Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha (third right), Senator Ken Nnamani (fourth right), Deputy Governor Eze Madumere (second left), Senator Ifeanyi Araraume (third left), Dr. Jumbo Ofo (fourth left), Imo House of Assembly Speaker, Acho Ihim (fifth left), businessman, Chief Emeka Ofor (right) and party’s stalwart, Dr. Ebuka Onunkwo (second right), during the All Progressives Congress (APC) South-East stakeholders’ meeting in Owerri.
How Opposition Campaigns Ruffle Chieftains, Amidst Infighting
Despite the mad rush by eminent former political actors in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the Southeast to empty into the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), there are indications that things might not be so rosy for the defectors, politically speaking.
A meeting of the Southeast leadership caucus of the party, comprising state chairmen and five stakeholders each from the five states of the zone, aimed at harmonizing positions of the zone before the proposed midterm convention of the party, recently held at the Imo International Conference Centre, Owerri.
It was gathered that the first point of disappointment that the zone would experience is the determination by the Southwest promoters of APC to dig in and fight off the attempt by ‘the late comers’ to wield influence in the party. Besides, the National Working Committee of the party has activated the process of amending the APC constitution, even as feelers indicate that the midterm convention, contrary to popular belief, has been tailored to be an affirmative, instead of elective convention.
Although none of the positions allotted to the Southeast in the NWC is vacant, most of the newly defected politicians were said to have responded to the promise of coming to replace some “disloyal leaders that have to be displaced to make the party more amenable to President Muhammadu Buhari’s style.”
But, since the Federal Government is yet to appoint chairmen and members of most of the federal agencies and parastatals, the new entrants also hope to take advantage of the scant number of APC members in the zone during the expected appointments. It was this expectation that informed the recent disclosure by the Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, that the high caliber defectors were leaving PDP in search of appointments and contracts.
Yet there are a lot more issues dominating the centre of possible discord in the Southeast APC. Consequently, as the caucus leaders met in Owerri, the agenda moved from how to respond to moves by the Southwest to checkmate the influence of the new comers, to how to build unity within the party in the zone to “ensure equitable distribution of perks and political positions in the zone”:
Leaders At War Over 2019
IT is on record that in 2011 former President of Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani, was approached by General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) to join him on the presidential ticket of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Though Nnamani tactically declined, pointing at the low sphere of influence, spread and poor war chest (funding), Buhari’s admiration for the Senator became well known.
Sources hinted that ever since he became President, Buhari has not hidden his desire to work with Nnamani, if nothing else, to reward his principled stand in the defeat of the ignoble third term gamble, as well as, recognise him as “the one Igbo politician the north can trust”. Some APC chieftains in the zone, especially Chief George Muoghalu and Emmanuel Eneukwu, who were Buhari’s allies in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), believe that if the plans to have Buhari seek a second term in 2019 sail through, Nnamani remained the number one choice for the position of presidential running mate.
But within the APC fold, Governor Rochas Okorocha and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu were the prominent Southeast politicians that took part in the merger talks. While Onu insists that as the prime mover of the merger idea, he deserves special place in the party in the zone, Okorocha sees himself as the Governor General of Southeast and the most senior politician in APC from the zone.
Right from the early days of the APC administration, particularly during the speculations that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), would come from Southeast to confer balance on the government, Okorocha and Onu did not cease to round around each other in intrigues and schemes.
As Okorocha schemed to have one of his relations occupy the post of SGF, other prominent politicians in the zone showed preference for Onu, in the belief that he had paid his dues in opposition, being coolheaded, as well as, a long-term ally of Buhari.
The APC Zonal Chairman, Eneukwu, has been preying on the sensibilities of the two leaders as they engage in subdued supremacy battle of relevance and recognition. Okorocha was peeved at the meddlesome ambition by Onu, that he once told the Minister at a meeting that if he missed the opportunity of becoming the SGF, he should not aspire for any other national position, in allusion to the possibility of becoming Buhari’s running mate in 2019 or even flying the party’s presidential flag.
