Recently, the All Progressives Congress (APC) set up a team to strategize on how it would gain dominance in South-East and South-South regions, ahead of the 2019 general elections. CHIBUZO UKAIBE writes on the task ahead and the issues arising.
The national leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on Monday tactically declared ‘operation take-over South-East and South-South in 2019’. Ahead of the next general elections, the governing party appears desirous of sweeping the votes in those regions, or at least, making a very strong showing there.
As much as the party believes, it can’t leave anything to chance going into an election that no longer sees them as the underdog, it believes the circumstances and political dynamics are significantly different from those of 2015, when it polled the least votes and still upstaged the former ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the centre.
Although, the South-East and South-South regions, have, since 1999, being politically attuned to aligning with the party at the centre (which, in any case, has been the PDP), the candidacy of former President Goodluck Jonathan, had further established PDP’s dominance in the regions during the 2015 polls. But the APC has been playing the ‘presidency for South-East in 2023’ card, as a move to woo the votes of the region in 2019.
And with the APC now the ruling party at the centreand Jonathan out of the equation, there seems a glimmer of hope. This much was stated by the APC National chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, when he inaugurated a four-member strategic committee on Monday, to do a forensic analysis on why the party lost out at the just concluded Anambra gubernatorial election.
He said, “The South-East and the South-South would be crucial and critical to our victory in 2019, not from the point of view of numbers of votes because we are fairly confident, having gone through our initial planning that the APC would carry the day in 2019.
“For us, it is critical that the South-East and South-South, both zones that have contributed immensely to the survival of this nation, must be represented fully in what is going to be a truly national government of the APC in 2019.
“So, learn from the experience, in this particular case, of South East in the result of the Anambra election, in which l must personally confess that l was disappointed in terms of votes that we got at that election. I expected a much better result than that”.
Oyegun noted that drawing from the Anambra failure, it has become necessary for the APC at this early stage to examine why the votes it scored were much lower than it expected.
He continued: “So, today we are inaugurating a strategic committee and the mandate is for you, Chief Niyi Adebayo and your team, to do a forensic examination of what could have gone wrong. Why did we not do as well as we expected? What were the factors that contributed to our low score?
“We did much better compared to the 2015; no question about that but in all fairness, given the work we put in and given the reactions of the public and the rest of it, there was no question at all that we ought to have done a lot better. So, the question today is why.
“It is important that we are using Anambra as a trigger. The terms of reference was drafted and appropriately worded to give you the scope to look at the possibilities of, God forbid, a repetition of what happened in Anambra in other states in the South-East.
“We want to start early; we want to strategise early; we want to plan early; we want to be confident that after we have done our field work the reward from the field work is commensurate with the efforts that we have put in. I want to be partisan here; we want a situation where we will win handsomely in the South-East.
“I mentioned the South-South when l stated the circumstances are slightly different but we are going to have the same type of strategic team for the South-South. The issues are different, the environment is different, the circumstances are different but it is necessary also that we bid the South-South into the national power framework that we expect to emerge in 2019. So, l want to thank you gentlemen for accepting this onerous assignment.”
In the 2015 general elections, the then opposition party recorded low votes in these two geo-political zones. It was not unexpected. With Jonathan, an incumbent, as the candidate of the PDP, and with the party having produced most of the major political beneficiaries from the regions since 1999, it was always an uphill task for the APC to make major in-roads in the region then.
While PDP claimed almost 90 per cent of the federal and state legislative seats in the zones, Jonathan roundly defeated the APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, same way Buhari did to him in the North.
In the five South-East states: Abia, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi and Enugu, the APC polled 198,248, while the PDP garnered 2,464,906. In the six South-South states of Rivers, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Cross River and Akwa Ibom, the APC scrapped 418,590 votes, while PDP amassed 4,714,725.
The APC was able to retain Imo but lost Rivers. Both states, in the build up to 2015, became APC-controlled territories by virtue of the defections of their governors, Rochas Okorocha (Imo) and Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers).
In 2011, with Jonathan as candidate, the PDP also scored more votes in the regions than the old party structures that dissolved to form the APC in 2013.
However, in its report on the 2015 general election, the Situation Room, a coalition of civil society organizations, saw a leap for the APC in 2015 in the two regions.
Its report said, “The APC’s candidate also recorded marginal increase in his support even in South-East and South-South states where he had previously been very unpopular.
Compared to 2011 when Buhari received only 0.4 percent and 0.7 percent of the votes in South-East and South-South, respectively, in 2015 support for the candidate increased to 7.4 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively.
