From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Embattled Ebonyi State Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate for the 2023 general elections, Eze Oko Splendour, has vowed he will not surrender his ticket to any moneybag despite the intense pressure from the national leadership of his party.
Speaking to Daily Sun in Abuja where he is currently hiding for his safety, the governorship candidate claimed that the party’s national leadership may have forged his signature to write his withdrawal letter to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He, therefore, threatened legal action, announcing that he would deploy everything within his powers to keep his ticket, even as he gave conditions that can make him surrender the ticket.
How did you emerge as the governorship candidate of the Labour Party?
I am the Ebonyi State Chairman of the Labour Party. I conducted the primary of the party in the state monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and in the process, I emerged as the governorship candidate. I was duly nominated and voted for by the delegates that participated in the State primary election. The primary was held at the Ebonyi State party secretariat on June 9, this year. I emerged unopposed.
INEC wrote a report and sent it to the national headquarters in Abuja and my name was uploaded as the rightful governorship candidate of the party. But after the successful primary, some power brokers, particularly Edward Nkwagu, who contested the governorship election in Ebonyi State APC and lost, suddenly developed an interest in joining Ebonyi State Labour Party through the national instead of joining through the state.
He believed that he had all the money in the whole world to buy over the national leadership. He actually bulldozed his way by hook or crook and won the favour of the national chairman, national organising secretary and they promised to handover the structure of the party to him.
As I speak now, the national leadership has sent a dissolution letter regardless of the fact that my tenure has not expired. I was appointed the state chairman of LP, Ebonyi State in May 2022. It is an appointment that will terminate in the next three months’ time. But because the national leadership were desperate for everything, especially to take away the governorship ticket from me and hand it over to the money bag, they decided to terminate our tenure.
I disagreed with them because the new Electoral Act stipulates that if a candidate emerged from a validly conducted primary, there must be a written withdrawal letter with a deposed affidavit by the candidate. As I speak with you, I have not written any withdrawal letter, and I am not ready to withdraw for anybody.
I have strong feelings that they must have forged my signature to write a withdrawal letter to INEC. But I am not disturbed because everybody knows that it is a criminal act. I am not ready to step down for anybody or bow to their threat or antics to give up my ticket. If I didn’t conduct LP primary then, there would not have been anything like the party existing in the state.
Was there any faction of the party in the state before the primary?
There was no faction at all and I can boldly claim that the primary I conducted remained the most peaceful party primary in the entire South East. There was no dissenting voice and litigation against the primary.
In fact, the same Edward Nkwagu, had called one of my House of Assembly candidates for Afikpo South Constituency, Vincent Dike, to link him up with me because he needs the governorship ticket.
One thing led to the other and we could not meet. But I later heard that he met with the party’s National Organising Secretary. What surprised me was that instead of concentrating on going for the ticket, he demanded the dissolution of the existing state executive of the party and composition of his own.
It was astonishing to me because he was not running for the state chairmanship of the party but seeking the governorship ticket. I feel the pain that the party could sacrifice the state executive and all the struggles we have put in place since we came on board.
I rented the state secretariat of the party with the sum of N1.6 million. But regardless of whatever antics the national leadership wants to put in place, I will go any length to prove that I am still the authentic governorship candidate of LP in Ebonyi State. Let me repeat that anybody who has forged my signature of withdrawal to write to INEC should be ready for the full wrath of the law.
Initially, you were ready to trade the ticket, at what point did you change your mind?
He actually indicated interest during the primary but when he was not forthcoming, and since nature abhors a vacuum, I could not have abandoned the most important ticket in the state. All the delegates validly nominated and voted for me overwhelmingly.
What can make you sacrifice the ticket?
Initially, my concern is for the LP to field a governorship candidate and win the election in the state. But I am aware that the man coming from the APC is a mole sent by the ruling party to block the chances of LP winning the state. The evidence is there.
It reminded me of a similar incident in 2019 when some persons were sent as
moles to destroy various political parties by stepping down for the incumbent governor. But I went ahead to contest against him and lost gallantly.
The experiences I gathered in 2019 prepared me to stand in for this election instead of the mole sent to block LP. I will be interested to relinquish this ticket if there is a conviction that the person they are fronting is not a mole but I am very convinced that the one my party wants to give the ticket is a mole.
Did you confirm whether you are qualified to contest as the incumbent state chairman?
I am very much qualified because there is no legal barrier stopping me from contesting. As I speak with you, the national chairman of our party, LP is a senatorial candidate. The national youth leader is also a senatorial candidate. If the national officers are contesting, what should then deprive me of contesting for governorship? There is nowhere our constitution stipulates that I am not qualified to contest.
Do you think that Peter Obi’s entrance into the race with LP ticket increased the interest in the party ticket you are holding?
The truth is that before Obi’s entrance into the party and his assumption of the leadership of the party (because by virtue of being the presidential candidate, he automatically became the party leader), the party was nothing to write home about. In fact, the party had a rebate.
The governorship ticket was within the neighbourhood of N5 million, but the moment he joined the party, the ticket rose to N15 million. The House of Assembly was about N390,000, women only pay for expression of interest form going for N100,000. But the moment Peter Obi joined, the national leadership used it as an opportunity to hike the price, make money and milk people.
What is the way forward?
The way forward is that the national chairman, who is a lawyer, should know that it will be better to do the right thing. Conducting a substitution primary when I have not withdrawn officially is totally embarrassing. I want the progress of the party, I want Obi to win the presidential election, and that is why I am doing everything possible to ensure that a mole from the APC does not destroy LP in the state.
Our governor has been boastful that LP will not win election in the state because he has planted moles in LP and other parties to create room for APC. But with me on the ballot paper, I am sure LP will emerge victorious in all the elections. I have set the machinery in motion to do that.
Has the national leadership invited you for dialogue?
I once met with the national chairman but he commended me that my performance within the short period of time he appointed me to the position will be his predicament. He admitted that no state chairman of LP has recorded the achievement I did. He confirmed that there are interests from Nkwagu but claimed that he came from our presidential candidate. He said that Obi mandated him to ensure that the ticket is ceded to him.
But, I asked him how convinced he is that Nkwagu is not coming from someone else. I also asked him whether he is sure that Obi knows Nkwagu. I know that propaganda is deployed as a tool. He did not actually convince me apart from saying that his hands are tied.
He asked if I had written a withdrawal letter, and when I told him I had not, he told the Admin to give me one. When I saw it, I refused to accept it because I was not comfortable with the way and manner it was written.
He became very angry when he discovered that the Admin had uploaded my name on the INEC portal. He told Admin to write a withdrawal letter to INEC but the Admin declined signing the letter. They agreed to use initials since nobody was ready to sign the letter.
Have you met with Nkwagu over this matter?
Yes, I have met him but when I gave him the condition to tell the national chairman to reverse the decision on the dissolution of the state executive, and return to his ward to register his membership, he failed. Though I still have three months, I faulted the composition of his exco, especially the state chairman and secretary that came from the same local government as him.