Still on the zoning controversy — Features — The Guardian Nigeria

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Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano

The twenty-one local government councils of Anambra State are equally spread across the three senatorial districts of the state. But although each of the three senatorial zones has seven local councils, there is no homogeneity or uniformity in their political orientation or voting preferences.

However, the disparity in political behaviour among the various councils and communities of the state could be explained by the political actors that held sway in various interregnums. This discernible trait played out succinctly in the second republic when some of the major players in the nation’s emergent presidential system of government hailed from the state.

Genesis Of Political Discrepancy
WHILE Nigeria’s founding ceremonial president, Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was the presidential flag-bearer of the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) hailed from Onitsha, in the present Anambra North senatorial zone, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) presidential running mate, who later became the Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, hailed from Oko, in the present Anambra South senatorial district.

Again, while the state chairman of NPP hailed from Ozubulu, in Anambra South, the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, was from Ogbunike, in the present Anambra North. Even when the Ikemba, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, returned from exile and pitched tent with the ruling NPN, he was to lose the Anambra South senatorial seat to Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe of NPP, from Ogbunike, Oyi local government council of present day Anambra North.

The membership and predominance of the NPP cut across Onitsha, Idemmili north/South, Ihiala and Anaocha down to the present day Enugu and part of Ebonyi States. During that era, Enugu State was not yet created. But the voting pattern in those days continued to influence political decisions and choices in the prevailing fourth republic.

Consequently, when Anambra was created as a state in 1991, the contest for political ascendancy raged between the conservative Anambra South Senatorial zone and its liberal democratic Anambra Central counterpart, much to the near exclusion of Anambra North, with its insular politics.

Enter Money, Men And Mandate
THE governorship election organised by the military shortly after the creation of Anambra, revealed the lopsidedness of political exposure among the different zones of the state. Okey Odunze from Umunya, Oyi local council was on the road to becoming governor on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Owing to inexplicable political brinkmanship and high wire intrigue, Odunze, a businessman, was supplanted with Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a retired federal permanent secretary and Economics graduate of Havard University.

The kite that was flown was that Odunze’s academic record was hazy, but in actuality the powers that be, including the military, preferred Ezeife, who hails from Igboukwu in Aguata local government council of Anambra South. It happened that despite the fact that Odunze had financial muscle, his reach was minimal.

Consequently, when Ezeife eventually picked the SDP ticket, influential players in the party, including the political strategist, Okadigbo rallied Anambra North to accept the position of running mate handed over to Chudi Nwike from Ogbunike, a neighbouring town to Odunze’s Umunya. Although Ezeife and Nwike won the governorship election, the administration did not last following the overthrow of that democratic experiment in 1993, a kind of political rivalry had ensued between Anambra South and its North senatorial counterpart.

In 1999 when Nigeria returned to the path of constitutional democracy, the political ascendancy of Anambra South played out, ostensibly on account of the fact that the area boasts of more politicians with ways and means. Backed by influential business moguls, particularly the multi-millionaire oil magnate, Dr. A. B. C. Orjiako, a little known Onitsha-based legal practitioner, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, emerged as the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

As governor, Mbadinuju went through a turbulent tenure defined by elongated industrial actions and bloodletting, accentuated by the notorious Bakassi Boys. The governor was troubled by certain disagreement with his godfathers over predetermined arrangements of sharing the booties of the office, including the Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) he signed, which authorised monthly withdrawals of certain sums of money at source from the federal allocation accruing to the state.

It was the fallout of the disagreement and political machinations of influential PDP stakeholders that combined to deny Mbadinuju a second term in office, quite unlike his other PDP colleagues in the 1999 class of governors. Dr. Chris Ngige, whom the political power mongers selected in place of Mbadinuju for the 2003 governorship poll, was later to fall out of favour with the godfathers.

Pained by the second round of disagreements, especially his decision to renege on the favour sharing arrangement by the “obdurate Ngige”, his backers went for his jugular. They decided to release sensitive documents showing the electoral heist that robbed the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) of its deserved victory.

It happened that the PDP governorship candidate, Ngige and the APGA challenger, businessman, Peter Obi; were both from Anambra Central Senatorial district. And by the time Ngige was relieved of the disputed mandate, the Alor-born medical Doctor had occupied the office of Governor for three years.

While rounding off his eight years in office as governor, Peter Obi, looked towards Anambra North with the eyes of history and favoured the zone as where his successor would come from so as, according to him, “bring about equity, fairness and stability.”

Obi’s advocacy for zoning or power rotation gained currency, raising the political consciousness of the Anambra North zone, otherwise known as Olu N’Adagbe. The mobilization was so effective such that combined with the power of incumbency; it was unthinkable that any other party, save APGA could win the governorship. The North presented as a bloc waiting for Obi’s preferred candidate.

