THE political tempo in the South-East, like any other zone in the country, is visibly high, especially as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)-scheduled general election draws nearer.
Last Tuesday, January 22, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stormed, Owerri the Imo State capital, where it formally kick-started its presidential campaign in the South-East zone. It came as a surprise to many people in the eastern axis as they had expected the party to flag off its zonal campaign in Enugu, the administrative headquarters of the defunct Eastern Region and the cradle of Ndigbo.
As it is, the battle for supremacy in the South-East zone, ahead of the forthcoming general election, is between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku of PDP.
Agreed that South-East zone is predominantly PDP but, unlike in 2015 when the party had victory in a landslide at the presidential election across the five states namely, Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, the forthcoming poll will be highly contested by the two leading presidential candidates, especially in non-PDP controlled states.
Already, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership has made a U-turn, denying its endorsement of the PDP presidential standard bearer, Atiku, even as APC faithful think differently, insisting that the pan-Igbo group is sabotaging the efforts of their party. For instance, the zonal stalwarts of APC have raised the alarm that Ohanaeze by fixing its Imeobi meeting on the day President Buhari had scheduled to flag his campaign in Enugu was a calculated attempt to derail the campaign train of the president.
While the deputy publicity secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chuks Ibegbu, said Ndigbo would, at the meeting, take a position on which direction they would cast their votes, particularly on the presidential election, a chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and member of APC, Prince Richard Ozobu, faulted Nwodo’s fixture of the Imeobi meeting for the said Thursday.
“I have been a frontline player in Ohanaeze for many years and Imeobi meeting has never held on a Thursday but Saturdays. I can clearly tell you that Nwodo fixed this Imeobi meeting in bad faith. There is no emergency in Igboland to warrant the message he sent across that emergency meeting of Imeobi holds Thursday. This is to show the least, Nwodo’s disdain for president Buhari and he should not hoodwink the entire Igbo nation into his personal calamity,” he said.
Also, the APC national vice president, South-East, Chief Emma Enukwu, noted:“Ohanaeze has always been known to assume different disposition to the detriment of Ndigbo when it comes to politics. Ohanaeze is the only socio-cultural group that has taken a position on 2019 election with adoption of a candidate, but power belongs to God. Ohanaeze doesn’t give power and president is coming to campaign and nothing will stop him.”
Irked by the allegation, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, through his Special Adviser (Media), Emeka Attamah, last Wednesday, said it was malicious to allude that “Ohanaeze Ndigbo deliberately fixed their January 24th Imeobi meeting to clash with and sabotage the campaign tour of the APC presidential candidate for the forthcoming election, President Buhari, to the South-East. The truth of the matter was that the NEC of Ohanaeze Ndigbo had chosen the date for the meeting oblivious of the campaign timetable of the ruling APC party.
He explained that, in deference to the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige and the chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Dave Umahi, who both called his attention to the clash, Ohanaeze Ndigbo shifted the time for the meeting from 10am to 4p.m. on the same day at the instance of Dr Ngige.
Ohanaeze, in a release, stated that they were aware of the extra cost implications due to those that would have gone but would now be accommodated in hotels, but said it was to give all Igbo sons and daughters scheduled for the meeting an opportunity to be there.
The release added that although Ohanaeze Ndigbo is apolitical, it could aggregate the collective interest of Ndigbo for a candidate that answers to their wish and inclination, but won’t be dragged down to the level of vile politicking. It called on the purveyors of such petty innuendos to desist forthwith as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, under the leadership of Chief Nwodo will remain sterling and unimpeachable and wishes Mr President a joyous visit to the South East.
However, for Nigeria’s former vice president and PDP presidential candidate, Atiku, the Oweri event was a huge success as the mammoth crowd that greeted his arrival at the stadium boosted his morale to fight on. Atiku, at the occasion, assured the people of the South-East Region of policies that would ensure success in their businesses and a robust economy for the region and the country when elected, stressing with optimism that PDP would take over the state, come February 16.
“Let me tell you, the reason we are having this rally in Imo State today (Thursday) is because we are going to take over Imo State. Come February 16, I want you to vote and protect your vote. APC is not campaigning because they believe in rigging. I want to assure you that we will restructure Nigeria and rebuild your business. Don’t vote for APC. APC is an evil party. They have destroyed our economy; they have made Nigeria the capital of poverty in the world. We promise to create jobs and empower our youths and women,” Atiku said, while charging the people to rise and defend their votes.
Also speaking, the PDP vice presidential candidate and former governor of Imo State, Dr Peter Obi, assured his kinsmen of smooth business environment, restating that Atiku was aware that the Ndigbo are predominantly businessmen and, as such, he would make their businesses work again. “I am assuring Mr Abubakar of massive votes from the South-East,” he added.
On her part, wife of the presidential candidate, Jennifer Douglas Abubakar, said her husband had already become part of the Ndigbo, having married from the region. “If you want to eradicate poverty, hunger, infrastructural decay and insecurity, the answer is Atiku/Obi. Atiku is part of you; he understands all your plights. Come February 16, let us turn out en-masse and vote for Atiku so we can get Nigeria working again,” she said.
The PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, while presenting flags to the governorship candidates from the region, warned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against rigging the forthcoming general election.
“Come February, INEC won’t rig elections. This election cannot be rigged except they are looking for trouble. The security agencies too should be cautioned. It’s no longer business as usual, we mean business,” Secondus said
In his remarks, President of the Senate and Director-General of Atiku/Obi Campaign Organisation, Bukola Saraki, said the South-East rally was enough to send message to the entire Nigeria “that we need a brand new president; a president that will unite Nigeria”.
The chairman of South-East Governors’ Forum, David Umahi, said there was no crisis in the party in the zone as all the governors have vowed to deliver their states to the party in all the elections.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim, PDP governorship candidate in Imo, Emeka Ihedioha and various other speakers who addressed the crowd, all pledged to work towards positioning the main opposition party in the country in the path of victory in the South-East, ahead the forthcoming general election.
In fact, since the inception of the present political dispensation in 1999, PDP has been in the saddle, controlling the political structure of the entire South-East Region. But the party lost grip in 2007, even after it had consolidated on its political prowess in 2003.
It could be recalled that the political fortunes of the party, which was then in control at the federal level and in most states across the country and the entire South-East, began its gradual slide into oblivion, leading to a situation whereby the party was only able to retain, just two states Enugu and Ebonyi, at the end of the 2007 general election.
The then Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, due to his frosty relationship with then President Olusegun Obasanjo, founded the Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) on whose crest he rode back to power. While Ikedi Ohakim then occupied the Owerri Government House on the platform of PPA, PDP had also lost the governorship seat in Anambra State to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a year earlier, following the nullification of the election of the then PDP governor of the state, Dr Chris Ngige.
The defection of Theodore Orji and Ikedi Ohakim, then governors of Abia and Imo states, respectively to PDP once again gave domineering role to the party in Igbo land. However the party lost Imo again to APGA in 2011, even as the state eventually fell into the hands of APC with Chief Rochas Okorocha steering the ship. The now question is, Has South-East has finally united for PDP ahead of forthcoming general election?
Investigation revealed that PDP still holds the ace in Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu states, while it is going to be a hot contest for APC, PDP and the Action Alliance (AA) in Imo State. Anambra State has remained APGA stronghold since 2006 and there is no indication yet that the tide would change.
Unfolding events showed that there may be surprises in forthcoming general polls as APC is likely going to improve on its voters’ figure come February 16. Unconfirmed reports had it that despite the assurance of the chairman of South-East Governors’ Forum, David Umahi of Ebonyi State at the Owerri event, some of his governor-colleagues are still undecided as to whether to give their support to President Buhari or Alhaji Atiku as their own re-elections remain paramount to them.
Although Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu had dismissed the rumour that he might work for APC presidential candidate in protest against how he was reportedly sidelined in the buildup to the eventual nomination of Peter Obi as running mate to Atiku, there is still hope in APC supporters’ camp that he would play a key, though subterranean, role in ensuring a successful second term return for Buhari and would eventually switch to APC after the elections.
In Imo State where the sky is still cloudy, recent reports had it that 18 people have defected from APC and PDP to AA, with the Speaker of the state House Assembly, Acho Ihim, leading the pack.
Further checks showed that prior to their defection, there had been a battle for supremacy between the lawmakers in the state legislature, a situation that culminated to the failed impeachment of the current Imo State deputy governor, Eze Madumere. The botched impeachment, in return, led to the suspension of five lawmakers, including Ifeanyi Nnatataonye, Uche Oguwuike, Donatus Onuigwe, Kenna Nzeruo and Chiji Collins, for alleged unconstitutional activities leveled against them by Speaker Ihim.
To many people in Imo State, the forthcoming general polls would provide an opportunity to make amends and return the state to the path of equity. An analyst, Greg Nwadike, in his recent article entitled; “Understanding the Imo Guber Imbroglio said, “It will be impossible to have a candidate from the Owerri Zone becoming governor in 2023 should the zone refuse to return to the arrangement that could allow the Okigwe zone to complete its remaining one term and thereafter make room for an orderly and smooth transition of power from Okigwe to Owerri for eight years. This has been tried in other states of the South-East which today has ensured equity and complete rotation of power among zones in these states. Imo is the only state yet to complete this cycle as a result of the truncation of the arrangement by the Owerri Zone”
Be that as it may, many political observers contend that the fear of the unknown, largely as a result of the election time table which put the presidential poll first and the defection of some of the Igbo political gladiators such as Chief Jim Nwobodo (now back in PDP), former Senate President Ken Nnamani and ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu to APC, would make it pretty difficult for PDP in the South-East Zone to have a block vote as it did in the 2015 presidential poll. Unlike in 2015, when religion and ethnicity were played up, the next month’s presidential election is seen in Igbo land as purely a Fulani affair.