The leadership tussle rocking the Abakaliki Rice Milling Company got messier at the weekend as two rival factions clashed in the Ebonyi State capital.
A factional Chairmen, Chukwuemeka Nwankashi, was hospitalized following machete cuts he received on his head and face.
It was gathered that the clash could have been bloodier but for the quick intervention of the Police.
Parallel elections held on Friday by the two factions produced two parallel executives. One faction supported by government held its election at the Abakaliki Township Stadium where the former chairman, Joseph Ununu, was re-elected.
The second faction elected Mr. Nwankashi as its chairman during their election which held at the mill’s hall.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday, Mr. Nwankashi accused Mr. Ununu of causing the fracas.
He alleged that Mr Ununu’s faction armed with various weapons and on his (Ununu’s) orders swooped on him and his supporters with dangerous weapons as they were celebrating their victory on Friday.
“We planned to have our elections but contrary to our constitution, government interfered in it. According to our constitution, it is only registered members that will vote during the election.
“We told government to allow us hold the election at our hall but they refused and said we must hold the elections at the stadium. We still agreed.
“But when we got to the stadium at 8 a.m. as they fixed, we discovered that they had brought in hoodlums to take over the stadium. We told them that those people are not authentic members of the association but they refused listen so we left.
“The authentic members then went to the mill and held our election but before that we stopped at government house to let the state government know what was happening.
“At the election, I won by 158 votes as I was unopposed. Other officers were also elected thus: Elias Nwogwu (Treasurer), Chijioke Ilodiba (Vice Chairman) and Emeka Agu Ozo financial secretary.
“After the election, we went to celebrate. And when we were celebrating, the former Chairman Joseph Ununu aka Zuma came with thugs armed with various dangerous weapons and attacked us”.
“They used cutlass and cut my head and my face. They also injured many others. If not for the intervention of the police we would have been killed. But the police’s timely intervention saved us and they took us to hospital.
“The former Chairman even boosted that he has the backing of government and that they told him to eliminate anyone opposing him.”
He called on the state government to intervene adding that “even if they have interest in a particular candidate they should come and tell us. We only want the proper things to be done”.
Meanwhile, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Uchenna Orji, has said that the state will only recognize the election which produced Mr. Ununu as the Chairman of the Abakaliki Rice Mill Association.
Mr. Orji said this while reacting to the emergence of two chairmen after the elections.
According to him, the state government has done all it can to ensure that peace reigns at the mill but its efforts were frustrated by selfish individuals.
“The government therefore constituted a committee from the office of the Special Adviser on Trade Unions and Market Development headed by myself with other commissioners as members,” he said.
He noted that the committee designed a time table for elections which all aspirants accepted as the election was fixed for February 12 at the Abakaliki Township stadium.
“All 13 aspirants were screened as provided by the constitution of the association with recourse to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and at the end, we adopted the Option A4 system with the delegates raising their hands to be counted.
Mr. Orji said Mr. Ununu eventually emerged as the chairman, saying the election which produced him was conducted in the presence of security officials and accredited election observers.
“The purported parallel election was conducted by a cartel inside the mill who are produce merchants that connive with rice vendors to brand the rice produced at the mill with name of other state governments.
He said that their acts gives the false impression that Ebonyi rice is produced by other states and urged the rice millers and the public to conduct their rice–businesses without fear of molestation.
Mr. Ununu on his part denied leading the attack.
He, however, maintained that he was duly elected by the members as the people who conducted the parallel election “are those installed by the immediate past governor while the new government belongs to the millers.”