In the last six years, the APC has made critical inroads into the heart of Igboland. A region that was once predominantly PDP is steadily leaving the umbrella for the broom. Will this change stand the test of time?
The political turf in the Southeastern Nigeria has been experiencing swift maneuverings as political gladiators in the All Progressives Congress (APC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) engage in a tug of war over political grip of the region.
At a recent APC South-East Zonal Stakeholders’ meeting held in Enugu, the state capital, a former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, disclosed that APC would take over the five states in the south-east states in the 2023 general election.
Nnamani therefore urged the party faithful to work tirelessly towards making the party more visible in the region, adding that the party could only win the five eastern states if its faithful worked collectively without considering the derivable gains.
In his remarks, the Ebonyi State governor, Chief David Umahi, urged the stakeholders to provide purposeful direction for the party to recover politically lost grounds to make APC more acceptable in the region.
Umahi stressed that APC would win the eastern states if only they could deliver their different polling units during the 2023 elections, including the November 6, gubernatorial election in Anambra State.
He charged all party faithful to ensure the victory of APC’s candidate, Mr Andy Ubah, who is contesting the state governorship in the poll.
In the same vein, the Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma represented by APC caretaker committee chairman in the state, Mr Decklan Nlemigbo, urged the Ndigbo to embrace the party in order to partake in the mainstream of national politics.
In her contribution, the Deputy Chief Whip in the House of Representatives, Mrs Nkeiruka Onyejocha, (Isuikwuato/Umunneochi, Abia) called for a total reconciliation of APC in Abia State to enable the party to do better in the 2023 election in the state.
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The host caretaker chairman, Chief Chikwado Chukwunta, said he was on a rescue mission to ensure APC produced the next Enugu State governor that would take over the Lion Building on May 29, 2023.
Chukwunta assured that members of the party would continue to support their leaders in Enugu State, including Senator Nnamani, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama and Mr Sullivan Chime.
In order to form a formidable party to wrestle power from the remaining states, the south-east constitutional review committee of APC, led by Professor Tahir Mamman, was inaugurated for the amendment of the party’s constitution that would address perceived problems.
Governor Uzodinma said: “You are coming to the south-east at a time the party has taken a new turn in the zone. We, the leaders of the zone, came together and agreed that it is time to reintegrate south-east into the mainstream, having known that APC is the largest party in Africa.
“The decision to look at our constitution and look at the grey areas is a welcome idea. Imo is considered as the gathering point of APC, in the south-east. It is the take-off point to convert other states to APC.
“We are challenged by the insecurity facing us in Imo State and Nigeria, which are partly sponsored by our political opponents because they are not happy with our achievements.”
Earlier in his remarks, APC leader of the south-east Constitutional Review Committee, Professor Mamman, said: “If the constitution was drafted as it is today, the problem that led to the dissolution of the National Working Committee would have been provided for in the constitution. A lot of things were not considered in the constitution we have now, and through this amendment, we will improve on those things.”
After some southeastern states had become restive due to wanton destruction of lives and property as well as separatist tensions, President Muhammadu Buhari visited Imo State, two months after the proscribed south-east Biafra separatist leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was re-arrested overseas and brought back to Nigeria to face trial.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has, however, denied that its military wing, the Eastern Security Network, was not behind the recent high-profile attacks in the south-east, even though tensions have escalated in the region, leading to alleged killings of more than 100 police personnel this year.
The outlawed IPOB, it will be recalled, had also called on the people to close down their businesses and stay at home in protest against Buhari’s visit to Imo State.
President Buhari had visited Owerri, the Imo State capital amidst heavy security presence to inaugurate recent projects, where he also met with southeastern leaders.
Buhari said: “If there are no roads and there is no security, what can the people do? Absolutely nothing,” pledging that he would give more support to the state.
Political analysts have also observed that the president’s visit was probably an attempt to build on APC’s progress in a stronghold of traditional opposition, and to showcase its presence after Kanu’s arrest.
A don, Dapo Thomas, opined that “Buhari by this visit, tries to endear himself to the south-east and to reassure the people that he has nothing against them.
“The visit is also an opportunity for the region to be integrated into the nation’s mainstream politics.”
Currently, defections have now become a trend among the leaders of the region.
