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2015: South East States Heading For The Third Lane

By Ikenna Onyekwelu
24 January 2015   |   11:00 pm
THE din and commentaries by political analysts give the impression that next month’s election is mainly between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) and its arch challenger, the All Progressives Congress, (APC). But true as those assertions could be, the reality on the ground in some states is that certain underdog parties could spoil things…


THE din and commentaries by political analysts give the impression that next month’s election is mainly between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) and its arch challenger, the All Progressives Congress, (APC). But true as those assertions could be, the reality on the ground in some states is that certain underdog parties could spoil things for those upfront parties. In South East geopolitical zone, for instance, the paths to voter preferences do not lead to just the PDP and APC. However, while all eyes are primed on the testy and feisty presidential poll, the real show of voter predilection would manifest during the governorship and States Houses of Assembly election. There are indications that the United Progressives Party, (UPP) would affect the fortunes of the two parties during the presidential election. But after that is done with on February 14, 2015; all weights will return to the States to provide the essential coloration of how voters in the zone view the various political parties. Some watchers of the unfolding electoral environment in the country conclude that selective voting, which would come out very strongly in the forthcoming election, would attest to the maturity of Nigeria voters. While the country and other observers wait to see that evidence of voter enlightenment, the following is how some states in the South East are trending towards a third lane in the election. And going by those trends and tendencies, at the end of the election, Enugu may emerge as the only State still clutching the PDP umbrella because these other states seem to be following the footsteps of Anambra, which began in 2003(effectuated in 2006):

Abia State: The Aba Factor

The momentum of politics in this God’s own state has shifted to the All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA). That movement away from the PDP could be blamed on the governorship primaries of the party. For, prior to the process of selecting the governorship flag bearer of PDP, it was generally held that Governor Theodore Orji was in full control of the party structure, more so when his declaration of support for zoning enjoyed the confidence and acceptance by the major political stakeholders. However as the primary elections held, it dawned of the stakeholders, especially the gladiators that Governor Orji had settled in his mind who to favour for certain positions especially for the governorship and senatorial seats. First, the governor was accused of hoarding the list of delegates and carrying out accreditation at different centres. It was also later alleged that the election of three-man delegates from the wards did not take place even as the governor had gone on air to declare that the process was peaceful. While expressing his happiness with the peaceful way the party delegates conducted themselves, the governor declared that “they cast their votes in an atmosphere that could be described as free and fair”.  And in a way very similar to what former Governor Peter Obi did inn Anambra State during the governorship election, Governor Orji showed his preference for Okezie Ikpeazu, who was in charge of the Subsidy Re-investment programme (SURE-P) in the state. But while Obi involved stakeholders from Anambra North senatorial district, to which the governorship was zoned, Orji kept his choice close to his chest. As aggrieved party faithful petitioned the PDP national leadership, the governor allowed the Senator representing Abia South, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who contested the governorship primary automatic return ticket, thus dousing the growing bitterness in the party. But instead of extending such generosity to Senator Uche Chukwumerije in Abia North Senatorial district, the governor settled for Hon. MAO Ohuabunwa, who he has all along been tipped to replace the irrepressible Chukwumerije in the Senate. And as Chukwumerije referred to the pact PDP NWC had with governors that atleast two serving senators should be allowed automatic return ticket, agents of the state circulated the rumoured death of the third term senator. It was at that point that many of PDP stakeholders especially those that aspired to contest for various elective positions on the platform, including Chief Alex Oti and Dr. David Onuoha-Bourdex moved over to APGA en masse. Yet while the animosity over the fall out of the party primaries lasted, most of those disenchanted with the curious state of affairs in the state whipped anew fresh sentiments about the governor’s neglect of the commercial city, Aba. The outcome of the governorship selection process was therefore tied to Governor Orji’s “continuous disregard for the development and environmental sanitation of Aba”. And tracing Oti antecedents as a ‘bonafide Nwa-Aba’, it did not take long for the former Banker, who emerged as APGA governorship candidate, to become the new singsong as the next governor of Abia State. However the little snag is that Chief Reagan Ufomba, is also in the shadow as rival APGA governorship candidate, having emerged on the platform of the faction of the party led by Chief Maxi Okwu. There are currently some small talks in Umuahia that the ruling party may weigh into the pending litigation over APGA leadership to cause confusion in the party and stem the tide of growing APGA popularity in the state. One other issue affecting voter considerations in Abia is the unrelenting supremacy political battle between Orji and his benefactor and former Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu. The former governor’s supporters are spread out in PDP and Progressive People Alliance, (PPA) which fielded a governorship candidate; those who are still in PDP may influence votes either way. And unless something untoward happens, the fact that the governorship election in Abia is being seen as a referendum on Governor T. A. Orji’s tenure; the state is sure to take a third lane in subsequent elections after the presidential poll.  

