Enugu PDP: Ugwuanyi, Ekweremadu brace for final showdown
Ekweremadu, Ugwuanyi

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Days to the May 25 PDP governorship primary election in Enugu State, the fates of the party and those of the state’s two main gladiators ahead of the 2023 election, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Senator Ike Ekweremadu, hang in the balance.

Ugwuanyi, the outgoing governor who is aspiring for Enugu North senatorial seat, is determined to ensure that the next governor comes from Enugu East senatorial district in line with the state’s zoning arrangement, but Ekweremadu, who is from Enugu West and current senator representing the district, insists on running for the state’s top job, arguing that since the seat has already rotated among the three senatorial zones, it must not necessarily start from the East, where it began in 1999 with Senator Chimaroke Nnamani as governor.

A battle for the control of the state’s party structure ahead of the party’s governorship primary on May 25 has since ensued and had climaxed on May 30 during the ward congresses to elect its three-man delegates for the primary.

Both Ugwuanyi, who evidently has firm control of the party structure, and Ekweremadu, conducted parallel ward congresses on the day, with the latter alleging foul play by the governor’s camp.

The Ekweremadu camp is insisting that Ugwuanyi had already compiled the list of the three delegates for each of the wards, four days before the May 30 congress.

They allege that that the governor invited 17 local government council chairmen of the state to government house and instructed them to meet with Augustine Nnamani, the state’s party chairman, to compile names of trusted party members as the delegates.

Consequently, the senator’s supporters had on the election day mobilized to conduct their own congresses, wrote results on plain sheets and have proceeded to a federal high court in Abuja to ask their own delegates list be recognised.

“We wish to inform our teeming supporters that the lawsuit concerning THE three-man ad-hoc delegates came up today, Friday, May 20, 2022 at the Federal High Court, Abuja,” Ekweremadu said in a statement on Friday. “Arguments were taken and the matter was adjourned to May 27, 2022 for judgment. We await the outcome and intend to pursue the matter to a logical conclusion.”

The court may indeed eventually decide, as both camps are set to elect parallel candidates on May 25, even as Ugwuanyi has the entire leadership structure of the party in the state behind him.

“One challenge Ekweremadu has is that no single prominent politician in the state is with him,” said Nnamdi Nnaji, a party in member in the state. “He is just using his boys to do the things he does. The PDP leadership in the state, as well as elected officials are with Ugwuanyi. Non of them is buying Ekweremadu’s argument that the next governor can come from anywhere.”

Indeed, Ekweremadu’s governorship ambition is against the run of play. Much like that of senate minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, it is an attempt to swim against the tide; one that even his proven political credential could prove too inadequate to surmount.

The Aninri born lawmaker, is looking to upset the zoning order, being from Enugu West, which, by the zoning arrangement is not the next in line to take over power from Ugwuanyi, but Enugu East, the zone of Senator Chimaroke Nnamani who was governor between 1999 and 2007 before handing over to Sullivan Chime from Enugu West, same zone as Ekweremadu.

Chime, who was governor from 2007 to 2011, handed over to Ugwuanyi from Enugu North. Ugwuanyi, in line with the same arrangement, is meant to return power to Enugu East from where it all began. But Ekweremadu has expanded the argument, and he has good points, too.

The three senatorial zones in Enugu does not capture, entirely, the state’s whole dynamics. Though the senatorial zones have become the criteria for power rotation, Enugu is a state made up, broadly and loosely, of four cultural divisions, namely: the Nsukka zone, the Nkanu zone, the Udi zone and the Greater Awgu zone, to which Ekweremadu belongs.

But while the Nsukka and Nkanu zones have the distinct senatorial zones of Enugu North and Enugu East, Udi and Awgu are lumped into the Enugu West senatorial zone. His argument, therefore, is that his Awgu zone, being one of the four cultural zones in the state, deserves a slot, more because it remains the only cultural zone yet to taste power in the state since its creation.

“The truth of the matter is that, we have three senatorial districts like every other state; we have Enugu East, Enugu North and Enugu West. Enugu North where the present governor comes from had produced two governors in the persons of Okwesilieze Nwodo from Igbo Etiti and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi from Udenu,” Ekweremadu had in a recent interview.

“The other zone is the Enugu East, which is now saying it is its turn. But unfortunately, they have produced three governors —C.C. Onoh from Enugu North local government, Jim Nwobodo from Enugu South local council and Chimaroke Nnamani from Nkanu West council.

“Then the third zone is Enugu West where I come from. The only governor the zone has produced is Sullivan Chime. Remember, some people select their governors from the cultural groups in a state. In Enugu, we have four cultural groups. We have the Nsukka speaking people of Enugu State, which as I said have produced two governors.

