By OBINNA EZUGWU
Anambra state faces an election in 2021 that could mark the end of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), the one outstanding legacy of the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu. And as more political heavyweights line up for what is billed to be a fierce combat, incumbent governor, Chief Willie Obiano – beset by perceived underperformance – knows that the odds are stacked against his party.
In November 2021, the state electorate will return to the polls to elect a new governor in what is already setting out to be a tough choice. The big wigs have thrown their hats in the ring. Among those expected to vie for the job are former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo; Capital Oil CEO and Anambra South senator, Ifeanyi Ubah; Senator Andy Ubah; Texas based billionaire medical doctor, Godwin Maduka; Uche Ekwunife, senator representing Anambra Central; ex APC National Auditor, George Moghalu; Mr. Valentine Ozigbo, the immediate past president and group chief executive officer of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp); Godwin Ezeemo, chairman of The Orient Group, among others.
It will be a contest that more than anything else, is likely to be decided by four factors: political party, zoning, power of incumbency and financial muscle. And on these call, some candidates hold the edge over others.
As far as the election is concerned, three political parties, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), are the only ones truly in contention, and while the list of aspirants is long at the moment, it would eventually come down to the three individuals who will emerge candidates of these three parties.
APGA is, at the moment, the party in power in the state, and has been in charge since 2006 when the immediate past governor, Mr. Peter Obi reclaimed his 2003 mandate through the court, in a decision that sacked Dr. Chris Ngige, now Minister of Labour and Employment. Ngige, then of the PDP, was initially announced winner of the polls by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
APGA, however, now mismanaged by its current leadership – a situation that has seen many of its prominent members like wife of Chief Ojukwu, Bianca; Dr. Alex Otti, Anambra North Senator, Stella Oduah; Ifeanyi Ubah, among others leave – will be going into the election weakened and under real threat of not only losing, but also going into extinction.
Apart from the uninspiring leadership of its current chairman, Chief Victor Oye who is accused of turning it into a business venture, APGA’s chances will also be affected by the perceived lack of performance by the Obiano administration. The governor’s inability to meet expectations in terms of sustaining infrastructure development, has won him critics, even as he is accused of plunging the state into debt despite having the benefit of savings by his predecessor, Obi.
The APC, on the other hand, though not popular in the state and the Southeast in general, is the country’s ruling party and will hope to rely on federal might to push and take over the state. The country’s ruling party had indeed, in the last election in November 2017, proved its capability in this respect, with its candidate, Hon. Tony Nwoye, beating PDP’s Oseloka Obaze to take second place behind Obiano who won reelection on the APGA platform.
The PDP, on paper, is the most popular party in the Southeast, Anambra not an exception. But the last election in the state where it came third behind APGA and the APC goes to show how bad things can go for the party when it’s not well organised. Prior to the election, the party broke into factions with Obi accused of imposing Obaze as candidate. However, it remains one to beat in the election if it manages to put its acts together.
The PDP’s popularity is further demonstrated by the fact that it won two of the state’s three senatorial seats, Stella Oduah for Anambra North and Ekwunife for Anambra Central, in the 2019 election, while also taking majority of federal House of Representatives seats. Indeed, the party only narrowly lost the Anambra South Senate seat to Ifeanyi Ubah and his party, the Young Progressive Party (YPP).
Regardless, the party’s popularity in the state means that the quest for its ticket often leads to intense disagreements, like one already brewing between the camp of Obi and Ekwunife.
Speculations are already emerging to the effect that Obi is attempting to conscript Dr. Maduka into the PDP, while also bringing in Ojukwu’s widow, Bianca, one already attracting reactions from Ekwunife’s camp.
Another factor that may decide the polls outcome is the informal zoning arrangement of the state’s governorship. The return of democracy in 1999 saw the emergence of Chinweoke Mbadinuju who is from the South Senatorial District as governor. He would, however, spend only four years as both lack of performance in office and a rift with his then godfather, Emeka Offor, ensured that he lost the PDP primary ticket to Dr. Ngige in 2003.
Ngige, from the Central Senatorial Zone, would go on to be declared winner of the 2003 governorship election in the state. He governed until 2006 when Mr. Peter Obi, candidate of APGA at the 2003 polls defeated him at the court to emerge new governor. Mr. Obi, also from Anambra Central, would go on to do eight years in office before handing over to Obiano who is from Anambra North Senatorial Zone.
It is widely expected therefore, that upon the completion of Obiano’s eight years, power would naturally return to the South Senatorial Zone. Indeed, this arrangement was part of the reason Obiano was widely supported during his reelection bid in 2017.
In the lead up to the polls, the likes of Chukwuemeka Ezeife, one time governor of the state; Soludo, among others, rallied behind the governor, arguing that it was only right for him to complete eight years, after which power would shift to the South.
They had 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, regretting that their experiences as deputy governors were very unpleasant.
The case for Anambra South is strong, and is supported by the state’s elders, then led by the late former vice president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. The elders had agreed in 2017, to consolidate the zoning arrangement such that by 2022, the next governor would come from old Aguata. With this likely the case, it means that the battle for Obiano successor will ultimately come down to the likes of Soludo, Ifeanyi Ubah, Maduka, Andy Ubah, Ozigbo and others from the zone.
