Anambra 2017: As campaigns flag off, parties shop for surrogates
On paper, a total of thirty-seven political parties have fielded candidates for the November 18, 2017 governorship poll in Anambra State. But, as the political platforms begin selling their candidates and programmes to the electorate, only few parties demonstrate competitive presence in the field.
What that means is that as days go by, most of the 37 would either fizzle out or fuse into other stronger platforms or to save face, announce the endorsement of any of the promising candidates. Held barely two years to the next general election, there is no doubt that some of the political parties are using the Anambra governorship poll to announce their presence or test their schemes.
Being the only state in the geopolitical zone to hold its gubernatorial election outside the general election, Anambra, just as others involved in staggered polls by virtue of judicial pronouncements on discredited elections, reserves the potential of pointing the way the Southeast could go, particularly for the presidential poll.
These considerations must have fueled the huge number of platforms participating in the November 18 governorship poll, because the likelihood is that politicians nursing the ambition for the presidency may also be the driving force behind some of the 37 parties.
Observing the election environment however, revealed that there are only only about four, or at most, six political parties that voters are taking seriously so far. These facts have started coming to light as the political parties flag-off their campaigns in the state.
Armed with the power of incumbency, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) is carrying the same aged cockerel, albeit with diffidence. Coming back from the cold in the aftermath of the governorship primary, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has not succeeded in making the broom a popular implement with the people.
However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to have come up with a newly customized umbrella, which it brandishes with vim and vigour. Making up the quartet is the offshoot of APGA, the United Progressive Party (UPP), which breaths seriousness in the fashion of its Tigeritude.
On the strength of the individual pedigrees of their respective flag bearers, Godwin Ezeemo and Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, both the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and Action Democratic Party (ADP) have succeeded in making up the half a dozen political platforms that are keen to justify their presence on the ballot on November 18, 2017.
Resort To Surrogates
Perhaps on account of the fact of their natural rivalry, both APGA and PDP candidates seem to be banking on the assistance of surrogates to capture the endorsement of Anambra voters. Former governor Peter Obi, who defected from APGA to PDP, is on record as the only person to serve the state as governor for two terms. That feat has conferred on him the title of political leader of Anambra State. His estranged political godson, the incumbent Governor Willie Obiano, who is seeking a second term in office, has settled for a new surrogate to blow his trumpets on APGA platform.
PDP/Obaze: Flying With Obi’s Goodwill
PDP and its candidate, Mr. Oseloka Henry Obaze, have a lot to be thankful for in the untiring efforts of former Governor Peter Obi. Prior to Obi’s entry to the party, PDP gained notoriety for rascality and disregard to political decency.
The platform became a popular hangout for political jobbers and wheeling dealing. Some of the party leaders resorted to bargaining away the potential for PDP to win the governorship by conniving with the powers that be, especially wherever their bread was better buttered, during governorship polls.
While he was in APGA as incumbent, Obi exploited the love for filthy lucre by PDP stalwarts in the state, to come back for a second term and also imposed the incumbent Willie Obiano on the state. But, having crossed over to PDP shortly before the 2015 general election, Obi began the process of sanitizing the party.
Posterity came to his help when first, the present APC governorship flag bearer and member representing Anambra East/West in the House of Representatives, Hon. Tony Nwoye, dumped PDP for APC. And as the leadership crisis in the party between Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi, lasted, Senator Andy Uba, who many believed was a sure bet for PDP governorship ticket, also defected to APC, thereby leaving the platform free for Obi to stamp his authority.
Also, at the build up to PDP governorship primary, Prince Ken Emeakayi and his group, who would have constituted a stumbling block for Obi, became unduly overzealous and confrontational by asserting debatable rights. The suspension of Emeakayi for four years by the PDP disciplinary committee for gross insubordination and anti-party activities, paved the way for the final deconstruction of PDP.
It would be recalled that aided by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, electoral merchants and political jobbers like the self-acclaimed political godfather, Chief Chris Uba, pushed the second republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, to the fringes, ensuring that he had little say in the way the party was run in his home state.
With Ekwueme and other foundation members of PDP in Anambra State dislodged, a new class of political investors emerged, which used the platform as trading outposts for political favours and pecuniary motives. From competition on the basis of ideas and intellect, party positions were sold to the highest bidder in deals cut in Abuja.
