APC’s challenges, moves for South East

From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja

For many critical observers, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has not succeeded to establish its foothold in the South East geopolitical zone since its formation. This is despite producing two governors, senators, House of Representatives members and other stakeholders from the zone in the current dispensation. There are those who insist that in a free and fair electoral process, it would be impossible for the party to control any state in the South East.

In the estimation of observers, the ruling party will remain a hard product to sell in the South East for a number of reasons. The major factor is that people from the zone believe that the APC has been unfair to the geopolitical area. No amount of assurances from party stakeholders from the East have assuaged the negative mindset of Ndigbo against the party

The situation was captured by late chieftain of the APC, Ogbonnaya Onu, in his popular diatribe against his party’s injustice to Ndigbo during the 2023 presidential primary election. He had passionately and rhetorically asked where is the justice for the South East geopolitical zone in the political equation of the party.

The former Minister for Science and Technology had complained bitterly against the party after sensing that it would betray the confidence, loyalty and trust of its teaming members from the zone. He also decried the insensitivity of the party’s leaders and their failure to facilitate the chances of an Igbo man emerging as the replacement for then president Muhammadu Buhari,.

After interpreting the bold handwriting on the wall during the party’s presidential primary, Onu had argued that after sacrificing so much to keep the country united and the party visible, equity demands that the ruling party rewards its loyal members from the zone with the presidential ticket.

He said: “I held the presidential ticket for one of the three parties then. But I had to let it go to solve a problem with the South West, to make sure that two Olus contested for the presidency; that head or tail, one would become the president, and that brought down tension within the country. This is what would have happened if we allowed the South East at this time.

“What is very, very important, exceptionally important, is that we must ensure that justice is upheld. Naturally, it should be somebody from the South East that will replace (Buhari), and that will give the opposite South versus North and Christian versus Muslim a balance, and it will bring stability to the nation; it will strengthen Nigeria.

“The South West had eight years as president, eight years as vice president; the South-South had eight years as president and vice president; where is the justice? Where is the justice?”

Regrettably, nothing has changed, ever since then, in the frosty relationship between the party and its members from the zone. Since the formation of the ruling party, Ndigbo have continued not only to face uncertainties but also to grope in the dark in their membership of the party.

Interestingly, in the consideration of many discerning Nigerians, the rejection and side-lining of party members from the South East region during the presidential primary was just a microcosm of the humiliation level they have continued to suffer despite contributing and sacrificing so much to build the party.

According to many political watchers, chieftains of the ruling party of Igbo extraction have suffered various degrees of indignity, and demeaning treatment after heavy sacrifice to build the party as a merger from the legacy political parties that formed the APC.

Ironically, from when the ruling party took over power under the leadership of former president Buhari till now that President Bola Tinubu is in charge, neither had the chieftains of the party in the South East been rewarded with integration into the mainstream governmental cadre nor had the people of the region fully accepted and embraced the party.

In 2015, shortly after the emergence of former president Buhari, the then brand-new president ridiculed and abused the sensibilities of Ndigbo by announcing, during a live audience in Washington, that the Northern region which overwhelmingly voted for him should expect more from his government than the one that did not.

“The constituents, for example, that gave me 97 per cent of the vote cannot, in all honesty, be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me five per cent. I think this is a political reality,” Buhari said when asked about his administration’s policy of inclusiveness paradoxically at the United States Institute of Peace.

To many Nigerians and the international community, the divisive seed of discord the Buhari-led administration planted has since germinated and even grown into a full-blown tree of hatred and seems to have even got worse under the current administration of President Tinubu.

For example, apart from the statutory ministerial appointments, there have not been any conscious, deliberate attempts by the APC-led government to give an additional ministerial slot to the party members from the five states that constituted the core South East zone despite its members crying foul.

Despite the cries of lamentations and disappointments that trailed Buhari’s composition of the federal cabinet, and justification for the low representation of Ndigbo in his cabinet, the trends have continued to be abysmal and condemnable.

Many concerned stakeholders had then admitted in protest that the number of Ndigbo in Buhari’s government “fell extremely short of the constitutional provisions reflected in federal character, especially appointments into important government positions.”

Then President General of Pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo, had argued that under APC-led government; “No arm of government namely, the Executive, Judiciary or Legislature was headed by an Igbo. No section of the Armed Forces or paramilitary agencies is headed by an Igbo. Neither the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, nor Federal High Court, was headed by an Igbo.

