By OBINNA EZUGWU
Former deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu is eyeing Enugu State’s top job, hoping to cap his long career in the senate with an eight-year stint at Lion Building, the state’s government house. The equation doesn’t favour him, neither does history, but the Aninri born federal lawmaker packs a punch and seems determined to upset the state’s political order. The straightforward call, in the final analysis, is that he will push hard enough, but the odds are stacked against him from the get go.
Ekweremadu, who started his political career in 1997 when he was appointed chairman of Aninri local government under Col. Sule Ahman, then military governor of Enugu, winning best local government chairman same year, has over the years, achieved street credibility, and today could stake claim to being one of the most loved political figures in the state, with widespread appeal. Not in doubt, too, is his political dexterity. He is not the longest Serving Deputy Senate President in Nigeria and First Nigerian Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament for nothing and indeed stands out as the first person in the country’s recent political history to hold principal office in the senate as a member of an opposition party.
But if there is anything Enugu people have learned from the days Chimaroke Nnamani, who was governor from 1999 to 2007, it is that election is warfare and the masses are no troops. Indeed, more than anyone else, Ekweremadu who served as chief of staff to Nnamani, knows this.
Ekweremadu, therefore, has no troops. He is not in the good books of Abuja over his positions on contentious national issues such as restructuring, even as his emergence as deputy senate president had infuriated President Muhammadu Buhari, thus he cannot hope to rely on federal might.
Enugu is a one party state, with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) being very dominant. There are no alternatives centers of power, therefore. And as things stand, the incumbent governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi holds all the aces, not surprising that both Nnamani who wants power to return to his Enugu East, notably Nkanu land, and Ekweremadu who is out to upset the order, are pandering to him with a view to wining his support.
While it is an open secret that both Ekweremadu and Ugwuanyi have different ideas about who should be the next governor, with supporters of both individuals already engaged in squabbles, Ekweremadu has continued to maintain good relationship with the governor, using every opportunity to praise him, even as his foot soldiers have since begun online campaign against outgoing chief executive.
Speaking when he joined Ugwuanyi in Ezeagu Local Government Area for the PDP campaign last week, ahead of the February 23, 2022 Local Government Elections in the state, Ekweremadu, praised the governor as “visionary leader” is providing good governance in the state.
“Your Excellency, thank you for the provision of good governance in Enugu State; for the leadership you have shown in our state and our party, to South East and to Nigeria,” Ekweremadu had said.
“Remember that about two years ago, we discussed that in recent time or less than that there will be economic challenge in Nigeria and we discussed that you need to be prepared.
“I am happy you are prepared, that is why salaries (new minimum wage) are still being paid. We want to thank you for being a visionary leader.”
It is, however, highly unlikely that the long serving senator, who has been in the red chamber of the national assembly since 2003, will be backed by Ugwuanyi. Outgoing Enugu governors have a habit of fishing out obscure individuals to anoint as their successors, and Ekweremadu is too powerful, too exposed and too connected to be anybody’s ‘boy.’
When governor Nnamani, who by the way groomed almost all the top players in the state politics today, was leaving power in 2007, he shunned all the top aspirants, including then secretary to the state government, Dan Shere; then deputy governor, Okechukwu Itanyi, among others and picked little known Sullivan Chime who eventually succeeded him.
When Chime himself was about to leave office in 2015, he surprised all the leading contenders, including then state PDP chairman, Engr. Vita Abba, Senator Ayogu Eze, etc, and chose Ugwuanyi, then relatively unknown quantity who was an obscure member of the House of Representatives representing Udenu/Igboeze North, and made him governor.
Ugwuanyi, observers opine, will most likely follow the same pattern, meaning that Ekweremadu is unlikely to have his blessings.
“There are so many permutations, and at the moment, there is no clear favorite. Some people are even saying that it may be a dark horse, somebody that is not known now. That’s how they did it during Gburugburu and Sullivan,” said Enugu based political analyst, Nnaji Nnamdi Kenneth.
Besides, the political calculation doesn’t favour Ekweremadu. By the unwritten rules of power rotation in Enugu, the next senatorial district to produce governor of the state is Enugu East.
The return of democracy in 1999 saw the emergence of Nnamani as governor. He handed over to Chime from Enugu West in 2007. Chime in turn handed over to Ugwuanyi from Enugu North in 2015. The prevalent logic therefore, is that power should return to the East. It’s the argument the likes of Nnamani, who insist, however, that Ugwuanyi is the person to chose his successor, former governor of old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo, among others from the zone are, pushing.
But Ekweremadu is arguing that since every zone has produced governor, it should be thrown open, such that whoever wins, the next contest should be between the two remaining zones.
“I don’t think Ekweremadu will succeed,” said Nnaji. “If you look at it, there is no strong personality backing him. And of course, you know the argument. The argument is that Enugu East senatorial district produced Chimaroke Nnamani, then Enugu West where Ekweremadu belongs produced Sullivan Chime before Enugu North produced Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. So, the logic is that the seat should ideally return to Enugu East so that the rotation will start again.
“But Ekweremadu is arguing that it doesn’t necessarily have to follow that pattern. He insists that the most important thing is that whichever zone that produces now, another zone will do so subsequently. According to him, the contest should be thrown open, but it’s unlikely that it will be thrown open.
Indeed, popular opinion in the state favours power return to Enugu East where a number of potential contenders are already gearing up for the contest, among whom are Mr.Chinyeaka Oha, former permanent secretary of the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA), thought by many to be the leading aspirant, the person more likely to be supported by the power that be in the state; Senator Gilbert Nnaji, a relatively unpopular figure who Nnamani replaced as Enugu East senator in 2019; member of the House of Representatives, Offor Chukwuegbo, among others.
Yet, even in Enugu East, popularly known as Nkanu land, there are contending issues. The people of Isi Uzo, which was originally part of Nsukka before being carved into Enugu East and therefore not considered to be mainstream Nkanu, are agitating for a slot, arguing that the Nkanu have dominated the political space.
Among the mainstream Nkanu, Nkanu East, the only local government that has not produced an elected political office holder of note in its history is staking a claim, and their argument, if allowed to fly, will favour former minister of power, Professor Barth Nnaji who is from Oruku, one of the communities in the local government, and who is among those warning up for the contest.
“When you come to Enugu East, Nkanu East is favoured to produce the governor because it is the only local government that has never produced a governor, a senator or a member of the House of Representatives, or just somebody of importance,” said Mr. Nna Ude, a lawyer.
“That’s the local government of Barth Nnaji. The popular opinion is that he is likely to get it because nobody from his local government has held a major elective political post.”
Ekweremadu is looking to swim against the tide. He has demonstrated capacity to conquer adversaries over time. In 2015, he defied Chime, then outgoing governor who wanted to retire to the senate. And as noted earlier, it’s not for nothing that he is the longest serving Deputy Senate President in Nigeria and First Nigerian Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament. He is no pushover. His ambition is capable of causing tremor within the PDP in the state, but ultimately it’s difficult to win power in Enugu without the anointing of the sitting governor.