INSIDE STORY: Onwuasoanya Jones recounts incident surrounding botched primaries

  If the struggle to gain political victory were to be athletics event, it would be a marathon rather than a sprint. Political race is a long stretch of processes, which at every point must involve people. In a democracy, this process mostly involves gaining the confidence of the greatest number of people possible. A politician who must be involved in a democratic tussle for power must learn to do it by gaining the confidence of the highest number of ordinary people as possible, because democracy is that system of politics that diminishes to the most possible minimum the tendency of the strongest to subjugate the weak, even against their own will. Every election cycle is an opportunity for the most ordinary of the masses to exercise his or her power over those who lead them. We must court them, beg them and win their support, not just during election seasons, but years before that.

The victory of Ugwumba Uche Nwosu at the rescheduled governorship primaries of the All Progressives Congress in Imo State can be credited to the young man’s understanding of the most basic democratic principle of putting the people at the center of your politics. His victory is a reward by majority of the Party members to years of his consistent support, respect and loyalty to the Party and its members. He is not an opportunist, who wanted to reap where he didn’t sow by seeking to hijack the structure of the Party simply because he has seen the Party’s platform as a veritable platform for electoral victory. He worked hard enough to secure the confidence of Party members across the State, such that for six straight days, Party members trooped out in their numbers, ready to queue behind their man. For five of those six days, they went home, disappointed but not disillusioned as the primary election failed to hold. On the sixth day, they still came out in their numbers to queue behind the man who had shown them love and respect for years.

Before I go ahead to tell you what really happened on the 6th of October and maybe the figures with which Ugwumba Uche Nwosu secured the gubernatorial ticket of the All Progressives Congress in Imo State, let me take you a little back to events that preceded the primaries and why it is unconscionable for anyone to be talking of getting a pat on the back with a ticket of the Party without having worked for it. Democracy is one system of government that rewards commitment, loyalty to a cause and hard work. Anything that is inconsistent with rewarding those individuals who have invested the most of their time and resources on mobilizing and supporting the ordinary people and towards oiling the grassroots structures of the Party is undemocratic and legitimately impossible.

The Constitution of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is structured in such a way that no single individual or group of individuals has a totalitarian power to commandeer the Party or impose their wishes on the Party. The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Party is the highest decision making body of the Party outside the national convention and it is the NEC that is empowered by the Party’s Constitution to direct the National Working Committee of the Party on what modes to be adopted in the conduct of the primaries. At the NEC meeting of the Party which held on the 30th of August, 2018, the Party agreed among other things to adopt the direct method of primaries for electing the Presidential candidate of the Party and gave the State Executive Committee of the Party at the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory the option of choosing between the direct or indirect methods, depending on their logistic peculiarities.

The Imo State chapter of the Party was one of those who opted for the indirect method of primaries. During a well attended SEC meeting of the Party in the State, the Party unanimously adopted the direct method of primaries as its preferred mode of primaries. SEC members requested the State Working Committee of the Party to communicate the National Working Committee of the Party on this decision, which was promptly done. There was however to be a twist when a group of renegades, whose membership of the Party is still contentious went ahead to fly the kite that indirect primaries method were going to confer undue advantage on Governor Rochas Okorocha and those aspirants who may have his blessings. They suggested to the national leadership of the Party that they are popular enough among Party members and would win if the primaries were to be by direct method. Pronto, the governor accepted the challenge and prevailed on the State Working Committee and other State Executive members of the Party to soften on their insistence on indirect method of primaries. Governor Okorocha was ready to forfeit his own political ambition, if he was convinced that it does not enjoy the support of majority of the people, and he charged his loyalists who may be interested in vying for the Party’s tickets at any level to get down to the grassroots and mobilize Party members to vote for them.
The governorship flag-bearer of the Party, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu went around mobilizing Party members and officials and canvassing for their support during the Party primaries. As it has become obvious, the other aspirants were wholly reliant on some form of Abuja magic to crown themselves the governorship candidates of the Party, hence, their reluctance at reaching out to Party members, or devising workable strategies that could earn them victory at the polls. They were somehow stuck in the old pattern of sitting in a hotel somewhere in Abuja or elsewhere outside the State to concoct results.

