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Enugu council election: Fate of opposition as PDP perfects winning streak

By Lawrence Njoku (Southeast Bureau Chief)
17 December 2021   |   2:55 am
On November 19 this year, the Enugu State Independent National Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) managed, by Dr Mike Ajogwu, a lawyer has fixed local government council election

Ugwuanyi

On November 19 this year, the Enugu State Independent National Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) managed, by Dr Mike Ajogwu, a lawyer has fixed local government council election in the state for February 23, 2022 for the 17 local government council areas of the state.

The Commission notified that the tenure of incumbent elected council chairmen among others would elapse in that month. Should the election hold, it would become the third attempt by the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi-led administration to sustain democracy at the third tier through conduct of elections.

Ugwuanyi conducted the first council election on November 4, 2017, two years after he assumed leadership of the state. Although the election was due in 2015, he reasoned that it could not be held due to paucity of funds as well as to allow an audit committee instituted by him in the 17 local government councils to ascertain workforce and their expenditure profile.

When the election later held, his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), won all the seats. The feat repeated itself in 2019 and the process produced the entire outgoing council chairmen from the party.

While the state awaits another council election in February next year, it is left to be seen if any political party would muster any opposition to the chances of the candidates of the ruling PDP or stop the party from retaining control of the councils. This is because opposition political parties in Enugu have continued to exist only in name.

All Progressives Congress (APC), which should have provided a challenge, is mired in deep crisis that has divided it into segments. Although it claimed to have improved acceptability following the over 180,000 members it claimed to have registered recently in the state, leadership crisis between foundation members and new entrants including those yet to be registered with the party are seriously dwarfing the progress of the party in the state.

Thus, discussion on the February council election is only being heard around PDP. The development is making the party thick and at the same time unsettling the membership due to the various interests and forces at play. Who gets what position in the council election is raising the ante in PDP in the state.

It was learnt that to contain rising interests, the party is looking at existing zoning arrangements in the councils, performance, past agreements, acceptability as well as the fact that those who benefitted from the three months caretaker arrangement before their election should not be considered. These have not deterred those angling for the position in the 17 council areas.

 
Investigations by The Guardian revealed a contention among the various stakeholders, especially the king makers at the council level who want to ensure that they have a hand in producing those that would occupy the position. Winning PDP nomination is as good as occupying any elective position of repute in Enugu State and the council election is not removed from it.

While some serving chairmen and other elected council officials want to retain their offices for another two years, others who have contributed one way or the other to support the government of Ugwuanyi want him to use the office and compensate them. This school of thought, it was further learnt, argued that they were instrumental to his re-election or that they were promised to be rewarded with the office.

On the other hand, there are arguments that the election would be the last to be conducted by the governor and as such should be used to strengthen his political future and structure. He is therefore expected to produce only those that would be loyal to him, so that out of office, they could still speak for him.

Ugwuanyi’s body language does not suggest that he would not seek another political office after 2023. In fact, unconfirmed sources insist that he has his eyes either on the presidency should the party cede the slot to the southeast region or the National Assembly seat for Enugu north. It is believed that he has, in recent times, worked hard to restore normalcy in PDP and as such should be compensated for the efforts.

While that argument is being canvassed, other sources insist that it should not be lost on him that he should produce his successor like his predecessors and would need the support of council chairmen with strong character to do so, especially with the discordant voices raging over the governorship zoning arrangement in the state.

Enugu PDP began an unwritten zoning of the governorship seat in 2007 when then governor, Chimaroke Nnamani who hails from Enugu east zone produced Sullivan Chime from Enugu West senatorial zone as his successor. In furtherance to the arrangement, Chime had also moved power at the centre to Enugu north, which fielded incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

There are several schools of thought that since the three zones had enjoyed the position, it should return from where it started in 1999 –Enugu east. There are other arguments that since it has gone round and not written, it should be thrown open so that the next round of rotation would begin with the zone that would produce Ugwuanyi’s replacement in 2023.

Another set of canvassers however, believes that since Enugu north was the last to benefit from power rotation, it should be allowed to start the next cycle, as it would guarantee equity and fairness. Others are, however, of the opinion that zoning should be abolished in the politics of the state, stressing that the last 24 years in which the office has rotated round the three senatorial zones had helped the state politically. They said it had not advanced the cause of development in the state.

HOWEVER, apparently in the bid to checkmate PDP in their game plan for 2023, the crisis ridden APC in April this year ceded its governorship slot to Enugu east. The party insisted that it would produce its first major victory in the state using the 2023 general elections. APC had zoned the governorship slot in previous elections to Enugu north.

A faction of the party has also insisted that it would participate in the February 2022 council election and has warned PDP to avoid anything that could derail the process. The faction, led by Ugochukwu Agballa, said that the election would not be business as usual in the state.

While it is being contemplated how APC will prosecute the election with its entrenched crisis, within the PDP in Enugu south last week however, some stalwarts in what was considered as the colour of things to come in the party had made an open letter to the governor, where they accused the party’s chairman in the council of high handedness in the running of his administration.

They asked the governor in the letter signed by Tony Nnaji and Okwudili Ugwu to caution the chairman for enduring peace and unity in the council, alleging that his style of leadership had driven some members out of the party in the council.

“This is important to make the party in Enugu South local government area formidable ahead of 2023 election. Teach the party chairman the need to respect elders and stop acting like a demigod”, they had written.

However, those behind the party chairman are insisting that the letter was borne out of “mischief” to create disharmony in the party, so as to pave way for appointment of new leadership in the area for the purpose of the council election.

These are developments that may have created worries for the governor. This is because Ugwuanyi has facilitated peace in the party and the state at large. He would not be prepared to allow anything that could amputate the existing peace and the winning streak that PDP enjoyed since its inception in 1999 in the state.
When the governor came into office in 2015, he inherited a local government that was all PDP. Pundits believe that the development greatly impacted on the victory of the party in the elections held that year. They stated that it made campaigns and settling down of his administration easier.

It is this feat that he would also want to hand over to his successor when the debate on where the governorship slot would is resolved.

Sources stated that the governor has continued to appeal that due process be followed in the nomination of fresh hands in the councils or those who would continue in office to sustain the prevailing peace in the party and state in general.

“I don’t think he wants to be involved. It is strictly the affairs of the stakeholders and members of the party in the various councils. But while doing that, it should not be lost on us that many of them did not do well within the two years they served. There are many without any project to their name. This is the time to show the scorecard of performance’, the source stated.

However, the way it is, what would not be taken away from the governor is the fact that he would want to leave a stronger and better PDP and the outcome of the council election could enhance that prospect.