South East: Former Governors Who Love To Be In The Senate
IN content, capacity and effectiveness, some lawmakers that become governors fare better than governors that become legislators. The issue of former governors retiring to the Senate became subject of much debate and critical analyses at the build up to the 2015 election. The assault on the rush by state governors to the senate received great impetus from sitting Senators most of whom felt threatened by their state governors’ senatorial ambitions. The case of Enugu State, which pitted Governor Sullivan Chime and the Deputy President of Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu in a political battle stood out. In the end, good political fabrication and mutual reasoning played out.
However, while only one out of the three state governors serving out their maximum constitutional tenures in the South East would be on the ballot for the March 28, 2015 election, there is a new twist. Three out of the class of 1999 governors in the zone are casting their lot for the senate contest on different political platforms. It would be recalled that in 1999 when the country returned to the path of constitutional democracy, the five South East states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo had their governors emerging on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP). At the expiry of the tenures of four out of the five in 2007, out of the two that tried their luck, one went straight to the Senate, while the other attempted to chase the post of national chairman of PDP.
The political odyssey of that class of 99 governors reads like a classical film. While one of the governors started early in 2003 to start keeping a date with the law enforcement agencies, two others were later to join shortly after leaving office in 2007. Former Anambra State Governor, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju was investigated for alleged involvement in the gruesome murder of the former State Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Onitsha branch, Mr. Barnabas Igwe and his wife, Abigail.
The murder of the Igwe couple, who were all lawyers, actually aided the denial of an automatic second term ticket to Dr. Mbadinuju. As Mbadinuju carried his cross of denial including the loss of the governorship election in 2003 on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy, (AD), the governors of Abia and Enugu, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu and Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, respectively were later to keep a date with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The then Ebonyi State Governor, Dr. Egwu reaped the wind in his ambition to occupy the PDP national chair.
During their stint as governors, Orji, Egwu and Nnamani were usually accusing themselves of ferrying decisions by the South East Governors to then President Olusegun Obasanjo. While Egwu and Nnamani were specially accused of trying to outdo each other in currying Obasanjo’s favour, Orji was accused of adopting the Jekyll and Hyde approach of grandstanding against Obasanjo in the daytime and groveling before the then maximum president at night. With such mixed transcript, it was not surprising that the meeting of South East Governors’ Forum (SEGF) was grounded before the end of their tenures.
Presently, nearly eight years these big men left office as governors, they are back on the soapbox campaigning to represent their different senatorial districts in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly! The only one thing they have in common is that they are at cross purposes with their successors. The political realities in their states is also so scary, such that if Kalu and Governor Theodore Orji, Egwu and Chief Martin Elechi, Nnamani and Mr. Sullivan Chime cannot afford to be left in separate dark rooms without untoward incidences.
But despite the hostile political environment in their home states, these former governors are campaigning to ‘reduce’ themselves, as Governor Sule Lamido, who pooh-poohs the idea of governors seeking senate seats, is wont to say. One other feature of the current senatorial ambitions of the three ex-governors is that two of them, Kalu and Nnamani, want to use the Senate seats as possible return tickets to the PDP.
Notwithstanding those obvious calculations, what could be the chances and challenges facing these former state chief executives to realizing their ambitions?
Kalu: Weaving, waddling through puzzles
CLOSE political allies call him a great political strategist. But since leaving Douglas House, Kalu’s political decisions have been firing blanks. The former governor decided to join hands with other politicians to promote the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), upon which platform he contested the presidential election and succeeded in producing two state governors. He later experimented with the idea of returning to the PDP fold shortly after his protégé, Governor T. A. Orji defected to the party at the build up to the 2011 election. The gambit could not pay off; many people wondered the rationale of a man quitting the political platform he founded in a jiffy. Next to that, Kalu founded a socio-political grouping to press for Igbo presidency, known as Njiko Igbo.
As the former governor continued his shadow boxing with his successor over his planned re-admittance into PDP, Njiko Igbo cooled off. However, signs that the former governor may not have become a political spent force emerged when the leadership of Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo paid him a courtesy visit at his Asokoro, Abuja, residence. It was later reported that the umbrella socio-cultural organization of Nd’Igbo came to prevail on Kalu to shelve his presidential ambition. Thereafter, OUK began moves to contest the Abia North Senatorial seat in the 2015 election. But after paying and picking both the expression of interest and nomination forms of the PDP against the backdrop of a previous claim that he was granted waivers to so do, the state chapter of PDP put a lie to that kite, stressing that the former governor had neither joined the party nor granted any waivers.
In what appeared as a surprise move, the former governor approached the ruling party asking for a refund of monies paid for the forms. But the puzzles continued when some indigenes of the senatorial district were said to have purchased another sets of forms for the Igbere-born maverick politician from the PPA. And just last week, Chief Kalu waltzed his way into the state and flagged off campaigns for Abia North Senatorial zone, which he earlier lost to Senator Uche Chukwumerije (PDP) in 2011 on the same platform of PPA.
