Tracing Enugu State’s identity politics and ‘gang-up’ against Ugwuanyi
The 1991 state creation effort that divided the old Anambra State into two was intended, in the main, to address the socio-political dichotomy between the old Enugu and current Anambra States.
In the old order, while the current Anambra State had more educated and established businessmen, the old Enugu had huge population numbers that disposed of it for easy electoral triumphs. The fact that the state capital was also situated within the same area remained the crux of political pugilism in the original Anambra State that was created by General Murtala Ramat Mohammed in 1976.
At the country’s return to multi-party presidential democracy in 1979, the issue of which section-the populous Wawa or enlightened ‘Ijekebe’ should throw up the governor elicited contentious arguments within the two major political parties-the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
At the end of the day, while Chief Jim Nwobodo defeated Moses Ibiekwe to clinch the NPP governorship ticket, Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh beat Dr. Alex Ekwueme after a keenly contested NPN governorship primary.
Ekwueme was later to emerge as presidential running mate to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. While NPN won the presidential poll, the NPP led by Rt Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe took the governorship seat.
It was against that mixed setting that NPP and NPN began their proxy political battles for the control of Anambra State through Governor Jim Nwobodo and Vice President Ekwueme.
As the battle raged between the federal forces and the home front, the 1983 general drew near. The search for second-term mandates raised the stakes, especially as NPP, through Nwobodo, wanted to retain Anambra, while NPN, through Onoh and Ekwueme, determined to deploy the legendary federal might to capture the state.
When the election was held, President Shagari and NPN won by a landslide, even as Anambra State was snatched also. Nwobodo and NPP cried blue murder and challenged the outcome in court. After the Federal High Court ruled in favour of NPP, Onoh waited for the certified true copies of the judgment and proceeded to the Court of Appeal, where his election was upheld.
However, while the political dichotomy raged within the old Anambra State, some sort of clannish rivalry was going on around the ‘Wawa’ enclave, especially in what constitutes the present-day Enugu State. The subtle manoeuvre by the first republic politicians, particularly in constituency delineation, is what has given rise to the revival of identity politics in the present day Enugu State.
There are two local councils that political intrigues made to overlap, thereby becoming a kind of pawn in the power play by first and second republic political actors. They include Isi-Uzo and Ukehe.
Challenged by the enormous political influence of the Onyeama family in Eke, Udi Division, Chief John Ugwu Nwodo, who served respectively as a member of the Eastern House of Assembly, Minister of Works, Commerce and Industry, severed his community, Ukehe, from the Ojebeogene clan of Udi Division and aligned it with Nsukka.
The strategic move was ostensible to appropriate the voting bloc of Nsukka during elections so as not to be in the shadow of Onyeama. Moreover, as President General of Nsukka Federal Union, Nwodo, who later became the traditional ruler of Ukehe, consolidated the integration of his community into Nsukka.
Having severed Ukehe, the rest communities that verge around, Ukehe’s kins, including Affa, Egede, Awhum and Ukana, were left in Udi Division. But, like everything done out of political expediency, in a bid to compensate for the alteration, when Enugu State was created, in an attempt to strike some balance in Senatorial Districts, Isi-Uzo, which used to be part of the Nsukka Division, had to be severed from Udenu, to join Enugu East Senatorial District.
It was therefore on account of that socio-political re-engineering of the constituency by Okwuluoha II that the zoning of the Enugu State governorship seat became contentious. The people of Isi-Uzo mounted serious campaigns for the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) guber ticket to be ceded to them.
Led by the immediate past President General of Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Isi-Uzo stakeholders alleged that since Enugu State was created, they have not represented Enugu East Senatorial District on the governorship seat.
Consequently, they mounted pressure on Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, urging him to support Barrister Chijioke Edeoga from Isi-Uzo for the gubernatorial contest in 2023, since according to them, they decided that nobody from the local council should obtain the Senatorial nomination form.
While the attempt to sway Governor Ugwuanyi was on, stakeholders of Enugu East Senatorial District, to which the governorship was zoned, engaged in shuttle diplomacy. They visited various leaders and founding fathers, including Chief Jim Nwobodo, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani and Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, stressing that it was the turn of Nkanu East to produce the next governor.
Having received the buy-in of the stakeholders, it was easy for Dr. Peter Mbah, from Nkanu East Local Government Area to beat other aspirants during the PDP governorship primary, just as some aspirants withdrew from the contest.
Pained by the outcome of the PDP guber primary, the leadership of Odimma Nsukka started mobilising against Governor Ugwuanyi, who was elected unopposed as the PDP Senatorial candidate for Enugu North District. Rallying round the members of Odimma Nsukka, the former Ohanaeze President General decided to have their pound of flesh from the governor.
Apart from moving into the Labour Party (LP), where Edeoga recently emerged as the party’s gubernatorial standard-bearer, they began mounting the campaign against the governor’s Senatorial ambition. They allege that the zoning arrangement for the Senatorial ticket would be altered if Ugwuanyi goes to the Senate.
But, checks by The Guardian revealed that contrary to the claims by the Nwodo group, the Senatorial seat has not been violated. A prominent stakeholder, who does not want his name in print, disclosed that the Nwodos have forgotten that they are not bonafide members of Nsukka or Enugu North Senatorial zone for that matter.
