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Anambra Guber: Beyond zoning and electronic balloting

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Charles Chukwuma Soludo

There are three big issues that would define the forthcoming Anambra State gubernatorial poll slated for next November. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) heightened anxieties surrounding the impending poll when it hinted at the possibility of test-running the much-anticipated electronic balloting during the election.

But, beyond the hoopla about electronic voting, which added to the controversies over micro-zoning the governorship either to Anambra Central or Anambra South, there are other weighty issues to consider. They include the activities of Anambra billionaires, the shape of major political platforms, and the desperate circumstances of the outgoing incumbent.

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The field is open as far as the forthcoming governorship is concerned. But, as is usual with other states, where the departing governor concerns himself with installing a successor, Anambra is not going to be different. Governor Willie Obiano has not hidden his desire to have his favourite candidate as the next governor.
 
This deep interest by the outgoing governor adds to the immense concerns trailing the buildup. How far the governor and his foot soldiers go to ensure that the poll goes their way would impact, not necessarily on the outcome, but above all on the preparations.

Incumbency benediction
WHEN, during Governor Obiano’s third-year anniversary celebration, the ex-governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, made his bland declaration that “it ain’t broken,” many Anambra people concluded that the former top banker was merely searching for the investment of incumbency advantage. 
 
As a former two-time contender for the governorship post, Mr. Solution, as Soludo is fondly called, knows how far the power of incumbency could go in defining the outcome of an election. For instance, in 2010, when he made the initial trial after his stint as CBN governor, it took the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and then Governor Peter Obi’s strong attachment to the then President Goodluck Jonathan, to stop him. Of course, the roller-coaster fashion in which Soludo emerged as Anambra State PDP’s ‘consensus’ candidate out of a lofty 47 aspirants showed that the power of incumbency was on his side.

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Then barely three years later, former national chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, convinced Soludo to defect from PDP to APGA to become the governorship standard-bearer of the governing party to succeed Mr. Peter Obi. But Obi began his power rotation scheme, which favoured Dr. Chike Obidigbo, the consensus choice of Anambra North Senatorial District. As if Obi and Umeh were acting a script of political trickery, both Soludo and Obidigbo were surprisingly schemed out by the Governorship Primary Screening Committee set up by the same APGA national chairman, Umeh.

Incidentally, after feigning internal disagreement, both Obi and Umeh were to make a public show of their ‘reconciliation’ and resolved to work together to ensure that APGA retains the governorship seat in the state.
 
Putting the ‘past’ behind them, Governor Obi and Umeh settled for Chief Willie Obiano, a former Executive of Fidelity Bank Plc. 
 
Despite the litany of political wounds caused by the internal discord between Obi and Umeh, which preceded Obiano’s emergence, barely a year into the new administration after Obiano was returned as winner of the 2013 governorship, Obi was made a scapegoat. Things fell apart between the former governor and his successor, such that in their newfound alliance, Umeh and Obiano worked for hand in hand to ensure that Obi was forced out of APGA.

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Whether as a reward for freeing him from the shadows of Obi or a gesture of power-play, Obiano supported Umeh in his Senatorial election, which he (Umeh) lost to Senator Uche Ekwunife in 2015, but judicial power helped to upturn.
 
In 2019, the hunter became the hunted, as Obiano left Umeh to fight his Senatorial re-election battle alone, even as the governor’s wife, covertly supported his (Umeh’s) archrival, Ekwunife, in the election.
 
With everything working in her favour, including massive grassroots support, gender solidarity, and indemnity for the sad loss of 2015 to Umeh through a judicial pronouncement, Ekwunife trounced the former APGA national chairman. The fall of Umeh was to the relief of the first family in the state, as it really was waiting to see the exit of the ‘long cap’ nan. 
 
Almost eight years in office, Governor Obiano wants to prove that he can be his own man and requite political IOUs he received in his hotly-contested second term poll. From the look of things, a prominent IOU starring the governor in the face is the debt of gratitude owed Mr. Solution.
 
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Soludo stuck his political neck out in 2017 when he declared against the popular perception among the Anambra electorate that Obiano kept the flag flying through his record of achievements in the preceding four years to warrant another term. Infused with generous doses of federal might, Obiano’s incumbency proved too much a force for the gallant opposition from the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the centre and PDP, as he breasted the tape for a second term against all odds.
 
But, as happened between Obi and Umeh in 2013, the first family may be are manifesting signs of internal disagreement over who should be invested with the power of incumbency to succeed them.
 
Amid the powerful political enemies the first family made for itself, particularly with people like Senator Ifeanyi Ubah and Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu, in the build-up to the 2017 strenuous poll, Anambra people say they are waiting to see how far Governor Obiano has matured politically and could go in ‘to break kola nut for the Light of the Nation-state.’

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Shape of viable parties
ON the surface, four feasible political parties are on the ground to compete in the governorship poll. They are APC, PDP, APGA, and Young Progressives Party (YPP).
 
Apart from YPP and APC, PDP and APGA have degrees of structural convulsions regarding the leadership and selection of candidates for the gubernatorial poll. APGA is in court following a plethora of litigations by factional claimants of authentic leadership of the party.
 
APGA ran into troubled waters when its attempt to hold an elective convention was stopped by a court injunction, following legal challenge against it on the grounds that Chief Victor Oye’s tenure had elapsed, which made him incapable of setting up the convention committee or continued stay in office.

While that contention was going on, a faction that cited Oye’s suspension and Bwari Area High Court judgment that upheld the suspension, held a convention in Owerri. Chief Edozie Njoku, who emerged from that convention maintains that, based on extant court pronouncements, he is the authentic chairman of APGA.

