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Anambra Guber: Concentric circles of intrigues, subterfuge

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor
26 June 2021   |   3:02 am
It all began with the governing All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The outgoing governor, Chief Willie Obiano, was accused of showing scant interest in strengthening the party in such a way as to consummate his succession plan.

Charles Chukwuma Soludo

It all began with the governing All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The outgoing governor, Chief Willie Obiano, was accused of showing scant interest in strengthening the party in such a way as to consummate his succession plan.

Apart from inclining the party towards a zoning principle that favours Anambra South Senatorial District, Obiano restrained himself to his Aguleri country home. Then, it was public knowledge that the governor was interested in supporting the former governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma (Charlie Nwa Mgbafor) Soludo’s aspiration to succeed him (Obiano).

It was then that the snag set in. Mrs. Ebele Obiano (Osodieme), wife of the governor, allegedly expressed reservations about the choice of Soludo as a fitting successor. The disconnect within the first family spiralled down the party structure.

The purported disagreement within the first family cascaded into the party, such that during the APGA National Convention of May 2019, a change of venue from Owerri to Awka led to further disagreements over the processes leading to Ozonkpu Victor Oye’s emergence in Awka and Chief Edozie Njoku’s election in Owerri.

Then, for major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the spectre of the 2017 governorship, which led to the emergence of Oseoloka Obaze and disqualification of Dr. Ifeanyi Patrick Uba, reared its head. The 2019 Vice Presidential candidate of the party, Mr. Peter Obi, was accused of sidelining older members in the bid to ensure that his former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Obaze, emerged as standard-bearer.

Self-styled political godfather of the state, Chief Chris Uba, who is also a member of the PDP Board of Trustees, led the campaign against Obi, insisting that unless the former Anambra State governor apologised to the party, it would be fight till ‘thy kingdom’.

Coming to the other opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the fact that it came so close in the 2017 governorship as the first runner-up gave it moral impetus in the belief that it would be the party to beat in the November 6 poll.

But, there was a silent battle for the control of the party structure between the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and immediate past Senator that represented Anambra South Senatorial District, Dr. Andy Uba.

While Ngige refused to forget the circumstances, particularly the warp and woof between the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency and Dr. Andy Uba’s younger brother, Chris, he (Ngige) made efforts to impose Engineer John Bosco Onunkwo as the APC gubernatorial standard bearer.

As the three heavyweight-political parties confronted its internal challenges, the fledgling Young Progressives Party (YPP), threw up Dr. Ifeanyi Patrick Ubah, as its lone Senator. And Ubah, the oil mogul and owner of Capital Oil, did not leave anybody in doubt about his resolve to revive his gubernatorial intentions.

But, with the wave-making swashbuckling oil magnate oiling his political machinery to contest the governorship as unopposed contestant, other billionaires in the state began congregating to ensure that Ubah’s money do not end up as the main determinant of Obiano’s successor.

Nervous Primaries
IT is against the chequered background of the foregoing that five months to the November 6, 2021 gubernatorial election, Anambra State has turned into one huge theatre. Wherever you turn, it is drama all the way.

As could be seen, the dramatis personae include the veterans, the neophytes and the hirelings and the jesters. But, in all, from many little corners, money defines every activity. The consciousness of role-play is so pervasive that even the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could not resist the temptation to partake in the seasonal presentation.

The commission has set from June 10 through July 1, 2021, for political parties taking part in the gubernatorial poll to conduct their straw polls for the nomination of candidates.

APGA had, through its national chairman, Oye, written INEC on June 16, 2021; in which it apprised the commission of the list of delegates to be involved in the nomination of the party’s gubernatorial standard-bearer.

Nobody would have known about APGA’s submission of the list of delegates if not that principal counsel of Omas and Partners, a law firm, had relied on the Freedom of Information Act to send a written demand for the list from INEC.

The quiet missive was later to generate tension within the party and in the state. Based on the internal opposition to the emergence of Soludo, some of the governorship aspirants, who were disqualified by the screening committee, kicked. And following INEC’s reply to the law firm, as well as the letter to Oye, some members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party mobilised and ‘removed’ Oye as national chairman in addition to dissolving the NWC.

INEC had written: “This is to notify you that the records of the commission indicates that APGA did not duly notify the commission of the date of the congress, where the ad hoc delegates were elected as required by Section 85 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

“Accordingly, the Commission is unable to confirm if the ad hoc delegates list submitted by your party is the outcome of a democratic process as required by Section 87(7) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

“The commission wishes to emphasise the need for full compliance with all legal requirements for the conduct of party primaries as earlier communicated in the Commissions letter to your Party dated 37 June 2021 (REF: INEC/DEPM/ UPPM/119/1/37).”

Citing the INEC letter as basis of Oye’s purported removal, the Publicity Secretary of the new APGA faction, Ikechukwu Chukwunyere, announced Chief Jude Okeke as the new national chairman.

Chukwunyere explained as disheartening as the negative imputation of the commission was, the Okeke faction “has come up as the only option and hope for APGA to have a candidate” in the Anambra gubernatorial poll, stressing that the faction dully submitted all the notices.

Sources disclosed that the Oye faction, out of apprehension and threats by a section of the party faithful to stonewall plans to return Soludo, decided to play a fast one by electing the delegates surreptitiously. It was believed that Hon. Chukwuma Umeoji, who was being propped as a counterforce to Soludo, had the backing of even some members of the Obiano family.

The gang up against Soludo was said to comprise all those that had suffered past electoral injuries as well as those with unsettled political IOUs. For instance, Ubah, who emerged as the first governorship candidate on the platform of YPP, was at the thick of the 2017 nomination imbroglio in PDP, was said to have been lured into APGA with a promise of the Senate ticket for Anambra South.

