By OBINNA EZUGWU
Last week marked the completion of the first major step in the race for the Anambra governorship seat ahead of the all-important election billed for November 6. Major political parties concluded their primaries, and candidates emerged in what is shaping up to be a four-horse race for the number one seat in the Light of Nation.
Predictably, former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Prof. Charles Soludo, emerged candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the ruling party in the state, polling 740 votes to defeat three other aspirants, Okwudili Ezenwankwo who got 41 votes, Damian Okolo with seven votes, and Ibeh Kenechukwu Christopher who got four votes in the primary election conducted at the Prof. Dora Akunyili Women Development Centre, Awka by the Chief Victor Oye-led party on Wednesday last week.
On his part, the Senator representing Anambra South, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah, will fly the flag of his party, the Young Progressives Party (YPP).
In the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the emergence of Valentine Ozigbo, 50-year-old former president and CEO of Transcorp Plc, may have come as a bit of a surprise, given that a number of seasoned politicians such as Anambra Central senator, Uche Ekwunife; former member of the House of Reps, Tony Nwoye, as well as US based billionaire medical doctor, Godwin Maduka among others, were in the race.
But Ozigbo who had indeed run a spirited campaign in the lead up to the primaries, got 62 votes to edge his closest rival, Obiora Okonkwo who got 58 votes. Senator Ekwunife had 44 votes to place third; Winston Use, 12; Chris Azubogu, 10; Godwin Maduka, 5 and Genevieve Ekwochi, 3. Walter Okeke and Chidi Onyemelukwe had two votes respectively, in the election held on Saturday, fortnight ago.
Though his emergence was contested by Senator Ugochukwu Uba who emerged in a parallel primary held on the same day, the national leadership of the party has since resolved the impasse, paving the way for him to run.
For the country’s ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), former Anambra South senator, Nnamdi (Andy) Uba, was announced winner on Sunday morning, by Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, who had served as head of the party’s election committee, after a rather controversial primary poll said to have been held on the same Saturday.
Uba scored a whooping 230, 201 votes to beat other aspirants to emerge as the APC flagbearer, in an election that recorded a confounding 348,490 votes.
Other aspirants had polled as follows: Johnbosco Onunkwo (28,746), Chidozie Nwankwo (21, 281), George Moghalu (18,596), Paul Orajiaka (4, 348), Geoff Onyejeagbu (3, 414), Azuka Okwuosa (17,189) Nwokafor Daniel (3,335), Ikoobasi Mokelu (3,727), Kwebuike Ifeanyi (1,466), Godwin Okonkwo ( 5,907), Ben Etiaba (4,244), Edozie Madu (3,636) and Maxwell Okoye (2,540).
However, earlier on Saturday, 11 of the of the 14 governorship aspirants of APC in Anambra said the June 26 governorship primary in the state did not hold.
George Moghalu, spokesperson for the aspirants, made the position of the group known in a press conference on Saturday in Awka.
Muoghalu said that in all the 326 electoral Wards of the state, people came out, but were disappointed, saying that none of the APC team saddled with the responsibility to conduct the primary and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials were seen.
Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, also wrote to the Abiodun committee, asking that the election be postponed, as according to him, the election did not take place, has continued to maintain his stance. It remains to be seen whether the aggrieved parties will agree to back the Uba candidacy.
Regardless, barring further controversies, Uba will face other candidates in what is a battle of Anambra South Senatorial District; the Old Aguata Zone; the zone which is to produce the next governor of the state in line with its informal zoning arrangement, but one which Soludo and Ozigbo stand shoulders higher above the rest.
When in 2010, the former CBN governor, riding on the back of his perceived strong performance as governor of the apex bank, sought to govern Anambra under the PDP, his aspiration ended in a heavy defeat in the hands of then incumbent governor, Mr. Peter Obi who was seeking a second term after a troubled, but nonetheless impressive first term performance.