Through a combination of factors, Obi seems to have succeeded in weaning away Anambra PDP from the vestiges of political jobbers and dealmakers by reviving the culture of discipline, integrity and upholding the sense of service above self.
Signs that things have started looking up for Anambra PDP emerged when the second republic Vice President, Ekwueme, for the first time attended the Southeast zonal meeting of the party. Furthermore, perhaps to reward the age long loyalty of Ekwueme to PDP, his first daughter, Alexandra Chidi Onyemelukwe, was selected as the governorship running mate.
Sources revealed that the choice of Ekwueme’s daughter, a lawyer, married to Nnewi, the industrial and commercial hub of Anambra State, has helped to make PDP very attractive to voters, especially the womenfolk in the state. Of the four frontline political parties chasing the governorship seat, only PDP has a woman as governorship running mate. And blessed with both beauty and brain, Mrs. Onyemelukwe will no doubt become the rallying point for women in the state.
The immediate past governor has been up and about in various communities stumping for the PDP flag bearers. Obi recalled to the approbation of his listeners how he promised during the handover ceremony on March 17, 2014; to join Anambra people to stop Obiano if he did not perform in office. What became of the N75b the former governor left behind is at the centre of issues dominating the campaigns.
APGA/Obiano: From Umeh To Soludo
For APGA, the power of incumbency is source of strength. At a time when most politicians in the state regard him as a political neophyte that had not waged electoral battle before, Governor Willie Obiano has shown signs of dexterity, which some people equate with desperation.
At the campaign flagoff, the governor surprised many by the way he re-jigged his campaign machinery. Prominent dignitaries from different walks of life attended the flag off. Former Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank (CBN), Professor Chukwuma Soludo, showed himself as Obiano’s surrogate.
In his characteristic impulsive tone, Soludo remarked that he was yet to see a credible candidate to replace the incumbent, adding that when he heard the names of those contesting the governorship; he asked himself, “Are these people running for a catechist’s position, because such names can only be good in such job, not for governor.”
The former CBN boss disclosed that the state does not want to go back to Egypt by electing a governor that would be coming to learn on the job. He explained that that was the reason why some people pressured him to contest, he them; “if it’s not broken, why mend it.”
While he promised to turn excellence into a habit if given a second chance, Obiano regretted that “it is unfortunate that a certain person Ojukwu handed over this party to dumped and abandoned Ojukwu’s ideals and vision for our people.”
Was it because Soludo announced his decision to reiterate his support for the working Willie, that the governor decided to downgrade the Director General of his campaign, Chief Victor Umeh, to a mere figure head?
Obiano had directed his cousin Chinedu Obidigwe, to take charge of logistics, while his wife, Mrs. Ebele Obiano takes control of accounts and finance of the reelection campaign. Sources within the Governor’s kitchen cabinet disclosed that Umeh had positioned himself as the centre of command and control, before the governor reshuffled the arrangement to the chagrin of the former APGA national chairman.
The implication of the new set up in Obiano’s campaign organisation is that having come to terms with the fact that the low acceptability level of Umeh could affect his chances at the poll, the governor sees Soludo as a better surrogate.
The voluble former CBN governor has not shied away from his support for Obiano even at the risk of his own political future. Although sources within the Government House alluded to the payment of close to N100m speaking fees to the former CBN governor for his keynote speech at the third anniversary lecture, where he endorsed the incumbent for a second term, Soludo’s argument’s at the campaign flag off sounded real and from the heart.
Following the release of the timeline for the Anambra governorship election, many political parties were said to have reached out to Mr. Solution, as Soludo is called by his admirers; in the belief that he was best suited to mend the breach of seamless governance in Anambra State.
But sources close to Soludo disclosed that he was psychologically traumatized and fiscally deflated by the deception he suffered in the hands of the former national chairman of APGA, Umeh, and former governor Obi, in 2013, when he was lured into APGA only to be denied the promised automatic ticket via ignominious disqualification. Soludo is said to be working hard for Obiano’s second term in the belief that it guarantees is political future.
Therefore, pitted on opposing sides as surrogates, it would be seen in the days to come who between Obi and Soludo Anambra people will find more credible to point the best direction the state should take in choosing a governor to preside over their affairs in the next four years.
