By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief/ GUARDIAN.NG
As 2023 beckons, it remains to be seen how the All Progressives Congress (APC) would make its most talked about inroad into the politics of the southeast region going by the outcome of the November 6, 2021, governorship election in Anambra State.
APC, currently in control of power at the federal level, had seen the southeast as the missing link in its quest to become a truly national party. Although it had exercised control of Imo State in 2015, winning the governorship, and some National and State House of Assembly seats, that victory was briefly truncated during the 2019 general elections, as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the declaration of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) won the election. It took the declaration of the Supreme Court several months after for the APC, which came a distance fourth in the election to be adjudged the winner, a development that is still seen in many quarters as “miscarriage of justice.” Its candidate, Hope Uzodinma became the ultimate beneficiary as he was declared the governor of the state.
Uzodinma’s victory was seen as springboard on which the APC would be fully integrated in the region as the 2023 general elections beckon. After his declaration and assumption of office, it did not take long for several politicians in the region to jettison their original political parties to pitch tent with the party. Such bigwigs as Governor Dave Umahi joined from Ebonyi state; former BOT member of the PDP, Joy Emordi, Senator representing Anambra north, Stella Oduah, and incumbent Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Nkem Okeke, among others, joined from Anambra State. Earlier, the likes of former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; former governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime; ex-senator Ayogu Eze among others joined from Enugu State and several others in Imo State.
But in the build-up to the 2021 governorship election held last week in Anambra State, the APC had vowed that it would use the process to launch itself into the politics of the southeast region. It believed that it would do so with the influx of members from other political parties who had joined from the zone since the conclusion of the 2019 general elections as well as the development strides the party had achieved in the zone since it came to power.
However, the outcome of the governorship election conducted on November 6 and 9 indicated that the party still has a long way to go in the zone and would need to review its strategies in convincing people to embrace the APC.
At the conclusion of the election process, the APC ended a distant third with 42,285 votes behind the APGA, which garnered 112,229 votes to win the election and the PDP, which secured 53,807 votes to come second. It did not win in any of the 21 local councils of the state, including the home council of its governorship candidate, Chief Andy Uba. A total of 249,631 votes were cast during the election.
APC’s Failure At Guber Polls Not New
The outcome of the 2021 governorship election was not the first time APC was being rejected in the state during governorship elections. Specifically, the party was rejected first during the 2017 governorship election. In 2017, governorship election, its candidate, Tony Nwoye had contested against the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano of the APGA. Nwoye then polled 98,752 votes to emerge second in an election won by landslide by Obiano who secured 234,071 votes.
It could be said that more people in Anambra state voted for the APC in 2017 than they did in 2021, even when the governorship candidate of the party (Uba) hailed from the zone slated to produce Obiano’s successor. The scenario was the same when Nwoye challenged Obiano in 2017. The difference then was that the political equation favoured a continuation of Obiano for another four years than a fresh mandate for another candidate from the same zone.
However, several factors are being touted to be responsible for the inability of the APC and its candidate to win the state despite earlier permutations of being the one to beat in the elections. The Guardian gathered that the troubles of the party began with the conduct of its governorship primary in June this year. Uba had emerged out of the 14 aspirants as candidate in controversial circumstances. Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun-led APC governorship primary committee had claimed that Uba muscled 230,201 votes of the 348,490 votes cast in the exercise to beat others.
Startled, the other aspirants, in unison, had protested the outcome of the exercise, insisting that there was no governorship primary in the state. They had seen the emergence of Uba as an imposition that did not take into account the will of the people. Their appeal was supported by INEC officials who were sent to monitor the election, which clarified that primaries did not hold.
The national leadership of the party had, however, upheld the exercise. This brought controversy as almost all the aspirants decided to quit the party and picked the forms of other political parties. Those who stayed behind were said to have refused to work for the success of the party at the poll, just as Uba was said to have done little or nothing to pacify the aggrieved aspirants.
Sources said that the grievance led to the institution of a suit in court by one of the aspirants in the election, Chief George Muoghalu who sought the nod of the court to compel INEC to delete the APC from the ballot, alleging that there was no primary election that produced a governorship candidate for the party in the state. The matter was billed to be decided few days to the governorship election but was deferred allegedly on the promptings of leaders of the party following its timing.
At the election proper, it became obvious that the party lied against itself when the over 230,201 delegates which it said allegedly voted for Uba during the governorship primary were no where in the state. There were also no 348,490 members of the APC in the state.
“How do you expect the people to vote a party that has continued to lie against itself? How do you reconcile 42, 000 votes with the over 300,000 votes the party claimed it got during the governorship primary? We want to deepen this party to enable it to be owned by the people. That is the way to go. Otherwise we will continue to lose elections,” a chieftain of the party, Chief Nonso Udeogu told The Guardian.
