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Anambra poll: Of defections, APGA’s disorder and power of incumbency

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, (Abuja)
04 September 2021   |   3:00 am
The recent sudden gale of defections in Anambra State, barely two months to the November 6, governorship ballot, elicits many historical contrasts in the country’s polity


The recent sudden gale of defections in Anambra State, barely two months to the November 6, governorship ballot, elicits many historical contrasts in the country’s polity. Was it the speculated plans to impeach Governor Godwin Obaseki in the twilight of his first term, or the sudden switchover by some members of the Edo State House of Assembly barely a few weeks to the 2020 governorship election? Or the impeachment of Governor Peter Obi, barely one year into his recovered mandate?

What about the sudden interruption in Zamfara State, barely 24 hours to the inauguration of Alhaji Shehu Mukhtar Idris of the All Progressives Congress as the governor? It could be recalled that the Zamfara State Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) returning officer in the election, Kabiru Bala, had declared Idris as the winner after polling 534,541 votes against the 189, 452 ballots garnered by his closest rival, Bello Matawalle, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) standard-bearer.

Amid intra-party squabble that led to APC holding a parallel governorship primary and haste to beat INEC deadline, Idris’ name was forwarded to the commission by the immediate past governor, Abdul’aziz Yari, whose faction organised the governorship primary. They said Idris received 301, 380 votes to beat Senator Kabiru Marafa, who had been waging a relentless supremacy battle with the then-governor for the control of the party’s structure in the state.

Although the governorship primary was scheduled for September 30, it was moved to October 1, 2018, and later to October 3, when violence broke out between forces loyal to Yari and Marafa. Despite the cancellation of the primary, the exercise that was held on October 7 was faulted by INEC for breaching the regulations. Consequently, the party was ruled out of the contest.

But believing that the then national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was siding with the Marafa group, Yari went to court to force the electoral commission to accept Idris as APC’s candidate for the governorship ballot.

Based on the foregoing, it could be deduced that the November 6 governorship poll has already replayed instances of past intraparty schisms that define the build-up to the main election.

Trouble with APC, APGA
GRANTED that APC enjoyed the power of incumbency at the federal and state levels, the party could not reconcile its internal discrepancies to have a harmonised preparation for the 2019 governorship election. Yari, who was the outgoing governors and candidate for the Senatorial poll, insisted on having his preferred candidate, Idris, as the party’s standard-bearer.

Contrary to the governor’s designs, Oshiomhole, the national chairman, maintained that the party is supreme and should not bow to the wishes of the outgoing governor. Similarly, in his home state of Edo, the national chairman waved the flag of internal democratic, suggesting that the governor should face a direct governorship primary election.

In the melee between Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki, politics in the state, especially within the APC, was polarised, leading to the division within the Edo State House of Assembly. The 16 lawmakers that showed solidarity to Oshiomhole lost two members to Obaseki as the November 19, 2020 governorship election approached.

Perhaps, it was on account of the fact that Governor Willie Obiano is on his way out of the office or based on the internal disagreements between him and some stakeholders of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), that six members of the state House of Assembly switched over to APC.

While the Zamfara instance is being associated with APC’s nomination process, which pitted Senator Andy Uba against the Managing Director of Nigeria Inland Waterways Agency (NIWA), Dr. George Moghalu, the parallel governorship primary in APGA and recent defection in the state Assembly is evoking the memories of Edo State governorship.

However, unlike in Edo State, where the contest was between an incumbent and party official, in Anambra State, the outgoing incumbent is struggling to leave behind a preferred successor.

It is this determination of Obiano to implant his man as governor that is eliciting talks about the existence of a pact between APC and APGA in 2017 when the governor was seeking a second term in office.

Having procured influential Anambra citizens, including a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, to back his second term aspiration against a rampaging former governor and estranged political godfather, Obiano was said to have approached the leaders of APC to donate the power of incumbency from the centre to assist him to overcome powerful opponents.

A source disclosed that apart from pledging to support President Muhammadu Buhari’s second-term aspiration, the governor said he would welcome whatever demands that could be made in order to ensure that he triumphs in the 2017 governorship poll.

“As part of APC’s soft disposition to Obiano’s position, the national leaders started backing down from the determination to clinch Anambra State. The party also wanted to use Peter Obi’s tactics of aligning with the federal might against PDP.

