By Chris Nwanze
The recent detection of Chief Austin Igwe Edeze from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Ebonyi State has jolted the prevalent political equation, vis-a-vis the 2023 political permutations in the state. Already, speculations are rife that Chief Edeze, a charismatic and populist political figure from Izzi LGA in Ebonyi North Senatorial District, may be the man to beat as preparations for the Guber race gathers momentum.
At a recent meeting of the Ebonyi North Caucus of the PDP during the Yuletide, held at The Retreat, Umuebe home of their leader, Sen. Sam Ominyi Egwu, Edeze reportedly presented himself to the leaders of the zone. As a member of the APC Board of Trustees before his detection, his exit must have created a long night for Gov. David Umahi whose political fortunes have nose-dived since he joined the ruling APC in October, 2020. The Ebonyi APC has witnessed a steady decline in quality membership since then.
A Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), Edeze is perceived in some quarters as moving into PDP in order to hijack the Guber ticket. He is Sen. Sam Egwu’s right hand man. He was a dedicated and loyal disciple to Egwu during his days as Governor of Ebonyi State. He occupied the sensitive post of Executive Chairman of Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) and gave a good account of himself. He built the the imposing and massive UBEB Headquarters structure located along Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway. Edeze’s populist administrative style has made him a popular figure in Ebonyi politics. He is seen as a hero amongst primary and secondary School teachers in the state. Edeze is also an influential sportsman. He was the President of Nigeria Amateur Wrestling Federation from 1994-2009 and currently an Executive Member of African Wrestling Council.
Edeze is also seen as a good party man. A top PDP Chieftain who spoke to this writer on condition of anonymity said that if Sen. Egwu buys into the Guber project of Edeze, it would not be difficult for the leader of the party in the state, Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim(former Senate President and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation), to lend his support for Edeze. Moreover, Edeze is highly committed to the Presidential aspiration of Anyim and has the national network required to contribute effectively to the presidential project. A random opinion survey conducted among PDP members across the state revealed that members are quite jubilant about Edeze’s return to the PDP and the prospects of his joining the 2023 Guber race. There are others who believe that Edeze’s coming may resolve the logjam over the Guber primaries billed to come up around July, 2022. “There had been a search for a popular grassroot politician who will ignite the political scene in the state. Edeze could be the man they were waiting for”, one party man narrated.
But in Izzi clan, Edeze’s emergence has been received with a measure of calmness and cold-calculations. Some forces in Izzi who joined the Guber race earlier have been forced to go back to the drawing board. Frontline Guber aspirants from Izzi clan include Sylvester Ogbaga, a four-term House of Reps member and former Chairman of Abakaliki LGA. Others are: Engr Fidelis Nwankwo, a former Minister of State for Health and former Chairman of Izzi LGA and Chukwuma Nwazunku, a two-term House of Reps member and former Speaker of Ebonyi House of Assembly.
Edeze has to contend with these aspirants within Izzi Clan-an area generally believed to be favoured to clinch the Guber ticket on account of the zoning/rotation principle. But politics is neither a straight game nor a mathematical exercise.
In Ebonyi Central District, two political gladiators are equally in the race for the 2023 Guber race. They are Sen. Obinna Ogba, two-term Senator representing the zone in the National Assembly and Edwin Anayo Nwonu, a two-term House of Reps member representing Ezza North and Ishielu Federal Constituency. Sen. Ogba was a former State Chairman of PDP. Edwin Anayo Nwonu, himself is not a push over. A successful business tycoon and industrialist, he is popular amongst Ezza elements in the state. He was Special Adviser to former Bayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson on Non-Indigenes Affairs.
On the 1st of January, 2022, Sen. Ogba officially declared his intention to run for the Governorship race. In the course of his declaration, the Senator stirred the honet’s nest. He stated that, ” there is nothing like Charter of Equity in Ebonyi State”. He argued that “since all the three zones have produced Governorship positions, the race should be thrown open and not restricted to Ebonyi North Senatorial zone”, where the Izzi clan holds sway. The first democratically elected Governor (1999-2007), Dr. Sam Egwu came from Ohaukwu LGA in Ebonyi North zone. He was followed by Chief Martin Ekechi from Ikwo in Ebonyi Central Zone(2007-2015). The incumbent Governor, Engr. Davis Umahi, from Ohaozara LGA in Ebonyi South zone would complete his 8-year tenure in May 29, 2023. Sen. Ogba had challenged those making a case for Charter of Equity or Rotational Principle to produce the document on the Charter, if anything like that ever existed.
