The big names in the politics of Enugu State are gearing for a major political showdown. And the big names in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Chief Jim Nwobodo, and Dr. Okwy Nwodo are aware of the looming contest. From the party’s forthcoming congresses, leading to the national convention and culminating in the 2023 general election, the schemes as to which of the major political tendencies to produce the next governor is occupying the attention of the godfathers.
Although their platform comes off as though of little consequence, those on the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), especially erstwhile Senate President Ken Nnamani and immediate past governor, Sullivan Chime, are conscious of the fact that should things go awry in PDP, theirs would be the alternative platform to prosecute what promises to be another battle for the soul of the state.
The point of dissension is, whether having run its full course the zoning arrangement in the state should be sustained or give way to a merit-based selection process. In 1999, the power-sharing rotor started moving from Enugu East under the dispensation of Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani. Eight years after, precisely in 2007, the governorship baton was passed onto Enugu West with Sullivan Chime as beneficiary. By May 29, 2019 the incumbent, Governor Ugwuanyi, would begin anew his mandate after succeeding Chime in 2015. Consequently come May 2023, it would be time to look towards Enugu East again in search of who would take over from Ugwuanyi.
The consensus of opinion in the state is that the incumbent has done so well in steering the course of leadership through his pacifist and ecumenical approach. Some stakeholders like former governor of old Enugu State that comprised part of Ebonyi, Dr. Nwodo, hold the view that the next governor must be one who can sustain the prosperity of peace in the state not minding the zone such a candidate hails from.
Not long after Nwodo, who had served previously as secretary and national chairman of PDP made that assertion, incumbent Deputy President of Senate, Ekweremadu announced at his 57th birthday anniversary that he intends to retire from the Red chamber in 2023. And no sooner had Ekweremadu made that declaration than words started making the rounds in the coal city state that Ikeoha, as he is fondly called by his acolytes, was getting ready to make a go for the governorship seat having failed to clinch the vice presidential ticket of PDP.
Echoes of the past
BUT for the intervention of then President Goodluck Jonathan, the situation in Enugu PDP could have degenerated to the extent that for the first time, the party would have lost its political stranglehold on the state. Enugu has been voting PDP from 1999 till date. Having joined hands with Chime to displace Nwodo as PDP chairman in 2011, Ekweremadu looked forward to 2015 to deploy his political clout to control the party structure and therefore Enugu politics against Chime’s experience.
At the point of serving out his second term in 2015, Chime and the deputy senate president clashed over not only his succession plan as governor, but also on the issue of what becomes of Enugu West Senatorial seat that rotates among Udi/Ezeagu and Oji River/Awgu-Aninri.
In anticipation of the possibility of a David Mark/Ekweremadu presidential ticket after President Jonathan rounded off his expected second term, the deputy senate president had wanted to enthrone his loyalist as governor. On his part, Chime was flummoxed by Ekweremadu’s breach of the power sharing arrangement in Enugu West Senatorial District and wanted to stop the deputy senate president. In the dingdong that followed, PDP’s National Working Committee (NWC), at the prompting of President Jonathan, prevailed on Governor Chime to nominate his successor and allow Ekweremadu return to the Senate so as to ‘help consolidate the transformation agenda’.
Part of the deal was that upon Jonathan’s reelection, Chime would be rewarded with an ambassadorial or ministerial appointment. But, incensed at the unfair bargain, Chime’s supporters had urged him to move the entire PDP state structure to either the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) or the inchoate All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the thick of the political suspense, former Ekiti State governor, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi and other promoters of APC visited Chime at the Lion Building, Enugu Government House, to smoothen the way for his entry into APC.No sooner had Fayemi left Enugu than a strong delegation of leaders of thought in the state sought audience with Chime and pleaded with him not to join APC, even as they reminded him of the negative public image of General Muhammadu Buhari in the state, especially the backdated Decree under which three young men, including Bartholomew Emeka Owoh from the state, was killed for drug trafficking.With the high-powered intervention, Chime grudgingly stayed back in PDP until the prolonged leadership crisis between Ahmed Markarfi and Senator Ali Modu broke out and he strolled to APC.
Back to ‘war’
ENUGU State is used to bitter political battles involving powerful individuals, dating back to the Chief Christian Onoh versus Jim Nwobodo power tussle of the Second Republic era, to the Rev. Hyde Onuaguluchi versus Dr. Joe Nwodo fight-to-finish of the Ibrahim Babangida transition intermission of 1991 era. It is against those acrimonious power tussles that a lot of people appreciate Governor Ugwuanyi’s peace-building initiatives, which have seen old rivals and estranged political allies coming together.
Recently, the charismatic former governor of old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo, received a former governor, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, whose agitation for freedom from godfathers pitted him against the former old Anambra governor. Reconciling the top leaders from Enugu East was seen as the apogee of Ugwuanyi’s ecumenism and inclusive leadership.