Convinced about the potency of the bloc vote, the outgoing governor jettisoned Dr. Chike Obidigbo, the consensus candidate selected by the zone and settled for a former banker, Chief Willie Obiano. Obi had explained that with the foundation for fiscal prosperity he laid through investments and debt free treasury, he wanted a banker to consummate the financial plan.

Return Of Zoning Debate For 2017
HOWEVER, after nearly three years in office, the propriety of zoning has become a hot issue in the state. While some people argue that it is undemocratic, others maintain that zoning was necessary to curb the desperation that attends governorship election in the state.

Recently, the people of Anambra north, led by former chairman of APGA Board of Trustees, Dr. Tim Menakaya, met and endorsed Obiano for a second term.  The leaders noted that Obiano was as yet the only person from Anambra north that has a ready ticket.

But PDP faithful from the zone faulted the endorsement, pointing out that the meeting at Aguleri was attended by only Obiano’s loyalists, who they allege did their master’s bidding for parochial considerations.

Others contended that the zoning known to Anambra north remains the one that culminated in the selection of Obidigbo, which they claim had the inputs of various social strata of the Anambra north population.

National Auditor of All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. George Muoghalu, told The Guardian that the issue of zoning “does not make any meaning to me.” “Did Anambra South, where I come from, do two terms? The answer is no,” he noted, recalling that Mbadinuju did one term and it was taken to Anambra central.

Faulting the idea of zoning further, Muoghalu remarked: “It was not by consensus; it has not been by consensus. Why would it start now? If there was no consensus in the past, why are we starting it now? It won’t be fair.”

But the greatest challenge to zoning is coming from a socio-political pressure group, Movement for National Integration (MNI). The organisation, which worked for the integration of late Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1983, presented what it called major criteria for choosing a governor in the state.

The group condemned the exclusion of the business class in the state in decision making, saying that it has decided to endorse and encourage one of them, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo to prepare and present himself as a contestant for the governorship on the platform of United Progressives Party (UPP).

Rising from its extraordinary emergency meeting in Neni, Anaocha local government council of the state, MNI resolved that no longer would an outsider be supported to become governor of the state.

In a seven-point communiqué read to journalists by the National Chairman, Chief Ben Ezeibe, the group frowned at the idea of incumbents using government machinery and resources to prosecute second term mandates, adding that only persons with proven character, integrity and held in honour by the people should aspire to be governor.

While insisting that “religious politics, clannish and sectional zoning shall no longer number among criteria for the office of governor,” MNI declared that “merit, courage, honesty and respect for order and rule of law shall be supreme qualities of the next governor of Anambra State.”

The group declared “no more returnees from Europe, Asia, America, and people who never participated in social lives and socio-economic activities in Igbo land should come here to govern Anambra State.”

Ezeibe told The Guardian that instead of talking about zoning their emphasis is on a candidate “that is home grown, good team player, highly exposed politically, with a strong credential for consistency, understands plight of NdiAnambra, intelligent, humble, with good character, and willing to build other leaders.”

Acknowledging the stand of MNI, Okonkwo said: “I sympathise with those who believe that zoning is a criteria for leadership, they need pity. I must also tell everybody that my life is not contingent on satisfying sectional interests.”

Partisan Calculations Versus Political Arithmetic
AS the field appears surfeit with governorship aspirants from the three senatorial zones and the absence of a powerful individual to underpin zoning, the various political parties may be guided to respond according to political exigency.

Observers of the emerging election environment in the state believe that what APGA faithful from Anambra North did by endorsing the incumbent for a second term, was to ambush other political parties to follow suit. But the snag there could be the likelihood of a replay of Ezeife versus Odunze scenario, whereby a powerful political force in either the APC and PDP fetches a running mate from any town other than Aguleri, where Obiano hails.

Yet those conversant with the voting dynamics in the state know that the bulk of winning votes in governorship polls usually hauled from Idemili north and South. Some analysts believe that should APC decide on zoning to avert acrimonious governorship primary, Obidigbo and Hon. Tony Nwoye may be easy aspirants to appease given the possibility any of them could be offered the senatorial ticket.

All the same, how that arrangement could douse the fire power of any of Senator Andy Uba, Barth Nwibe and Dr. Obinna Uzoh, would be left to be seen. But those who insist that the field be open for Anambra people to choose their governor may have a point based on the interplay of political arithmetic.

What is the guarantee that all the political parties would abide by zoning? What could be the impact of a possible emergence of a candidate from Anambra central on the interplay of forces between Anambra North and South? Immediate past Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, from Obosi, in Idemmili north council of Anambra Central, recently threw his hat in the ring for the guber chase.

Not long ago, the Anambra Union, at a meeting presided over by former Health Minister, Dr. A. B. C. Nwosu, enjoined Anambra voters to support only candidates fielded by PDP and APC, insisting on the condition that the candidates must hail from Anambra North.

As the caliber of governorship candidates are yet to be known, how such template could be implemented in an election expected to be not only free and fair, but by secret ballot, leaves a lot to conjecture.

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