The governorship primary election of the Party was originally scheduled to hold on the 29th of September, then shifted to 30th, but that of Imo State and Lagos State were moved to the 1st of October. Some red flags were raised by Party members when the name of Alhaji Ahmed Ali Gulak emerged as the Chairman of the Governorship Primary Committee for Imo State, but Ugwumba Uche Nwosu waved it off, arguing that he didn’t care if it was any of his rival’s biological children that would be sent to conduct the primaries for Imo State, as long as they would ensure a free, fair and transparent primary, or a something that is reasonably so. He was sure of the determination of Imo APC members to insist on the right thing only.

On the 1st of October, I was one of the Party officials who went to the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport to receive the Gulak committee to Imo State and also ensure that the materials for the election were safe. On getting to the Airport, Senator Hope Uzodimma, one of the governorship aspirants was already seated in the VIP lounge at the airport with some of his aides, supposedly waiting for the arrival of the committee. This got some of us concerned. Waiting outside the VIP lounge of the airport is a battle ready team of SWAT operatives.

I was to find out later that the team was specially deployed from Abuja to supervise the primary election. I made some quick enquiries and found out that the leader of the SWAT team was the same handsome senior police officer who had been sitting and conversing intimately with one of the governorship aspirants, Senator Hope Uzodimma. I immediately knew that something had to be done, if not to stop them from carrying out whatever plans they were cooking, but to expose the fact that there was a level of discomforting closeness between the Police team and Senator Hope Uzodimma. I did a very quick analysis and arrived at the conclusion that the Police team would be the one to escort the election materials and the committee members to Owerri and if this was allowed to go on without some red flags raised, then, there may be some real big troubles for the Party. I went outside, collected the State Chairman’s smart phone. I had two options; to discreetly take the picture of Senator Hope Uzodimma and upload on the internet or to make it obvious I was taking a photograph of them and attract some attention to what was ongoing. I went for the latter.

I raised the phone in such a way that anybody would know that I wanted to take a shot of them, clicked the camera button, without really taking any clear picture. Like some form of magic, the plan worked exactly as I expected it. I had my first altercations with Senator Uzodimma’s security details, then his bodyguard, before I had to escape from the room, to avoid been killed without people knowing what happened to me. At that point, I knew it was a matter of life and death, but I chose to die where people would know how I died. I quickly handed over the phone to the State Chairman’s driver, then, went to where the SWAT operatives were stationed and made to urinate, preparatory to the torture that I knew was coming.
Before I could finish urinating, the leader of the SWAT team, whom I was later to identify as Supl. Shem was running towards me with his boys. He hit out at me and demanded that I gave him the phone with which I took a photograph. I told him I didn’t take any photograph of him and even if I did, it wasn’t something to be worried about unless he was doing something illegal. This got him, and his boys nearly consumed me with fists and butts of their rifles. I already knew what I got myself into and I knew what it could lead to, hence, I was ready for it. After series of manhandling and tortures that wouldn’t have been proper, even for a common criminal, the DPO of Imo Airport Police station took custody of myself and the State Chairman’s driver, who at that point had been tear gassed like a common criminal. Our statement was taken and were cautiously detained till late in the evening when we were taken on bail. Till date, I do not know what penal code prohibits taking shots of personalities without their consent. I am convinced that if the discussion, Senator Hope was having with Supl Shem was right and innocuous to the primary election that was to be conducted, they wouldn’t have bothered that I tried to take a picture of them.

