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March 11 and the quest for political soul of Enugu

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
07 March 2023   |   3:17 am
Has the political dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) finally come to an end in Enugu State? Has the Labour Party (LP) become the new singsong for the people of the state?


Has the political dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) finally come to an end in Enugu State? Has the Labour Party (LP) become the new singsong for the people of the state?

As the state prepares for March 11 governorship and State House of Assembly elections, can this winning spree of this newly formed party be sustained? These are questions that have been posed since the last Presidential and National Assembly elections were concluded.

These questions arose following the abysmal performance of the PDP in the exercise. In the two senatorial seats contested, PDP won one and lost one to LP. Of the eight House of Representative seats, PDP won one and lost seven to LP. Other political parties including APGA and APC that participated in the exercise failed woefully.

While LP was returning over 450,000 votes to its presidential candidate, PDP polled 15,000 votes for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; a development that has now cast a slur on the party’s dominance claim and readiness to win governorship election.

PDP has dominated political space in Enugu State since 1999. The only time it missed winning all elective positions was during the 1999 elections in which Chief Uche Anya and Senator Hyde Onuaguluchi won elections for House of Assembly seat for Oji River and Senatorial seat for Enugu West district, respectively. While Anya failed to return to the House of Assembly after serving out his tenure; Onuaguluchi was removed two years after, following the order of the Supreme Court for fresh election in the area, which he eventually lost to PDP’s Ben Collins Ndu.

PDP had thereafter, maintained dominance, ensuring that the party won all elections even at council level. Last Saturday however presented a different ball game over the attempt by the party to revalidate its hold on the state.  PDP presented candidates for the three senatorial seats and eight House of Representative seats, with an additional responsibility to produce enough votes that should count for the victory of the presidential candidate of the party, but none could deliver.

If the outcome of the exercise is anything to go by, then the party may join the league of opposition political parties in the state from May next year. But can Enugu PDP, which had in the past produced a Senate President, Deputy Senate President, two former governors and an incumbent allow itself to be consigned to political oblivion, even when it parades one of the finest contenders, Peter Mbah in the governorship election? Will Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who rode on the wings of the party to win elections three times into the House of Representatives, as well as twice as governor allow the party to decapitate in his time?

Ordinarily, it would be a wonder to see PDP lose the 2023 election in Enugu State with the level of campaign organisations formed by its members to prosecute the process. It would also remain an imagination for the party to lose with the elaborate campaigns and guarded solidarity visits accorded its leadership.

But the last Saturday remained part of the ugly history of the party in the state. The electorate overwhelmingly voted the LP instead of PDP.  As of the time of filing this report, no dissenting voice had been raised from any quarters about the victory of the LP, an indication that it was legally earned.

The Guardian however, gathered that the electorate decided to go the way they did, following alleged poor performance of the PDP in the past 23 years, adding that almost a particular set of human beings had recycled themselves around power in the state and in the process distorted deepening of democratic norms and values in Enugu.

The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) in the state, put this succinctly on Wednesday when it appraised the voting pattern in last Saturday’s elections, saying that the party’s long held onto power was a disadvantage to the state.  Describing the outcome of the elections as an indication that the state had become “politically active”, and as the proof that “power indeed belongs to the people”, the Coalition harped on the need for the feat to be reenacted in the March 11 elections.

“Before now, elections in Enugu were highly predictable. But all that has changed; all permutations were made nullity by the outcome of the polls. We at the CUPP make bold to say that the success is well deserved, considering that the people have yearned for change since 1999. It has not been wonderful that a particular set of people dominated the political space since 1999. We say congratulations to Enugu people, they are the winners; they are the real heroes of democracy. It is no longer business as usual. Those in position of authority must be responsible and accountable to the people,” State Chairman of the Coalition, Ogbonna Okafor stated.

Speaking further on the voting pattern, Okafor stated that it “is enough to serve as a thesis for higher degree students”, stressing that it ranks in the desire of the people to “take back what belongs to them from an established order that had held down their progress and development.”

On the other hand, so much is being blamed for the failure of the PDP to deliver its candidates during last Saturday’s elections.  Some of the reasons being adduced include the deceitful attitude of its members, infighting, skewed appointments and projects and inability to truly resolve the crisis that arose from last year’s primaries of the party that threw up the candidates among others.

The Guardian gathered that the party, which produced the government in power had been unfair in her reward system such that several members who suffered to enthrone the government had been left behind.  They were said to have severally complained about mode of appointments where few people congregate as “stakeholders” to decide the faith of the majority, as well as citing of projects by the state government.

The squabble in the party was said to have reached its peak after the primaries that threw up certain candidates for the 2023 elections.   Many members were said to have purchased expression of interest and nomination forms on the promise that they would be given the ticket to contest. It was learnt that the party produced the greatest number of aspirants with over fifteen members running in the governorship primary and several others for other positions. Although the primaries later produced compromised candidates, many became disenchanted that after being coarsed into jettisoning their desires, they were neither reimbursed nor pacified.

