2023: Enugu to test strength of two generations of godfathers
What came off as smooth delivery of the zoning arrangement in Enugu State has suddenly dovetailed into a zigzag.
Dr. Peter Mbah had emerged as the winner of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary by defeating the other seven aspirants. The losers, including the first runner-up, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga, congratulated Mbah and pledged to work with him to usher in the greater development of the state.
But, barely three weeks after the gesture of sportsmanship and pledge towards unity, things have fallen apart as entrenched political interests in the state move to challenge what was seen as a possible coronation of Mbah as the next governor.
For the past 22 years, PDP has been holding sway as the sole determinant of the political dynamics of the state. Facilitating that dominance of Enugu State politics through continuous electoral triumphs is the religious observance of the power rotation scheme, otherwise called zoning, among the three senatorial districts of Enugu East, Enugu West and Enugu North.
Mbah’s triumph was seen as a state-wide consensus on the primacy of the zoning arrangement because prior to the PDP primary, immediate past Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu and notable political leaders from Enugu North had championed the review of the power rotation scheme.
Ekweremadu, who hails from Enugu West Senatorial District, which had occupied the gubernatorial office from 2007 through 2015 with Sullivan Chime, had claimed that the greater Awgu/Aninri axis of Enugu West had continuously been side-lined in the scheme of things in the state.
He, therefore, threw his hat in the ring, promising that as governor he would introduce good governance in the state since according to him Enugu State is lagging behind in virtually all the crucial socio-economic development indices.
But, unlike Ekweremadu, the leaders of thought from Enugu North, where incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi hails, argued that since Enugu West and Enugu East were grouped together as one Senatorial District in old Anambra State, their zone needed another eight years in office to make up for the cumulative 16 years enjoyed by Enugu East and Enugu West.
The Enugu North leaders maintained that fairness and equity would not be violated if the power rotation begins afresh from their zone despite the fact that the outgoing governor was on the lap of his second term in office.
During a visit to Governor Ugwuanyi, the Enugu North Senatorial District leaders under the aegis of Odimma Nsukka tabled two requests for the governor’s consideration. Apart from suing for the rotation arrangement to begin afresh from their zone, the leaders categorically urged the governor to support a person from Isi Uzo if he is inclined to abide by the general expectation that it was the turn of Enugu East Senatorial District, which began the rotation in 1999 to 2007 through Dr Chimaroke Nnamani.
To pressure the governor into acceding to their demands, the group ensured that no aspirant from the Isi-Uzo local government area of Enugu East obtained the Senatorial nomination form of PDP, insisting that it was the turn of the council area to throw up the governor.
However, in the build-up to the May 24 governorship straw poll of PDP, all indicators pointed to the likely victory of Dr. Mbah, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Pinnacle Oil and Gas Limited. It was also apparent that Mbah, who served variously in the administration of Dr Nnamani as Chief Of Staff and Commissioner of Finance, was enjoying the support of both Nnamani, the political leader of Enugu East Senatorial District, as well as Governor Ugwuanyi.
The fact that Mbah polled 790 to nine votes out of 804 valid ballots to beat Edeoga and the inexplicable withdrawal of 12 out of the 17 aspirants showed that the lobby by Nkanu East stalwarts led by former Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, that the LGA be supported trumped the campaign for Isi-Uzo.
Curious mixIT could be recalled that weeks before the governorship primary, Ekweremadu and his supporters queried the conduct of the delegates’ election, even as they alleged violent attacks on them. To drive home their angst, supporters of the former DSP approached the Federal High Court Abuja seeking to overturn the April 30 delegates election.
Having failed to get the court’s favourable order, the DSP group organised a parallel congress that threw up its own lineup of aspirants. But, the Senator had to announce a sudden change of mind after opening discussions with the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC), ostensibly to absorb his group.
Yet, in a curious twist, the state chairman of APC, who was a Commissioner of Works in the administration of Governor Chimaroke Nnamani, Chief Ugochukwu Agballah, called a world press conference, where he not only upbraided Ekweremadu but also described his aspiration for governorship as malevolent.
Having hit a brick wall in APC, and Peter Obi’s defection from PDP to Labour Party on May 27 and subsequent emergence as LP’s presidential candidate elicited much national acclaim and interest, the Ekweremadu group looked towards LP to ventilate their aspiration.
The attraction of LP brought together the Nwodos and the former Senate President, which propelled talks at a possible Ekweremadu/Edeoga governorship ticket. But, getting wind of the plans by the former Deputy Senate President to leave PDP, the party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, paid Ekweremadu a visit and tried to dissuade him from such an action.
Sequel to the meeting, Ekweremadu released a statement stressing that it was time for everybody to unite for the sake of Enugu State and followed up with a briefing with journalists during which he described Peter Obi’s presidential aspiration as a lost cause.
But, piqued by the generous mention of Senator Chimaroke Nnamani during the search for Atiku’s running mate as well as speculations that Mbah, the PDP governorship candidate owes allegiance to the former governor, the former Ohanaeze President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo, was said to have prevailed on Edeoga to continue his governorship aspiration on LP platform.
Amid the struggle by Ekweremadu’s supporters and former members of Enugu State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that were dislodged by Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, Edeoga, who is a brother-in-law to the Nwodos emerged the LP standard bearer.
Edeoga’s emergence took everybody by surprise, because barely two weeks after the PDP governorship primary, Mbah had visited all those that contested the ticket with him pledging to integrate them into his electioneering activities and government.