“We have the Nkanu people of Enugu State, they have produced, if you like, two governors. Let me say that C.C. Onoh is an Udi speaking person. So, Udi has produced two, which are Onoh and Sullivan.

“Then there is the fourth one, which is Awgu and it has never produced a governor. Awgu is one of the cultural zones. It is just like if you go to a place like Benue and you have the Idoma and Tiv. If you go to Abia, you have the Ngwa speaking people, Ikwuano and all of that. In Enugu, that is the situation, Awgu people have never produced a governor.”

Ekweremadu’s argument is one that resonates with the people of Awgu who mostly feel some sense of marginalisation. They genuinely believe it’s their turn to govern, and are rallying behind their son in Ekweremadu.

But other groups have other ideas, and are countering the senator’s position. In a statement weeks ago, Prof. Damian Opata chairman of Nsukka Ezue, argued that Ekweremadu’s Greater Awgu bloc was a sub-ethnic group, not a Senatorial District in Enugu State.

According to Prof. Opata, if Senator Ekweremadu succeeds in micro-zoning Enugu West Senatorial District, he should also recognize Igbo Omaba, Igbo Odo, and Igbo Mmanwu, which are also sub-ethnic groups in Enugu North Senatorial District of the state.

Opata’s statement read, “Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu, a Professor, a three-time Deputy Senate President, and a highly respected nationalist with many credentials, national and international, says that there is no zoning in Enugu state, yet he canvasses the principle underlying zoning or should one say micro-zoning in the speech he made during his declaration of intent to contest for the office of Governor in Enugu State.

“Such speeches are fundamental because they reveal both transparent and hidden agenda of the candidate.

“Greater Awgu is not a senatorial district. It is part of Enugu West senatorial district. What card is Distinguished Senator Professor Ike Ekwweremadu playing with this Greater Awgu phenomenon? Is it to shore up his immediate political base? If so, what are the consequences for dividing Enugu West into two blocs?

“Or is there another hidden agenda that the master strategist is playing with this Greater Awgu phenomenon? In any case, does his position on Greater Awgu add up to any significant issue in zoning? Should one call Greater Awgu a micro zone? In which case, is the Distinguished Senator micro-zoning Enugu West? And to whose advantage?

“He approaches the issue of Greater Awgu from a historical perspective. According to him: Enugu state is composed of four sub-ethnic groups which are coterminous with Agbaja (Udi), Awgu.

“Maybe, the Senator has forgotten that old Nsukka and old Enugu zones used to be one senatorial district each? Now, old Nsukka zone is one senatorial district, while old Enugu zone has two senatorial zones. Did our Distinguished Senator think about this before making his pronouncements on Greater Awgu?

“Where does this place Enugu North senatorial zone? This is a great signal for the people of Nsukka senatorial zone. True, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates that there shall be three senatorial districts in every state in the Federation.”

A greater proportion of Enugu people will easily agree with Opata’s position. Regardless, Ekweremadu can bank on the support of his Greater Awgu zone, and without a doubt, is a popular figure across the state, having as a senator executed a number of road, water and electricity projects across the zones, even as his positions on national issues have endeared him to many.

But the incumbent Ugwuanyi has since taken a stand, and is determined to return power to Enugu East in line with the senatorial zones arrangement and if there is anything Enugu people have learned from the days of Chimaroke Nnamani, 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 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 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) being very dominant. There are no alternatives centers of power, therefore. And as things stand, the incumbent governor 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, had been pandering to him with a view to wining his support.

But Ekweremadu, having failed to get the governor to his side, has decided to throw a challenge. The odds are stacked against him. 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; Peter Mba, former Commissioner of Finance and owner of Pinnacle and Gas Oil Limited, Barth Nnaji, former minister of power; Hon Chijioke Edoga, the commissioner for environment and a former member of House of Representatives who represented Enugu-East/Isi-Uzo federal constituency.

Yet, even in Enugu East, popularly known as Nkanu land, there are contending issues. The people of Isi Uzo, where Edoga comes from, 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 in the senatorial zone.

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.

Thats 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.

The governor has not helped matters by continuing to keep mute about his choice of successor.

“At the moment, nobody is sure who Ugwuanyi is backing,” Nnaji said. “And he has given many people hope. Everyone is tagging unto him at the moment, saying he had endorsed them.

Today, we’d hear that Edoga is his candidate. Tomorrow, we’d hear that it is Barth Nnaji and another day, they will say it’s Chinyeaka Oha, so everyone is confused.

“This is unlike what used to happen. By this time in 2015, everybody already knew that Sullivan had settled for Ugwuanyi. But I think because Ugwuanyi has given so many people hope in order to get them by his side, he is finding it difficult to openly make his successor.”

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