“From the initial plan to field a frontline industrialist, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, who was the consensus choice of Anambra north in 2013 on APGA platform, the APC leaders decided that Dr. Tony Nwoye should be considered to also humour the billionaire oil magnate, Prince Arthur Eze, who did not want Senator Andy Uba,” the source disclosed.

He noted that before the change of plans, Obidigbo and Uba were invited to the Abuja residence of a big player in the Presidency, where the frontline industrialist was asked to step down for Senator Uba.

Could it then be that Governor Obiano’s efforts to propel Soludo’s ambition are behind the division within APGA, where apart from the emergence of Hon. Chukwuma Umeoji as a rival claimant, some members of the state Assembly refused to endorse Soludo’s emergence as standard-bearer?

After a meeting of some members of Anambra State House of Assembly with the leaders of APC, six lawmakers, including Nonso Smart Okafor, Lawrence Ezeudu, Arthur Chiekwu, Tim Ifediora, and Edward Ibuzo, moved over to APC.

It was gathered that the six lawmakers that changed platform were enjoined to lead what would emerge as mass defection in the days to come. Sources within the State Assembly stated that as many as 12 legislators attended the Abuja meeting, where it was resolved that the House should form an APC majority preparatory to the ‘new government to be formed in March 2022.”

Intriguing Strategems
THE nature of defections gives the impression that APGA seems to lose ground. But APC insiders say that Governor Obiano is being taught some elementary lessons in politics, adding, “he knows that his party has no chance in the forthcoming election.”

A former governor’s aide confided in The Guardian that, “we felt that His Excellency was playing a script. If not, why did he travel outside the country when the crucial governorship primary was just weeks away?”

But, while insinuations are rife that there was a pact between the outgoing governor and APC leaders, Obiano is said to be plotting a plan B, insisting that he must have a say on who succeeds him, “because that has been the tradition.”

However, the defection of six lawmakers is said to be unsettling the Governor’s camp, especially given speculations that electoral ‘field marshals in the state want a create a similar situation that would make the governor run back to Abuja for backing.

It was gathered that attempts by supporters to pull through the governor’s resolve to empower Soludo by flying the kite of a possible understanding between APC and APGA did not cut ice with most national officers of APC, especially those with Presidential aspiration.

That sentiment could have prompted the recent suggestion by a founding member of APC, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, that APGA leaders should consider fusing into APC to pursue a joint governorship bid. But, if the proponents of the electoral understanding craved a situation that could throw up Soludo against Uba, the recent defections must have removed the wind off their sails.

Okechukwu had argued that by infusing into APC, APGA leaders would have played themselves into the mainstream of national politics, as well as helping to advance the agitation for a President of Igbo extraction in 2023.

Okechukwu, who is the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), explained that if APC wins the Anambra State governorship poll, APC would have secured three out of the five states of the Southeast geopolitical zone. He contended that APGA leaders would not remain politically myopic by insisting on being a big fish in a narrow pond of one state dominance.

The rash of defections is bringing a new dimension to the Anambra governorship poll, particularly coming after the massive grassroots mobilisation into the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) and Young Progressives Party (YPP).

It would be recalled that some prominent APGA stakeholders joined the Save Anambra Coalition (SAVANC) that adopted the ZLP and its candidate, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo.

The defection of state legislators to APC could be APC’s way of announcing its “strategic supremacy,” but Coordinator of Buhari Legacy Continuity Initiative (BLCI), Ozo Sam Osita Oraegbunam, said the defection of the state lawmakers was a pointer to the growing acceptability of APC in Anambra State.

Oraegbunam maintained that more politicians from other political parties would join APC in the course of the governorship campaigns, adding that it is obvious that Anambra people are ready to welcome Senator Andy Uba as the next governor of the state.

Would evolving political situation and electoral circumstances force Governor Obiano to reluctantly accept Senator Andy Uba as his possible successor, or exacerbate support for Nze Akachuwku Nwankpo of ADC, whom forces in APGA prevented from participating in the party’s governorship primary?

Whatever happens, it is obvious that Obiano would be sweating in the days to come, whether as kingmaker or acquiescent dealmaker.