EMMANUEL OBE writes on the influence of godfathers in politics for which Anambra State has earned an unenviable reputation.
The preliminary phase of the Anambra governorship election slated for November 16 came to a close with the end of primaries by political parties.
This year’s primaries were not without the intrigues that have come to define Anambra politics.
Three major developments were thrown up this time around. One of them was the emergence of dual candidates in three of the four major political parties.
At the close of party primaries, the All Progressives Grand Alliance had Chief Willie Obiano from the Victor Umeh-led faction of the party and Dr. Chike Obidigbo from the Maxi Okwu-led group emerging as candidates.
The Peoples Democratic Party had earlier produced Senator Andy Uba from the Ejike Oguebego-led group and Mr. Tony Nwoye from the Ken Emeakayi-led faction.
Labour Party was also not left out. On the same day that the National Chairman of the party, Dan Nwanyanwu, was superintending over the congress which produced oil magnate, Ifeanyi Ubah, as the candidate, another faction met elsewhere in Awka, and elected Mr. Peter Nwosu, a kinsman of Ubah as its candidate.
The second aspect of the primaries was the last minute emergence of candidates from several other not so big political parties.
From virtually every part of Awka, new flags of long forgotten political parties sprung up.
On Monday, September 2, when all the parties interested in fielding candidates for the poll were expected to have concluded the process, more than 20 political parties had done so.
The deadline night turned out to be a carnival in Awka, as many hotels were busy with political parties holding emergency state congresses to elect, in some cases, phantom governorship candidates.
It was not strange to find about four people gathered in front of a hotel, with a photographer and video-cameraman for a few minutes before dispersing.
Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission had a hectic time attending all the last minute congresses to authenticate the exercise.
In some instances, party leaders were only looking for people to “invest” in their party.
One party official, who pleaded anonymity for fear of public odium, said such “investments” would not work out if the party cannot have a slot in the list of parties presenting candidates for the election.
He said “Since the Electoral Act provides for substitution of candidates, the best thing to do now is to, at least, file a name, and at the appropriate time, substitute that name with the that of the preferred candidate.”
Shortly before close of nominations, there were several infightings in the parties over who should be adopted as their candidates.
One aspirant in one of the parties who was sceptical about funding the party, said, “While I am here, my national (party) chairman is shopping for a candidate that will suit him.
“I cannot sit here and watch him do so. I will shop for a party before it is too late.” He left only to emerge as the candidate for another small party.
As the struggle for party tickets raged, the South-East zonal leadership of the Accord Party wrote to INEC asking it not to recognise the Anambra State leadership of the party. This was soon after the state chapter adopted the Labour Party candidate, Mr. Ubah, as its candidate.
The Zonal Chairman of the AP, Mr. Inno Igboekwe, in his petition, said the state Chairman, Chief Barth Igwedibia’s action would frustrate the desire of other governorship hopefuls from seeking the party’s platform. He had his way as Dr. Igwebuike Hygers emerged the candidate on the last day for nominations.
Some of the candidates that emerged at the close of nominations include: Mr. Chijioke Ndubuisi (Democratic Peoples Party), Senator Chris Ngige (All Progressives Congress), Dr. Hygers (Accord Party), Mr. Basil Iwuoba (Peoples Party of Nigeria), Mr. Godson Okoye (United Democratic Party), Dr. Ubah (Labour Party), Mr. Leonard Uchendu (New Nigeria Peoples Party), Dr. Ifeatu Ekelem (Advance Congress of Democrats), and Chief Dennis Oguguo (Kowa Party).
Other candidates are Mr. Peter Okala (National Conscience Party), Dr. Okey Umeano (United Democratic Party), Senator Uba/ Mr. Nwoye (Peoples Democratic Party), and Chief Obiano/ Dr. Obidigbo (All Progressives Grand Alliance).
However, the most significant of all these developments is the re-emergence of political godfathers on the scene.
Before incumbent governor, Peter Obi, assumed office in 2006, Anambra State had become a notorious haven for the politics of godfathers. The emergence of Obi as governor in spite of godfathers forced many into early retirement. The death of Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu ended an era where forces outside government played significant roles in determining state policies and programmes.
Parallel primaries were held in the PDP which has a history of the overbearing influence of godfathers. In one of them, Chief Chris Uba, who has become infamous for his exploits as a godfather in the politics of the state since 1999, superintended over the emergence of his brother, Senator Uba, as the candidate.
Another faction of the party under the leadership of Emeakayi, who is said to be a surrogate of Prince Nicholas Okechuku, elected Mr. Nwoye, in an exercise that saw the overthrow of Ukachukwu by a long standing political godfather in the state, Prince Arthur Eze.
Controversies that have dogged the governorship race are not entirely new. They are indeed embedded in the political history of the state since December 1998.
Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, who enjoyed the support of the then reigning champion of Anambra politics, Sir Emeka Offor, and his friend, Dr. Bryant Orjiako, emerged as candidate after a controversial PDP governorship primary.
The story was slightly different in the then All Peoples Party, where Mrs. Joy Emodi, backed by the national leadership of the party, defeated Chief Ikeobasi Mokelu, who defected to the PDP in protest.
In the Alliance for Democracy, the late Dr. Chudi Nwike, was imposed on the state by the national leadership of the party. This led to a mass exodus from the party.
The outset of party primaries brought with it, a fresh wave of changes in leadership of parties in the state. This is especially true for the PDP. The powers that be devised ways of ensuring the emergence of their preferred candidates.
Since 1998, the PDP has maintained a notoriety of having a high turnover of state executive committee members. Most lose their positions to pave the way for those favoured by Abuja.
In December, 1998, the state executive committee led by Chief Joseph Okonkwo was replaced by one led by Chief Guy Ikokwu to ensure the emergence of Mbadinuju. In 2003, the executive committee led by Onochie was shoved aside to ensure the emergence of Dr. Ngige as the preferred candidate of the party.
In 2007, the executive committee of Mr. Uchenna Emodi was removed and one led by Nwoye was brought in to prepare the way for the emergence of Dr. Uba as the party’s candidate.
Similarly, in 2010, when two factions of the party, one led by Benji Udeozor and the other by Obi-Okoye were dissolved and a caretaker committee led by Prof. Osita Ogbu was appointed, it paved way for the emergence of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo as the party’s candidate.
This year, the National Working Committee of the PDP recognised a faction of the party led by Emeakayi as against that of Ejike Oguebego. When it became obvious that the party stood the risk of a lengthy legal battle, it pushed aside the two factions and sent in a team from Abuja to conduct the primaries. The consequence of that action is now a subject of litigation.
The godfather story resonated in APGA where Obiano emerged. Until he joined the race, Obiano was an Executive Director of Fidelity Bank PLC where Governor Obi was chairman. The governor had to pull all stops to ensure Obiano emerged as candidate. Obiano’s emergence has raised questions about his independence.
In APC, Ngige was initially imposed by the national leadership of the party. But when his opponent, Mr. Godwin Ezeemo, protested, a last minute direct primary was organised in which the same people that imposed Ngige officiated and supervised.
So, as the countdown continues, the state governorship election may end up being a battle of the godfathers. Thus Obi (APGA), Tinubu (APC), Eze (Nwoye’s PDP) and Chris Uba (Andy Uba’s PDP). Mr. Ifeanyi Uba of the Labour Party will be coming into the game his own man and sponsor. But let’s see who would blink first.