held in Imo State. Enugu was next to have its congress, followed by Kogi State. We dissolved the executive in Enugu State and then sent in a committee to conduct the congress.

All hell broke loose. We were challenged that we had no authority to dissolve the executive in Enugu State; and this was a decision of the National Working Committee (NWC), conveyed to INEC in a letter in which dates for congresses were named. The congresses have started and held in two states now, out of the eight states. As we speak, INEC has also said they will entertain additional information from any of the states who feel that the INEC directive should be reversed. We have now made such information available to INEC, as given to us by the respective states. The party has also been sued along with INEC by Enugu State chapter of our party, challenging our authorities to dissolve and conduct fresh congresses; and challenging INEC for including Enugu State among the states where there should be congresses.

Tell us about the dissolution of the Enugu executive…
At the time of the dissolution of the Enugu state chapter, I was outside the country. Newspapers were awash that there was a crack in the NWC of the PDP. As I speak to you, I can tell you that the NWC is intact, and there is no crack. I presided over the meeting, where we wrote to INEC responding that we are going to have fresh congress after we had consulted governors of the states affected; after we had consulted the Federal Government; after we had consulted the leadership of the Senate, and the House of Representatives.

All these consultations were done in order to carry everybody along. The same working committee they said to be divided only at the end of the week, following our committee’s meeting on Wednesday warned the government, House of Assembly and the party in Enugu State to desist from their campaign of calumny against the party and the chairman. This could not have come from a divided house.

What pains me today is that this story I have told you could now culminate in a situation where I have become an object of bashing in the national dailies and on the Internet. The constitution of the PDP is very clear on the election and removal of members of the national working committee or national executive committee. You cannot remove the national chairman of the PDP by a House of Assembly somewhere in any state in Nigeria passing a vote of no confidence and asking for his removal. The constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party does not entertain the removal of a national chairman by a local government chairman or councillors somewhere in a state in Nigeria passing a vote of no confidence and asking for his removal. That constitution does not recognise traditional rulers from the home of the chairman to be intimidated by their government to pass a vote of no confidence in the national chairman of PDP and that would lead to his removal. Collecting signatures from traditional rulers for the removal of the chairman also has no place in the constitution of the party. Condemning a living chairman to death and carrying his casket around the city is not a condition precedent for removing the national chairman of the PDP. This situation can only culminate in calumny and character assassination, which have no place in the running of the affairs of the party.

I thought we had passed this stage in the politics of our country. What is happening in Enugu State is uncalled for. If any person is to be blamed for ordering fresh congress in Enugu State, it is INEC. For us to obey the injunction of INEC in eight states and to be so maligned is too bad and I am yet to know why. I would love to know why. The governor and myself are Catholics. I thought when we went before the bishops that it was an opportunity for us to say our confessions, but even at that place I could not be told why. The president has called us. A president has called for a ceasefire. The church called for a ceasefire. NWC called for a ceasefire. In spite of all these, I have been humiliated. I have been assaulted. I have been bashed. I have been condemned dead and carried in a casket.

I thought you should hear this side of the story because as long as I say nothing it, in a way, means that whatever is being said is true and I have nothing to say in defence. I put the story to you as it is. These are the facts of the matter. I think we should pursue this matter with INEC and allow them come out with their final verdict, based on additional information that Enugu State chapter has supplied in which they will not want a fresh congress in the state. That matter is outside my portfolio. The state chapter had gone to court against the national body as well as INEC and we will like the court to be left to adjudicate on the matter.

Three other governors of PDP in the South East also intervened in the matter and yet to no avail. They had sought that the matter be withdrawn from the court and resolved amicably. Again, we met a brick wall. Indeed, it was after the meeting failed at about 1am last that day that I consented that it was about time I told my own side of the story.

Is it true that you have been getting death threats?
I will not give you details of death threats, but if you look around my compound, you will see that security has been unnecessarily beefed up around me. The security agencies know better where the threats are coming from, but I didn’t think that we had to get to this stage today in politics of our country. I thought we should have moved on with politics of issues; politics of how we can create employments; politics of how we can improve education, healthcare; how we can put food on the table and eradicate poverty; how we can improve infrastructure in our country. But for us to descend back to politics of calumny, I think it’s uncalled for, after 50 years of independence in our country.

I hope by reacting and telling my own story in public domain, I will not be seen as fuelling the crisis in Enugu State. But I have had calls from across the country and from abroad; the people have taken sides on this matter because we have refused to speak; I think it is in the interest of everybody that our own side of the story is well known

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