• As defectors populate party in Southeast
• Handshake across the Niger remains elusive
Ordinarily, given the momentum generated by the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the build up to the 2015 general election, it was expected that a semblance of political harmony should subsist between the Southwest and Southeast geopolitical zonal chapters of the party. That is despite the perceived entrenched presence of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the Southeast zone.
But what was prominently defined in the nation was the general synergy between the Southwest and the North. But barely one year after APC recorded the historic electoral victory against the prolonged dominance of PDP in national governance, certain developments in the polity now provide clues as to why the Southeast and Southwest could not show effective cohesion in the APC.
Right from the days of the Second Republic, talks of evolving a handshake across the Niger, that is, figuratively speaking, building political understanding or collaboration between the West and East, have continued to feature at the build up to every general election. It played out towards the 2003 election.
Former Presidential Adviser on Political Matters in the Second Republic, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, coined the popular expression to highlight the need for unity in the country at the palace of the Ooni of Ife, following efforts to reconcile the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) with the Unity Party of Nigerian (UPN).
The option came up in 2001 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was propped up by ex-generals, could not enjoy the confidence of political leaders of Southwest. In fact, during a meeting organised by Gamji Foundation for Afenifere and Arewa Consultative Forum on the occasion of the first memorial lecture and launching of a book in honour of the former chairman, Committee on Devolution of Power during the Abacha era, late Alhaji Abdulrahaman Okene, many commentators suggested that a handshake across the Niger, was needed to douse the polar positions adopted by the Southwest and the North over certain nagging issues about the country.
Some of those issues included (sovereign?) national conference and restructuring of the polity. As the north maintained its hard stance against national conference, some strategic thinkers within Southwest and Southeast mooted the idea of collaboration to make the issue all encompassing and hopefully, bring about national consensus.
At that Kaduna meeting, former External Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, who was also leader of Contact Committee of the Afenifere, delivered a lecture titled: Devolution of Power: A Prerequisite for National unity – The Need for Dialogue.
Afenifere was led by Senator Abraham Adesanya, alongside other members like Hon. Oladipo Olaitan, then AD Leader, House of Representatives, Mr. Ayo Opadokun, Dr. Supo Shonibare and Mr. Dayo Adeyeye.
ACF was represented by such leaders as, Alhaji M.D Yusufu, Alhaji Ibrahim Tahir, Justice Mamman Nasir, (President, Court of Appeal retd), former SGF, Alhaji Liman Ciroma and Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, who chaired the occasion.
The Union of Niger-Delta represented by its president and Second Republic Senator, Chief David Dafinone and Secretary, pioneer chairman of OMPADEC, Chief Albert Horsfall, among others came as a surprise third leg.
Handshake across the Niger also loomed during a Leaders of Thought Forum later, in which the Afenifere represented the Southwest, Ohanaeze Ndigbo for Southeast, the Union of Niger/Delta represented the South-South even as the Middle Belt Forum represented the interest of the Middle Belt.
For inexplicable reasons, ACF did not attend although Alhaji Maitama Sule came on a personal basis and explained that the North was not afraid of any conference.
It would also be recalled that the need for a handshake across the Niger featured prominently immediately after the death of Bashorun Moshood Abiola.
Prior to the coming of the APC, Southwest and Southeast tended to move in separate directions. In the First Republic, when the regions held sway, the North had Northern Peoples Congress (NPC); Southwest had the Action Group (AG) while the Southeast occupied the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC).
NPC and NCNC were later to forge an alliance, which compounded the state of emergency declared in Southwest in 1964. Recall that in 1959 NPC and NCNC had a coalition government, leaving AG, which angled for same alliance with the NCNC marooned. NCNC smarted from AG’s programmed carpet crossing in Lagos that left it with inferior representatives.
Then in 1979 another tripod emerged on the following platforms, NPN, UPN and NPP, only for NPN and NPP to strike an accord, similar to the one between NPC and NCNC, leaving UPN in opposition.
On the threshold of the Fourth Republic when the Southwest was being appeased for the death of Abiola through Obasanjo’s presidency, Southwest leaders congregated in AD, on which platform the mainstream Yoruba politicians distanced themselves from Obasanjo, who was in PDP. Their grouse was that Obasanjo has never done anything with beneficial impact on the Yoruba race.
And piqued by their critical stance against his administration and with his military background, Obasanjo went for divide and rule and effectively divided Afenifere to produce the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE). It is this council of elders idea that he is selling to APC to downplay its shaky BoT.
APC And The Possibility Of Handshake Across The Niger
Many observers had thought that the victory of APC would provide the much needed collaboration between the two geopolitical zones.
However, the differences in political orientation between the actors in APC from Southwest and Southeast seem to have a permanent seal of impossibility on that expectation. Two major events in the zones last week, namely the Southeast zonal caucus meeting on the one hand, and reconciliation meeting between APC leaders and Segun Osoba, bore evidence of that permanent disparity.
The meeting of prominent APC leaders from Southwest in the Ikoyi home of Aremo Segun Osoba, showed that, as far as political calculation was concerned, the geopolitical zone towers above others in strategic thinking.
Though the next general election is three years away, APC leaders in the Southwest have begun the groundwork of consolidating its structure by expanding its human resource base. In that there was recognition of potential, pedigree and capacity to stand by principles.
