Chime, Elechi’s defection: How southeast polity is realigning for 2019
Just as cross-carpeting defined first republics that ended in fiasco, defection has become the central feature of fourth republic politics after the garrison interregnum. It was defection of five governors and their supporters that paved the way for the defeat of a ruling party by an inchoate amalgam of erstwhile light-weight opposition political parties.
Not long ago, some politicians from the Southeast, led by the former President of Senate, Ken Nnamani, joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the defeated Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Perhaps, reading the body language of other political actors in the zone, Nnamani had called on all those contemplating defection to waste no further time in moving over to ‘the main market’.
Recently, the issue of defection featured prominently again on two different fronts. One was at the National Conference on Political Party Supremacy and Dynamics of Parliamentary Autonomy organised by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in the Federal Capital.
The other one was the defection of former Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Martin Elechi to a faction of APC in his home state. Elechi is one of the few active participants in the second republic that got involved in the fourth republic.
Perhaps irked by the pervading culture of party hopping, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, in his remarks at the conference on party supremacy lamented the lack of strong political platforms in the country. Intriguingly, the Vice President found himself at opposite camp with Nnamani, who in his contribution noted that people have right under the constitution to move from one political party to the other.
“(But) If we keep jumping from one party to the other, there will be no way we are going to strengthen the existing ones. People should be able to stay in their political party, work at strengthening them and ensure that it even becomes a family culture whereby my son, my grandson, great-grand son will know themselves.”
However, despite the admonition of Vice President Osinbajo, observers wonder why even governors that served two terms in office should jump ship and call it quits to the platform that ferried them to political stardom. For Enugu and Ebonyi, PDP has been the dominant party. Save for 1999 and 2011 when opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) won some National Assembly seats, PDP returned nearly 100 percent electoral victory always, until internal dissension and imposition set in.
Prior to the 2015 election, which PDP lost, both Governor Sullivan Chime and Martin Elechi, were associated with planned defection, such that both men could not achieve their dream of berthing in the senate as their colleagues. Although Chime grudgingly returned his preferred candidate as successor, Elechi was not that lucky.
In the light of the foregoing, what could be the likely impact of their exit from PDP on the future political fortune of the incumbent governors?
Chime’s Defection Exposes PDP’s Shrinking Potentials
CHIME announced his resignation from the membership of PDP without making his next political destination explicit. But recognising that a similar step was taken by former President of Senate, Nnamani, it may not be a wide conjecture to conclude that the self-effacing former Enugu governor would eventually end up in APC.
At the build up to 2015 election, Chime had in line with the power sharing arrangement in the zone, aspired to represent Enugu West at the Senate, the seat occupied by Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu. Quitting PDP could therefore be Chime’s way of relinquishing the promise of ministerial or ambassadorial appointment dangled before him by the Presidency if Ekweremadu was dethroned.
Furthermore, if eventually he joins APC, as is expected, that would point to a direct contest with Ekwereamdu or whoever APC will anoint for Enugu West senate seat.
On his part, Governor Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi, has never displayed enthusiasm for PDP after the party lost power at the centre it is widely believed he has been plying the style of appeasement towards the many political godfathers in the state, especially Chief Jim Nwobodo, Nnamani and the Nwodos, who have a flair for APC.
But the snag would be the defection of his potential rivals, particularly Samuel Onyishi and Eugene Odoh, the former Speaker of the State Assembly to APC ahead of him. It remains an open secret in Enugu that if not for the strong arm tactics used to stop Onyishi from defecting and contesting the governorship on APC platform, PDP would have lost the election.
Now, faced with the grim reality of the same Onyishi, Odoh and veteran governorship contender, Okey Ezea, it is left to be seen whether Ugwuanyi would embark on a voyage of popularity contest in APC or begin the repair of the tattered umbrella of PDP in the state. The question he would confront is how he could muster votes in Enugu East without Nwobodo and Nnamani, despite the fact that he may fall back on former state Accountant General, Chinyeaka Oha, in the zone.
Then with Enugu West sure to be divided between Udi/Ezeagu and partly Oji River for Chime and Awgu/Aninri for Ekweremadu, where Ugwuanyi’s winning votes could come would be a puzzle for his handlers, most of who believe that most of the defectors are spent political forces, representing themselves alone.
Although Ugwuanyi has been scaling up infrastructure development of Enugu north, otherwise known as Nsukka cultural zone in line with the triangular equilibrium enunciated by the Nwodo administration, he would no doubt discover that nothing imperils a platform as mass defection.
Elechis Defection Revives Old Political Animosities, Division in Ebonyi
THE defection of immediate past governor of Ebonyi State, Elechi, from PDP to APC, has rekindled the old political animosities and divisions in the state.
