KENNETH OFOMA writes on the zoning debate that has characterized the polity in Enugu State ahead of the 2023 governorship election
Ahead of the 2023 general election, the political environment in Enugu state in recent time has been awash with debates of zoning or power shift among the senatorial districts or cultural zones in the state. Going by the rising controversy, sponsored write ups for and against zoning and repeated talk-shows on radio stations in the state regarding the topic, it appears the state is set for an epic political battle that will shape its future political relationship.
The battle may shake off the political docility in the electorate which had consigned the state to a monolithic political structure with feeble opposition over the years. While the zoning debate rages, a political activist cum commentator, Francis Akpa, who hails from Awgu, is one of those against zoning on the basis of senatorial districts – Enugu West, Enugu East and Enugu North. According to him, there was no time such arrangement was agreed upon by the people of the state.
“What happens to the four cultural groups in Enugu State which include Nsukka Cultural group, Agbaja Cultural group, Nkanu Cultural group and Greater Awgu Cultural group?” he queried. As far as Akpa and his group are concerned, Greater Awgu (in Enugu West senatorial district) is the only cultural group yet to hold the position of governor or deputy governor since the creation of the state.
His words: “Historically, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo and Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi are from Nsukka Cultural Group; Chief Jim Nwobodo and Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani are from Nkanu Cultural Group; Chief CC Onoh and Barr. Sullivan Chime are from Agbaja Cultural Group. What happens to Ndi Awgu (Greater Awgu) Cultural Group?
Are they not part of Enugu State or are they not fit to produce a governor of Enugu State? “If Agbaja and Ndi Awgu cultural groups are lumped into one senatorial zone (Enugu West), that does not vitiate their specific cultural identities and that there are four cultural groups in Enugu state and this is a verifiable fact that cannot be denied.
The politics of South-East has been dominated by these cultural groups. Why will Enugu state’s case be different; is it because Ndi Awgu are involved and nobody is talking about cultural groups?”
But in what appeared a direct reply to the issues raised by Akpa, an Enugu based lawyer, who happens to come from Enugu pioneer elected Chairman of Aninri LGA; Chief of Staff of Enugu Government House; Secretary to Enugu State Government; fourth term senator; third term Deputy President of the Senate and the first Nigerian Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament.
“My life and political odyssey are products of divine grace working through destiny helpers like you, for I know where I am coming from. I also know how far the Almighty God has brought me,” he told his constituents.
However, some of Ekweremadu’s constituents from Enugu West, who were taken unawares or are pretending by his declaration not to contest for the Senate in 2023, in the reaction, said that they have the final say if their representative will return to the Senate in 2023 or not.
In a statement issued on the matter, they said: “In truth, His Excellency, Senator Ike Ekweremadu is a man of history whose destiny is intertwined with the yearning and aspirations of his people. In real term, we, his people have the final say on where he goes to on our behalf in 2023.”
The statement issued by Concerned Citizens of Enugu West Senatorial District, was signed by Messrs Alex Ogbonna, S.K.E Udeh Okoye, Chigozie Akalusi, Donatus Uzogbado, Ralp Onovo, Mike Chukwu and Princess Chioma Chiaha. They pointed out that Senator Ekweremadu has a right to his opinions, “but we, his people, have the final word, as always, in his political decisions, now and in the future.”
The second comment was in May this year, when Ekweremadu again ruptured the political quietude of the state with his declaration that it is only God who will determine his political future ahead of 2023. Speaking on his next political move on a radio programme, the former Deputy President of the Senate said: “Only God can answer that question, not me. And I believe it is too early for me or anybody to begin to cause confusion, to distract the governor or the president by talking about what he or she aspires to be in 2023. “I think everybody should concentrate to ensure that there is good governance, to ensure that campaign promises are delivered; ensure that issues of security are addressed and provide jobs for the people. I think that should be a worry to everybody and not who succeeds who.”
When prodded further by one of the programme presenters thus: ‘Are you telling us that you are still going to be at the forefront of politics beyond the National Assembly by 2023?’ the senator still responded “It is only God that can answer that.” He also maintained that his relationship with Governor Ugwuanyi of remains cordial. “The Enugu State governor, His Excellency Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is not just a friend, he is my brother. He is my ally and also my partner. I have known him for many years,” he noted. Just like when he said he would not contest for a senatorial position again in 2023, Ekweremadu’s declaration that only God will determine his political future sparked-off myriad of reactions.
While some people saw the statement as the normal reply in the circumstance being that only God can determine the fate of man, especially in the context of his rumoured presidential ambition, others saw the statement as political equivocation. Members of the latter group happen to be those who seem to be sure that Ekeweremadu’s rumoured gubernatorial ambition was not a fluke.
Already, political pundits are analyzing Ekwremadu’s statements with a view to decoding what informed his decision and where he is headed politically beyond 2023, whether governorship or presidential given that age is still on his side and that he politically active. To this end, analysts are beginning to read meanings into Ekweremadu statements. While some believe that the former Deputy Senate President might have made the statements out of pressure, others think that was a distracting strategy to re-launch his governorship ambition, which was cut short by then Governor Sullivan Chime in 2015.
It was generally believed then that Ekweremadu wanted to succeed Chime as governor of the state. But the former governor who is from the same senatorial district as Ekweremadu capitalized on zoning sentiments to galvanise the state to zone the governorship to Enugu North.
At that point, Ekweremaru knew that his aspiration had hit the rock as any attempt to go ahead would have pitched him against the people of Nsukka who had been clamouring for power shift to Enugu North. Ekweremadu quickly re-launched his return bid to the Senate to block Chime who was oiling his political machinery to replace him at the Red Chamber. Both of them slugged it out eventually and Chime yielded to Ekweremadu returning to the Senate just so that he doesn’t contest the governorship and that power can shift to Enugu North.
The governorship pendulum later swung in the direction of the current governor, Ugwuanyi. Chime was to later decamp to the All Progressives Congress (APC) after the 2015 elections. At the moment, some people are of the view that power has gone round the three senatorial districts and therefore it can start afresh from any zone, hence the belief that Ekweremadu with his current political profile, assets and wealth, can get the governorship in 2023 if he goes for it. According to pundits, Ekweremadu may have decided not to contest the Senate in 2023 for him to try his hands on the governorship position again.
Although this might ruffle feathers as the people of Enugu East have been positioning themselves to succeed Governor Ugwuanyi, but analysts are of the opinion that politicians take their chance at the most opportune moments. They believe that as difficult as it might appear, the former Deputy Senate President may feel that he has all it takes to give very good account of himself if he decides to contest for the gubernatorial position in 2023, because waiting for the turn of Enugu West will take eight years and he might not be in a vantage position then.