By OBINNA EZUGWU
Long before primary elections were held, the Anambra State governorship election – now due in less than two months, precisely on November 6 – had looked certain to be, ultimately, a two-horse race between the state’s ruling party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and Nigeria’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), given the unpopularity of the country’s ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the state and the unlikelihood of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), a relatively small party, causing an upset.
But weeks before the state electorate head to the polls, permutations have changed. The APC and its candidate, Emmanuel Nnamdi Uba, popularly known as Andy Uba, are looking poised to cause an upset, as a combination of factors, including crisis in APGA, possible voter apathy and likely deployment of federal might are catalysizing in their favour.
The announcement last week, for instance, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), that it would use its zonal office in Owerri, Imo State capital, to distribute non-sensitive materials for the governorship election, has jolted many, who allege it is part of the ruling party’s plot to rig the polls.
INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had said during the commissions quarterly meeting with media executives in Abuja, on Wednesday, that the decision was as a result of recent vandalisation and attacks on the commissions facilities in Anambra by some unknown gunmen suspected to be sympathetic to the agitation for Biafra by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The INEC chairman’s reasons, however, failed to convince other stakeholders in the election, given that Imo is not the closest state to Anambra in terms of geography; is an APC state and the state’s governor, Hope Uzodinma is the Chairman of the party’s Campaign Council for the election.
Incumbent governor, Chief Willie Obiano has since rejected the idea, noting that his party, APGA and the people of the state, will reject the decision to use INEC facility in Owerri for the stated purpose.
“Beyond the issue of storing INEC materials meant for Anambra election in APC state, Imo, there was a letter we sent out expressing our rejection of Owerri or any other APC state involving actively in the Anambra election,” Obiano’s special adviser on political matters argued in a chat with newsmen in Awka last week.
“What informed the letter was the rumour that some ad-hoc staff and returning officers for the Anambra election are being recruited from the Imo State University. In the next few days, all the political parties taking part in the Anambra election, except APC, will sign the communiqué, which will be forwarded to INEC.
“The letter will state our decision that we, as people and all the political parties, except APC, will reject any ad-hoc staff recruited from Imo State, in particular, and generally, from any APC state.
“For us, this issue of keeping the sensitive material in INEC office in Imo is totally unacceptable because, it does not conform with our earlier desire to write that we would have nothing to do with the Imo State structures, Imo personnel, and indeed, any APC state, for the purposes of election in Anambra. There are other states closer to Anambra, including Delta and Enugu; if what theyre claiming is correct.
“Let me also tell INEC that weve had this kind of situation in the past, where sensitive materials were kept in the central bank in that state. It has happened before in Enugu State. Those sensitive materials were kept in the CBN, and were indeed, distributed from the central bank in Enugu.
“We have a central bank in Anambra State. If the reason they are giving is correct, these materials could be kept at the central bank here, and be distributed from there.
“It is also curious to note that for more than four months, after INEC office was destroyed in Anambra, this matter is coming to the public domain for the first time. It is mischievous; it doesnt make sense! What we heard from INEC was that non sensitive materials were destroyed.
“We were never told that sensitive structure that will sustain the process of the election was ever affected by that attack. We reject it, and will also make sure that we resist it.
“Unless INEC do not intend to conduct election on the 6th of November, the people of Anambra State will reject any move to rig the election. Nobody; I mean nobody, should ever play games with Anambra State. INEC, by that announcement, do not really want to keep it at the INEC office.
“They actually want to operate from Governor Uzodimmas bedroom. sThey want to recruit returning officers from Imo, and also write the original result sheets in the state. So, if they succeed in operating from Imo, coming to Anambra to conduct election will be mere formality.”
The YPP, whose candidate, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, is seeking to be the first Nnewi governor of the state, also strongly opposed the idea of using Imo to store materials for the election.
YPPs National Publicity Secretary, Egbeola Martins, who conveyed the party’s displeasure with the idea in a statement on Thursday in Abuja, described the plan as ill-conceived and illogical proposition capable of overheating the polity, considering the mutual suspicion already existing among the political parties.
“Our inability to have risen above petty considerations as a nation has marred perception to be everything in this part of the world,” he said. “It will be foolhardy for anyone, including INEC, to think that keeping electoral materials, whether sensitive or non-sensitive, in an APC-controlled state of Imo is right.
“We call upon INEC to rescind every plan to store election materials in Imo, as events have shown that it is not any better than Anambra or any other state within the region,” he said.
Martins argued that if proximity was one of the considerations for the storage of election materials in Imo, Delta and Enugu states rank as better alternatives for proximity sake, insisting that the call for this logistical rejigging should not be a herculean task, as anything contrary might suggest that INEC would be compromised.
The opposition has so far failed to dissuade INEC from proceeding with the plan to use Imo State, even the continued insistence by the IPOB on boycott of the election is likely to cause voter apathy, which observers say, is likely to work to APC’s advantage.
“If IPOB continues with its ‘no election’ rhetoric in Anambra, Andy Uba of the APC will become governor,” noted activist Henry Shield Nwazuluahu, @henryshield
Many voters in the state, however, insist they wouldn’t touch Uba, whose person, not less his family, elicit controversy, with a long spoon. Attempts have also been made to use negative media campaign against him, such as the allegations of him planning to create grazing reserves for Fulani in Anambra.
But even his fiercest critics now concede that he is no longer that candidate with at best an outside chance of winning, but a mainstream contender capable of snatching up victory.
