Saturday, 30th September 2023

Untold story of APC presidential rally in Anambra State

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
18 February 2023   |   4:57 am
Prior to the arrival of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s campaign train to Anambra State, there were a lot of behind the scene push and pulls. At a point, the question on the lips of many party chieftains was ‘to be or not to be.’

All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, acknowledging cheers at APC rally.

• How Okadigbo Calmed Rift Among Party Chieftains

Prior to the arrival of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s campaign train to Anambra State, there were a lot of behind the scene push and pulls. At a point, the question on the lips of many party chieftains was ‘to be or not to be.’ 

The last major news stories about the Anambra State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) revolved around the party’s participation in the November 9, 2021 gubernatorial poll in the state.
Although APC featured on the gubernatorial ballot, the pre-election ‘two fighting’ between Senator Andy Uba and Dr. George Moghalu on the one hand and Senator Chris Ngige and Uba, on the other, ensured that the party was not competitive in the election. That was before the Supreme Court declared its participation a nullity.
Yet, like Americans would say that ‘whatever starts by division would continue to divide’, the recriminations that attended the governorship primary, which threw up Senator Andy Uba, reared its head again during the APC Special Convention and Presidential primary in Abuja. While Uba presented himself as state leader of the party, Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, loomed large as Southeast leader.
In the unfolding clash of interests, Uzodimma wanted delegates from Southeast to line up behind the presidential aspiration of Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan. But, Uba preferred to align with 19 Northern Governors, who rejected the attempt to impose Lawan without their input.
The seeming confusion threw up Paul Chukwuma, who tried to be an alternate leader for Anambra APC to douse the infighting among Uba, Ngige and Moghalu. As the build up to the general election gained momentum, the Minister for Labour and Employment, Ngige, disclosed his decision to excuse himself from the campaigns. Ngige explained that as his, brother, friends and political associates are contesting the presidential poll, it would be hard for him for support any one among them.
Ngige maintained that Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), Senator Rabiu Musa Knwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and Bola Tinubu of APC are all close to him, stressing that each of them had worked closely with him in the past, as such he wont campaign for any of them.

Although many APC insiders in Anambra State saw Ngige’s declaration as a clever way to avoid further leadership squabbles with Uba, the lacuna increased Paul Chukwuma’s efforts to serve as the alternative force to the disparate camps of Uba and Ngige.    
Perhaps, it was in recognition of the delicate state of affairs in Anambra State chapter that the APC leaders settled for the Chairman NNPCL Board, Senator Margery Okadigbo, as the state Director of APC Presidential Campaign Committee.
However, instead of calming the scheming and murmurs, Okadigbo’s appointment threw up a different kind of internal hostilities. Both Uba and Chukwuma tried to adduce reasons why the wife of the former President of Senate cannot do the job or organise a successful presidential campaign rally in the state.
Okadigbo was accused of being aloof to the workings of APC in Anambra State, even as pressure was mounted on Tinubu and Governor Simon Lalong to rescind the appointment and go for a man that enjoys grassroots support. But, while the pressures and intrigues continued in Abuja, unknown to some of those opposing the NNPCL Chairman, the woman had secured the guarantees and assurances of the party leaders to give the job her best shot.

Meanwhile, those engineering the public perception that the rally would not hold, also went to town with the alibi that being the home base of Peter Obi, the LP presidential contender, it would amount to a waste of time and resources for APC to hold a presidential rally in Anambra State.
It was further alleged that Tinubu’s contempt against Southeast made it impossible for the APC leader to visit the state in the course of his drive to earn delegate votes prior to the party’s presidential primary.

But unknown to those eagerly waiting for the Anambra presidential rally to flop, the Senator who once represented Anambra North Senatorial District, had engineered a rebuilding process for APC in the state. Unlike the days when ‘Abuja stakeholders’ loomed large, Okadigbo perfected a system that ensured APC members, right from the ward level, have a sense of belonging in the party.

Margery’s Magic Plan
AS preparations for the kickoff of Anambra State presidential campaign got under way, it became obvious that a lot of things were working in the favour of Senator Okadigbo.

