By OBINNA EZUGWU
It’s only a little more than a month to the November 6 Anambra State governorship election and the poll is still too close to call, as new twists and intrigues continues to emerge and new alliances are built.
But in all, it’s a race of three giants, involving candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Prof Charles Chukwuma Soludo; candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Valentine Chineto Ozigbo and flag bearer of the country’s ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), Senator Emmanuel Nnamdi Uba, better known as Andy Uba.
But there is also a midget; well, not in size, because Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP) is of colossal stature. However, even as he embodies the aspirations of his Nnewi constituency; a people determined to rewrite their political story, he is not considered a front runner in the manner of the three leading candidates, but still has all it takes to cause an upset.
Long before now, the election had looked certain to be, ultimately, a two-horse race between APGA’s candidate, Soludo and Ozigbo of the PDP, given the unpopularity of the APC, no less its candidate, Uba, in the state and the unlikelihood of YPP, a relatively small party, causing an upset.
But weeks before the polls open, permutations have changed. The APC and its candidate are looking poised to pose serious challenge, as a combination of factors, including crisis in APGA, possible voter apathy and likely deployment of federal might are catalysizing in their favour.
A trip around Anambra last week showed that voter apathy could be in the offing. Many residents of Onitsha, the state’s commercial city and Awka, its capital city, showed little interest, but from available feedback, Ozigbo may spring a surprise, even as Soludo remains a favourite.
How the candidates stand:
The former CBN governor, Soludo and his party, 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, Soludo being a popular figure in the state and indeed Nigeria, with proven administrative capacity.
But the APGA candidate has witnessed some major setbacks since emerging the state ruling party’s candidate. While his emergence as the candidate was never hardly in doubt, given his pedigree and the close relationship he has with the incumbent governor, Chief Willie Obiano, the governor’s wife is said to be staunchly opposed to the idea of him succeeding her husband, which has created gulf within the ruling family.
Yet, even the primary election that eventually produced him 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 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.
“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,” said Comrade Izuchukwu Udoka Ezeigwe, APC youth leader in Agulu.
“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.”
Regardless of the setbacks, however, feedback from our interactions among the populace show that Soludo is still the candidate to beat.
Many say he is clearly the most qualified and the right person to the state to the Obi days.
“Soludo is likely to win,” said Amarachi Onwudiwe, a retailer in Awka. Obiano is supporting him and many people are also supporting him. He is popular and he is obviously very qualified.”
When in 2010, Soludo, 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.
“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 is unlikely to undermine him using federal might, given his relationship with Abuja.
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 is 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.
In the final analysis, even as the contest is closer than ever before, Soludo is still the candidate to beat and still stands as favourite.
Ozigbo, the PDP candidate had looked like one just there to make up the numbers, but today he has more than proven he means business.
There is a sense of Deja Vu, many say, in his candidacy. The general feeling is that it has brought back memories of the youthful Peter Obi, 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 APGA platform.
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.
“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 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.”
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 – elder brother of the APC candidate – who emerged candidate of a parallel primary continues to lay claim to being the authentic candidate of the party. That has now been settled and as candidate of Nigeria’s main opposition party, which has massive support in Anambra, Ozigbo 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, in the pecking order, could be said to be next to Soludo, but has a very good chance of winning the poll.
“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.”
Ozigbo 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.
Uba, the APC candidate is in his own right, a formidable candidate who broke into the country’s political scene as Special Assistant on Special Duties and Domestic Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo, during which time himself and his brother, Chris, used their influence to battle then governor of Anambra, Dr. Chris Ngige.
He was in 2007, as PDP candidate, elected governor of Anambra. However, Peter 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. The announcement last month 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.
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. Nwafor. “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.”
Indeed, when it comes to elections, Senator Uba, 62, certainly knows how to win, either by the hook or the crook. He emerged APC candidate for the election in a primary poll that party members say never took place, yet he 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. This stands as prove of his capability to perform miracles at the polls.
His course 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.
Weeks 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.
“I would say that Andy Uba has a very bright chance of winning the election,” said Comrade Ezeigwe. “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.”
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.
Still, the boycott campaign mounted by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is expected to play in his favour. Many say the fewer the turnout of voters, the easier it would be to manipulate the poll.
“If IPOB continues with its ‘no election’ rhetoric in Anambra, Andy Uba of the APC will become governor,” noted activist Henry Shield Nwazuluahu, @henryshield
Regardless, Uba remains largely unpopular with the a vast majority of the Anambra populace, and federal might may prove inadequate, even if not to be discounted.
Though not a contender in the mould of Soludo or Ozigbo, 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. Okeke. “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.”