How Soludo’s election will test APGA in national politics

How Soludo's election will test APGA in national politics

By the resounding victory it gave Charles Soludo in the November 6 governorship election, Anambra has shown yet again that it is a bastion of the All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA).

Aside from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), APGA is the only other party running a state government in Nigeria. Founded by the late Biafran leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu — who was its candidate in the 2003 presidential elections, winning only 3.3 per cent of the votes — the party has maintained its Igbo outlook since.

The party often appeals to ethnic sentiments during campaigns to curry votes, using the mantra Nke a bu nke anyi (This belongs to us).

And as anti-APC sentiments rise in the South-east under the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, APGA draws quick blood by posturing as a viable alternative. The federal ruling party is seen in the region as a ‘northerners’ party.

Mr Soludo’s rode on the back of this to victory. However, his feat was bolstered by his rich academic and public policy credentials as against the “tainted” Andy Uba of the APC and Valentine Ozigbo of the PDP who was described as lacking public service experience.

Even incumbent Governor Willie Obiano’s seeming unpopularity, which was highlighted by a gale of defection that hit APGA in the buildup to the election, eventually did not affect the chances of Mr Soludo.

“In this Anambra, we don’t want APC to be in that seat, we really don’t,” Precious Ibeh, who hails from the state, told PREMIUM TIMES. “PDP is an option but APGA is the party that we know and we want the continuity, that is why we are supporting Soludo.”

“With the support we, the masses, are giving him, I pray that we are able to touch his heart to give us the dividends of democracy that we deserve more than the past administration,” Ms Ibeh said.

Rise to relevance

After the return to civil rule in 1999, the PDP won control of Anambra State with Chinwoke Mbadinuju as governor till 2003.

Then, Chris Ngige, who has since crossed over to the APC and is now a minister under President Buhari, succeeded Mr Mbadinuju in 2003 after seizing the PDP ticket from him.

At the legislative elections held that year, APGA won 1.4 per cent of the popular votes and only two of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives but won no seats in the Senate.

In 2006, the Supreme Court overturned the governorship election results that brought Mr Ngige to power and handed victory to Peter Obi, the APGA candidate.

After more rounds of judicial battle, Mr Obi served two terms of eight years. A few months after his tenure, however, Mr Obi decamped to the PDP and was nominated the running mate to the candidate of his new party for the 2019 presidential election.

Another APGA candidate, Rochas Okorocha, was elected governor of Imo State in 2011, polling 15 per cent more votes than incumbent Governor Ikedi Ohakim of the PDP.

APGA has since 2006 retained power in Anambra, including through incumbent Willie Obiano who was elected governor twice.

In 2019, APGA won seven seats in the House of Representatives, up from the two seats it won in the 2015 elections.

The elected representatives in 2019 include Umeoji Michael (Aguata); Chinedu Obidigwe (Anambra East/Anambra West); Ifeanyi Momah (Ihiala); Ezenwankwo Okwudili (Orumba North/Orumba South).

The others are Herman Hembe (Konshisha/Vandeikyia) and Onuh Blessing (Otukpo/Ohimini), both from Benue State; and Usman Shiddi (Ibi/Wukari) of Taraba State.

Also was Ossy Prestige (Aba North/South) of Abia State, who after his death in February was replaced by Chimaobi Ebisike of the PDP.

Implication

Other than Anambra, at the state level, APGA does not control any state, unlike in the past when it had two governors. The party has only six out of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives. In 2019, it lost its only seat in the Senate to billionaire politician, Ifeanyi Ubah of the Young People’s Party.

This goes to show how APGA’s popularity has waned over the years. Its inability to further penetrate other states has limited its options to form power-sharing alliances.

In 2014, Governor Okorocha of Imo State took his own wing of APGA to join other legacy parties in forming the APC, which in the 2015 general election defeated President Goodluck Jonathan, the only time an incumbent president has been beaten in the nation’s history. But the mainstream APGA has remained in its South-east cocoon, which has hardly returned any benefit to the party itself.

Clearly, the regional outlook of the party comes at a cost especially when national powers are up for grabs.

Those who have criticised APGA’s influence in the South-east said it limits the region’s access to federal funding which would have boosted development there.

A founding member of APGA from Anambra State who crossed to the PDP then later to the APC, Chris Chikwelu, wants Anambra and the whole South-east to become part of a party that is “truly national.”

“There is no way we as an Igbo nation can benefit from the project called Nigeria if we are not on the table where issues concerning revenue allocation, resource allocation and some appointments would be discussed,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.

“That is why our people this time around, having been in an opposition party for almost 16 years, decided to get into a national political party,” he said ahead of the governorship election.

Quest for power

Under the law, to be elected president, candidates must receive a majority of the votes and over 25 per cent of the votes in at least 24 of the 36 states in the country — a clause established to ensure national acceptability.

So no region can single-handedly win a general election.

This explains why some South-east leaders have called for a shift from the “regional party” APGA to a pan-Nigerian platform.

One of them is a chieftain of the APC, Elvis Agukwe, who believes APGA’s Igbo posturing is a “political disadvantage to the zone” as it could lead to the zone being isolated from the national political grid.

Largely so, politicians who decamped to the APC for one are seen as political lepers.

Although he was handed power in very controversial circumstances by the Supreme Court, Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma, now of the APC, tops that list of outcasts.

Mr Agukwe said Mr Uzodinma’s switch of party allegiance was to bring the zone to the front seat of national politics for greater political prospects, but the efforts have been stifled.

“Some people erroneously thought that it was between them and Governor Uzodinma. No, he wanted to change strategy for his misguided brothers. We lost an opportunity to stop others from being suspicious of Igbos,” he said.

“Governor Uzodimma was bold and strategic. APGA has been made to look like an Igbo party. Is there a Hausa or Yoruba party?”

An ex-member of the House of Representatives who represented Anambra East and West federal constituency and is now in APC, Tony Nwoye, also expressed the same sentiment when he accused APGA in his state of using Ojukwu’s name “to hold our people down.”

“If APGA is truly an Igbo party, why is it that up till now, it is only in Anambra State that it has formed a government? Why is it that in the National Assembly, only two are APGA and out of 109 senators, none is APGA?” Mr Nwoye said at the time.

A lawyer from Anambra, Chike Okoye, told PREMIUM TIMES Mr Soludo would need to do more to give APGA a wider regional reach and more importantly a national spread.

“Nobody wants a regional party. What has Anambra gained federally from playing regional politics? APGA is a regional party, it has not gone beyond Anambra State,” Mr Okoye said.

At a time agitations for a South-east presidency are reaching a crescendo, the region has been tipped to be a potential bellwether for the presidential poll in 2023.

If there is one legacy Mr Soludo would need to pursue, it is to consolidate power by shedding his party’s popularity across the South-east and win some stakes in the 2023 presidency.

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