2019 and APGA’s new game plan

National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Oye

• To Field Presidential Candidate From North
Rising from an emergency meeting of its Board of Trustees (BOT) recently, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) pulled what came as a surprise to many, when it announced its resolve to field a presidential candidate of northern extraction in the February 2019 election.

Observers had expressed surprise over the decision, apparently because of the previous position adopted by party leaders that APGA was not willing to contest the presidency in the coming elections.

National Chairman of the party, Chief Victor Oye and Governor Willie Obiano had been vocal on the issue. They hinged their reason on elections held in the state, which ended in the party’s favour without interference from the Presidency.

The elections were those of the November 2017 governorship that produced Obiano and the National Assembly re-run election that produced Chief Victor Umeh as Senator for Anambra Central. Umeh’s election delighted the party because it was the first time APGA was producing a senator.

In its 16 years of existence, APGA has never presented a candidate outside the Southeast region for the Presidency. This was due to the erroneous belief that APGA was an Igbo party and as such, is the platform for ascendancy of Igbo person to the highest political office in the land.

In fact, the Igbo appeal in the formation of APGA is summarised in the party’s Cock head logo and slogan of “Onye Aghala Nwannee ya;” meaning be your brother’s keeper.

And to lend credence to that fact, after its registration in 2002, the party moved to contest the presidential election in the 2003 elections. The first thing it did was to freely offer the platform to former Biafra warlord, late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu to contest the presidency. Ojukwu, many knew, never prepared for the election and was not angling for a seat at the Presidency.

The party’s founding National Chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie explained it as part of strategies to gain acceptability for the party in the country. He said the former warlord required no introduction and would be easier to market.

Okorie said it was an honour and a way of rewarding and appreciating the former warlord for his sacrifices for Ndigbo and support towards registration of the party.

At that gathering that held in Enugu, where he unveiled Ojukwu, Okorie also added: “Since the election has become a contest of the Generals, with our brothers from the two other zones in the country presenting their generals, we also need to present our own general. So, it is a contest that must be fought and we will not be seen as playing second fiddle.”

Okorie was referring to retired generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, who contested the election for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). So, Obasanjo was coming from West, Buhari was coming from North and Ojukwu from East. He also explained that lack of time contributed to it.

The scenario that played out was such that the former warlord never contested the ticket with anybody. There was also no opportunity either for any other politician outside Igboland to vie for the ticket, just as there was no primary organised, where the Ikemba emerged. This development haunted the party and followed it to the election.

When the elections came and results were counted, APGA finished third behind Obasanjo and Buhari. Ojukwu secured a little above one million votes from the over 39 million valid votes cast in the election. Obasanjo, who emerged winner, secured over 24 million votes and Buhari, over 12 million votes.

Four years later, the party re-entered the scenario. This time, crisis over the outcome of governorship election in Anambra, as well as leadership of the party had crept in. Ojukwu was again drafted as the party’s flag bearer in the presidential election. The outing was poorer than before. APGA finished sixth, securing less than 160,000 votes. No thanks to the leadership crisis that had eaten deep into the party’s fabrics and Ojukwu’s indisposition to personally take his campaigns around the country, as well as his near imposition on the party.

Since the abysmal attempts and the crisis that developed, the APGA relapsed. Its worry became how to manage the victory in Anambra State and overcome the national leadership crisis.

In the 2011 and 2015 elections, the party openly announced endorsement of PDP presidential candidates.

Thus, after the emergency BOT meeting in which its National Secretary, Labaran Maku made the announcement that the party was now ready to play in national politics by fielding a presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, pundits were taken aback as to what prompted the somersault and fresh reawakening in the party.

A school of thought said the decision to contest might have been fuelled by realisation that the inability to present presidential candidates in past elections has not helped the party’s fortunes. Rather, the political parties it promoted and supported their candidates have conspired to undermine APGA.

Willie Obiano

Its National Publicity Secretary, Ifeatu Obi-Okoye told The Guardian that APGA was merely bidding its time to enable it reposition and play in the national politics. He said there was never a time the party ruled itself out of the 2019 presidential election, and that the opinions expressed earlier were personal ones.

He said: “The party never came up with an official statement on its unwillingness to present a candidate. There are differences between personal opinions expressed by someone and official statement from the party.

“We fielded Ojukwu on two occasions and after his death, a lacuna was created. We took time to mourn him and also considered the credibility of persons who could go for elections on the party’s platform. We must sustain the national drive which the party was set up for.”

On the decision to locate the Presidency in the north, he said: “We were more concerned and sensitive to the fact that there is power rotation between the north and south, and this is what the constitutional conference approved. Former President Goodluck Jonathan held that power for four years after completing the tenure left by his boss, Yar’Adua, who was from the north.

