A realignment of political forces has begun in the South-east geo-political zone ahead of the 2019 general elections.
In the last few months, some prominent politicians in the zone have quit the Peoples Democratic Party to join the All Progressives Congress.
Among the defectors are a former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu; a former governor of the old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo; and a former Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Eugene Odo.
Others are a serving senator, Andy Uba; former Senators Ifeanyi Ararume, John Nwanunu, Nkechi Nwaogu, Fidelis Okoro, Chris Agboti; and a member of the House of Representatives, Tony Nwoye.
Businessmen, Emeka Offor and Ifeanyi Uba as well as the owner of Peace Mass Transit, Sam Onyishi, have also identified with the APC.
For the APC, the biggest catch has so far is Mr. Nnamani. Imo State’s Rochas Okorocha, the lone APC governor in the zone, was so excited at the defection of the former senate president that he declared him the leader of the party in the zone.
Ben Nwoye, who chairs the party in Enugu State, Mr. Nnamani’s home state, said with the defection of the former senate president to the party, “change” had begun to manifest.
Mr. Nnamani’s journey to the APC on January 22 had long been predicted. He left PDP in February 2016, claiming the party had abandoned “the path of its noble vision and values”. He did not state his next destination.
A year later, he said he joined the APC in the interest of the Igbo. “The South-East has a role to play in our nation; we can’t play that role from outside. We have to be inside to pay our role in Nigeria,” he said.
“Even if we want to ask that imbalances in the country should be corrected, we have to ask for that from inside. You cannot criticise, it is not about being confrontational.”
He said the manner the Yoruba voted in 2015 should be an eye-opener.
“They voted both sides but the South-east put their eggs in one basket,” he said. “I am not of the view that everybody should be in APC but those who have seen the need should do so.”
The moves by the defectors have significant political implication for 2019, no doubt. Already, the zonal chapter of the APC is packaging a grand reception for the defectors.
But the PDP, Nigeria’s main opposition party, says it is not losing sleep just yet.
Austin Umahi, its national vice chairman (South East), said those leaving his party have no electoral value and are only rushing into the APC to look for “what they will eat.”
“I don’t lose sleep over that. I’m not bothered because all those leaving have no electoral value. Can they win election in their places? So why should I bother about it?” Mr. Umahi told PREMIUM TIMES by phone.
Insisting the PDP remains the dominant party in the zone, Mr. Umahi, who is Ebonyi governor, Dave Umahi’s brother, said “They (defectors) will regret their actions soon”.
The National Vice Chairman of the APC in the zone, Emma Eneukwu, disagrees.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that the performance of the APC at the federal level is the attraction for Igbo politicians.
“The (federal) government is working, it is performing. We are the in-thing. The main business in Nigeria is government and this government is performing,” Mr. Eneukwu said. “If you want to buy something from the market, is it the person coming from the market that you will send or the person going to the market. APC is the one going to the market.”
Fairly good ride
At present, APC only controls Imo in the South-east. The PDP controls Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi while the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, has Anambra State.
While this appears its moment of greatest test, PDP, for more than a decade, has had a fairly good ride in the region.
Upon restoration of democracy in 1999, the party swept the governorship polls in the five states. In 2003, the party, which was also in power at the federal level, repeated the feat.
However, soon after, Chris Ngige, who had won the governorship election on the platform of the PDP in Anambra State was ousted by the court in 2005, paving the way for Peter Obi of APGA, which has since retained control of the state.
In 2007, Mr. Kalu, who was rounding off his second governorship term in Abia, floated the Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA, on whose platform his successor, Theodore Orji, won the election. Mr. Orji, now a senator, later defected to the PDP.
His Imo state counterpart then, Ikedi Ohakim, who had won on the same platform also joined the PDP, thus giving PDP control of four of the South Eastern states. Ebonyi and Enugu have been ruled by the PDP since 1999.
In 2011, Mr. Okorocha won the governorship election on the ticket of APGA but later took a section of the party to join the opposition parties that formed APC.
The PDP has also won virtually all the National Assembly seats in the zone since 1999.
For instance, in 1999, except the senatorial seat of Imo West won by Arthur Nzeribe, Enugu North, won by Hyde Onuaguluchi and Abia Central won by John Nwanunu, all of the defunct All Peoples Party, APP, the remaining 12 senatorial seats in the zone were won by the PDP.
However, midway into his tenure, the court sacked Mr. Onuaguluchi, a catholic reverend, and installed Ben Collins Ndu of the PDP as the senator for the district.
All subsequent senatorial elections in the zone were won by the PDP, except in 2011 when Mr. Ngige won on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, to represents the Anambra Central senatorial district.
The House of Representatives, state assemblies and council chairmanship seats in the zone have always been dominated by the PDP.
In 2015, the PDP won in the three of the four states where governorship elections were conducted. The states were Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi. The APC won in Imo. Wille Obiano had succeeded Mr. Obi on the ticket of APGA in Anambra State in 2014.
