By Comfort Obi
In the final stretch to the February 16 presidential election, the question many people are asking, especially, South Easterners, is: Which presidential candidate will Willie Obiano, the governor of Anambra state, vote for?
Let me confess that I have also, in the past couple of weeks, been asking myself the same question. I don’t know about others, but each time I ask myself that question, I just shake my head, and exclaim to nobody, in particular: politics.
Ordinarily, the answer should be easy. Ordinarily, nobody should even ask that question. Ordinarily, the answer should be obvious. But in politics, nothing is ordinary. Nothing is obvious. White is not usually white. It could be grey, or even black. Yet, in the instant case, it should have been an obvious, straightforward answer. Afterall, the governor’s political party has a presidential candidate whose name it submitted to INEC, and who was duly cleared to contest.
Obiano is the only governor, his party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, has. He is, also, the Chairman of APGA’s Board of Trustees, a rather awkward arrangement. But if the party’s constitution approves that, why not?
Being a governor, he is the only one who, “in the Nigerian manner”, can comfortably fund the party. I mean, he is unarguably, the alpha and omega in APGA. His job, therefore, is to build APGA. It is to push the party beyond Anambra state. It is to project APGA in the best image possible. It is to give it direction.
When APGA was founded by a number of the Igbo – across political parties – its driver was Chief Chekwas Okorie, and its face, the authentic Biafran Leader, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi, now of the blessed memory. The vision, at the time, was to have an authentic party for the Igbo to always fall back on. The vision was to have something akin to the Yoruba race’s then Action for Democracy, AD. It is on record that AD, even though it was registered as a political party, did not meet the criteria set, then, by the military regime for party registration. But it was registered, all the same, for the Yoruba, to appease them. Their son, late Chief MKO Abiola, the undeclared winner of the 1993 presidential election, had just died in detention. It was, for the same reason that, on the return of democracy in 1999, the Yoruba produced the two frontline presidential candidates – General Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae. Obasanjo was to defeat Falae to become the president.
So, the founders of APGA patterned it after AD – to give the Igbo a voice. Under the Ikemba, APGA had a strong voice. It did not win all of the South-east states, but it was a party no Igbo could ignore. It occupied that soft spot in the heart of every Igbo. At a point, it had two governors – Peter Obi, Anambra, and Rochas Okorocha, Imo. Like him, Okorocha inexplicably ditched APGA for the All Progressives Congress. Unlike Obi, nobody pushed him out. Yet, APGA trudged on, managing to contest and win seats in a couple of states outside the South-east, including Lagos. So, APGA had promise. It had a future to become, at least, a strong regional party. It’s presence picked when Ojukwu ran for the office of the President.
Although APGA made no impact in that contest, it was symbolic.
Here was a man who was forced, by circumstances, to be a secessionist leader, now vying for the top job of the same country from which he led his people to an aborted secession.We knew he was not going to win. But we cheered. The symbolism was not lost on anybody.
Since that first shot at the Presidency by Ojukwu, APGA had never dared to present another presidential candidate. The party chose, each time, to support a presidential candidate, usually a candidate supported, mostly, by the South-east people. The Igbo did not mind, nor worry. It was same for APGA members. Afterall, some of them still voted for presidential candidates of their choice.
But all that changed with the APGA leadership under Obiano. The party decided that, in 2015, it would field a presidential candidate. No problem. But not a few people worried. They wondered why a party with only one state would think of fielding a presidential candidate. Why not try to consolidate in the South-east?, they asked. But no matter. Aside from the APC and the PDP, the scores of other parties which fielded presidential candidates do not even have any ward and/or councillor which they control. So, APGA is even better than them. Indeed, after the APC and the PDP, APGA, rightly, is, or ought to be, the number three party. It has a governor. It has a Senator. It has a couple of House of Assembly members. And it has House of Assembly members. Yet, not a few people kept asking: Why now? They felt somebody desperately had a grand plan to get to a selfish end. More on this later
But what happened thereafter after the party picked its Presidential candidate? APGA sold itself short. It short-changed itself – to the extent that only very few Nigerians, when it comes to Presidential candidates know the names of its Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. Sadly, two people who, in their own rights, are amongst Nigeria’s brightest.
