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Zoning: The Ugwuanyi, Ekweremadu war begins

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Enugu PDP: Ugwuanyi, Ekweremadu brace for final showdown

By OBINNA EZUGWU

When, in a statement through his aide, Barrister Steve Oruruo, last week, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu State insisted that he would not tinker with the state’s zoning arrangement, and will not be distracted from his assignment by overzealous politicians, it was a direct shot at Ike Ekweremadu, former deputy senate president.

Oruruo, speaking for the governor, had argued in the statement that, “It is possible that some people want to destabilize the government in Enugu State, but as you can see our peace-loving governor has maintained his focus. Notable leaders and elder statesmen have spoken and the situation is clear that zoning exists and must continue to exist in the state.”

The statement was the prelude to an open confrontation between Ekweremadu and Ugwuanyi, which had seemed inevitable from the moment the former indicated interest in the state’s top job.

Ekweremadu’s governorship ambition, which was always expected to happen at some point, comes at this moment, 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.

Much have been said about the prospect of Ekweremadu, and Abaribe governorship in Enugu and Abia states; how both men emerging governors of their respective states – with Prof. Charles Soludo already governor in Anambra – could bring about an era of quality governance in the Southeast.

But such expectations rarely take into cognisance, the nuances of politics in the aforementioned states, which could have easily shown that their quests are problematic and may indeed be destined to fail.

It’s an established pattern, more so in the Southeast, that outgoing governors opt for political neophytes as their successors – Willie Obiano handing over to Soludo in Anambra is a notable exception – thus, it’s unlikely that either Ugwuanyi or Okezie Ikpeazu, would want Ekweremadu or Abaribe to succeed them.

But more crucially, the ambitions of both men are an attempt to distort well established order of power rotation among the three senatorial zones in the states. Abaribe, who currently represents the Abia South Senatorial District, is looking to succeed Ikpeazu, who happens to be holding the governorship position on account of it being the turn of Abia South.

After his tenure in 2007, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, representing Abia North Senatorial District in the present national assembly, handed over to Chief T.A.Orji, the current Abia Central Senator, who in 2015, handed over to Ikpeazu from Abia South. In line with this rotation, Ikpeazu is expected to handover to a candidate from Abia North, and not Abaribe who is from the same senatorial zone.

Indeed, in Abia, while there is still a semblance of calm, feelers suggest that an Ikpeazu versus Abaribe collision is imminent.

In Enugu, however, the war, of words, has begun; what from all indications, could potentially lead to a bruising battle, but one which Ekweremadu, who wants to cap his long career in the senate with an eight-year stint at Lion Building, the states government house, is holding the short end of the stick.

The Aninri born lawmaker, is looking to upset the zoning order, being from Enugu West, the zone he currently represents at the national assembly, and 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.

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“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 argued in an interview with Guardian last week.

“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 last week, 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.

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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. Party delegates in both Enugu North and Enugu East have since pledged allegiance to Ugwuanyi, and within Enugu West, Ekweremadu’s zone, he can only count on the masses of Aninri local government and Awgu local government, the two local governments that make up Awgu zone.

Remaining local governments in the zone, Ezeagu, Oji River and Udi, do not have much attachment to the Awgu aspiration.

And to compound his headache, the local government chairmen of both Aninri and Awgu, as probably expected in a clime where local governments are in the pockets of governors, have since declared their loyalty to Ugwuanyi and their willingness to go with the zoning arrangement.

Indeed in a communique fortnight ago, all five local government chairmen in Enugu West, including Hon. Ajah Beneth Ogbonna, chairman of Aninri; Hon. Pedro Nwankwo, Awgu; Nze Philip Okoh, Udi; Hon. Chinedu Onyeagba, Oji River and Hon. Chukwudi Ozoelube, Ezeagu, backed the zoning arrangement and accused Ekweremadu of being economical with the truth.

“I dont think Ekweremadu will succeed,” said Nnamdi Kenneth Nnaji, a political analyst in Enugu. “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.”

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.

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.

 

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