The oddity this time is that while he campaigned on PPA platform, he spares some time to enjoin the voters to also vote for President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, stressing that there is no difference between the two parties. Kalu also used the campaign trail to disabuse the minds of the people that, contrary to insinuations, he is in the senatorial race. He has come out to bear witness to the fact that he is in the race. The former governor disclosed that it was the people that asked him to come out and contest for the Senate seat. His words: “The seat I want to contest may appear small to you because I am sure that you are expecting me to contest for the presidency. We have to start from somewhere. My very good friend, Goodluck Jonathan, is the one contesting for that position.
You have to vote for him and also vote for me. Those that should vote for me and the President are not only the members of PDP or PPA, but also members of APC (All Progressives Congress), APGA (All Progressives Grand Alliance), Labour and other parties…”
He had earlier informed journalists in his country home that though he was supposed to contest for the Senate seat in the PDP, he backed out midway. Explaining how he came about running on PPA after his failed attempt at using PDP, the former governor stated: “When I was abroad, one of my aides used the same papers I had prepared to put up an application and when I came back I saw everything that they were okay. And because INEC deadline had passed, the commission said it was too late to remove my name from the list of the contestants.
Then, the elders of Abia North, the traditional rulers, students, everybody came on visitation to me in Abuja and told me that they would want to have me in the Senate…”
Kalu would contend with two other strong candidates, namely, Mao Ohuabunwa of PDP and Ugoena David Onuoha-Bourdex of APGA. Being a former playmaker in PDP the former governor knows that the PDP machinery driven by his political nemesis, T. A. Orji would be moved against him. Further, the growing sentiments of seeking a clean break from the Kalu-T. A. Orji political dynasties, which is at the root of the growing momentum of APGA, may also prove his undoing.
And in zone where voters are likened to goats that trail the man with palm fronds, PDP may still ensure that he goes to mind his business. However, it is left to be seen, whether the absence of Senator Chukwumerije on the ballot would tilt the votes from Umunneochi axis to APGA or PPA.
Nnamani: Fanning Embers of a Fading Ebeano
LIKE Orji Uzor Kalu, former Enugu State strong man, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani dominated the political environment of his state during his term in office. He waged a war of political attrition with his benefactor, Senator Jim Nwobodo and battled the spectre of godfathering in politics through his lecture series. After surviving an impeachment plot from Nwobodo and other politicians in the state, Nnamani carved out his own political army, which was styled Ebeano (immovable) political grouping. Through that political structure, the medical doctor/politician was able to position his loyalists in strategic positions. So powerful an influence did Dr. Nnamani command while in office as governor, that he was able send Nwobodo and other opposition politicians on ‘exile’.
Credit for the senatorial victory of Chief Ken Nnamani, who later became the President of Senate, goes to the Ebeano grouping. Chimaroke also ensured that his preferred candidate emerged as his successor, despite all odds. Top of that feat, he became the only governor in the class of 99 to make it to the Senate in 2007. But like everything that has a start, in 2011 it seemed as if the glow of Ebeano dimmed when the former governor was pushed out of PDP and forced to experiment with the formation of another political platform, People for Democratic Change (PDC).
Unlike Orji Uzor Kalu’s PPA, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani’s PDC experienced political barrenness as the party could neither win the governorship seat nor return the founder to the Senate. Like the former Abia strong man, Dr. Chimaroke tried unsuccessfully to return to the PDP as his estranged political godson, Governor Chime effectively blocked every crevice for such eventuality. At the height of the attempts by the former governor to regain membership of PDP, Deputy President of Senate, Ekweremadu, said such a move was a positive development, stressing that “it would boost the chances of the party in future elections in the state.” Perhaps it was on account of the feud between Ekweremadu and Chime at that time that the Deputy President of Senate condemned the attempts by politicians he did not name, to block Chimaroke’s return, pointing out that after all, “all major political actors in Enugu State were the products of Dr. Nnamani.”
In 2011, when he tried to bulldoze his way back to the Senate on the PDC platform, PDP used its mammoth machinery to crush his quest. However, had the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega not rescheduled the April 2, 2011 election midway, the former Enugu governor was on his way to handing a surprise defeat to PDP and its lame candidate, Mr. Gill Nnaji, who was his erstwhile political son. This time around, there are indications that Nnamani may be stopped by the combined forces of his two powerful political rivals, former President of Senate, Ken Nnamani and Senator Nwobodo, using the PDP machinery.
But on the campaign trail of the former governor, it was obvious that the Ebeano advocate still retains charm with the people. His campaign style is peerless, as he insists on meeting the people at their places of work and leisure. Again, placed side by side with other candidates for the Enugu East Senatorial seat, Dr. Chimaroke Nnanami has some edge, that is if elocution, intelligence and grasp of the issues of development. In addition to Senator Gil Nnaji, who is seeking a return ticket in a zone where no candidate has ever enjoyed two terms in the Red Chamber; State chairman of APC, Dr. Ben Nwoye and former chairman of Association of Local Government of Nigeria, (ALGON) Nwabueze Okafor are also in the race. Many people had expected PDP to favour former Minister of Information, Mr. Frank Nweke junior, with the senatorial ticket, at least to change the game. But as Governor Chime fell out with his former Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo, who was penciled down for the position, Senator Nnaji became twice lucky.
