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Ebonyi, Enugu rekindling hide-and-seek politics

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Ifeanyi Odoh<br />


• How Eze’s defection alters PDP’s calculations

The politics of Enugu and Ebonyi in recent times resemble the topographies of the two neighbouring states: There are rivers and hills as there are valleys. In the second republic, both states alongside the present Anambra State constituted the old Anambra, with the capital in Enugu.

During that era, the major refrain among gladiators was dichotomy politics between the Ijekebes of present day Anambra and the wawas of present day Enugu and Ebonyi States. Although the ijekebes were more prosperous and academically endowed more than the wawas, what the wawas lost by economic stamina, they made up for through the superior population figures.

It was based on that uneven distribution of resources and population that the idea of zoning was mooted as the wawas were having steady ascendancy over the ijekebes. However that idea could not be ventilated due to the fact of the military overthrow of the second republic and balkanization of the state into three states, first in 1991 and subsequently in 1996, when a part of old Abia State was merged with the old Abakaliki province from Enugu to found Ebonyi State.

Not minding that they have been moved apart into separate states, as the country returned to the path of multi-party democracy, Enugu and Ebonyi have continued to show signs of hide and seek politics that defined their stints in the old Anambra days.

But, while Enugu adopted an unwritten zoning format along the three clearly defined cultural zones in the state, the uneven population distribution and historical backgrounds of constituent cultural groupings in Ebonyi did not dispose to such arrangements. There are indications that next year’s election would call to question the peculiarities of the two states amid contrasting considerations.

Enugu and democracy of persons.
It is unusual for elections in the state, especially the gubernatorial, to end on a smooth note. In 2003 Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani’s second term suffered from electoral petition challenge waged by the then candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Ugochukwu Agballah.

Also, in 2011 Governor Sullivan Chime’s second term election grappled with the intra-party litigation from Architect Alex Obiechina, who advanced facts to claim that he, rather than Chime, was the rightful winner of the governorship primary. It was therefore not surprising to many watchers of Enugu politics when Senator Ayogu Eze initiated similar prolonged judicial interrogation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial primary that threw up Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

However, last month, precisely on July 6, 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled that the incumbent, Ugwuanyi, was validly nominated as the PDP candidate for the 2015 gubernatorial poll, many people heaved a sigh of relief. Reason being that the pre-election matter between Ugwuanyi and Senator Eze, had dragged since the conclusion of the 2015 polls.

The pre-election matter, which found its way to the Supreme Court from the High Court and Court of Appeal, had reared up when the committee sent to the state to conduct the gubernatorial primary insisted on doing so with the list of delegates it got from the PDP national headquarters in Abuja.Eze and others protested, alleging that the list was not the one certified by the court and which was used to conduct state and National Assembly primaries of the party. They had told the committee that insistence on the disputed list would force them into holding separate primaries. The outcome of the separate primaries led to the prolonged litigation that ended at the apex court.

Although the apex court had ruled conclusively on the matter, the political battle between Eze and Ugwuanyi, both of whom hail from the same Enugu north senatorial zone, otherwise known as Nsukka cultural zone, seems not to have ceased. This is because indications emerged that the duo would soon return to the ring to slug it out once more from disparate platforms.

That possibility came to light with the recent defection of Senator Eze to the All Progressives Congress (APC). It was gathered that while the Senator registered officially in his ward, a grand reception is being planned to formally receive him into APC. Sources also disclosed that the former chairman of Senate committee on works engaged in intensive consultation with political associates, stakeholders in Nsukka zone and entire state before joining APC. His associates said it took a lot on their part to convince him to switch loyalty to the APC, explaining that their selling point was emphasis on the need to take Enugu State back to the mainstream of Nigeria politics as a way of ending the cry of marginalization by the people.

It would be recalled that after the Supreme Court ruling Eze assured that contrary to speculations, he was not dumping the PDP, just as he had while accepting the verdict of the apex court congratulated Ugwuanyi and extended his hand of fellowship to him as “my brother and friend.” However, it must be against the backdrop of the Senator’s prayer for Ugwuanyi would use the remaining part of his tenure to serve the state better, that many expressed surprise when news filtered last week that the two-term senator had defected.

But those conversant with Eze’s politics insist that the senator’s defection was not a surprise, referring to the Senator’s congratulatory message to Governor Ugwuanyi after the Supreme Court judgment. He had written: “I will in due course unfold my next line of action politically. When the time comes, I will return to you with my decision on our direction, and I pray that when that time comes, you will still extend the same love to me and members of my family.”

Yet, the defection may have signposted Eze’s next political move as every eye seems trained on his formal declaration, perhaps to contest the guber poll on the platform of APC. Although, he has not declared his intention, his loyalists have been up and about announcing the certainty publicly.It was also gathered that the planned grand reception would double as declaration for his ambition. Should this happen, it would seriously alter the political arithmetic that had been on in the state for some time now. Until last week, permutations had been that the incumbent would re-contest unchallenged in the state.