“We know, in the history of this country, when a Lieutenant Colonel was appointed to the position of Chief of General Staff over and above his superiors just to ensure ethnic balance. We know when a Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation was appointed, it was to ensure ethnic balance. We know when a former Military Head of State was drafted to run for president to douse ethnic tensions.

“What is very perturbing is the public declaration of Mr. President that his appointments must favour the states that voted overwhelmingly for him and those he trusts even against the provisions of our constitution relating to federal character. One is at sea why Ndigbo who campaigned and voted for him appear not to be trusted.

“No wonder, the ministers with lean capital votes were the ones assigned to Ndigbo. No wonder, he nominated ambassadors for confirmation by the National Assembly naming three ambassadors for some states and only one ambassador for each of the Igbo states. No wonder, one year and eight months into his tenure as President, he has not visited any Igbo state,” Ohanaeze PG had lamented then to underscore the treatment the APC government meted to Ndigbo.

To confirm that nothing has changed under the current administration, in what looked like an admittance of marginalisation of Ndigbo in the ruling party, APC National chairman, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, recently announced that President Tinubu has approved the party’s blueprint for political liberation, emancipation and de-marginalisation of the zone.

Providing more details on the radical approach in motion to actualise the de-marginalisation policy of the party, Ganduje, however, advised South East APC and political leaders to unite in negotiating for the presidency which they can only realise on the platform of the broom party.

“I would like to let you know that Mr President, Bola Tinubu, has approved our blueprint for the political liberation of South East to the APC; he has approved the political emancipation, he has approved the political de-marginalisation of the South East. Be with one voice because if you speak with one voice, your voice will be bigger, and wider… for the negotiation for the political leadership of this country. There is no unity and you need unity in diversity. We need you to be united, we need a change, revolution of South East…,” he said.

And by way of matching words with actions, the governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodimma, promised that APC leaders in the zone will work assiduously to capture all the five states in South East.

He stressed that it was important for APC as a political party to become the vehicle for the region to be fully integrated into the Nigerian project.

“Arising from the statement of our National Chairman and consistent with our desire as a political party to dominate… APC as a political party must become the vehicle for the South East region to be fully integrated into the national project that is the Nigerian project.

“So, we are determined in our region to be part and parcel of the Nigerian politics. Consistent to that, we are going to do our best to ensure that the five states in the South-eastern region are dominated by APC by endearing our party to the people of the South East region,” Uzodimma promised.

Yes, with APC having majority control of two out of the five South East states, and with the promises to launch operation capture the South East, there seems to be several landmines hindering the electorate in the zone from accepting the party fully.

Incidentally, judging from the antecedents and conviction of an average voter in the zone, especially during last year’s general elections, the APC seems to be the third or fourth-rated party of choice in the South East. It trailed behind the Labour Party (LP, PDP, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

There is no doubt that APC is controlling more states in the South East, but how it achieved such accomplishment, through legal pronouncement and controversial cross-carpeting from the PDP to the APC, was not strange to many political watchers.

Evidently, the South East electorate still avoids the APC like plague to date, just as the unending rifts among the chieftains and leaders of the party have equally contributed in worsening the interests of the Ndigbo electorate in embracing the party.

Unfortunately, hardly in every state in the geopolitical zone, there is no division and rancour among the major stakeholders of the party, due to selfish inordinate ambition or the usual endemic political contestation. The crisis has contributed in balkanising the party into factions and making it impossible to single out clear leaders of the party in the states.

For instance, in Enugu State, the gladiators jostling for the structure of the party before now and even presently include former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, Deputy National Chairman, South, Emma Eneukwu, former State Chairman, Ben Nwoye, former Director General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former State governors, Jim Nwobodo, and Sullivan Chime, among many others.

In Anambra State, the party was and is still factionalised as many stakeholders, apparently with heavy financial war chests, continued to battle for the soul of the party’s structure. The combatant heavyweights include former Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, the party’s former governorship candidate, Andy Uba, founding member, George Moghalu, new entrant, Ifeanyi Ubah and his political struggles.

The battle is even intensively fiercer in Imo State with the incumbent governor relegating his predecessor, Rochas Okorocha, and other chieftains like former Deputy Governor, Prince Eze Madumere, to an inconsequential level.

