Anambra 2017: Feasibility of political platforms
Veteran Contenders Versus New Realities
As the time check for the 2017 governorship election in Anambra State continues, most residents have been discussing the various political parties expected to field serious contenders in the poll. Right from 1999, governorship elections in the state have remained to a large extent the making of political godfathers. However, after the then incumbent Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, was stopped through internal political intrigues from getting a second term ticket in 2003, politicians desirous of trying their luck in the governorship began the habit of shopping for platforms.
By 2003, when Mbadinuju joined the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to contest the governorship election for a second term, a new political party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) had been registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
So, from the three political parties that contested the 1999 governorship in the state, namely Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP) and AD, five political parties were on the ballot in 2003 because APGA and the National Advance Party (NAP) had been regularised by INEC.
With its dominance of the politics of Anambra State during the preceding four years, PDP took the 2003 election for granted, because they were “confident to take it.” But although PDP “took it” the electoral robbery was successfully challenged, which brought about a new comer, APGA, on the scene.
Either on account of the popularity of the choice or the chequered turbulence that characterized the PDP years, particularly the abduction of a sitting governor (Chris Ngige) and mindless bonfire of government assets in the state, the APGA government of Governor Peter Obi enjoyed prodigious fund of public goodwill.
Blinded by this public love, APGA became wanton and indulged in certain excesses, including the marginalization of the local government system. The near deification of the party’s leader, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu of blessed memory, also enforced a kind of unquestioning loyalty to the party.
As it were, both Governor Obi and Chief Victor Umeh, the then national chairman; having discovered the epicurean taste of the leader, settled in their mind to appease the ‘god’ with periodic fiscal handouts, such that they took no critical appraisal of how far the politics of the party were reflective of public input.
APGA’s glorious perch on the governorship was tried in 2010 when the incumbent sought a second a term. A combination of factors, Ojukwu’s plea, the governor’s achievements and confusion within the body of opposition, gave APGA a second four year-term.
With that historic feat, Governor Obi not only broke the jinx of one term, but also went ahead to impose a candidate on the party and ultimately a governor on the state. After more than ten years in office, APGA is showing some signs of internal instability and discomfiture that became PDP’s undoing. More than the threat of fractionalization, the party is also troubled by the effect of schism between the estranged godfather and his political godson, the incumbent.
Therefore, in the tenuous political circumstance that APGA has found itself, the possibility of a new political platform coming up to pose similar challenge to what APGA did in 2003 has become apparent.
The All Progressives Congress, APC, is not a totally new platform, but the way some former stalwarts of PDP have emptied into the platform makes it a party to watch. But the concerns about the feasibility of the platform mount over how it would select its flag bearer. Would APC be like PDP in a new wineskin?
Labour Party (LP) had waged unsuccessful gubernatorial battles in 2010 and 2013. The Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) was also on the ballot in 2010 and 2013 and returned without the trophy.
Hope Democratic Party, HDP, presents as a possible surprise platform on account of the fact that in 2010 the party handed its ticket to a candidate from Anambra North Senatorial district. Due to the agitation by the zone for power shift, HDP drew large membership. However, shortly before the election, Chief Mike Umeh ceded the governorship to Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu from the South Senatorial zone.
Although Ukachukwu did not win the governorship, his candidacy did much to swell the membership of HDP. It is against this background of grassroots presence that HDP appears to offer hope for an exciting showing in the 2017 governorship on account of the challenging circumstances surrounding Governor Obiano’s search for another four years.
But apart from its entrenched presence across various wards of Anambra State, the growing allure of HDP could be traced to plans by the party to zone the governorship to Anambra north. It could not be readily ascertained whether the governor would reach out to owners of HDP.
Not long ago, Obiano’s handlers reached out to former Oyo State Governor, Rasheed Ladoja, with a view to using the ACCORD Party platform for the forthcoming governorship. But sources within the governor’s cabinet said he has been warned against adopting ACCORD for two reasons. “We are aware that ACCORD is also discussing with PDP as such the party may not be the best platform, because Peter Obi is in PDP and we may start another fight. Again, we reminded His Excellency of Mbadinuju’s mistake when he dumped from PDP to AD,” the source, a Special Adviser to the governor, confided in The Guardian.
Based on the foregoing, should HDP field the governor or any aspirant from the north, as it has proposed, the party may spring a surprise. The fact that former Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Oseloka Obaze, is also said to be showing interest in HDP would raise the stakes further, assuming Obiano contests on another platform.
Then there is the United Progressives Party (UPP). Not only is UPP a product of the same parentage as APGA, it is buying into the growing ethnic irredentism and self-determination clamour sweeping across the Southeast states. Moreover, the UPP seems cut out to reap from the ashes of distrust within APGA, by serving as a fall back.
It was on the strength of the exciting possibilities of UPP supplanting APGA that the incumbent fell for the antics of a senator from the state. The senator had approached the governor and intimated him that he had blocked the party, such that it would not field a governorship candidate.
