Many Nigerians who understand the dynamics of the country’s political system, the 2019 electoral contest has started in earnest in spite of the fact that it is still about two years away. The ongoing alignment and re-alignment of political forces across the country is a testament that politicians are already positioning themselves towards gaining an upper hand at the polls. In line with the development, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has recorded some gains in the Southeast geo-political zone, which had been hostile to it since inception, through the defection of some stalwarts of other political parties to its fold. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which lost power to the APC at the centre at the 2015 general elections, has been the worst hit. It has, for instance, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, Emeka Offor, Senators Ifeanyi Araraume, Andy Uba, Jim Nwobodo, proprietor of Peace Mass Transit Ltd., Chief Sam Onyishi, former speaker of Enugu House of Assembly Eugene Odo and member of the House of Representatives and former gubernatorial candidate of PDP in Anambra State, Hon. Tony Nwoye, among others, to the ruling party. The APC also has in its fold today, former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, who defected from the Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) in November last year. From every indication, the Southeast zone has suddenly become the new bride of the ruling party.
At a recent zonal stakeholders meeting of the party which held in Owerri, Imo State, Governor Rochas Okorocha, had hinted that more political bigwigs including three serving Southeast governors were in touch with him and would defect to the party in no time. Although all the governors quickly debunked the claim, many political observers strongly believe that the influx of people into APC would change the political equation in the country in 2019, even as they entertain fears that the country might slide into a one party state should the APC take control of the Southeast.
Dissecting the development, National Chairman of United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, berated the defectors to the APC, noting that their defection would not change the voting pattern of the zone.
He said: “The way to look at it from my own perspective is that all these politicians who are defecting to the APC prove themselves to lack principles and self-respect. Practically, all of them campaigned vigorously against the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari. Some of them used unprintable words against the President and the APC; even this rumour going around now about Buhari’s health situation was a campaign issue for some of them during the 2015 presidential election campaign. They never actually changed their positions and the statements they made. It is, therefore, very, very surprising that in less than two years, they shamelessly made a turnaround to embrace both the APC and President Buhari that they didn’t credit with anything.”
Okorie, who was the presidential candidate of his party in 2015, went down memory lane to explain why the defections might not affect the outcome of the 2019 election in the zone.
“What they are doing now had happened before. In the Second Republic, notable political leaders in the East at that time went to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). When Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe chose a small party called the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), the only notable politician that was with was Chief R.B.K Okafor. Chief Jim Nwobodo was just a successful businessman then. Chief Sam Mbakwe was a practicing lawyer who came to limelight because of the case he won against abandoned property; he was not a politician. So, it was these people who were political neophytes then that Zik used to sweep the polls in the whole of Igboland. All the notable politicians in NPN lost their wards. Now, the presence of notable politicians in the East in the NPN did not give victory to the party. It was the same NPP that NPN approached to form an alliance in order to form a Federal Government. That was how the late Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke became the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” Okorie explained.
Reminded that the APC had recently declared that it would use this year’s gubernatorial election in Anambra State to show that it has arrived in the Southeast, Okorie insisted that the party would not smell victory at the poll. He noted: “In spite of the defections to APC, I want to predict that the UPP will win Anambra election hands down. Our candidate will emerge at the appropriate time according to the INEC timetable. If you go to Anambra and ask the electorate which party they will be casting their votes for in the governorship election, you will agree with me that the UPP is on ground. APGA has disappointed everybody, PDP is in disarray and APC is an untouchable party as far as the Southeast is concerned. The impression of the people about those who are joining the APC is that they are traitors and political saboteurs.
“I can assure you that those who are defecting to the APC are people who will never come out on election day to cast their votes; they will not. They will only look for thugs to go and cart away ballot boxes. But they will be surprised that those who used to work for them before will decline to do that this time around because what Igbo people are looking for today is political emancipation and freedom. That is the challenge that even President Buhari himself has thrown to the Igbo people when he said at a town hall meeting in New York during a state visit to the United States that Igbos should go and organise a political party and use it to canvass for what they want in Nigeria. That challenge has been taken up by the UPP. I have paid my dues in this struggle and when I tell you that UPP will win the Anambra governorship election, I say it with every authority that God has given me.”
