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From Ebeano to Ecumenism, Enugu godfathers at ‘war’

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Chimaroke Nnamani


Right from the days of old Anambra State, the politics of that Southeast state has always depended on godfathers. That could be why in 1979 at the introduction of the presidential system of government in Nigeria, the late Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh and Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo were the predominant political tendencies.

Falling back on the majority population of the then Anambra north or the Wawas, comprising Enugu, Nike, Nkanu, Nsukka and Abakaliki, the two leaders waged strenuous electoral battles. While Onoh trounced the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme for the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) governorship ticket, Nwobodo beat Moses Obiekwe to become the standard bearer of Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP).

At the 1979 election, riding on the large influence of the late Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Igbocentric NPP, Nwobodo licked Onoh at the gubernatorial election and went on to govern old Anambra State for four years amid charges of dichotomy politics.

In 1983, the NPN with its large population of contractors and big names fought back and snatched the governorship from Nwobodo and NPP with the help of federal might and the legendary landslide victory. That victory was cut short by the military putsch that sacked the Shehu Shagari administration and enthroned General Muhammadu Buhari.

The military had its own topsy-turvy politics and after Buhari was dispatched, the Ibrahim Babangida regime in search of populist acclaim created states and toyed with the idea of returning power to the civilians in an elongated transition programme. It was during that period that old Enugu State was created by carving out Enugu, Nike, Nkanu, Nsukka and Abakaliki from the old Anambra State.

Inside Enugu
WITHIN the old Enugu State, two other distinct political power foci came up, namely, the Nwodo dynasty and the Rev. Hyde Onuaguluchi camp. During the 1991 experimentation of diarchy by the Babangida regime, the two groupings battled in a tense governorship campaign leading to the eventual disqualification of Dr. Joe Nwodo and Rev. Onuaguluchi. Given that fortuitous intervention, the Nwodo dynasty drafted Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, who went on to win the governorship election. The Nwodo administration was also cut short when General Sani Abacha demolished democratic structures following the revalidation agitations that trailed the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

It was against that chequered background that at the inception of democracy in 1999 the founding fathers of the state, particularly Onoh and Nwobodo, met and settled for a zoning format that exterminates the possible reenactment of the divisive and bitter internecine electoral contest as was exemplified in the Onuaguluchi versus Nwodo showdown of 1991.While Onoh wanted the rotation to begin from Enugu West based on his truncated governorship, Nwobodo preferred that like the Sun, it should rise in the East and move through the west to the north. Although the two power brokers stuck to their guns, it was agreed that whichever zone that wins the governorship would be the starting point.

During the governorship poll, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, a returnee US medical doctor on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform, defeated Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu of the All Peoples Party (APP) to become the governor. Nnamani is from Enugu East Senatorial District.

New godfathers
WITH Dr. Nnamani as governor, two years into his administration, it became evident that the young man was devising a new paradigm in leadership grooming in a bid to not only change the status quo, but also to raise a pool of potential future leaders for the state.The development incensed Nwobodo, who felt the governor was trying to undermine his political pedigree and investment in his election. The stage was set for a bitter infighting within the PDP as the buildup to the 2003 election gained in momentum. At the height of the supremacy battle between godfather and political godson, Governor Nnamani, enabled by the garrison style then operative in PDP, displaced Senator Nwobodo.

Having seen himself at the short end of the stick in PDP, Senator Nwobodo ambled to the United Nigeria Democratic Party (UNDP), where he contested the 2003 Presidential election and sought unsuccessfully to displace Nnamani with Alex Obiechina, the governorship candidate of UNDP.To consolidate his hold on the political structure and PDP in Enugu State, Governor Nnamani conscripted Chief Ken Nnamani, whom Nwobodo had earlier displaced for the Enugu East Senatorial seat and gifted him with the PDP ticket. With his electoral victory in the 2003 election, Nnamani went ahead to become the President of Senate, thereby making him one of the new influential politicians in the state.

An attempt by Governor Nnamani to enlist Rev Onuaguluchi for the Enugu West Senatorial seat did not yield fruit as Onuaguluchi rebuffed the gesture on the grounds that the governor was far too junior to become his political benefactor.It was upon that chance opening that Ike Ekweremadu, who was at that time brought in from APP by the governor, decided to contest for the Enugu West Senate seat, having moved from the Chief of Staff to replacing Chief Onyemuche Nnamani as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG).

By the time Governor Nnamani was rounding off his second term, he successfully enthroned his preferred candidate in the person of Mr. Sullivan Chime from Enugu West, as his successor in office. Apart from that, as a stamp of his expanding political clout, virtually all candidates for various legislative positions both in the state at the National Assemblies, were products of Governor Nnamani’s benevolence, even as he capped his victory run with a senatorial seat in 2007.

