As the build up to the November 18 governorship election in Anambra State engages full throttle, candidates of political parties and unsuccessful aspirants are up and about everywhere seeking how to influence things.
Within the All Progressives Congress (APC), which came into the race with the gait of a giant killer ready to dethrone the incumbent, things have not been that simple. The governorship flag bearer of the party has been rambling from one meeting to another.
Two things have combined to drown the tempo of activities in the APC, thereby pushing it a little back from its prior ranking as the major contender in the election. These are the long time it took the party to resolve the post-governorship primary issues and the failure of Senator Andy Uba to clinch the ticket. There are also the sentiments connected to the fall-out of exercise Python Dance 11 in neighbouring Abia State.
Virtually all the top shots in Anambra chapter of APC went into political hibernation immediately after the member representing Anambra East and West at the House of Representatives, Hon. Tony Nwoye, was announced as the governorship flag bearer of the party.
An attempt by APC leader in the state, who is also the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, to strengthen the ticket by providing an old member as running mate to Nwoye, was rebuffed. And as if that was a last ditch to connect the party with the candidate, eminent stakeholders, including the Senator Jim Nwobodo committee, switched off entirely, leaving Nwoye and his comrades to carry their cross.
But while the APC candidate was left to replicate his student union style politics in the management of his campaigns, some members and aspirants started looking elsewhere to remain relevant in the unfolding governorship contest that would situate the groundwork for the 2019 poll.
It was also gathered that the perceived conspiracy by some notable party chieftains to deny Uba the APC ticket has started taking its quiet toll on the party. For instance, Senator Uche Lilly Ekwunife, who was waiting in the wings as possible running mate to the senator representing Anambra South in the state, is said to be mobilizing her large network of followers and supporters in a big exodus back to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
It is not known as yet, what Uba plans to do, but it is obvious his campaign organization and Igwebuike political structure would not be canvassing for votes for the APC governorship candidate. However, sources close to the senator disclosed that he is still studying the situation to understand what played out and what next to do to exercise his wide political network in the state.
As an ally of Senate President Bukola Saraki, Uba was primed to be the arrowhead of his presidential campaign in 2019. That could be why as many as forty legislators accompanied the Anambra senator to pick the expression and nomination forms for the governorship race at the APC headquarters in Abuja.
Although there was no concrete data to support the belief that forces within the Presidency, especially those privy to the Senate President's presidential ambition, conspired to ensure that the Senator did not pick the ticket, the conduct of the primary gave ample room for suspicion.
However, the senator complained about the imperfections in the process and his petition was given befitting attention. But when placed side by side with the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have prevailed on the National Working Committee (NWC) to postpone the primary from August 19 to 26, pending his return from the United Kingdom, all doubts as to insider intervention disappears.
Until the postponement, word making the rounds within APC national secretariat and Anambra State was that Andy had secured the ticket without hassles. It was that belief that also fed the perception that the national chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun and other stakeholders allegedly received handsome gratification to trade away the ticket to the former PDP chieftain.
It was also speculated that the APC leadership hierarchy had decided to compensate their navigator, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, by handing out the Anambra governorship ticket to his former Special Assistant on Domestic Matters.
But a new scenario was weaved shortly after APC postponed its governorship primary in Anambra, with strong case being made against the free market operation of inducement and swapping of delegates' list.
That piece of news indicated that the Presidency had settled for the former chairman of Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu chapters of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Dr. Chike Obidigbo, based on his clean records and integrity quotient. Purveyors of that information circulated the fact that the Obidigbo remained the only aspirant that could be presented as a consensus candidate without bickering of any sort.
However as the date for the governorship primary drew nearer, especially with the volume of hard and local currency allegedly being deployed to sway delegates, Obidigbo apparently ran out of oxygen to continue and withdrew from further participation. Also, in a letter to the national leadership of the party indicating his withdrawal, Obidigbo expressed the wish that in future APC and other political parties in the country would shun the delegate system of primary election.
To a large extent, Obidigbo's withdrawal eclipsed all hopes that APC would resort to consensus approach to select its candidate. And being a strong advocate of zoning, although the industrialist did not indicate that he was stepping aside to endorse any of the dozen aspirants, his decision to back off brightened the chances of Nwoye.
But either on account of the fact that he harvested votes that could have gone to Obidigbo, or plain oversight, Nwoye looked beyond Obidigbo to Anambra South and Southeast caucus of the party to shore up his suport base and become competitive in the race.
With the tenuous state of things within APC after the primary, major groups in the party became ready shopping targets for rival parties. For instance, while the Osita Chidoka campaign organisation has been mounting strategic pressures on the Igwebuike political structure of Uba, Chief Godwin Ezeemo of Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), has been trying to aggregate the Uba support base through the Old Aguata Union (OAU).
However, in the schemes to appropriate political structures by governorship candidates, the Osisioma political family has become the beautiful bride. Revolving around the Osisioma Foundation, which boasts of a large membership spread across the 326 wards and 177 towns of the state, the family has become the centre of discussions for support.
Notable among those wooing the group include supporters of governor Willie Obiano, Oseloka Obaze campaign organisation and Action Democratic Party (ADP). The Guardian gathered that foot soldiers of Nwoye's sponsor, Prince Arthur Eze, plan to co-opt the Osisioma political family into their fold to build a formidable political action group for the governorship and subsequent elections in the state.
Sources confided in The Guardian that while other candidates are seeking electoral collaboration with the Osisioma group basically for the November 18, governorship poll, Ozoigbondu (Eze's) people want a long term relationship that could see to the election of councilors, council chairmen and lawmakers from across the two political interest groups.
Consequently, issues regarding the election of other political actors, particularly state legislators would help to determine who and wins the Anambra governorship poll and under which political party.
In fact, the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano is being compelled to sponsor some House of Assembly candidates following rumours of a clandestine plot by his perceived ally to populate the state legislature with his loyalists in readiness for a possible impeachment move.
Even in the forthcoming contest, Obiano is said not to be leaving anything to chance. His open denial of the contributions of his benefactor, Mr. Peter Obi, in his (Obiano's) emergence as candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and ultimate election as governor in 2013 remains a knotty point for him.
But the intriguing aspect of the lobby for group support is that some of the displaced aspirants are also being wooed by other platforms to take advantage of the substitution window. And until the substitution window closes by mid October, it would not be possible to ascertain the real nature of the several discussions going on in various sections of the state.
Given the fact that Dr. Obidigbo was the preferred consensus candidate of the people of Anambra north senatorial district in 2013, there is nothing to support the doubt that he is being pressured to contest the November 18 poll, to test his famed wide acceptability across the state.
Concern for credibility
On the sidelines of the schemes by gladiators and their supporters to ensure that they carry the day, is the concern for the credibility of the exercise. There is growing apprehension among Anambra voters that the election may not be transparent, free and fair.
Shortly after the Exercise Python Dance was deployed, some people concluded that the military exercise was a prelude to a plan by some entrenched political forces outside the state with eyes on the 2019 presidential poll, to impose a governor against the wishes of the people of the state for its future political wellbeing.
It was in the light of that growing apprehension that the umbrella socio-cultural organisation of Igbo, Ohanaeze Nd'Igbo recently called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that the Anambra governorship poll meets the standards of any credible election.