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Anambra Central senatorial poll: Nervous prelude to November guber


Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige.

The situation report on November 18, 2017 governorship election in Anambra State could be summarised in one sentence; everything is still fluid. It is not easy to hazard a guess about the number of political parties that may actually take part in the election or the aspirants.
However, what stands out as possible lead to the much hyped governorship poll is the unfinished rerun election into the Anambra Central Senatorial seat. Anambra Central could be likened to the middle belt of Anambra State. It is also unarguably, the political melting pot of the state.
Anambra Central Senatorial district is distinct and unique, both in its geographical location and demographic features. The area has a bit of the distinguishing characteristics of both Anambra North and South, which it lies at the centre.
Politically speaking therefore, Anambra Central Senatorial zone presents as the determinant of the political dynamics of the state. The seven local councils that make up the district include, Awka north, Awka south, Njikoka, Dunukofia, Anaocha, Idemmili north and Idemmili south.
Anambra Central houses more number of registered voters than either of the other two senatorial districts. And on account of this numerical superiority, it is believed that winning or losing a governorship election in the state begins from the area. Political actors from the zone play from behind the scene in the intrigues that define governorship polls as the game of the rich in the state.

Stalled Anambra Central Senatorial Rerun
Part of the uniqueness of Anambra politics and Anambra Central Senatorial district is the moral superiority and political sagacity they claim. Against that background, the intrigues surrounding the stalled senatorial rerun poll do not surprise most people familiar with the zonal power play.
The contest, goes beyond law. There is delicate mix of native wisdom and vengeful politics. For the benefits of those not conversant with the snag with the senatorial rerun, a rehash is necessary.
Senator Uche Lilian Ekwunife, as candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) beat other candidates, including the erstwhile national chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to win the March 28, 2015 senatorial election.
However, disappointed with the outcome of the election and pained by the loss to a female candidate, the ruling party (APGA) and its former National Chairman, contested the election, alleging the use of state apparatus and rigging against PDP and its candidate.
But, losing the case at the Election Petition Tribunal, APGA and its candidate, supported with state apparatus, decided to ambush the process. Knowing that the Court of Appeal was the court of last instance, they staked all efforts and picked holes on Ekwunife’s victory, including going against the apex court position by interrogating the primary election that threw her up. In the end, the Appeal Court delivered a curious judgment and sent every party and candidate back to square one.

Law, Logic And Ego
AFTER February 10, 2017, the Apex Court delivered its judgment on the attempt by Ekwunife to review the prickly Enugu Court of Appeal judgment. A lot of people felt that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has no more alibi to further hold back on conducting the rerun poll ordered by the appellate court.
However, those who held such optimism forgot the intricate web of law, logic and ego in the whole hotly contested senatorial seat. First, Umeh, while he was national chairman of APGA started noising his desire to represent the district in the senate, ostensibly to undermine the possibility of Governor Peter Obi, whose mandate was running full course by 2014, eyeing the seat as his colleagues were doing.  
On her part, Ekwunife had received assurances from Obi, shortly after the APGA governorship primary in which she was short circuited like others; to contest for the Anambra Central Senatorial seat, if nothing else to bless the memory of Prof. Dora Akunyili, who had contested the seat before her demise.
Given Umeh’s strong arm tactics and new found alliance with Chief Willie Obiano, who succeeded Obi, Ekwunife defected to PDP and falling back on the continued support of Obi, who retained the friendship and understanding of the Presidency under incumbent Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP, secured the ticket of the favoured faction of the party for the Senatorial seat.
Even when she crossed over to All Progressives Congress (APC), to contest the rerun after the restriction placed on PDP’s participation, Senator Ekwunife was convinced that the massive grassroots support she enjoys would still win her victory. That step also woke up fresh animosities and legal pugilism as her adversaries began to question the right of APC to substitute Senator Chris Ngige, the original candidate for the election.
When therefore the Apex Court hid under Section 246 (3) expectedly, to decline jurisdiction to right the perceived judicial wrong at the court below, what remained was the logic of pending interlocutory cases and most importantly, the contest of egos.
The closest attempt at judicial remediation of Appeal Court’s judicial disruption of Ekwunife’s election was when Justice Anuli Chikere’s ruling restored PDP’s right to participation and substitution of its candidate. But that judicial charity inflamed INEC’s passion, thereby warranting the search by the electoral body to initiate its own judicial challenge of the Federal High Court ruling.

