Published On: Sun, Jul 29th, 2018

Gov. Ugwuanyi’s love tango with Enugu voters

and purses politics without bitterness

By OBINAA EZUGWU

In the Coal City, Enugu, the old has mixed up with the new. It is hard to miss the ancient colonial era structures; rock solid and usually in fading white paints. But the city is more defined by its new: modern storey buildings, duplexes, bungalows and of course, good road network.

Gov Ifeanyi-Ugwuanyi. Photo Credit: Independent Newspapers Nigeria

It’s a city that has come a long way. Created by the British colonialists who, upon the discovery of coal in commercial quantity, relocated there for mining convenience, Enugu would later become the capital of the then Eastern Region. Today, it still bears the hallmarks of a city designed for habitation of the white man: serene and ambient environment.

But the Nigerian factor has set in also; shops have encroached roads and streets, the original plan has witnessed distortions. Nonetheless, it remains an ideal city for many Nigerians of Eastern extraction; a favourite place to retire in, a good place to erect a permanent residential structure.

Activities at Ogbete, the major market, fade with dusk. But it’s by no means a city without nightlife. The streets buzz from traders: suya sellers, fruits sellers, meat sellers… and sundry others.

Buses of different kinds litter the roads: Mitsubishi L-300, Toyota Hiace, Mazda, Suzuki and a biggest of them all, Mercedes Coaster bus popularly called ‘gbagba.’ In the evening rush hour, ‘gbagba,’ a bus that probably got its special nickname from its very nature, become kings of the road.

Usually old, warn out, with bodies that made noise as though they were moving scraps of metals, ‘gbagba’ never fills up. A driver is only compelled to move to the next bus stop when there are no more passengers to carry. At this time, the pair of seats on both sides would have been taken up, and others had to pile up, like sardines, in the middle.

The pay is mostly according to distance covered, but not always so. Enugu boasts of the most cost effective bus service of perhaps any city in Southern Nigeria. From New Market to Gariki in ‘gbagba,’ a distance of about 10 kilometers is N70. The average cost from one location to another is N50. Shorter distances cost N30.

The journey from New Market to Gariki in ‘gbagba’ during the evening rush hour can be as tortuous as it gets. Noisy market women, and men who are as much garrulous, made it both sweet and bitter with jokes and abuses, most of which the conductor who could not cope with sundry demands, would be at the receiving end.

A largely peaceful city not bogged down with the kind of large population figures you find in Lagos, Enugu residents are proud of their city; their foods: ‘abacha’, ‘okpa’ which is the favourite morning menu, ‘ayaraya’ in the Northern Nsukka area and many others. But if there is anything they are prouder of, it is perhaps their governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi, Gburugburu.

Yet, the disappointment they feel with the ineffective power distribution company, EEDC is palpable. It’s a distribution company that is now reputed for dishing out darkness for days, and charging residents highly for same darkness.

In politics, Enugu has evolved largely into a one party state. It may not seem so, but Enugu is, most probably, the strongest base of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The party is so dominant that every attempt made by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and more recently, the All Progressives Congress (APC), have fallen flat.

It has been so from the days of Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani to the days of Sullivan Chime, but more so with the current governor, Ugwuanyi. The reason, the state’s Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe, says is that the state’s chief executive was able to transcend party politics to become the father of all Enugu people.

“It’s the governor,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. He is a man who came with a message, and that message is that we are all brothers regardless of political affiliation.

“Secondly, he recognizes that there is a difference between a politician and the elected official. The elected official would drop his politician garment as he is going into the government house. And if he does that, he will now begin to see everybody as brothers and sisters.

“It is with that mindset that people find so refreshing. He also recognises that people need to be lifted from where they are to another level. So, he started doing it. He understands that development and the so-called dividends of democracy are concentrated in urban areas, while in actual fact, majority of the people who brave the elements to vote are in the rural areas. So there was this focus on making sure that the rural areas are no longer left behind.”

The impression of most people in Enugu is that the governor has done well and therefore deserves a second term. His support base cut across the three senatorial zones, but in Amechi, Nkanu land in Enugu East, residents are nursing bitterness over what some say is land grabbing by the governor.

