APC and harvest of Southeast politicians
At last, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is reaping the benefits of winning the national election and forming government at the centre.Since the conclusion of the 2015 general election where the party defeated the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), it has continued to savour the benefits of that feat at least with politicians who defect to it.
In the Southeast zone, the APC that was rejected during the last election, has become the beautiful bride as politicians from the zone now itch to get the nod of the its leadership to be registered as their members.
It is noteworthy that of the over 15 million votes secured by President Muhammadu Buhari’s APC to win the election, Southeast did not give more than two million votes, a development that earned the zone her sobriquet, “five percenters,” from Buhari.
Incidentally, while these politicians visit the national and state secretariats of the party to announce formerly that they have joined, checks by The Guardian revealed that a good number of them are yet to be identified with the party at the ward and local levels.
Penultimate week, former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu joined the growing list of Southeast politicians who have joined the APC since the conclusion of the elections, when he publicly declared that he had abandoned the Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA), which he formed and funded since 2006.
Kalu, a two-term governor who had before now had a stint with the PDP, said he decided to join the APC to diffuse the tension that the party “is an ethnic or religious contraption.” adding that he refused to join earlier “for strategic reasons.”
The move came few weeks after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) re-arraigned him for corruption he allegedly perpetrated while he was in office as Abia State governor from 1999 – 2003. He had reportedly before now made series of efforts to avoid the trial over the alleged embezzlement of N5 billion of Abia State fund.
Some other notable politicians who have joined the APC since the end of the elections in the zone were former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, the former Senator representing Enugu North, Chief Fidel Okoro, former Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, ex-Controller of Customs, Mr. Tony Mba, former governorship candidate, Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu, former Senator Uche Ekwunife, former governorship candidate of the PDP in Anambra, Tony Nwoye and former Labour Minister, Emeka Wogu.
There are insinuations that two serving governors in the zone may also pitch their tent with the party before the 2019 general elections among several others who were said to have secretly pledged allegiance to the party.The development, though not new going by the fact that defection from party to party has always been a culture for politicians especially the fair weather ones who are lacking in ideology, is beginning to ask the big question whether the Southeast zone that had earlier rejected the APC is having a rethink.
Those who ask the question have done so based on the performance of the party in the last election as well as the impression already created that the zone would never have a fair deal with the APC.
At the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the people of the zone pitched their tents with the PDP, with all the governors of the five states that make up the zone: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states, emerging on its platform.
While Kalu took control of Abia State, Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju was in charge of Anambra State. For Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States, Dr Sam Egwu, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani and Achike Udenwa held sway, respectively. After four years however, they began to get worried with the PDP.
Anambra became the first to go as Mbadinuju, was engulfed in party crisis that claimed his position for Chris Ngige (now Minister of Labour and Employment). Ngige however could not hold the fort as three years later, the court removed him and this paved way for All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Imo state joined in 2011, when incumbent Governor, Rochas Okorocha still relied on APGA’s platform to win the election. The development reduced the PDP controlled states in the zone to three.
Although Okorocha is currently in APC, the fact remains that the political course which the Southeast charted in 1999 has seriously been altered with her leading politicians now playing roles in different political parties.
While the zone tried to reenact a voting pattern that favoured the PDP during the last Presidential election, its efforts could not help former President, Goodluck Jonathan to return to power.
Now with a voting strength of about two million that the APC amassed in the zone during the election, can the influx of politicians from the zone to the party change its electoral fortunes in the Southeast?
Nwobodo, while allaying the fears of Enugu APC members that he defected to put himself in good stead for patronage and political appointment, said, “I am not looking for a job, I am talking because I want peace. I want our people to be part of the government at the centre. I had a problem being an opposition governor. I am not coming into APC because I want anything. I want our people to be reintegrated and have our own share of government’s resources.”
Kalu on his own said he would deliver the entire Southeast to the APC, while others like Wogu and Nwoye said the party would offer them veritable opportunity to serve their people and fulfill their political ambitions.
How would these moves impact on the APC especially in 2019? Those who spoke insist that the APC has not offered any hope for the Igbo to enlist their support. They believed that some of those rushing into the party are either looking for “rehabilitation or protection”, wondering how a party founded three years ago and had not done much could suddenly become the cynosure of Ndigbo.
“That is the problem with people who are in politics for self aggrandizement. I have taken a look at some of those who joined the APC from the southeast and I want to tell you that jumping party has remained their lifeline,” Chief Peter Ugoeze, a Civil Rights activist, said.
Recalling what Nwobodo said when he joined the APC, Ugoeze explained that it was wrong for the politician to tell the public that his joining the “APC is not for want of what to do,” stressing that from antecedents, Nwobodo had never played opposition politics.
He said, “Although Nwobodo became governor in 1979 on the platform of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), when the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) controlled the centre, he was able to remain there because of the position he occupied and the fact that he could not be accommodated in the NPN with the likes of late Chief C.C Onoh, who later put paid his ambition to return for a second term.
“Nwobodo believes that a politician should always be part of government at the centre. Perhaps, he learned from that defeat, because from then henceforth, he never joined opposition again. That could be why when he won the senate in 1999 from UNCP, he quickly jumped into PDP from where he eventually joined APC.
“I do not see how his movement can help APC because if you had followed the crisis in the Enugu State chapter when he joined, some notable members of the party opposed it on the ground that he was hiding from trial after allegedly receiving Dasuki’s N500 million.
“They insisted that he would be a political burden on the party and the dust raised by that entry is yet to settle in the party.”
On Kalu, a chieftain of the APC in Abia State, Paul Ikonne said “he has nothing to offer,” stressing that the party was being repositioned to enable it make the desired change that it did during the presidential election.
A lawyer, Tobenna Ikechukwu, who stated that it is within their inalienable rights to join any political party of choice, added however “whether they are there to brighten the fortunes of the APC in the Southeast is what the public may take with a pinch of salt.
“I know that Kalu has a case with the EFCC and that case has just commenced. The wonder is why he will not allow the matter to be sorted out before looking for a political party to join, even if he is tired of the one he formed.
“Another thing is that since 2011, he has contested senatorial election in his Abia north, in all the three attempts, he lost. So it worries me when they make bogus claims of how they will improve the electoral fortunes of the APC. It is better to say they have joined the ruling party to protect and guide their personal fortunes,” he stated.
Ugwu Gabriel said, “politicians that joined the APC are not finished because they still have their followers and structures. Kalu I know joined the party with several supporters who are ready to die for him and many more.”
However, the general perception is that the PDP still holds the political ace in the region despite the many disappointments the zone had suffered after her efforts in projecting and building her support base.
A Chieftain of the PDP, Mrs. Ngozi Oha was not swayed by the reasons given by the defectors for their action adding, “ The political relevance that has been enjoyed over the years by some of these people who are now defecting was provided by the PDP.
“They were nobody until PDP gave them opportunity to excel. If they are leaving the party today, it is not because the PDP did not serve them well; it is probably because they disappointed the PDP. Our spread and acceptance were through hard work and conviction by the people that we could be trusted. There was nothing more to it. It is only when the APC proves that it could be trusted that the PDP can worry about her members who have left it to join other parties. But for now, there is nothing to worry about.”