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Published On: Mon, Nov 13th, 2017

Anambra 2017: Obiano battles for life

By Obinna Ezugwu

The time has finally arrived. On Saturday the people of Anambra State will head to the polls to either renew the mandate of the incumbent state governor, Chief Willie Obiano who is running for a second term in office, or elect fresh hands from among other prominent contenders, including Mr. Oseloka Obaze of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Tony Nwoye of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Mr. Osita Chidoka of the United Progressive Party (UPP) in what is essentially a four-horse race.

It promises to be a hard fought battle, Anambra is typically a tough state to govern, and it is even tougher to retain power as an incumbent due to the usual preponderance of contending forces. It is a state with too many big men who wield as much influence as the state chief executive and usually, it is hard to navigate through the maze of political interests there. The big men with big money usually call the shots; the state has the highest number of billionaires per thousand people.

Starting with Mr. Chinweoke Mbadinuju who took power with the return of democracy in 1999 largely, some say, courtesy of Chief Emeka Offor, a billionaire, with whom he fell out. He was stopped from returning for second tenure by Chief Chris Uba, who sponored Dr. Chris Ngige as governor in 2003 by Chris Uba and later bullied out of office by the same Uba, Anambra had always been a fiefdom of political godfathers.

The emergence of Mr. Peter Obi in 2006 broke the ranks of godfathers and therefore saw improved quality of governance, but despite Obi’s best efforts, it had taken an intense pleading by the late Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu on his behalf for him to retain power in 2010 after the election the year before.

Ojukwu had asked Anambra people to reelect Obi as his last wish, and it was largely for this that Obi won a second term.

With the benefit of this hindsight, it is easy to tell that while winning second term in office is often given for governors, especially in the South East, it is a different kettle of fish in Anambra and therefore for Obiano. But for a variety of reasons, the governor remains a favorite and could indeed retain his seat despite the odds.

The point was made earlier about the election being a four horse race alongside the governor who is running on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Obaze of PDP, Nwoye of APC and Chidoka of UPP. But in a strict sense, it is indeed a contest between Obiano and Obaze.

Nwoye is running on the platform of APC, a party despite being the country’s ruling party, remains very unpopular with the people of the state. In fact, it is only to the extent that it is expected that APC would bring federal might to bear that Nwoye is considered among the favorites. And from their campaigns which have been characterised by much display of power, it seems obvious that this would be the case.

Ordinarily, Nwoye has neither the charismatic personality nor a popular political platform to mount any form of challenge. All the same, APC being the country’s ruling party is expected to put up a good show because more often, elections in Nigeria are not decided strictly on popular votes. However, there is a limit to the extent to which a candidate or a party can manipulate the outcome of an election in an environment where it has little support. To this degree therefore, Nwoye may not necessarily belong to the same league as Obiano and Obaze.

Chidoka of UPP is another candidate that can be considered a favorite, but he is from the Anambra Central zone, the same zone that produced both Obi and Ngige and has ruled for a combined period of eleven years in succession. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that another candidate from the zone would be voted in at a time much emphasis is being placed on rotation.

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Besides, UPP is not yet a very strong political platform although it is largely popular in Anambra more than any other state in the country.

It is between Obaze and Obiano that the election would likely be decided. The former derives strength largely through the backing of the immediate past governor, Obi who remains a popular political figure in the state despite leaving office nearly five year ago.

Obi ran the state for eight years, from 2006 to 2014 and handed over to Obiano, but the duo fell apart shortly afterwards. Obi left the APGA under whose platform he governed and joined the PDP that same year. Ever since, both have remained political rivals. Ahead of the November 18 governorship election, Obi has been relentless in trying to topple Obiano, install PDP’s Obaze and by implication, bring to an end, APGA’s 12-year reign in Anambra.

Should this be the case, it would mark the beginning of the end for a party once touted as Igbo party, one almost synonymous with the late Ojukwu, although it was formed by Chief Chekwas Okorie who had since left to form another party, the United Progressive Party (UPP) after a protracted leadership crisis with Chief Victor Umeh.

APGA had over the years, assumed the position of the Igbo voice, an answer to the Action Congress in the South West and the Congress for Progressive Change in the North. In 2011, Owelle Rochas Okorocha rode on its platform to unseat the incumbent Ikedi Ohakim of the PDP to become Imo State governor.

Two years afterwards however, he pulled out to join the All Progressives Congress (APC) in what was largely seen as a betrayal of APGA. Okorocha’s decision, no doubt, dealt a heavy blow to the party, but in Anambra, Obi as governor stayed put, and made sure the party remained in power with Obiano.

