A member of the All Progressives Congress in Ebonyi State, Mrs Ann Agom-Eze, who is contesting the Ebonyi South senatorial seat, tells EDWARD NNACHI the persistent threat and harassment she has been facing since the contest began
At what point did you start nursing the ambition to represent Ebonyi South Senatorial District at the Senate?
I retired as a Permanent Secretary at the Ebonyi State Ministry of Lands, Survey and Housing in 2015 after 35 years of meritorious service. My husband, while I was in service, had made an attempt at the governorship seat and Senate but did not succeed. It is said that behind every successful man, there is a woman, so I was privy to the process and gave my support and I also learnt a lot from that experience. Upon my retirement, I believed I was yet to exhaust my knowledge and strength and that I still have a lot to offer the nation. My father was a politician at his own level and was the chairman of the old Afikpo Local Government. While in the university, I participated in politics. I have always tried to be a voice at different levels of my life and to give my support when the need arises. I am particularly buoyed by my exemplary involvement in public service and my wealth of experience garnered over the years till my retirement from service. So, I was convinced that I am eminently qualified to serve my people as a senator because of my antecedents, my exposure to the workings of government, my passion for excellence and credible record in public service over the years. My cognate public experience became a motivating factor to serve my people and that will be a serious advantage in the business of lawmaking.
Was it that those who represented the zone in the past didn’t do so effectively or you felt there was a need for a paradigm shift?
Senators from my zone who came before me have done well. (William) Shakespeare likened each of us to an actor living out their lives like a part in a play. Some doors and opportunities will open for us and some will be closed. Since 1999, no woman from our entire zone has gone to the National Assembly and it is my view that I should be supported so that I can be the difference that Ebonyi South needs. Beyond my cognate experience in the civil service, I am aware of what it takes to nurture a home. It is my belief that I will be able to care for my people and meet their needs. I am looking forward to the position because I can and will be able to represent my people like never before.
Some say you were Governor Dave Umahi’s close ally, at what point did the face-off between you and him start?
Governor Dave is our governor. I have no issues with him. How can I have a face-off with a man that has such incredible powers. The governor has been the state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party. He has been a deputy governor and now a governor. He aspired to be the president of this country while I aspired to be the senator representing Ebonyi South Senatorial District. These are two different aspirations. By our 2022 Electoral Act, you cannot sign two nomination forms in the same electoral year. However, when he failed in his bid to be president, his brother stepped down for him because he was the one that won the primaries of May 28, 2022. With that, the governor, as I heard, went and did another primary for a possible substitution. This primary held on June 9, 2022 and the governor was purportedly declared the winner without any notice to me. Unfortunately, the Independent National Electoral Commission failed to include his name on the INEC list that was published on July 24, 2022. The governor was not happy with the situation and he went to the Federal High Court, Abakaliki, to obtain a court order in Suit No FHC/AI/CS/132/2022.
Tell us about the APC senatorial primary of May 28, 2022 and why you were eventually joined in the matter after INEC had left out Umahi’s name?
I was only made aware of the suit and I asked my lawyer to be in court to observe the proceedings and that if I was mentioned, an application should be made for me to be joined in the suit. This was the case, and my lawyer made the necessary application and I was joined in the suit. On July 22, 2022, there was a resounding judgment of the Federal High Court, Abakaliki, that was celebrated all over Nigeria and beyond. The judgment said since I was the last person standing from the primary of May 28, known to be the authentic primary for the 2023 election, there should be a special primary for my confirmation as the candidate. Even their media man, Chooks Okoh, in his reaction, stated that, “The Federal High Court judgment sitting in Abakaliki, on Friday recognised Princess Ann Agom-Eze as the senatorial candidate of the All Progressive Congress, Ebonyi South.”
A Federal High Court in Abakaliki, on July 22, 2022 ruled that Umahi was not an aspirant in the May 28, 2022 primary, maintaining the ruling was in your favour. Why did you still approach the Court of Appeal in Abuja after the ruling?
By Monday of the following week, when my lawyer got the Certified True Copy of the judgment, the content differed from what was read in court. The new judgment ordered for a second rerun that will include the governor and all who may wish to participate. The court for the much I know cannot give you what you have not asked for. So, we went on Appeal on July 26, 2022 at the Court of Appeal Enugu. Not minding the appeal and my contention touching on the subsistence of the authentic primaries of May 28, 2022, the governor still went ahead and procured another order of the Federal High Court from the same judge, giving him leave ex parte to hold another primary. With this order despite the appeal, another primary was conducted making it the third primary in one election season and he was allegedly declared winner again.
The Federal High Court later ordered that a fresh primary should be conducted for the APC Ebonyi South Senatorial District.
Why did you stay away from the contest?
Waking up on Sunday (July 31) morning, I was going through my messages and I stumbled on one that was talking about primaries at Afikpo. I did not take part because the authentic Ebonyi South Senatorial primaries happened on May 28, 2022 and it is still subsisting. The judgment delivered at the Federal High Court in Abakaliki (as captured in the CTC) on July 22, 2022 was not totally in my favour and I appealed the part of the judgment that allowed for fresh primaries to accommodate strangers to the process. My lawyer had also filed a motion for a stay of execution and injunction pending at the Appeal Court. All the relevant bodies were served; INEC, our party, the APC and the governor since July 27, 2022 and July 28, 2022. Until the determination of the appeal, I believe there should be no other primary as the matter is sub judice and the rule is that all the parties must stay action on the matter. We also wrote letters to INEC and our great party urging them to observe the rules. I am looking forward to the judgment of the Court of Appeal as a law-abiding citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I am confident that the court will do justice. The issue of scoring me zero was ill conceived. What do you expect when you are running against an establishment? They have all the powers and they exhibit it at will.
