Context, Possible Consequences Of Ekwunife-Umeh Senatorial Rematch
COMING barely four days to her 45th birthday, the decision by the Court of Appeal, nullifying the election of Senator Uche Ekwunife as the winner of the March 28, 2015 senatorial poll for Anambra Central district, was like a bad anniversary gift. But Mrs. Ekwunife is used to unusual political battles. She is among the few women in Anambra State that stand up and best the menfolk in political contests. When she crossed over from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) most people were expectant of an impending political action.
When she left PDP, on which platform she served two terms in the House of Representatives, to the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), it was to contest the 2010 governorship poll. It could be seen from the foregoing that Ekwunife is not new to electoral combats of tremendous magnitude. That in part accounted for the fact that when she floored the former controversial national chairman of her former party, APGA, Victor Umeh, in the last election, many people said they saw it coming.
However, after losing at the tribunal on a petition challenging the declaration of Ekwunife as winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the former APGA national chairman headed to the Appeal Court. And like what obtained between Senator Joy Emordi and Alphonsus Igbeke in the Anambra north senatorial seat election of 2011, Umeh’s appeal succeeded, but without an outright declaration that he and not Ekwunife, won the election. Even before the October 8, ruling by the tribunal, throwing his petition out, Umeh had claimed that he was rigged out by the PDP machinery.
Consequently, given the new lifeline given for fresh contest for Anambra Central Senatorial seat, questions on the lips of most Anambra citizens include, would the present Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator (Dr.) Chris Nwabueze Ngige, who was on the ballot rejoin in the contest? Would the fresh election afford Peter Obi and Governor Willie Obiano an opportunity to show Anambra people that they have fallen apart? Above all, would Ekwunife triumph against the political gladiator from Aguluzigbo?
Interestingly, Umeh’s community honoured Ekwunife with the chieftaincy title, ‘Anyanwu-Aguluzoigbo’. Of course, virtually all the major towns in Anambra Central and South Senatorial zones honoured the banker-turned politician. Some of the many chieftaincy titles adorning her headgear include, her moniker, Iyom Ugochinyeleze-na-Nwata’ (Nri); ‘Ada-Ugo Igbo (Igboukwu)’; Nnedioramma – Aguata and Ugomba- Agulu, from former governor Obi’s community.
Both candidates have been at daggers drawn ever since Iyom was shortchanged in the APGA governorship primary election that threw up Obiano. It was out of pain for the naked intrigues employed to deny her the APGA governorship ticket that partly fueled Ekwunife’s determination to cross over to PDP and whip Umeh, who desired the senate seat as his next port after exhausting all guiles needed to hang onto the office of the national chairman of APGA.
Immediately Justice Nayai Aganaba, Chairman of the tribunal upheld the result of the election that Ekwunife won the election, both candidates renewed their verbal warfare, while the tribunal rebuffed Umeh’s claim that Ekwunife was not properly nominated by PDP, on the grounds that it was a purely pre-election issue. The Senator told reporters after the tribunal verdict that she would still trounce the petitioner at the Appeal Court.
But when the case came out a different way at the Appeal Court, Umeh released his verbal darts in all directions. Taking on PDP, he said the former ruling party has no moral ground to cry over any form of injustice, exulting that, “the party was dead and lost its godmother and godfather.” Though he was commenting on the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, Umeh connected his harshwords to his experience during the March 28 National Assembly election in Anambra Central. He said: “PDP promoted electoral banditry in this country; so, I am surprised that they are now crying wolf. They are made up of hypocrites; the PDP’s time has just ended; it is a political party that should be dismantled. PDP fielding a candidate against me in my constituency where I contested for Senate, despite the fact we didn’t field a presidential candidate, exposes them to public judgment.”
As somebody who had never stood for a real election, many people said Umeh expected a deal with PDP in such a way to trade APGA endorsement of President Goodluck Jonathan for a second term, for an unopposed senate ticket. But it was gathered that party stalwarts across board told the presidency then that there was no way Umeh could win the senatorial election against Ngige, adding that since Ngige refused overtures to rejoin PDP, the best strategy was to field the then member representing Anaocha/Njikoka/Dunukofia federal constituency at the House of Representatives, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife.