It was gathered that though the governorship candidate poached and secured several members of other political parties to join the APC before the election, the efforts never paid off as many of those who decamped had a shaky foundation. An account of the election indicated that they moved into the APC to partake in the largesse from the party and not necessarily to work for its success in the election as none of those who decamped could win in their polling units.
Another source also hinted that it was difficult to sell the candidature of Uba to the electorate against tested technocrats who had risen to the pinnacle of their career by hard work. References were made to the public debate, which exposed the inefficiencies of the candidate as one unprepared for governance, adding that he could not feature as the best choice from a local council that has two other first class materials gunning for the same position.
APC’s Weakness In Southeast Ahead 2023
The verdict of the Anambra State election is that the APC is yet to find its footing in the politics of the southeast region. Observers expressed the view that with the poor showings made in the two governorship elections, the party is yet to be accepted by the people of the state.
Beyond the façade of the party’s poor showing in the Anambra election, what is now being interrogated is how the APC would rekindle itself and strike a winning streak that could enable it upturn the PDP in the southeast in the 2023 general elections. Does the party possess the capacity to do so?
If winning membership is part of the scorecard of political parties, then the APC should raise its head high as one that should win several awards in the southeast. The truth is that since winning the presidency in 2015, the APC has not stopped gaining new members from the southeast zone.
Such names as former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu; former Minister, Emeka Wogu; former Senator Nkechi Nwogu; Minister Uche Ogar, Chief Ikechi Emenike; Major Gen Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd); former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governor, Sullivan Chime, ex-senator Ayogu Eze; Fidel Ayogu; ex-Speaker Eugene Odoh; ex-Speaker Stanley Ohajuruka; incumbent governors of Imo, Hope Uzodinma and that of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi; former BOT member, PDP, Chief Joy Emordi; ex- senator, Margret Okadigbo; Senator Stella Odua; incumbent Anambra Deputy governor, Nkem Okeke, Linda Ikpeazu and Chris Azubuogu, among several other bigwigs have joined the party.
But most of these politicians have come into reckoning as “Popes without Cathedrals” by their inability to win elections even in their wards. Some lack political structure but needed to anchor on the APC for greener pastures. They rarely believe in the party. This is the challenge in the southeast. During campaigns, they are rarely seen in the field campaigning for the APC.
This has seriously weakened the APC in the zone that it is now doubtful if the party can win any election in the zone in 2023, even with the array of politicians in its custody. Most of the state chapters are in crisis by the scale of anomalies that occurred in their congresses, leading to the enthronement of parallel executives.
Although, the party could be said to have taken control of two states in the zone – Imo and Ebonyi, it is on record that the Ebonyi State governor, Umahi took the mandate he got from the PDP into the APC in November last year. As it is, however, the festering crisis in the state chapter since he joined to assume leadership of the party has continued to weaken the party and cast doubts as to whether APC would retain Ebonyi in 2023.
In the run up to the Anambra governorship election, Imo State governor, Uzodinma was appointed to head the party’s campaign council. He was assisted by other governors and some ‘prominent’ politicians in the zone. But no sooner had his appointment been announced than Ngige rose against it, insisting that it was a serious error that could affect the chances of the party in the election.
Those who read the lips of the Minister said that the comments meant that inspite of being governor, Uzodinma’s pedigree has been under serious questioning since his emergence, based on the way the supreme court ruling was decided in his favour.
Speaking on the challenges of the party ahead of the 2023 elections, a former governorship candidate in Imo State, Chief Uche Nwosu, stated that APC should go back to the drawing board and reconcile new members with the founding members of the party. He also said that the party would find it difficult to win elections in the southeast because many of those who joined it have no electoral value.
Nwosu, who stated that the Mai Bala Caretaker Committee was brought in to reconcile grievances in the party, expressed reservations that the committee had succeeded in the assignment and cited the various camps in his Imo State being led by Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, Rochas Okorocha and Hope Uzodinma as examples.
Nwosu also attributed the failure of the party in Anambra State governorship election to the problem inflicted by the party leadership. He said: “What happened to us in Anambra State was self inflicted. We had primary and out of all the aspirants, 90 per cent of them were complaining. I was expecting the party leadership to call them and reconcile them. Those people paid a whopping N23 million non-refundable fee each and they were telling you that there were no primary and you ignored them.
“George Muoghalu complained. Dr Chris Ngige complained. I don’t think the party was able to reconcile them before we went for the election and you think you can create magic. Any how you look at it, anybody that bought form to participate in that election has supporters and when you undermine the strength of these supporters, it hurts. I think the party should retrace its steps and come back to the drawing board so the party could move ahead.”
Another chieftain of the party, Obinna Ogwuma, corroborated Nwosu’s views, saying that, “we are yet to see those who love this party in the state.”
According to Ogwuma, “If APC ended up the way it did in the Anambra election even with all the people who defected to the party before the election, it means that there are no true party members in the state. It is a sad development.”