With Nnamani’s entry, Southeast APC seems to see him as a third force to neutralize the unstated war between Onu and Okorocha, which even Dr. Chris Ngige could not douse. Both the governor and minister flaunt their closeness to the north.
While there has not been any concrete arrangement to zone the party’s national chairmanship to Southeast, speculations have begun to fly that Nnamani is being considered, as a first step to his eventual pairing on the Presidential ticket. Based on that, a new apprehension has seeped into the party, thereby raising some antipathy against the defectors.
Speaking on what premium the party places on the latecomers, Enugu State chairman of the party, Dr. Ben Nwoye, said it is a good omen that the influential former PDP chieftains have crossed over to APC, stressing that it was obvious that the party did not have the wherewithal to win elections before their entry.
But former spokesman of the Southeast leadership caucus and Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, told journalists in Enugu that the truth of the matter is that within APC the fear is that some of these former PDP chieftains having joined the party “with their loot could start dictating the tune.”
Speaking on the possibility that the newcomers could corner most of elective offices if the opportunity comes, Okechukwu said: “There was one convention we held, one of the last conventions before the last election. That convention was to insert in the constitution of APC that even if you come an hour before any election, you can contest.
“So, to that extent, we are even afraid that some of them that looted in PDP and crossing over with their loot could begin to dictate the pace. That is the danger. That is also the downside of the crossover.”
As the leaders fight for relevance and ascendancy, the heat between old timers and newcomers continue. How far the zone could go to provide a united front at the centre is left to be seen.
Enthronement Of Nnamani
EVEN before some political deal makers in the party from the zone led him to a brief meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in June 2016, Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, knew that as former President of Senate, Nnamani warmed his way into the hearts of most political leaders in the north.
But Okorocha used the caucus meeting in Owerri to take the shine off those who were creating the impression to Nnamani that they were responsible for his new political good fortune. Employing a gift of the garb, Okorocha used the opportunity to warn the defectors to be of good conduct, even as he explained the coming of Nnamani as a saving grace in the behind the curtain schisms between him and the Science and Technology, as well as, Labour and Employment ministers.
Okorocha said: “There is a vacuum of leadership in the Southeast APC; I am a governor, my brothers, Chris Ngige and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu are ministers, hence the importance of Nnamani coming to the party at this time. With Ken Nnamani, the question of who is the leader of APC in the South-east has been answered. Nnamani is the leader of APC in the South-east.”
To those who did not know the genesis, Okorocha’s announcement gave the impression that he was crowning Nnamani as leader of Southeast APC when in it was actually his diplomatic response to the misgivings from the national leadership of the party about how his supremacy battles with Onu and Ngige, stunted the growth of the party in the zone.
But the confusion, which the Imo State governor alluded to was not averted. For instance, of the three state governors expected to join the party, the issue of automatic ticket and control of the party structure in their states have not been given proper consideration.
With the exception of Enugu, the situation in Anambra and Ebonyi chapters of the party do not seem to augur well for their governors. In the case of Ebonyi, although the 2015 governorship candidate of the party, Senator Julius Ali Ucha, was recognized as leader, the gesture was being perceived by those opposed to Ucha as a continuation of Okorocha’s determination to reduce Onu’s clout.
In the case of Anambra, it was gathered that party chieftain at the national headquarters have continued to pile pressure on the Senator representing Anambra South Senatorial zone, Andy Uba, to join the party. Although sources denied that the attempts to lure Uba into the party was to undercut the influence of Ngige, some governorship aspirants, including the party’s national auditor, Chief George Muoghalu, see the chase for Uba as inimical to their political interest.
But even as unsettled conflicts of interest in some states could become possible sources of distraction for Nnamani, the absence of another decampee from Abia State, former governor Orji Uzor Kalu, reveals the tricky political situation in Southeast APC.
How the camaraderie that oozed out of the Owerri meeting would affect the interest of most of the leaders to partner President Buhari in the 2019 APC Presidential ticket is left to be seen. Not a few of those who attended the Owerri meeting failed to contrast Okorocha’s campaign for Buhari’s second term in office with his decision to contest for the office in 2015. That is where the politics of shadow chasing in APC may be defined.