However, if the political recalibration of Deputy President of Senate, Ekweremadu, is anything to go by, Dr. Nnamani, may be the ultimate candidate to break the jinx of one term senators in Enugu East. Ekweremadu has always maintained that the former Enugu governor should be shown some respect, insisting that ingratitude is very bad. There are telltale signs that the DSP wants to reciprocate Chimaroke Nnamani’s good political gestures towards him, (Ekweremadu). After failing the chairmanship post of Aninri in 1999, Chimaroke fetched Ekweremadu from the All Peoples Party (APP), made him, first Chief of Staff and later, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), from where he contested and won the Enugu West Senatorial seat.
Ominyi Egwu: Sputtering on a Scattering Structure
THE consensus of opinion of a lot of people who have come across the former Governor of Ebonyi State is that he is a good man. But after leaving the Abakaliki Government House in 2007, luck has been a little hard on the former Minister of Education. Prodded by former President Obasanjo, Egwu contested the presidency as a prelude to contesting the post of national Chairman of PDP. At the end of the day, he was neither rewarded with even the vice presidential ticket nor the chairmanship. The Ebonyi first executive governor was however handed a little consolation prize when at the reshuffling of the President Umaru Yar’Adua federal cabinet, he was named the replacement of his kinsman, Prof. Igwe Aja Nwachukwu, as the Minister of Education.
But no thanks to the sudden demise of Yar’Adua, Egwu’s stint at the Ministry was cut short. At the build up to the 2011 general election, Egwu sided with some select Igbo leaders who held that political power should return the North instead of rendering support to the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. That move, in addition to his signatory among a list of ministers who wrote President Jonathan against running for the Presidency, tended to stunt Egwu’s political progression. But in a show of recognition and a gesture of reciprocation, his successor, Chief Martin Elechi, named the former governor as leader of Ebonyi State delegation to the National Constitutional Conference in 2014. With that opening, the Igwurube of Ezzamgbo bounced back into political reckoning.
It was against such propitious circumstances that on the occasion of his 60th anniversary celebrations that his political allies mooted the idea of sending their leader to the Senate. Some of the political actors and former aides that asked Egwu to contest the Ebonyi North senatorial district election in 2015 included; Senator Paulinus Igwe Nwagu, Senator Anthony Agbo, Chief Austin Edeze, former attorney-general and commissioner for Justice, Chief Jossy Eze, former ALGON chairman, Chief Emmanuel Uguru, former chairman of Afikpo North, Okpudor Idu Igariwey, former chairman of Ohaozara LGA and now chieftain of APC, Chief Chaka Nweze, former commissioner for Works, Dr. Paul Okorie, among others.
They informed Egwu that, “we feel happier and more relaxed if you lead us in Ebonyi zone, because by extension you would be leading the entire state.”
Former Attorney General, Eze, who served as spokesman of the group stated: “We want to deliver a message and we have a plea; we feel and we are convinced that God will bless it because it is a genuine demand that you continue to lead us in the capacity of senator representing Ebonyi North senatorial zone in 2015. We are pleading with you just as you had always answered the call because every position you have occupied have always been a call because we know that the blessings that come from such positions spread to all of us: we are making that call and we are urging you please don’t reject this call, come and lead us as you are leading Ebonyi State delegation to the national conference.”
While responding to the plea, Egwu enjoined the politicians to put their requests in prayer, declaring that once it is the will of God and consensus of other stakeholders, including the leader of PDP in the state, as well as the party leadership from ward to national level, “I will not reject it.”
Following the usual political squabble that precedes the 2015 elections in the state, Egwu found himself on a different page with the incumbent governor. And having got the PDP Senatorial ticket, Egwu is being propped up as the arrowhead of the challenge against Elechi. Add to that the fact that the Ebonyi North Senatorial zone consists of four local councils, one of which is the former Governor’s Ohaukwu. It is argued that Egwu donated the Senate ticket in 2007 to his kinsman, Agbo. Consequently the prevailing argument is that the ticket should go somewhere else in Ohaukwu. And because of the political tremor in Ebonyi PDP, which led to the defection of a sizeable chunk of the membership to Labour Party, (LP), Egwu has been made to spar with the member representing Ebonyi/Ohuakwu federal constituency, Hon Peter Ogeali from his Ohaukwu local council. Ogeali is the Ebonyi North Senatorial candidate of Labour Party.
The former governor is faced with the reality of massive tendency of voters towards the Labour Party in the other three local governments of Ebonyi, Abakaliki and Izzi. There are suggestions in certain quarters that the Presidency and Egwu’s arch political rival, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, are not positively disposed to the former governor’s Senatorial ambition. Add to that again, the PDP governorship candidate, Chief Dave Umahi, may not also be favourably disposed to sharing the political front space with the former Ebonyi chief executive.
Come March 28, 2015, it would be seen how the new political realities on the ground in their respective states have affected the clouts of these former heavy weights and give a clue to voters’ rating of their achievements while in office. Did they leave positive and impactful legacies? Only those with PVC can answer that query!
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