By OBINNA EZUGWU
As the Anambra State electorate heads to the poll next week, November 6, to elect a new governor – a successor to the incumbent chief executive, Willie Obiano – the state’s ruling party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), is in a make or break battle, fighting not only to retain a state it has governed for nearly two decades, but more importantly, for its very survival.
Though not etched in the consciousness of many, when Anambra voters step out to vote on Saturday, they will inadvertently be deciding the fate of a political platform that has, over the years, stood as the only outstanding legacy of late Biafra leader, Chief Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu; a man widely regarded as the eternal leader of his people.
APGA, with former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Prof Charles Soludo, as its candidate, goes into the election as one of the favourites – in what is largely a three horse race involving the party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has Mr. Valentine Ozigbo as candidate and the country’s ruling party, All Progressive Congress (APC), with Senator Andy Uba as candidate – but more than ever before APGA faces a hovering possibility of not retaining a state it has had from 2006 when the state’s former governor, Mr. Peter Obi reclaimed his 2003 mandate initially awarded to Chris Ngige of the PDP. And unable to hold another state in the region, losing Anambra would simply mean a slide into oblivion.
It’s a possibility not lost on the APGA candidate, Soludo himself. Speaking on Tuesday during a campaign at Akpo community in Aguata LGA of the state, he noted that losing the election would simply be the end of the party.
“We cannot afford to lose this election, because if we lose, it will be the end of APGA,” Soludo said. “So, we need to work together and make sure we win this election to survive and carry on the legacy of the party. This is why I have come to you, to appeal to our traditional rulers, community leaders, president-generals, women and youths to vote for APGA.”
The prognosis, for a party that once embodied the aspiration of the Igbo nation, is foreboding. Last week’s defection to the APC, of Dr. Nkem Okeke, the state’s deputy governor, capped a wave of defections from APGA to the country’s ruling party ahead of the polls.
Okeke’s defection, perhaps more than anything else, spoke to the degeneration of a party that has since lost its essence, and presently exists, many say, in a vacuum. Before him was Sunday Umeoduagu, erstwhile APGA Board of Trustee member who also pitted tent with the ruling party few days ago. Six members of the state assembly, have also left for the APC, as the ruling party’s camp continues to expand ahead of the election.
The APC and its candidate, Uba, are looking poised to cause an upset at APGA’s expense, as a combination of factors, including crisis in APGA, possible voter apathy and likely deployment of federal might are catalysizing in their favour.
Uba has continued to mobilise youths of the state for spirited online campaigns. Yet, he is not the only threat. Ozigbo and PDP are very much in the game. Indeed, for many, a free and fair contest will largely be a two-horse race between APGA and the PDP.
But elections are hardly fair in Nigeria, and Anambra polls, with swelling threats of violence, may be anything but free. And this is where APGA’s main headache will come from.
“If election holds and people go out to vote, Andy Uba cannot win,” said Chidi Nwafor, political observer and business owner based in Awka. “If there is an election, APGA or PDP will win. Uba cannot win. APC is not liked here, and Uba is very unpopular, even in his home town, forget social media propaganda.
“But as it stands, people will not come out to vote, and that will enable him to use federal might to rig the election. They might repeat what they did in Imo State. But unlike Imo, they may not wait to go to court, they may take the state by force and ask you to go to court.”
The threat of violence is very real. Attacks on politicians, prominent figures and the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), by gunmen whose stated objective is to ensure that the election doesn’t hold, in line with the position of separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has put everyone on the edge.
“APGA has not been able to campaign because of the violence. The party has not been able to campaign in up to three local governments. Everyone is afraid,” Nwafor said. “People will not come out to vote, unless IPOB declares that the election should hold. Otherwise, they would be too afraid to go out to vote.”
APGA’s predicament is in three-fold: The party has, on account of merchantile posture of successive leadership, departed from its original mandate of being a rallying point for Ndigbo, to become like most other political platforms, a place where positions went to highest bidders. The consequence of which is the alienation of many who had invested their emotions to it, including the Southeast street which initially saw it, especially with Ojukwu as a leading figure, as a platform for the rekindling of Biafra spirit.
Ojukwu’s death in 2011, was the turning point. The party no longer had a natural leader. Peter Obi, its first governor, could not step into his shoes. His successor, Obiano, has proved to be much worse. His inspiring performance as governor is one of the major cases against APGA going into the polls. But the party’s major headache will come from the boycott campaign being mounted by proponents of Biafra, notably the Mazi Nnamdi Kanu led IPOB.
It’s an abiding irony that a political platform that rose to relative prominence in 2003, on the back pro Biafra sentiment, inspired by Emeka Ojukwu, now faces real threat of oblivion courtesy of same pro-Biafra sentiment, inspired this time, by Nnamdi Kanu.
Unlike Ojukwu, who after leading the Biafra war, subsequently favoured political participation, Kanu is mounting boycott campaign as a strategy to achieve secession. It’s difficult to see any logic in the strategy, and in any case, with President Muhammadu Buhari determined to ensure that the election takes place despite the enveloping violence – a commitment he further restated last week when he gave security agencies marching orders to deploy as much force as necessary to ensure that the election holds – it may indeed hold as scheduled. Regardless, the inevitable outcome will be historic low voter turnout, which could be APGA’s major undoing.
