By Echezona Okechi
A popular Nigerian saying is that whomever the gods want to destroy, they first make mad. I cannot think of any national party in Nigeria’s history, which wants to gain a foothold in the South East geopolitical zone, that embodies this common saying as much as the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Just last week, as it was preparing to conduct a primary election to choose a candidate to fly its flag in the November 18, 2017, gubernatorial election in Anambra State, the government of Imo State, the only the APC government in the South East and which shares borders with Anambra State, went berserk. It not only insisted on the demolition of the popular Eke-ukwu Market in Owerri, the state capital, it ordered security agents, including soldiers, to move against Owerri indigenes protesting against the market demolition. At least three persons were allegedly killed. The deaths triggered a more ferocious protest. The labour movement has asked the government of Rochas Okorocha, which owes workers and pensioners several months and years of salaries, gratuities and pensions, to resign.
As if the demolition and killings in Imo State were not enough bad advertisement for the party in the South East, the APC in Anambra State did something extraordinarily bizarre on Saturday: it chose as its standard-bearer in the forthcoming governorship election someone no member can proudly campaign for in the open. Tony Nwoye scored 2,146 votes, relegating Senator Andy Uba to a very distant second position with 931 votes. On the face value of it, some people may think that Nwoye is popular. But he is not, by any means. Even those who cast their votes for him did not expect him to win. This is a huge paradox. Each person thought the other persons would be wise enough to cast their votes for better governorship aspirants. Nwoye won simply because he allegedly outspent the others. While each delegate was reportedly induced with N60,000 by one candidate, for instance, another, who was the second highest spender, according to sources, gave each delegate N50,000.
The irony is that both Nwoye and Uba are the very aspirants the APC national headquarters doesn’t want as candidate for the office of the governor. They are the least marketable out of the 11 aspirants. No Nigerian can ever forget their perceived role in the mayhem of November 2004, when the governor’s lodge in Onitsha, the House of Assembly, the Judiciary complex, the Anambra State Broadcasting Service and Government House, among others, were burnt down in broad daylight. Even though the hoodlums invaded my house to assassinate me, the target of the mayhem was Dr. Chris Ngige, the current Minister of Labour and Employment, who was then the Anambra State governor and a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the same party as his traducers. They wanted him removed through the proclamation of a state of emergency. Ngige was to become the leader of the APC in the state and, three years ago, was its gubernatorial candidate.
So, how can Ngige, for one, campaign for either Nwoye or Uba? What would he tell Anambra people about these fellows and expect his personal reputation not to vanish even in his hometown of Alor? The APC national leadership, I can authoritatively reveal this morning, decided that neither Uba nor Nwoye was eligible enough in moral terms to fly its flag. However, it decided not to make its position known until after the primaries because it wanted to create a facade of unity and togetherness. The APC has to review the result immediately, if the party is not to become a laughing stock.
Nwoye has only one key supporter: Prince Arthur Eze, a wealthy businessman. Eze is the person suspected to be bankrolling Nwoye. Interestingly, Eze has always insisted on bankrolling candidates in Anambra State gubernatorial elections. But none has ever made it. Prof. Charles Soludo, the outstanding former Central Bank governor, was heading for a landslide victory in the 2009 election, until Eze became his open supporter and biggest financier. Most analysts believe that Mrs. Joy Emordi would have done better than she did in the 1999 polls as the All Peoples Party (APP) candidate but for the strong financial support from Eze. Four years ago, Eze supported Nwoye as the PDP candidate, and the result was a rejection of the party.
The prince has more than his own share of baggage. Premier Breweries in Onitsha was the third largest brewery in Nigeria, after Nigerian Breweries and Guinness Plc. It was also the biggest industry in old Anambra State. As it was beginning to compete with Guinness and NB and its shares were performing brilliantly on the Nigerian Stock Exchange under the leadership of the late brilliant Dan Oduah, Eze became its chairman. Premier died instantly. The same fate befell Orient Bank. Eze’s performance as Orient Bank chairman was such that, in 1993, Paul Ogwuma, as CBN governor, issued a circular banning Eze from ever sitting on the board of any Nigerian bank.
Earlier under the military, Eze’s Triax Engineering Company was awarded a $110 million contract for rural electrification and rural water supply in old Anambra State and for the construction of an Industrial Development Centre (IDC) in Awka. The loan for the contract came from the African Development Bank (AfDB), facilitated by Dr. Chu Okongwu when he was the Minister of Finance. The job was hardly done. Abubakar Ndiaye, the AfDB chief executive, was allegedly flying in Eze’s jet. He compromised himself. He was subsequently disgraced out of office, the only AfDB CEO in history to earn this dubious distinction. It does seem that a lot of Nigerians have forgotten how the Senegalese was thrown out of the AfDB.
A few days to the APC primary election in Anambra State, the social media went agog that Nwoye and Eze had signed an agreement to the effect that 30 per cent of the state’s revenue would be given to Eze for his role as Nwoye’s godfather, if Nwoye became the governor. In addition, Eze would nominate 10 commissioners and decide their portfolios, according to the report. Nwoye did all he could to deny the story, but it has been difficult for a large number of Anambra people to disbelieve it. The people are terribly frightened at the prospect of the return of politics of godfatherism in the state. The godfathers made it impossible for Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju to work as governor from 1999 to 2003. They forced him to sign what were called irrevocable standing payment orders (ISPOs), meaning that the so-called contractors must be paid by the Federal Ministry of Finance from the state’s monthly share of the Federation Account in Abuja and whatever remained would then be given to the state.
It was a most unconscionable fraudulent scheme, which put the state in peonage. When Ngige, who succeeded Mbadinuju, tried to stop this scheme, the godfathers went berserk. Those who attacked and burnt the state to make Anambra ungovernable are now preparing to rule the same state on the APC’s platform. Tufia! God forbid! Yet, this is a party that has in its ranks such decent and founding members as Chief George Muoghalu and Engr. Barth Nwibe, who came third and fourth respectively in the primary election because they did not want godfathers.
The APC has handed over victory on a platter of gold to Governor Willie Obiano long before the November 18 governorship is conducted. The greater concern is that the APC is fast retrenching itself from the South East. What a shame for a party we have done everything to market in our place.
•Hon Okechi, former chairman of the Anambra State House of Assembly Committee on Information and of Public Petitions Committee, is a founding APC member in the state. He is leading a movement to reform the APC in Anambra State. email@example.com. 0803 558 5188.