At the build up to the 2019 general elections, the Deputy Senate President, Ekweremadu had, with eyes on the 2023 poll, wanted to have Senator Gilbert Nnaji represent Enugu East for a third time, but Governor Ugwuanyi intervened, saying that it would not be proper to deny Chimaroke another term in the Senate after the shenanigans of 2015. While Ekweremadu was scheming to expand his political circles for 2023, some stakeholders in Enugu West had concluded arrangements to stop his ambition for a fifth term in the Senate, by conscripting Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu into the senatorial contest.
When it became obvious that APC was not auspicious for the plot, Gbazuagu was told to join APGA and secure the party’s ticket for the February 23, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly election. However, two developments botched the attempt to stop Ekweremadu. In the first place, efforts by some Enugu West stakeholders, particularly those from Inyi and Oji River to secure Governor Ugwuanyi’s support failed, as emissaries sent to discuss the plan with the governor met a brick wall. Sources said the governor did not want to be associated with anti-party schemes in any form.
Secondly, having gotten wind of the plan to use APGA or APC to botch his ambition to return to the Senate, Ekweremadu was said to have reached out to influential persons in the Presidency, including sending representations to the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, to ensure that the ‘federal might’ was unleashed on him.
To worsen matters, instead of enjoying anticipated public momentum, the APGA platform was said to have been unacceptable to Enugu West voters immediately Governor Willie Obiano decided to drag APGA into endorsing President Buhari for a second term.Having survived the orchestrated plans to defeat him at the polls, Ekweremadu has volunteered to retire from further senatorial contest. But based on that belated decision, all attention has moved to the governorship battle. Would the deputy president of senate make a go for the Lion Building and thereby scuttle the zoning arrangement?
RECENTLY, Chief Nwobodo returned to PDP and most politicians in the state have started speculating on how the issue of governorship would pan out in Enugu East Senatorial District after Ugwuanyi’s second term. Although Nwobodo and former governor Nnamani made up, sources in the senatorial zone disclosed that both men might not agree on the candidate to fly PDP’s flag in 2023. With the look of things therefore, three disparate tendencies have emerged preparatory to the governorship contest.
With his initial moves to have Senator Nnaji back in the Senate at the expense of former governor Nnamani, Ekweremadu is said to be leading what has been styled renegade Ebeano group, which comprises former aides and acolytes of Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, but are no longer disposed to playing subordinate roles under their former master. The second tendency is made up of young professionals and businessmen who call themselves the real Ebeano because they still see Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani as their leader. On the third flank are politicians whose loyalty cut across both Nwobodo and Ugwunanyi.
Among the latest group are those who are opposed to having the Senator back in PDP so as not to cause renewed frictions in the party. Already, the Ebeano group has started mobilizing, boasting that the next governor of the state would be from their fold, even as Senator Nnamani continues to describe Ugwuanyi as the political leader of the state
former chief of staff to governor Nnamani in his second term, Chief Peter Mbah, is being tipped as the group’s choice. But, as the Ebeano group continues to mobilize and strategise, the people of Isiuzo have started agitating that 2023 would be their turn to produce governor, contending that Nkanu West and Nkanu East axes of the senatorial zone have produced governors and senators.Apart from Senator Gil Nnaji, who Ekweremadu wanted to use as a decoy, other likely aspirants from Enugu East include the current Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga and Hon. Kingsley Ebeanyi.
Perhaps, it could be these disparate tendencies in Enugu East Senatorial district that Ekweremadu wants to exploit in 2023 and that is where APC is also hoping to carve its political stature. APC has a strong presence of notable players from Enugu East, including former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, Chairman and CEO of Auto Star Travels and Tours, Chief Onyemaechi Nnamani, who served as Secretary to the State Government (SSG) under Governor Chimaroke, rival party chairmen, Dr. Ben Nwoye and Deacon Okey Ogbodo. While the contention for APC chairmanship lasted, Ogbodo argued that desperate individuals who want to truncate the democratic process (allusion to zoning) decided to bring in Senator Ayogu Eze for the 2019 governorship.
As the various interest groups continue to map out strategies for the 2023 governorship, pressure is also mounting on Governor Ugwuanyi to take interest and begin to look out for a successor that could carry on with his inclusive leadership style. During his recent birthday anniversary, Chief Nwobodo called on the governor to make some remarks, stressing that even though Ugwuanyi is a man of few words, he would like him to speak on the occasion. But knowing how charged the issue of zoning and politics of Enugu East could be, the governor diplomatically recoiled from speaking. How far Ugwuanyi’s golden silence would go to douse the growing anxiety about 2023 in the state would be seen in the days after he takes his second oath of office as governor of Enugu State. Would the governor develop his own succession plan or allow the godfathers in the zone to slug things out?