Southeast Bureau Chief, JUDE OSSAI, looks at the battle of wits between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the zone ahead of the 2019 polls.
AT the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the people of the zone pitched their tents with the Peoples Democratic Party (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 Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, took control of Abia State, Dr Chinwoke Mbadiniuju was in charge of Anambra State. For Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States, Dr Sam Egwu , Dr Chimaroke Nnamani and Achike Udenwa held sway, respectively.
In that era, the Conference of South-East Governors which had previously gone into oblivion shortly after the still defunct Third Republic, tried to come alive with the then governors meeting at regular intervals in Enugu to review national issues as they affected the Igbo nation. But between 1999 and now, many things have occurred, changing the political landscape of Ndigbo with just three states: Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu, now remaining in PDP.Indeed, the first south-Eastern governor to opt out of the PDP umbrella was ex-Governor Kalu, who went to form the Peoples Progressives Party (PPA), a move many believed he made to free himself from the grip of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, and to pursue the Igbo presidency project.
Unfortunately, the political atmosphere in God’s Own State is still uneasy because, the battle raged over the coveted seat of governor of Abia. But head or tail, the PDP still holds the fort in the troubled state as both Dr Okezie Ikpeazu and Uche Ogah are from the PDP stable, the legal tussle notwithstanding. As a matter of fact, the crisis in Abia is not new to political watchers, as the first battle fought in the state was said to have started by Kalu and his estranged deputy, Chief Enyinnaya Abaribe, over alleged forged rate receipts which Enyinnaya denied. Kalu also had skirmishes with other political gladiators that included Chime Nwafor, Onyema Ugochukwu, Chief Ojo Maduekwe and Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, at different periods. How he defeated Chief Ogbulafor in 1999 to emerge as governor when he (Ogbulafor) was in the then All Peoples Party (APP) is now history. Suffice it to also recall that Ogbulafor later defected to PDP, where he was nominated as minister and subsequently national secretary and chairman of the party.
Today, the two dominant parties: PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are in an intense battle for the soul of Igboland, unlike in the past when PDP had all the structures in the zone in its hands. Already, in Enugu, where the deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, hails from, there is fear in some quarters that the PDP may lose to APC in 2019. The theory stems from the fact that the body language of the incumbent governor of the state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, is titling towards the APC, as the PDP on whose crest he rode to power, is no longer controlling the government at the centre. The trial of the deputy senate president over alleged forgery of Senate Standing Rules is not helping matters, as APC had capitalised on the development to have an in-road into the state.
Little wonder then that, precisely on July 9, 2016, both PDP and APC stalwarts and their supporters held different rallies simultaneously at Awgu, the headquarters of Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State. While PDP faithful, under the auspices of Enugu-West Senatorial District, held a protest rally against the trial of their son (Ekweremadu), the APC officially opened their constituency office in the town. Supporters of both parties used the occasions to woo the people of the area.
For the spokesman of the pro-Ekweremadu rally, Professor Sam Ukpabi, the group had reviewed the state of the nation, especially the politics of bitterness, nepotism, hate and crushing economic hardship, which a narrow cabal in the APC had unleashed on Nigerians since assuming power at the centre. The former Secretary to Enugu State Government (SSG) said: “We reviewed the recent politically-motivated trial of the deputy President of the Senate and former Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu, PhD, CFR, on a trumped-up charge of forgery, which has added yet another disturbing dimension to the APC-led Federal Government’s unabashed determination to continually harass and overrun our illustrious son and representative.
“We noted, with dismay, that since the re-election of Senator Ekweremadu as the deputy President of the 8th Senate on 9th June 2015, the APC has neither hidden its hatred and disgust for the revered Senator nor its declared intention to get rid of him by “all means,” not minding that the process, which produced him and, which was watched live by Nigerians on television, was credible and transparent.”
The group called on the APC government to refrain from an alleged culture of political persecution and take immediate steps to arrest the unprecedented hardship faced by Nigerians in the past 13 months, the nosedive of the Naira, menace of herdsmen who have turned every part of the South and the Middle Belt of Nigeria to a war zone of restiveness in various parts of the country; rising culture of inconclusive and poorly conducted elections; and the undermining of human rights and political freedoms.
But former spokesman of the South-East APC caucus, Osita Okechukwu, thinks differently, as he wants the people of Enugu and the entire South-East to bond with the APC government. He urged the people to negotiate for critical physical and social infrastructure with President Muhammadu Buhari, rather than the current agitation for restructuring or outright secession.
“For the avoidance of doubt, one is not against the trimming of the Exclusive Legislative List in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, so as to shed some federal powers to the states and local government councils. I am on the same page with the age long adage of our great ancestors, which interalia, ‘if you don’t know where the rain started, you may not find a solution to the drench’! Therefore, with hindsight, the causative factor which regrettably simulated the current heightened agitation for restructuring or secession is crass and unbridled corruption. Let’s join Mr President to kill corruption.”
