2019 Southeast governors’ second term gambits

Okezie Ikpeazu

• Options, Snags Of Automatic Tickets
With Anambra State governorship poll as backcloth, the three Southeast governors in their first term, namely Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu (Abia), Chief David Umahi Nweze (Ebonyi) and Chief Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi (Enugu), are said to be considering two strategic options to ensure another term in office.

The three who survived great political challenges to emerge as both flag bearers and eventually governors, all belong to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). With PDP out of power at the centre, the governors faced further challenges in managing their states, as well as, relationship with the new ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Possible defection to the ruling party if automatic ticket is assured and staying back in PDP, have thus become options. If they remain in PDP, chances are they would gift popular members of the National Assembly, particularly Senators, with automatic tickets to bolster their own support.

Unlike their colleagues that were used to the frills of being governors of the ruling party, these incumbents learned on their job amid an unprecedented economic recession that made the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Alhaji Ahmed Yari of Zamfara State to conclude that theirs was the wrong time to be governors.

Part of the defining features of the 2015 batch of governors is the novelty of seeking bail out funds from the Federal Government (Presidency) to carry out their essential responsibilities, particularly payment of monthly salaries and other overhead costs.

To solicit and eventually benefit from the Federal Government handout, the PDP governors had to eat the humble pie and line up behind the Chairman of Progressives Governors’ Forum, Rochas Okorocha, for an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari.

The proceeds and processes that attended the bail out fund, including its latter day equivalent, Paris Club refund; did much to tie state governments to the umbilical chord of the Federal Government. That may explain why some of the PDP governors not only started bemoaning their loss of Presidential affinity, but also evaluating the possible implications of the political nexus.

The popular notion in the Southeast is that votes do not count and voters behave in a bandwagon manner, tagging along those carrying palm branches. As such, any candidate that is able to stand election on the ruling party, exudes confidence of having an edge over others.

Afflicted by a combination of political indifference and timidity, voters easily cower and kowtow to candidates with federal might, notably the apparati of coercive institutions of the state.

It is therefore in the light of the foregoing factors and consideration of their immediate election environment, that the three Southeast PDP governors begun very early into their tenures to mull defection and other strategies for survival beyond four years.

Ikpeazu (Abia)
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu had a very turbulent and stiff challenge. Although he clinched the PDP ticket through the assistance of his predecessor, Senator Theodore Orji, Ikpeazu spent a better part of his first year in office fighting off electoral confrontations mounted by Dr. Alex Otti of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and later, Chief Samson Uche Ogah, at the governorship election tribunals and the courts.

While the interparty electoral dispute between PDP and APGA provided a source of emotional disturbance and administrative distraction to Ikpeazu, the intraparty, pre-election challenge by Ogah, pushed the governor to the brink.

Governor Ikpeazu was forced through a very bitter experience when a Federal High Court, presided by Justice Okon Abang, nullified his election and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately issue a certificate of return to his challenger, Ogah.

As the governorship dispute moved through the courts, Ikpeazu explored political alternatives to ensure that his mandate did not end up as a chimera. Troubled by side talks of a possible conspiracy by his rivals and the ruling party, Ikpeazu was alleged to have given his words to the leadership of APC, assuring that should his electoral victory be sustained, he would consider joining the party at an opportune time.

If hobnobbing with the ruling party was Ikpeazu’s survival tactic, his plan B, in the event that APC rejects the conditionality of automatic ticket, would be to remain in PDP.

Yet, within PDP he would confront the challenge of containing the ambitions of powerful incumbent Senators to ensure that they do not threaten his second term ambition. The governor could comfortably grant automatic second term ticket to Senators Mao Ohuabunwa (Abia north). But his benefactor, Senator T. A. Orji (Abia Central) and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, may throw up fresh internal bickering within the party.

Some persons in Abia Central are already wondering why Orji should seek another term in the Senate after eight years as governors. For Abaribe, if he presents himself for a fresh term in 2019, that would be his fourth berth in the Senate. As such, attempt to deny the Nwandioha mma Ngwa automatic ticket may stoke his governorship ambition anew.

David Umahi of Ebonyi State.

Umahi (Ebonyi)
His was also a titanic electoral battle in 2015. Governor Umahi had to rise against the dictates and designs of his benefactor and former principal by fighting for the PDP governorship ticket.

