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Is Anambra ready for another female governor?

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It’s no longer news that Sen. Uche Ekwunife will throw her hat, once again, into the ring for the gubernatorial seat of Agu Awka when Governor Willie Obiano’s tenancy expires in March, 2022.

A deep foray into Anambra politics reveals that she and her team have been on the ground, horse-trading, meeting her PDP stalwarts and building bridges in preparation for the party’s primary.

But can she make it this time?

Ekwunife is not new in the chess game of politics. She has had her successes as well as failures. And as an incumbent senator, she has got the contacts as well as the wherewithal that will enable her break through the glass ceiling and emerge the first elected female governor in Nigeria.

However, Anambra’s gubernatorial space is highly sophisticated. Big and highly connected names have been smashed; money bags, rendered bankrupt and the lily-livered chased away. The state has, like the biblical heaven from the days of John the Baptist, suffered violence – so only the violent take it by force.

The senator, also known by the title, Iyom, no doubt understands perfectly well her 48 Laws of Powers and maintains a considerable grassroots base, although many factors would appear to be poised, in the horizon, to hinder her emergence.

First is the sensitive zoning issue. Good for her, PDP has maintained that it is not interested in zoning and that the contest for its ticket is open for all in the party, irrespective of zones. However, the gentleman’s agreement among the stakeholders in the Anambra has it that political power should rotate among the three senatorial districts of the state to ensure equity and fairness.

Though not constitutional, psychologically and politically, the minds of members of the Anambra electorate have been shifted to the South, in a way that it has become conventional wisdom in the state. The mathematics is simple: Since the inception of the new Anambra state, the Anambra Central Senatorial Zone has ruled for 10 years and 7 months with Chris Ngige and Peter Obi in charge, Anambra North is out with Obiano’s eight years tenancy of Agu Awka and the South has just ruled for 6 years, 3 months, and 24 days with Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, Virgy Etiaba, and Andy Uba holding the fort. So, in the spirit of equity, the majority of people believe that the crown should go south.

Remember that the zoning argument gained traction in Anambra politics during the homestretch of Mr. Peter Obi’s administration when he insisted that Anambra North should provide his successor.  Other parties moved against it but the decision prevailed.

So, it is widely held in the Anambra public space that the greatest mistake a political party will make would be to throw its ticket to all and sundry, rather than restricting it to aspirants from Anambra South.

However, Sen. Ekwunife and her spin doctors have, like the cat with nine lives, tried to extricate themselves from the zoning cobweb.  Their argument is simple: Ekwunife, by birth, is from the South while, by marriage, she is from Central Zone.

To drive and buttress her point, Iyom, argued: “Josephine Anenih is married to an Edo man but she represented Anambra, her home state, as a minister. As at last month, Chris Ngige’s wife is a permanent secretary for Delta state but she is a director in Anambra state.

Florence Ita-Giwa represented Cross River state as senator, not Edo where her husband hailed from. The current senator, representing Anambra North, Stella Oduah, is from Anambra North but she was married to an Edo man. Daisy Danjuma represented Edo, her state of birth, in the National Assembly and not Taraba where she is married to.

“So many precedents here and there, but the most important thing is that you have somebody who is competent and governs you well. The men have done well in governance but the main zoning needed now is from man to woman; that is the authentic zoning. In all, I am covered, zoning from South to Central or from man to woman.”

No doubt, the above logic can’t be entirely dismissed but, presumably, this is not what many Anambra people want to hear. Popular opinion suggests that the marriage factor has eluded Ekwunife from the equation. According to Chinedu Okafor, she should not be logically and politically be identified as Anambra South politician.

“Politically, she registered as a voter in Nri Ward 1, has always voted there meaning that she has always pitched her political tent, and rightly too, with Anambra Central. In this respect, she represented Anaocha/Njikoka/Dunukofia at the Federal House of Representatives for eight years (2007 to 2015); represented Anambra Central Senatorial zone for 6 months in 2015, and currently is the Senator representing Anambra Central since 2019,” he said.

Anambra has seen a female governor. The state gave the country its first female governor. But outside the chain of events that culminated that elevation, Anambra people have this phobia about female politicians – while they can win seats in the National Assembly, they have been rarely elected into the executive arm.

This patriarchal nature of Anambra politics was aptly captured by Chinedu Okoye, a public affairs analyst, when he wrote: “Male chauvinism reigns supreme in Anambra state. Are the people ready to have a female governor now? Onitsha-based traders are wont to say that a lady whose urine does not flow in a jet straight line will not rule over them.

“More so, they are chiefly Christians. Christianity and Igbo culture subordinate women behind men. Among those who will urge Ekwunife to shelve her political ambition are women. They will copiously quote the Bible passages and pepper them with Igbo proverbs to prove that a woman should not contest for a political post with men,” he added.

These are attitudes and sentiments which Ekwunife will battle in order to win the PDP ticket and the governorship election. But that should not demoralise her. “I am not running because I am a woman but I am running because I have the capacity to be governor and deliver quality leadership and I want you to see me as such. I have the experience, capacity, and sagacity,” she said.

Many would agree she does and many believe that she is doing well in the 9th Senate. But many still link her to a bit of her antecedents and the connotation therefrom. For example, Michael Egbejumi-David, in his 2016 op-ed piece published by Sahara Reporters stated:

“Post-1999, Mrs. Ekwunife was appointed a bank manager.  Within a short time, the small bank ran into financial difficulties. Curiously, as the bank’s fortune nosedived, Mrs. Ekwunife’s skyrocketed.  Before you could say “external audit”, Mrs. Ekwunife left the struggling bank for politics.  She joined forces with then-Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju, and the formula was repeated: as Anambra financial resources dwindled, those of Mrs. Ekwunife and Mr. Mbadinuju soared.”

Similarly, Patricia Ozongwu in an op-ed piece published by elombah.com brought to fore another factor that will be used to puncture the balloon of Iyom’s gubernatorial ambition. According to Ms. Ozongwu, the leadership of Anambra ought not to be given to a politician without a sense of party discipline.

She noted that Ekwunife’s ” shameless political jumps from PDP to APGA and back to PDP then to APC and back again to PDP” shows “a sign of instability of the mind and soul and desperation of the highest level.”

Furthermore, she noted the ideologies of the political parties mean little for her. What matters to her is how to grab any of the party’s tickets and continue enjoying power and its appurtenances.  Iyom, herself, laid credence to the above fact when she stated publicly that ” political party is like a cloth that one removes anytime and puts on another one.”

Another factor that might hinder the electability of Ekwunife in the forthcoming election is the platform upon which she wants to contest. PDP in Anambra is known for intraparty sabotage. Many analysts have argued that it would be a miracle if the party goes to the general election with one candidate, in one piece.

The primary reason the party has been outside the corridors of power in Anambra state for so long is its crab mentality – it must be me or nobody. The fact that the party still faces litigations on its current state’s working committee shows dim light at the end of the tunnel.

Again, to win gubernatorial election in Anambra state, one must secure the approbation of the catholic church as well as reach compromise with the Anglicans.  It has been proved, over time, that political power in Anambra state is usually a compromise between the two religious poles.

Despite her St Lawrence Chapel, Ekwunife will find it difficult to get the acceptance of the Catholic Church if she emerges a PDP candidate. She will face other contenders who had contributed significantly to the development of the church.  Though the influence of Peter Obi will go a long way it wouldn’t be enough to send her to Agu Awka.

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