OKEY MADUFORO reports on the bid for the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State by the senator representing Anambra Central at the National Assembly, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife
There is no doubt that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State led by Chief Ndubuisi Nnobu is facing great challenges over who becomes the gubernatorial candidate of the party for the 2021 governorship election in the state.
At the moment, not less than 18 persons have indicated interest for the party’s ticket and they cut across the three senatorial districts of the state, but Nnobu’s challenges appear to have deepened the more following the assemblage of supper gladiators who cannot be dismissed with the wave of the hand. One of such gladiators is the Amazon who has continued to remain not only relevant but consistent in Anambra State politics – Senator Uche Ekwunife. The senator, who represents Anambra Central in the upper chamber of the National Assembly, commenced her voyage into politics, when in 2007, she emerged the member representing Anaocha/Dunukofia/Njikoka Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, a position she held for eight years.
This means that Ekwunife is not a stranger to the murky waters of Anambra politics and both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) are aware of this fact. During her first tenure as a member of the National Assembly, she contested for the gubernatorial seat of Anambra State in 2010, which was won by the then governor, Mr. Peter Obi. However, despite the loss and the challenges she faced in the 2011 general election, she was re-elected into the lower legislative chamber.
The battle between her and the then candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Mr. Dozie Nwankwo was seen by political watchers as one that would consume her ambition, but when the chips were down, Ekwunife not only emerged victorious but also proved her traducers wrong.
Ekwunife’s acceptability by the people at the grassroots, perhaps, informs the move to compel her to take another shot at the 2021 governorship election in Anambra State. The move came to the fore few months ago, when a group of youths stormed her country home in Agukwu-Nri in Anaocha Local Government Area, to pay her a thank you visit without giving her a pre-knowledge of the event. Apparently surprised over the visit, she got to know the 156 young men and women were given Federal Government employment through her office without having any contact with them.
A stunned Ekwunife said: “I am short of words, because I remember asking members of my constituency to provide me with lists of graduates from the three local government areas and which they did. But I must tell you I merely submitted their CVs and other documents without knowing who they were and look at what is happening today.
“This is encouraging and that goes to show that people are benefiting from my representation at the grassroots level and I shall continue in this manner.” It was perhaps against this backdrop that then Anambra State governor, Obi, at the peak of the 2011 general election, described Ekwunife as “a woman that has the heart of a man; a politician that has structures and connections with the grassroots and it would be to your own peril if you under estimate her.” Ekwunife’s contest of the 2015 senatorial election further brought to the fore the stuff she is made of as she defeated the then National Chairman of APGA, Sir Victor Umeh, to become the first woman to represent Anambra Central Senatorial District in the Senate. Umeh later upturned her victory through the court, which ordered for a fresh contest without Ekwunife’s participation.
While Umeh rolled out the festive drums in celebration of his victory after the rerun poll, political watchers however contended that his victory was possible because Ekwunife was barred from the contest. Though the tribunal nullified her election, Ekwunife’s victory in the said election was given credence when then incumbent Senator Chris Ngige refused to challenge her victory at the election petition tribunal.
Even before the election proper, Ngige in a radio interview affirmed that as a senator, while Ekwunife was in the House of Representatives “any office I came into, it is either she has been there or I am leaving the office and she is coming in and she never failed to make necessary contacts if the need arises and I commend her for that and that is all for her doggedness and this is what representation is all about. The National Assembly is not where we go to wear tall chieftaincy caps.”
Political watchers indeed were proved right, when Ekwunife recon-tested for the seat alongside Umeh during the 2019 elections and won in a manner they described as a perfect finish and both the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal upheld the declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that she won the election.
In her response to outcome of the poll, Ekwunife said: “This is victory for Ndi Anambra Central Senatorial Zone and a reaffirmation of the fact that I defeated Umeh in the previous election and he went to the Senate because he contested the election alone without the candidates of the PDP and APC.” Ahead of the 2021 governorship election, Ekwunife’s aspiration to become the governor of Anambra State on the platform of the PDP is indeed one of the challenges facing the party’s leadership in the state.
