Enugu 2023 and plots to foil Ugwuanyi’s succession plan
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s politics of peace and inclusion in Enugu State would face severe test as the build up to the 2023 general elections gathers steam.
Ever since he emerged as governor after three terms in the House of Representatives, some members of the Senate from Enugu State felt that he jumped the queue and ought not be governor before them. That could be why Senator Ayogu Eze, former chairman of Senate Committee on Works, decided to cross over to All Progressives Congress (APC) and contested the 2019 governorship against the incumbent.
As the 2023 election cycle draws nearer, former Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, has declared his intention to slug it out for the governorship ticket of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Although Ugwuanyi would not be on the ballot, Ekweremadu and his supporters have vowed to stop the incumbent from pursuing a succession plan.
Ekweremadu has drawn an elaborate plan to ‘fight to finish’ and ensure that whoever becomes the next governor of Enugu State would not be a making of Governor Ugwuanyi. Apart from allegedly amassing huge sums to engage in media exposure against the incumbent’s succession agenda, Ekweremadu’s supporters have mounted a consistent media campaign against the principle of zoning in the state.
As state chief executive, Governor Ugwuanyi believes that the power sharing arrangement, which has made elections less rancorous and divisive in Enugu State should be sustained. In line with that thinking, the governor, who hails from Enugu North Senatorial District aligns with various leaders and stakeholders that his successor should emerge from Enugu East Senatorial District.
Incidentally, Enugu East has a number of prominent leaders and former governors, including Chief Jim Nwobodo, who governed the greater old Anambra State and Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, who began the relay in the present dispensation in 1999.
Former President of Senate, Dr. Ken Nnamani, who switched over from PDP to APC shortly after the 2015 general elections, is also from Enugu East and has joined in the chorus of voices insisting that Ugwuanyi’s successor should be elected from Enugu East, which has been out of the governorship seat for the past 16 years.
The issue of Ugwuanyi’s successor became very topical when Senator Chimaroke Nnamani announced that it was the exclusive preserve of the incumbent to choose his preferred candidate, especially being the leader of the party in the state.
However, no sooner had the former governor made the declarative statement than some political actors in PDP objected, arguing that the Senator was speaking to favour his enlightened self-interest and to ingratiate himself to Governor Ugwuanyi.
Even at that, some observers alleged that the Chairman, Senate Committee on NEPAD wanted a return to his era, when he singlehandedly imposed Sullivan Chime on the party.
It could be recalled that in the buildup to the 2007 governorship, which was the terminal date of Chimaroke’s governorship, he counselled his supporters not to waste their money trying to purchase nominations. He informed them that if they see him as leader of the party, they should wait, since according to him, “at the appropriate time, I will present to you who has been chosen.”
Although Governor Nnamani’s then deputy, Ezenwata Okey Itanyi, rebuffed his principal’s designs and purchased a nomination form, he eventually lost the governorship primary to Chime. Amid the mixed reactions that trailed Nnamani’s order to his supporters in 2007, many Enugu citizens praised his frankness, which apart from ensuring that aspirants did not waste their hard earned resources also reduced post-governorship primary intra-party recriminations.
But, those who disagree with the Chimaroke approach argue that the political realities in the state have changed, noting that unlike in 2007, there are more than one major political party in the state. Chief among those opposed to the call on Ugwuanyi to present his preferred candidate is the immediate past Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.
Ekweremadu’s supporters maintain that there is nothing like zoning arrangement in the state, stressing that such zoning chart should have gone down to the Senatorial zones and local government councils to spell out modalities for political power distribution.
Further, Ekweremadu’s loyalists contend that Ugwuanyi’s performance in office does not guarantee that he would be equitable in the selection of his successor. They add that even if governors and former governors could aspire to the Senate, nothing should hinder a Senator from aspiring for the governorship.
Speaking when he declared for the 2023 governorship, the former DSP said his mission is to transform Enugu State, hinting that the state was yet to attain good governance befitting its status as one of the foremost administrative centres in the country.
Prior to his declaration, the Board of Trustees and Local Government Coordinators of G17 rooting for his governorship paid a solidarity visit on the former DSP. Leader of the group, Chief Chinedu Mbah, urged Enugu people to forget about zoning. “Let us enthrone the best of leadership that can guarantee prosperity for all in Lion Building come 2023. Ikeoha Ndi-Igbo is 100 per cent fit, well equipped and prepared for the job,” he stated.