It was learnt that such members as the senator representing Enugu north, Chukwuka Utazi; member representing Nsukka/ Igboeze South Federal Constituency, Pat Asadu, among others felt annoyed the way fake and deceitful promises were used to scheme them out of the process. It was further gathered that in the case of Utazi, promises were allegedly made that his Uzouwani council will produce the deputy governor while the Igboeze South produced the senator. However, a turn of events saw the governor acquiring the senate ticket and allocating the deputy governorship ticket to his Udenu local council.

Similarly, while the governorship ticket was allowed to move to Enugu East senatorial district in line with the zoning arrangement in the party, Nkanu East Council was allowed to produce the governorship candidate with Nkanu West that had earlier produced governor for the state for eight years retaining the senatorial slot of the constituency, leaving Isiuzo local council with nothing.

This was said to have provoked disquiet in the party especially with the realisation that many council areas in Enugu East senatorial district had produced minister, governor, Speaker and Senator since the start of democracy in 1999 with none going to Isiuzo. Many saw the development as a betrayal of a sort and vowed to repay the party in its own coin.

Of worry also was the conduct of many members of the party, especially the stakeholders, which took the party for granted and made little or no efforts to reconcile grievances apparently based on their erroneous believe in, “Enugu is PDP” being enough to win votes for the party any day there was election. To further compound the woes of the party, their campaigns came with empty programmes and were turned into political rallies that ended up passing no message to the people or apologising for other failings of the party. At the election proper, many of the stakeholders were not at their polling units nor voted in the election.

On March 11
It is no apparent that Enugu PDP may have realised its mistakes. The party is now attempting to find ways to address its handicaps before the March 11 polls.  No fewer than five meetings had been held at various locations in the last couple of days ago by the stakeholders aimed at overcoming the challenge and winning the March governorship election.  Pundits hold that the March 11 exercise provides a window for the party to redeem itself.

Peter Mbah

Indeed, the party has every hope that its governorship candidate, Peter Mbah, attested to by many, as an epitome of character and competence is the tonic required to turn things around for the party.  Mbah, who came into the race with a distinguished private sector practice that had seen him operate one of the largest oil and gas conglomerates, Pinnacle Oil and Gas, has been enterprising in his outings and winning the confidence of the people through his campaign manifesto.

It would be an easy win for him in the state if his track records were anything to go by. He first appeared in the political scene during the Chimaroke Nnamani administration, serving as Chief of Staff and Commissioner for Finance. Since leaving that administration that ended in 2007, Mbah had minded his private enterprise, taking it to an enviable status until last year when the bells tolled for politicking and the mantle fell on his Enugu East senatorial zone. He went into the governorship primary of the party alongside several others and trounced them.

Buoyed by the support of the state government, elder statesmen, the church, business class and several youth group, it looks the election would be an easy one for him. He relishes the support of his Nkanu people, which recently met and insisted that “any other governorship candidate coming out in Nkanu land is on his own.”

Uchenna Nnaji

Despite the endorsement, Mbah will still need to strive harder to convince Nkanu people why Nweke and Nnaji, who hail from the area, should not get their votes. Nnaji and Nweke have so far proven strong contenders in the governorship race. If the inroads they have made so far are anything to go by, then there is tendency that they would share the votes of the area with Mbah.

The duo is known in Enugu politics. Nweke began as Chief of Staff in the state and later nominated and served as Federal Minister on two different occasions. Since joining APGA to vie the number one office, he has succeeded in repositioning the party.

On the other hand, Nnaji, a businessman, played politics a long time. He was said to have relinquished his senatorial ticket to Jim Nwobodo before leaving to mind his business after Nwobodo left as minister. Sources said he may be banking on the victory of the APC at the national level to win the governorship seat and change the ugly mantra about the party not winning elections in the state.

Labour Party Governorship Candidate in Enugu State, Chijioke Edeoga (middle), flanked by Sir Emeka Udeze, former President, ECCIMA, and Emeka Nduagwuike, incumbent President, ECCIMA, at the Enugu Business Community Townhall Meeting with governorship candidates in Enugu…

But against LP, which parades Chijioke Edeoga, it promises to be a tough battle for Mbah, Nnaji and Nweke. Edeoga, a former Commissioner, who left PDP after losing the governorship primary to Mbah to join the LP, has continued to enjoy popularity.

He has weathered every storm placed on his candidature and was recently pronounced as the authentic candidate of the party by the Supreme Court. His confidence in the election was boosted by the victory of his party at the National Assembly election where it won landslide in the state.

Although he is from Isiuzo in Enugu East senatorial zone, one thing that has going for him is the alleged support of Nsukka zone, made up of Igboetiti, Uzouwani, Udenu, Igboeze north, Igboeze south and Nsukka. The area is said to have “adopted” him as its own and is campaigning for the retention of power in the area.

While other candidates have chosen their running mate from Enugu North senatorial zone, Edeoga had gone to Enugu West to pick a running mate. This is said to have added to the confidence of the people of the area in the party.

The way it is, the political atmosphere in the state is charged with foul languages, mudslinging and name callings. Every party wants to win the March 11 election by hook or crook.