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• Big trouble for rival political groups, as security agents trail their leaders   • Opposition parties accuse INEC of complicity

Promoters of rival groups, with acronym APC, battling to get the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) register their political parties may have unknowingly attracted trouble to themselves, as they have suddenly come under the searchlight of security agents, who are interested in creating a profile for them, in case they decide to foment trouble.

A reliable security source in Abuja told Saturday Sun that the need to keep a tap on leaders of the rival groups became necessary 'following threats and hot exchange of words from the rival groups, in addition to the lack of visibility of the promoters of the latest APCs, that is, African Peoples Congress and All Patriotic Citizens.'

This claim tallies with investigations by Saturday Sun, which revealed that leaders of African Peoples Congress and their lawyer, who wrote the group's letter of intent to INEC have virtually remained faceless until Thursday, when one Chief Onyinye Ikeagwuonu addressed a press briefing in Abuja as the National Chairman of the political association.

The group's lawyer however, remains faceless till press time. Four major opposition political parties: Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) had, on February 6, announced their agreement to metamorphose into a new party to be called All Progressives Congress (APC). While the leaderships of the merging parties were still perfecting their documentations to present to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for registration, the electoral body emerged last week to reveal that some persons had written a letter, dated February 28, 2013 through a lawyer named, Barrister Nwokorie Samuel Chinedu to its chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, notifying him of their intention to register a new party to be called African Peoples Congress with acronym APC, as that of the merging opposition parties.

The ACN, ANPP and CPC, in separate statements, alerted the public of the development and accused the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of being the sponsor of the attempt to register the other new party by proxy, with the sole aim of frustrating the merger of the opposition parties. The PDP has, however, denied the allegation and accused the opposition of naivety and incompetence.

Saturday Sun was, however, able to obtain a copy of the letter written to INEC seeking the registration of APC. The letter written on the letterhead paper of Legal World Chambers, with its office address as Suite 1007, Block B, Anbeez Plaza, Zone 5, Wuse, Abuja, was dated February 28, 2013 and signed by Barr. Nwokorie Samuel Chinedu. Addressed to the INEC Chairman with the title, 'application for approval to register 'African Peoples Congress' as a political party in Nigeria,' the letter reads: 'We are solicitors to the promoters of African Peoples Congress (hereinafter referred to as 'our clients') on whose instructions and authority we write you this letter.

'Our clients, in pursuance of their political ambitions, intend to register a political party in Nigeria with the name 'African Peoples Congress.' 'Premised on the above, we, therefore, humbly wish to apply to your office for approval to register African Peoples Congress as a political party in Nigeria, having carried out a search on the proposed name to the effect that no other political party registered in Nigeria bears same.

'We will be very grateful if our request is granted, as we pledge to comply with all the requirements of your esteemed commission. Thank you in anticipation of your kind consideration.' Attempts by Saturday Sun to speak with the lawyer who wrote the letter, Barr. Chinedu, through the two GSM numbers quoted on the letterhead of his supposed chambers: 08053957522, 08164257977, were unsuccessful, as the two lines were permanently switched off while text messages sent to the lines were also not replied.

When Saturday Sun located the office address printed on the lawyer's letterhead on Wednesday, our reporter could not also locate Barrister Chinedu.

A massive three storey building in Wuse Zone 5, Suite 1007, where the lawyer's chambers is supposed to be located, is on the first floor, with a white iron door. However, instead of 'Legal World Chambers,' the name of  the chambers in the office space is 'Destiny Chambers,' with one Ijeoma Anegbu, as the principal partner.

The following conversation ensued between the middle aged fair complexioned woman in the office and Saturday Sun correspondent sent to locate the office: Saturday Sun: Good evening, madam. Lady: Good evening, you are welcome. Saturday Sun: Please, madam, I want to see Barrister Chinedu. Lady: Do you know him?

Saturday Sun: No, my oga (boss) in Lagos sent me to him. Lady: (She hesitated for some moments, then she asked) Where are you from? Do you know him by face?

Saturday Sun: Am based in Lagos. Lady: We don't have such name here. Saturday Sun: You mean nobody called Chinedu works here? Lady: Yes, we don't have such name. Saturday Sun: But my oga (boss) was specific that he works here. Lady: Oh well, I don't have such name.

Saturday Sun: Let me leave if you insist you do not know anybody with the name Chinedu. Lady: All right, bye. The development became further muddled with t he emergence on Thursady of yet another group.

