By OBINNA EZUGWU
When he first stepped into the fray, Valentine Chineto Ozigbo must have seemed like one of those hardly consequential participants there to make up the numbers – his professional pedigree notwithstanding – but today the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the November 6 governorship election in Anambra has more than proven he means business.
There is a sense of Deja Vu, many say, in Ozigbo’s candidacy. The general feeling is that it has brought back memories of the youthful Peter Obi, the immediate past governor of the state who at 42 in 2003, left his thriving boardroom career – he was chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc, among other top positions – to join the Anambra governorship race under the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).
At the time, many people could have concluded that he stood little chance, given the dominance of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and it’s demonstrated capacity to win by the hook or crook.
Obi, who had resisted attempts to lure him into politics by Prof. ABC Nwosu, was eventually convinced when called upon by the founder of Kellogg Graduate School, Professor Dean Jacobs to go back to his country and participate in building public wealth, “because public wealth enriches everybody, but private wealth impoverishes everybody.”
“When Obi contested in 2003, nobody gave him a chance,” recalled Mr. Collins Okek, head, public sector practice group, Olisa Agbakoba Legal. “But he won, even though he was rigged out. So, Ozigbo might cause a bit of an upset in November.”
Obi, in 2014, handed over to Chief Willie Obiano, himself a technocrat whose career had spanned from First Bank of Nigeria, to Chevron and later Fidelity Bank, but who has largely failed to replicate his predecessor’s performance in many people’s reckoning, even as the state now has accumulated domestic debt of N60bn, up from N3bn in 2014.
As Obiano prepares to hand over to the next governor early next year, many are longing for a return to the Obi years, and Ozigbo – who at 51, has accumulated a wealth of experience in the private sector, having worked as banker for over 17 years, going from NAL Merchant Bank, Diamond Bank, Continental Trust Bank, FSB International Bank, Standard Trust Bank to United Bank for Africa and Bank PHB, before branching out into the hospitality industry where he served as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Transcorp Hotels Plc, from where he became its President and Chief Executive Officer in 2019 – fits the bill in many people’s opinions.
“Ozigbo is another Peter Obi,” said Mr. Oliver Nwafor, a political enthusiast based in Awka, the state capital. “I think he will do well in the election. People tend to like him because he is humble and seem to be prepared to govern.”
Nwafor’s conviction shared by Obi himself, who today is the leader of the PDP in the state, and has been canvassing support for Mr. Ozigbo, as he hopes the party will do better than it did in 2017, when Obiano defeated its candidate Mr. Oseloka Obaze and candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to retain his seat.
“Ozigbo candidacy is divine and ordained by God for the position and there is nothing we can do other than to support him,” Obi told party stakeholders in the state on Thursday a fortnight ago.
Ozigbo had scaled the first major huddle by emerging candidate of the PDP ahead of many other formidable aspirants under the party’s platform, including Anambra Central senator, Uche Ekwunife; former member of the House of Reps, Tony Nwoye, as well as U.S. based billionaire medical doctor, Godwin Maduka, among others.
But he has had to contend with series of court litigation, as Senator Ugochukwu Uba who emerged candidate of a parallel primary continues to lay claim to being the authentic candidate of the party.
The series of court judgments emanating there-from, however, appear to have now been settled with the judgment of a Court of Appeal in Abuja which reinstated the Ndubuisi Nwobu-led executive – which was initially sacked by an Abuja High Court following a suit instituted by Samuel Anyakorah, and replaced by Chukwudi Umeaba, whose faction recognised Senator Uba – thereby validating the candidature of Mr. Ozigbo.
The PDP candidate, barring other intra-party controversies, will now focus on the ultimate prize; the goal of beating other candidates on November 6.
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 key rival, Soludo of being too elitist and aloof, even as the backing of Mr. Obi may be an added advantage.
“Ozigbo is popular, also based on the popularity of his party, the PDP,” said Chidi Odogwu, a business owner in Onitsha. “He has a chance of beating Soludo, because a lot of people see Soludo as being too elitist.
“But, of course, it won’t be as straightforward because politics is a game of strength. I think Soludo has an upper hand because of APGA. APGA has the structure, and Soludo, regardless of the assertions that he is too elitist, is also very popular.”
Ozigbo will face the APGA candidate former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo, and 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.
It is generally a four-horse race, featuring Ozigbo, Soludo, candidates of the PDP and APGA, respectively; as well as Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah, candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP) and Senator Andy Uba, candidate of the country’s ruling party, the APC. But it is one which Soludo and Ozigbo stand shoulders higher above the rest, as the two leading candidates.
“I think the battle is actually going to be between Soludo and the Ozigbo; that is between APGA and PDP,” said Mr. Okeke. “I don’t know how it will eventually play out, but it is clearly a battle between the PDP and APGA. Still, the dynamic is such that APGA appears to be on ground. They have the structure; they have been around for quite some time and that’s a big advantage.”
APGA has been in power in Anambra for 15 years, from 2006 when Obi became governor. And every attempt by the PDP and more recently, APC to topple its rule has fallen through. The party has built structures in the state over the years, but it has also become increasingly weakened by its own internal contradictions.
Formed initially to serve as a rallying point for the Igbo in the contest for power in Nigeria, the party has since evolved, with many alleging that it’s since become a platform used to make money by its leadership.
Today, from Chief Chekwas Okorie, who originally founded the party, to Bianca Ojukwu, wife of the late Emeka Ojukwu who was the moral and psychological force behind the party, as well as Mr. Obi, its first governor, most of the founding fathers have ditched it on account of irreconcilable differences.
The party continues to battle crisis, which has also become prominent in the lead up to the election, over the emergence of Soludo as candidate, with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) initially listing Michael Umeoji, who emerged candidate of the Jude Okeke led faction, over Soludo as the APGA candidate, in compliance with the decision of a Jigawa High Court that recognised the faction as the authentic faction.
The Jigawa High Court decision, was however, eventually reversed by Justice Charles Okaa of an Awka High Court who affirmed Soludo as authentic candidate; a decision that has also been upheld by an Appeal Court, Awka division, which last week struck out an application challenging the judgment of the Awka High Court.
The court matter appears to have been settled for the moment, but the rifts remain. And it’s these contradictions that the PDP and Ozigbo may hope to exploit to win power.
“Some of the bigwigs in APGA are not backing Soludo, that might be a problem,” said Odogwu. “But I think the party still has an upper hand.”
The PDP nonetheless, has its own challenges too, with crisis rocking it from state to national level.
“The PDP did well in the last election and will hope to replicate that in November,” said Mr. Okeke. “But the problem PDP will have is that the governorship election in a one-off election, not like the general election of 2019.
“In 2019, a lot of people voted for the PDP because they didn’t want to vote for the APC given the way Buhari was performing. People didn’t want to vote for Buhari, so they voted massively for the PDP. Again, Peter Obi was also on the ballot. This time, he will not be. So, the dynamics is different. But his support for Ozigbo may also count.”
For Okeke, apart from Soludo and Ozigbo, the only other candidate that may possibly swing a surprise is YPP candidate, Ubah.
“I don’t think APC is even in the fight at all; I don’t think Andy Uba will make much impression, except something goes wrong, but I don’t think it will happen,” he said.
“The other person that may swing a surprise, which many people may not realise is Ifeanyi Ubah, though his party YPP is not as strong and I’m not also sure that many people in Anambra will be keen to trust him with the state treasury.
“But you never know, anything can happen. Ubah is popular in his Nnewi constituency, whether that will be enough is another story.