That impression was accentuated by claims that no serious contender had shown interest on opposition party platforms and the preponderance of the zoning arrangement in the state, which was kicked-off by PDP in 1999. It was that unwritten code that gave each of the three senatorial zones opportunity to produce a governor for two terms each.

As things stand, Eze and his supporters believe rightly or wrongly that there was a gang up against him in 2015, as well as, holding the PDP in contempt for not doing “anything” to reconcile him with Ugwuanyi when the contest over the rightful candidate erupted.

Ebonyi and fallacy of zoning
THE issue of zoning has always defined pre-election politics in Ebonyi right from 2007. At the expiry of Dr. Sam Egwu’s second term, the people of Ebonyi South Senatorial district, otherwise known as old Afikpo province, comprising Afikpo, Ohaozara and Ivo areas, alleged the existence of a charter of equity that moderates a political power sharing arrangement between the old Abakaliki division and old Afikpo bloc.

However, one of the founding fathers of the state, Chief Martin Elechi, who incidentally was preferred by Egwu to step into the governorship seat, explained that although such a document existed, the leaders of Ebonyi Development Movement that drafted it did not ratify it. Perhaps on account of that explanation or the dominance of PDP, Elechi, from central senatorial zone won the election and served eight years. But in 2015 attempt by Elechi to midwife the rotation of the governorship seat to old Afikpo was stoutly resisted by the incumbent Governor David Umahi, who used his contacts in the Presidency and the PDP national leadership to zone the position to himself, being Elechi’s deputy.

However, what presaged signs of breach came up shortly after Egwu left office when the arrangement to have the Abakaliki bloc produce the state chairman of PDP was altered. While Egwu was in office, persons from Ebonyi central occupied the office of state chairman of PDP. As such when Elechi mounted the saddle in 2007, it was expected that somebody from Ebonyi north should become the party chairman.

But given the internal squabble in the party between Obinna Ogba and Chief Okeagu Ogada, the state executive committee was dissolved and a caretaker committee, headed by Umahi, from Ebonyi South, was set up. During the March 2008 state congress of the party, instead of making good the breach in zoning arrangement, Elechi ordered the caretaker committee members to “carry go” and transmute into the substantive state working committee.

Umahi served as party chairman and in 2011, Elechi adopted him as his running mate to take the place of Prof. Chigozie Nkwo Ogbu, who had completed the maximum two terms stipulated by the constitution. It was from the vantage position of deputy governor that Umahi transited to governor in 2015.

Replay of zoning squabble
GOVERNOR Umahi has indicated his intention to seek a second term in office and expectedly the old arguments of zoning have resurfaced. But unlike in previous dispensations, the PDP, which incubated the idea of zoning, is no longer in absolute control of Ebonyi politics. What is more, the party’s loss of political power at the federal level has robbed it of that authoritarian vehemence to push through its whims in the state.

Consequently, many adversarial considerations have risen to threaten the clamour for zoning. In the first place, some politicians from Ebonyi South are questioning the rationale for the incumbent from Ohaozara to continue in office after 12 years in office as party chairman, deputy governor and governor.Secondly, the existence of an alternative national political party with equal claim to structural strength has thrown up the argument that the zoning arrangement was merely a convenient contraption of PDP. Against this backdrop the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is at the ruling party at the national level, is throwing up cogent reasons to perorate the argument of the existence of zoning.

Then intriguingly, either out of the impetus of the clamour for youth takeover, especially against the backdrop of the not-too-young-run legislation, Ebonyi youths have resolved to focus on merit in search for a new direction of leadership in the state. While some gladiators from Ebonyi South that are clamouring for power shift to Afikpo axis, the youths are said to be lining up behind the immediate past Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Bernard Ifeanyi Odoh, to press for a merit-based leadership recruitment process.

Odoh, who quit Umahi’s cabinet last April citing irreconcilable differences in style and ideology, recently joined APC. Prior to his appointment as SSG by Umahi, the Professor of Geophysics contested the Ebonyi Central Senatorial seat on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The naysayers to zoning contend that right from 1999 when Nigerian regained the path of constitutional democracy, candidates from the various zones always contested for the gubernatorial poll.

For instance, in 1999, the current Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu contested against Egwu. In 2003, Dr. Lawrence Nwuruku from Ebonyi Central ran against Egwu. In 2007, Chief Frank Ogbuewu of APGA and Onu ran against Elechi. In 2011, Senator Julius Ali Ucha contested against Elechi. In 2015, both Dr. Edward Nkwegu of Labour Party and Senator Anthony Agbo of APGA, from Ebonyi North were on the ballot for the gubernatorial election.

As preparations for next year’s poll gather momentum, there is a quiet rethinking of zoning as the preponderance of public opinion moves in favour of a so-called three Cs: Capacity, Character and Competence, in the search for the next governor of the state. How far the various tendencies could go in redefining Ebonyi politics would be seen in the days to come when candidates begin to emerge from the motley crowd of 91 political parties recognized by the Independent National Electoral Commission.


In this article:
Ayogu EzeIfeanyi Odoh
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