By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor and Vincent Ujumadu
Prof Dora Akunyili’s capacity for performance is a reality that has trailed her since her meritorious service to the nation as the Director_General of the National Agency for Foods, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Less known is her capacity for high level political drama as she did last Wednesday.
Sitting before the President and leader of the self acclaimed largest political party in black Africa, that is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Akunyili gave notice of her resignation as a minister of the federal republic and her renunciation of the PDP.
She in the same vein informed the President and her former ministerial colleagues, her bid for the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) senatorial ticket for Anambra Central.
Her bid which has been the source of rumours for sometime now and the stunning announcement at her last Federal Executive Council meeting would have been stupefying. Had she resigned from council to run on the platform of the PDP it would have discomforted those who believed she was an heroine for her daring role in championing the emergence of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as President during the dark and dying days of the last administration.
But her decision to abandon Jonathan’s PDP and “join my Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, who is doing a great job in continuing to build Anambra State as an APGA Senator,” would have been shocking from the woman who only months ago carried on as the leader of the PDP in Anambra State.
It was in her role as leader of the party in Anambra State that she last year summoned meetings of Senators, members of the House of Representatives and other leading stakeholders to find solutions to the decade long crisis that has engulfed the PDP. Even though the meeting was boycotted by members of the National Assembly who questioned her recognition as party leader, she nevertheless in her own way tried to build the party.
Even more remarkably, she was to enter into an embarrassing public spat with her in_law and PDP gubernatorial candidate in the 2010 gubernatorial election, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo.
Her effective resignation as a Minister and her decision to contest the senatorial ticket of the PDP opens her up to public scrutiny as never before. Significantly, for a woman who is the darling of many Nigerians she would inevitably become a subject of attack of the kind of political venom that is characteristic of Anambra State.
but why would akunyili abandon the house she built?
Why would Akunyili abandon the PDP which she laboured so much to build was the question in most minds following the news of her party switch.
Her party switch was largely seen as a strategic political move by Akunyili to retain political relevance in the immediate and long term future.
Though Akunyili played a strategic role in bringing the Jonathan government to stability, it is largely believed that her reach within the government quickly evaporated following misgivings about her role in turning against the Yar‘Adua family.
A measure of her relevance in government was seen in the relative lull that trailed her programme to rebrand Nigeria lately.
Her senatorial bid is itself a direct challenge to the serving Senator representing the zone, Senator Annie Okonkwo who gained ascent to the Senate on the platform of the PDP.
Despite his closeness to Governor Peter Obi of APGA, Okonkwo refused to join APGA and is believed to have reinforced his forces to fight off the opposition.
Before meeting Okonkwo or whosoever the PDP would present, Akunyili would also have to fight off the challenge of Chief George Ozodinobi, a former member of House of Representatives for Anaocha, Dunukifia and Njikoka federal constituency.
Ozodinobi is regarded as an icon in APGA being the first federal legislator on the platform of the party in the period between 2003 and 2007.
Besides, she would also have to tackle the issue of zoning within her constituency.
The former minister is from the same ward as Governor Obi, the APGA national chairman Chief Victor Umeh and from the same federal constituency as Mrs. Uche Ekwunife who is presently serving in the House of Representatives and has also decamped to APGA.
How she braves the odds would be a test of her political prowess.
Indeed, Ozodinobi, who is gunning for the senatorial seat in the same Anambra Central with Akunyili has accused her of wanting to reap where she did not sow.
His fear is that with the kind of backing she is getting from top APGA and government officials in the state, there may not be transparent primary in the party to select a better candidate.
He said that when he heard of Akunyili’s interest, he dismissed it with the wave of the hand, regretting that the former minister abandoned the Igbo quota in the federal executive council by not only resigning but by also abandoning her former party, PDP to join APGA to contest for Anambra Central senatorial seat.