This year however, Obi is back to settle scores with the governor. If he succeeds, it would not only cut short the incumbent’s tenure, but deliver a final nail on APGA’s coffin. Ironically, Obi is out to destroy a party he helped to build as collateral damage in his battle with his successor. Thus, as Obiano battles to keep his seat, it is also a battle for the soul of APGA as a political party.

Things had assumed interesting dimensions weeks ago when elder statesman, Dr. Alex Ekwueme who had hitherto endorsed Obiano for second term, backtracked and gave his blessings to the PDP candidate, Obaze who by the way, has the former Vice President’s daughter as running mate.

Ekwueme who is currently receiving treatment abroad after collapsing in his Enugu home, is a founding member of the PDP. At a meeting of stakeholders of the Old Aguata Union (OAU) in his country home in Oko, Orumba North Local Government, Anambra South Senatorial zone, he said his support for his daughter was total. And according to him, it was time for the PDP to take over the state.

“Anambra State is a PDP state from inception. We shall now continue with PDP. Time has come for us to take away power from APGA.”

Ekwueme, by his endorsement of PDP, has stocked the flames of an already polarising political atmosphere in the state.

At a similar meeting of the OAU earlier last week, both former governor, Dr. Emeka Ezeife and former Central Bank governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo insisted that Obiano who like Obaze and Nwoye, is from Anambra North, should be allowed to complete eight years as governor, such that power would return to the South Senatorial zone afterwards, reasoning that if either Nwoye or Obaze takes power, it would likely be another eight years for the zone.

They maintained that the people of Old Aguata were fed up with being deputy governors with two former deputy governors, Chief Emeka Sibeudu and Dr. Okey Udeh, who served under former governors Peter Obi and Chris Ngige, respectively, saying that their experiences as deputy governors were very unpleasant.

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There is no doubt, Obaze poses a huge threat. A number of people spoken to across the state said the election would be his to lose should it be decided strictly on popular vote.

“The election is a tough call,” said Sunday Nwafor, a journalist based in the state. “When it comes to grassroots popularity, in terms of who most people support and who is expected to win a free and fair election, it may be Obaze,”

“If you ask around who people believe should win, most people will tell you it’s Obaze, and that’s because Peter Obi is supporting him. But Obiano is the incumbent and has the political class backing him.  He equally had his supporters, no doubt. So, it would be difficult to predict.”

As long as popularity goes, Obi is easily the most appreciated new generation politician in the state. Many say he did well as governor and the incumbent has not been able to match his achievements, an indication that he needs to communicate his achievements better.

“Peter Obi is more loved here, he did tangible work as governor. Obiano on the other hand, has not matched that. Even the flyovers he did are collapsing. But he is strong in the media.” Okafor Chidi, a resident of Awka said.

“Comparing Obi with Obiano is like comparing success and failure,” he said. “There is no basis for any comparison. Obi did very well as governor, but so far Obiano has not done much. In fact, he is a drowning man who is becoming isolated.”

However, Obiano himself, some say, has not performed badly. In the areas of security, education, agriculture, healthcare, social infrastructure, urban development among others, he is given pass mark.

In agriculture, the governor created nearly 400,000 agro-based jobs and has attracted over $1.2 billion in private investments since assuming office in March 2014. His rice revolution has led to the production of about 80,000 metric tons yearly, and the state has been exporting vegetables to the United Kingdom. The governor had with SAB Miller, makers of Hero and other popular beer brands in the East, entered into an agreement with Delfarms, a local sorghum producer to supply all the sorghum the company needs for production.

In education, the governor has built on the achievements of his predecessor. Anambra still remains one of the top performing states in national exams. Healthcare wise, his administration built, renovated or upgraded many healthcare facilities across the state.

In Awka, the state capital, his administration has built three beautifully adorned flyovers with street lights while also signed agreements with a Chinese company for the construction of $5 billion airport project under the public private partnership. This is in addition to other road projects.

For these achievements and the fact that he is an incumbent with the support of the political class who do not particularly like Obi who was accused of being frugal as governor, and running on a political platform to which the people have much emotional attachment, Obiano stands ample chance of retaining his seat.

“I believe Obiano can win,” said Chy Emeh, a resident of Awka. “I think the civil servants are very much happy with him. He pays them regularly and on time.

“Other than paying, he also gives them a bag of rice every Christmas. He is also doing well in agriculture,” she concluded.

“It is a matter of perception,” said Ubaka Okeke in Nnewi. “Personally, I believe Obiano has done well. Comparing him with Obi is another thing. Obi is not running, so there may be no need for that.”

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