Anambra 2013: Issues, Trends And Tendencies As INEC Okay 23 Candidates

Date:

SURPRISE, suspense and recalibration of strategies were the immediate reactions that trailed the release of names of accredited governorship candidates and their running mates for the November 16 gubernatorial election in Anambra State by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) last Tuesday. The surprise element was introduced by the presence of the name of Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu on the list as the standard bearer of troubled Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As happens after a massive inferno, there was nothing in Ukachukwu’s emergence from the ‘ashes’ of the legal fireworks between rival claimants of the PDP flag, Senator Andy Uba and Tony Nwoye, to describe the division, which the two candidates entrenched in the party. Even at that, if the challenge of dual candidates ended in a surprise for PDP, in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), suspense became apparent the following day. INEC had through a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu, indicated that the Commission published the personal particulars of the candidates as contained in Form CF 001 of candidates nominated by political parties for the gubernatorial election, in line with the provisions of Section 31 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. It was evident from the publication that a total of 23 political parties are fielding candidates for the governorship, while only 22 have named their deputy governorship candidates.

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Issues

INEC noted the challenges of selection issues with two political parties namely, the PDP and APGA. Though the electoral body outlined that the “two political parties had issues with the candidates they intend to sponsor before the closure of nominations on September 17, 2013”, its decision on APGA generated immediate furore. INEC had contended that the Federal High Court in Awka, eased the contention over APGA’s nomination by vacating its order directing the commission to accept two governorship candidates from the party, even as it declared that, “for the PDP, the Commission resolved to list Nicholas Chukwuejekwu Ukachukwu as the governorship candidate in accordance with the latest order as delivered by the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/296/2013 – Nicholas Chukwuejekwu Ukachukwu vs. Dr. Tony Nwoye and three others.” But no sooner had the list been made public than negative reactions began to trail it. Factional Chairman of APGA, Maxi Okwu, picked holes in the INEC explanatory notes, pointing out that the electoral body has continued to demonstrate unhealthy biases in its treatment of issues concerning the party. Speaking to reporters on the development in Awka, Okwu stated: “Two things; INEC said they are complying with the law, let me believe them. I find it hard to believe that they (INEC) are law abiding, but let us go on with that impression for now. In the cases of APGA and PDP, they acknowledged challenges and problems and said they are obeying a court order. My question is, which court orders are they obeying in the case of APGA? It is a poor legal statement. Let them tell us which court order they acted on. In Ukachulwu’s case there was a court order directing INEC to accept him. Let INEC now tell Nigerians similar court order in APGA. There is none! What we have and I can tell you, the position is that they got a ‘jankara’ vacation of court order on Thursday night; we have applied to stay that vacation and given notice of appeal. Ordinarily with that, everybody should maintain status quo, let INEC tell the world what order they obeyed in the APGA instance.” Okwu swore that his group would not relent, stressing that they have already filed papers for a stay of execution of the order granted by the Federal High Court, which paved the way for Obiano’s emergence. He maintained that by the time the appeal for stay of execution and other pending cases in Court are disposed of, “it would be clear to all and sundry that Dr. Chike Obidigbo is the duly nominated governorship candidate of APGA; we are focused and not relenting.”

  While insisting that Obidigbo’s candidacy cannot be wished away, Okwu condemned the surreptitious vacation of the earlier order made by Justice Mohammed T. Salim, where he directed INEC to receive the names of the two APGA governorship candidates, pending the determination of the substantive issues. He said: “Justice is blind; I would not know whether he was pressured or threatened; what he (the High Court Judge) needed to do was hear the case on Monday which is the return date we all agreed to and the parties had been served”.  He said; “Obiano may be there on paper, but heads or tail, Obidigbo remains the APGA candidate.” Comparing the situation in APGA governorship ticket to the swiftness of the Cheetah and the strength of the Lion, Okwu said: “So if anybody wants to waste his time and money he is free to do so; the other side is like the Cheetah that is the fastest animal on earth, but very weak. The Cheetah runs down his prey, (but) before he can eat it, either the Lion or the hyena comes and takes it from it. It now lies on INEC; let that scenario not play out in APGA”.

  Obidigbo, who addressed a press conference on the development, disclosed that he went to court to seek redress for the wrongful exclusion from the primary, explaining that when the reconciliation within the party could not be total, he emerged the governorship candidate on the rival platform led by Maxi Okwu. He declared that the Federal High Court, Awka, after seeing merit in the averment of illegality and unconstitutional basis of the composition of the screening panel, granted APGA leave to submit the names of the two candidates, pending the determination of the substantive issues. Reading from a prepared text, Obidigbo stated: “I have decided to address you this morning on a very sad development in our polity. The promise of credible, free and fair election by President Goodluck Jonathan has gingered in some citizens the desire to take part once again in elections. However, it is regrettable to note that some of the negative practices associated with our electoral system in recent past are still noticeable. Some highly placed political actors still derive pleasure in seeking to influence and undermine the transparent operation of the electoral process.

 “Recall that the illegally constituted three man hatchet panel set up by Victor Umeh refused to clear me to participate in the governorship primary of our party on the dubious and false claim that I did not possess a membership card endorsed by Umeh and voter’s card. This dubious disqualifications, which also affected such personalities like Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Hon. Oseloka Obaze, Barrister Chinedu Idigo among others was a clear warning from Umeh and company to all decent, outstanding and forward looking Igbo to stay away from APGA-their domain of conquest and influence. But we were surprised to hear that barely 48 hours after the honourable court granted the order, enormous pressures were exerted on the Judge, such that he decided to vacate the order ostensibly to please those who wanted to thwart the submission of my name to INEC. However it is gladdening to report that before the said order was vacated; it had been given effect at the INEC headquarters, Abuja. It is outrageous to note that after the adjudication of Justice Ikpeme in the ignoble case of Association of Better Nigeria (ABN), which set the grounds for the eventual annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, a Judge of the Federal High Court should sit at odd hours to vacate an order he freely made.”

  Stressing his determination to pursue the matter to a logical end, Obidigbo said he had instructed his lawyers to review the development with a view to bringing it to the attention of the National Judicial Council (NJC).

  And within the fold of PDP, the governorship candidate recognised by the party, Tony Nwoye, said PDP would fight out the unconstitutional attempt to impose a candidate on the party. Speaking through the Director General of his campaign organisation, Prince Okey Ezenwa, Nwoye urged PDP supporters to continue to mobilise in their respective wards to maintain the party’s edge at the grassroots level. He expressed surprise that INEC’s list of eligible candidates to contest the governorship election did not contain the candidate who was elected by PDP at the primaries. “We were made to understand that INEC was merely obeying a court order. To us that is no problem; we are only enjoining our supporters not to be disillusioned. It is not for me to predict what will happen because that lies with INEC,” he said pointing out that as early as 3.00 am that fateful Tuesday, national leaders of PDP were still at INEC headquarters insisting that Nwoye is the party’s candidate. The Director General noted the fact that INEC simply indicate ‘court order’ on the column for PDP as a pointer that the matter was yet to be resolved. He added that despite the existence of multiple litigations in Court over the PDP governorship, the issue would be resolved in their favour very soon.

Ukachukwu upsets the calculations:

IF the candidacy of Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu survives expected attempts at judicial review, there is the possibility that he would alter the existing calculations of how the governorship poll could go. Ukachukwu has been a permanent feature in governorship and senatorial elections in the State. He ran for governorship in 2010 on the platform of Hope Democratic Party (HDP), after the National Working Committee (NWC) of PDP declared former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo, as the party’s flag bearer. Ukachukwu’s exit from the PDP alongside Senator Andy Uba, who contested on the Labour Party (LP) platform contributed to the party’s loss of the governorship three years ago. He returned to the PDP and contested the party’s ticket for the Anambra South Senatorial seat against Uba in 2011. A similar scenario to the present divisive battle between Nwoye and Uba played out, such that after the election both Ukachukwu and Uba continued the legal battle to determine who was the authentic candidate of the PDP. It is popularly held in the State that the dual candidacy of Uba and Ukachukwu was responsible for the loss of the Senate seat by the APGA candidate, Chuma Nzeribe. The recapitulation is necessary to show that Ukachukwu would, apart from re-enacting the trend in the senatorial district, upstage every other calculation about the 2013 governorship poll. While his entrance into reckoning leaves Anambra North senatorial zone free to an extent, the PDP candidate would corner votes from Ihiala and Nnewi South local councils. Ukachukwu is in charge of votes from his Osumenyi axis; he would contest for votes in old Aguata with LP candidate, Ifeanyi Ubah and the Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) flag bearer, Godwin Ezeemo. Another tendency to be influenced by Ukachukwu is in Ekwusigo, where PDP chieftain Emeka Offor holds sway. Many people believe that Offor would rather support Ukachukwu than any other candidate. A lot would however depend on where the tentative PDP candidate picks his running mate.

  For Anambra North Senatorial zone, if Nwoye fails to reclaim the PDP ticket, a greater chunk of the votes from the area would be shared by LP, APGA and United Progressives Party (UPP). UPP may become the ultimate beneficiary of the poisoned zoning gambit of incumbent Governor Peter Obi. Some damage could have been done to the traditional bloc votes from Anambra North due to Obi’s poor handling of his zoning format. The unexpected exit of Obi of Onitsha from office as Chairman of Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers in perceived protest against the insincerity that dogged the promise of power shift to the zone destroyed the cohesion of the people. In most elections in Anambra State, the governorship is not won or lost until votes from the Omambala area are received and collated. It is perhaps based on the discovery of the fact that the bloc vote of Anambra North would help to decide the 2013 governorship that Dr. Obidigbo moderated his utterances, so as not to devalue the votes of the area further. But if the influx of disappointed APGA faithful to LP during the campaign flag off of Ifeanyi Ubah is anything to go by, APGA would need to pursue its reconciliation with vigour and secure assurances.

  Commenting on the nature of APGA decampees at the LP event, a political analyst said: “The unmasking of APGA publicly by the disenchanted leaders rattled and inflated irreparable damage in terms of the psychological deflation. These publicly declared confessions traumatised the pretentious APGA leaders.”

  Reacting to the surprising inclusion of Ukachukwu in the list of names of eligible governorship candidates and their deputies by INEC, state Chairman of Labour Party, (LP) Mr. Sam Osita Oraegbunam, said the list showcases a straight fight between LP and All Progressives Congress (APC). In a telephone interview with The Guardian, Oraegbunam explained that the decision of INEC to accede to court declarations by fielding Nicholas Ukachukwu and Willie Obiano, for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has merely postponed the evil days for the two embattled parties, stressing that “Anambra voters would definitely avoid those sections of the ballot paper.” Oraegbunam said prevailing circumstances in the election environment and developmental blue print of the LP governorship candidate, Dr. Ifeanyi Patrick Ubah, have provided Anambra people the conviction they need to vote LP during the November 16 election, assuring that the party was poised to reward the voters with good governance and inclusive leadership. Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates of prominent parties, Oraegbunam noted that while there may not be an end in sight for the various litigations dogging the PDP flag bearer, the alleged breaches of APGA constitution in the governorship primary election of Obiano effectively excludes him from contention. “What this means is that Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah will coast home to victory in November 16; and when the votes are collated and counted, we shall get set for the swearing-in ceremony of the LP governorship hopeful on March 17, 2014,” Oraegbunam added pointing out that Senator Ngige’s past glory cannot get him anywhere in the election.

  From Anambra Central Senatorial zone where Dr. Ngige and Peter Obi hail, the fact that deputy governorship candidates of APGA and LP hail from the zone make the situation tight for the parties. The deputy governorship candidates, Dr. Emeka Eze (LP) and Dr. Nkem Okeke, (APGA) may be political featherweights, but the APC candidate would have a lot of explaining to do to convince voters why after eleven years in office as governor, the zone should produce another governor for the next four years. At least in his Anaocha axis where the incumbent is constructing a five-start hotel around Agulu Lake, voters may be well disposed to vote APGA. But Nibo, Nise, Nnokwa and adjourning towns still revere Ngige on account of some access roads he built during his short stint as governor. The point is that, apart from Alor, Ngige would face some battle in Idemmili North and South, especially given the discordant tunes from Senator Annie Okonkwo. Sources said foot soldiers of President Goodluck Jonathan are working very hard to corner the Umuoji Senator back to PDP, with the promise of an important appointment and reserved senate ticket.