Intrusion On November 18 Guber Poll  
Without knowing it, by releasing the timeline for the governorship election in the state, INEC further compounded the jigsaw in Anambra Central Senatorial seat. Gladiators and godfathers have on account of the impending governorship joined in the schemes around the senatorial seat.
The common belief among the gladiators is that whichever party or person that occupies the seat would wield enormous influence in the November 18 governorship election. This, more than every other consideration, has raised the stakes about the senatorial rerun.
Following a recent ruling by the Federal High Court barring the APC from substituting its candidate, fresh overtures are being made to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, to participate in the rerun senatorial poll.
APC, like PDP and APGA, seem to believe that the senatorial seat would earn it political mileage for the November 18 election. While PDP shows inclination to do political business with APC in recognition of Ngige’s clout in the zone, APGA is said to be toying with the idea of bargaining with United Progressive Party (UPP) to explore the possibility of supporting the party’s candidate, Flint Obiekwe.
Sources said the incumbent was disposed to trading off its support for Umeh, ostensibly to see that UPP prevails on Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, whom the Movement for National Integration (MNI) led by Chief Ben Ezeibe, had enjoined to prepare to contest the November 18 governorship, not to contest on UPP platform.
As part of the plans to reach an understanding with UPP, the state government recently went to Chief Ezeibe’s village in Awgbu and dug a borehole, even as the governor’s emissary from Anambra north met with Okonkwo on an exploratory meeting to see the possibility of his buying into the deal to support UPP for the senate seat, while UPP endorses Obiano’s second term ambition.   
However, when contacted, Obiekwe said nobody has approached yet, recalling how in 2003 he was cheated out of the senatorial seat by the PDP. “We have been in this thing (search to represent Anambra central in the senate) for a long time and our people know I am not going there for sake of money making, but to serve,” he reiterated, insisting that until all the court cases are dispensed with he would not say much.
Feeling betrayed by the governor, Umeh has been unduly silent, with most people wondering whether all was well with rambunctious former national chairman. He has limited his loud presence at burial and other social ceremonies in the senatorial zone.  
Yet all eyes remained trained in the direction of the former governor, Senator Ngige, whether he would change his mind and contest, as well as, whether he would accept the support of PDP faction in the understanding of supporting Ekwunife to pair with who ultimately flies the APC governorship flag from Anambra north or south.  
But while Ngige weighs the options, in addition to possibility of federal logistic support, there are speculations within APC that he may join the governorship race even after winning the senate seat. There is also the suspicion that the pressure on Ngige to partake in the rerun poll was aimed at bringing a ranking senator to the Senate to change the leadership configuration in the Red Chamber. What could be the likely implication of a Senator Ngige in the eighth Senate on Bukola Saraki’s Presidency or Ike Ekweremadu’s position?

Deferred Council Poll
AS the game plan for the governorship continues to occupy the strategic designs of gladiators, Governor Obiano recently deferred expectation of an early local council poll. Instead, he appointed caretaker chairmen and management committees for the 21 councils in the state.
Virtually all the opposition parties accused the governor of making the appointment in breach of the constitution and to oil the machinery for his possible re-election. APC alleged that the governor wanted to use the unconstitutional council officials to raise slush funds for his re-election campaigns and to rig the election.
However, rights activist and UPP faithful, Okonkwo alerted the governor in a public notice of a subsisting permanent injunction against the appointment of caretaker committees for the 21 councils of the state.

In a chat with The Guardian, Okonkwo declared: “First of all, it shows that these political parties don’t believe in democracy. I am the only Nigerian that has a judgment against the government of Anambra State that caretaker committees as a means of salvaging Section 7 of the constitution by appointment is ultra vires and unconstitutional.
“But one thing I don’t understand is why a leader would not want other leaders to emerge. It shows decadence in the system, it shows lack of confidence, and it shows that they believe that government is trading.
“Our local governments have become a centre for corruption, because nepotism, mediocrity have become the criteria. No young person under 40 years in Anambra State has been recognized so that we can begin to fill the leadership vacuum in our land, because our leaders are afraid of other leaders emerging.”

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