Ex-commissioner fights on after losing OPP seat

Ex-commissioner fights on after losing OPP seat
Former Torit County Commissioner, Andrew Philipson Abiri, who also served as the state chairperson of OPP. [Joseph Yiep, City Review]

A look at 70-year-old Andrew Philipson Abiri and you can tell he is a troubled man. We catch up with him at his rented house in Gudele.

Abiri was appointed Torit County Commissioner in April 2021, while at the same time he doubled up as State Chairperson of the National Alliance under Other Political Parties (OPP). But on July 2, 2021, he suffered a serious setback when he was suspended as Torit County Commissioner.

In his own words, Abiri says he is yet to recover from the job and status loss eleven months on.

“I was a contractor for many years. I owned a construction company that dealt with the supply of construction materials. But when the political window happened and I joined politics as Torit County Commissioner, I thought I was going to play a part in nation-building,” says Abiri.

He equates his dramatic fall from grace to grass to a stab in the back, given he had been in the office in Eastern Equatoria State for a paltry four months.

“My construction business went under in a record four months as I channelled my energies on the business of the day, which was my administrative duties as a County Commissioner. Now I am struggling to pay school fees for my children, I have rent arrears, and I feel like I am stuck,” says the father of six.

Abiri says has been holding onto hope that at some point the government will consider him and lift his suspension, but with every sunrise, the hope is slowly but surely morphing into despair.

Back to zero

“I have had to sell my assets to stay afloat. The few parcels of land I had bought before I joined politics are all gone. This home you can see here is not supposed to be occupied by a former commissioner,” he says while pointing at his house.

The house in question is in a sorry state, it is partly unfinished, and the remaining unfinished part has been covered using rusty corrugated iron sheets. But still, that is what he and his two wives call home.

“My appointment was concerning the Revitalised Agreement, such that the seat I was occupying belonged to Other Political Parties (OPP) because those seats were divided according to the parties. Meaning the seat in Torit happened to be on the OPP side, particularly the side of National Alliance,” he explained the political equation that was considered before he could be appointed.

He says when he called his party (National Alliance) who are entitled to the seat, the party leadership was surprised. 

“I told them that I have no idea about what happened and they told me to come to Juba to explain which I did. After this, the five signatories of OPP decided collectively to look into the issue, wrote a petition and address it to the President,” he added. 

When contacted for comment on behalf of the Eastern Equatoria government, Paul Lotok, the Press Secretary in the Office of the governor acknowledged the suspension and said that it was done with consultation from the leader of Other Political Parties (OPP). 

“I know there was a commissioner suspended in 2021 but this is a government of parties and there is no way one could not consult the other one,” Lotok said.

Without further reference to the issue, he called on the citizens to remain committed to embracing peace among themselves.