Power of Incumbency
Granted that Obiano’s influence is weakened on account of his poor performance in office, but he is still the incumbent governor and whoever he backs will have the added advantage of power of incumbency.
This is particularly where Soludo is looking to have an edge. He is a member of the ruling party and appears to have Obiano’s backing. Indeed, the governor may have realised that it would be an expensive gamble to back someone without the pedigree of the former CBN governor, given the prevailing atmosphere.
There are already moves by Obiano that suggest he is grooming Soludo for 2021. In November last year, he constituted a 48-man think-tank committee to envision an economic and social development of the state in the next 50 years and put the former CBN governor as chairman, in what was widely seen as a move to put him in a position to begin planning on how to pilot the state’s affairs.
The plan, termed Vision 2070, according Obiano was for the security, prosperity and happiness of the state’s people. The team he had noted, “must develop an Anambra Plan”that is robust and has a “broad ownership by the Anambra people and critical stakeholders.”
According to the governor, the team is to define the vision and mission of the state for the development plan; identify specific sectors that the plan will focus on; define broad objectives for each of the identified sectors; develop specific policies, programs and strategies aimed at attaining the vision over the 50-year period; categorize these specific strategies into short-term, medium-term and long-term plans/framework; define expected outcomes from the implementation of the strategies identified in the plan, among others.
This particular move by Obiano is seen as sufficient evidence that he favours Soludo as his successor.
“If Obiano doesn’t choose a very strong candidate, his party will lose the election,” noted Mr. Chidi Nwafor, Onitsha based political enthusiast. “The governor has not done well. In fact, many people don’t like him. He cannot on his own influence the outcome. He has to choose a person who is popular on his own to stand a chance.”
But not everyone believes that even a strong candidate can help the ruling party retain power.
“Retaining power will be difficult for APGA, even if Soludo is its candidate,” noted Anthony Okeke, Onitsha based business owner. “It would be difficult for APGA to win. Obiano has damaged APGA.
“He hasn’t done anything tangible since he became governor, and now that he is about leaving, he is building an airport. The airport is not necessary at all. Asaba Airport is there, so is Enugu Airport. I think they just want to squander the money Obi left.”
From recent experiences, money is increasingly playing key role in deciding outcome of elections as usually, those with enough financial power to “buy votes” win elections. Indeed, money was very instrumental in Obiano winning every local government of the state in the November 2017 polls, which gave him second term mandate; 2021 is not likely to be any different.
On this call, it would be difficult to pick anyone with a clear advantage over the others, as all of the leading contenders have strong enough financial war chest to go all the way. But still, with the probability of state backing, Soludo might have a slight edge.
The Leading Candidates
Soludo (OFR): Former CBN governor, from 2004 to 2009, and member of the ruling party in the state, APGA he is poised to emerge candidate of the party. A first class graduate of economics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he is an intellectual heavyweight who has consulted for many reputable global institutions. Born in Isuofia in Aguata Local Government Area, he is from the Anambra South Senatorial Zone.
Ifeanyi Ubah: The Capital Oil CEO and Senator representing Anambra South is an aspirant to look out for. Stopped from taking APGA senate ticket in the last election by Obiano, he proved he can set out on his own by taking the senate seat under a relatively unknown platform. He is a popular politician in the state and probably Nnewi’s best shot at the governorship.
Dr. Maduka: A Harvard-trained, U.S. based medical doctor, Maduka is the founder of the Las Vegas Pain Institute and Medical Centre and one of the best in pain management in the world. He is a celebrated philanthropist who has spent an estimated $20 million on various developmental projects, including a 17 storey World class International standard hospital and medical research institute, easily the largest in Nigeria, in his Umuchukwu community in Orumba South Local government.
He is not known to have formally identified with any political party yet, but there are speculations he is in talks with Obi with possible plans of joining the PDP. He is also from Anambra South Senatorial Zone.
Ifeanyi Ubah: The Nnewi born, Capital Oil CEO announced his political credentials when he left APGA to join the YDP, after being denied the state’s ruling party Anambra South senatorial ticket. He picked up the new party’s senatorial ticket and not only defeated APGA in the national assembly election, but also the PDP and the APC, ending Andy Ubah’s stay at the upper legislative chamber.
Valentine Ozigbo: The immediate past CEO of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp), is another aspirant from Anambra South, hailing from Amesi in Aguata Local Government Area of the state. An intellectual in his own right, he is one of those looking to clinch the PDP ticket for the polls.
Uche Ekwunife: Ekwunife, though born in Igbo-Ukwu in Aguata Local Government Area in the South Senatorial Zone, is married to a husband from Nri in Anaocha Local Government Area, in the Central Zone, and in fact, the senator representing the zone in the upper legislative chamber.
Hers will be a bit of a complicated case in view of the argument for an Anambra South Senator. But she has all it takes to clinch the PDP ticket and can indeed, go all the way.
Nnamdi (Andy) Uba, former Anambra South Senator is one of the chieftains of the APC and although he hasn’t announced his intentions, is expected to vie for the state’s top job on the party’s platform. Uba who became Senator in 2011 under the PDP platform, joined the new ruling party in 2017, eventually losing out to Ifeanyi Ubah in 2019. An old hand in the game, Uba was Special Assistant on Special Duties and Domestic Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo.