The 2019 general election holds a lot in store for Southeast politics. Although predominantly a seeming safe base for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there are indications that voter preferences would not follow the usual pattern of near bandwagon allegiance to party platforms.
Some active politicians have been looking at the overwhelming voter inclination towards the party in power in Anambra State to conclude that party loyalty would dictate voter behaviour in 2019.
But, while potential aspirants to mainly legislative positions are optimistic, there is one set of players that are having sleepless nights over the undulating electoral climate in the geopolitical zone: incumbent governors. How far is their second term ambition threatened?
The three governors that would be seeking re-election in 2019 in the zone are all card-carrying members of PDP. Of the three, it is only the governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, that does not have apparent posturing with the federal ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, despite the romance by the other two, Governors David Umahi and Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi, political developments in their states reveal apprehensions over the possible electoral challenges from APC and the much-hyped third force to their second term mandates.
It should be noted that even during its formative stage, the promoters of APC amalgam had marked Ebonyi and Enugu States as feasible areas for political inroad, given the running battles between their former chief executives, Chief Martin Elechi and Mr. Sullivan Chime, and some prominent play makers at the PDP headquarters.
While incumbent Governor Umahi had to rally round PDP financiers in Southeast to take advantage of the then pliant Presidency to displace Elechi’s preferred candidate from the PDP governorship ticket in 2015, Chime chose to endorse the candidacy of Ugwuanyi at the cost of the Enugu West Senatorial seat, which was in contention between him and current Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.
Between 2015 and first quarter of 2018, much political water has passed under the bridge in the zone. No sooner than PDP lost the presidency than some influential members of the party strayed to the new ruling party, APC.
Although some trenchant APC stakeholders described the defectors as item seven politicians that are ever ready to arrive at lunchtime, the ruling party harvested big names.
At a December 31, 2017 meeting in the country home of current Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, the leadership of Southeast caucus of APC resolved to work for the electoral victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. They also conjured a curious political arithmetic that arrived at 2023 as the shortest route to produce a Nigerian president of Southeast extraction.
Last January, the leaders thronged the Presidential Villa, where they handed over the same resolutions to President Buhari pleading with him to ensure that an Igbo candidate succeeds him in 2023.
The Southeast leaders put up a convincing argument that sounded much like confession of past misdeeds.
They revealed that PDP has not really been winning elections in zone, stressing that unlike in the past, the politics of group interest captured by the President’s infrastructure uplift in the zone would help to sway voters.
Smeared by attacks, wrong timing
Delivered by what could be described as a powerful delegation, the resolution to support an endorsement for a second term by the Southeast leaders to President Buhari seemed to have happened at a very inauspicious time.
Murderous gunmen believed to be herdsmen had three days before, left 73 persons dead in some communities in Benue State. There was anger, sorrow and pain. Tears flowed freely among the leaders and the led in Benue. It was at that moment of grief that Southeast APC took their nice gesticulations to the President, who was being pummeled by stunned citizens.
Piqued by the timing and tone of the resolution and endorsement, a socio-political organization of young Igbo professionals, Ochie Igbo, denounced the APC leaders wondering why they should misrepresent the true political temperament in Southeast.
The position of Ochie Igbo may have given some inkling to the level of aversion in Southeast to APC. But, there are some underlying issues that may make it impossible to use that as a blanket parameter.
For instance, there are community-based power rotation arrangements and the fact of unpredictability of voters, who seem more inclined to voting individuals than on partisan consideration.
Two incidences that happened recently could however, be a pointer: The Senator representing Ebonyi South, Sonni Ogbuoji, expressed his intention to defect to APC on the floor of the Senate. After a short drama, the incomplete metamorphosis to APC was aborted.
In Abia State, the 2015 Senatorial candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for Abia North, Dr. David Onuoha-Bourdex, was being lured to APC by leaders of the party.
At the point where the APGA chieftain seemed to be falling for the bait, the entire members of APGA in Abia north trooped to his country home and dissuaded him from quitting.
The APGA stakeholders were said to have told Bourdex that not having any corruption investigation, he has no reason to run to APC.
More of such dramas may unfold in the days to come. Also, the call by former President Olusegun Obasanjo for a third force to counterbalance the cyclical leadership flops by APC and PDP is also gaining traction in Southeast.
Reports indicate that some groups agitating for Biafra independence met recently and resolved to work against the electoral victory of certain individuals that contributed to what they called the sabotage of Biafra self-determination campaigns.
That threat presents as further proof that the voting pattern in the geopolitical zone may not follow a specific or usual pattern. It should be noted that after the raw deal the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme received in PDP, especially in 2003, Southeast has always craved a third lane in political expression.
But for the garrison method adopted by the leadership of the ruling party in 2003, the APGA provided the people with that credible alternative to ventilate their preferences on the ballot. While Mr. Peter Obi walked through the courts for three years to reclaim the mandate handed him and APGA at the governorship poll, his colleagues, Chief Ugochukwu Agballah and Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu were not that lucky.
Nonetheless, it became obvious from 2003 and subsequent polls that Nd’Igbo of Southeast are still uncomfortable in the choking political structure of the country. That explains why Abia, Anambra and Imo have at various times handed PDP shocking outcomes. If the confessions by PDP defectors at the Uburu meeting are anything to go by, it could be safely said that federal might and other forms of strong and soft arm tactics have been shaping the outcomes of elections in the Southeast.
It is against that background that 2019 might deliver a variegated outcome in terms of party platforms from which successful candidates may emerge. With the former Deputy Governor of Central Bank (CBN), Prof. Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, expressing his ambition to contest the Presidency in 2019, the voter behaviour would markedly change; depending on which platform he ventilates his ambition.
Although APGA has dropped the hint that it would continue the tradition of endorsing the presidential candidate of the ruling party, Moghalu could by identifying with the offshoot of APGA, United Progressive Party (UPP), cause some upset in Southeast. That could as well return the country to the second republic model, when Presidential candidates held sway in their regions of origin. If that happens, the likelihood for a presidential run-off becomes a possibility.
Alternatively, if the promoters of Handshake Across the Niger decide to throw up a common presidential candidate to serve as the rallying point for the emerging Middle Belt, Southeast, South/south and Southwest political recalibration, that would also alter permutations.
The following are instances of their schemes to avert electoral dislodgment in the zone:
Abia (Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu)
Recently the Abia governor engaged journalists in an open house, unveiling projects embarked upon by his administration in the last three years. Although not a run-of-the-mill politician, Governor Ikpeazu seems to understand the enormous challenges his second term would encounter.
Even in the current term, the governor passed through many political hills and valleys to retain his seat. From a stiff challenge by APGA’s Dr. Alex Chioma Otti, through a cycle of election petitions, Ikpeazu almost lost it. As such, knowing that his party is in opposition at the centre, only a shining record of achievements could ward off well-heeled challenges from APGA and APC.
Recently one of the major financiers of PDP in the state, Chief Chidi Ajaegbu from Osisioma, joined APGA at an elaborate ceremony in Umuahia. He was received by an enthusiastic crowd, including Otti, member representing Aba North/South Federal Constituency, Prestige Ossy, member representing Umuahia State Constituency, Chijioke Nwachukwu, member Arochukwu State Constituency, Lukman Ukara and Abraham Oba, representing Abia South in the State Assembly. That was a big minus for PDP.
Ikpeazu has been doing his best to woo Aba voters to his side, particularly through the campaign for Made-in-Aba products and construction of badly dilapidated township roads. To a large extent, Aba determines who governs Abia.
Against the background of that stiff battle, the Abia governor knows that he has only his godfather, Senator Theodore Orji and his track record of achievements to push back challengers from left, right and centre. With APGA on the right and APC on the left, the people, notably Aba traders and workers occupy the centre.
Ebonyi (David Nweze Umahi)
Umahi is counting on his political dexterity and contacts to survive the second round of electoral battle for the soul of Ebonyi State. The governor hails from Uburu, same community as Science and Technology minister, Dr. Onu, who stands as the Southeast leader of APC.
Compared to the old Abakaliki bloc, Umahi’s Ebonyi South Senatorial district or Old Afikpo bloc, ranks inferior in population, even as Afikpo area claim superior exposure to Umahi’s Ohaozara. A controversial charter of equity for the sharing of political offices in the state could not be ratified on account of this disproportionate population.
As the tempo for 2019 begin to mount, the old Abakaliki bloc is hinting at what they call alternative power sharing arrangement. Under the new formula, the main clans rather than senatorial zones constitute the basis of sharing opportunities.
In Ebonyi North there are Izzi and Ohaukwu, Central, Ikwo and Ezza, while in the South, Afikpo and Ohaozara stand out. For the 2019 governorship the Izzis with their large population are laying claims to the governorship, saying that equity is not equality. They contend that since small Ohaukwu has had their turn through Senator Sam Egwu, 2019 should be theirs, so that thereafter it goes to Ezza, since Ikwo has had their stint through Elechi.
To realize their ambition, the Izzi people, who had prior to this dispensation been locked in clannish divisions, came together and endorsed three persons, Dr. Edward Nkwegu, who contested the 2015 governorship on the platform of Labour Party, Chief Austin Igwe Edeze and Engineer Chukwuma Nwandugo, for the governorship.
At the end of the day, they resolved to single out one of the three if they ultimately emerge as flag bearers. But youths across the state are already rooting for Nwandugo as the ideal candidate for the third force/red card movement.
While indicating that he would “pay full attention to the politics of the general elections from January1, 2019,” the governor said his government would withdraw support for lawmakers whose communities are not supporting his second term.
Apart from planting moles in various parties to block potential challengers, the governor is also relying on former Governor Egwu, former Culture Minister, Frnk Ogbuewu and former INEC commissioner and Dr. Lawrence Nwuruku to counter the Abakaliki bloc threat.
Enugu (Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi)
He came on board as a compromise candidate of the PDP. In the past three years he has been running what could be described as a ‘Goodman governorship,’ making sure he flows with the established interests and foci of political power in the state. It is obvious that Governor Ugwuanyi does not want to step on toes going by the politics of appeasement he has mastered.
The big names that defected to APC, particularly Nnamani and Nwobodo, are said to be representing his interest.
The former Senate President was also said to have recommended council chairmen and commissioners in Ugwuanyi’s cabinet. There was a mild murmur in the state when former governor, Sullivan Chime crossed to APC.
But apart from the movement of PDP State Secretariat away from Chime’s family property, both men have tried to manage the differences in political platforms with subdued animosity.
Although Ugwuanyi knows that as a former governor his predecessor’s defection could detract from total vote tally, he sees beyond that in the belief that after all Chime won’t be on the ballot for the governorship, but mostly likely the senatorial contest.
While the former governor contests for votes in Enugu West, Ugwuanyi counts on the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu to take a proxy battle for votes on his behalf. Unless Ekweremadu props a surrogate, it would be an uphill task to be in the Red Chamber for the fifth term due to the power sharing arrangement in Enugu West among Awgu/Oji River and Udi/Ezeagu.
Even so, in Enugu East, where Nnamani and Nwobodo hail from, there are other heavy weights in APC, like Chief Onyemauche Nnamani and Chinyeaka Oha among others.
But, based on the traditional power rotation in the state, Ugwuanyi has continued to deploy infrastructure projects in Enugu North, that is, the Nsukka cultural belt in the belief that with such quantum of development projects, it would be hard for a governorship contender to emerge from the zone.
The Chief Executive Officer of Peace Mass Transit, Chief Samuel Maduka Onyeishi would have altered the political equation in 2015 had the PDP not pressured him out of joining the race on the platform of APC.
In addition to Onyeishi, there is also the veteran governorship aspirant from the zone, Okey Ezea. Former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Eugene Odoh, who was among those penciled by Chime to succeed him in 2015, is also associated with governorship ambition.
The challenge for Ugwuanyi is that not cast on stone, would the power sharing arrangement hold water in the light of new thinking about third force in the polity? The governor has continued to carry everybody along in his Goodman style to build necessary harmony to berth a second term.
Source: Guardian NG