Okechukwu, now the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), added: “Let’s not forget the common knowledge that if the successive regimes had revamped our decayed physical and social infrastructure, if they had not squandered our commonwealth and if they had not promoted ethnicity and religion; today, no Nigerian could have been bothered on who is Chief of Army Staff or Inspector General of Police.
“To be specific, if the erstwhile presidents, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, and ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, had utilised the unprecedented oil windfall to fix our power sector, erect modern rail lines, build or update our refineries, the 2nd Niger Bridge and our school and health institutions, nobody today will have anything to avenge for. In sum, the painful wind of hunger, despair, despondency and gross unemployment is blowing in the North-West, South-West, South-South, North-Central, South-East and North-East. No ethnic or religious group is immune to hunger ravaging the land, which believe it or not it is the outcome of crass and unbridled corruption, not per se creation of more states, regions or outright secession.”
To Okechukwu, “it is sane; and pragmatic that Ohaneze, Afenifere, Ijaw National Congress and indeed all sundry separatist groups should channel their agitation to total war against corruption, in league with President Buhari.”
There is no doubt that the ranks of APC has continued to swell in Enugu, even as many dismissed some of the “decampees” as spent forces. Some of the high-profile figures that shifted to APC ground recently in the state included Senator Jim Nwobodo, the erstwhile god-father of Dr Chimaroke Nnamani and Dr (Mrs) Dorothy Nwodo.
Both Nwobodo and Dr Nnamani, founder of the Peoples Democratic Change (PDC), represented Enugu-East Senatorial zone at different times, while Dr Dorothy, wife of a former governor of old Enugu State, Dr Okwesilieze, is still influential, particularly among the women folk in Enugu North Senatorial Zone.
In Anambra State, the APC stalwarts are not leaving anything to chance ahead of the 2017 gubernatorial poll, which many consider will determine the road to 2019 general election. Expectedly, the stake is high as the three major parties-All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) PDP and APC — have continued to woo members to their respective parties.
Recently, Tony Nwoye, a former Anambra State chairman of PDP, told his bewildered supporters that he would contest the 2017 governorship election on the platform of APC, adding that serious consultations towards that end were already ongoing in and outside Anambra State.
He told a gathering of stakeholders from Anambra East and Anambra West in his country home at Nsugbe in Anambra East Local Government Area during a cash empowerment programme that he would soon declare officially for the APC. The former National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) leader was quoted to have said that many people in the state had lost confidence in PDP., arguing that their best alternative was APC, which, he added, was striving to correct the mistakes of the past federal administration.
, “I am no longer satisfied with what is happening in PDP. I no longer have anything to do with the party and I will soon officially declare for APC. I won’t force my followers to follow me, but they are free to join me in the movement to APC because politics is a matter of choice,” he added.
Checks showed that fresh alignment had since begun in Anambra, especially with the senator representing Anambra South, Andy Ubah and his Anambra Central counterpart, Stella Oduah, as among the leading gladiators. But, will they have the muzzle to upstage winners like Chris Ubah and Annie Okonkwo in the politics of the state?
Coincidentally, the third senator from the state, Uche Ekwunife, had earlier been removed by the Court of Appeal. All the three senators were elected on the platform of the PDP. However, how Ekwunife’s sojourn to APC will enhance the fortunes of the party in Anambra viz –avis the 2019 elections will be determined with time, particularly as she lost the APC ticket to Sharon Ikeazor.
The story of Imo State, where Governor Rochas Okorocha holds sway, is another kettle of tea, as the APC state chief executive has continued to suppress dissenting voices, including labour leaders and civil society groups in the state. Reports, said that the issue of bailout fund and irregular payment of workers’ salaries had since pitched the governor against union leaders in the state, a development many contend might put APC in stiff opposition in 2019.
In Ebonyi State, it is a story of conflict between the immediate past governor, Martin Elechi and the incumbent, Dave Umahi. The eroding of confidence is so pronounced in the Salt of the Nation State that the former governor had to wonder why the same government which had refused to pay his entitlements and severance package would dole out enough money to buy an exorbitant car for him.
To Governor Umahi, his immediate predecessor merited it as the political patronage was also extended to ex-Governor Egwu, former Governor of old Abia State and Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu and Ex-Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim.
According to PDP sources who spoke under anonymity, the party faithful in the state are worried by media reports that Governor Umahi might defect to APC. Sources said the worries from the state chapter of the PDP stemmed from the fact that Umahi is a close associate of the current Minister of Science and Technology, and the immediate Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyam, had further heightened the speculation of defection.
On the whole, in the South-East, the battle for political space ahead of 2019 has begun with new strategies employed by the actors in and outside the Igbo enclave.