In contrast, the meeting of APC Southeast caucus leaders at the Universal Hotel, Independence LayOut, Enugu, bore the hallmarks of a show of shame. It was a show of political mercantilism and opportunism; a festival of political harlotry by politicians of easy virtue.
On the surface, the roll call sounded impressive but the meeting lacked content or any pretensions to productive thinking. Numbering in the majority of the so-called APC leaders in Southeast are such itinerant politicians that defected from PDP. They included the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo former Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Emeka Worgu; former House of Representatives Speaker, Agunwa Anaekwe; Senators Chris Adighije, Nkechi Nwogu and Ifeanyi Ararume.
Others were Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu, former Imo State House of Assembly Speaker, Benjamin Uwajumogu, and 2003 Imo governorship candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu.
Nwodo, was later to deny media reports that he was among some Southeast politicians from the party that defected to the ruling APC.
In a statement he personally signed, Nwodo, who is also a former governor of old Enugu State, explained that although recent events in PDP make it unexciting, he is not in the APC.
While recalling the prominent positions he had held in PDP, including that of national secretary, Nwodo declared, ”as one of the founding fathers of PDP who has held the highest office in the party, I know the statutory procedure of resigning and would willingly do that if necessary.”
The former national chairman, whose effort to initiate reforms in PDP led to his ouster, contended that “it is improper for the media to stand merely on my wife being present at a meeting that I was not, to conclude that I have joined the APC disregarding the fact that my wife as an adult has her own political life.”
But the Second Republic Governor of old Anambra State, Dr. Jim Nwobodo, who represented Nkanu East Senatorial zone in the senate in 1999; was visibly active and present as the defector-in-chief. He joined other lukewarm chieftains of the APC in Southeast, including the national vice chairman and convener of the meeting, Emmanuel Eneukwu; National Organising Secretary of the party, Senator Osita Izunaso; National Auditor, George Muoghalu; Deputy National Women Leader, Tina Adike and the standard bearer of the party in Enugu State, Okey Ezea, to welcome the new decampees.
The chief reason for convening the meeting is to raise money from the former PDP haymakers, who sources said did not spend half of what was given to them by way of logistics for the 2015 presidential election.
It is this unbridled lure for lucre that puts a permanent wedge against Southwest/Southeast collaboration in politics. Sources within the APC disclosed that APC leaders from Southwest have a mountain of complaints of misapplication of party and campaign funds against their Southeast counterparts.
“In 2013, it was alleged that a sitting governor withheld the sum of N200m earmarked for the Anambra governorship election. Then in 2015 notable APC leaders in the zone pocketed monies released to them for the election, in the belief that Muhammadu Buhari would lose to former President Goodluck Jonathan,” a source from Osun State APC pointed out.
He recalled that while President Buhari prepared to appoint members of his government, most of those who went to sleep on the day of election, became vocal about APC, even when security reports showed that they never campaigned for APC and Buhari in the zone.
It was obvious that most of the defectors from PDP to APC in Southeast are driven by hunger for political appointment and patronage, rather than belief in the capacity of the party to change the socio-economic fortunes of the Southeast people.
National Vice Chairman of APC for the zone, Eneukwu dropped that hint when he disclosed that “most of the juicy positions due for the South-East are being denied us because of our poor performance in 2015 elections”.
Eneukwu, who has been a permanent member of opposition in the zone, actually spoke the truth because APC knew that the so-called leaders from Southeast are poor performers, who are only motivated by what they could eat and drink.
For instance, when Chief Gbazuagu declared for the party last month, the zonal leaders, including Eneukwu, trooped to Enugu State Government House, to pay a solidarity visit on Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Though practically in PDP, Ugwuanyi is said to be interested in buying into the Broomers.
As Gbazuagu could not deposit some cash in their pockets, APC sources in the ignominious trip disclosed that the leaders suggested that a courtesy call be arranged immediately on Governor Ugwuanyi. “So, the zonal vice chairman placed a call to the governor and we were told to come and show solidarity,” the source declared.
Eneukwu had also proclaimed that “with the array of prominent politicians from South-East joining us now, we shall work hard this time and turn things around.”
Though the Southeast zonal meeting planned to table the issue of Igbo flying the presidential flag of APC in 2019, Dr. Izuogu, who apparently was positioned to voice the motion, was said to have been shouted down before he could finish his sentence.
In the communiqué released after the meeting of the under-takers, APC Southeast said: “The South-East APC supports the anti-corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari and we urge Mr. President to go ahead and recover all looted public funds.
“We call on the groups agitating for separation from a united Nigeria, particularly, the IPOB and MASSOB to re-think and abandon the idea and join the other tribes in building a formidable united Nigeria, where all Nigerians will be equally treated in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We believe by 2023, the president of a united Nigeria will be a Nigerian of Igbo extraction from the South-East.”
By giving front row to defectors, Southeast APC has shown itself as a class of unserious politicians. If the likes of Jim Nwobodo are leaders the party intends to reach out to Southwest for a handshake across the Niger, another shocking outcome would await them.
If Southeast APC wants to be treated with respect by the party, the zone should give less stress on the merchants of fortune it presently advertises as its strikers and strategic planners.
Nwobodo, Adighije, and Nworgu who resigned his ministerial appointment to contest the Abia governorship election on PDP platform, should look back and check what exactly underpins their politics.
For Senator Nkechi Nwogu and Ararume, their excursion could be excused on the impunity that denied them tickets for additional electoral contest on PDP platform.
(Source: The Guardian)