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2023: When demand for governorship slot raises Enugu’s political ante

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
29 June 2021   |   4:12 am
The debate on which zone should succeed the current administration of Enugu State in 2023 may have developed into a battle that must be fought from every front.

Chief Jim Nwobodo

The debate on which zone should succeed the current administration of Enugu State in 2023 may have developed into a battle that must be fought from every front. This seems to be what Enugu east senatorial zone, one of the three zones of the state craving for the sole slot, is saying from their political outing on Thursday June 17 at the Michael Okpara square in Enugu.

The zone, which has been made popular in the politics of the state by the array of politicians it has produced as well as its contributions to national issues, took the demand for the governorship slot to another level, when it locked up all the markets in the city to rally support for the project.

Drawing on board several of its political heavyweights from all registered political parties in the state, religious and traditional leaders; the people of the zone demanded from Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who was present at the rally to name their zone as his successor.

Led by the former governor of the old Anambra state, Chief Jim Nwobodo, they had expressed optimism that Ugwuanyi, “being a peace maker will nominate his successor from their zone.” Nwobodo had in fact added that, “we are only waiting for the time to come to know who will be the next governor from our zone.”

Rally after rally
IT was not the first time the zone was drumming up the demand for the number one slot in the state. Late last year, even when the current administration was yet to complete the second year of its second term, there was a gathering of political bigwigs from the zone at the palace of Igwe Julius Nnaji at Enugu- Nike, where they made it clear that it was their turn to lead Enugu State after Ugwuanyi.

Not done, last year a pressure group in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), “Ebeano Political Family” whose chieftains come from the zone had held a rally at the government house, Enugu, which they said was to shore up support for Ugwuanyi’s administration. Rather than show what they would do to support his administration, the gladiators had turned to entreat the governor to name the zone that would succeed him, assuring that they would help him to campaign for the success of the “anointed zone”

They had insisted that it was within his “rights” to name the zone that would succeed him, adding that his predecessors in the second year of the last leg of their tenure named their replacements “ and as leader of Ebeano and we your followers will work to ensure that it is realised.”

Apparently not satisfied that Ugwuanyi had not yielded to these previous attempts and persuasions to have their zone formerly named to succeed him, the people of the area rallied again last week under the auspices of “Oganiru Enugu East Senatorial Zone”. This time, however, they had decided not to spare any thought to make the governor bend to their wish.

At first, they had locked up all the major markets in Enugu urban, which they claimed are domiciled in Nkanu land on the guise that their occupants could not be doing their trade while there was an important assignment being pursued by their people. The development left the traders with the option of joining the rally or staying in their various homes on that day.
Convener of the rally and Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Edward Ubosi, while he spoke had also warned that giving the area the opportunity to produce the next governor was the only path to unity and sustained peace in the state.

Ubosi went down memory lane to remind the governor of the history of succession: “In 1999, our father, Distinguished Senator Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo anointed Senator Chimaroke Nnamani to be the Governor of Enugu State. Chimaroke later anointed Sullivan Chime to be the Governor and after his tenure (Chime), he anointed you to be the Governor of Enugu State.

“Your Excellency, your own is not going to be different; we are waiting for you to anoint the next Governor of Enugu State from Nkanuland, which comprises six local government areas of Enugu east, Isiuzo, Nkanu west, Nkanu east, Enugu north and Enugu south local governments. Any soul you pick, we will give you and the person all the needed support.”

The Speaker went ahead to knock those he said had been going around with the notion that Nkanu people were butchers. He stressed that they were indeed proud to be butchers, adding “I agree we are butchers. If not for the insecurity in this country we were supposed to come here with our machetes. How can you call us butchers? A zone that produced the first governor of the old Anambra State, you are calling us butchers?”

Ubosi enumerated other principal leadership positions that the people from the zone had occupied and warned against any further denigration of the people.
State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Ben Nwoye had toed a similar line when he told the gathering that his party had zoned its governorship in 2023 to the Enugu east Senatorial zone and that the PDP should do likewise.

“We are following the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to beg you to also nominate and zone your governorship candidate to Enugu east. So Your Excellency, you will do the right thing. If it goes to the APC, you anoint someone from APC, if it goes to PDP, you anoint someone from PDP”, Nwoye said.

Other speakers, including for governor, Jim Nwobodo held the view that it was the turn of the zone to produce the next governor, insisting that it would be 16 years by 2023, that the zone relinquished power to other zones of the state.

The Conundrum
INDEED, the debate over 2023 governorship is building up in the state, especially in the PDP, which has become the dominant political party in the state. The major issue of debate at the moment is, which of the three zones  – Enugu north, Enugu west and Enugu east should replace the incumbent administration of Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.  This is being raised following arguments that by 2023, the position would have gone round the three zones of the state.

It was on this belief that stakeholders of the PDP in Enugu West Senatorial zone met two weeks ago and insisted it was their turn to govern the state after Ugwuanyi.
In a statement signed by their serving and former political leaders, they held that a review of the list of previous occupants of the position showed that the zone fell short of other zones, having produced a governor only once.

The zone restated that there had never been any known pre-existing or agreed power rotation arrangement hitherto, in whatever form, nature, parameter, precept, convention, written or unwritten with respect to which zone should produce the Governor of Enugu State in recent history.

