By Bernice Ukandu
I’m sure not even the patrons of the United Progressives Party (UPP) would have imagined how much the fire which they lit some five years ago would burn. But today, it is like setting fire into the wilderness during the harmattan. Anybody at the Emaus House, Awka, Anambra State during the period leading up to the June 29, National Convention of the party, would testify that those who are saying that UPP is now the number one party in Igboland have a good ground to make such an assumption.
Days before, the hitherto, quiet and nondescript capital, was practically roused into boisterous and beehive-like activities in response to the burst of energy, which was released by the continuous movement of men and materials into the town. On the eve of the event, there was hardly any decent hotel space available in the town, as all the rooms had been taken up by party supporters, who came from every nook and cranny of Nigeria to participate in the event.
On the day proper, the Emaus House venue began to witness the influx of human traffic as early as 7am when vehicles – commercial buses, private buses, cars, okada – bringing party faithful from all the 21 local governments in Anambra State, started arriving. Many also arrived on foot. Then, the drumming, singing and dancing, waving of party flags as well as banners and posters of aspirants for the November governorship election took over as more and more people made it into the arena.
Soon, there was hardly any space to move around in the large compound. Inside, the large hall which only admitted the delegates and the party bigwigs accredited to the event, was filled to the brim. Security operatives had to battle the continuous surge as many others tried to gain entry into the hall. It was, indeed, phenomenal for a party, which in 2015, was actually searching for a presidential candidate, such that the founder, Chief Chekwas Okorie, had to combine the position of the National Chairman and presidential candidate.
Why the sudden upsurge? Simple answer: Biafra. In it finds expression the dictum that there is no stopping an idea, which time has come. Of all the existing political parties in Nigeria, none has the attraction of Biafra, as much as UPP.
The youths of Igboland have not only found an avenue to release their bursting energy, but an alternative to the stopping of live bullets with their bare chests as a result of street protests, which had in the past made them easy targets for mindless security operatives, who seemed to have the approval and official cover of the government in power.
The philosophy of self-determination, which the party professes, is simply music to their ears and they have, thus, taken it from the originators and now spreading it in the streets as their own raison d’etat for freedom through the Biafran option.
Thus, instead of the UPP, they have now renamed the party – The Biafran National Party (BNP). While officials of the party see such corruption of the party’s name as a harmless expression of an inner feeling, it goes deeper in the hearts of those hugging it. It is their own way of actualising the Biafran dream by other means. Though accessing Biafra through the political option might not be as quick and decisive as they desire, it is the only sensible, appealing and safer route for now.
In fact, of all the eight aspirants of the party, who spoke at the venue of the event, not one detracted from this reasoning. Each one spoke boldly and enthusiastically in support of the Biafran idea, whilst insisting that the UPP was the only pathway to getting there. Hear Okorie for instance: “Note, the issue of self-determination is in the United Nations Charter. The issue of self-determination is in the constitution of Nigeria. It is just that others have been afraid to emphasise it. UPP has not done anything unconstitutional.
“I want to put it on record here, let nobody be afraid when you hear Biafra. Let nobody be afraid. The reason is that Nigeria has had indigenous populations since many centuries ago. Nigeria as a nation is only about 117 years old. But you’ve had the Zamfara Empire, you had the Benin Empire, you had the Borno Empire, you had the indigenous people of Biafra, you had the Oyo Empire and so on. Sokoto Caliphate is more than 200 years old.
“Some of us are Igbo by origin, some of us are Hausa by origin, we are Yoruba by origin, we are Fulani by origin. Why should anybody be afraid to say who he is?”
Now, you hear that UPP flag is now hanging in markets, shops and other business places alongside the Biafran flag as the momentum continues to gather fulsome verve.
In towns and villages, UPP clusters are being created with the youths, practically taxing themselves financially to keep the party going, whilst at the same time, spreading the message. As a result of the burning fire, members and supporters of the party see the forthcoming election in Anambra as a foregone case, especially with the obviously precarious situation of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which is in power in the state, but presently battling with leadership crisis that has put its governor, Chief Willie Obiano, in a vulnerable situation.
In fact, when the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, told the media that election was not going to hold in Anambra State, he was actually saying the opposite. What he actually meant, as he seemed to clarify later, was that the winner of the election who would form the next government, would be determined by members of the group.
This, of course, would also flow from how Biafra-compliant such a person would be. If snippets of information already seeping out from the political horizon are anything to rely on, even those who might be relying on the old ways of winning elections by other means than actual voting, might have a need to rethink their strategy because, this time, they may have to rely on more than what worked in the past.
Even though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), says it is coming with the electronic voting system, as approved by the National Assembly’s amendment of the Electoral Act, it might as well be the icing on the cake, because beyond that homegrown strategies for ensuring that votes cast in the election are actually what determine the outcome is part of the fabrications of the party faithful. That, indeed, is one of the problems the various clusters being created are expected to handle, it is being said.
How things turn out in the end remains to be seen. Right now, the fire is burning. The heat it is generating has gone far and wide with the intensity increasing by the day.
Ukandu writes from Awka, Anambra State