How Obi, Soludo Battled for Ogbaru Reps Seat

After the February 25 National Assembly elections in Anambra State, where Labour party, led by the former governor of Anambra State and presidential candidate of Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, put up a strong showing across the country, and especially in Anambra State, it became expedient for other political actors in Anambra State, especially the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Anambra State, to buckle up, as the Obi hurricane may end up blowing all positions to LP if care was not taken, reports Ikeugonna Eleke.

In the National Assembly elections, Labour party had taken two out of the three Senate seats in the state. In the House of Representatives elections, out of the 11 federal constituencies in the state, Labour Party clinched five seats, leaving APGA, the ruling party in the state, with four; while YPP won one seat in Orumba North and South Federal Constituency.

One seat was however declared inconclusive, and that was Ogbaru, where Hon Victor Afam Ogene, a journalist and former House of Representative member, who was the candidate of LP, was already clearly in the lead before it was declared inconclusive as a result of diverse issues, including violence.

Meanwhile, the supplementary election for the constituency, which held on Saturday, Apil 15, proved a hard battle as Soludo who had awoken after the first shock of LP winning majority seats in the national assembly, was able to brace up and clinch the majority seat in the 30-man assembly on March 18, where APGA took 16 seats, as opposed to LP’s eight seats.

The three leading candidates for the supplementary poll held last Saturday were: Hon Afam Ogene of Labour Party, LP; Chuchu Onyema of People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and Hon Arinze Awogu of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. All candidates were also backed by strong power brokers in the state.

They were: Former Anambra State governor, and presidential candidate of Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi; former Minister of Aviation and incumbent senator representing Anambra North, Princess Stella Oduah, and national leader of APGA and governor of Anambra State, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, respectively.

Obi had two days to the Saturday poll, engaged in aggressive campaign, urging his supporters in Ogbaru to vote for the LP candidate. Obi told Ogbaru people, ‘Ogene is a good candidate who is humble, loyal and honest, and will ensure that the development of Ogbaru is not neglected.’

While on a road-show/campaign tour of the wards in the Ogbaru Federal Constituency, where INEC slated to conduct the election, Obi stopped at various points in the federal constituency, to present the LP candidate to the people. Obi was accompanied by senator-elect, Tony Nwoye, and Mr. Oseloka Obaze.

Obi said: ‘I am here to beg you to vote for us, vote for Labour Party, vote for Afam Ogene, we will support him, and, he will rebuild here (Ogbaru). Remember that I built all these roads here when I was governor; if you vote for us in this Saturday re-run election, we will come back to thank you; Afam Ogene will develop this place.’

On the other hand, Oduah, who is backing the PDP candidate, Onyema, was nowhere around to campaign for her candidate, but Fides gathered that she also mobilized fully for him. Ogbaru has for a long time been the strong hold of PDP, with the senator and House of Representatives member coming from the area, while the two assembly constituencies have also been won by the party, including in the just concluded election.

For the APGA, even though the governor, Prof Soludo, was out of the country, his hands were visible in the area as several of his lieutenants were on hand to mobilize support for Awogu, the APGA candidate. A source from APGA said the governor mandated them to ensure victory for their candidate.

To corroborate the above assertion, Fides saw several government officials who work under Soludo’s government in the area, even though they did no hail from the constituency where the supplementary election was holding. This was also regardless of the restriction of movement order issued by the Inspector General of Police, Mr Usman Alkali Baba.

In the area of vote buying, all the leading political parties worked hard to outdo each other as they set up camps to lobby prospective voters to vote for them and come back for monetary inducement. During the election, it was observed that voters got between N10, 000 and N15, 000 for their votes.

An official of the state government, Hon Ifeanyi Okeoma, who also works as the Commissioner for Works, who spoke with journalists at Okpoko, said: ‘We are worried. For us (APGA), people should be able to vote their choices without looking at any inducement.

‘We are hopeful that despite the high level of vote-buying, APGA will still win the election because, as you already know, Anambra is APGA land.’

But an agent of Labour Party, Mr Chinedu Eze, faulted Okeoma’s claims, saying APGA was responsible for all the vote-buying in the election, while wondering why almost all members of the Anambra Executive Council were deployed to Ogbaru for the election.

‘I have seen the Commissioner for Works here; I have seen Dr Alex Obiogbolu, who is the Special Adviser on politics; I have also seen the Commissioner for Local Government, Community and Chieftaincy Affairs, Tony Nwabunwanne here. None of them is from Ogbaru. So, if they are not buying votes, what are they doing here when there is restriction of movement? Eze asked.

At the end of the supplementary election however, results collated by the INEC showed that the PDP candidate scored the highest number of votes, while the APGA candidate followed, with the LP candidate coming third, even though with very little margin. But when the results were merged with the result collated by INEC during the February 25 election, the LP candidate, Hon Victor Afam Ogene, carried the day.

The Returning Officer for the election, Professor Kingsley Ubaorji, of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, who announced the result at Atani, the headquarters of Ogbaru LGA, said Ogene of the Labour Party polled 10,851 votes of the total votes cast, followed by the candidate of the PDP who polled 10,619 votes, and APGA came third with 10,155 votes.

Other candidates scored as follows; Nkechi Isamade of APC, 303 votes; Nwachukwu Victor of ADC, 39 votes; Obunne Celestine of NNPP, 124 votes and Nwadialor C. of SDP, 27. The RO said that Hon Afam Ogene of the Labour Party, having satisfied the requirements of the law and scored the highest number of votes cast had emerged the winner of the election.

Some analysts have viewed the election as a clash of power holders in Anambra State. A respondent, Mr Kenechukwu Ezioji, said, ‘Ogene owes his victory to Peter Obi. Obi staked everything to ensure his victory, including coming to Ogbaru last Thursday and trekking through alleys and markets to speak to the people.

No doubt, Soludo mobilised funds to ensure that they took Ogbaru, but the people stood their grounds, partly because they love Ogene, and partly because Peter Obi was involved. This was not a contest between Awogu and Ogene, but one between Obi and Soludo.’

On the other hand, an aide of Soludo, Mr Ejimofor Opara, in his analysis, stated that the fact that LP came third in the supplementary election (without results garnered on February 25), was a huge indication that the votes garnered by Ogene of LP were just because of the sympathy that Anambra people had for the Igbo presidency project, not because LP was popular in Anambra State.

The elections have come and gone, no doubt, but there is no denying that Labour Party has made significant inroads, with many seeing the party as the leading opposition party for now after the poor showing of the PDP. Will the party sustain this momentum? Only time will tell.