All Partrotic Citizens also seeking to register with INEC as a political party with the same acronym APC. Opposition parties coming together to form All Progressives Congress have described the new turn as puzzling and a confirmation of their initial allegation that both INEC and PDP are working together to frustrate the registration of their mega political party, APC.

To unravel t he puzzle, the highly placed security source who is not permitted to speak officially disclosed that 'instructions have been handed down and operatives detailed to identify and profile leaders of these various groups, put their offices under watch and keep a tap on their discussions and decisions to avoid a breakdown of law and order especially in Abuja.'

In a reply to Saturday Sun mail, spokesman for the ACN, Lai Mohammed, said: 'We are not surprised that the letter of intent by the phony African Peoples Congress was written by a faceless person or group. We have always said the so-called African Peoples Congress is a fabrication of those who are mortally worried by the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC). That was why we said in our statement, which was widely used today (Wednesday), that no party with the acronym APC has applied to INEC to be registered.

'It is now clear that anyone who can put pen to paper can walk over to the INEC office in Abuja to drop a letter of intent to register a party. What is more shocking,  however, is that INEC, on the basis of such a letter, which has not even be discussed by the commission, can make the kind of comments credited to its spokesman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, who virtually put a stamp of approval on the African Peoples Congress.

We hope INEC has learnt its lessons.'' On its part, the CPC, through its spokesman, Rotimi Fashakin said: 'We said it before that Jega's INEC is worse than Iwu's INEC, which conducted the infamous 2007 elections. It is surprising for Jega's INEC to declare that a dodgy lawyer, representing some dodgy and faceless clients, has written to it to register a party with acronym, APC.

This supposed electoral umpire knows that the process of party registration is inchoate with a mere letter until the conditions of section 22(1) of the constitution have been fulfilled. It is unfortunate that, with the press secretary to the INEC chairman showing so much buffoonery in this matter, the INEC boss, Prof Attahiru Jega, has indelibly, cast aspersion on his personal integrity, transparency and neutrality. He is in cahoots with the PDP to stymie the entrenchment of true democratic values.'

The INEC last Monday set the stage for a chain of reactions when it declared the commission's guidelines for the registration of new political parties, stating that the process is first come first serve, while at the same time, explaining that the All Progressive Congress (APC) is not known to the commission.

The commission further said that the implication that there is already a group with the name African Peoples Congress (APC) that has submitted its documents for registration as a political party, means that the coalescing of opposition political parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), using the same acronym must be changed to avoid confusion.

Though the commission in a statement on Thursday recant what has been attributed to it earlier, this did not go down well with the merging opposition parties. The ACN,  in its immediate reaction on Tuesday, accused INEC of engaging in barefaced lies and manipulation of facts by claiming that the phantom African Peoples Congress has applied to the commission for registration.

It said the truth of the matter is that no party with the acronym, APC has applied to INEC to be registered, adding that even the phantom African Peoples Congress, which is being sponsored by the PDP to lay claim to the acronym, has only written a letter of intent, which has not even been discussed by INEC, not to talk of the commission taking any decision on it. 'The statement credited to Mr. Idowu is, therefore, reckless and provocative and clearly betrays INEC as truly having merged with the PDP to frustrate the merger of the progressives under the banner of the All Progressives' Congress (APC). One wonders who the spokesman is speaking for and what interest he represents. He should, therefore, be called to order before he sets the country ablaze,'' ACN said.

The party said in order to debunk INEC's claim that the phantom African Peoples Congress has applied for registration, it is calling the attention of all the good people of Nigeria to the sections of the Electoral Act that are relevant to party registration. Part V Political Parties of the Electoral Act, Section 78 (1) says: 'A political association that complies with the provision of the Constitution and this Act for the purposes of registration shall be registered as a political party, provided that such application shall be duly submitted to the commission not later than six months before a general election.'

Section 78 (2), says: 'The commission shall, on receipt of the documents in fulfilment of the conditions stipulated by the Constitution immediately issue the applicant with a letter of acknowledgement stating that all necessary documents have been submitted to the commission.' ACN said: 'In this case, the applicants, on behalf of the so-called African Peoples Congress, the clients of Legal World Chambers, have not submitted any of the documents stipulated by the Constitution to the commission.

They have only written a letter of intent and, therefore, INEC could not have issued them any letter of acknowledgement, not to talk of starting the process of verifying the documents. 'At this point, they cannot even be regarded as applicants.