IPOB commands street following in Anambra and elsewhere in the Southeast, and the continued insistence by its foot soldiers on no election is sure to discourage many from participating in the process, but even more so is the ensuing violence, which is certain to scare people away from the polls and create an atmosphere for possible manipulation of the poll.
“The fewer the voters on election day, the worse for APGA and the PDP, which have no federal might to deploy,” said Chidi Anthony, lawyer and political commentator. “The violence being perpetrated by these gunmen will scare people away from voting. That is very obvious. What will then likely happen is that APC will use that as an opportunity to manipulate the outcome.”
APGA has also continued to be it’s own worst enemy, battling unending internal leadership crisis. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling that affirmed Soludo as candidate and Chief Victor Oye as national chairman, has put an end, in the interim, to what has been months bitter squabble between the duo’s camp and that of Jude Okeke, which produced Hon. Chukwuma Umeoji as governorship candidate, but it’s unlikely to be the end.
As hinted at earlier, APGA’s problem takes root from its derailing from the core fundamental objective that birthed it. Obvious from recent political events is that, perhaps as many political watchers have pointed out, APGA has lost its soul, and the recurrent crisis is only an indication that the party is heading towards an inglorious end.
When the party emerged in the political arena ahead of the 2003 general election, it was basically the Igbo response to their perceived marginalisation in the Nigerian polity. The party, with the late Chief Ojukwu as its face, represented, for the average Igbo, a political identity. One could say, APGA drew its strength from the Igbo emotional attachment to it.
“The strong desire to found a national political party based on Igbo initiative motivated me to rally a few associates on the platform of Igboezue Cultural Association which I founded in 1991 with the Motto: “Onye aghala nwanne ya,” (let’s be our brothers’ keepers) to embark on the mission of forming a political party,” recalled Chief Okorie, the party’s original founder and its first National Chairman.
Okorie perhaps foresaw that the possibility of an Igbo quest for power in a national political party did not exist, a fact further validated by the travails of the late former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme in the PDP. UPGA, the original name of the party, transmuted to APGA in 2003 with Ojukwu as its founding figure.
With Ojukwu, APGA, in many people’s reckoning, filled a void in the Igbo political consciousness which the PDP despite being the dominant political party in the Igbo country, could not fill. The generality of the people identified with it. In some ways, it was a response to the Alliance for Democracy in the South west and the All Nigeria Peoples Party in the North.
But things went downhill, gradually, after Ojukwu. Chief Obiano, as Anambra governor and leader of the party, not only stood on the party’s platform to back Buhari, perceived by many Igbo to have taken Igbo marginalisation to a whole new level, but also rained verbal abuses on Ohanaeze leadership for endorsing Buhari’s opponent, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, who coincidentally, had Peter Obi, his predecessor as vice presidential candidate ahead of 2019 election.
“APGA lost its essence the moment the party was hijacked some years ago by people who didn’t share in the vision for which it was founded. It is as a result of that derailment that took place about 16 years ago, in 2004. APGA was founded in 2002 and by December 2004, they had already launched an attack against the founder, myself,” said Chief Okorie.
“We remained in court for eight years. As a result, the party never grew beyond Anambra State. Any in-road it made into any state, it quickly returned back to Anambra State. It entered Imo, but couldn’t stay there and so on and so forth. So, it was a gradual process that has almost resulted in outright decimation of the party. It’s not a damage that was done just in one day.
“Don’t forget that after I produced Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu as presidential candidate, APGA never produced any other presidential candidate of Igbo extraction from that time till now. And one of the reasons for founding it was to give the Igbo man an opportunity to be involved in the contest for the highest office in the land.”
Obiano could well be APGA’s last governor. A possibility that would mark an unfortunate end to party. And for many, it will be to his credit. The governor is indeed linked with possible defection to the APC in the coming months.
“It is a shame that the party is being destroyed in the face of Obiano. As the leader of the party, the party is completely being destroyed,” Prof Max Nduaguibe, a former chieftain of the party in Abia noted.
“Obi left the party after his governorship and went to PDP. He left the party more or less intact for Obiano.
“The merchants who took over the party with Obiano decided to use it to make money. And they have made sufficient money from Imo people, from Abia people, even from Anambra people. You can see that they once even denied the wife of Ojukwu ticket.”
In 2015, with Dr. Alex Otti as candidate, APGA came whiskers away from taking Abia State, but again failed, largely on account of lack of commitment by its leadership. Otti has since abandoned the platform for the APC.
“The essence of APGA is almost getting lost because of avarice,” said Barr Bob Okey Okoroji, a chieftain of the party who aspired to Lagos governorship through its platform told BusinessesHallmark after the last polls.
“The focus and the desire by some individuals in leadership position both at the national and state levels, is to make money. Therefore, they relegate to the background, those fundamental principles on which the party was founded.
“I do understand too, that their leadership is not going to be forever. They will be there for a while and maybe those who share the vision of the founding fathers will get into leadership and bring the party to where it should be. The party’s performance in Imo is also not very encouraging because of the primary elections.”
Dr. Oye, regardless, insisted all is well with the party and they were, “determined not to be distracted by miscreants who are being used by opposition politicians to cause disaffection in APGA.”