Also, the 2019 APGA Senatorial candidate, Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu, who had to rough it out with the governor over the plan to field the wife of late Ikemba Ojukwu, Ambassador Bianca, swore to extract his own pound flesh by frustrating Obiano’s succession plan.

Add to that the intrigues and double face of former APGA national chairman, Victor Umeh, who is said to hold grudge against the first family for frustrating his return bid to the Senate. All these played out during the Wednesday primary. Most of the members of the National and State Assembly kept off the venue of the straw poll.

Despite the emergence of Soludo as APGA standardbearer, party faithful maintain that INEC has armed opposition with a ready weapon to dethrone Soludo in the event that he wins the main election on November 6.

Giving reasons why APGA risked legal challenge and possible loss of relevance, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, told journalists that “on the 18th June 2021, the Secretary to the Commission responded to the said letter and notified the party that it did not notify the Commission of the date of the congress where the ad-hoc delegates were elected as required by Section 85 of the Electoral Act.”

He recalled that before the commission wrote the letter on June 18, 2021, it had earlier drawn the attention of all political parties to the imperative of complying with all constitutional and legal requirements for the conduct of party primaries.

It is possible that any political party could challenge APGA on the premise that the selection of its delegates did not follow strict guidelines spelt out in the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. However, APGA national chairman, Oye, who appeared on national television contended that after availing INEC of its timetable and notice of programmes lined for the nomination of candidate, the party was not required by law to invite the commission to observe the selection of adhoc delegates.

Oye pointed out that it was only PDP that enshrined in its constitution the invitation of INEC to supervise the selection of ad hoc delegates. Consequently, despite Oye’s dismissal of the Okeke faction, INEC’s letter repudiating the process leading to the selection of ad hoc delegates may have added gunpowder to aspirants like Umeoji, to seek judicial review of the entire process.

But Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, clarified that the commission has no problem with APGA’s nomination process, stressing that the commission recognises Oye as the authentic national chairman of APGA.

It is to be seen how far INEC’s stance would go when the various courts in the land begin to interpret the body language of APGA constitution as well as the spirit of its injunctions. Did APGA work towards a predetermined answer? Time will tell.

PDP’s Share Of Intrigues
THE decision to make use of automatic delegates to elect its candidate was seen as PDP’s bold move to scale the hurdle set by Chief Chris Uba and his minions, who obtained a later day court pronouncement annulling the leadership of Chief Ndubusi Nwobu State Working Committee as well as the ward congresses that threw up ad hoc delegates.

Efforts by some entrenched interests to cause a shift of the PDP governorship primary failed to bear fruit during the meeting of stakeholders, aspirants and the national leadership of the party in Abuja earlier this week.

While there were complaints and allegations of hijack of materials during the ward congress to select ad hoc delegates, some pro-zoning elements were working behind the scene to broker a consensus arrangement that would ensure that Anambra South flies the PDP flag in the governorship poll.

One of the aspirants, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, joined his voice in support of the national leadership that instead of postponing the primary, the disputed local government councils should be voided, stressing that in every election, everybody will not win.

In the midst of the apprehensions over the stance of a prominent governor over the ad hoc delegates, the Federal High Court refused to stay the ruling, which dissolved the Nwobu-led State Working Committee.

Reacting to the development, the national leadership announced the decision to use statutory delegates to nominate the party’s governorship candidate. While informing the aspirants of its decision to make use of automatic delegates only, PDP NWC explained that the approach was to respect the ruling of the court. It therefore appointed a five-man Gubernatorial Primary Electoral Committee, led by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.

Other members include, Dr. Bala Mohammed, Hon George Kaika, Hajiya Habiba Muhammed and Edo State Deputy Governor, Hon. Philip Shaibu, who is to serve as secretary.

Although the attempt to raise a shortlist of three aspirants from Anambra South did not favour Chief Chris Uba’s elder brother, Dr. Ugochukwu Uba, the recourse to automatic delegates was said to be a bold move to curtail the influence of money in the primary.

APC, YPP Tangle
WOULD Ifeanyi Ubah, the governorship candidate of YPP take advantage of the scheme of things in APGA and PDP? Immediately he joined the race for the Anambra governorship, many observers believed that the oil magnate was in a game to align with APC. There were insinuations in some quarters that the Senator representing Anambra South wants to use the governorship as bargaining chip to join the governing party.

With the look of things and gauging from the state of affairs in the big parties, it does not seem that Ubah is prepared to jump ship anymore. However, the snag is that the recent endorse of Soludo by the league of Anambra multi billionaires, has put the Senator in a sort of quandary.

Sources from his Nnewi community said the billionaires decided to shun the Senator because he did not consult with them before joining the fray, even as they recalled his business relationship with Dr. Cosmas Maduka, which went awry.

“There is no way the pocket of one billionaire would be deeper than 10 other billionaires. Ifeanyi can only spend as one man, but the political investors have sided with Soludo. That is the situation in Nnewi and we cannot leave our business interest in the hand of somebody, who thinks only about himself,” said a billionaire industrialist from the town.

Within APC, attempts to reconcile the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and Senator Andy Uba, continued without success into the mid night of Thursday June 24, 2021. A source within the meeting, which pleaded anonymity, disclosed that while Ngige was pushing for Engineer JohnBosco Onunkwo, Uba maintained that he was the only one capable of checking the godfather designs of the minister.

After today, it would be clear whether the journey to November 6 Anambra governorship poll would remain entertaining or a source of bitter recriminations.