Though Anambra PDP chairman, Nnobu has persistently promised a free and fair primary election, some elements in the party appear to be determined in using the passive rotational process to edge out some aspirants who are not from Anambra South Senatorial District, where the next governor of the state is expected to come from. They insist that a candidate from the Central like Ekwunife or North should not be allowed to participate in the electoral process in order to create safe havens for their repective candidates. But the PDP has remained indifferent to the zoning arrangement on the ground that is an APGA affair.
But for Ekwunife who bestrides Anambra Central by marriage and Anambra South by parentage, mother luck appear to be smiling in her favour and it would be recalled that at most of the meetings organised by the Old Aguata Union (OAU) comprising Orumba North, Orumba South and Aguata council areas, stakeholders have been pleased with her presence been their daughter. At one of such meetings, a former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, said: “We thank the delegation of Senator Uche Ekwunife for attending our meeting and we also express our appreciation for the support you are giving to our daughter, a true daughter of Aguata, Anambra South. Please extend our felicitations to her because she is always welcomed to our gatherings.”
This, notwithstanding, Ekwunife has a battle to fight with other aspirants from not only the South but Central although a great number of them are not political office holders, while some are mere green horns, who are still learning on the job. Similarly, the gender factor has continued to reverberate during every election as some kind of fifth columnists have been on the streets canvassing that a woman cannot be governor of Anambra State.
But it is on record that Dame Virgy Etiaba was governor for three months after the impeachment of then Governor Obi and arguments being peddled in some quarters that Etiaba was not elected may have lost sight of the fact that she shared the same gubernatorial ticket with Obi as candidate and running mate and Obi could not have emerged as candidate or winner without a running mate. Besides, Anambra State has produced members of the low and upper chambers of the National Assembly, who are women with the votes and support of men from their respective areas.
Ekwunife, on her part, has continued to dismiss both the gender and zoning issues, urging the party leadership to throw the contest open as it would bring out the best from the party. She also believes that nothing will stop her from becoming the next governor of the state if she picks the PDP ticket. Addressing the PDP ward chairmen in Awka, the Anambra State capital, during the week, Ekwunife said she has the capacity to defeat the candidates of all the political parties in the race. She said: “Let us do what will take us to the government house.
I’m presenting myself to seek the number one position in the state and I will take PDP to the Agu Awka Government House because I know that I have the capacity and capability to win election for PDP. “Once I have your ticket, I have won the election for you. If you want government house, Iyom (Ekwunife) will give you government house and if I have the PDP ticket, let all the political parties in Anambra State present one candidate, I will defeat all of them. I don’t think I have any challenge winning election.”
Should the PDP in Anambra chose to return to the old order of court orders and injunctions during and after its primary elections the party may well bid 2021 fare well as it has continued to be its bane. But Ekwunife is optimistic that the current leadership of the party at the national and state levels have given the PDP a new face. She noted that the new PDP is one that led to the success story of the party in Anambra State as it produced seven members of the House of Representatives out of 11 with two senatorial seats in the 2019 elections. According to her, the party’s appreciable performance in the last general election is an indication that her ticket as the PDP governorship candidate for the 2021 election is feasible.
A former commissioner for Commerce and Industry in the state, Prince Kenneth Arinze, who spoke on developments in the PDP ahead of the 2021 governorship election in the state, said: “We have been in Anambra politics since 1999, the much I can say is that our politics have come of age. Ekwunife is not the only qualified person in the state to become governor, but her candidacy will cement whatever that has been settled and she is disposed to every stakeholder, member and even fellow aspirants in the party.
“Ekwunife remains a bridge between all perceived factions in our party; even at the national level, she has a voice in our party and I believe that our party will do the right thing by ensuring a level playground and I can assure you that Ekwunife will emerge. This is all about capacity building and firm grip of the party structure.”
To most observers, the PDP has stayed out of power in Anambra State for more than 14 years, so the party needs a candidate that needs not to be introduced before the Anambra electorate, hence the clamour for Ekwunife to run for the exalted office.