Ebonyi: The Relapse of Zoning

Long before the release of guidelines for the 2015 election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) Ebonyi State had triple asterisks marked beside it by the APC as one place it could make a significant impact. And true to APC’s prediction, the ruling PDP went the way of the wind after as preparations for the election took off. The internal wrangling with the PDP as usual led to much disaffection and defection. First to predict the dissembling was the former Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) Senator Anthony Agbo. Announcing his resignation from the PDP on Friday October 3, 2014; Senator Agbo had declared: “After due consultations with my God, my family, my people, my followers and supporters; and some wonderful leaders and people across the length and breadth of this state, all of whom share the love and concerns I have for our beloved state, I have found good reasons to resign my membership of the PDP”. Many people wondered what could be the good reasons why he quit a party he helped found in the state. However, the next day when he declared for APGA, Agbo told journalists that 2015 would be the first time PDP will lose election in Ebonyi State. In what is now being interpreted as a prophetic declaration, the Senator who represented Ebonyi North Senatorial district in the Senate from 2007 through 2011 added that the level of desperation and betrayals in the party before the election would prove the party’s greatest undoing. He had while thanking the “humble, resilient original members of the party who over the years toiled and suffered with me and some other great leaders of this state to form and build PDP into a strong political party” noted that the party almost made Ebonyi, a one party system. Though to some extent the disputed ward congresses and delegates lists as well as the governorship primaries compounded PDP woes in the state, the real spoiler was the issue of zoning. While Governor Martin Elechi made strenuous efforts to convince politicians from other zones to shelve their ambition to contest the governorship and allow for power shift to Ebonyi South Senatorial district, some aspirants like Agbo insisted that democracy should be allowed its full expression. But despite the fact that Senator left PDP to ventilate his ambition to govern Ebonyi, other aspirants in the party kicked when Elechi nominated former Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu. Elechi’s deputy, Chief Dave Umahi, who was once the PDP State Chairman; took up the vanguard position in the attack on Elechi’s show of preference for Chukwu. Claiming that Elechi had previously promised him and other governorship aspirants from the South like former Education Minister, Prof. Igwe Aja Nwachukwu, former Deputy Governor, Prof. Chigozie Ogbu before settling for Chukwu, Umahi said nothing short of allowing the people to elect the governor would do. One question from some notable stakeholders, who were interested in the governorship; was, if you zone to the South, which zone in the South should ultimately be considered. It was perhaps on closer consideration of that puzzle that Elechi settled for Afikpo North local government council, from where Prof. Chukwu hails. The argument that favoured Afikpo was that since the old Ohaozara had produced Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, as one time governor of old Abia State, the pendulum should swing to the Afikpo zone. And as Umahi, in concert with the PDP NWC and others fought against the choice of Chukwu, younger elements in the party, who have been watching with dismay, the recycling of past leaders in the party, decided to defect to the Labour Party, (LP). Having swelled the ranks of LP, PDP is currently faced with the unenviable record of having its members running for governorship of the state on four major political parties. And as PDP and APC continue the suffocating fight to gain ascendance over each other, Ebonyi has become one of the States to most likely to choose a different platform at the state level!  

Imo: Rescuing the State from the Rescuers?