Although he had nominated Umahi as deputy governor in 2011 to bring him closer for tutelage in administrative precepts, former governor, Chief Martin Elechi, changed his mind from handing over to Umahi, and nominated a former minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, on the PDP platform.

But, supported by the wife of immediate past President, Dr. Goolduck Jonathan, Patience Jonathan and some Anambra political investors, Umahi waged a gallant political battle to snatch the PDP ticket, as well as, the 2015 governorship election.

However with the PDP loss of the Presidency and the fact that his kinsman and former governor of old Abia State, Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, belonged to the ruling APC, the Ebonyi State governor started seeing electoral dangers ahead.

Apart from being a long-term political ally of President Buhari, Onu has maintained a principled loyalty to opposition politics, refusing to defect when it was very lucrative so to do, even at the cost of governorship ticket.
Umahi believes that with the change of baton at the Presidency, if Onu, who missed being appointed Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) according to public expectations, and was, allowed free field in the APC Presidency, the political space in Ebonyi could become very choking to him (Umahi).

A greater percentage of his initial moves as governor were political: Umahi visited former President Olusegun Obasanjo, cultivated the friendship of the disgraced former SGF, Mr. David Babachir Lawal and paid a courtesy visit on Mr. President, where he was said to have pledged his unalloyed loyalty.

Having gained the confidence of the ruling party, Umahi improved his ranking by clinching the chairmanship of Southeast Governors’ Forum. That position helped him to withstand the shocking fall from grace to grass of his namesake, the former SGF. The position also placed him at a vantage position to nurture a political closeness with Yari, who further paved the way for Umahi’s perceived buxom relationship with President Buhari.

However, should Umahi stay back in PDP and dangle the automatic ticket carrot for Senators, he is most likely to run into serious obstacles. For instance, the Senator representing his zone, Ebonyi South, Senator Sonni Ogbuoji, is currently enjoying a second term in the Senate.

It was a benevolent political accident that dropped a second term on the laps of Ogbuoji. He was humoured with the ticket at the height of supremacy battle between Elechi and Umahi over the PDP governorship ticket.

In Ebonyi North, opposition to another Senate term for former Governor Sam Egwu is mounting. A young man, Iduma Christian Mayor, recently wrote to the Senator, accusing him of ineffective representation, stressing that he should save himself the embarrassment of seeking another term.

Ugwuanyi

Ugwuanyi (Enugu)
His emergence was by divine orchaestration, on account of the auspicious political developments in Enugu State that threw him up. Ugwuanyi is working on the reality of the zoning arrangement in the state, as such, he seems sure getting a more popular governorship aspirant from the Nsukka cultural zone, will be impossible.

Even with the caliber of political actors that defected to APC, especially Senators Ken Nnamani and Jim Nwobodo, Gburugburu, as the Enugu governor is called by admirers, knows that clinching the APC governorship ticket will be an easy enterprise, whether or not the party decides to bait him with automatic ticket.

APC has continued to insist that there would be no automatic ticket for incumbents. Party elders like Nnamani and Nwobodo, as well as, influential members of the party at the national level could make Ugwuanyi’s case easier. Fluent in Hausa language, the governor is at home with most APC influencers and retains their confidence and friendship built over the years in Kaduna and at the House of Representatives.

The snag in his defection is the possibility of leaving PDP open for a possible strong challenger to fly the party’s flag in 2019, thereby creating some tense moments for him at the main election.

As such, if Gburugburu remains in PDP, which is very likely, he would have to grapple with the challenge of endorsing the Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, for a fifth berth in the Senate. That will likely retain the governor, not only in the shadow as the political godson of the DSP, but also the burden of serious opposition from Enugu west senatorial zone, particularly the Udi/Ezeagu axis with which Ekweremadu’s Oji River/Awgu bloc shares the Senatorial seat.

Also in Enugu East, the governor would be at a loss on how to support Senator Gilbert Nnaji for a third term at the expense of his former benefactor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, who was denied a second term in the Senate in 2015 through a combination of political conspiracy and judicial gymnastics.

Should the challenges of granting the political wishes of the above senators drive Governor Ugwuanyi to APC, he would fall back on the support of his former allies, Ken Nnamani, Nwobodo and Sullivan Chime to sustain popular support of the electorate in the main election.

All these depend to a large extent on the new political thinking in the zone towards political realignment with the APC, or how far the PDP is able to manage its affairs at the centre.



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