“In particular, voters in Ebonyi, Imo and Edo states, who only gave Buhari 0.2 percent, 0.5 percent and 2.8 percent of their votes, respectively in 2011, moved significantly in support of the candidate. In 2015 they gave him 5.3 percent, 18.9 percent and 41.6 percent of their votes, respectively.”
In any case, the voter turnout for the election within the periods was also significant, such that according to a post-2015 general elections report by the Centre For Public Policy Alternatives (CPPA), turnout of voters in the South-East dropped from 63 per cent in 2011 to 40.42 in 2015. The report also indicated that voter turn-out in the South-South also declined from 62 percent in 2011 to 57.81 percent in 2015.
It remains unclear how significant the turnout of voters will impact on the APC’s rise in the region. But analysts believe that the APC clearly has its work cut out if it must make the significant in-road in the geo-political zones. Just as ruling parties in Nigeria tend to lose popularity shortly after assuming power, the poor acceptance suffered by the APC in the South-South and South-East appears to have either stagnated or waned somewhat.
Some analysts aver that it would seem that much has not been substantially done to address the parties perception index in the regions.
The handling of the Biafra agitation saga and its leader Nnamdi Kanu, considering the followership he enjoyed in the South-East, had elicited diverse reactions. While some believe that the proscription of the Biafra group was apt and necessary to address a situation which had put the unity of the country on the precipice, others, particularly supporters of Kanu, faulted government for initial illegal detention of the IPOB leader, the deployment of military into the region as well as the faulty process of banning the group.
In the South-south, the delay in the Ogoni clean up process, which was celebrated upon its unveiling at the inception of this administration, has continued to be an easy point of criticism against government.
While the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF) and the federal government have had a hot and cold affair over issues about the Niger Delta, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo has at every turn criticized the APC-led administration of sidelining the Igbo.
From cries of marginalization, particularly in the security hierarchy of the country to what they felt was a militarization of the zone, the pan Igbo group has not hidden its disdain for this administration led by the APC. Despite separate meetings by these two regional socio-political groups with the federal government, little has changed in the way they perceive this administration.
Constrained by economic challenges, the APC can claim that there are limited resources to meet all demands of the political zones, and that the unmet expectations are not peculiar to them alone, analystsaver. For one, they claim that the infrastructure decay viz a viz dilapidated roads in the South-East states are being addressed pointing to the sincerity in the construction of a new Niger bridge. In the Niger Delta, the governing party, had continued the amnesty program for former Niger Delta militants which doused tension in the area somewhat.
But beyond the policy issues or debates over levels of performance in the regions is the raging debate over restructuring which is quite popular in the two geo-political zones. The topic has somewhat been elevated to a major talking point ahead of 2019.
Under Jonathan, the PDP in 2014, convened a national conference to address some structural and policy issues in the country. Although it didn’t effect most of the recommendations while in office, it has since insisted that this administration should act on the report.
While the APC administration dilly-dallied over the issue of restructuring, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, was making inroads in the two southern regions even as a member of the APC. He distanced himself early enough from his former party’s reluctance to commit to restructuring a situation which naturally drew the ire of APC chieftains against him.
They attacked him for using the issue to build his presidential candidacy based in the region. Now that he has crossed to the PDP, it remains to see how the APC would seize the initiative on the issue, not just from Atiku, but the opposition party.
The National Vice Chairman of APC for the South-South, Hilliard Eta, however, said “the APC has never said it does not believe in restructuring. Wherever any person got that impression from we don’t know. If the party does not believe in it, how come we set up a high-powered committee to go round and the country and collate information as to what Nigerians really mean by restructuring”.
Blasting the PDP for failing to restructure the country while they held sway, he said “we plead with Nigerians to bear with us; we have not abandoned our manifesto which clearly states our commitment to restructuring.”
Another major factor are the state governors, who are often seen as field marshals of political parties.
Governors from the two regions have intensified their meetings in recent times, reaffirming their economic ties beyond political affiliation. So far, only Edo, Anambra and Imo States are not under the control of the PDP. Edo and Imo are under the APC while APGA controls Anambra. With most of the governors angling for a second term, it is almost certain that they would ride the mood of the electorates in the regions.
With the Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo seeking a second term and his Imo counterpart, Rochas Okorocha, wrapping up his eight years constitutional tenure by 2019, a lot will be expected of them to advance the APC’s frontier in the region.
Analysts believe that their performance in office would be a major advantage for their party in the regions.
Besides the APC governors, the political sagacity of the serving ministers and party’s chieftains in those states will be put to test as well.
Barely months after the APC won the 2015 presidential election, a wave of defections hit the PDP. Members of the former ruling party, who either lost out of the power intra-party tussle or were aggrieved at impunity and unfairness, moved to the new ruling party. Others, in a bid to allegedly evade corruption prosecution and those who just couldn’t be in the opposition, crossed over to the APC.