There is no doubt that Sen Ogba has succeeded in setting up a major debate on which zone should produce the next Governor of Ebonyi state.
By the time the dust settles, the PDP would have used it’s internal machinery to decide which candidate would fly its flag for the 2023 race- a very crucial decision for that matter. All said and done, and from all indications, an Izzi candidate for the PDP is most likely to be the most popular and dominant option. The search is for an Izzi clan candidate with a liberal character and exposure to accommodate other groups in the state, including Non-Indigenes who form a bulk of the business class in Abakaliki, the state capital. In this regard, Austin Igwe Edeze stands tall amongst the Izzi aspirants.
Born in Ndiogbu Ndieze, Inyimagu in Izzi LGA on 1st January, 1960, Edeze attended Inyimagu Central School, Iboko and obtained the First School Leaving Certificate in 1974. He proceeded to Abakaliki High School(Presco) same year and obtained the West African School Certificate in 1979. He later bagged a Diploma in Cooperative Studies from the Federal Cooperative College, Awgu in present day Enugu State. He also attended the Anambra State College of Education, Awka from where he obtained the National Certificate in Education( NCE) in 1984 before launching out to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he obtained his BSc( Hons) degree in Agriculture(Education).
Edeze is a consumate administrator, teacher and technocrat who grew through the ranks. He held many strategic positions at the national level and in the public service in the old Enugu and Ebonyi states. From 1994-97, he was the Secretary-General of the Association of Education Secretaries of Nigeria. From 2003-2008, he was the Dean/Chairman of Executive Chairmen of Universal Basic Education Boards of Nigeria. He was also elected the President of Nigeria Amateur Wrestling Federation of Nigeria in 1994 and in 2006 was elected the Deputy Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He is currently an Executive Member of African Wrestling Council with Headquarters in Morocco.
Edeze’s grassroot popularity can be gleaned from his profile, which marks him out as a man of many parts, always into many things at the same time. In 1981, he was an Instructor at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in old Anambra State. He was a Classroom Teacher at Army Day Secondary School, Abakaliki in 1988 and by 1992 became the Deputy Executive Secretary of Izzi Local Government Education Authority(LGEA). By 1994, he had become the substantive Executive Secretary of Izzi LGEA. In 1999, Edeze was appointed the Chairman of Ohaozara Local Government Area by the former Military Administrator of Ebonyi State, Navy Commander, Walter Aye Feghabor.
In 1999-2002, Edeze was appointed Member of the Governing Council of Ebonyi State University. He was later appointed into the powerful office as Executive Chairman of Ebonyi State Universal Basic Education Board(2002-2007) by former Governor of Ebonyi State, Dr. Sam Egwu. In 2008, he returned back to the Ministry of Education as Assistant Chief Education Officer and in 2009 was appointed a Consultant in the Education Sector Support Programme of the Nigerian Federal Government, Abuja.
In 2017, Edeze was appointed Chairman of the Governing Council, Federal Polytechnic, Ado- Ekiti, a position he held for three years.
In the field of partisan politics, Edeze has held sway and garnered some variegated experiences. In 2015, Edeze was in the APC where he fought for the party’s Guber ticket and lost.He was thereafter appointed as Member of the APC Board if Trustees. In 2015, he was the Ebonyi State Coordinator of the Buhari Campaign Organization. In 2018, he returned as APC Governorship aspirant. In 2019, he was once appointed as the State Coordinator of Buhari Support Organization,(,BSO). He later served as a Member of the APC National Convention Committee. He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Education Planning and Administration.
Edeze was honoured with Chieftaincy titles- Nwa Eji Aga MBA 1 of Izzi, Nna Ji Oha of Izzi and Ekwueme 1 of Ohaozara.