I know both men. I have had contacts with them. I have had cause to discuss Nigeria with them. Both are driven. They are passionate about Nigeria. Indeed, at the beginning of their journey, a professional colleague of mine and I, on invitation, were with them for about a week, 24/7, almost, making professional suggestions, and sharing ideas. All they wanted, they told us, was for APGA to be truly the number three party. Meaning: after APC and PDP, APGA should be next. They strongly felt it might become the deciding factor in the Presidential election. Even though, like politicians, they would, at times, in one excited moment, say confidently, edged on by hangers-on : “We are in this to win”, I’m sure they didn’t believe themselves. A number of their supporters and hangers-on, had started calling them “Your Excellencies”, already. In fact, one morning, before both gentlemen joined the rest of us for a meeting, an argument had ensued on how to address Chukwueke, the Vice Presidential candidate. “His Excellency”, most chorused. You know, the Nigerian thing. Those who disagreed looked like some “bad belles”. The majority carried the vote. The story of how our professional sojourn with them came to an untidy end is a story for another day. So, I know a bit about the two people involved.
The presidential candidate, Major General Paul Gbor, rtd, a Benue state indigene, is an officer, gentleman (in the real sense of it) and, an academic. He has a PhD, and in his hey days in the Army, was, once, in charge of its education sector. He had vied for the governorship of his state, he revealed, and had, allegedly, defeated Gabriel Suswan, but was inexplicably, asked to stand down for him. Jerry Chukwueke is an international business man and, a perennial contestant to the governorship seat of Imo state. The two can, therefore, not be described as nobodies by any stretch of imagination. But here’s their fate:
They were sold short. The result: Nigerians can reel out names of the 2019 presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, and not remember to add those of APGA.
For me, fundamental mistakes were made from the beginning. It was not smart to start without knowing where the funds would come from. At times, promises are cheap. It was not smart to settle for a Christian-Christian ticket. It may have sold during the Muslim-Muslim Abiola/Kingibe candidacy in 1993. But Nigeria was not then as polarised as it is now. Religion-wise, Nigerians have always had their differences. But at no time did the differences get to the frightening point that it is now. My colleague and I asked that question. It was explained to us. For the one week we were with them, ours was to listen and advise. It was not to overly criticise. Bright candidates? Yes. But it was not going to fly. Yet, being the deciding factor, or the third biggest party, would have been very okay – except that no foundation was laid for that beyond mouthing it.
From the beginning, the impression not a few people had was that APGA was not serious about vying for the presidency; that it was primed to fail; that it wanted to get something out of the gra-gra. Which in itself is not a bad idea. Many politicians aim for a position they know they would never get, even in their sweetest dreams. But they try, all the same, with the hope of being bought out, or bargain for a position.
When I met General Gbor, my heart went out to him when I noticed the depth of his patriotism. A very patriotic Nigerian, with plans that could help turn a number of things around, he didn’t quite fit the bill of one who would allow himself to be used. So, one day, I asked him if he was aware of the stories making the rounds that the Chairman of his party’s Board of Trustees was working for the re-election of Mr President. We were only four present, including my colleague. He was taken-aback, but the fourth person, a sweet operator, quickly mumbled an unconvincing explanation as to why Obiano was romancing, and supporting President Buhari’s re-election. He said something about a debt of N15 billion owed the Anambra state government as refunds for road projects, by the Federal Government. According to him, the romance is just so the president would approve of the refund. Not smart, but if so, what were they doing then, running for office? So, for N15 billion, somebody was prepared to deceive a people, and an, otherwise, fledgling political party? I found that strange.
But, for my colleague and I, we drew a conclusion. Nothing serious would go on here. This might turn out to be a huge joke. But we had hoped that, at least, APGA would try and make some noise. Why bring out a man like Gbor and abandon him midway in an uncivilized manner?