The stakeholders noted with regret that Enugu West Senatorial Zone had not been fairly treated on the issue of the position of the Governorship seat of the State.  They provided facts and history to validate the view that the zone had been short-changed in the allotment of the Governorship position of the state.

They argued: “In view of the foregoing, Enugu North Senatorial Zone has produced governor two times in the former governor, Okwesilieze Nwodo from Igbo-Etiti council of Enugu North Senatorial District and the incumbent Governor, Ifeanyichukwu Ugwuanyi who hails from Udenu council in Enugu North Senatorial Zone. Enugu East Senatorial Zone has produced governor three times, in Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo who hails from Enugu South council in Enugu East Senatorial District, Christian Chukwuma Onoh from Enugu North council in Enugu East Senatorial Zone and Chimaroke Nnamani from Nkanu West council of Enugu East Senatorial District.

“However, and regrettably, Enugu West Senatorial Zone has had just one opportunity to produce Governor in the person of Sullivan Iheanacho Chime from Udi council of Enugu West Senatorial Zone. In the present circumstances, what the Enugu East Senatorial Zone is now asking for essentially is to go for Governorship for the fourth time and Enugu North Senatorial Zone has had Governorship for only two times while Enugu West Senatorial Zone has produced Governor only one time”.

They added: “Based on these historical narratives, of how Governors were produced in the recent past, in Enugu State, we therefore, request and demand that equity, fairness, balance, justice and good conscience will be served if the two Senatorial Districts yield to our desire/demand to produce the next governor of Enugu State come 2023 general elections”

Proponents from Enugu north senatorial zone had earlier requested that since the position had gone round and the zone being the last to benefit from the first leg of the rotation arrangement, it was appropriate that the second phase of the rotation should begin with it. They argued that retaining power in the zone for another eight years would deepen the arrangement in the state; even as they faulted the wide-held belief that the zone had produced governor twice. For them, the first attempt by Okwy Nwodo was truncated and was not allowed to complete its constitutional term of four years.

Investigation by The Guardian shows that what appears very popular among the political class in the state is that zoning started in 1999. The proponents have not contradicted claim in certain quarters that the arrangement was never discussed, dialogued and remains unwritten till date.

Giving credence to the fact that the arrangement had been without popular will, a former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Chief Eugene Odoh, stated that the methodology adopted by the giver of power “was that whoever an incumbent adopted and anointed was adopted to succeed him”.

Going memory lane in a lecture he presented recently at the 2023 People and Politics zonal event in Enugu, Odoh, faulted the argument that governorship zoning of the state started in 1999, stressing that as much as it had helped to reduce tension; it was not intentionally thought out.

Buttressing his stand, he stated that in 1999, the PDP found itself in a keenly contested governorship primary between Senator Chimaroke Nnamani from Enugu east and Chief Nduka Agu from Enugu west. He stated that Nnamani who won the primary of his party, eventually faced Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) from Enugu west in the election before he became governor.
According to him, while he was serving out his tenure in 2007, Nnamani anointed Sullivan Chime from Enugu West, who then was his commissioner for Justice and Attorney General. He did not engage the people of the state in a meeting to arrive at the decision. Chime contested the PDP primary with then Deputy Governor, Okechukwu Itanyi, Prof Osita Ogbu, Prof Onyeke Onyeke, all from Enugu north senatorial zone. When he emerged from the primary of the party, he also faced Chief Okey Ezea of the Labour Party, from Enugu north and eventually emerged winner.

Similarly, he stated that Chime, while serving out his tenure in 2015, called a meeting of PDP stakeholders at the Nike Resort hotel, where in his response to a question from a Journalist, announced that his successor would emerge from Enugu north senatorial zone.

He argued: “The zoning by conduct so far in Enugu was a product of the wishes of whoever was the governor deciding on the zone and the particular person he wishes to hand over. The zoning in Enugu State has been a transfer of power from one godfather to one godson as could be seen in Jim Nwobodo anointing Chimaroke Nnamani; Chimaroke anointing Sullivan Chime and Sullivan Chime anointing Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.”

He insisted that ahead of the 2023 elections, the state was faced with three options – to adopt zoning by conduct so far established in which case the position should go to Enugu east senatorial zone; to throw the contest open to any qualified aspirant from the three senatorial zones and to consider if by conduct, it should begin again with the last zone that benefitted from the first leg.

Odoh stated that in the light of the uncertainty following the discordant tunes arising from where the governorship should go, there was need for a roundtable to dialogue and discuss among stakeholders and that should embrace all shades of opinion in the state.

Another school of thought holds that there was need to review the arrangement “to know whether it has helped the state so far in deepening democracy and sustaining infrastructure and economic development of the state”

All Eyes On Ugwuanyi
ALL eyes seem on Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to decide whether the current effort should be sustained or reviewed.  He also appears not to be carried away in the bandwagon of endorsement of successor but more focused on actions that could sustain the peace that has been attained in the state in the last few years.

Sources stated that Ugwuanyi feels that it was too early in the day to dabble into the controversy of succession and would definitely engage the people on the issue when it matters most.

That was probably why he told proponents of the clamour from Enugu east during the rally that his successor would emerge through a process of dialogue anchored on justice and equity.
“I have listened to all the speeches. Rest assured that the contents and contexts of the messages were well understood. Dialogue, equity and justice shall take preeminence at the fullness of time,” he had told the proponents from Enugu east, who of course, had anticipated something more reassuring.