“He is humble, he has done virtually all the roads in Nsukka,” said Mrs. Sophina Ngwoke, a trader in a local Eke market in Nsukka. “We will vote him again, he should go back to continue from where he stopped.”

A trip around the state would reveal just why this is the case. Nsukka, the state’s second largest urban area has been transformed completely with good roads and drainage systems.  It now prides itself as a modern city and its’ inhabitants are proud.

“It (Opi-Nsukka Road) is the best road in Nigeria for sure, I have not seen any like it,” said Mr Sunday Eze, a septuagenarian carpenter in Ede Oballa community.  “Ugwuanyi has written his name in gold in the minds of Nsukka people, and indeed the people of Enugu State,” he says, “because he is working everywhere.

“It’s Gburugburu all the way,” said Ezeaku K. C., a local shop owner. “We don’t have any other party here. Few who are in APC are not serious people.”

Of late, pictures of renovated Milliken Hill Road from the state capital to Ngwo, generated excitement on social media. The mountainous steep and sloppy Milliken Hill is tourism, adventure and with now a good road, it is a sight to behold.

“We are happy with what Ugwuanyi has done,” says a local artisan in Ngwo, Goddy Aneke. “It’s him all the way.”

Ahead of 2019 general election, the political atmosphere in most states is already charged, but in Enugu, the only noticeable political activity is the reception and endorsement of the governor by different communities in the state.

“PDP has remained dominant in Enugu since 1999. There is no opposition here; neither the APC nor APGA has any structure to challenge the PDP,” says Mr. Nnaji Ken, a local politician in Nkanu.

“Here, the only election we have is PDP primary election. Whoever wins the primary is sure to win in the main election because people simply vote PDP here. APGA has no presence and APC is hated.”

With the defeat of the PDP at the federal level, and the subsequent defection of known figures in Enugu politics like former senate president, Ken Nnamani; governor of the old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo and the immediate past governor of the state, Sullivan Chime, to the APC, it had seemed like the dominance of the PDP had come to an end. But if anything, the defection of these would be political heavyweights has only served to alienate them from the people.

“Most of the defectors are APC in Abuja, because if you are not part of the PDP here, you are going to lose,” Nnaji says.

“The image of Ken Nnamani that most people have is that of a respectable national political figure, but here, he cannot win a councillorship election.

“He is not popular here at all. His faction even lost out in the recently held APC congress. And in any case, he is only APC at the federal level. His decision to join APC may have been informed by a desire to remain politically relevant while avoiding the EFCC.”

A rift between former governor Nnamani and Nwobodo had served to erode the latter’s influence in the state’s politics, which ensured that his defection to the country’s ruling party had no impact.

The immediate past governor, Chime was loved by many during his tenure. He was celebrated for embarking on road projects in many areas of the state, rebuilding the capital city and most importantly, calming the political atmosphere that had become intense during the reign of his predecessor, Nnamani. But even he has not been able to win his Udi people over to the APC.

“During the last local government and councillorship election, Chime gave APC councillorship aspirants N2million and chairmanship aspirants N3million to mobilize support, but in the end all of them lost to PDP candidates,” alleged a resident, Mr. Johnson Chukwu.

“The election was free and fair,” he assured. “I have not witnessed a freer election in the state. Everyone was just voting PDP because they don’t like APC. If you transferred APC candidates to the PDP, all of them would have won because people were not voting for candidates, they didn’t even know them. They were voting for party.”

But Chukwu fears that the governor is losing support in Nkanu because according to him, he has taken over people’s land without compensation.

“In 2015, everyone supported him, but now people are seeing the bad side of him, especially as it concerns land grabbing. He has taken over almost a quarter of Amechi land, lands people hoped to hand over to their children and grandchildren.”

Our investigations on the allegation, however, shows that it was indeed the people of the community who invited the government to take over the land in question because it was in dispute and had led to loss of lives.

