By Emmanuel Afonne
For Barrister Aida-Nath Ogwuche, Benue State House of Assembly female aspirant for Ogbadibo Constituency in Zone C in the 2018 primary election of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the event has come and gone but the memories linger on.
From all indications, the conduct of the Sept. 29 primary election was a bitter experience, though the party’s leadership in the state has described the entire process as peaceful with the loser embracing the winner.
Ogwuche’s lamentation to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) suggests that the PDP in Ogbadibo might go into the 2019 general election deeply divided.
She alleged that her opponents used thugs to terrify, attack and almost strip her in the public because of their bias for her gender.
The acclaimed UK trained lawyer also alleged that the entire exercise was marred by irregularities occasioned by alleged falsification of authentic delegates’ list which eventually disenfranchised some of her supporters.
According to her, the build-up to the primaries witnessed a lot of intimidation and harassment of supporters and delegates that should have voted for her, after attempts to force her to step down for her opponent failed.
“Before we went into the stadium where the primary election took place, my agent, my coordinators and some key persons in my campaign team were threatened.
“Some thugs were looking for my agent Adolowu Lawani, while few of them walked straight to the vice chairman of my ward and the women leader and told them that they will chop off their fingers if they voted for me; they were threatened right there outside the stadium when they were on queue.
“The thugs went as far as warning my campaign coordinator; I was standing with him but they never knew I was the lady aspirant. They even mentioned the name of the leader of their group, and said that, he sent them to warn him, and at this point I began to fear for my life and everything.
“When we went inside, we discovered that the delegate list has been changed. The list that was used was not the original list sent from Abuja which they used for the governorship.
“Also, when it was the turn of Ogbadibo delegates cast their votes, I heard the leader of the party in the local government, Chris Adabba Abba, saying he was going to stand as the agent of my opponent and that everyone should not vote by themselves but hand the ballot for him to write on behalf of all.
“At this point, I sensed the process had been hijacked, because, as our leader, he has undue influence on the delegates.
“To make good his plans, he (Abba) stood as the agent of my opponent and was snatching ballot papers from delegates to write the name of the aspirant who eventually is his cousin.
“And when my agent (Lawani) raised observation and confronted him, he threatened to slap him, and the whole situation became chaotic and the electoral officers threatened to suspend the process,” Ogwuche narrated.
She recounted her ordeal in the hands of the thugs whom she alleged were working for her opponent and the leader of the party in the area, stressing that such treatment was an affront on the sensitivity of the female folk.
“I saw multitudes gather against my agent and I got closer, I saw the some boys hitting him and before I knew it, they pounced on me; they beat me up mercilessly, tore my clothes and stripped me naked in the public right there in the stadium. They also punched my eyes and pulled my hair.
“This was what I faced. All these bullying, harassment and intimidation, just because some people feel more entitled to hold this position than myself. This is unacceptable.
“I’m calling on all authorities out there and good Nigerians to look into this situation. This cannot continue to go on, the ill treatments against female folk must stop and this is where it stops,” she added.
No matter the sympathy or bias, the position of some stakeholders who spoke to NAN appeared to have diluted the allegations brought forward by the female aspirant.
The Chairman of Aiodo Ward 1, where Ogwuche came from, Hon. Idoko Ojo, alias Ojotu said the exercise was conducted in a free and fair atmosphere.
He also dismissed the claims of harassment and intimidation of any voter and falsification of the delegates’ list as alleged by the female aspirant.
“On that fateful day, our Party delegates voted peacefully and there was no form of violence, harassment or intimidation.
“Our people respect the zoning arrangements existing in our constituency a lot; that was why some of us advised Aida to wait till it gets to the turn of our own district to go to the House of Assembly, but she refused. She kept thinking that she could do magic to win but the reality was that she lost out,” he stated.
Ojo further alleged that his life was now being threatened by some suspected cultists who he claimed were sent by the aspirant to recover the money she gave to the delegates during the primary election.
“I got a phone call by an unknown caller and I asked to know the identity of the person. But he told me not to bother about his name. He asked me if I was ‘Ojotu’ and I said yes. He said he was directed to arrange all the money that Aida gave to me and send back to him.”
He said when he insisted on putting Aida on a conference call, he refused but rather asked that he should be given time to call Aida and get back to him. “He called me back after about 30 minutes to inform that Aida was angry that I didn’t vote for her despite coming from her ward.
“I told him that this is politics and in our place we respect zoning. And since it was not our turn, we cannot support her.