“The way things stand now, APC and its candidate, Andy Uba are becoming serious contenders in the Anambra election,” said Mr. Oliver Nwafor, a political observer and business owner in Awka, the state capital.
“This is largely on account of the crisis in APGA. All the people that APGA disqualified are joining APC with their supporters, which might be the momentum the party needs to be able to manipulate the election in its favour.”
APGA, which has been in charge of Anambra for 15 years, since 2006 when Peter Obi reclaimed his mandate through the court, had looked a clear cut favourite to win the election on November 6, especially with former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Professor Charles Soludo, a popular figure in the state and indeed Nigeria, with proven administrative capacity, emerging as its candidate.
Soludo’s emergence as the candidate was never hardly in doubt, given his pedigree and the close relationship he has with the incumbent governor, Chief Obiano. But the governor’s wife is said to be staunchly opposed to the idea of Soludo succeeding her husband, which has created gulf within the ruling family.
Yet, even the primary election that eventually produced the ex CBN governor in June was largely bungled, with a number of aspirants, including filmmaker, Ifeanyi Odera Ozoka; member representing Nnewi North constituency at the State House of Assembly, Nonso Okafor; special envoy to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Sullivan Akachukwu Nwankpo; member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Aguata Federal Constituency, Michael Chukwuma Umeoji, and Assembly member representing Aguata 1, Carter Nnamdi Dike Umeoduagu, disqualified for some flimsy reasons, ranging from not having spent up to 18 months in the party, defiance and insubordination to party authority and supremacy; not registering as a voter in the state.
The disqualification has created disaffection in the party, one that has simply refused to go away. Nwankpo has since joined the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and picked up its ticket, and a fortnight ago, six members of the state assembly, including Umeoduagu, Okafor, Lawrence Ezeudu of Dunukofia, Arthur Chiekwu representing Idemmili North and Edward Ibuzo representing Onitsha North 2, defected to the APC with their supporters, in a move that vastly depleted APGA’s ranks.
More disaffected members of the state’s ruling party are still expected to pitch tent with APC, and the party is upbeat about the possibility of taking over Anambra with Senator Uba.
“I would say that Andy Uba has a very bright chance of winning the election,” said Comrade Izuchukwu Udoka Ezeigwe, APC youth leader in Agulu. “First of all, if you understand how Nigerian politics work, you will know that most times the party that controls power at the centre normally bring federal might to bear during elections in the states.
“Again, Andy Uba is an experienced politician who knows the nitty-gritty of politics in Nigeria. So I’ll say he has a good chance.”
Indeed, when it comes to elections, Senator Uba, 62, who served as a Special Assistant on Special Duties and Domestic Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo; elected governor once in 2007 under the PDP platform but was denied by Mr. Obi who challenged his victory in court, and who was subsequently elected Senator for the Anambra South Senatorial District in April 2011, certainly knows how to win, either by the hook or the crook.
His emergence as APC candidate for the election in a primary poll that party members say never took place, but he nonetheless scored a surprising 230, 201 out of the 348, 490 votes cast by unseen hands, which on a good day would be enough to win the governorship election itself, stands as prove of his capability to perform miracles at the polls.
His cause will be further strengthened by what appears to be a determination of APC to take Anambra. Obviously the ruling party has eyes on the state as it seeks to make further inroads in the Southeast ahead of 2023, and it has demonstrated capacity to impose itself on states where it has interest, as seen in Kogi, Kano, Osun and elsewhere in the country.
On Tuesday, fortnight ago, when President Muhammadu Buhari received Uba, accompanied by the partys caretaker committee chairman and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni; Governors Gboyega Oyetola of Osun, Yahaya Bello of Kogi, Hope Uzodinma of Imo, who is also Chairman, Campaign Council, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and George Akume, Minister for Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs at the State House, Abuja, he declared that he was anxious to see him elected.
“I am happy to formally welcome you. I certainly wish you the best of luck. Im anxious for your success, and will closely follow,” the president told him.
Confidence in the APC camp is growing, as party members in the state hope Buhari’s interest could prove key. Though the primary that produced Uba had threatened to tear the party apart in the state, with the likes of Labour Minister, Chris Ngige; George Moghalu, ex National Auditor of APC and Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), among others insisting that no primary election took place, the party being the ruling party with enough rooms to maneuver, appear to have been able to settle the aggrieved individuals; what APGA has been unable to do.
“We are expecting more people to defect to the APC because this is the ruling party at the centre and the party has all it takes to win the election. Everybody wants to join the ruling party,” said Ezeigwe.
“Yes, APGA is the ruling party in the state, but recent events in the party show that it’s a party in disarray, which is why many of the members are joining the APC.
“The major problem is the way the party handled its primary. You cannot be disqualifying sitting House of Assembly and House of Reps members under the guise that they are disobedient or something like that. Does it mean that all this while they have been representing the people under the party’s platform, they were disobedient?
“You can’t just dismiss five people like that. If you do, there would be consequences and that’s what is happening in APGA.
“Part of why APGA will find it difficult is also because, to be honest, Obiano has performed below standard. He has not been able to match the performance of Peter Obi.”
The election, as expected, will see four top contenders slogging it out on November 6. Soludo of APGA who had appeared to be a clear favourite; Mr. Valentine Ozigbo, candidate of the PDP, a popular platform in the state; Uba of APC and Ifeanyi Ubah, candidate of the YPP who embodies Nnewi aspirations in an election that is essentially an Anambra South Senatorial District affair.