But there were more to the defeat than met the eye. It was down, perhaps, to two critical factors: the strong intervention by the late Biafra leader, Chief Emeka Ojukwu, who used his influence to calm the nerves of many big wigs in the state who had become infuriated by Obi’s alleged frugality, and were determined to ensure his reign as governor ended after his first four years.
The second, and perhaps the more critical factor, was the indisposition and subsequent death of then Nigerian president, Umaru Musa Ya’Adua and the elevation of then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan to the position of acting president, and subsequently president. There had been talks about Soludo replacing Jonathan as vice president in 2011, and Yar’Adua’s plan, it was alleged, was to ensure that Soludo became governor so at to use the platform of governorship to gain more political clout. However, his illness and subsequent death put a spanner in the works, and Jonathan upon becoming president reportedly made sure not to allow a “rival” achieve political prominence.
Obi thus retained his seat. But eleven years down the road, Soludo is back with expectation of a better outcome and with primary election secured, he has good reasons to be hopeful. There are several factors that might ensure he doesn’t end up as he did the last time out.
Perhaps not as highly regarded as he was in 2010, but Soludo is still one of the most highly rated professionals in the country, and would be basking in this reputation as he seeks to achieve what he couldn’t do at the first time of asking, even as the calculations heavily favour him.
First, and perhaps most importantly, he has the backing of Governor Obiano which could prove to be very key. Both men have remained political allies for more than half a decade, and the governor was there to raise his hands and unveil him to the state electorate on the day of the primary.
“Now, the real work has begun,” Obiano had declared. “We are going to win 21 over 21 local government areas again as we did in 2017.”
Besides Obiano’s support, APGA is the ruling party in the state with all the state political structures at its disposal.
“As Soludo has won the primary election, he is clearly the favourite to win,” said Awka based analyst, Mr. Chidi Nwafor. “It’s now clear that Obiano supports him, which would give him an edge.
Still, feelers within the country’s ruling party, APC, suggest that the party had resolved to throw its weight behind Soludo. The idea being that he would subsequently defect to the party upon taking office as governor, as part of the ruling party’s bigger plot to make more inroads in the Southeast ahead of 2023, which could see the pairing of a Northern presidential candidate and Southeast vice presidential candidate in the party.
Soludo was one of the notable intellectuals who backed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, and his appointment by Buhari in 2019 as a member of an 8-member Economic Advisory Council (EAC), suggests he has the support of the president.
The former CBN governor also has the advantage of coming from the old Aguata zone, the zone, which as noted earlier, is widely expected to produce the next governor of the state in line with the informal zoning arrangement of the state governorship. But so does the other candidates, notably Ozigbo, the PDP candidate who himself comes with strong pedigree having made a mark in the boardroom before branching out into politics.
Ozigbo who had worked in the banking sector, racking up over 17 years in experience with NAL Merchant Bank, Diamond Bank, Continental Trust Bank, FSB International Bank, Standard Trust Bank, United Bank for Africa and Bank PHB, before serving as as CEO of Transcorp Hotels, during which time he oversaw the hotel’s expansion to other cities across Nigeria and a consolidation of its status as the leading hotel in the country, has a strong case.
As candidate of Nigeria’s main opposition party, which has massive support in Anambra, he stands on a strong footing. Yet, his humility and ability to address issues have endeared him to many of the state’s populace, some of whom accuse his rival, Soludo of being too elitist and aloof.
He will have the backing of former governor, Obi, who remains popular in the state on account of his performance in office as governor, between 2006 and 2014. Indeed, many say they see traits of Obi in him.
The YPP candidate, Senator Ubah could also prove a formidable opponent and embodies the aspirations of his Nnewi constituency; a people determined to produce governor for the first time.
Easily one of the most prominent towns in Anambra – a town noted for enterprise and its consequent production of several billionaires, perhaps the most of any town anywhere in Africa – Nnewi has not managed to replicate its success at business in politics.
