Nigeria 2023: Could Anambra outcome deny Igbo presidency?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 15 November 2021 13:29

Charles Soludo shows his INEC certification on his win for Anambra State Governor
Charles Soludo shows his INEC certification on his win for Anambra State Governor/Twitter

Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), under the leadership of Yobe Governor, Mai Mala Buni, came third in the latest governorship election in Anambra State despite the defection of top politicians into its fold. What will this mean for the party ahead of 2023?

On 13 October 2021, when President Muhammadu Buhari presented Nkem Okeke, the deputy governor of Anambra State, with the APC flag at the presidential villa, many were shocked at the sudden defection.

Okeke’s principal, Governor Willie Obiano, was still a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). That the defection happened barely three weeks before the highly anticipated election also cast a shadow over APGA’s ability to win the poll.

Buni, who is the de facto chairman of the party, and Governor Hope Uzodinma, of Imo State, both took credit for the defection, describing it as one of “big fish”. For them, the defection of a serving deputy governor was testament to the rising popularity of the APC in the southeast.

Speaking after the meeting with the president, Uzodinma even claimed that the governor of Anambra State had plans to join the APC soon, because the party’s popularity had hit an all time high. Buhari also commended the deputy governor for his “courage”, reiterating that the defection was good for the southeast.

The deputy governor’s defection is seen as a continuation of Buni’s drive to swell the APC’s membership. Months earlier, Buni had also welcomed three governors from the opposition, including Ben Ayade (Cross River), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi) and Bello Matawalle (Zamfara). Ahead of the Anambra election, a staunch PDP Senator, Stella Oduah, as well as seven other serving lawmakers, had also joined the APC.

Buni’s efforts were yielding fruits. Or so it seemed.

The southern challenge

The APC has a strong following in almost all 25 states in the north and the southwest, but the party has failed to make proper inroads into the 11 states that make up the southeast and the south-south zones. Since Buhari started contesting presidential elections in 2003, he has not won a single state in the southeast and south-south regions. The PDP has ruled some states in these regions for the last 22 years.

Desperate to change the APC’s fortunes ahead of 2023, Buni’s committee began lobbying many of the governors from the said regions to defect. The expectation was that they would defect along with their members and use state machinery to coax members of the House of Assembly as well as other top politicians to join the APC and swell the party’s membership.

The easy targets were governors who were already having challenges with their party leadership in their states. Some of those lured to the APC were told that the best way for their region to produce the next president of Nigeria was to embrace the ruling party.

Cosmetic defections?

Past experiences reveal that the defection of a governor to a party does not always improve the political fortunes of his new party in the state, especially with regards to national elections.

This is common in states where the governor is not particularly popular, or where a governor dumps a party that has a very strong base in the state. This has been the fate of governors who dumped the PDP or APGA in the southeast and south-south. In 2014, Governors Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers State) and Rochas Okorocha (Imo State) joined the APC, but the party lost at the federal elections in both states.

It is surprising that APGA, which lost almost 80% of its stalwarts through defection to the APC before the election, came out victorious.

In Ebonyi and Cross River states, the PDP had been ruling since 1999 until Governor Umahi and Ayade recently joined the APC. Both governors have been able to coax most of the House of Assembly members to join them in the APC, but federal lawmakers, including senators, have refused to follow suit. It begs the question of how entrenched the APC is in these states.

This could only be tested in the voting booth.

Anambra poll as APC test of strength

Fired up by the wave of defections to the APC, the party boasted that it would win the November 6 governorship election. Unlike in most states in which elections have been two-horse races, Anambra’s has traditionally been a three-horse race because APGA has been the ruling party since 2006.

The 2021 election was no different. When the results were eventually announced, the APGA candidate, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, won with 112,229 votes; the PDP and its candidate Valentine Ozigbo, garnered 53,807 votes; and Andy Uba of the APC got 43,825 votes. Out of the 253,388 votes cast, the APC recorded just about 17.3%.

In a statement released by his spokesman, the APC candidate rejected the outcome of the election saying: “It is surprising that APGA, which lost almost 80% of its stalwarts through defection to the APC before the election, came out victorious.”

The battle is now expected to shift to the courts.

‘Buni must resign’

The poor performance of the APC at the poll has now raised fresh doubts about the capacity of Buni, whose leadership is currently being challenged in court. Some argue that as a serving governor, he ought not to be allowed to run the party’s affairs, adding that the caretaker committee he leads is unknown to law. Some loyalists of APC stalwart, Bola Tinubu, share this view and have asked a court to sack Buni as the caretaker chairman.

Others also argue that the crushing defeat suffered by the APC in Anambra is reason enough for Buni to resign.

A group known as the Concerned stakeholders of the APC believes that the party lost because Buni’s committee handpicked Uba as the party flag bearer in a poorly conducted primary that forced other contenders to leave.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Ayo Oyalowo says Buni’s committee, which was interventionist and ad-hoc in nature, ought to have been dissolved.

Politics is a game of numbers, Igbo cannot continue to play politics of isolation in the 21st century and expect that miracle will happen…

The group says: “Another crystal clear evidence of the failure of the caretaker committee is the outcome of the Anambra gubernatorial election. While it is sad that the APC came a dismal third in an election it had every chance of winning, it would have been magic if the party had performed better than it did, especially considering that the candidate of the party, Senator Andy Uba emerged through a process that was completely strange to the ideals of the APC.

“Little wonder that almost all the aspirants of the party in the primary election turned the other way after they had been denied the right to exercise their rights as members in a free and fair contest. To make matters worse, the caretaker committee, rather than manage the fallout of those unfortunate primary elections, busied itself pursuing opposition party members to join the APC.”

Implications for 2023

Many believe that the rejection of the APC in the southeast suggests that the party has failed to make the necessary inroads into the region and this could affect the APC in 2023, especially as the Buhari government has not managed the secessionist agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) properly.

An APC chieftain, Joe Igbokwe, says the outcome of the election is evidence that the Igbo people in the southeast are not ready to join the APC, which currently runs the central government.

He insists that embracing the APC remains the surest way for the Igbo to produce the next president in 2023, a position that has eluded the region for over 50 years.

“I had thought that Igbo will move beyond ethnic politics and work to connect to the centre to meet other Nigerians. We will continue to be onlookers. Politics is a game of numbers, Igbo cannot continue to play politics of isolation in the 21st century and expect that miracle will happen. It is time to build bridges and not burn bridges,” Igbokwe says.

However, an Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, argues that the southeast should not be denied the presidency in 2023 just because of the Anambra election.

Ohanaeze insists that the southeast produce the next president, arguing that the APC currently rules two states in the region, which is not bad. This, the group believes, is evidence that the southeast is ready to play politics of inclusion.

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