The division seems to be more pronounced in the Abia State chapter of the party, as its 2023 governorship candidate, Ikechi Emenike and other heavyweights like Uchenna Ogah, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkiru Onyejeocha, Kingsley Ononogbu, among many others have been enmeshed in a long-drawn battle.

While trading blames, the founding members of the APC have at various times blamed the joiners from the PDP as chief orchestrators of the unending crisis rocking the party, exonerating the old members.

Only recently, when the State chairman of APC Enugu State chapter, Ugo Agballah, announced the expulsion of some party’s chieftains over anti-party activities, Osita Okechukwu had described him as a political bandit from PDP on a mission to destroy the APC.

Hear him; “the story of my kinsman, Ugo Agballah is the story of a failed chairman quarrelling with himself. He came from PDP akin to a political bandit and hijacked our great party with the assistance of Uzodimma, the governor of Imo.

“To fill his empty pocket, he drove all the stakeholders away and boasted he would quadruple the 56,000 we scored in the 2019 presidential election. Regrettably, he scored abysmally only 4,722. Instead of apologising, I cited his CV flying around at the president-elect’s house and APC HQ.

“This is why he is telling childish lies against some of us foundation members of APC, who sold the only plot of land in Enugu during my gubernatorial election in 2011. Ironically then, Agballah was in the comfort zone of PDP, while we were constructing APC structure. He is ignorant of APC’s constitution that gave only the ward the right to suspend or sack members,” Okechukwu attacked.

Although the antagonisms and struggle to seize the party’s structure contributed in no small measure to the depth of destruction APC has suffered in the zone, Ndigbo, however, did not also help matters in their selfish politics of exclusion.

Reacting to why political marginalisation of the zone by the APC may persist, Chris Ngige argued that; “Politics is business in a way, you invest in the business and you reap profit. Yes, that is what it is. But all I want to say is that Ndigbo played bad politics in the 2015 presidential election, we made a bad investment because they invested in the Jonathan presidency.”

Beyond lack of unity of purpose by the stakeholders in the zone and the bad politics by the electorate, the reality, however, is that APC has, in many ways, also completely failed to woo and convince the electorate in the region, on why they should embrace the party coupled with the party’s inability to provide the dividends of democracy to the people.

In the close to nine years of the APC-led Federal Government, there has not been any serious, deliberate measure to award and prosecute to completio major projects that will win the hearts of Ndigbo that their future rests with the APC.

Yes, pundits would easily point at the second Niger Bridge, Onitsha Seaport, Enugu-Onitsha, and Enugu-Port Harcourt express roads, but have they been really completed and functional? Again, can the projects be compared with the quality and quantity of others across the other geopolitical zones?

Asked why it has become difficult for APC to be fully accepted by South Easterners, the party’s Deputy National Organising Secretary, Nze Chidi Duru, told Daily Sun; “I don’t know if it will be right to say that South East has not accepted the APC. I do not play regional politics of where you come from. What is important for me as a person is performance.

“I believe that we have talent all over Nigeria that if and when given an opportunity, will meet the needs of the Nigerians. Whether it is from South East or the South West or South South, the reality on ground today is that we are first and foremost Nigerians, but more importantly is that we are human beings, meant to look out for each other.

“And that is what is important. I believe very strongly that that is the problem with Nigerians. You can have your brother as the Head of State in Nigeria but if he does not do what will help you to flourish as a person, it makes no meaning to you than if you have somebody else who will do what is right in your direction.

“I think that is what we should be worried about. APC will continue to do what is required, what is necessary to bring Nigeria under one umbrella, to energise, sensitise them, and innovate ways that Nigerians show the patriotism they are noted for when we engage in a football contest between Nigeria and any other country.

“You see Nigerians coming together, rallying around the national team, supporting them, and speaking in one language to ensure that our team wins the match. That is the point that we are sending out there, we need a country that belongs to everybody. Let our best foot be put forward to address the multiple numbers of things that need to be attended as a country and then to redress what needs to be done to take us to the Promised Land,” Duru argues.

Head or tail, the first litmus test to confirm the level of acceptance of APC in the South East will come next year during the Anambra State governorship election and ultimately in the 2027 general elections, and until then, the region will continue to grope in the dark and accept the crumbs handed over to them.

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