But that is what, in my opinion, happened. I read, at least, nine newspapers, everyday. And I never saw, any day, even a one-page advert, anywhere, promoting the candidacy of Gbor and Chukwueke. I saw none the day two of them were presented, and adopted in Abuja, as candidates by their party, nor in the days running upto it. At the Abuja event, neither Governor Obiano, nor several big wigs of the party, including Iyom Bianca Ojukwu, showed presence. On the day the party launched its campaign in Awka, there was no advert. A number of the party big-wigs were also not present. And since then, it has remained the same. I don’t see posters with the photographs of Gbor and Chukwueke.There has been no major event for the presidential ticket. No campaigns are going on for the Presidency. Except in Anambra state where the governor is campaigning, vigorously, for the candidates of APGA to the National and state Assemblies, Imo and Abia states where Senator Ifeanyi Ararume and Dr Alex Otti are campaigning for the governorship seats, nothing much is heard of APGA. Nobody is campaigning for the Gbor/Chukwueke ticket. In Imo state where Chukwueke hails from, nobody is mentioning him, or remembers him as a Vice Presidential candidate. Instead, they see him as a huge distraction to the Igbo aspiration. The chorus is the PDP Vice Presidential candidate, Peter Obi. And this, for a man who initially, would have made an impact as a governorship or senatorial candidate before he was dragged into the charade of APGA’s Vice Presidential candidate. Both he and Gbor have been abandoned. No funds. No activities. No impact, even in Anambra. Just nothing. They are just there in name. The strong feelings are: that unknown to them, somebody somewhere had used their candidacy as a bargaining chip; that they had been used to fight a bitter, selfish, inexplicable battle.
It is ridiculous, beyond any comprehension, that the man, Governor Obiano, whose job it is to inspire their candidacy, with the Chairman of the party, Dr Victor Oye, and other party big wigs has, almost, wiped their faces off the political landscape of Nigeria. APGA has managed to lose the support of its ardent supporters and sympathisers, including Bianca, one of its biggest funders, Chief Ifenayi Uba, and a host of others. The alleged uncivilized governorship primary conducted in Imo was also no good for the party. Most of the aspirants feel they were 419ed.
It is funny that instead of promoting the candidacy of Gbor/Chukwueke, for whatever it is worth, the governor is busy, campaigning for the re-election of the candidate of another party, President Buhari, even more than Buhari’s Ministers from the South-east. Aside from his many pronouncements in favour of the President, this other day, he dared insult the sensibilities of the Igbo by telling them that Mr President would create another party in the South-east on being re-elected. How come? Before then, he had dismissed the Ohanaeze President, Chief Nnia Nwodo, as an idiot, for daring to fix a meeting of the association on the day President Buhari visited Onitsha to commission the Mausoleum of the First President of the Republic of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. He felt it was a disrespect to the memory of the late great nationalist. But more important, he felt it was a snub on President Buhari. Why?
Ohanaeze had said it was backing the presidential ticket of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Obiano’s predecessor in office, Peter Obi, a man whose name Obiano is allergic to.
For the records, if the Ohanaeze leadership was properly invited, it was disrespectful not to attend. Even if its members were not going to back Buhari, they should have honoured Zik’s memory by attending. Now, they have given Obiano an alibi for whatever he does on February 16, 2019. His standard answer for running down Ohaneze leadership now is: They disrespected Zik’s memory. A convenient explanation.
Yet, I don’t believe that was enough reason for Obiano to phone Nwodo, and call him an idiot. Whatever happened to respect for elders? Whatever happened to polish and decency? That was beneath contempt.
I think Obiano’s anger, in this case, boiled over because of his non-support for Obi’s Vice Presidential candidacy. It is also why he summoned a sudden emergency meeting of Traditional Rulers and other stakeholders on the day Atiku and Obi were billed to visit the state for their presidential campaign. A question of tit for tat? It was petty, especially, considering that the PDP Vice Presidential candidate is a son of the soil. It is also why he is encouraging a hitherto unknown Ohaneze faction. The governor should have risen above that pettiness.
But back to who Obiano would vote for on Saturday, February 16, 2019. It is not for the APGA ticket of Gbor/Chukwueke. The ticket, programned to die, has since been buried. It is not for the PDP ticket of Atiku/Obi. To him, that’s poison. It will be for the APC ticket of Buhari/Osinbajo. His utterances say so. And so does his body language.
Of course, it is his prerogative. His right. His decision. His choice. But what will he say to General Paul Gbor and Chief Jerry Chukwueke? What reasons will he give them for not supporting their candidacy? Will he tell them that their candidacy was a huge joke, or worse, a scam, from the beginning? I don’t know about you. But for me, it beats the imagination. His abandonment of his party’s candidates is a new low in Nigerian politics. Finally, I pray he gets the alleged N15 billion refund as soon as President Buhari wins again. That will be a good pay off.
Obi is the Editor-in-Chief/CEO of The Source (Magazine), https://thesourceng.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.