The race for Obiano’s seat in Anambra
MICHAEL OVAT writes on the recurring issue of zoning in the politics of Anambra State
Despite the fact that the 2021 governorship election in Anambra State is more than one year away, stakeholders have made zoning the main discourse at every available public space in the state. This has become more noticeable especially among the political elite, traditional rulers and business organisations, among others, even as some critics opined that zoning remained a tool used to achieve self-seeking political interest in the state.
There on-going argument in the political circle is that it is the turn of the Anambra South Senatorial District to produce the next governor of the state. The argument for the district is in line with the purported zoning arrangement which was introduced into Anambra politics by a former governor of the state, Mr Peter Obi, when he was leaving office in 2013. The discourse is currently generating heated debate among concern stakeholders, even as the major opposition parties in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) are of the opinion that zoning undermines merit.
Former Governor Obi was said to have been forced by his associates to deny the issue of zoning attributed to him in order to pave the way for the choice candidate of his party, the PDP, in the next election. While acknowledging that he insisted the governorship position should be zone to Anambra North, against the stand of his former party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Obi noted that it was in the “spirit of justice and equity” that the governorship slot should go to Anambra North since it was, at that time, the only zone yet to produce a governor in state.
In line with the position of the former governor, many stakeholders in the three senatorial districts of the state hold the same view that zoning arrangement had outlived its usefulness in the governorship contest as each of the districts has, at different times, produced the governor. The argument now is that what matters in the forthcoming governorship poll are the credibility and credentials of those vying for the number one seat in the quest to deliver on good governance.
An Awka-based legal practitioner and a chieftain of the PDP, John Okoli Akirika, said zoning was an arrangement by APGA. He therefore averred that such an arrangement could not be used to promote ineligible contenders as governorship candidates. According to him, the administration of the current governor, Chief Willie Obiano, is a practical example of why zoning is not needed any more in Anambra.
“As far as I am concerned, all the three zones have taken the governorship slots, including the South. This is the best time to keep zoning behind the door. And if any eligible candidate won the seat on the platter of zoning, it would take another years to eliminate the process, which in the long run will affect the social, political and economic life of the state,” Akirika said.
While the discourse continues, one issue that seems to be resonating with many people is that zoning can only continue to promote mediocrity in the politics of a state that has produced several intellectuals and political actors in the country, including the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe; late Dr Alex Ekweme; late Professor Chinua Achebe; late Dr Chuba Okadigbo; late Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Ayaoku, Professor ABC Nwosu, former Governor Peter Obi and Senator Victor Umeh.
However, some elders, under the umbrella of the Anambra State Elders’ Council, backed the decision of the APGA to shift the governorship position to the southern zone of the state for the sake of equity, fairness and justice. The elders forum, which consists of eminent citizens of the state, in a communiqué, described the move as just.
The Anambra elders, in the communiqué jointly signed by Chief Emeka Anyaoku and Secretary to the State Government, Professor Solo Chukwudebelu, also reviewed happenings in the state, including updates from Governor Obiano on some critical projects across the state.
Part of the communiqué read, “The Council reiterated its position on the rotation of the Office of the Governor among the three senatorial zones in the state, and hence its expectation that the next governor of the state will come from the Anambra South Senatorial zone. The Council received the briefing from Governor Obiano through a documentary on the key achievements of his administration since March 2014. The council commended the administration’s scorecard.”
The state acting chairman of APC, Chief Basil Ejidike, countered the decision of the elders in supporting a particular political party. He argued that since Anambra State was created in 1991, the struggle for political power in the state had always between the “conservative Anambra South Senatorial zone and its liberal democratic Anambra Central counterpart, much to the near exclusion of Anambra North, with its insular politics.”
Those familiar with the politics of the state said Okey Odunze from Oyi Local Government Area of the state was close to becoming the governor on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992, but for the political intrigues that produced Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a retired federal permanent secretary, in his stead.
When Ezeife finally picked the SDP ticket, prominent players in the party, including the late Senator Okadigbo, rallied Anambra North to accept the position of a running mate, handed over to Chudi Nwike from Ogbu, a neighbouring town to Odunze’s Umunya, in Oyi Local Government Area. Ezeife and Nwike later won the election, but the life of that administration was cut short by the military in 1993.
When the country returned to democratic rule in 1999, the political domination of Anambra South, again, played out, apparently on the account that the zone could boast of more politicians with deep pockets. Sponsored by influential business leaders, principally the multi-millionaire oil magnate, Dr A. B. C. Orjiako, a relatively unknown Onitsha-based legal practitioner, Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju, emerged the governorship candidate of the PDP and eventually won the election in 1999.
When Mbadinuju was denied a second term in office in 2003, the power mongers in the state replaced him with Dr Chris Ngige, the serving Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity. But Ngige soon fell out of favour with those who invested in his election on account of his purported decision to renege on the ‘sharing understanding.’ They went for Mbadiniju’s jugular and removed him by releasing sensitive documents, showing the electoral fraud that allegedly robbed the APGA of victory at the election.
Towards the end of his eight years in office, Governor Obi looked towards the Anambra North Senatorial District in order to bring about equity, fairness and justice in the scheme of things in the state.
Meanwhile, one of the PDP aspirants in the 2021 election and a former Secretary to the State Government, Mr Oseloka Obaze, also disclosed that; “As far as I know, the PDP is not into zoning. As to my personal disposition, since 2017, I have been in the race; I remain in the race and will always be in the race because I have been proactively engaged in the process of engendering purposeful leadership and sustainable development change to Anambra State. I am from Anambra North, I strongly believed that Anambra needs a skilled leader that is committed to redirecting the state towards sustainable development and greatness, and not zoning.” Obaze also said the PDP would field the best candidate, irrespective of where the person comes from, with a view to ensure an all-round development of the state.
On his own part, the Secretary of the Anambra State chapter of the APGA, Tony Ifeanya, said the party’s decision to pick its candidate for the 2021 gubernatorial election from Anambra South remained sacrosanct. He said the decision was predicated on its strong belief in the principles of justice, equity fairness and good conscience. He noted that, given the fact that Anambra Central and Anambra North have respectively had their turns, it would be fair for Governor Obiano’s successor to come from the South Senatorial District.
Ifeanya maintained that the zoning and rotation formula of the APGA would continue to promote peaceful coexistence and harmonious relationship among the people of the three senatorial districts of the state. According to him, the restoration of peace and stability, in addition to the unprecedented delivery of the dividends of democracy by the APGA administration in the state in the past 13 years have endeared the party to the people.
The state chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Demian Okeke-Ogene, also lent his support for zoning as he called on all the political parties contesting in the 2021 governorship poll, to select their candidates from South, warning that the apex Igbo body would not support any candidate outside the zone.