97 days to election: Obi, Tinubu, Atiku polarise South East

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• Personality Clashes Hold Sway In The Region
• Ohanaeze Ndigbo Keeps Parties Waiting On Endorsement
• Blame Development On Ohaneze Complacency— Obioha
• APC, PDP Supporters Battle To Secure Strongholds

The quest for support among the three top contenders for the presidency in the 2023 general election — Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP); Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has seriously driven a wedge into the unity and cohesion of the South-East geo-political zone of the country.

Emerging signals have accentuated the fact that no segment of the region could speak with one voice on who to support in the presidential election.

This was even as the parties in power in the five South-East states – PDP (Enugu and Abia), APC (Imo and Ebonyi, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) (Anambra) – have employed the instrumentality of their incumbency to either curry support for their preferred candidates or ensure their opponents were denied opportunities to canvass for votes.

Surprisingly, even the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which had before now championed the cause for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is not left out of the polarisation sweeping across the zone.

Less than 100 days to the polls, the organisation has become lame in a project that it has vested resources and time, as it has failed to endorse any of the contestants in the election. Going by its precedence, a properly constituted Ohanaeze would have been convened by now where a pronouncement would be made on the candidate of choice among the top contenders and the task placed on the people of the region to mobilise and vote for the person in the elections. It did so for former president Goodluck Jonathan on two occasions, as well as Atiku Abubakar in the last general election.

However, while the campaigns have intensified, the much the apex Igbo body achieved when it rose from its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting that held in Owerri last Tuesday, November 15, 2022, was to ask Ndigbo to “shun sentiments and vote credible candidates in the elections.”

Meanwhile, sources told The Guardian that the meeting might not hold again until the elections are over.

President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor, had told reporters after the meeting, “We can only succeed as a people when we are determined to achieve a common purpose and such a time is now. Igbos have a rendezvous with destiny in 2023 and I am sure history will vindicate us.”

A source close to Obiozor, however, accused him of showing inclinations towards the ruling party, stressing, “It will be suicidal for him to contemplate endorsement for any candidate, including those of Igbo stock with differing interests of the backers of the leadership, even when he had spoken in favour of Igbo presidency in the past.”

The source explained that the suit recently filed by the Obiozor group against the breakaway faction led by Chidi Ibeh, where he is asking for legal backing for his executive, followed heightened fears that some governors and leaders of the region may have become uncomfortable with the group and may be openly supporting opposition against them.

The undercurrents in Ohanaeze notwithstanding, political leaders of the two leading political parties are deploying all the arsenal they can muster to retain their states and checkmate the intrusion of the Labour Party.

Notable APC bigwig such as former governor Orji Uzo Kalu of Abia State has thrown his weigh behind Tinubu. Former governor Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State, despite being a candidate of the PDP for Enugu East Senatorial District, is also openly canvassing support for former lagos State Governor. So also are other Federal Government appointees from the region.

At the state level, Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma and his Ebonyi State counterpart, Dave Umahi have allegedly resorted to economic warfare against those not of APC to advance their cause and win votes for their party. Appointments are extended only to members of the party in the state.

Conversely, political campaigns of other smaller parties are attacked, while those of the government in power go on at time. While public facilities are freely used for campaigns of the party in power, those of the opposition are being made to obtain permission and pay fees to be allowed use of public facilities; campaign billboards are not spared in this direction.

Only recently, a coalition of Rights and Political groups in Southeast had threatened litigation against Umahi for signing into law Executive Order 3 of 2022 banning the use of primary school premises, market places and parks for campaigns by political parties ahead of the elections.

The governor had insisted that political parties that want to use the school, market and park facilities must apply and should pay a refundable sum of N5 million to the Ministry of Education in the state.

Before the signing of the Executive Order, a one million match to shore up support for Obi’s aspiration was disrupted by security forces that used teargas on the people. The incident was closely followed by the “abduction” of a former two-term member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Linus Okorie. Okorie was said to have been abducted by operatives of the state funded Ebubeagu security outfit and following public outcry was handed over to the police after he was allegedly tortured. Okorie, the senatorial candidate of the Labour Party, in the state was later arraigned in court.

The development was closely followed by that of the APGA governorship candidate, Prof. Bernard Odo and his supporters who were allegedly attacked by gun-wielding Ebubeagu members. The spate of attacks had moved the governorship candidates recently to petition the presidency to seek protection.

Close watchers to the development alleged that the attacks on the opposition candidates were part of the ploy to retain Ebonyi State for the APC in all the elections. They insist that allowing their campaigns meant popularising their candidates in the state and at national level.

Recently, the Imo state government announced fees for placement of campaign billboards and posters in the state. Some of the payments that run into thousands include form/processing fees; site inspection fees; billboard approval fees and politically branded vehicle approval fees. The fees are charged based on the positions being sought in the elections including councillor, Chairman, State Assembly, House of Representative, Senate, Governor and President.