While I was in detention, Gulak arrived the airport with his committee members and they drove off to the State Police Command, where Gulak handed over fake documents as result sheets to the Police. At about midnight that day, Ahmed Gulak and his committee held a press briefing where they confirmed to the media that the election did not hold on the 1st of October, but would hold the next day. The next day, most of us left our houses early enough, preparatory to the primary election which we were told by Gulak, would hold. Curiously, as early as 8:am, we had started hearing news that Gulak had disappeared and had gone to Abuja to declare Hope Uzodimma as the winner of the governorship primary election.
Like a journalist friend of mine queried; “Which election, did he conduct the election in his dream, in the cover of early morning’s darkness, across the 305 wards? I told him that Gulak is a product of the PDP, where numbers are conjured and elections are won without recourse to the people’s wishes. Even though he joined the APC few weeks ago, he and his co-traveler, Senator Hope Uzodimma are yet to come to terms with the demands of true democratic principles which the APC insists on.

Gulak absconded from his duty with three other members of the committee, leaving behind, the Secretary of the committee, Barrister Henry Idahagbon and seven other members of the committee who refused to abscond from their assigned duty. It is important to note at this point that it was the same Supl. Shem who was sitting with Senator Hope Uzodimma all the while at the airport and whose boys nearly beat me to death that provided Gulak with the security cover that made him abscond from duty. Henry Idahagbon took over the assignment of conducting the governorship primary election and after results were turned in from the field, he declared Ugwumba Uche Nwosu winner of the 2nd October Primary election before a capacity crowd of Party supporters and youths of Imo State.

The national chairman was furious on hearing the news from Imo State and left no one in doubt about his displeasure at the embarrassment Gulak’s actions had brought to the Party. He immediately announced the disbandment of the Gulak committee, thereby rejecting the results announced by the Secretary of the committee and the concocted result that was only published in the internet by Hope Uzodimma’s hirelings. A new committee, consisting of two retired Army generals and other notable Nigerians of impeccable integrity was empanelled to conduct not just the governorship primary election, but all the other primaries for Imo State.

The committee arrived Imo State on the 5th of October and went straight to the Imo State Police Command headquarters where they deposited the sensitive electoral materials for safe-keeping. They also paid a courtesy visit to the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Imo State at the INEC office along Port-Harcourt road, Owerri, from where they proceeded to the headquarters of the Department of State Services for official familiarization. Later that evening, they had a meeting with some aspirants and relevant stakeholders at the Rockview Hotel, Owerri. The meeting which was advertised on four radio stations and across many social media platforms, attracted many aspirants and stakeholders, including the governor of the State, His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha.

The Chairman of the panel, Rtd. Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Agbagbiaka made it clear that he was in Imo State to conduct a free, fair and transparent primaries and informed urged all aspirants to cooperate with his team to ensure a hitch-free primary elections. He also apologized to members of the Party over the embarrassing actions of Alhaji Ahmed Gulak whose actions portrayed the Party as disorganized and supportive of electoral impunity.

The primary elections of 6th October, 2018 which held across the 305 wards in the State have been adjudged one of the fairest and freest Party primaries in the country. Party members conducted themselves responsibly and queued behind the posters of their preferred aspirants for various positions. To appreciate how popular Ugwumba Uche Nwosu is across the State, he was able to defeat his rivals even in their wards and areas that would have been considered their catchment areas.

At the end of the exercise, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu was declared the flag-bearer of the Party for the governorship election, while other 40 Party members secured tickets for various legislative tickets across the State. These candidates were directly chosen by Party members who stood under the sun and even in the rain to make sure they participated in the process of electing the right people to champion the cause of the evolving new Imo State. It is out of place for anyone to suggest that those who emerged through such a transparent process would be shortchanged by our Party for any reason.
Those who seek by any means a distortion of the purely democratic elections that produced the different individuals that have won the tickets of our Party to represent her during the general elections are not just enemies of our Party but traitors against democracy and its norms.

Onwuasoanya FCC Jones is the State Publicity Secretary, All Progressives Congress, Imo State.

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