Former governors like Orji Uzor-Kalu; Jim Nwobodo; Sullivan Chime, minister of states for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, Clever Ikisipko; Sen Victor Ndoma Egba moved to the APC shortly after 2015. Serving federal lawmakers in both chambers, took advantage of the leadership crisis in the PDP and crossed over to the ruling party. With most of them working as opposition in their states, they would have to work twice as hard to ensure their party makes the needed impact in the zone in 2019.
Recent elections in the region after 2015, have been instructive, analysts aver. The major elections in Bayelsa, Edo and Rivers State were very intense. The PDP and APC retained Bayelsa and Edo states in very tough governorship elections. The APC fought hard to win some seats in the federal and state rerun legislative polls in Rivers State, even though the PDP won most of the seats. That election was as fierce as it was bloody.
Evidently, the APC hopes to ride on the back of its performance in recent Anambra State governorship election. Regardless of the fact that it came second in the polls, its ability to defeat the PDP, its main rival in the region, knowing it would be hard to topple the incumbent, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), reinforces its hope ahead of 2019.
The party’s defeat at last year’s local government election in Enugu State, (where it has more of its renowned national supporters in the mould of former senate president Ken Nnamani; and former governors Jim Nwobodo and Sullivan Chime), can be brushed off as normative in the face of council polls which are usually won overwhelming by the ruling party. Yet some pundits had expected that the APC’s heavy weights in the state would win some councils, to, if for nothing, prove their party’s perceived foothold there.
Still, while the party’s recent mega rally in Umuahia, Abia State, has been a subject of debate as to the turn out of supporters, it has attracted the interest of the PDP. Barely days after commissioning the move to win over the two regions, the APC staged the mega rally in the South-East state, which according to the publicity secretary of the party in Abia State, Mr Benedict Godson, was “to tell the world that we are ready to take over the Abia State government house and others in the South-east. We also want to use the occasion to pledge our support for President Buhari to run for a second term in 2019”.
As they danced and boasted at the rally, the PDP’s reaction belied signs that it was perturbed by the APC’s rally in their perceived political domain. The opposition party was, however, quick to leverage on the what it perceived as a political advantage, describing the timing of the Umuahia rally as insensitive to the plight of Nigerians.
The national spokesman of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, described said the rally as a “spit on the faces of suffering Nigerians as well as the graves of those that have died due to the hardship occasioned by the misgovernment of the APC.”
He continued “Nigerians were disheartened to see leaders of the ruling party dancing away and making vain speeches at a time when millions are still traumatized over killings in Benue and other parts of the country, while many more are groaning under the pains of economic hardship worsened by the unabating fuel crisis in the country.
“If the APC had any iota of regard for Nigerians, it would, at this moment, be brainstorming on the many woes it had caused the nation and how to shore up the economy ruined by its tactless government.
“The Umuahia rally has also shown that the APC leaders are not in any way interested in the welfare of Nigerians but in their selfish, political and pecuniary interests. This even manifested in their empty speeches wherein they could not present the people with any achievement or plans for future development.
“Perhaps the APC would have learnt a lesson from the scanty turnout of Nigerians at their so called “mega rally.” The cold response by the few attendees, the refusal of the people to brandish brooms and the total absence of cheers for their leaders, including the National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, constitute a loud act of rejection.”
Nevertheless, founder of the Ndigbo for PMB in 2019, and former governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Abia State, Prince Paul Ikonne, believes that the South-east will vote for APC and Buhari in 2019.
The APC chieftain told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the response his group gets from willing volunteers, who are not asking for monetary reward shows they are ready to support Buhari in 2019.
He countered the marginalization cry by some South-east leaders by asking what the zone benefitted when many of its sons and daughters had strategic positions in the immediate past administration, arguing “Before now, with regards to motor-able roads, the South-east was a no go area. Travelling from Port Harcourt to Enugu was hellish. In fact, virtually all the federal roads in the South-East collapsed. But since the Buhari administration came on board, reconstruction of the Enugu-Anambra expressway has started.”
He, however, admitted the enormity of work to be done by the APC saying, “The truth is that PDP is rooted and it’s evident. The party has been in government for the past 16 solid years and so their loyalists are rooted there. But so many of them are decamping to the APC because they are seeing the difference. We will mobilize all our people to be on ground to make them see what this administration has done and what it intends to do for them.”
For regions, whose political trajectory in Nigeria’s history, has been to align with the party at the centre, itremains to be seen whether the prospects of Igbo presidency in 2023, in the case of the South-East, or a promise of more inclusiveness in national governance for the South-South, will give the APC the sure foothold it craves in 2019.