The governor was said to have granted the millionaire former senator concessions to build an estate running into billions of naira in the state. But recent developments in the UPP, especially the spirited drive by rights activist, Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo and his Team Tiger group seem to puncture the dummy sold to Governor Obiano.
The party has embarked on massive membership drive, preaching a new political orientation of a departure from the ‘Me’ that has defined Igbo politics to the ‘We’ ideology and winning enthusiastic support from youth and market women across the state. It is this noticeable momentum that raises UPP as another feasible platform in the journey to the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State.
As APGA, APC and PDP regale in the power of incumbency, size and lofty national outlook, time will tell which platform would emerge as the much-needed fourth force.
Right from the stillbirth 2007 election in the state, governorship elections in Anambra has always been a crowded field. Consequently, a class of veteran gubernatorial contenders could be easily identified.
After he voluntarily heeded his sacking from office after seventeen days despite the fact that he was not joined in the tenure determination suit at the Apex Court, Dr. Andy Uba contested the governorship in 2010 on Labour Party. Uba lost the PDP ticket to Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, who was preferred candidate of President Umaru Yar’Adua. Soludo on his part lost to Obi, who was preferred by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.
Senator Uche Lilly Ekwunife dashed out from PDP to PPA to contest the 2013 governorship, displacing Godwin Ezeemo barely two months to the election. After losing the governorship, Uche, who had attracted much positive attention to her political skills and schemes, was later to defect to APGA, where she again aspired but lost the party ticket to internal intrigues and zoning arrangement.
Partly in protest and at the prompting of former Governor Obi, Uche crossed over from APGA to PDP, where she enjoyed her victory at the 2015 Senatorial election to represent Anambra Central district.
There are talks of a possible Andy Uba and Ekwunife joint ticket in APC for the forthcoming governorship. But elegant stallion of Anambra politics has confided in some of her close allies that only a politician in the stature of Prof. Soludo could make her play second fiddle. All three-Uba, Soludo and Ekwunife hail from the old Aguata region of Anambra South Senatorial zone, with Ekwunife married to Anaocha in Anambra central.
Dr. Ifeanyi Patrick Ubah made much noise during the 2013 governorship. He contested on the Labour Party. He recently defected to APC, but sources said Ubah’s move to APC was not as much to contest the 2017 governorship, as it is to prepare for the 2019 senatorial race.
Dr. Tony Nwoye was about the first elected representative from Anambra State to defect to APC. Nwoye moved shortly after he lost out in the contest for the control PDP structure in the state. Having contested the 2013 governorship on PDP platform, Nwoye is among the veteran contenders lining up to challenge Obiano in the forthcoming governorship.
Anambra Central Delayed Rerun Poll
One other significant factor that would influence the feasibility of political platforms in the coming gubernatorial election is the protracted delay in conducting the rerun election ordered by the Court of Appeal for Anambra Central district.
Recently, the Supreme Court finally dashed Ekwunife’s hopes of regaining her seat in the Red chamber when it stood on Section 246 (3) to decline jurisdiction to review the nullification of her election by the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division.
While the Court of Appeal failed to consider whether Ekwunife, who contested the election on PDP platform, actually won the March 28, 2015 poll, it veered off to interrogate the nomination process that threw up her candidacy despite the Apex Court declaration that a non-member has no right to question the nomination process of a rival political party.
APGA, the ruling party in the state looked forward to clinching the senatorial seat as a flag of its dominant presence in the zone and to brighten its chances in the 2017 governorship. Yet, PDP, which before now serves as the major opposition party, touts the membership of two-term former governor of the state as a potent force to guarantee its supremacy in the zone.
Shortly after the December 11, 2015 ouster, Ekwunife had defected to APC, ostensibly in readiness to re-contest in the court ordered senatorial rerun. Despite her confidence, APC vacillated in humouring her with the senatorial ticket. Seeing how its former candidate was disenfranchised unceremoniously, PDP went to court seeking to be listed on the ballot for the rerun poll.
The dingdong of cross litigations, including joinder issues from PDP and UPP, has helped to stifle the contest, even as APC is also in court seeking for an order of court on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to recognise its right to substitute its candidate.
Given the strategic influence the Anambra Central Senate seat could bring to bear on the impending governorship, it seems unlikely that the re-run poll could be allowed to hold before the governorship by the contending forces.
With eyes set towards the 2019 presidential election, there is no doubt that extraneous factors and forces would latch on different political platforms to try to cover some mileage, knowing that whoever emerges as governor would be free of personal electoral pressures to work for the presidential candidate of his party.
In the final analysis, the feasibility of political parties for the anticipated Anambra governorship election depends on the emerging political socialization and dynamics of the 2019 presidential election. Unlike Edo and Ondo before it, Anambra governorship will point the possible direction Southeast votes would go in 2019.