In no other state other Imo is the feisty electoral battle between the ruling and opposition parties more defined. What happened in the State during the 2011 governorship election was unprecedented in the annals of elections in Imo. Waving the banner of a rescue mission, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who gained prominence through philanthropy and charity, served as a rallying point for the public disenchantment of the then Governor Ikedi Ohakim. The alleged flogging of a Catholic reverend father and destruction of houses and other landed property under the New Face of Imo (Clean and Green) initiative of the Ohakim regime, pitted the people against the government. So, it took the governorship election of 2011 for the people to settle scores with their governor in what has been seen as the Great Move of the Imo Spirit. As PDP lost the governorship to the then APGA candidate, Okorocha, it was a mixed baggage for the state. Though Okorocha mounted on the euphoria of popular support that gave him the governorship by stirring some revolutionary ideas in governance, the many abandoned projects from the Ohakim regime stand out. Governor Okorocha’s administration has beautified Owerri the capital city, opened up the rural areas, renovated schools and constructed new roads. Yet the essential pillars of the ‘Rescue Mission’ remain a work in progress thus raising the fears that a new set of abandoned projects are in the offing. Did the governor deliberately begin projects he could not complete within four years as a ploy to snatch a second term? Former Commissioner for Information, High Chief T. O. Ekechi told the reporter in an interview that instead of accusing the owelle administration of not completing most projects it embarked on, it should be seen as the governor’s haste to develop the state. Indeed Okorocha may have demystified governance in the state especially in the light of grass roots governance structures and public communication. But elites see the development differently. Apart from accusing the governor of dubious contract award procedures, the elites describe the free education programme of the administration as phoney and a form of confidence tricks on the impressionable masses. Consequently, as in Abia State, the impending governorship election is seen much as another referendum on the incumbent’s performance in office. Most eligible voters in Owerri argue that though his excursion to APC may factor into consideration of how far he would go in the election, the APC chances are brightened by the crisis trailing the selection of PDP governorship candidate. It is generally held that Senator Ifeanyi Ararume more than the Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, would have given Owelle a run for his money. 

    Already the issue of zoning is recommending two governors candidates such that were the election to hold today, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho and Dr. Ken Ojiri, could emerge victorious. Iheanacho who is the APGA governorship candidate and Ojiri, who left PDP for the Accord Party, (AP) are from the Owerri zone, which has as yet to occupy the governorship seat. 

  As such the fact that Orlu zone has been in power may tilt the balance in favour of Iheanacho or Ojiri. However the APGA palaver that is pitting Iheanacho and rival candidate, Okey Eze; is contributing to the rising popularity of Ojiri, a UNN and Netherlands trained Management and Tax consultant. Reflecting on the challenge posed by Ojiri, (KO) to Okorocha’s second term, majority of Imo people say they want “change we can see”.  

Lowly UPP making things hard for PDP, APC

The United Progressive Party, (UPP) one of the most recent additions on the list of political parties registered by INEC, is proving a notable underdog in the South East. UPP is throwing serious challenges to the two major parties on account of the radical issues its presidential candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, is canvassing before voters. Okorie, who addressed a rally in Owerri last Wednesday told the large crowd that “we entered the presidential race with the aura, boldness, fearlessness and the protective attributes of the Tiger” stressing that UPP joined the race to offer to Nigerians the only real progressive alternative available to them. While taunting PDP and APC as two faces of the same coin that is engaged in transgression against Nigerians, Okorie said PDP’s Transformation agenda and APC’s Change mantra represents the master-servant model that stifle real development and openness in the country. 

  He advocated a revolution of the mind as the only way to “exorcise the oppressors from our body politic” insisting that only such a revolution in attitude and in work ethic; could get the nation on the path of progress. The UPP presidential flag bearer noted with pain that while the rich is getting richer, the poor is “being left to pay the bills for the extravagance of the looters of our treasury”. He noted that the 2015 general election is a fight between progressive forces led by UPP and “the reactionary forces represented by the duo of APC and PDP”. “It is a democratic encounter for political liberation and emancipation of the longsuffering people of Nigeria,” he declared. Some of the innovations contained in his blue print for action if elected President include insertion of an exit clause in the Nigeria constitution for those who want to opt out of the federation, provision for local government autonomy, excision of the immunity clause and ensuring that security votes are tied to only security issues. While promising to turn around Nigeria’s agriculture if elected as president to ensure food security, Okorie pointed out that tax evasion by taxable Nigerians and institutions as well as fraudulent tax assessment by tax officials shall be regarded as a grievous act of sabotage against the Nigerian people saying that under his watch as President such offences shall attract very severe sanctions. 

  Whether Okorie’s formulations are sweet soap box rhetoric or genuine designs for national uplift, it is clear that UPP is gradually proving another feasible space on the ballot papers for voters in South East that may be disinclined to press their thumbs beside PDP’s umbrella or APC’s broom! Despite apprehensions over the likelihood of the spectre of violence rearing its ugly presence during and after the election, the political space is getting interesting, no doubt.