There was an alleged hostage taking of some APC executives of Umudomi Ward in the Onicha Local Government Area of the state on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. The said victims were allegedly asked to sign your suspension letter. Were you aware of this development?
The Local Government Area Chairman, Felix Igboke, invited the executives of Umudomi Ward in their continuous bid to actualise their evil plans of suspending me. Upon responding to the summons, the ward chairman and some executives were taken to the residence of Felix Igboke in Abakaliki and held against their will at the said residence. After the news went viral, they quickly released them and came online with a press release denying every allegation against them. The Umudomi Ward executive members were released after their plan of coercing them to sign the suspension letter against Mrs Ann Agom-Eze. On August 11, 2022, in another attempt to cover up their illegal activities of the previous day, they invited the executive members from Umudomi Ward to the state party secretariat in Abakaliki which ended up in chaos, as they finally offered the executive members N1m to cover their logistics.
It was later revealed that Governor David Umahi called Felix Ogbonnaya (allegedly) threatening him that he would sack all the appointees from Onicha Igboeze community and the local government area if nothing was done to suspend Mrs Ann Agom-Eze from the party. On August 12, 2022, the Umudomi Ward Chairman was again called to report with his full ward executive members for their monthly stipend at the Onicha Local Government Area Headquarters in Isu. On reaching there, (Onicha Local Government Area Headquarters in Isu), he was secretly informed that the Onicha LGA party Chairman, Mr Uche Nwosu had planned with some persons to attack him. He narrowly escaped from being lynched.
It was also alleged that the ward executives were offered N1m to sign your suspension letter?
Their refusal was based on their August 4, 2022 resolutions and I quote, “That the case between Mrs. Ann Nwanyibuife Agom-Eze and others pending in the Court of Appeal means that no action can be taken until the case is decided. Any action that is taken will be tantamount to breach of judicial process. The members expressed dismay and condemned the attempt to coerce the ward chairman and secretary to sign the expulsion or suspension note of Mrs. Ann Nwanyibuife Agom-Eze from the APC. The members warned that any further attempt to suspend, expel, malign, cajole, castigate or abuse against Mrs. Ann Nwanyibuife Agom-Eze will not be accepted and will be stoutly resisted. The members noted that since Mrs. Ann Nwanyibuife Agom-Eze joined the party in 2017, she has been committed, loyal and faithful. Furthermore, that at present, she remains the only stakeholder that has contributed to the rent of the ward’s party office.
The Chairman of the APC in the state, Stanley Okoro-Emegha, has alleged that you committed perjury. What’s your take on this?
I am aware that the party chairman is not well lettered to know the meaning of perjury and what constitutes perjury. It is not in his place to determine who committed perjury and place charges. You cannot be sentenced until you have been tried in a court of competent jurisdiction. Our appeal is ongoing and any issue will be settled at the court. For what it is worth, I have not committed any perjury.
Some of your supporters in Ebonyi South Senatorial District are worried about your absence from the area for the past months?
I have not been to Ebonyi State for so many months now. My family, supporters and friends are all worried about my safety for now because of the excessive threats and harassment to my person because of my issue with the establishment. The state party chairman, who doubles as a consultant to the security outfit, Ebubeagu, and members of Ebubeagu have been to my house in the village several times. The agenda in all of these is to attack me as soon as I am seen in Ebonyi South. This threat has also been extended to the ward chairman.
Since my aspiration for senatorial office began, I have been harassed, intimidated, and threatened to the point of the Ebonyi State Government stopping my pension. I have been humiliated and my good name tarnished on the pages of Nigerian dailies and social media. This is because I am the candidate as pronounced in court by the judge. Ever since I purchased the nomination form, I have been under threat. Even to go for the primaries, they made every effort to stop me from participating if not for the assistance of the state Commissioner of Police and his team that escorted me to the election. As it is today, I am unable to go home to Ebonyi because I understand the governor’s boys/ loyalists are waiting for me, to attack me for maintaining my stand on the APC ticket for Ebonyi South Senatorial District against the governor’s personal interest. Report reaching me is that he has expelled me from the party without any cause or due process being followed despite a clear press statement by the ward chairman that I remain part of the political party. He is said to be mobilising some youths to go to Abuja to disown me, as well as ward executives to travel to Abuja to inform the party that I have been disowned. If there is any seeming face-off between me and the governor, it is as a result of the above, as stated.
You were also declared wanted by the leadership of the party in the state. Considering the order to arrest you, are you not thinking of jettisoning the race?
It is very laughable for the above mentioned people to declare me wanted. I did not commit any crime. I am pursuing my senatorial ticket judiciously on the part of law. They said I am working for their previous party, the PDP and that I am doing anti-party activities. From where to where? Have they seen me in any PDP rally or in their meeting or any attendance list? How can I be vying for the Senate since 2018 only to hand over the ticket to someone? This is a crazy imagination and scandalous. How can I just be arrested anywhere I am found. I am a free citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have not been condemned by any court of law. I also did not jump bail. How? It is a statement made out of a bloated ego and entitlement spirit. That will be certainly an infringement on my fundamental right. Intimidation will not guarantee them a different result. I have confidence in our judicial system. This case is a litmus test on the survival and the applicability of the Electoral Act 2022. The whole world is watching Nigeria. The international bodies and human rights activists are watching and waiting on the judgment. Institutions on gender equality are all on the watch to know whether the Electoral Act 2022 is a respecter of persons. I belong to the APC and I will continue to work for the party by God’s grace.