Mbah disclosed that although he had received a lot of calls to contest for the governorship of Enugu State, he decided to step down for Ekweremadu, adding, “I’m also urging other gubernatorial aspirants from Enugu East Senatorial Zone or other parts of Enugu State to do same and give you support because you are God-send and our best.”
Ekweremadu’s supporters say Governor Ugwuanyi would be drawn into various controversies over his administration and the number of governorship aspirants in PDP to make it impossible for his preferred candidate to win the party’s primary.
Perhaps, as evidence of the envisaged plethora of aspirants, some incumbent lawmakers have started making consultations to contest the governorship, even though it is not possible as yet to separate the serious minded contestants from those who want to bargain their way back to the Legislature.
Unlike during the Chimaroke Nnamani era, some of the lawmakers who have indicated interest in the governorship include Senator Gilbert Nnaji, Ofor Chukwuegbo, Cornelius Nnaji and Hon. Chijioke Edeoga. They all claim that Governor Ugwuanyi gave them the go ahead to begin consultations.
Contrary to those claims however, Governor Ugwuanyi said he needs time to consult with God and stakeholders to guide the state towards a peaceful election of a public-spirited governor. The Guardian could not ascertain whether the recent meeting between the governor and Spiritual Director of Adoration Ministry Enugu Nigeria (AMEN), Reverend Father Camilus Ejike Mbaka, at the Government House, was part of the consultations.
However, in line with his belief that morality, equity and fairness dictate that his successor should come from Enugu East Senatorial District, Governor Ugwuanyi is said to be relying on the leaders from the zone to throw up a consensus candidate.
In his remarkable show of humility and respect, Governor Ugwuanyi, during the electioneering for the recent Local Government poll in the state, struck a convivial partnership with former governor Chimaroke Nnamani. While the governor supported the chant of ‘Ebeano’, the political grouping founded by Senator Nnamani, the former governor enjoined his supporters to see the incumbent as the leader of Ebeano political structure, a development that gave rise to the new mantra: Ebeano for Gburus!
But, rebuffing the Ugwuanyi/Nnamani alliance, Ekweremadu, who chose a former Speaker of the state Assembly, Ogbonnaya Asogwa, as the Director General of his campaign organisation, predicted that the governor and Chimaroke would soon fall out over the former governor’s senatorial aspiration and choice of successor.
Yet, while the opposition with PDP anticipates a major disagreement between Governor Ugwuanyi and stakeholders from Enugu East Senatorial District, the zonal leaders seem to be avoiding such political minefields. For instance, a group led by the former Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, has been meeting with prominent leaders of the state canvassing for the next governor to come from Nkanu East Local Government Area.
The Nnaji group argues that it would make for a systematic distribution of political power in the zone if Nkanu East is supported to produce governor in 2023, since according to them Enugu South, Nkanu West, and Enugu North have already produced governors in the persons of Nwobodo, Nnamani and Chief Christian Onoh, respectively.
While the campaign for Nkanu Rast is going on, stakeholders from Isi Uzo Local Government Area are also making a case for their council to throw up the next governor. Sources said Hon. Edeoga’s declaration of interest is a strategic move to demonstrate seriousness.
At the end of the day, although it is not yet clear whether the Barth Nnaji group is canvassing for the former Minister’s aspiration for Chief Peter Mbah, how the governor balances the disparate positions from Enugu East Senatorial District would determine how far he overcomes the Ekweremadu challenge.
MEANWHILE, the opposition APC, which recently elected the former Director General of Chimaroke Nnamani’s governorship campaign, Chief Ugochukwu Agballah, as state chairman is waiting on the wings for a possible slip by PDP.
Immediate past state chairman of the party, Dr. Ben Nwoye, told journalists in Enugu that the infighting within PDP could pave the way for APC to clinch the governorship.
Nwoye, whose party has zoned the governorship to Enugu East, contended that instead of competing on the basis of superiority of ideas, PDP chieftains were dispensing energy in attacks over zoning.
Amid the plots and scheming for Enugu State governorship, many people in the state believe that Governor Ugwuanyi’s goodness will see him through so that he finishes strong with a befitting successor.