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Oye, who is backed by Obiano, has gone to court, pleading to be joined in the cross-appeal against Njoku’s emergence as chairman. While the parties are in court, APGA faithful are apprehensive that even if a superior court quashes Njoku’s emergence, the fact that another convention could not be held within the shortest time possible makes it dicey for the party to field a governorship candidate.
 
However, some party faithful insists there is no way APGA would not field a candidate, stressing that at worse, the party would set up a caretaker committee to oversee its affairs, including the conduct of governorship primary.
 
Yet, former Director of Dozie Nwankwo Campaign in the 2019 National Assembly election, Ozocha Sam Oraegbunam, said APGA laid the foundation for its present predicament when it decided to exclude major stakeholders. Oraegbunam explained that most experienced party faithful that saw the way the party was going decided early enough to jump ship.
 
“With almost 60 per cent of former APGA chieftains now in APC, it would be interesting to see how the party recovers in time to contest the governorship in the manner of a ruling party. And if you remember that APC was the first runner-up in the last gubernatorial election, the situation would become clearer to you,” Oraegbunam stated.
IM PDP, apart from the initial confusion over whether to micro-zone the 2021 gubernatorial slot to either Anambra Central or Anambra South, the party is being ambushed by a seemingly innocuous problem, which the governing APGA and APC want to latch onto to weaken it or even ensure that it does not field a candidate in gubernatorial poll.

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Although the wrangling between Emeka Nwobu and Ifeanyi Umeaba over the chairmanship of PDP in the state has been dismissed as a non-issue, litigation involving both men appears to have an outside influence.

Nwobu was elected at a state congress held shortly before the 2017 governorship poll, in which Umeaba came out as second runner-up. But Umeaba came up with claims that he replaced Prof. Alphonsus Nwosu when he resigned as chairman of the caretaker committee in the state.

Umeaba contended that when he assumed office as caretaker committee chairman, he conducted congress elections in November and December, same year forward and local government executives of the party. However, he disclosed that he suspended the state congress because of certain irregularities and non-compliance with party guidelines and constitution, particularly the attempt to use fake delegates’ list to conduct the process.

Yet, contrary to Umeaba’s claims, Nwobu declared that the caretaker committee, which had Mrs. Josephine Annenih as secretary, actually concluded the state congresses, from where he emerged victoriously and was sworn in as state chairman. The conflicting claims, according to Nwobu, motivated the court case at an FCT High Court, Abuja, in search of the court’s order to stop Umeaba from sustaining his dubious claims.

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It is feared that the court case, which might linger up to the Supreme Court, could turn out as PDP’s Achilles heels in the forthcoming governorship poll, even as some party chieftain said the state chapter has a limited role in the emergence of its candidate.

It is against the background of that optimism that some PDP chieftains in the state saw the recent reprieve granted the immediate past National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, as a good omen. The Court of Appeal decision, which quashed the conviction and seven-year jail term slammed on Metuh, has been hailed as a boost to the party’s participation in the 2021 governorship.

Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi’s defection to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the eventual dissolution of the Southeast Zonal Working Committee, led by the governor’s younger brother, has become a setback to PDP’s preparedness for the crucial poll.
 
Umahi’s estranged ally and former zonal publicity secretary of the party, Mr. Ali Odefa, who is a known protégé of Metuh, was recently appointed as chairman of the PDP zonal working committee.

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Prominent governorship aspirants in the party from Anambra State, including Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, Hon. Chris Azubogu and Ugochukwu Okeke expressed relief that the unjust incarceration of the former spokesman has been lifted.
 
Okeke said: “It looks like the courts have their own say! This judgment is positive to me. Garba Shehu and Lai Mohammed never had it bad even with all they said about (former President Goodluck) Jonathan and PDP, but see the punishment meted out on Olisa.”
 
He remarked that Nigeria needed upright people to make the country great, stressing that judicial officers, especially judges, must rise above base sentiments and mediocrity to ensure that not only the law rules but also that justice is served to all.

Exertions of billionaires/political investors
AS preparations for the governorship gathers momentum, The Guardian gathered that notable billionaires in the state, also known as political investors, are mobilizing to throw their weight behind a consensus candidate. A billionaire oil magnate from Anambra South Senatorial District, who pleaded anonymity, disclosed that entrepreneurs from the state have resolved to support a candidate that would be a servant-leader, who would carry out developmental blueprints that have been designed by a group of experts.

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He said although there were apprehensions by some businessmen from Anambra North that the move was to stop Governor Obiano from imposing a candidate on the state, “our mission is to ensure that the next governor concentrates on developing the state and less on politics.”

The billionaire, who has an interest in mining and equipment leasing, stated: “We have decided to get involved in a crucial way. There is no time these politicians do not come to any of us individually for financial support.

“This time, we felt we can come together, pool resources and contacts to deliver a candidate that would develop the state without acting as a tin-god. We want to be sure that whoever gets our support is someone we can make to give an account. A blueprint encompassing various sectors has been developed and ready for implementation.”

It could be recalled that Governor Obiano and an oil magnate, Prince Arthur Eze, recently engaged in an altercation over the welfare of traditional rulers in the state, especially on the alleged diversion of five per cent allocation to the monarchs.

Also, Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, moved against the inclusion of his state within the jurisdiction of Zone 13 Police Zonal Command, pleading that Ebonyi remains in Zone 9, with headquarters in Umuahia. Those who know how elections are won and lost in Southeast claim that Obiano’s fight with the oil mogul started remotely around control and deployments of security.

Whether these recriminations are part of the indicators of the resolve by Anambra big men to stand up to Governor Obiano’s plans to plant a surrogate will soon come to light, especially when INEC announces the timetable of activities for the Anambra 2021 gubernatorial poll.

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