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Anambra: Back to zoning controversy as 2017 beckons

By Leo Sobechi
11 December 2016   |   1:42 am
Governorship polls in Anambra State have certain features that make them present quite unlike any other in Nigeria. It is one state where outsiders on various political party platforms lobby to be member....
Governor Willie Obiano

Governor Willie Obiano

Governorship polls in Anambra State have certain features that make them present quite unlike any other in Nigeria. It is one state where outsiders on various political party platforms lobby to be member of the electoral congress or appeal committees. The reason is simple: mega bucks define Elections in the state; they are affairs for the moneyed class.

The politics of elections in Anambra is always defined by eleventh-hour frenzy of activities. Aspirants usually await the emergence of delegates to begin their push. It is at that point in time that bargains are made and agreements entered into. Weak candidates are deployed in alternate platforms to pave way for the eventual endorsement of the anointed candidate. On the other hand, moles are also set up on strong platform to ensure that recriminations and divisions destabilize the serious candidates and make the party platform less cohesive.

Overtime, investigations by The Guardian reveal that sundry associations and foundations exist to serve the political ambitions of entrenched interests and socio-economic tendencies. It is in this art of surrogating, that veteran governorship aspirants and political godfathers show their ingenuity.

This practice started gaining currency from 2003 when, through a combination of internal political intrigues in the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and fiscal machinations of some money bags in Lagos and Abuja, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju was denied a second term ticket.

First, Governor Mbadinuju’s administration was held down by the financial burden imposed on it by the operation of the Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO), through which his political godfathers, particularly Chris Uba, ensured that the government lacked the necessary oxygen to breathe life into governance and provision of crucial social amenities.

Based on the ISPO the Mbadinuju signed for contracts awarded to the benefitting godfathers, monies were allegedly usually deducted at source from Anambra’s share from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).

The practice continued surreptitiously, until the state government started defaulting in payment of salaries and allowances of civil servants, especially teachers, which led a state wide industrial action that lasted for more than one full academic year. The government lost credibility.

Notable civil society groups mobilised protests against the administration of Mbadinuju. At the height of the general socio-economic rupture in the state, the Onitsha branch chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Barnabas Igwe and his pregnant wife were butchered. The killing of the Igwes was touted as reason why PDP denied Mbadinuju of automatic ticket that was extended to his other colleagues.

Believing that he was popular enough to win a second term, governor Mbadinuju crossed over to the Alliance for Democracy (AD), on which platform he contested the 2003 governorship and ‘lost’ to Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige in a governorship election that was heavily rigged and later, upturned by the courts.

When Peter Obi, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate in that election recovered his mandate, PDP had eaten into his four year term. The governor was assisted by the Supreme Court ruling on the matter to complete his full four year term.

By the time Obi served his second term, it had become very hard for PDP to pick its pieces, such that as the 2013 governorship election approached, he raised the argument for the rotation of power to Anambra North senatorial district. Although that was the first time the issue of zoning featured decisively in the contest of the governorship post, it gained momentum as most political actors, particularly those on the APGA platform identified with the need for power rotation.

While he effectively mobilised members of his party for the zoning arrangement, Obi also ensured that his preferred candidate, Chief Willie Obiano, was nominated by APGA and eventually returned as the winner of the 2013 governorship election.

As the four year mandate of Obiano gradually draws to its culmination and the permutations for the 2017 governorship pick up, the issue of whether zoning should be allowed to determine the considerations for the governorship is already dominating public discourse.

Some names have been thrown up as possible contenders for the governorship seat. The list includes; Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Senators Andy Uba, Stella Oduah and Uche Lilly Ekwunife; Dr. Alex Obiogbolu, Chief Goddy Ezeemo, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, Barrister Emeka Idigo, Osita Chidoka, Oseloka Obaze, Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo and Hon. Tony Nwoye.

Oduah, Obiogbolu, Obidigbo, Idigo, Obaze and Nwoye are from Anambra North senatorial district, while Ekwunife, Chidoka and Okonkwo hail from the Central Senatorial district. The duo of Senator Uba and Ezeemo are the only prominent names from the South Senatorial district, as Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah, recently came out to publicly declaim his interest in the 2017 governorship.

But in the midst of the controversy surrounding the fresh talks of resort to zoning, #Correction 2017 came into play, sweeping through the entire state like wildfire. The hash tag is not only dominating discussions online, it is also the talk of the town in Awka and most communities.

There are three sides to the correction 2017 hashtag. One implies the fact that the Anambra North senatorial district had a consensus choice in Obidigbo, stressing that the 2017 governorship is opportunity for the state to right the imposition that characterized the 2013 poll.

The other side of the argument is coming from those against the retention of zoning, who argue that zoning does not allow the people ultimate right to choose their governor.

Then, there is the third school of thought, which contends that since all senatorial zones have taken a turn to govern the state, the South senatorial zone, which did just one term under Mbadinuju, should be allowed to do a second term in the same manner that Anambra Central Senatorial district had done under Peter Obi and Chris Ngige.

However, despite the large number of governorship aspirants from Anambra North Senatorial district, the zone believes that it should be allowed to do a second term. But aspirants from other political parties say the zoning was a creation of APGA and should not apply across board, even as they maintain that the people should be allowed to have their say, both on the performance of the incumbent and on the issue of zoning.

While supporters of Obidigbo insist on the implementation of the consensus search organised by Anambra North, Obaze and Nwoye argue that they are coming to offer alternative options to ensure that the zone gets additional four years, against the backdrop of diverse assessment of Obiano’s performance in office.

Chances are that the stiff contest for the 2017 Anambra governorship election will be between Anambra North and their South Senatorial counterpart, where Uba and Ezeemo are among known contenders so far.

The Anambra South Senatorial zone is taking the governorship very serious against their contention of serial political injustice meted to them at different editions of the governorship contest. They allude to the denial of Mbadinuju of automatic ticket unlike his colleagues in 2003 and the voluntary exit of Andy Uba from the governorship seat even when he was not joined in Peter Obi’s case against INEC in the 2007 governorship election, which he won.

It is perhaps against the background of their resolve to ensure that the 2017 governorship does not pass them by that the Old Aguata Union (OAU), is making frantic efforts to adopt Uba as the sole candidate for the election, based on the fact that he did not complete his mandate. The strategy may also be to capitalize on the multiplicity of candidates from Anambra North zone.

As the people keep busy for the governorship election ultimate decider will be how the parties decide to choose their candidates. Only then will the push and punch that make Anambra governorship unique begin.