Being a good mixer and community mobiliser, Ekwunife had a lot going for her. She has at one time or another worked in political collaboration with the major political heavyweights in the zone and beyond, ranging from OkakaOjoto, Chief Annie Okonwko to Prince Arthur Eze, among others. What is more, given former governor Obi’s decision not to retire to the Senate like his former colleagues, Uche was said to have approached Obi, asking him to support her for the senate seat in keeping with his policy of inclusion of women in the polity. From Obi Ekwunife moved round, securing endorsements and support.
But seeing the way Ekwunife was moving round, Umeh decided to go for popular aspirants in the zone to give them APGA tickets so as to shore up his support at the election. One of those who benefitted from that strategic move was Dozie Nwankwo, who before then was being vilified and blackmailed for being an Ngige supporter and a brother in-law to former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, another APC chieftain. When Nwankwo discovered perceived public aversion to Umeh, he began to limit rallies he addressed alongside Umeh, so as not to “inherit his political baggage.” It was also alleged that following secret intelligence report on his popularity rating in the senatorial zone, the presidency flew the kite of appointing the former national chairman as an ambassador in the event PDP wins the election, a suggestion he was said to have dismissed.
Yet, unknown to Umeh, Obi had already concluded plans to crossover to PDP, a development that helped to crumble much of whatever support he had hoped to garner in the senatorial zone. Having lost the backing of his former political backbone, Obi, whose community, Agulu has a prodigious voting population, it was left to be seen, where Umeh’s winning votes could come from. Moreover, the very moment he quit as APGA leader, the coterie of hangers-on and sycophants around him dwindled, showing how doubtful his perceived popularity was.
His attacks on Obi, who was not contesting any elective office, rubbed off negatively on the APGA senatorial candidate, especially in the Anambra Central zone where Obi, Ngige and Okonwko are not known as political pushovers. Prior to his sudden and inexplicable transformation from treasurer to national chairman of APGA, Umeh was majorly an unknown quantity, hanging around influential politicians especially the flamboyant pioneer state chairman of PDP, Ofiadulu Joseph Okonkwo. So to a large extent, Umeh was a creation of the big men he fawned over including Okonkwo, Obi and later Ojukwu, who supported his civilian coup against the founding national chairman of APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie. A former commissioner in Peter Obi’s administration, Barrister Vincent Ezenwajiaku, described Umeh as a vexation to men in public office, pointing out that his “obsession with politics is in the belief that it is a shorter route to wealth and renown.”
When 90 days elapse and the rematch takes place, part of the burden on Umeh would be how to palacate those he injured with his acerbic tongue. Then he would contend with the fact that supporters of Obi and Ngige may not fancy his spot on the ballot. The APGA, which he used to wear like his long cap for effect has become something else. Furthermore, Obiano has his native problems to contend with, as such, may not have the luxury of time or resources to attempt a political wrestling bout with his godfather, estranged or not.
Then the sophisticated voters in Anambra Central are most likely to place the two senatorial candidates on a scale to evaluate their content, capacity and competence to represent the zone in the senate. On top of all these considerations, with the newfound cohesion within PDP structure, APGA may have an uphill task on its hands. Dogging this rematch is also PDP concerted efforts to reclaim the state from APGA to assert its traditional perception of Anambra as PDP stronghold. From the body language of the Minister of Labour and Employment, who has become a beautiful bride, he may not quit his ministerial position to re-contest the senate seat.
As sources close to him said, “Ngige says he has contested all there is to contest in Anambra, I should be going higher.” That makes the rerun a straight fight between the Amazon and the former APGA chief. In the end, Uche Ekwunife’s handle on legislative practice and political pedigree may be too much for Anambra Central to forego for a fresher. In the last analysis the rematch would show how subsequent elections in the state would go, especially the 2017 governorship poll in the state.