Despite producing many individuals of note, both in politics and commerce, such as Nigeria Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, business mogul and founding president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, whose son Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, would become the military governor of old Eastern Nigeria and consequently, head of state of the secessionist state of Biafra, Nnewi has yet to produce a governor of Anambra State, despite several attempts in the past.
The inability may well be down to time and chance. But the reason often adduced is that the Nnewi bigwigs often undermine one another, yet the people themselves see it in terms of other groups ganging up against them fearing that a town with such economic power could not be allowed to equally take political power; all of which exist in the realm of political gossip.
However, as the state prepares to elect another governor in November, the people of Nnewi appear to have resolved to change their story and are rallying behind their son, Senator Ubah.
“You can’t take Ifeanyi Ubah for granted. And from what I hear, the people from Nnewi side are determined to make sure that they produce the next governor,” said Mr. Collins Okeke, head, public sector practice group, Olisa Agbakoba Legal. “And I understand that a lot of the prominent people there support him.”
Ubah had relied largely on the backing of his Nnewi constituency to emerge senator in 2019 under the relatively unknown YPP, which coincidentally had Kingsley Moghalu, a Nnewi son, as presidential candidate, defying the odds on the occasion to beat both trio of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
And going into the November polls, his people are once again upbeat, hoping to replicate the success of 2019.
“Nnewi people are determined to ensure that they produce the next governor,” Nwafor said. “But the issue is that only them cannot elect a governor, and I’m not sure that others are keen on a Nnewi governor just yet.”
Indeed, the election appear to have divided the Anambra political class into two groups: those opposed to Governor Obiano and those in support of him. The governor’s opponents include many in the state who are upset about his apparent lack of performance in his second term and those, particularly Nnewi big wigs who are against him over an alleged betrayal. They mostly have Senator Ubah as rallying point.
Though Ubah was among those who supported Obiano and vigorously campaigned for him in 2017, with the projected understanding that he would be supported by the governor in 2021, both men eventually fell apart when the Obiano led APGA, in the lead up to the 2019 general election, denied Ubah the party’s Anambra South senatorial ticket.
Ubah had sought the APGA senatorial ticket, hoping to use the senate as springboard to launch his governorship bid. But Obiano apparently chose to make his intention known early enough by ensuring that he never took the party’s senatorial ticket. Ubah would, however, defect to the newly formed Young Democratic Party (YDP) and through the platform, actualised his senatorial ambition.
Supported by those who saw Obiano’s move as betrayal, and particularly, people of his Nnewi constituency to whom the governor’s action was yet another ploy to keep them out of power, Ubah despite being in a smaller political party, defeated candidates of the PDP, APGA and APC to emerge winner of the zone’s senatorial election. But his victory meant that an open war was now declared between him and the governor who is evidently determined to stop him from becoming governor.
Andy Uba, the APC candidate makes up the quartet of top contenders. A formidable candidate who broke into the scene as Special Assistant on Special Duties and Domestic Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo, whom he had supported in 1999 while still resident in the United States, Uba was in 2007, as PDP candidate, elected governor of Anambra. However, Obi challenged the election, saying that because the courts had only accepted that he had won the April 2003 elections on 15 March 2006, he still had three more years or his four-year term to serve. Obi won the case and returned as governor.
In 2011, Uba contested and won Anambra South Senate seat, still on the PDP platform, but defected to the APC in 2017. In 2019, he lost his senate seat to Ifeanyi Ubah, who he now faces, among other candidates, in the upcoming governorship election.
The former senator will hope to rely on federal might. But even more, he could be the rallying point of the Anglican community in the state, who have been agitating for power.
Past governors of Anambra, including the incumbent Obiano, have been people of the Catholic faith. The Anglican community, which comprise a substantial number of people population, though easily outnumbered by the Catholics, have been agitating for power. And Uba being the only Anglican among the leading candidates, may profit from this quest.
Indeed, a major case against APGA among the protestant community in the state is that the party operates like an arm of the Catholic Church.