Obiano, Umeh and the future of APGA

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Obiano and Umeh at an APGA event
Obiano and Umeh at an APGA event

Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, appears to be fully in charge of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) amid silent grumblings from some party leaders, reports Remi Adelowo for The Nation.

Since his inauguration as Anambra State Governor about two years ago, Chief Willie Obiano has left no one in doubt that he would brook no dissent to his leadership of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

Early signs that the governor was not willing to play second fiddle to his predecessor, Peter Obi in the running of the state and the party emerged minutes after he took the oath of office at the Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka, the state capital, say sources within and outside the state.

Following the formal handover by Obi, some party leaders had requested the new governor to see him off to the airport as a mark of respect and courtesy, but it was a blunt Obiano, who allegedly declined without offering any further explanation or reason for his action.

Stunned beyond words, the party leaders however took the governor’s action in their strides. But that was not all. In subsequent days, weeks and months, the governor reportedly ordered top government officials to severe their ties with Obi, while warning of dire consequences for disobedience.

A crisis foretold?

For keen watchers of Anambra politics and the events leading to the election of Obiano as governor in 2014, it came as a shock the fall-out between the two men whose relationship dated back many decades. Apart from being childhood friends in Onitsha where they grew up, two men were also school mates at the prestigious Catholic Secondary School, Onitsha and Christ the King College (CKC).

And until he ventured into politics, Obiano was an Executive Director at Fidelity Bank, a financial institution Obi is believed to have substantial interest. It was strongly believed then that Obi allegedly preferred the Aguleri-born chartered accountant and banker above other aspirants to succeed him, as he regarded him as the only person loyal enough to “watch his back” when he leaves office.

Though there are conflicting reports on why the two men went their separate ways, one side of the argument has it that Obi felt betrayed that his bosom friend had from the outset of his administration, made several efforts to obliterate his legacies as governor.

Obiano’s administration had hardly taken-off before Obi left APGA for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ostensibly to campaign for a second term for ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.

However, some of his loyalists in the state were of the view that Obi left APGA out of frustration, since he was allegedly shut out of the mainstream of the party and the new government of the state.

Obi himself attested to this when he stated through his spokesman, Val. Obienyem that for several months following his nomination as the Chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT) of APGA, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party refused to confirm him.

But Obiano’s grouse, according to sources, is Obi’s decision to leave APGA, a move he sees as a deliberate ploy to undermine his governorship. At some point, Obiano’s supporters had accused Obi of blocking Obiano from having access to the Presidency.

It was further alleged that Obi was instrumental to the mass exodus of members of the House of Representatives from the state to PDP with the intention of crippling the party in the state.

But speaking at the ceremony to mark his one year in office, Obiano denied any rift with Obi, saying, “On a personal note, we don’t have any problem. He was three years my junior in school. He was my chairman at the bank. Honestly, his vote made me an executive director at Fidelity Bank. He led the team that invited me to join his campaign. We are not fighting for anything. He chose to go to PDP and I am in APGA. That is an ideological difference; that is the main problem. I can’t see him come here and say APGA people should vote for PDP.”

He said further, “I want to assure you that on personal ground, we don’t have any problem, but we have ideological problem because he believes that he has finished with APGA and APGA is gone. Then I assured him that under my watch, APGA will be better and bigger than he left it. That is the motivation for me to do many things for APGA to prove a point that you cannot rock the boat that made you. You want to sink it as you leave, so they can say you were in this party and when you left, it died.”

Reconciliation that failed

Shortly before and after the last general elections, Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe, had during a visit of former President Jonathan requested him to reconcile Obiano and Obi.

Surprised by the monarch’s demand, Jonathan immediately asked the two prominent citizens of the state to act in response to the traditional ruler’s appeal.

Initially, both Obi and Obiano were reluctant to shake each other, but following the insistence of Igwe Achebe, they hugged and patted each other’s back. But as it later turned out, that “reconciliation” was just for the camera and not deep seated.

Obiano eases out Umeh

With Obi out of the way, Obiano unarguably became the APGA leader. With the support of the then National Chairman of the party, Chief Victor Umeh, the governor was seemingly unstoppable.

It was soon Umeh’s turn to lose out in the power game. His ambition to contest the Anambra Central senatorial seat in the last general elections, sources say, was his undoing.

Curiously however, Umeh wanted to retain his chairmanship seat while still running for the senatorial election. But the governor would have none of this. He reportedly asked Umeh to choose either the chairmanship seat or running for the Senate. Umeh opted for the latter. Step in Victor Ike Oye as the new National Chairman of APGA.

Umeh plots comeback

But as soon as Umeh lost the senatorial election to Uche Ekwunife of the PDP, sources disclosed that he made spirited attempts to stage a comeback as the National Chairman, a move that was resisted by the governor and his supporters.

Expectedly, Umeh is seething. Sources close to him disclosed that he is angry with the governor for allegedly “using him to get Obi out of APGA only to dump him afterwards.”

What does future hold for APGA?

Can APGA presently in control of one state, Anambra, hold its own before and after the 2019 general elections? This is the big question on the lips of watchers of party politics in the country, some of whom fear that the party, as presently constituted, may be consumed by ruling APC or PDP within the next few years.

A few months ago, rumours were rife that Governor Obiano had allegedly concluded negotiations with the national leadership of the APC to defect to the party, a report he later denied.

Shortly before President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated into office on May 29, Obiano had visited him in his private residence in Abuja, a development which further fuelled the rumour mill that the governor was on his way to APC.

But speaking to journalists later, the governor dismissed the rumour, saying, “It (defection) is not correct. I will remain with APGA and work very closely with Mr. President.”

Whether Obiano will stick to his words or ditch the platform that brought him to limelight however remains to be seen.

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