By Luka Binniyat
After four years on the drive seat of Nigeria’s once formidable opposition party, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke recently handed over to a new national chairman. In his time, the party slipped in territorial control and character quotient.
The new helmsman, Chief Ogbonnonya Onu is now spearheading a drive to revive the fortunes, of the party. In this piece, Vanguard Politics examines what Onu inherited and how he is going about the Herculean task.
How would one score Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke’s stewardship of Nigeria’s once vibrant opposition party, the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP)? From controlling six Government Houses in 2006 when he took over the control of the party, Ume-Ezeoke left the saddle with just only three governors flying the party flag.
In the same period the party lost almost half of its members in the National Assembly to other political parties.
But the greatest loss of the period under Ume-Ezeoke is generally beleived to be the loss of self-esteem and character of the opposition as evidenced in the lack of vibrancy at the time the erstwhile Speaker of the House of Representatives stepped down from the chairmanship of what was once Nigeria’s second largest party.
In 1999, ANPP swept the governorship seats of Jigawa, Borno, Gombe and Yobe in the North East zone and produced Governors in Zamfara, Kebbi Kano and Sokoto in the Northwest. In Middle Belt the party equally produced governors in Kogi and Kwara States.
As it went to the first election in 2003 the party lost three governors in an election that was largely characterised by irregularities. The loss of Gombe, Kwara and Kogi was not without a fight under the leadership of another controversial leadership headed by Chief Don Etiebet.
From the six States he received from Etiebet, Ume-Ezeoke, however, could save only three, namely Borno, Kano and Yobe.
Ume_Ezeoke’s leadership brought a strange and curious relationship between the ANPP and the ruling PDP, in which his son, Prince Chineme Ume_Ezeoke serving as Special Adviser to the President on Relations with Civil Society in a Government of National Unity (GNU).
The ANPP former National Chairman remarkably also on many occasions, defended the failures of the ruling governments a development which incensed many party members and supporters.
Many, however, regard the apogee of the failures of that leadership to the alleged sabotaging of the petition filed by the ANPP 2007 presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential election tribunal. Instead of defending the party’s flag bearer, the Ume-Ezeoke leadership allegedly sided with the PDP!
It was as such not surprising that Buhari took his exit from the party as soon as he found the door at the conclusion of the hearing of his petition.
Remarkably, the chairmanship of the party has again fallen on erstwhile presidential aspirant of the party and former Abia State Governor, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu. Onu took over the mantle on the 19th of October, 2010 when he was elected national chairman above other contenders including his one time gubernatorial colleague, Chief Odigie Oyegun from Edo State.
Against all odds, the new leadership has now set for itself the goal of rebuilding the party.
One of One’s first tasks on assumption of office, was to constitute a six_member committee headed by a former chairman of the Board of Trustees, Gambo Mogaji. Mogaji’s main mandate is to reach out to other like_minds in the country, with the purpose of forging an alliance during the 2011 polls.
“We have no choice than to insist that the government of the people, for the people and by the people must not to perish in our fatherland. We can only do this if we mobilize other like minds in and out of our party to struggle and reclaim Nigeria and return her to the path of political plurality and national renewal.”, he had said at the inauguration of the committee
Onu 59, has since visited not less than 20 states in his bid to strengthen the party structure and reconcile estrange members back to the party.
On the 30th October, he was in Bauchi State where he addressed party officials and followers of the ANPP.
“It has became evident and self manifest that the PDP is a total failure and a disappointment and can never take the country to the next level.”, he had declared at the visit.
On that occasion, he asked the people of the state to vote out the PDP in favour of the ANPP in the forth_coming general polls.
“Bauchi Still belongs to the ANPP”, Onu had insisted to party supporters.
It could be recalled that the Governor of Bauchi State, Mallam Isa Yuguda, had defected to the PDP in 2009 after climbing to power under the ticket of the ANPP in 2007.
He switched parties after marrying one of the daughters of the then President Umaru Yar’Adua, who later died this year.
While most members of the Bauchi State House of Assembly and the entire cabinet of the state followed Yuguda out of the ANPP, the Deputy Governor, Mohamed Gaba Gaidi, stayed back.
This led to a bitter feud between the two foremost citizens of the state which eventually led to the sack of Gadi by the Bauchi State House of Assembly. Gadi later reclaimed his mandate in Court, and still remains the Deputy Governor.
Onu has also visited Adamawa State where he made the same appeal for unity among his party faithful.
”You must make sure you are registered during the INEC voter registration exercise”, he told them, “it is the first step in attaining victory at the polls”, he said.
He later met for several hours with state party officials in an attempt to re_invigorate the party in Adamawa state
In Benue state Onu was welcomed by a large crowd at the Aminu Isah Kontagora Open Air Theatre, Markurdi.
“I want to emphasise that there is now a new drive by the ANPP to imbibe full democratic principles to enhance the comradeship among our members”, he told the crowd.
“I want to encourage the public to support the ANPP because we have fully gone through a reformation which will accommodate all our members to take over power as the only way to repositioning the flaws experienced during the last eleven years of the PDP led government”, he said.
“Nigerians must vote for development by voting the ANPP in all the three tiers of government to enhance change, dynamism and prosperity”, he said.
Asked on the new strategy of the new Chairman, the National Publicity Secretary of the ANPP, Emma Eneukwu told Vanguard that Onu is a grassroots man.
“As at last weekend, he has visited about 20 states”, he said.
“He believes that democracy and politics should start from the grassroots”, he added. “It is from the grassroots that elections are lost or won so he is re_engineering the party at the grassroots”, he emphasised.
Asked if the party would become a more effective opposition in the future, he said: “we are not going to be in opposition in 2011”, he said, “we are going to be the ruling party. That is what we are working at”, he told Vanguard.
He added further that a lot of high_ranking members of the party who have left, are returning to the party as a result of the confidence they have in the new leadership of the ANPP.