“I advised her before the election to retrace her steps, work for the Party and wait for the turn of our people and that by the law of natural justice, we will reciprocate by supporting her but all these advise fell on deaf ears.
Mr Lawrence Oko, The Chairman of Owukpa Ehaje ward 2, in a telephone interview with NAN vowed to take legal action against Ogwuche if she continued to malign the names of party leaders in the area.
Oko expressed anger over the unfounded allegations against the party and the entire exercise describing it as an attempt to destroy the unity of PDP in Ogbadibo.
“I am compelled to say that the zoning arrangement did not favour her constituency because the incumbent legislator is from her ward, so, it greatly affected her chances in the election.
“She polled 52 votes, while Peter Enemari who was eventually declared the winner, garnered 79 votes.
“There was no form of protests, crisis, disputes or violence over the outcome and that was why we were shocked when complained about the outcome of the election at the PDP National Secretariat and also going to the media to tarnish the image of our Party.
“She massively doled out cash to lure some of the delegates to vote for her and I believe that was where her problem started because she tried to collect the money back from those whom she felt disappointed her.”
Oko, however, said that efforts have been made to resolve the issue with Ogwuche family members to ensure the party go into the general election as a united group.
PDP Woman leader in Ogbadibo Local Government Area Hon. Eloyi Onekele also dismissed Ogwuche’s claim.
She said: “How can she claim that a fake delegate list was used for the election whereas it was the same delegate list that was used for Governorship, Senate and House of Representatives primary elections.
“It is also good for our party leaders and indeed, the general public to know that both the Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly primaries were held at the same venue, same time and concurrently for six out of the nine Local Government Areas that make up Zone C.
“So, there is no basis for anybody to believe Ogwuche’s allegation that a fake delegate list was used for the election.
It would be interesting to note that Ogbadibo parades some of the notable and influential politicians in Benue Politics such as Chris Adabba Abba, alias ‘Mad lion’ who is the party leader in the area and has remained a committed member of the PDP; Hon. Joseph Ojobo, an incumbent member of the State’s House of Assembly and Hon. Ijiga Oko, a former Local Government Chairman and also former state Financial Secretary of the PDP and now Special Adviser on Assembly matters to the Governor.
Others are Hon. Jerry Agada, former Minister of State for Health; Hon. Hassan Saleh, the incumbent member House of Representative representing Ado-Okpokwu-Ogbadibo constituency; Hon Sunday Ojo, former Local Government Chairman, among others.
For political convenience, the Local Government Area which is made up of three major districts; Otukpa, Orokam and Owukpa has a total of 13 council wards with Otukpa having six wards, Orokam three and Owukpa four wards.
These three districts have often rotated the Ogbadibo State Constituency seat amongst themselves.
In 1979, it was the present Honourable Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Honourable Chief Audu Ogbe of (Ai-Oono Ward 2 in Otukpa) that represented the area, while Hon. Christopher Ajunwa of (Olachagbaha Ward in Otukpa) took his turn in 1983.
The1999 election saw the emergence of Hon. Edoka Nnaji of Ai-Oodo Ward 2 as the Constituency’s representative, an indication that the zoning formula moved from Ai-Oono to Olachagbaha and to Ai-oodo and therefore natural that it should now be the turn of Ai-Oono which has two more wards that has never enjoyed this position since 1982.
It was on this basis that the seat was unanimously zoned to Ai-oono Ward 3, which made stakeholders from the area to see the entry of Ogwuche into the race as plan to truncate the long-existing political equation in the area.
It was evident that the stepping down of six other aspirants who hail from Ai-oodo area, namely; Hon. Ebije Benjamin, Hon. Andrew Idoko, Hon. Gabriel Ameh and Hon. Ehikowoicho all of Ai-oodo Ward 2 and Hon. Emmanuel Abba and Hon. Onoja Umoru both from Ai-oodo ward 1, was in adherence to the political calculation which favoured Peter Enemari who is from Ai-oono.
Only Ogwuche refused to step-down for Enemari, in spite not getting the support of stakeholders based on the zoning formula.
Interestingly, winner of the Ogbadibo Constituency primary election, Peter Enemari, has extended a hand of fellowship to Ogwuche.
He described her as a dogged fighter and an asset to the party in the area but insisted that she must be ready to face the reality of the election, for them to move forward.
Enemari said: “I am surprised with the hullabaloo emanating from the primary election because Aida Ogwuche embraced and congratulated me after the election.
“So, I don’t know where the story of rejection of result, fake list and attacks are coming from; we left the venue peacefully and nobody protested or was attacked.