Religion

  TRY as they could, it has not been easy for political actors in the state to rule out the influence of religious denominations in the calculations of who succeeds Peter Obi. In 2010, the balance of the denomination tenor tilted in favour of Obi, who is Catholic. There were subdued suggestions that Governor Obi distanced himself from the consensus candidate of Anambra North, Obidigbo, on account of the fact that Obidigbo is from the Anglican fold. Though even Obidigbo denied such possibility, the growing closeness of the governor to religious organisations buttresses the contention that he wants to fall back on the catholic to return his political godson to office. But prevailing circumstances could defy that narrow stratagem. Among the elite governorship candidates, including Ifeanyi Ubah, Senator Chris Ngige, Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu and Willie Obiano, only Ukachukwu is not Catholic. The implication of this is that the catholic votes would be diffused.

Campaign funding

  JUST like religious denominations, money plays a great role in determining the flow of votes in Anambra governorship elections. It is a common feature of political discussions that the size of campaign fund goes a long way to tilt the weight of the votes. Many observers say the incumbent governor plans to flood the election environment with much money to ensure that his candidate carries the day. But as could be evidenced from the caliber of candidates running for governor presently, no one candidate could seek to intimidate another with financial muscle. Even the not so rich APC candidate, Ngige, his party has budgeted fabulous amount of money (some say N4 billion) to prosecute the election with a proviso that the cash would not be handed to the candidate. It is therefore doubtful whether government funds would drown Ubah or Ukachukwu in the ensuing contest.

  It is possible that as the days go by, each candidate would be devising tricks and panic measures to destabilise their opponents. For instance, shortly before the list of eligible candidates were released by INEC, a group calling itself ‘We Care for Credible Elections’ released the result of a survey it said it carried out declaring Godwin Ezeemo as the most outstanding of the contenders. But believing the publication to be the handiwork of agents of the PPA candidate, a member of Ifeanyi Ubah Campaign Organisation, Mr. Emmanuel Ibeneme, pooh-poohed the purported survey saying, “the purported survey is a product of hallucination and grand delusion.” While doubting the indices and samples used for the phantom survey, the campaign organisation declared that even as the group is faceless and non-existent, “from every indication, the purported survey is a product of somebody’s imagination conducted in the bedroom of Godwin Ezeemo,” adding that “the presentation of the survey portrayed it as bereft of ideas and deep thinking.” The campaign organisation asserted: “Even in their attempt to brow-beat the public into believing that their preferred candidate is the peoples’ choice, they forgot to use any known parameter as a basis for the survey. The candidate that was projected in the wishy-washy survey is a hard sell, a candidate who is less known in his locality not to talk of Anambra State.”

  The exchange on paper reveals what could be in store as the election date draws nearer. Without sounding alarmist, the preaching against political thuggery has not as yet achieved a hundred percent extermination of the evil. Though Anambra State is not known for brutal election violence, the 2013 governorship may not be totally devoid of physical contests. Of the 23 political parties Okayed for the electoral contest, four could be considered to occupy the front, based on party structure, membership strength and organisational prowess. Two are in the front row, while the remaining 17 do not threaten the electoral environment with a possible earthquake or tremour. It would not be surprising if some of the group ‘C’ parties begin to step down for candidates of the front row political parties in a fortnight. Otherwise, one indubitable possibility about the governorship election is that a clear winner may not emerge at the first ballot.

Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsolahttps://naija247news.com
Babatunde Akinsola is aNaija247news' Southwest editor. He's based in Lagos and writes on the Yoruba Nation political issues, news and investigative reports

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