Reversal of fortunes
BUT no sooner had Nnamani settled at the Senate than all his protégés began to rebel against his authority. First, as governor, Chime renounced the Ebeano nomenclature and grouping, contending that it was dysfunctional to have mini subgroups within the PDP platform. Gradually former apostles began to deny their association with the Ebeano political family and the name, which crudely translates to ‘The Place to be’, became somewhat outlawed. At the height of the diminution of Senator Nnamani and his Ebeano ideology, the former governor was stopped from regaining his seat in the Senate, even after winning the election on the Peoples for Democratic Congress (PDC), he founded prior to the 2011 election.

Former political godsons, including Chime and Ekweremadu collaborated in supplanting the former governor with a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Gilbert Nnaji, whose only asset was possession of a handsome face. Again, in 2015 savouring his new-found relevance as Deputy President of Senate, Ekweremadu ensured that the Chief Ebeano apostle did not reap the fruit of his electoral victory through orchestrated judicial double speak.

Meanwhile at the point of his departure after serving out the constitutional two terms in office as governor, Chime’s attempt to displace Ekweremadu and enthrone a successor of his choice ran into troubled waters, as the PDP and Goodluck Jonathan Presidency prevailed on him (Chime) to sacrifice his senatorial ambition and recommend a successor.

It should be noted however that with his eyes on the presidency, Ekweremadu had joined forces with Governor Chime in the spirit of Ebeano solidarity, to sabotage the rising clout of Dr. Nwodo as PDP national chairman.

Their victory helped to ensure that at the time of choosing the next governor after Chime from Enugu North Senatorial district, Nwodo’s voice was like a whisper in the wind, as Chime and Ekweremadu battled themselves. Armed with goodwill from the doctrine of necessity, which enabled Jonathan to advance from Vice President to President, Ekweremadu secured the understanding of the Presidency and PDP National Working Committee (NWC) to shake off Chime’s challenge and retained his ticket for Enugu West to guarantee his return as Deputy President of Senate.

Enter ecumenism
ALTHOUGH Ekweremadu succeeded in retaining his office as Deputy President of Senate due to a combination of factors after PDP was dethroned from the presidency, his attempt to play maximum godfather in the state did not fare well.Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who moved from the House of Representatives to become governor amid the power play between Chime and Ekweremadu, decided on a different political style, defined by pacifism and inclusion.

While he ensured the prosperity of peace in the state and encouraged interparty harmony, Ugwuanyi tried to unite all the disparate political tendencies for collective action towards development, just as he made God the final authority in the affairs of the state.However the dust of old political animosities arose when at the hint that former governor Nnamani, hurt by the conspiracy of his former political godsons to deny him his due, was planning to join the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the former President of Senate, Nnamani and Senator Nwobodo, moved over to the party.

At that turn of events, former governor Nnamani decided to rejoin PDP and fill the gap left by his two kinsmen, Nnamani and Nwobodo, thereby altering the political equation in Enugu East Senatorial District. Having rejoined PDP, the former governor bided his time to seek another go for the Senate. Nonetheless, believing that former Senate President and Nwobodo’s move to APC has scuttled his ambition to seek the ancillary input of federal might, Ekweremadu tried to ensure that the former governor did not pick the senatorial ticket of Enugu East.

While Ekweremadu wanted to throw his weight around Senator Gil Nnaji for a third term in the Senate and ostensibly prepare him for the governorship in 2023, Governor Ugwuanyi who seems to know the conspiracy that robbed the former governor and their common benefactor of the Senate seat in 2015, intervened, insisting that since Nnaji has served a second term at the Senate at the expense of former governor Nnamani, fairness demanded that the former governor should represent the zone in the Senate as a ranking senator.

Insisting that the overriding interest of Enugu State dictates that the state should favour its first 11 for national offices, the governor’s decision was hailed as a cure for injustice. Other notable and potential aspirants for the strategic Enugu East Senatorial seat like Chief Nana Ogbodo, and Ode Ogene, bowed the superior logic.

However, in a bid to renew the old rivalry, Nwobodo and other elements in APC decided to prop up Lawrence Eze to challenge former governor Nnamani at the poll. A suit was also instituted against Nnamani’s candidacy, on the grounds that being outside the country, it was illegal for his nomination forms to be filled and endorsed by a third party.All those arguments fell flat recently when Nnamani returned from his trip to be be showered so much goodwill by people of the senatorial district. The popular perception in the state is that with the popularity of Nnamani, Ugwuanyi and the PDP are home and dry at Enugu East and other senatorial districts, except in Enugu West, where Ekweremadu’s fifth aim at the Senate has become the subject of intense recriminations.

Whatever happens during the forthcoming election in the state, it is obvious that as the godfather’s engage in proxy electoral battles, Ugwuanyi’s resort to ecumenism has become a healing balm to cure the state of hate and violent contests. And with some elements of Ebeano in APC, the governorship poll would simulate a battle between benevolence and malevolence.


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