Erstwhile National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh was set to have a smooth ride to victory in the Anambra Central rerun election earlier scheduled to hold on March 5, 2016, before the sudden indefinite postponement by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The suspension of the conduct of Anambra Central rerun poll came as a result of the decision of INEC to challenge the ruling of an Abuja High Court asking it to include the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the exercise. The electoral body insisting on its position that only candidates and parties that participated in the cancelled election are allowed in the rerun in accordance to the law, as pronounced by the Supreme Court in its previous judgements, deferred the planned poll for March 5 indefinitely to appeal the verdict of the Abuja High Court.
The Anambra Central Senate seat became vacant after the Court of Appeal last December nullified the election of Mrs. Uche Ekwunife as the Senator representing the senatorial district, consequent upon an appeal filed by Umeh the APGA candidate. The Appellate Court ordered for a rerun of the annulled election within 90 days from the date the judgement was delivered, disqualifying the PDP and its candidate.
Ekwunife had refused to accept that she cannot be part of the rerun poll. She tried to interpret the Court of Appeal ruling nullifying her election to suit her position, maintaining that she was not barred from participating in the rerun race. However, when the whole picture became very clear to her, she decided to dump PDP for All Progressives Congress (APC) and attempted to replace the party’s candidate, Senator Chris Ngige, who is now the Minister of Labour and Employment, all to no avail.
After the coast was clear for Umeh to clinch victory in the rerun poll, having successfully pushed Ekwunife out, rumour started spreading that the former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi was now interested in the Anambra Central Senatorial contest. Many did not believe it, because, Obi, a former member of APGA now PDP stalwart, had once said he will quit active politics after his tenure as Governor of Anambra State.
At a forum after the nullification of Ekwunife’s election when her loyalists were yet to be convinced that she can’t fly the PDP flag in the rerun, Obi had said: “Umeh has worn long traditional cap for years without achieving anything. I am not contesting for any position but what I do is where there is good leader, I give my total support. We need somebody who is strong in the caliber of Uche. She will win. Those who caused the nullification made a great mistake.”
However, the battle is now directly between Obi himself and Umeh. Obi, who was alleged to have masterminded the suit compelling INEC to include PDP in the Anambra Central rerun, cleared the doubts about his intention to contest in an interview with Odenigbo FM at Obosi in Anambra State. He confirmed that he is actually gunning for the seat of Anambra Central senatorial district in the Red Chamber on the platform of PDP. Admitting his entry into the race openly for the first time at the FM station, Obi disclosed that he only yielded to pressure mounted on him by several prominent people of Anambra State, including Ekwunife. According to him, those who wanted him to contest believed his experience and exposure with wide connections would make him a good parliamentarian in the Upper Legislative Chamber.
Supporters of the APGA candidate do not see Obi’s decision to join the race as a threat. According to them, their candidate is ordained for victory in the contest for the Anambra Central Senate seat. They believe that Umeh, seen as one of the main pillars of APGA, is destined to be a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They have continued to maintain that Obi is only trying to compete with destiny, a fight they say, he can never win. The Ohamadike’s support base, not minding Obi’s declaration, has continued to swell as the candidate to beat. The thinking of most observers within and outside Anambra State is that Umeh as an outspoken, courageous and dogged politician would serve as a very potent voice for the entire Ndigbo in the Senate.
Hear what Igwe Innocent Obodoaka, the traditional ruler in Agulu community said while recalling that he conferred on the ex-APGA’s helmsman, his cherished traditional title of ‘Ohamadike’ because of his achievements: “Our ancestors have confirmed that you are destined for the Senate. Umeh has seen suffering for Igbo people and so God and our ancestors confirmed him as Senator designate. We gave him the title of Ohamadike. God will see him through and lead him”.
The APGA chieftain has received many of such endorsements from different individuals, groups and communities as that given by Igwe Obodoaka in Agulu. The South East Revival Group, SERG, for instance, in endorsing the Anambra Central senatorial candidate of APGA, argued through its Coordinator, Willy Ezugwu that “Umeh has consistently demonstrated his commitment to the Igbo cause as he sacrificed his comfort and opportunities for material gains to develop APGA as a platform that has the interest of the South-East at heart. He had several opportunities to sell out his people but never did but instead continually demanded accountability and good governance at the grassroots level being the most relevant tier of government to the people.”
With the manner Obi came into the race, some commentators have noted that it is clear that he was only out to stand on the way of victory for the APGA candidate. They wondered why Obi would want to, at all cost, see the back of a man who fought very hard for his various victories from the pooling units to the post-election matters in 2003 and equally worked assiduously round the clock as the then national chairman of APGA for the actualization of his second term bid.
The Ogirishi of Igbo land and member of Board of Trustees, BoT of APGA,Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka counseled Obi to steer clear of the re-run and wait for another dispensation. Speaking to journalists at the palace of Igwe Peter Ezenwa, the traditional ruler of Oba community in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, Ezeonwuka said Obi’s attempt to join the contest at this point is ill-timed. He opined that it would be the greatest gaffe of the century for Obi to play a spoiler for APGA, knowing full well he was not at the outset in the list of contestants for the senatorial seat.
In the same vein, the Legal Adviser to Anambra State chapter of APGA, Sylvester Ezeokenwa, advised Obi to toe the path of honour by withdrawing from the rerun race and allow INEC to conduct the exercise only for the parties whose original candidates are not disqualified by law, if he wants to retain the hard-earned integrity he built over the years. Ezeokenwa said it was unfortunate for Obi to have allowed himself to be used by some people who do not mean well for Anambra Central to keep the seat of the district in the Senate perpetually vacant when other zones in the country are duly represented in the Red Chamber. He argued that instead of trying to force his way into a contest, which he is not legally and morally qualified to participate, Obi should go and prepare for 2019 for sake of convenience.
In a statement issued by its publicity secretary, Great Martin Kalu, to counter the reported endorsement of Obi by a faction of APGA, the APGA Integrity Group said: “The attention of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Integrity Group has been drawn to a statement credited to Chief Shadrack Anakwue in a Town Hall meeting in Akwa, Anambra State in which he claimed that Chief Maxi Okwu’s ‘faction’ of the party has endorsed Mr. Peter Obi for Anambra Central Senatorial seat as reported in the Authority newspaper of Saturday April 16. APGA Integrity Group dismisses Anakwue’s purported APGA ‘faction’ endorsement of former Governor Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party Senatorial bid as a figment of his fertile imagination and the height of political naivety. It is obvious that there is no faction in APGA following Chief Victor Umeh’s victory in the party’s leadership dispute in the Supreme Court on 15th January, 2016. The issue of a ‘faction’ endorsing Obi against the party’s authentic candidate, Chief Victor Umeh is mere grandstanding and outlandish.”
According to the group, “It is manifest that Peter Obi is not contesting the Anambra Central Senatorial re-run poll as the Supreme Court has repeatedly declared in its recent judgments on those qualified to contest. Obi is playing to the gallery, a mundane tactic to delay Victor Umeh’s victory as the forerunner in the senatorial election. Since there is no competition in destiny, the electoral conspiracy against him (Umeh) will fail.”The purported endorsement of Obi was also denied by Maxi Okwu on his facebook page where he urged his political associates and friends to ignore the story as published by the Authority newspaper.
Michael Jegede, a media expert wrote this piece from Abuja