Party chiefs moved yesterday to stem the likely tide of defections from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole met in Abuja with Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom who claimed that the party had issued him a red card.
Ortom was, in fact, one of the governors believed to be set for a return to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
To Oshiomhole, those who will defect from the APC to the PDP lack honour.
On Wednesday, PDP National Chairman Uche Secondus and some of the leaders and governors of the opposition party met with Senate President Bukola Saraki and three APC governors in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, to perfect the defection plot.
The governors are: Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto) and Samuel Ortom (Benue).
Ortom told reporters yesterday after meeting Oshiomhole that he had not defected.
The APC chairman described the governor as a man of honour who would not defect from APC to the PDP, which he left three-and-a-half years ago.
The Benue APC chapter also denied issuing the governor a red card – as he had claimed.
The House of Representatives APC Caucus also went into an emergency session on the defection plan of some of its members. House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila said there was no cause for alarm.
Ortom, speaking after meeting with Oshiomhole at the APC secretariat, said: “It was the Benue APC that gave me a red card not the National APC and I thought that it was enough to make myself available out of the pitch, but the leadership of the party told me that the decision of the party leadership at the national level is superior to that of any individual or group of people and I think that is good enough.
“They have spoken to him (Akume), they have also spoken to me and the state stakeholders are going to be spoken to and that’s where we are; we have not concluded the matter, it’s an ongoing process. I always stand for peace, and I always want peace to prevail, that’s what I stand for. I appreciate the intervention of the party’s leadership and I hope that we will be able to resolve the matter of differences.”
Ortom added: “I’m here at the APC Secretariat as a member of the party and still flying the flag of APC in the state. I only said I was given ‘red card’ but, have been corrected by the national secretariat.”
Oshiomhole said only those without honour would leave the APC for the PDP.
He noted that there could, however, be legitimate legal issues and disagreements in some state chapters of the party.
He said: “Senator Akume is a very respected leader of the party, a former governor and a current senator; he will recognise the need for peace and we have what it takes to make peace.
“In Benue, we are going for a win-win solution; Governor Ortom is not going anywhere. He is a very prominent member of our party, and we appreciate his leadership in Benue. We will do everything possible to help those who have issues to have those issues resolved.
“The people’s Democratic Party (PDP) that is hovering round must know that it is only people without honour who will vomit in the morning and convert it to lunch in the afternoon. People like Ortom can’t leave PDP three and half years ago with his eyes open and two three years later because of some tension, he’s thinking of returning.
“He is a man of honor and he knows that once you move one step forward, you will want to take the second step to consolidate the first step; that’s the way to go. Be assured that PDP can go and do whatever they want to do, but it won’t change the situation, the minds of those who are convinced in building the future.
“And in Benue, I am sure that Governor Ortom and Senator Akume will be happy; much more importantly the great people of Benue will be happy, not just our party members because they want to consolidate on the work and not to return to a broken vehicle.”
Yesterday in Makurdi, the Director of Publicity of APC in the state, Mr Peterhot Apeh, denied that the party had issued a red card to Ortom.
“We wish to state categorically that the Benue State chapter of the APC has not at any point given a red card to Governor Samuel Ortom or any other member of the party.
“Rather, the party at its last state Congress in Makurdi endorsed the governor, and leader of the party in the state, Senator George Akume for another term in office.
“The endorsement of the governor and leader of the party was meant to further unite the party in the state.
“And provide a stable political atmosphere for the governor as well as the leader of the party to deliver better dividends of democracy to the people of the state.’’
“In return for the endorsement by the state chapter of the party, we demand from the governor improved welfare for the people of the state,’’ Apeh said.
According to him, these demands have become necessary due to several interventions by the Federal Government in form of bailouts, Paris Club refund and budgetary support.
He said that in spite of these and the huge borrowings by Ortom, the state had salary arrears.
“These include unpaid pensions of retired civil servants, huge deficits of basic infrastructure and porous security situation bedeviling the state.
“We demand explanations on the handling of affairs, especially issues bothering on security in the state.
“We are grossly embarrassed that these issues raised with the governor in confidence for the purpose of repositioning governance to improve the lot of Benue people have been juxtaposed and treated unclad without regard to the code of secrecy.’’
The emergency meeting of the House of Representatives APC Caucus convened at the instance of the House Leader, according to a source, was to prevent the touted defection of some members.
A planned mass defection was slated to take place yesterday, a source said, but was shifted till next week.
The meeting, which took place in meeting room 236 in the new House of Reps building, ran between 3.30pm and 5:20pm.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara was absent, although he presided over plenary yesterday. Deputy Speaker Yussuff Lasun was away in Osun State for today’s governorship primary election.
Gbajabiamila declined to give an insight into the agenda of the meeting. When reporters confronted him with the planned mass defection, Gbajabiamila said: “I don’t dwell on rumours, I dwell on reality. Let that reality come first. There is no fire on the mountain, not at all.”
On the possibility of APC turning into a minority party, with the threatened defection of more than half of the caucus, Gbajabiamila said: “Where did you find that out from? Let them go first. Talk is cheap.”
When asked if as the Majority Leader of the House he was not afraid that his party was moving into minority status ,he said: “I am not scared at all.”
It was learnt that the Caucus reached a consensus on the second term ambition of President Muhammadu Buhari in a bid to make a statement of commitment.
Many of the caucus members opined that it was necessary to meet the President on the issue before coming to a definite opinion, in spite of the fact that they were committed APC members.
Members from Kwara, Oyo and Benue states were not at the meeting – apparently because of the tense situation in their states.