Why then did INEC, through its spokesman, gleefully go to the media to proclaim that another political association has applied to be registered as African Peoples Congress using the same acronym, APC? Clearly, INEC is on a mission of mischief and its paymaster is PDP who has been having sleepless nights since the merger arrangement was announced.'' The party further called attention to Section 78 (6) of the Electoral Act, which says: 'An application for registration as a political party shall not be processed unless there is evidence of payment of administrative fee, as may be fixed from time to time by the commission.'

ACN said it is aware that the applicants in question have not even paid any administrative fees and, therefore, INEC could not have commenced processing their application, because there is no application before INEC as they have only written a letter of intent.

'The INEC spokesman, who announced to the world that another political association has applied to be registered as APC is definitely being paid by the PDP to mislead Nigerians, subvert extant regulations and scuttle the proposed merger of the ACN, ANPP, APGA and CPC.

He should immediately be called to order before he sets the country ablaze,'' the party said. It said what has emerged over the registration issue is that INEC is in collaboration with the PDP to stampede the merging parties to commit errors and also intimidate them to drop the acronym APC, adding however: 'This has failed because as of today in accordance with the provisions of S. 78 (2) and S. 78 (6) of the Electoral Act, there is no applicant on record for the acronym, APC, contrary to the deceit being spread by the INEC spokesman.

ACN also alerted Nigerians to the fact that INEC has had a constructive knowledge of the merger plan and the existence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for a long time, going by statements credited to the INEC spokesman both in the print and the electronic media. It said that on February 17, 2013, Mr. Idowu was quoted to have said, in a news story in The Punch of that date, that the All Progressives' Congress (APC) remained a political association, even though it is yet to be recognised by the commission.

The political party said: 'By law, we do not expect APC to come to INEC. The political parties that are fusing into another party will individually and respectively come back to INEC, notifying us that they are fusing into a party with a new identity,'' ACN quoted Mr. Idowu to have told the paper.

'The same Idowu also told TVC news on February 8, 2013 that INEC was expecting the leadership of the All Progressives' Congress to apply for formal documentation. With these statements, it is clear that INEC has always had a constructive knowledge of the All Progressives' Congress (APC) since the merger plan started, and that the emerging party did not have to do anything until all the component parties have held their conventions and ratified the constitution, manifesto and logo of the APC. ''We are, therefore, using this medium to assure the millions of our supporters within and outside Nigeria that there is no cause for alarm.

The merger process is on course. The All Progressives' Congress that is the legitimate people's APC will berth safely and deliver Nigerians from the oppressive yoke of the PDP. 'We also wish to seize this opportunity to thank the thousands of concerned Nigerians who, through text messages and emails, have overwhelmed us with their advice and words of encouragement in the last two days.

Your support have been invaluable to us and we shall not let you down.' It, however, called for vigilance on the part of all progressive forces across the country, 'especially because we have it on good authority that a top official of INEC has boasted that the emergence of the All Progressives' Congress (APC) will be frustrated at all costs. 'Also, while the PDP has been quick to say it is not bothered by the coming together of the progressive forces, it has been having sleepless nights and working round the clock to devise measures to sabotage the merger. The plan to set up the African Peoples Congress to create an acronym war is just a tip of the iceberg. In the days ahead, Nigerians should watch out for more devilish plans by the PDP.

But we are comforted by the fact that the forces of darkness have never prevailed over the forces of light.'' The PDP, in a reaction by its spokesman, Olisa Metuh, said  the inability of the leaders of the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) to duly reserve or register the proposed name of their party before embarking on its announcement  'is the hallmark of political naivety,  planlessness and a foreboding that the party will drive Nigeria to socio-political and economic brink should it be entrusted with power.'

The party claimed that he leaders of the opposition parties behind APC put the cart before the horse in the process of formation of the party, adding that it was a costly error not to have registered the party with INEC before proclaiming its name.

'Nigerians are here confronted with an irony!  It is an irony of a political party, who, without adequate planning, without a  solid working rhythm,  yet wishes to be entrusted to its effete, shaky shoulders, the fate of over 160 million Nigerians. 'Fortunately, Nigerians are witnessing first hand, the thoughtlessness and carelessness of the self-acclaimed political messiahs, a fore-warning that the nation, her people and our democracy are all in jeopardy should they be entrusted with power.

'How can a group who could not conclude the basic as in due registration of its name be able to manage the affairs of Nigeria at this moment of critical challenge,' the statement asked.