UPP/Chidoka: Okorie On Repeat Mission
Despite the conflicting signals that trailed its governorship primary, the United Progressive Party (UPP) seems to have fallen on the famed political wizardry of its founder, Dr. Chekwas Okorie.
Okorie had proclaimed the death of APGA, which he founded in 2002, when he returned the registration certificate in October 2012. Having founded UPP, Okorie believes that the confusion and leadership squabble in APGA will rub off negatively on the party and ensure the election of the candidate of its offshoot, UPP.
Both UPP and its flag bearer, the immediate past Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, are not relenting in pointing out the failings of the incumbent APGA governor, arguing that those left in the party failed to clone the original ideology that made it win the Anambra governorship poll in 2003.
For instance, no sooner had Obiano kicked off his campaigns that UPP consummated its flag off in Ihiala local government council in Anambra South Senatorial district of the state. Taking a jibe at Obiano, perhaps to replicate similar refrain that robbed former Imo State governor, Ikedi Ohakim of his second term, UPP condemned Obiano’s declaration that other contestants are only qualified to be catechists and that the November 18 poll could be likened to a fray in which he is prepared to crush whoever stands on his way.
UPP declared that the incumbent failed to fix critical infrastructure, left the educational and health system decrepit and citizens unsafe in places of worship. Thumbing down Obiano’s campaign flag off, UPP said: “The voyage of self praise (was) akin to a poorly scripted home video. And coming at a time the state is confronted with very serious problems is only symptomatic of an irresponsible leadership with no regard for the led and which has completely lost touch with the people.”
The national publicity secretary of UPP, Ogbuehi Dike, lamented that Governor Obiano “did not address the recorded abuse of rights of his citizens that trailed the widely condemned military invasion of the southeast, which he championed, or the killings in Onitsha, Ozubulu and Ekwulobia.”
APC/Nwoye: Counting On Federal Might
Without doubt, not many stakeholders in Anambra State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) welcomed the return of Hon. Tony Nwoye, as the winner of the governorship primary of the party.
This seeming disappointing outcome contributed in no small way to push back on APC’s prior ranking as the main opposition to the incumbent. It was perhaps in realisation of that fact that the national leadership of the party summoned stakeholders and former governorship aspirants to a meeting in Abuja, where it extracted their commitment and support for the candidate.
Although Senator Andy Uba, who lost the party’s ticket to a well executed conspiracy, did not attend the peace parley, aspirants that turned up believed that the governorship of Anambra State was beyond the capacity of the 43 year-old former national president of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
Already, most of notable figures in Anambra APC have resorted to double allegiances, with some working covertly for the PDP flag bearers and others warming towards the overtures of the incumbent.
But not prepared to leave anything to chance, the APC leadership put together a 48-man team as governorship campaign council to serve as surrogate for Nwoye. Led by Bauchi State Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar, the council has seven incumbent and six former governors.
While the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, described APC as the most viable route for any southeast person to get to the Presidency, most stakeholders in the state expressed reservations about the chances of the party in the November 18 poll.
A combination of odd occurrences, including the proscription and labeling of IPOB as terrorist organisation and the reported subjection of youth to indignities in Aba and Umuahia, continue to deplete the initial interest of voters for APC.
As such, with the 48-man heavy weights, it would be seen in the days ahead how those voices could sway the sophisticated Anambra voters. For now, the contest remains an open field, which could begin to narrow when the candidates and their surrogates push their selling points to the grassroots.
PPA/ADP: The Lone Rangers
Making up the half dozen platforms in serious contention for Anambra governorship are PPA and ADP. At a recent debate organised by the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC), governorship candidate of Action Democratic Party (ADP), Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, excited the audience when he promised not to touch the security vote if elected, stressing that since the payment of security votes was not contained in the constitution, all former governors of the state that received the blind fund should be prepared to go to jail if he becomes governor.
Okonkwo, who claims to be the law and order candidate, also canvassed for the recovery of communities, pointing out that apart from granting local government councils autonomy, he would ensure that traditional communities take over the collection of levies from native markets.
On his part, Chief Godwin Ezeemo of Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), who absorbed the governorship candidate of Accord Party (AP), Chigbo Stanley Nkwoka, as his running mate promises to revolutionize agriculture and improve infrastructure development in the state.
Ezeemo lamented that young people in Anambra still depend on their mothers’ soup pots for survival, assuring that if elected governor, he would make youth empowerment the priority of his administration.