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With the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States over, all eyes have shifted to Anambra State where the people of the southern senatorial district are claiming that since the central and northern senatorial districts have taken their turn, it is now their turn.
For a state that has severally been referred to as an unusual state, one only needs to take up a chart detailing the leaders of each of the 36 states of Nigeria and their political party. The distribution is simple: when and where the governor is not from the leading All Progressives Congress (APC), then he is from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But not for Anambra, a state where a certain political party, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), keeps a domineering hold for over a decade.
Ever since bursting significantly into the scene in 2007, reclaiming a lost mandate through the courts, instilling its torch-bearing governor, Peter Obi, the party has enjoyed an unbroken stint. The achievement is not without a formula: APGA, ordained by the Biafra War General, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, cultivated a cultural affinity and emotional sentiments in the people of the state. Sprinkled with vision and good leadership, a recipe for unquestioned loyalty emerged—and for years, the party fed Anambrarians this cocktail.
But things are no longer the same. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu is dead, the party has lost its script and vision, and consequently witnessed the exodus of its bigwigs, ex-governor Peter Obi inclusive. With the crisis of interest and dwindling of vision that informed such departures, it needed only a few years before the quality of leadership offered by the party dips. Now, that has faithfully arrived through the incumbent Governor, Willie Obiano.
For the first time, therefore, a real and true possibility arises for another party to take the reins in the state after those long years. The opportunity presents itself but with clear demands: the party must have had a structure and depth competitive to what already exists, the party must not open old wounds, and the party must offer a candidate devoid of a political past that could be detrimental.
The PDP, for a few reasons, looks like the party to mount the needed challenge. A very emotional people, Anambrarians exercise little or no patience with individuals who has traces to that collective experience of war and bitter conflict in Nigeria. The APC, affiliated with President Muhammad Buhari who took active role in the war, is blighted by a seeming impossibility of acceptance in the state. To the average Anambra citizen, “there is no APC in Anambra”, a sentiment promptly shared by Emmanuel Okonkwo, a banker in the state. The APC is handicapped by history, hence handing the slate to PDP.
However, it is not so clean a slate such that without substance, any comer could pass for victory. APGA, despite its muddied reputation and worn out influence, still wields enough power to clinch victory. For this, the PDP must work hard and the hardwork begins with the choice of candidate to be presented to the ballot. In that regard, boasting an overwhelming number of aspirants, the party suffers not.
From Uche Ekwunife, the long-standing female senator from the state, to Chris Azubogu, the list is long and rich. It fields Godwin Mmaduka, Obiora Okonkwo, Godwin Ezeemo, and Valentine Chineto Ozigbo. But the complexity of Anambra politics, erecting multiple criteria, poses a hard question for whomever party that dreams gubernatorial victory. For the PDP, the enigma would be who, among this seeming long list, fulfills the many determining sentiments that qualify or eliminates a candidate.
The first consideration, arguably the most important factor, relates to the zoning principle in Anambra politics. It is there, even beyond Anambra—it is a Nigerian thing, a reality that persists in a nation with diverse people and cultures. For Anambra, albeit the same culture and language, power shifts between the three zones: Anambra Central, Anambra North, and Anambra South. It is a principle that ensures the equitable distribution of political power, erasing the chances and suspicion of one side of the state monopolizing political power and the imagined benefits that accrue from it.
However, given that Anambra Central and Anambra North have had their field day, all hands and eyes point to Anambra South for the provision of a possible candidate. This is the first and premium criterion and the failure to abide by it renders a party DOA: dead on arrival. Like Ockham’s razor, this zoning principle cuts the PDP longlist into halves and pieces, clearing the stage for a ballgame between Valentine Chineto Ozigbo and Chris Azubogu.
There is a real and dangerous possibility of neglecting this principle and it mostly derives the force of its argument from the fact that it is not a written pact, one backed by law. But anyone enlightened in the complex art of Nigerian politics is readily aware that there are factors with no legal ordination that yet defines success more than constitutional clauses. The zoning principle leads the list of these factors and the PDP, from their conduct so far, is set to abide by the zoning principle.
All politics is local and the bone—of contention, substance, and capacity—lying between Azubogu and Ozigbo tests the ability of each individual to reach the core of the state and etch on the minds of citizens, an impact sufficient to erase or drown out the existing political bias and sentiment that affiliates them to any other party. For Chris Azubogu, the method appears to be a visible competence in office. Nicknamed Mr. Project, he is renowned to be a man of physical infrastructures and quite progressive initiatives. However, as a member of the National House of Representatives, his projects are limited to his constituency, his influence narrowed to the same geopolitical circumference. More is needed from a gubernatorial aspirant.
Valentine Chineto Ozigbo is the former CEO of the Transcorp Group. An accomplished professional who retired at age 50 and, following his own words and dispositions, now aims to pour his essence to the higher calling of community building and humanitarian services. Perhaps in pursuit of this ideal, his gubernatorial aspiration was born. But what is certain is that from this ideal, one that transcends the individual person, Valentine Ozigbo has pulled impactful initiatives and exerted himself in a manner and fashion that is commendable and that attracts interest.
While Azubogu can be said to be fulfilling his mandate as a politician voted by his constituency, Ozigbo’s exertion holds a beautiful mystery. Accomplished, his foray into politics defies the usual suspicion held of the group called ‘career politicians’; describing the youth as the livewire of his political ambition, one finds his ideology progressive and visionary; philanthropic, hence operating in the frontline of the pandemic interventions in the state, Ozigbo achieves a certain roundedness needed to deem a character complete and sufficient.
The foregoing notwithstanding, Anambra politics is deeper than the already considered factors. In vital play, is the beyond-the-surface forces of religious sectionalism. The Catholic-Anglican dichotomy, cutting prominently through the society, defines allegiance and support in a rare manner. Chris Azubogu is Anglican, Chineto Ozigbo, Catholic. Strange as it may, especially to the foreign ears, this is however a very great determinant and the Catholic usually carries the day.
While many analysts feel that Chris Azubogu is experienced and with political history, Chineto Ozigbo covers the ground with illustrious career and professional anecdotes. They also feel that while Chris Azubogu is competent in political office, he however can be taken as doing what he has to do as an elected official, attracting development executed with the taxpayers’ fund. But Valentine Chineto Ozigbo has given his entire self, motivated by a resolve and ideal larger than mere official obligation.
Where one may be said to be in pursuit of more political power, the other may be said to be after a living legacy; and when power is said to corrupt the self, legacy compels the soul into lifelong achievement for the society at large.