Despite the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari at last week’s All Progressives Congress rally in Abia State, party leaders at the rally vowed to bring the state under APC control in 2019, writes Emmanuel Ugwu

The Abia State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) was reduced to a tottering baby following its dismal performance at the 2015 general election. The party which gained power at the federal level did not win a single elective seat in Abia State. It took a distant third position in the governorship poll. Its post-election trauma was made worse by leadership crisis, which created gaping fault lines in the party as two factions jostled for recognition.

As it grappled with factional crisis, Abia APC appeared to have received a boost following what it considered high profile defections into the party. Former governor of Abia, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, who has been oscillating from one party to another, and this time, has embraced APC, was among the ‘big fish’ caught by the APC in Abia. There were also some state lawmakers that saw APC as the right place to nurse their political wounds.

The party further derived more strength from Mr. Uche Ogah, an industrialist and oil magnet, who joined APC after failing to actualise his gubernatorial ambition on the platform of PDP. It was this spate of defections into APC that made the state chairman of the party, Hon Donatus Nwankpa to declare that “APC is witnessing a fast growth in Abia”.

With the assemblage of defectors with varying electoral values, the leadership of Abia APC felt it was time to showcase its new found strength in the state, one of the three states in the South-east zone controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The exuberant APC leaders came up with the idea of a “mega rally” to showcase their new strength. In fact, the planned rally was touted as “a show of force” reminiscent of the controversial operation python dance.

To give the rally a maximum impact, President Muhammadu Buhari was billed to grace the event. Time and time again, the rally was scheduled and rescheduled as Abia APC leaders struggled to bring Buhari down to Umuahia, the home town of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the now missing leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who was a thorn in the president’s flesh. On more than three occasions, the date for the mega rally was chosen and fixed last year but failed to hold as the organisers came up with the excuse that they were looking for a convenient date for the president.

Finally, the APC mega rally took place at the Umuahia Township Stadium on Tuesday, January 9, with the expected big masquerade conspicuously absent, perhaps because of the security situation in Benue State. Buhari was absent at the event despite the hype that he would come to Umuahia to bolster his party. The organisers and some individual party members had erected bill boards and banners welcoming President Buhari to Abia.

Messages like “Abians welcome Mr. President” written in both Igbo and English languages were everywhere in the capital city. But the main man did not come. Undoubtedly, leaders of APC in the state were disappointed by the absence of Buhari. Abia people were also disappointed having been given the false hope and expectations that President Buhari was going to come to the state for the first time since he came to power.
Instead, the senior special assistant to the president on political matters, Gideon Samali, was announced as the president’s representative at the rally. Even at that, that claim became doubtful, when Samali did not make any remarks to show that he actually came to represent his boss. There was no message of support or goodwill from President Buhari to his party men and women in Abia. Buhari’s absence made what was expected to be a loud roar to become a muffled scream.

Nonetheless, the national leadership of the party was not found wanting as the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, led a high powered delegation to the rally. They include national vice-chairman, South-east, Emma Eneukwu, and his South-west counterpart, Segun Oni; national organising secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso; and national auditor, Chief George Moghalu, among others.
There was also a strong presence of APC stalwarts from other states that came on solidarity with their party members, who are desirous of repositioning the party ahead of the 2019 general election. Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, came from across the border; and from Enugu, the immediate past governor of the state, Mr. Sullivan Chime came in solidarity with his fellow defectors.

Senator Izunaso performed the job of unveiling the “APC stars” in Abia. As he called out the stars onto the podium, it was quite obvious that some of the APC stars were no longer emitting light in Abia politics. While some waved the party broom, others just walked onto the stage with empty hands. There was enthusiasm on their faces as they chanted party slogans and waved brooms in the air. Among the notable names of defectors that were unveiled were a former labour minister, Emeka Wogu, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu and former member of House of Representatives, Hon Chinenye Ike. But the latest defectors came from the Abia State House of Assembly, where four lawmakers from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and PDP joined the APC.

The lawmakers that formally declared for APC include Ikedi Ezekwesili (Umunneochi/APGA), Theophilus Ugboajah (Ikwuano/APGA), Martins Azubuike (Isiala Ngwa North/PDP), and Solomon Okogbue (Bende South/APGA). Hon Azubuike was the Speaker of the sixth Abia House before he was removed in controversial circumstances. Since then, he has been an aggrieved PDP member and has now apparently found succour in APC.
Surprisingly, two members of the House of Representatives, Hon Nkiru Onyejeocha (Umunneochi/ Isuikwuato federal constituency) and Solomon Adaelu (isiala Ngwa North/Isiala Ngwa South federal constituency) did not turn up to be presented among the defectors. The two PDP federal lawmakers were strongly linked with APC and it was believed that they would be at the rally to be formerly introduced to their new found party members.

Nonetheless, the administrative secretary of Abia APC, Hon Chidi Nwosu, later assured their supporters during a radio programme that Onyejeocha and Adaelu were already in APC and would be formally welcomed into the party soon.

Kalu, who was introduced as the leader of Abia APC said the rally “is the beginning of a journey” that the party hopes would take it to Abia Government House come 2019. He noted that the party was now formidable in Abia and was poised to better its performance in the 2015 general election. He said APC managed to score less than six per cent of votes in Abia but assured the party that with him on the driving seat, the party would rake in 75 per cent of votes in Abia come 2019.

“I will put everything I have to make this state APC,” he vowed, adding that “Democracy is about the people; it is not about ourselves.” Kalu was overtly overjoyed at the prospect of APC dethroning APGA to become the minority party in Abia House following the defection of the four lawmakers to APC, saying “We will use federal might against Abia House and stop them from sitting” in order to protect the four lawmakers should there be any threat to their seats in the legislature.

Oyegun said he was overwhelmed by the large crowd of party faithful that filled the stadium to celebrate the rebuilding of Abia APC, saying it was a sign that “Abia is now ready for APC”.

Alluding to the several postponements of the mega rally, the APC national chairman noted that he had been invited since last year to come and see that Abia State was ready for the party. “We have seen, we are satisfied,” he declared.

The grudges against APC were not lost on Oyegun as he acknowledged that “there is no question we have hardships in the land”. But he was quick to add that President Buhari was not unmindful of the hardships that Nigerians are experiencing, adding that there was light at the end of the tunnel, because according to him, Mr. President has been spending sleepless nights in search of solutions to the problems. “The bad days are coming to an end. The good days are beginning,” he said.

The clarion call for Ndigbo to join APC in order to enjoy federal patronage was not in short supply. Governor Okorocha said Ndigbo now have a second chance to retrace their steps to APC, because “we played bad politics in 2015” by supporting PDP.
“Let’s join national politics; let every Igbo man join APC,” he pleaded, adding that “Abia is ready for change”. Even Chime, who was Enugu governor for eight years under the PDP platform, was not left out in the effort to convince Ndigbo to embrace the ruling party, saying “APC is the only way to go”.

Moghalu, on his part, urged the South-east zone to forget what happened before in regard to the political choices made but warned that “it should not be allowed to repeat again”. He insisted that Abia and other states in the South-east would become APC states come 2019.
In spite of the political razzmatazz of the mega rally, APC still has a long way to go in Abia. The state chairman, Hon Nwankpa observed that much in his welcome address, saying the party would be taken to every nook and cranny of Abia. He said in carrying their campaign, the party would not engage in hate speeches, adding that “we are determined to make Abia truly God’s own state.”

The party chairman also underlined the need for the presidency to play its own role in making APC attractive to Abians and therefore called for more federal presence in the state, stating that “our people need more reasonable appointments” at the federal level.