The political atmosphere in Anambra State since the start of the process leading to the November 6 governorship election has been laced with uncertainties. From the rigorous primaries that produced the governorship candidates to the crowded governorship aspirants, the suits in the various courts, and the current security threats over the election proper, the political atmosphere of the state has been convoluted.
Mixed with these politics of wits are the different defections by politicians of note, who had either lost in the primaries of their original political parties or have decided to cross over in anticipation of better deals when a new regime takes off after the election.
Of all the defections, the one that has set the tone for discussions around the state is the movement of the deputy governor of the state, Nkem Okeke from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to the All Progressive Congress (APC). Okeke, who had been Governor Willie Obiano’s deputy since the outgoing government took the reins in 2014, last Wednesday pitched tent with the APC.
On the same day he left Obiano’s government, APGA’s Youth leader, Eziokwu Magnus also decamped to the PDP with several other supporters. Others who left the APGA with them to join the PDP were the governor’s Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Environment, Abuchi Egboo; that of Legal Matters, Eziafa Charisma; Community Liaison, Ibik Kelvin; Works, Uzuegbulam Chike; and Deputy Chairman, Dunukofia, Emeka Nwabunwanne, among others.
Deputy Governor, Okeke is seen as a perfect gentleman. He had represented the governor at very high state functions even outside the state, unlike his counterparts, who hardly undertake responsibilities outside superintending the state’s boundary committee.
He first served as Anambra State Commissioner for Economic Planning, and again as Anambra State Commissioner for Works and Transport in the administration of Governor Peter Obi. Sources said the university lecturer had as well resigned in the twilight of the Obi administration the same way he resigned under Obiano.
There had never been reports of open confrontation between him and his boss before now. However, when he failed to show up at the recently held meetings of the southeast governors with Igbo leaders as well as that of the southern governors held in Lagos and Enugu, where Anambra State was conspicuously missing, tongues started wagging that there may be a crack between him and his boss.
It was later learnt that while he was said to be away from the country during the meeting of southern governors held in Lagos and the subsequent one held in Enugu, he was, however, reportedly within the state when the southeast governors and Igbo leaders held their meeting in Enugu some days ago.
A source had hinted The Guardian that he was actually sent for the meeting but had allegedly demanded a bullet-proof vehicle or an enlargement of his security details, following the increasing insecurity in the zone. Obiano was allegedly said to have refused his demands and in turn, he refused to attend the meeting on the guise that doing so would mean risking his life.
The governors of Imo and Ebonyi states that attended the meeting came in various bulletproof vehicles and armoured tankers with a retinue of security officials made up of Police, Army, DSS and what have you.
Another source stated that he had a frosty relationship with the governor in the early part of their administration, when due to his position on issues he was seen as “outshining the governor.” He was allegedly promptly called to order to ‘seek clarification on what to say during state functions.” Although, the development was later said to have been compounded with the alleged interference of the governor’s wife in their administration, the intervention of a highly revered traditional ruler in the state had restored truce in their leadership.
Okeke hails from Enugu Ukwu in Anambra Central Constituency. Going by the zoning arrangement, which his former party, APGA, has championed, it is not the turn of his zone to produce the next governor. APGA has insisted that Obiano’s successor should come from Anambra south senatorial zone, hence the choice of Prof. Charles Soludo to fly the ticket of the party.
As an incumbent deputy governor for almost two terms, it would also be unfair for him to nurse the ambition of retaining the office under an incoming administration. Could it be for 2023 politics that he decided to switch parties? Is it for future political appointments? What if the APC fails to clinch victory in the November 6 governorship election, among others?
Okeke has not told anyone why he dumped the APGA that brought him to the political limelight. A source stated that it has something to do with the crisis in the party over the authentic leadership and governorship candidate to fly its flag in the election.
According to the source, “the likes of the deputy governor believe that the Supreme Court case, which was decided some days ago might mark the end of the party’s reign in the state if another person was recognised outside Soludo and Victor Oye. That is a wrong way of playing politics. One should be able to make commitments to ensure the sustenance and success of his political platform.”
But the National Publicity Secretary of the APGA, Tex Okechukwu, said that Okeke defected because “he failed to secure the party’s governorship ticket for the November 6 election.”
He said: “The deputy governor had thought that the governor and the party were going to hand over the governorship ticket in the last primary to him on a platter. When that didn’t happen, he started behaving abnormally, even to the point of insubordination and dereliction of duties.
“Let nobody be deceived, APC has no root anywhere in Anambra State and that is why all that they do is going about luring political deadwood with money and other lucres.”
A chieftain of the APGA, Ralph Obike, however, countered him. He stated that Okeke should not be put in the class of politicians in Anambra State who could be described as ‘deadwood.’
He said: “If not for anything, he has lived above board. He has stood for this government and party even when his boss was busy with other state matters. If he is not important, how come he served Peter Obi variously to the point of being deemed worthy as deputy governor? The point is that we should not allow the drift to continue in our great party. I know that most of these politicians are moving because of greener pastures and better opportunities. Some of them are also being lured with money. That is the way of politics. But losing Okeke is a big minus to us. We ought to go into this battle with our strength intact.”
Also reacting, APC’s governorship candidate in the election, Andy Uba said: “We welcome the current deputy governor of Anambra State, Dr Nkem Okeke (Ugogbuzuo Enugwu Ukwu na Umunri) to our great party, APC. My aspiration to govern Anambra State is anchored on public interest. We will not disappoint the people of Anambra State. We are setting New Development
Agenda for our state.”
How The Development Will Impact The Election
SOME bookmakers in the state readily believe that movement from one political party to another is the hallmark of politics in Nigeria. They insist that the search for better opportunities adds to this and does not necessarily contribute to the growth and development of society.
For Okeke, the feeling is that dumping APGA at this critical period is a minus in the aspiration of the party to retain the state. This is because he had remained with the party even before his first appointment in government.
Chief Ikechukwu Okafor, a resident of the state told The Guardian on phone: “We are witnessing massive defection since this process started. But the case of Okeke is rear in the politics of the state. Usually, a deputy follows his boss even when their aspiration is kissing the dust. But here we find someone who has decided to part ways.
“The truth is that he believes he is capable of turning things around. It could backfire for the APGA because he has something to contribute. He can influence eligible voters in his area based on many years of experience. If a party like APC, which is not sparing anything to ensure it gets victory in the election, could pull him over, then APGA should go and rethink its strategy. It is not enough to continue to answer the government in power in the state. A lot of things have changed,” he said.
A political analyst, Dr James Ugwu, believes that though his movement would whittle down the strength of Governor Obiano, “it will not affect the support base the APGA enjoys. The people know their leader; they know who to follow and who not to follow.”