In 2015, all the 15 senatorial seats were initially won by the PDP. The APC was later to clinch the Imo North senatorial seat when a bye-election was conducted in that district last year.
Of the 41 House of Representatives seats, the PDP won 38 leaving only three for the APC. The main opposition party also swept majority of the seats in the five state Houses of Assembly.
The PDP also swept the presidential election in the zone. Its candidate, former President Goodluck Jonathan, polled a total of 2,464,906 votes in the zone. His main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, got a paltry 208,248 votes.
A repeating pattern
The current gale of defections is hardly strange.
At the formation of political parties in 1998, the PDP ran neck and neck in the South-east with the APP, which later became All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP.
Prominent Igbo politicians in the APP then were Ken Nnamani, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu; former Imo Governor, Sam Mbakwe; Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; Arthur Nzeribe, Ben Obi; former Minister, Ihechukwu Maduibuike; Joy Emordi; Max Ndaguibe; Josiah Odunna (the party’s national secretary); Prince Arthur Eze; and Gbazuagu Gbazuagu.
Others were former Senate President, Evan Enwerem; Hyde Onuaguluchi; Ezekiel Izuogu; and current Science and Technology minister, Ogbonnaya Onu.
But steadily, many began turned to the PDP after the December 1998 council polls.
Except notably Messrs. Onu, Ojukwu and Mbakwe, many defected to the PDP, thus making it the dominant party in the zone.
Mr. Ojukwu moved to the newly-formed APGA while Mr. Onu remained in the ANPP until it fused into the APC.
In the Alliance for Democracy, AD, were Third Republic Governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Arthur Nwankwo, and Udenta Udenta.
Former senator, Offia Nwali, was in the Movement for Democracy and Justice.
After the 1999 elections, the PDP members from the zone at the outset were former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, Chuba Okadigbo, Mr. Nwobodo, Sylvester Ugoh, Christian Onoh, Polycarp Nwite, Orji Uzor Kalu, Achike Udenwa, Chimaroke Nnamani, Sam Egwu, Ojo Maduekwe, and Edwin Ume-Ezeoke.
Mr. Ume-Ezeoke decamped to the ANPP where he became the national chairman. Mr. Okadigbo also went to the ANPP and became the party’s vice presidential candidate in 2003. Mr. Kalu formed the PPA in 2006.
More to defection
While the defection in those years could be attributed to the desire of the politicians to pick up appointments and remain politically relevant, the current one, ahead of 2019, may go beyond that.
Many believe it is a move by some defector to escape the anti-corruption hammer of the APC-led federal administration.
Ifeanacho Oguejiofor, the Director of Publicity of APGA, believes so.
“Some of those people defecting are federal government contractors and political harlots,” Mr. Oguejiofor told PREMIUM TIMES.
“They are people who want to use the federal might to rig elections. They are not politically relevant. They are people who rig elections every time. The people are not with them.
“They want to be in any party that is in power because they want to loot and embezzle the people’s money. They move to the government in power so that EFCC will not come after them.”
For a regime that has been repeatedly accused of lopsided prosecution of the corruption war, this may not be far from the truth.
For instance, Mr. Nwobodo, who was also a senator, is currently under investigation by the EFCC for receiving N100 million from the former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, who allegedly diverted $2.1 billion meant for arms purchase, to politicians.
But Osita Okechukwu, the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, says it is strictly about APC’s appeal.
“I think the surge of eminent sons and daughters of Ndigbo into our great party, the APC is worth celebrating; worth celebrating in the sense that it gazettes the indomitable and entrepreneurial spirit of our people,” Mr. Okechukwu told this newspaper.
“It shows that my people appreciate the infrastructural development element in the cardinal programme of President Muhammadu Buhari regime. We are aware that in the fullness of time Nigeria is going to overcome the current hardship, despair and despondency.”
The VON DG further said the president has promised to address the imbalance in the federal appointments and provision of infrastructure, which he claimed would also favour the Igbo.
“Secondly, we are looking ahead on how best to harvest the age-long aspiration for president of Igbo extraction in 2023.
“Indeed, some of us reason that going by the zoning convention, it is faster and better assured to produce a president of Igbo extraction if President Buhari is to do two terms of eight years.”
What’s for 2019
Mr. Eneukwu said with the caliber of people joining his party, the electoral fortunes of the party is assured, beginning with the November governorship election in Anambra State.
“Obviously, we are winning more states. Mind you, some of the governors are definitely coming into the APC. At the end of the day, the little structure remaining in the PDP will be insignificant and that will be the end of the PDP.”
Mr. Eneukwu said the victory of the APC will begin in Anambra.
“We’re winning Anambra. All the strong people in the PDP are moving into the APC. APGA cannot win in Anambra again.”
Reminded that some of those politicians do not share APC’s philosophy, Mr. Eneukwu said “Politics is about power and service to the people and therefore when they get into power they will implement the party’s policies.”
But Mr. Oguejifor disagrees. “It (defection) will not affect anything in Anambra State. Anambra is APGA. They cannot change the electoral outcome in November,” he said.