The development is the same in Abia and Anambra states where the various governments have raised fees for any campaign materials.

Aside from the fees and scheming against political parties not in power and their candidates, personality clashes hold the sway in the region. Only last Monday, Anambra State governor, Charles Soludo, joined the fray of Obi’s critics, describing his aspiration as unrealistic.

It was his second attempt to rubbish Obi, having a week earlier described his investment as governor of Anambra State for eight years as “worth next to nothing.”

Soludo had told the world that the aspiration of Obi was of no benefit to Ndiigbo, stressing that he could only be used to whittle down the votes of the PDP in favour of the APC.

Since he drew the sword, more divisions have erupted in the South-East, with many commending and condemning him. While some members of the political class applauded him, others launched attacks on him for being “anti-Igbo.”

An official of the Obi-Datti campaign in Imo State, Dr. Fabian Ihekweme, said Soludo’s outburst came as a result of arrogance and envy.

He said: “Soludo displayed the highest level of arrogance, for me. I see it as being envious, because what would have prompted him to display such level of outburst? It was not that Peter Obi provoked him. He was actually not provoked.

“He started the episode when he said the investment Peter Obi made amounted to nothing. Now, if you take it from that angle, somebody made an investment when it was $30 in a coin. The investment rose to $79. When Peter Obi finished, Obiano took over from him. The investment rose from $30 to $79 and Obiano, as a banker, didn’t deem it wise, probably, to withdraw $30 to $40 from that investment, to recoup the investment he made and reinvest the remaining $39 or so. He couldn’t do that. He left the business like that unattended to. Even when Obiano left, Soludo, also inherited it when that investment was $79. As a top economist, common sense should have informed him to recoup the money that was invested and then reinvest the remaining balance. He couldn’t do that until the investment crashed up to$16.

“He was now pushed to come out to the public to say what Peter Obi invested was nothing, when he was the one who should have looked after that investment. If you look at it, I see it as envy, being an economist. Soludo should face governance,” he said.

A chieftain of the PDP who said he was totally loyal to the Obi/ Datti project, Cassy Osuoha, also condemned the disposition of the Anambra State governor, saying he was unperturbed as he was 100 per cent in support of Obi.

“I am a member of the PDP and also for Peter Obi, 100 per cent,” he declared.

However, Soludo is not alone with regard to his position on Obi’s candidacy. A former chairman of the PDP in Anambra State, Chief Dan Ulasi, had at various times held positions against Obi.

In Abia State, the quest for the governorship ticket of the APC has put a line between Chief Ikechi Emenike and Dr. Uche Ogah. Emenike had held the ticket until last week when the Court of Appeal decided in favour of Ogah. The development currently unsettles members of the party, as supporters of both camps seem not ready to beat a retreat.

Several interpretations have been given to the judgment restoring the ticket to Ogah. Some of his loyalists have argued that his candidacy would brighten the chances of the APC to win elections in the state, stressing that he was more acceptable than Emenike and very ready to move the party forward.

In Enugu State, the struggle over Labour Party governorship ticket between Chief Chijioke Edeoga and Evaristus Nnaji is also raging. Edeoga, who emerged in the party primary and was issued certificate of return had held the mandate until the Federal High Court, Abuja, last week nullified the primary on the strength of the suit filed by Nnaji. It had ordered a repeat primary.

Nnaji had complained to the court that he was schemed out of the primary. Those favoured by Edeoga, however, alleged that he is mole planted by the PDP to disrupt the progress of Labour Party in the state. They said he had never been a member of the party and did not purchase form to contest the governorship election.

Prior to the court order, meetings of Labour Party had severally been disrupted in Aninri, Awgu and Igbo-Eze North local councils of the state, with personal belongings of the members destroyed.

The party had viewed the development as an affront targeted at disrupting Obi’s inroads in the state.

National Coordinator of Southeast for President 2023 Movement (SEFORP2023), Rev. Okechukwu Obioha, had stated that the zone had not been as divided as it is currently, “when ovation is loudest and at a time that there is ample opportunity for us to have a taste of presidency.”

While blaming the development on the complacency of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, he noted that the way and manner the leadership of the organisation emerged last year was fast eroding the collective aspiration of the people.

“How can Atiku and Tinubu be used to divide the Igbo that had given bloc votes in previous elections to both Jonathan and Atiku now that it is our turn? Our people have contested presidency in the past, but what we are seeing now is an indication that Nigerians want an Igbo man at the presidency. But I am thinking, it is part of political posturing. When the chips are down, we will all return to our root,” he said.

An activist, Demiam Onodugo, does not think that those dividing the zone on account of politics were speaking for the people.

“If APC is not quarreling with PDP in the region even in states where APC holds sway, but decides to attack Labour Party, it means that there is something about Labour Party and their candidates. Southeast has seriously desired presidency and the time has come. So, there is no going back,” he said.

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