“I still see it as very laughable because it is surprising that the mouth piece of a government at this critical point is quitting that government to contest in another party. Some people are already insinuating that I might be intimidated, but such an issue does not come in. She cannot intimidate me. In terms of political influence, I am far above her. In terms of the party she’s just joining I am far above her.
“I have been a foundation member of APGA and the first ever APGA elected federal house member in Anambra State from the same senatorial zone. I am presenting myself to my people so the issue of intimidation does not come in here. But if we can pre-empt what is happening, something must have given her the confidence to join APGA between now and 2nd January when there will be primary to begin to know the grassroots, to know even the name of her ward’s women leader and stand for an election in APGA to win the primary.
“Also, the issue of Akunyili being adopted by the party does not hold water because it will amount to political naivety for any of the party’s leaders to even dream of it, not to talk of actualizing it. The Electoral Act says every party must do primaries. Let there be transparent primary. That is all I am asking for. Nobody is above the law,that is what I am holding tightly to. So, nobody should be talking about adoption,” he said
Senator Okonkwo who spoke on telephone wondered the structure the former minister would use to challenge those of them who had built their structures over the years. Indeed, Senator Okonkwo could be said to have built a lot of goodwill over the years which is likely to come handy during the election.
However, one of the greatest challenges Akunyili is likely to face may come from the former governor of the state, Dr. Chris Ngige of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) who was said to be eyeing the senate also. In fact, it was gathered that APGA started shopping for a very credible candidate when it was learnt that Ngige was interested in the race.
Governor Peter Obi, who apparently was elated that Akunyili finally chose to contest on the platform of APGA, described her resignation and her subsequent joining of the party as a courageous decision that only those with strong characters could take.
The Governor said that for a person in her position to resign so that she could vie for the Senate which is an opportunity to represent her people, is worthy of commendation, adding that with people like her coming out to contest elective posts, there is every hope that Anambra will once again be represented by her first eleven.
“Anambra cannot be a highly sophisticated state, with highly intelligent people and continue sending one_legged men to represent her in a pushing competition”, the governor said in Awka. He called on other Anambrarians to emulate Prof. Akunyili by placing their services for the benefit of the state rather than what he called “the debased and debasing culture of asking for what is there for us.”
Obi called on all Anambrarians with ideas or the wherewithal to help turn the state around by coming along to contribute, as he or a few other people would not do it alone. He said further: “Dora has shown all of us that what Anambra requires now is for her first eleven to come closer to home and join together in the efforts to develop our state.
She has shown us all that the love for the state should not be based on what one gets, otherwise there are more to gain at Abuja . But in coming home, especially at this critical time we all are striving to galvanize a central Anambra unity that emphasizes what we can collectively do to uplift the state and not what is there for our individual pockets, there is hope for our state.”
Asked what likely informed Akunyili’s choice of APGA, Obi said: “You know Prof. Dora Akunyili as much as I do, if APGA is not doing well, she would not have joined it. Her choice of APGA tells us that APGA is doing well and as well challenges us to even do better. All in all, I welcome her on board and wish her well in the party as she continues to search for ways through which she can help our State.”
One interesting thing about Anambra Central is that the three major political parties namely, APGA, PDP and ACN command strong presence in the area. For instance, during the February 6, 2010 governorship election, APGA came first in five of the seven local government areas that make up the senatorial zone, while ACN came first in three, namely Dunukofia, Idemili North and Idemili South. A member of House of Representatives for Anaocha/Dunukofia/Njikoka federal constituency, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife who also dumped PDP for APGA where she is seeking reelection said during her declaration that her reason for joining APGA was because most people in the constituency belong to the party and therefore did not want to remain in isolation. So Akunyili knows why she is heading to APGA.
In her own words to President Jonathan as she left his cabinet last Wednesday, “it is indeed a defining moment in my life when I should make the sacrifice of leaving a comfortable place to go to a difficult terrain in order to build a better place for our children.”
Her enchanting words and past deeds may have captivated her numerous fans, observers and traducers are only waiting to see how stable her dancing steps would abide on the harsh political terrain in Anambra.