Elechi had recently registered his membership of APC at Etchialike ward, nearly six months after he announced his retirement from partisan politics. The former governor suffered a major political loss during the 2015 election when he not only failed to enthrone his preferred candidate as successor, but was torn between membership of PDP and support for Labour Party (LP).
As the battle for control of PDP structure raged at the build up to the 2015 election, national leaders of the party, including the presidency, were apprised of the former Ebonyi chief executive’s secret romance with the then opposition APC.
And based on his reluctance to cast anchor fully on the APC, attempts by his protégés to secure commanding presence in the new party did not yield positive fruits. Frustrated by the national working committee of PDP, particularly the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, Elechi’s attempt to field a governorship candidate on the party at the expense of his then deputy, who he had all the while tipped to succeed him in office, failed.
Consequent upon that negative turn of events and in a bid to beat the time frame for the submission of names of candidates, Elechi’s supporters, including his elder son, who was gunning for the Ebonyi Central Senatorial seat, moved over to the Labour Party (LP).
Consequently supported by the federal might and a congregation of political investors from Anambra State, Umahi, put up a mobile political force that not only effectively divided the voting population of old Abakaliki, but also got virtually every influential Ebonyi politician to his side.
NOT long after Umahi was inaugurated as Elechi’s successor, Elechi maintained stoic silence, refusing an outright congratulation of his former deputy. Part of the initial political steps calculated by the new Ebonyi Governor was to visit APC navigator-in-chief, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari.
Additionally, Governor Umahi curried the friendship of the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal. In no time, all these combined to feed the general impression that the Ebonyi governor was planning to defect to APC, a speculation he flatly denied.
However, Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, who hails from the same town as Umahi, was having a running battle with the APC governorship candidate in the 2015 election, Senator Julius Ucha. Although Senator Ucha was in control of the state structure of the party, former governorship aspirant and Onu’s loyalist, Chief Austin Igwe Edeze, continued the fight against the state executive.
Siding with Edeze, Onu, supported the defection of the former members of Labour Party to APC. The two factions continued the battle for the soul of the party leading to a court order recognising the Ucha faction as the authentic leadership of APC in Ebonyi State.
When therefore Elechi decided to join APC, it was this faction led by the former state deputy chairman, Eze Nwachukwu that Elechi ended up in. Nwachukwu’s recognition vide a letter written by the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, has thrown up new animosities in the party, with the Ucha group issuing form 48 against Oyegun.
However, the former governor has explained that his decision to join APC was informed by his love for Buhari and the current state of the PDP riddled with protracted crisis. The elder statesman disclosed that he knew Buhari nearly fifty years ago.
Sounding as if his defection was motivated by vendetta, Elechi noted that in 2015 plans were made to impeach him with a princely sum of N3b adding that when that failed the governorship primary was distorted amidst malpractices at the congresses to elect PDP candidates.
Why describing APC as the alternative for Ebonyi people and the Igbo race, Elechi thanked the party for offering him and his supporters a political platform to identify with, adding: “Three years ago, I would have attacked anyone who said Ebonyi belongs to APC, but currently, me identify with PDP–God forbid.”
Although his defection has brought him together with Onu, who he contested against in APP in 1999, the former governor is being accused of waging new political battle against Umahi and planning to use the APC platform to get his son to the Senate.
Many politicians in Ebonyi wondered what impact his continued participation in politics would make after more than forty years in active public service.
Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe, dismissed the former governor’s entry and endorsement of APC as riddance of political liability, stressing that Elechi’s defection is nothing short of the continuing trend of those running away from EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) scrutiny.
As to whether the defection was to effectively botch attempts of Umahi to join APC, Onwe said although Ebonyi shares the ideals of Buhari against corruption and enjoys great deal of support from the Federal Government in its agricultural programmes, the reciprocity of that support at that level does not provide room for anybody to attempt to disrupt the progress being witnessed in the state.
Describing the former governor’s evening crossover as a cheap bargain, Onwe, who hails from same Ikwo council area, said the Ebonyi Central Senatorial is free of shackles. He said: “Those rushing to join APC have a false idea of what the party represents. And Nigerians are watching; if any of these refugees of the law escapes justice by any chance, it would be clear that APC has become the refuge for corrupt individuals.”
On his part, the leader of APC in the state, Senator Ucha, described the defection as a celebration of nuisance, saying that APC has no place for liars and deceitful politicians. With the LP governorship candidate and members in Onu’s faction and another governorship aspirant, Senator Azu Agboti, in Ucha’s faction, it would be wild conjecture for Umahi to join the madding crowd.