Coming from the background of private sector and having been around a politically erudite husband, the NNPCL Board Chairman had a rich experience in managing men and resources, as well as practical ideas about political mobilisation.
Recall that after her husband’s demise, Margery contested an election, during which she rallied her former husband’s allies, including Emma Anosike, Joe Offorkansi among others.
Then, as Chairman of NNPC Limited, the woman did not go for political riffraff in appointment and recognition. With quality people with name and clout in her corner, coupled with her excellent management skills, Margery avoided the usual political style of setting up sub committees and moving in circles: She took charge.
One of the quiet strategies was to enlist the support of hard working and honest political players at the grassroots like Ozocha Sam Osita Oraegbunam, as her administrate aides. By not identifying with the cleavages in the state APC, Margery was also able to win the confidence of well meaning members of the party, who deployed their energy and efforts to ensure that the programme did not flop.
For instance, as supporters of Uba, Ngige, Moghalu kept aloof, the NNPCL Chairman brought closer former governorship aspirants like Sir Azuka Okwuosa, whose close association with All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the past facilitated Governor Chukwuma Soludo’s gracious approval of the Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka for the planned rally.
Okwuosa was the chairman of the organising committee. Thus, being open and frank, particularly not belonging to or nursing any cleavage, the party faithful saw great opportunity to demonstrate their support and show their love for APC.
It was with a sense of relief therefore that Senator Anosike, who accompanied Okadigbo to inspect the Ekwueme Square, Awka, explained that Governor Soludo approved the venue “for the mother of all rallies.”
While commending Governor Soludo for approving Ekwueme Square for the rally, Senator Okadigbo had declared: “Ndi-Anambra will vote for Tinubu.” She explained that many individuals from the state enjoy long time relationship with the APC presidential standard bearer, dating back to when he was the Governor of Lagos State.
Okwuosa had dismissed the insinuations that the vision within the party would mar the Anambra APC presidential rally, stressing that disgrace awaits the tiny opposition responsible for the false representations.

How, From Where Came The Crowd
ON the D-day, everything was so much like a carnival. The colourful Ijele masquerade was on display, including other such entertaining groups. Anambra people thronged Ekwueme Square in their numbers.
Even, the state APC chairman, Chief Basil Ejidike, who had been touring the party’s national headquarters in search of ‘empowerment’ was stupefied as he stood directly behind Tinubu wondering how and where the huge crowd must have come from.
There was heavy traffic gridlock spanning Aroma Junction down to Regina junction. It was incredible that APC could pull such a crown in Awka. Supporters of some leaders that quietly canvassed for them to be handed the Coordinator position began to deny that they ever worked against the success of the rally.
The Coordinator, Okadigbo, in her remarks, noted that the huge turnout for the rally shows the love that Anambra people have for Tinubu, assuring that they would translate that to votes on February 25.

“We mobilised right from the ward level, so all the people you see here today are APC member,” she noted. And, feeling at home at the sight of the surging crowd, the APC presidential candidate started by paying tributes to the state governor, Soludo, even as he disclosed that after winning the president, the former Central Bank governor would be among his advisers.
Pleading with Anambra voters to choose him as they did for Soludo, Tinubu stated: “Charles Soludo, your son is not contesting with me or against me. He is still my friend. I salute his vision. He’s a brilliant man. He has the brain. He is a thinker. He knows the way. We will work together inclusively.
“When I become the president, Soludo will be one of those that will advise us; who will bring prosperity back to you,”Tinubu said that as a City Boy that tamed the Atlantic, he would equally tame the gully erosion ravaging much of Anambra land space. He also promised to create jobs for the youths as well as expand the industrialisation for which the state was known for.

He reminded the people of how he appointed an Anambra son, Mr. Ben Akabueze, into Lagos State Executive Council, as well as into President Buhari’s government and enjoined them to reciprocate by voting for him to become President.
Aside the promises, Tinubu dropped verbal barbs on both the LP and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidates.  According to Tinubu, APC is not like PDP “that forgot your rail line. They are liars.”
“When you hear Atiku use the word and say ‘Wallahi talahi,’ what is in his head is ‘na lie I lie.’ Anytime you hear him say, ‘Walahi talahi,’ just reply and say, ‘na lie, I lie.’
“The man who left here, he calls himself Peter Obi. We read in the bible that before the cock crows, he will deny Jesus Christ. Is it not true? So how can he keep his promise to you? He cannot prove a point. Has Bola Tinubu not proved a point? Did I close any market? Did I kill anyone? I’m a thinker and a doer; I even tamed the Atlantic.
“You want to make Anambra a highly dependable state right? That is the memory of my dear friend Chuba Okadigbo. That is what we will continue to carry on – the joy of Chuba Okadigbo.
“The hour has come, your PVC is the master, the voice of commandment. Atiku said he is the candidate of the North, is that not a dog whistle? Is that not a division among us? Anambra people lived well, in prosperity and joy with me in Lagos. I started paying WAEC fees, I didn’t discriminate whether you are Igbo, Christian or anybody; I paid for everybody.”