IGBEAKU ORJI reports on the gale of defections to the Abia State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by chieftains of major political parties in the state
he recent surge in the number of politicians seeking space and relevance in the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Abia State has provoked comments and questions. The development is not strange in our peculiar political circumstances, where the line dividing political parties is not only tenuous but ideologically imperceptible.
The parties are the same, as they say, two sides of the same coin. But the choice of APC as a bulwark of refuge is not difficult to discern. Pundits have tried to situate the choice within the context of the prevailing winner takes all phenomenon in Nigeria’s polity.
At the last count, most politicians of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Labour Party (LP) extraction in Abia State have dumped them for APC. The party looks forward to leveraging the present harvest to make its fold bigger and stronger for the challenges ahead.
The Abia APC bid to dislodge the PDP, especially at the governorship level is indeed daunting and herculean. In 2015 in particular, APGA learnt that lesson the bitter way. Everything appeared to be going in favour of APGA until the last minute. The entire PDP family saw the impending storm as portending great consequences should APGA take over the state.
The emergence of APGA if allowed was seen by many as a threat to their means of sustenance and survival. Little wonder they disregarded all ethos of civil conduct and barged into the state’s headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Umuahia to topple APGA’s clear lead with 82,000 from Obingwa council despite protestations from the party’s lone voice, the APGA agent at the collation centre.
The PDP leaders and stakeholders, including the governor at the time, scaled civil bounds, beating the security barricades to crowd the collation centre in utter defiance of the electoral guideline. They had their way, with feeble resistance from the few APGA agents. That was APGA’s best outing, yet it failed to clinch the coveted office of the governor.
At the end of the exercise notwithstanding, it was able to roll into its kitty 11 seats in the state House of Assembly snatched from the ruling PDP. It was no mean feat for a party that had insignificant membership before 2015. However, the Uzodinma Okpara governorship candidature of APGA in 2007 was inconsequential. He came from PDP, having been its former state chairman, where he returned after the adventure.
The last time APGA as a party drew attention in the state was when Senator Theodore Orji, then governor, made a brief stop over from Progressive Peoples Party (PPA) before finally landing in PDP midway into his first tenure. After the 2015 elections, APGA saw its limitations; it neither had the federal might nor the local support and strength to successfully prosecute and defend the mandate.
By 2019, the party’s popularity had waned considerably. It lost a large chunk of the hitherto held territory. It won only two of the 24 seat Assembly. Besides, a horde of fifth columnists had infiltrated its rank, disguised in leadership tussle seeking to destroy the very fabric of its cohesion and strength.
APGA, no doubt, encapsulates the collective aspiration of Ndigbo as a political movement that will take them to the Promise Land. It however became apparent that such parochial sentiment has no place in vital politics. It was therefore a political masterstroke for the prominent political figures in APGA to jump ship early enough to be properly integrated and absorbed before the next election.
First to identify with APC from the APGA family was its Abia North senatorial candidate in 2015 and 2019, David Ogba Onuoha (Bourdex). His defection precipitated a deluge of others. The governorship candidate of the party in 2015 and 2019, Dr. Alex Otti, followed with his numerous supporters. Then the member that represented Arochukwu state constituency on the platform of APGA in 2015, Luke Ukara Onyeani, jumped over.
In Nigeria, it will take exceptional doggedness and overwhelming support for a party that does not have the federal might to unseat an incumbent government. Even so, it must be prepared to match the sitting government in every sense. In 2015, the APC in Abia State had not gained the level of acceptance it enjoys today.
The APC flag bearer in that year’s election, Nyerere Anyim, almost single handedly prosecuted his campaign. He came a distant third behind APGA, but he was undaunted. He flew the party’s flag when most people were skeptical about its acceptability and popularity.
However, the 2019 elections saw a bigger, better and APC that had become acceptable. Prior to the polls, APC had overcome its teething challenges; it had effectively taken control at the federal level. Consequently, the party and its governorship candidate, Dr. Uche Ogah, did better than the previous election.
The party’s strength came indubitably from the membership of political juggernauts like the former governor of the state and Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu; Senators Nkechi Nwaogu and Chris Adighije; former Deputy Governor, Chris Akomas, Hon. Nkiruka Onyejeocha and Ogah, among others.
The entry of Kalu into APC has obviously brought remarkable transformation to the party. He swept Abia North in an unprecedented electoral victory for APC in the 2019 elections.
Kalu contested and won the Abia North senatorial seat, while Onyejeocha and Ben Kalu picked the Isuikwuato/Umunneochi and Bende federal constituency seats, respectively. The party also won two seats in the state Assembly including Kalu’s Bende North state constituency, originally held by PDP and Ogah’s Isuikwuato state constituency. The outcome of the 2019 polls sent the signal to the Abia political class that APC was the party to beat.
At the moment, the two members in the state House of Assembly are not doing badly. APC has made significant inroad in the political arena of Abia State given that it was not to reckon with just a few years back. Again, being the party at the centre, APC has enough room for its leaders and members in the state who were given appointments in federal government ministries, departments, agencies and parastatals.
But those of other parties lost everything including APGA. The immediate past Commissioner for Science and Technology, in the state, Chief Henry Ikoh, was quick to discern the times. He also led his followers from PDP to APC just last week. His grouse is the disdainful treatment he got from the party in his local government, Ikwuano and his Oboro Ward, where he said he ought to be the leader.
But things are done, according to him, in total disregard for hierarchy. Also a Labour party chieftain, Charles Nzechi, with 5,000 of his supporters also last week announced his defection to APC. The Ohuhu, Umuahia North council born politician said he will strengthen the party with his teeming supporters.
No doubt, opposition is the spice of democracy as without effective opposition, democracy easily slips into autocracy, so the strength APC is enjoying lately in Abia is seen by analysts as a good omen for democracy in the state. The party needs as much strength as it can muster to provide effective opposition and if possible wrest the political space bestrode for the better part of two decades by PDP.