“So, if the south interrupted the north, when Jonathan took over, it means that naturally, you should allow the north to complete that tenure. They have taken over and we will allow that to continue.”

Another party chieftain, Joe Uzochukwu said: “APGA has been discovered to be a beautiful bride and pride of the Igbo nation. This is the right time to put square peg in square hole and round peg in a round hole. It is a perfect decision taken at the party’s Board of Trustees meeting, that this time around, we shall have a presidential candidate.”

He maintained that APGA had leadership challenges that affected some of its programmes, stressing however, that the problems had been surmounted.

“We have a good and strong leadership under the person of Chief Willie Obiano,” he explained. “He has shown what it takes to be a good leader, as chairman of Board of Trustees of the party. APGA’s inability to field a Presidential candidate, all this while, has been a problem to us. It has been a predicament not arriving or getting to where we are supposed to be.

“You must know that it is only when you have a presidential candidate that you can negotiate with other presidential candidates for what is called an accord. So, all along, we cannot say we have benefitted from the Federal Government, because it believed we are ‘woman wrapper,’ that we are always in the other room. But this time around, we are in the same room. We are fielding a presidential candidate. That’s the beauty of the decision taken by APGA now.”

It was gathered that two persons have indicated interests to use the party’s platform for the presidential election. One of the aspirants, a retired Major General of the Army is said to hail from Benue State, while the other is said to hail from Kaduna State.

But Ifeatu Obi-Okoye said: “We are hoping to get someone of quality, who will represent the party’s ideals and know that APGA has a different ideology. The entire thing is open to all. We want the best persons to contest in that election. APGA was never billed for endorsement of candidates from other political parties or contented with regional politics. We are eager to have a national spread and we believe that time has come.”

APGA And The Southeast
There are indications that the party, even with Igbo appeal, has not done well in the southeast since it came on board. Although it has contested in every election in the zone, this has not translated into victory, as it had always ended in the list of “those who also participated.”

Its only outstanding showing had been in the 2003 elections in which it won in Anambra State, and where it has continued to dominate and a few other states in the zone. It also won in Imo State in the 2007 elections. That victory was short-lived, as two years after, Governor Rochas Okorocha ran away with the mandate to the All Progressives Congress (APC). All efforts to recover that mandate and perhaps, spread to other states had been futile.

But towards the 2019 general elections, the party said it has repositioned to contest in every election and defend the outcome,
assuring that its electoral victories would no longer be denied it.

Obi-Okoye said: “A lot has been done to reposition the party and enable it win elections in the Southeast. In Imo as at Wednesday, we have 16 governorship aspirants. We have paid the huge nomination fees. We have a coalition of persons led by Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, who have joined the party.

“We had earlier received a coalition from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Chief Bright Nwalue. They joined us.
Today, we have at least five persons from each of the zones of the state contesting election. With this development, one cannot say APGA is not doing well in Imo.

“In Abia state, there is a strong desire by two camps to take over power. Our governorship candidate in the last election, Alex Oti held a rally in Aba, which no other party has been able to match, in terms of attendance and all that can go with it. Udensi held a similar rally at Aba and both events were hugely attended. The turnout indicated that APGA is acceptable in the state.

“We have weak links in Enugu and Ebonyi States, but in trying to solve them, we have dissolved the executive in Enugu State and we will soon reconstitute it. We have issued a stern warning to Ebonyi that they either sit up or be dissolved. We are no longer for games.

“Every seat in Anambra is being hotly contested. There is no free ticket in APGA. Even Senator Victor Umeh, our former National Chairman is recontesting his seat. He did not get a waiver. APGA has not drafted anyone into the race. You must be thrown up by the people and with that, we are sure we will win the election and sustain the tempo of progress.

“If you have been following history, you will know that our challenge mainly is not membership or acceptability. Our setbacks are mainly created by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which will always throw up something to deny us victory.

“In 2015, everybody knew we won the election in Abia State. They came up with two local governments, where the figures did not agree to create confusion and deny us that victory. In 2007, we also won the election in Imo State with Rochas Okorocha. But a few years after, he decided to run away with our mandate to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

“In Nasarawa State, our governorship candidate, Labaran Maku was robbed of victory. It took four days for the main election results to be announced, because they were trying to perfect the rigging. APGA’s problem has been more of electoral challenge created by INEC. But we are going to defend our electoral victories with the last drop of our blood. We will ensure that votes count from this day forward. That is our resolve. No longer will anybody upturn what rightly belongs to the party.”

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