He explained that out of the six local councils making up the senatorial zone, Nsukka LG has been in the Senate for three terms (12 years), Uzo-Uwani, two terms (Eight years), Igboeze North, two terms (Eight years), leaving three LGs that have not been in the Senate, including Igboeze South, Igboetiti and Udenu.
The question that those antagonising the governor failed to answer is whether the rotation is based on federal constituency or Local Government councils. But, it is on record that the first federal constituency to represent the Senatorial District in the Red Chamber was Nsukka/Igboeze Federal Constituency, followed by Nsukka/Igbo Eze South then Uzo-Uwani/Igboetiti Federal Constituency.
For instance, Okey Ezea (Ideke), who contested the governorship against Sullivan Chime in 2011 and Ugwuanyi in 2015, had joined the Labour Party (LP) and he is from Igboeze South LGA. Ezea was among those who wanted the governorship rotation to begin afresh from Enugu North despite the fact that the incumbent, Ugwuanyi, is from the same zone.
It is not known whether Chief Nnia Nwodo has any grudge against the Nkanu people, but it was obvious from the unanimity among the Nkanu’s of Enugu East Senatorial District that they would have made trouble if Governor Ugwuanyi had conceded to Nwodo’s suasion and supported Edeoga. It was common knowledge that Edeoga is Governor Ugwuanyi’s cousin.
But, while the gang-up against Ugwuanyi continues, eminent stakeholders from Nsukka contend that Nwodo was pursuing a personal vendetta against the governor for not acceding to his request to anoint Edeoga as governor or allow him to nominate the governorship running mate.
However, perhaps on account of their diplomatic inclusion in Nsukka, the Nwodos have been finding it difficult to represent the Senatorial District, because the fact that their community, Ukehe, belong to the Ojebeogene clan has become a set back.
That could explain why the former governor, Okwy Nwodo, lost in 2003, while his attempt to re-contest ended in an incomplete aspiration after he purchased the nomination form, but failed to fill and return it.
In the search for the PDP governorship running mate, both Igboeze South and Igboetiti lobbied to nominate Mbah’s deputy, but given the fact that the position was zoned to Enugu North, the candidate exercised his discretion and chose Barrister Ifeanyi Ossai.
Borrowing from Governor Chime’s experience, Mbah must have reasoned that imposed deputies do not make for a harmonious working relationship thereby leading to mutual suspicion between the governor and his deputy.
Given the fact that Governor Ugwuanyi shunned opposition from other Southeast governors to make him the Ohanaeze President General, many people are surprised that Chief Nnia Nwodo should be championing the opposition against the governor.
It is left to be seen whether Ideke, whom the governor defeated in the governorship election could muster enough support to challenge Governor Ugwuanyi for the Senatorial seat as Hon Edeoga has become the LP gubernatorial candidate.
Enugu North Senatorial District claims that it commands 52 per cent of voters in Enugu State. But, given the quantum of development projects and amenities delivered in the area during Uguwanyi’s administration, it would be seen where their bloc votes would go.
Meanwhile, peeved by the attempt to knock his head against that of the governor, the LP gubernatorial standard bearer, Hon. Edeoga, explained that his governorship ambition was to provide the Enugu people with a plurality of choices.
In a statement captioned, “Not of caution against provocative utterances,” the former member of the House of Representatives noted: “One of the underpinnings of multi-party democracy is the plurality of views and options. I believe my emergence as a candidate of the Labour Party (LP) will advance the course of democracy and offer our people a variety of choices.
“The dictates of free, fair and credible elections presuppose freedom to vote and be voted for in periodic elections. The people should be allowed to have the final say on who should represent or govern them. Election is not war and politics without bitterness should be the rallying cry of every citizen of our dear state and country.”
He disclosed that during his days in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he did not attack personalities, “but focused on issues of development and a better life for our people.”
Stressing that he would never cast aspersion on Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Edeoga declared: “It has come to my notice that some overzealous individuals have been making frantic efforts to create bad blood between me and the Governor of Enugu State, His Excellency Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
I wish to state without equivocation that I have never insulted and would never insult the governor or cast aspersion on his person. In my private and public conduct, I have always comported myself with decorum and respect to constituted authorities.
“However, I noticed with dismay that immediately I emerged the Governorship candidate of Labour Party (LP) some mischievous busy-bodies have been concocting negative write-ups and social media posts to create the erroneous impression that I am at war with our governor.
“Consequently, I wish to sound a note of warning to all those stoking the embers of disunity and acrimony to cease. Let it be clear to all men and women of goodwill in Enugu State that my aspiration to be governor of the state is within my democratic rights and not done to offend anybody or group.”
The LP governorship contender expressed the belief that “if political leaders commit themselves to civility and respect for alternative views, supporters and well-wishers would be encouraged to maintain decorum in their conduct and utterances.”
“The greatest legacy of the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration is the culture of peace and social harmony in the state. Therefore, all hands should be on deck to sustain this climate of peace as we prepare for political campaigns.
“In line with the rules of engagement of the OBIdient Movement, I plead with supporters of Labour Party (LP) to avoid hate and show love in every aspect of their public conduct. Let us keep our campaigns clean,” he added.
Is the former Ohanaeze President General, the new face of opposition in Enugu State or is Governor Ugwuanyi’s cousin, the Labour Party governorship candidate, Edeoga, being primed to challenge PDP’s 24 years’ dominance of Enugu politics? March 11, 2023, would tell.