Like Ekweremadu, Edeoga, who is also a lawyer, had released a statement enjoining his supporters to accept the result of the PDP primary that threw up the oil mogul, Mbah.
In the letter, Edeoga, who served as commissioner of Environment in Ugwuanyi’s government, noted: “Although we were deeply disappointed with the outcome of the primary election, we have accepted the results in the interest of peace and stability of our beloved state.
“In the heat of the moment, numerous concerned persons suggested we take our message and members to a different party to seek a fresh platform on which to actualise our dreams. However, after giving it careful and pragmatic thought, we decided to remain in PDP and support the flag bearer, Barrister Peter Ndubuisi Mbah.
“Peter has reached out to us and stretched out a hand of fellowship; we are disposed to supporting him, the well-being of our people and our dear state being of utmost consideration.”
With the sudden twist of events, especially against the backdrop of claims by the Nwodos that with Enugu North Senatorial District’s command of 52 per cent of the voting population in the state, Edeoga is sure to win the governorship.
Edeoga’s governorship endeavour has spiked political schemes in the state, even as Governor Ugwuanyi, who picked the PDP Senatorial ticket for Enugu North seems to be caught in the middle of intriguing fireworks of the Nwodos and Senator Nnamani.
Pressure is mounting on the governor to allow the impeachment of the son of Okwy Nwodo, who beat the current Commissioner for lands, Chidi Aroh, to become the chairman of Igboetiti Local Government Council.
The Guardian learnt that Nwodo, the former PDP chairman, was peeved that Governor Ugwuanyi stopped his (Nwodo’s) senatorial ambition in 2019 to support a second term for Senator Chuka Utazi in a political deal intended to pave the way for the governor’s candidacy in 2023.
The promoters of Odimma Nsukka are also said to be very unhappy that Senator Nnamani should have both the Senate ticket as well as having his former Chief of Staff as governorship candidate.
Many people in the state perceive that the forthcoming governorship is going to be between Mbah and Edeoga on the ballot but in essence a clash between ancient and modern political dynasties of the Nwodos and Ebeano grouping of Chimaroke Nnamani
Right from the days of Chief Joe Nwodo, who was the first runner-up in the 1992 National Republican Convention (NRC) presidential primary in Port Harcourt, the Nwodos have always seen Chimaroke Nnamani as a potential presidential aspirant and a political godfather in the state.
The emerging political showdown in the state, which is most likely to rub off on Governor Ugwuanyi has thrown up arguments about the power-sharing arrangement in Enugu North Senatorial District.
While it is popularly held that stakeholders from the zone decided to honour Governor Ugwuanyi with the Senatorial seat for the great work and development he initiated in the area, others claim that he breached the zoning arrangement.
A staff of Igboetiti Local Government Council confided in The Guardian that the Nwodos have enjoyed much from Ugwuanyi’s administration, stressing that a woman was removed to pave way for the emergence of Nwodo junior as council chairman.
“Must Okwy (Nwodo) go to the Senate? They had to take away a woman, the only woman, who was a chairman of a local government, to accommodate Okwy’s son as the present chairman of the local government; that is what it is.
“How long would a people worship a god that dies? Anything that comes to Nsukka, if it is not the Nwodo that takes it, then Nsukka has not got anything. Nnia fought with Chimaroke, Nnia fought with Sullivan (Chime), and he is now fighting with Ugwuanyi.
“Ugwuanyi has done so much to satiate their demand, the only thing he did not do now is that they didn’t accede to drive Enugu to an irredeemable kind of confusion, that is the only thing they want to harass him for now,” he stated.
While Governor Ugwuanyi is facing some latent opposition in Enugu North, Nnamani is also being assailed from Enugu East Senatorial District. When former Information Minister, Frank Nweke Jnr, declared his governorship ambition, in what was seen as outright rebellion from his benefactor, The Guardian learned that Governor Ugwuanyi tried to reach out to him, but the former Minister snubbed him.
Prior to Nweke Jnr’s declaration for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), it was Jeff Nnamani, a cousin to the former governor that was associated with the APGA governorship ticket. It was believed that those who do not want Senator Chimaroke Nnamani to have a say in who becomes the next governor, were sponsoring Nweke.
But, those close to the Senator disclosed that the former governor does not place any premium on the former Minister’s governorship aspiration. Apart from lacking grassroots presence, Nweke does not seem to have the wherewithal to swing the pendulum of the governorship race.
At a fundraising event recently in Lagos, friends of the former Minister were able to rake in tens of millions for his gubernatorial contest. But, the launching did not attract any political heavyweight from Enugu State.
Going by the spread and grassroots support base of Ebeano, Nweke’s governorship bid will encounter difficulty if the bid was to diminish Senator Nnamani’s state-wide popularity and influence in Enugu East. Even the APGA candidate’s chase would be a feeble challenge to Mbah, who has selected his running mate, Ifeanyi Ossai, from Enugu North.
Would the OBIdient Movement supported by the Nwodos blunt the dominance of the Ebeano political group under the combined leadership of Governor Ugwuanyi and Senator Nnamani? Should Mbah/Ossai emerge as Ugwuanyi’s successors, they would be forming the third generation of Ebeano governors. Something the Nwodos may not be comfortable with.
For Enugu, the 2023 general election promises to be both sizzling and intriguing.