The land, Akanizhinne, along Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, is in dispute because Umunnengene, a sub kindred from Isiagu, Amechi, claims exclusive ownership of it, while the general kindred claims it is owned by the whole Isiagu kindred. The rift led to the killing of three sons of Isiagu on the disputed land, which prompted some prominent leaders of Amechi Uwani to secretly invite the government of Ugwuanyi to take over the land in a bid to prevent further bloodshed. It has since been converted to an estate.

But the original anger of the people precedes the Ugwuanyi administration. Another community land, Agbana, mapped out for ESUT permanent site was eventually not used for the purpose since the Nnamani administration moved the state institution to Agbani.

The community expected that the land would be returned to their original owners, but that was not the case. It was subsequently partitioned into an estate by the Chime administration.

For a typical civil service state, Enugu is pulling beyond its weight, economic wise, by Nigerian standards. The state continues to pay salaries of state workers regularly and timely too, usually on the 26th of every month. It never failed to do so even during the period of economic recession.

A few days ago, the chairman of Joint Tax Board (JTB), Mr. Tunde Fowler, during 141st meeting of the board in Enugu, identified the state as one of the few in the country that has exceeded the 15 per cent tax revenue to GDP benchmark suggested by the United Nations for the funding of budgets.

Mr. Fowler who also serves as chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) took time to commend the state governor for judicious utilisation of the said funds for the rapid development of the state, while calling on other state board of internal revenue chairmen to emulate the Enugu example.

“As you come to Enugu, you can see how tax monies were used. Following the testimony given by the chairman of Board of Internal Revenue of Enugu State, Mr. Emeka Odo, all the chairmen are supposed to have the copies of advance sheets to their governors for them to see what is going on in Enugu State and how things are supposed to be done.”

The feat is uncommon in a typical civil service state without any industries of note. Mr. Anikwe, the Commissioner for Information, again attributes it to the governor’s “desperation to do good.”

“That’s where Enugu has been particularly lucky to have someone who is first of all a financial expert. Secondly he is somebody, who was relatively comfortable before he became governor. And thirdly, someone who is desperate, if you like, to establish a legacy for himself,” he notes.

“Being a financial expert, and coming at a time when the country was almost going into, and eventually went into a recession, he had to sit back and decide what he wanted to do in order to make sure that he doesn’t fall into the embarrassment of, for instance, owing workers. Or not being able to execute his programmes.

“Most of the things that governors spend money on, which would be described as frivolities, are not happening here. He is not borrowing money, and he is paying back what was already borrowed before he came.

“What he is doing is making sure that whatever comes, they are husbanded and used judiciously. He also introduced the TSA system where all the agencies that are supposed to be contributing put all their money. It’s no longer in different silos.

“Today, Enugu is the 5th state in the federation that is able to sustain itself without federal revenue. Mind you, Enugu is also sitting 5th from the bottom in terms of allocation from the centre. But what it is collecting internally is today about 32 percent of its income.”

But the lack of industries in Enugu also means to jobs are hard to come by. Graduates who are not able to fit into the already saturated civil service have few options. Most are compelled to migrate to other cities, preferably Lagos and Abuja.

“The governor has done well in terms of road, agriculture and healthcare.” says Nna Omeje, a young graduate who has taken up entrepreneurship. “But he should also try to create jobs. Industries should be set up to employ people.”

Mr. Anikwe assured that the government is looking in the direction of encouraging private sector investors and has mapped out strategies to bring foreign investors to the state. However, the state APC argues that the governor has done little, and that the party is confident of taking over in 2019.

“You know that Enugu has PDP government, but we believe that sooner than later, in 2019, APC will take over the mantle from them,” says Comrade Kevin Ezeoha, the party’s chairman in Enugu South Local Government.

“APC is everywhere in Enugu. Why you haven’t noticed is that campaign has not started. When campaign starts, you will see how it will happen.

“He (Ugwuanyi) has not done anything in Enugu. He has nothing to show, he is just erecting billboards here and there, nothing else. That’s not what Enugu people want.”

From the facts on ground, not many would agree with Ezeoha. And indeed, it is hard to see either APC or APGA posing reasonable threat to the incumbent in 2019.

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