Although it remains unstated, but within the Southeast APC, Nnamani, Okorocha, Onu, Ngige and Kalu are lining up to be considered as Buhari’s left leg in 2019. It is not known whether he was referring to his decision to compete against Buhari in 2015, when he said, we lost a lot due to our bad politics in 2015, but his declaration that “we are going to support President Buhari for the eight years he is going to lead the nation, could be seen as Okorocha’s smart move to rank higher than others for the post of Buhari’s running mate.
Disconnect With The Masses
BUT the greatest source of possible embarrassment to those trying to inject momentum into Southeast APC, is the perceived disconnect between the leaders and the masses. The leadership caucus of APC is said to be worried that the party does not seem to enjoy mass appeal in the zone despite the defection of the opinion leaders.
Both the Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, had dismissed the defectors as representing nobody, but their stomach and what they can get. While Ihedioha described the defecting eminent politicians as unsteady political characters rolling from one party to another, Ekweremadu said the defectors had long lost the confidence of the people.
But what appears to be the secret headache of the new Southeast APC is creeping grandstanding by youth and women in the zone against what they called “the open hatred and unwarranted violation of citizens’ freedom” under the APC dispensation.
Moreover, the party is said to be also worried by the grassroots campaign and membership recruitment by the United Progressives Party (UPP), which has also fixed April 2017 for its national convention to adopt restructuring and referendum as part of its constitution.
In a statement, UPP national chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie, had noted that 2019 general election “shall be a direct contest between those who accept restructuring as the panacea for the survival of Nigeria and those who choose to maintain the status quo.”
Maintaining that 2019 would be characterized by serious debates about the political future of Nigeria, Okorie said the masses in Igboland have decided to negotiate with their votes, stressing that the failure of so-called leaders in the past to factor in the interest of the youth has led to a very big disconnect and loss of confidence.
In recent times, UPP volunteers have been distributing leaflets across the wards and local government councils in the zone, urging Nd’Igbo to identify with it for the electoral battle ahead. The leaflets authored by the leader of the group promoting the membership drive, Team Tiger (TT), Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, reminds Nd’Igbo that since “talent wins games and teamwork wins championships, teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.”
But the APC believes that the possible alienation of the masses could cost the zone influential positions in 2019, a reason why the recent utterances by the newly elected President General of Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, unsettled the leaders so much so that the Owerri meeting was hurriedly convened to devise strategies to curtail popular disconnect.
Nwodo had in his maiden press conference, complained about the skewed national appointments by the Buhari administration, regretting that the APC administration did not make honest efforts to include Igbo in its government.
Reading from a prepared speech, Nwodo declared: “What is very perturbing is the public declaration of Mr. President that his appointments must favour the states that votes overwhelmingly for him and those he trusts, even against the provisions of the constitution relating to federal character! One is at sea why Nd’Igbo who campaigned and voted for him appear not to be trusted.”
As such, irked by the strong sentiments contained in Nwodo’s statement, a political pressure group working for the promotion of Buhari’s political interests in the zone, Buhari Support Orgnisation (BSO), Enugu State chapter, cried out that the Ohanaeze under Nwodo was trying to derail the emergence of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023.
While urging Nwodo to emulate Zik, who insisted on politics of compromise and national accommodation, BSO reminded Ohanaeze that “experience in the Nigerian political trajectory is that no one ethnic nationality could become president of Nigeria without the support of other ethnic groups,” stressing that for Nd’Igbo to become president in 2023, they need the support of others.
In the statement signed by its publicity secretary, Chibueze Eze, BSO said it would have ignored the statement by Nwodo as it was not the resolution of the Ohanaeze Executive Committee, but for its lavish advertorial in newspapers as the position of Ohanaeze.
Aside from the bitter renunciation of the Presidency by Ohanaeze, its avowed determination to side with the leadership of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has been described as being damaging to cause of the party in the Southeast.