Some casual observers of the politics of Rivers State have said that with the ruling of the Supreme Court on the controversy over the Caretaker Committee that should handle the affairs of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, the prolonged crisis within the chapel would soon be resolved.

But feelers this week confirmed that real peace will only return to the party in the South-south state if the leaders wisely utilize this opportunity to pursue genuine reconciliation.

It would be recalled that the Supreme Court, last week Friday, struck out a case filed by Hon Igo Aguma, seeking to be declared the Caretaker Committee Chairman of APC in Rivers State, when Justice Amina Augie, who read the lead judgment, held that the appeal “is merely an academic venture, lacks merit and is therefore struck out.”

As would be expected, the reaction of APC members in the state to the judgement of the apex court was mixed. While supporters of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, whose loyalists were declared the chairman and members of the authentic caretaker committee, rejoiced and celebrated the judgement, some members loyal to Senator Magnus Abe, did not find the judgement funny.

For example, Hon. Igo Aguma, after receiving the Supreme Court judgement, announced his resignation from APC. In a statement, dated 5th March 2021, he said: “It is now clear that it is not within the purview of the court to protect the rights and privileges of members of a political party, in this case, the APC. It is the APC that should protect the rights of her members but has failed to do so.

“I cannot continue to be a member of a political party that endangers and does not give any form of protection to the rights of its members and has no respect whatsoever for its own constitution at all but chooses to be run against democratic principles intoto for self-destructive purposes. Therefore, I announce my exit from the APC immediately. To God be the glory,” he said.

Some of his supporters reacted the same way while others, still considering the next step to take, are said to be angry at the outcome of the prolonged battle.

Genesis of the crisis

The leadership crisis in the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the resultant litigations trailing it dates back to 2018. At that time, the former governor of the state and current Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, was accused by some political opponents of frustrating Senator Magnus Abe’s ambition of running for the governorship seat on the ticket of APC. The former governor, who is also the leader of APC in the state, was also accused of having a favourite candidate for the plum seat.

As a result of these allegations and the resultant suspicions and hostilities, APC congresses and primaries in the state that year were characterised by confusion and disagreement, a development that resulted in legal battles which eventually led to the APC not being on the ballot during the 2019 General Elections in Rivers State.

Since then, efforts to reconcile the warring factions and reunify the party in the state have been elusive as two factions loyal to Amaechi and Abe respectively have been blaming each other for the misfortunes of APC in the state. The result of the face-off was the emergence of the Isaac Ogbobula-led Caretaker Committee and the Igo Aguma-led Caretaker Committee. While the Ogbobula-led Caretaker Committee is loyal to Amaechi, Igo Aguma-led Caretaker Committee is loyal to Abe.

Until last week’s Friday, when the apex court finally declared the Isaac Ogbobula-led Caretaker Committee as the authentic committee, APC in the state had suffered as a result of the rivalry between these two factions.

Fresh tasks ahead

Notwithstanding last Friday’s Supreme Court’s ruling on the controversy over the right Caretaker Committee of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State, some insiders told The Nation that for peace to reign in the state’s APC, the leadership must rise up to resolve fresh challenges. “Yes, the major challenge that held us down since 2018 was the division arising from the disagreement between our leader Amaechi and Senator Abe. APC has never been the same since then. Unfortunately, the only way to resolve the matter was through the court. The apex court has finally ruled on this matter. But as an insider, I can assure you that so much still needs to be done for Rivers APC to regain its stature. The matter goes beyond choosing between Ogbobula and Aguma or between Amaechi and Abe. It would have been better to resolve the differences and retain all. Since that proved difficult, the Agbobula-led committee, or our leader, former Governor Amaechi will need to act like a father and reconcile all in the interest of the party and the state,” said a member of APC in Rivers, who however said he does not believe it is okay for him to publicly caution his leaders.

According to him, Rivers APC still stands the chance of regaining all that it has lost “if our leaders can forget about the glory of winning legal battles; if our leaders would humble themselves and act in the interest of all. Unfortunately, this is not what we are witnessing. What we are witnessing is a divided house, where some are dancing in celebration while others are angry. For this house to stand, we must all be made to rejoice,” he said.

Dr. Givethanks Udoka, who describes himself as a non-aligned supporter of APC in the state, said “The Supreme Court’s ruling is not the end of the matter. It only sets the stage for APC leaders to show leadership. For me, it offers an opportunity to resolve this whole dilemma.  I therefore call on Barrister Agbobula and his team to be humble in victory; to reach out to all and seek genuine reconciliation. I particularly call on the leader, Rotimi Amaechi, to reconcile with Senator Abe and his supporters and rebuild APC here. This is the new task before our leaders if they ever hope to make impact again in the politics of Rivers State.”

Udoka explains that the division within the party is “real and deep.” According to him, “the continuous denial of some leaders that others do not have supporters is nothing but self-denial. We cannot deceive ourselves. Go to the local government and ward levels and see how confused the people have become. Now, if we just say, let the winner take it all and let the loser go, we would have only succeeded in further reducing our number and our strength. I am sure that is not what APC in Rivers State needs now. What we need is to utilize every opportunity to rebuild and increase our capacity to contest with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”

Ms Stella Tonye however said what the leaders of APC in Rivers needs more than anything else now is to correct wrong impressions about the causes of the Rivers APC crisis. “While I do not doubt the importance of reconciliation, going forward, I think it is important the leaders let the followers understand the true cause or causes of the crisis that almost decimated APC here. Let me tell you, for as long as you hide the truth, so long would you impede progress.  Barrister Agbobula, including the leader, former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, have the responsibility of restoring confidence in all the members of APC in Rivers. They have to convince all the members that they would be treated like brothers and sisters. The first step towards achieving that is to declare a no victor, no vanquished position. Then their leaders should be humble enough to admit their individual faults. From there, APC in Rivers can move on again, stronger.”