By George Obi
Oseloka H. Obaze’s emergence as the Peoples’ Democratic People (PDP) flag bearer in Anambra was a surprise. His “shock and awe” landslide victory in the 28 August party primaries was a greater surprise. Those who allege tweaking of the delegate list and other irregularities in process might be guessing.
What might have won Obaze the PDP ticket was simply strategy and attention to details. Though a registered member of PDP since early 2016, Obaze stayed off the radar of his competitors, saying all through that he was consulting while the PDP factional crisis festered. Obaze, consulted the Hope Party, the Young Democratic Party (YDP) and was linked to newly registered APDA, reportedly fronted by a PDP faction. The Agbaso faction of APGA also lobbied him to run on their ticket. Some tagged him a “nomadic politician.”
While he was ignored by the so-called PDP veterans as “a neophyte”, Obaze through his OGM -Obaze Grassroots Movement – successfully insinuated himself into 21 LGAs, and across party lines. When he visited Nnewi North on 23 March, 2017 to flag off his OGM there, an impressed APC stalwart Hon. Emma Okoye offered two buses for his campaigning.
Obaze touched many at the grassroots by addressing their concerns and what he referred to as “unmet needs” in fluent Igbo laced with idioms. Frequently, he urged the people to vote for their children and their posterity. It is hard to sit through a conversation or campaign session with Obaze and come out doubting his compassion, humility, abilities and competence.
A due process-oriented person, Obaze had followed through and perfected his candidacy in PDP, even when some were still arguing that he was not a party member. Investigation and evidence during PDP petition hearings, revealed that Obaze quietly left APGA and joined PDP without any fanfare, lying low but following due diligence. That was why he scaled through the screening and appeal committees despite numerous petitions sponsored indirectly by the government house in Awka. Party records reveal that he documented every process of his resignation from APGA and membership of PDP and process of obtaining the required waiver.
At the stakeholders meeting after the ad hoc delegates election, Obaze spoke last among the aspirants. He was the only one to acknowledge his fellow aspirants, he also extolled the role of the governors charged with the electoral process. He asked for transparency, and indicated that he remained confident that the party constitution and electoral guidelines had been followed. However, Obaze questioned how an aspirant (a legislator) knew that two lists existed, except if the person was privy and part of the process that produced the two delegate lists. “What circumstances conferred that high privilege?” He asked. Interestingly, it was another aspirant that produced the result sheets of the Onitsha North local government which the party had declared missing.
On 28th August, the date of the PDP primaries proper, while other aspirants focussed on sharing money to the delegates including foreign currency, Obaze reminded the delegates that he was the lone aspirant who provided their transportation, comfortable accommodation and feeding regardless of their loyalties. But the key was that he also paid for their forms. Strategically, Obaze handed the delegates copies of his delegate form purchase receipt. The delegates took the receipts away for use during accreditation. That singular gesture conferred ownership. Most delegates still had the receipts in hand when they went to vote. Easily, they remembered the name on the receipt and wrote the same name on their ballots.
The primary is now history and the first in many years in Anambra state where there were no parallel primaries. Surely, Obaze a man who considered delegates welfare a priority and had provided, transport, comfortable housing, food, funds and candor to the delegates from 21 LGAs deserved to be rewarded with votes, and the delegates did so in high numbers. The rest is history.
Many who underestimated Obaze’s political relevance and as such failed to recognized him as a threat were shocked, but attentive political observers were not. His emergence as the candidate of the PDP evidently sent jitters down the spine of many who dread his candidacy. Admittedly, most candidates including the incumbent pale against his intimidating credentials.
Obaze is not a conventional Nigerian politician. However, he represents a fresh face, hope and ideal. More importantly, he has no known baggage or political enemies. This may explain his strong backing by the party heir achy. His acceptability across the State is expanding, leading the opposition to resort to smear tactics and fake news. His detractors have called him “a stooge”, “Godson” and “lackey”, but not incompetent, corrupt or reckless. In the run up to the primaries and during the primaries government agents expended hundreds of millions of Naira through several sources including a serving PDP Lawmaker to stop Obaze from emerging as the party’s candidate.
Investigation revealed that out of the seven aspirants that bought the PDP nomination forms, only four were genuinely interested in contesting for the election. One of them withdrew some days to the primary hoping to work out an understanding with whoever emerges. Three others eventually contested the primaries. The remaining three pseudo-aspirants were generally seen as tools in the hand of the incumbent or looking to sell-out to the highest bidder as has been the case for the past years in the PDP.
On the morning of the primaries, three of the PDP aspirants held an emergency meeting at a posh hotel in Awka to pull their votes and resources together for one aspirant to ensure Obaze did not emerge. Despite the meeting which was inconclusive, the gang up failed to reverse Obaze’s deep penetration of PDP rank and file in Anambra.
Since his emergence as the party candidate, other camps seem truly challenged. A thorough check of Obaze will hardly reveal any baggage, which in a State where name-calling is a major sport and part of politicking, has put other parties in a difficult situation. Resort to propaganda against him is not yielding the desired results.
Unconventionally, Obaze has taken the moral highway, by publicly declaring that his campaign team will focus their attention on issues and policy debates not on personalities, mudslinging and propaganda. Obaze seems a novelty. Ever the diplomat, he has engaged in the reconciliation, even when being rebuffed.
Obaze fondly referred to as OHO, now has the party imprimatur to lead it back to the Anambra government house. According to the party leadership, “the National Caretaker Committee (NCC) of the Peoples’ Democratic People (PDP), having critically examined all the Petitions validly filed before it, has upheld the Primary Election that produced Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze as the Candidate of the PDP for the November 18, 2017 Governorship Election in Anambra State.”
As one observer opined on Facebook in the wake of Obaze’s victory, “for the first time in twelve years, PDP has the best candidate going into an election in Anambra State”. And as a member of Obaze’s campaign team remarked, “if they go low, we will go high and stay above the fray.” Anambra State seems all the better with such a development.
George Obi, a Journalist and Political Analyst, writes from Awka.