Pundits believe that in Nigeria, a political party is seen as capable of winning the presidency if it is controlling more states than rival parties, and so the quest by the ruling APC is to snatch if possible all the governors of the opposition PDP before the 2023 elections.
It will be recalled that the Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma, a former opposition member allegedly defected to APC in order to run for office.
And a close watch on the political scene reveals that the PDP has since last year been losing sitting governors, senators and legislators to APC at the federal level, and the Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni-led APC seems to be strategically efficient in picking and tearing apart PDP governors.
In September 2020, the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi , defected from PDP to the ruling APC,
He said he was leaving PDP because the party had marginalised the south-east, adding that it was not willing to allow the south-east to have a shot at the presidency in 2023.
The defection of Umahi was a masterstroke for APC, as it attracted two governors to the Igbo heartland—Imo and Ebony states, apart from the fact that it further reduced PDP’s stronghold on the south-east to only Enugu and Abia states.
Some analysts have hinted that the defection of Umahi has, however, not changed the political equation of the state, as according to them, most of the political heavyweights in Ebonyi State have remained glued to PDP.
Cross River State governor, Ben Ayade, joined the fray of defections from PDP to APC on May 20, 2021, citing the impeccable character of President Muhammadu Buhari and the need for Cross River State to join the mainstream party at the centre, for economic benefits from the APC-led Federal Government.
Towards the end of June 2021, Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, became the third PDP governor to cross carpet to APC with 24 state legislators and senators.
However, his deputy governor, Yahaya Abdul Gusau, refused to join APC.
The South East Mandate (SEM), a new group in APC, emerged with a call on Buhari to shove the party to nominate its presidential candidate from the south-east in 2023.
Convener of SEM and former Senate Committee Chairman on Works, from Ebonyi State, Chief Julius Ucha, disclosed that the mandate of the group was to work for the emergence of a president of the south-east extraction in the next election.
Ucha, while briefing newsmen after the group’s meeting in Enugu, the state capital, said they identified lack of trust, latent fear, suspicion, and prejudice as factors holding the south-east down in Nigeria’s political equation, stressing that they decided to work in unison so the Ndigbo would overcome the handicap.
According to him, part of the difficulty is the inability to build a common platform to articulate common interests, assuring that efforts would be made to curb the trend and effectively place the south-east region on the winning ways.
Ucha said: “If we have a forum where we exhaust our republican energy and channel it to a common cause without making a public show of our differences, most Nigerians will be denied the space to always tag us as a people who will never agree on a common cause.”
He declared that the south-east being a solid part of Nigeria, should have an opportunity of producing the president because equality is equity.
Commenting on SEM’s preferred candidate, should the opportunity present itself, Ucha noted: “The purpose of this movement is to persuade the people of south-east extraction, who may have presidential ambition, to appreciate the need of coming together to present a candidate that will be generally accepted and have the capacity to drive the process, and we are on the cause to achieving that.”
According to him, every political party in Nigeria is aware that the south-east is ripe for a presidential ticket in the spirit of justice, equity, and good conscience.
According to a political analyst and a media practitioner, Eddy Ochigbo, “The APC members knew that come 2023, there would be no Buhari to contest election and so that mercurial 12 million votes would not be there for APC to count on.
Ochigbo disclosed that in order to make sure they mitigate that danger, APC had right from the inception decided on destroying PDP before 2023.
According to Senator Abaribe Enyinnaya, the convincing reason why Governor Matawalle decided to cross carpet is the allure of coming back to power a second time.
Abaribe said: “If APC is so big and has better chances of winning the 2023 election, it would not have gone around begging for PDP governors to join it.
“APC members are not only wooing PDP members but to highlight their uneasiness about the 2023 polls, they changed the electoral system so that they can rig and do ballot snatching.”
Besides Abaribe, an Abuja-based political analyst, Dr Philip Adams has also envisioned that the real implosion in APC would come in November after its primaries.
Some of the defectors who joined the party because to political reasons, according to the analyst, would defect to other parties if their desires were not granted, while others would simply sabotage the party from inside.
However, the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, declared that the APC would most likely zone the presidential position of the party to the South-east zone in 2023 as it would bring its entrepreneurial spirit to transform the country’s economy.