He added: “I want to tell you that there will be nothing like APC springing surprises in this matter. The Anambra election is regarded by the entire Igbo nation as the gateway to their liberation because it is coming this year. What happens in the 2017 governorship lection in Anambra will determine what will happen in the entire Igboland in 2019. So, take it from me that the Anambra election is like a second Biafra war; it will be fought with ballot papers not with weapons. If we lose the Anambra election, we have lost a second Biafra war. I know what I am saying.”
Senior Special Assistant on Media to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, James Eze, also believes that in spite of the defections to the APC, the political equation in the Southeast will remain unchanged in 2019.
Eze said: “You are aware that it is has been said that most of the people who are joining the APC are doing so for survivalist reasons. These are business people who don’t want their businesses to suffer as a result of not being in the same boat with the party in power. Don’t forget that most of these people were staunch PDP members when PDP was in power. Now that APC is in power, I think it is only predictable to see them realign their loyalty in support of the ruling party. So, we are familiar with all these dynamics and we are not vexed up by these movements. Even the people who are making these movements know where their hearts belong. They know that their hearts belong to their own people and their people are staunch supporters of APGA.”
Specifically speaking on the chances of the APC in the Anambra gubernatorial election, Eze stated: “You know that we are gradually moving into conversations for the coming election. So, it is not strange to hear parties making claims. But what we should look at is how realistic are those claims. It is obvious that the APC has no strong base in Anambra State. So, what I will just say is that in Anambra, it will take more than wishful thinking to displace APGA. APGA is a political movement that has taken firm root in Anambra State. The people of the state have been standing with the visions of the founders of the party. That is why Anambra has been a reference point for good governance for 12 straight years. So, it is very unlikely that Anambra people will accept any other party at this moment in time than the party that has served their interest well.”
A chieftain of the APC in the zone and Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, however, thinks that those who are not reckoning with the current gains of the APC in the Southeast are mistaken.
“I think the surge into APC by eminent Igbo sons and daughters is a signpost of acceptance of APC by my people. If politics is a game of numbers and voters are people, then the surge into APC naturally will reflect on the vote chart in 2019. Anybody that says that Senator Ken Nnamani has no followership in Igboland, that Chief Sam Onyishi, proprietor of Peace Mass Transit Auto-company; Senators Agboti, Ararume, Nwogu, Nwanunu, Uba, Eugene Odo et al, are without wives, children and friends who can vote along with them is less than pragmatic in his assessment. The truth is that panic has set in because of mass exodus from the PDP and APGA camps.”
He stressed that the PDP and other affected parties were only betraying their fears in saying that those defecting from their folds were political jobbers whose departure would not change the political equation in the zone.
“What do you expect from fear and panic stricken politicians especially those who wanted to rule for 60 years?” he asked, adding: “In fact, the primary objective of a political party is to seek for power, and when power is won legitimately, naturally the office have to be shared. There is nothing untoward for a politician to seek for office or job as you dubbed it.”
Okechukwu explained that Igbos now troop to the APC because they have seen the willingness of the Buhari administration to improve their lot. “There are three main factors, one is that my people appreciate performance, as evidenced by the gradual return of contractors with bulldozers to federal roads abandoned for years. Secondly, some who bought into the vile propaganda that Buhari as president will Islamise the country now know better, that it was the handiwork of cynical elements in our midst who tell tales to captive audience. Thirdly, my people don’t have the patience to remain outside the cozy confines of power,” he explained.
Asked why he opposed to welcoming some of the defectors into the party, Okechukwu answered: “Yes, I did in the sense that democracy demands that we open our doors wide open does not mean that we open it too wide. That will be dangerous, for we know those who wittingly contributed in wrecking the PDP and APGA. My phobia is that they can also wreck APC. So, caution is valour in this instance and not cowardice.”
On whether he was concerned that the country might be heading to a one party state, which the APC cried against when it was an opposition party, should it take control of the Southeast, the VON DG noted that the country was far from experiencing that “especially when some are muting the idea of mega party. Personally one is a believer in multi-party system, especially the variant with two dominant political parties like in UK, USA, Brazil, India, Indonesia and Pakistan. One party state is prone to dictatorship as the core ingredient of democracy, which is popular participation, is denied. The fact is that there is alignment and re-alignment going on across the broad spectrum of Nigeria.”