2015: Enugu seeks to reduce tension through consensus

By The Citizen

Enugu State Caucus of PDP last weekend endorsed a three-term member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, as its consensus candidate for next year's governorship poll. But would that make the coming general election less rancorous? Christopher Isiguzo tries to find out

Ahead of the 2015 general election, an unusual air of silence seems to have enveloped Enugu State following last week's emergence of a three-term member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, as the consensus governorship candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state. The emergence of Ugwuanyi, which was the outcome of a caucus meeting of the PDP in the state held at the Government House penultimate Saturday, has been perceived in several political circles as a master-stroke. It has effectively checked what would probably have been a bitter political contest in the Coal City State had the exercise been thrown open.

Streamlining the Contest Prior to the endorsement, many politicians had indicated interest to contest the governorship on the platform of PDP, with each claiming to possess the wherewithal to achieve success at the polls. Among those initially believed to be gunning for the Enugu Lion Building, apart from Ugwuanyi, were chairman of the party in the state, Vita Abba; Speaker of the House of Assembly, Eugene Odoh; a former deputy governor of the state, Chief Okechukwu Itanyi; Senator Ayogu Eze, the senator for Enugu North; Hon. Pat Asadu; Prince Mathew Agu; Ambassador Fidel Ayogu; Professor Osita Ogbu; Chief Ikeje Asogwa; Professor Simon Ortuanya; and Dan Onyishi. Though, most of the aspirants, with the exception of the speaker, who even printed and posted his posters across the state, could not muster enough courage to make public declarations, their body language clearly indicated they wanted to succeed the incumbent governor, Sullivan Chime. A sign of what to come emerged after a meeting of the party caucus for Enugu North senatorial zone where the governorship was zoned to late last year by the PDP, as the meeting unanimously endorsed Ugwuanyi as their preferred candidate for the plum position. This had led 10 of the 13 aspirants to throw in the towel for the sake of peace and unity. The all-important meeting was said to have been attended by at least 90 notable chieftains of the party, including members of the party's working committee, Board of Trustees, commissioners, national and state lawmakers, elders, council chairmen and their deputies from the zone.

They included former national chairman of PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, chairman of the senate committee on works, Eze, Chief Fidelis Okoro, Ambassador Fidel Ayogu, Abba, elder stateswoman and former member of the House of Representatives, Chief (Mrs.) Justina Eze, and chairman of the PDP in that zone, Chief Mike Ejinima. In order to firm up the endorsement by the Enugu North senatorial zone, other zonal caucuses was also held beginning with Enugu East, with the last being Enugu West zone where the lawmaker equally received unanimous endorsements. In fact, it was said that those who moved the motion for the endorsement of the legislator who represents Udenu/Igboeze North federal constituency were those who were initially running for the governorship with him, Ayogu and Itanyi, in what further confirmed the wide acceptability of his candidacy. THISDAY checks revealed that the governorship of Enugu State since the advent of the present democracy has been trailed by rancour and bitterness as different power brokers have usually used the period to demonstrate their political pedigrees and control of the political landscape. In 1999, it was the former governor of old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo, who ensured that the relatively unknown Dr. Chimaraoke Nnamani emerged as the governor, contrary to the political permutations at the time. By 2007, the then sitting governor, Nnamani, also facilitated the emergence of his then Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chime, as successor. Though, that decision was met with stiff resistance, it sailed through at the end of the day as the governor effectively consolidated his position and held sway for two terms.

Objection However, while the emergence of Ugwuanyi has elicited chains of endorsements from different groups from across the state, Eze, who had initially protested the endorsement during the zonal caucus meeting in Enugu, has insisted that the PDP governorship candidate must be chosen through an open contest. He says anything short of this is anti-democratic. Despite the obvious existence of two sharp political factions within the PDP in the state, there is hardly any weighty voice of dissent over Ugwuanyi emergence as consensus candidate of the party aside Eze. Nwodo, himself from the Nsukka zone of the state, described the emergence of Ugwuanyi as consensus candidate as a political masterstroke by the political leaders of the zone, and many analysts regard it as one of the best strategies Chime has adopted in a bid to douse political tension in the build up to the elections. The governor, who coordinated the zonal caucus meetings, was said to have stressed the need for the leaders to ensure that whoever emerged had sterling qualities that would further cement the peace and unity existing in PDP in the state. The governor has not enjoyed the best of working relationship with Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and other members of the National Assembly following the decision of the PDP in the state that those who had gone to the National Assembly more than once should give way to other people in the next election. The decision has continued to widen the gulf between the governor and the National Assembly. But Nwodo, who spoke after the Enugu Zonal caucus had endorsed Ugwuanyi said, 'It was a political master stroke by the Enugu North leaders who have successfully warded off political invaders keen on taking away the position zoned to us by the state PDP.' He said the leaders had no better option than getting a consensus candidate in view of the sensitive nature of the decision facing the stakeholders.

Popularity Ugwuanyi enjoys wide acceptability across the major political spectrums of the state, including the grassroots. Nwodo He explained that the political leaders of the zone knew it was only such a mature approach that could make them manage the situation without much upheaval in view of the various vested interests. The PDP BOT member appreciated the role played by Chime. Another chieftain of the party who also attended the caucus meeting described Ugwuanyi as 'a philanthropic lawmaker who phenomenally receives unending stream of visitors at his home at Orba most weekends and insists on personally seeing them to attend to all their respective life worries.' While also describing the lawmaker as a bridge-builder, the party leader said, 'He would always tell you that it pains him that our brothers who are politicians and leaders would be in disarray over these differences which we can always manage for the betterment of our state.' So far, in spite of the seeming political war raging between Ekweremadu and some National Assembly members, on one hand,, and Chime, on the other, and the long-existing no love lost relationship between the governor and his predecessor, Nnamani, no notable figure from these camps has openly voiced disapproval of the choice of Ugwuanyi. In fact, even as he is seen as the man preferred by Chime, it is also common knowledge now that Ekweremadu took part in the Abuja meeting last Sunday when all the National Assembly members from the state who met with the governor approved the choice of the consensus candidate but disagreed on the aspect that ruled them out of the contest for National Assembly positions next year. After the endorsement, series of actions have followed to ensure that all party leaders in the state are in the same ship. THISDAY gathered that apart from the zonal endorsements, the speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Eugene Odo, himself an aspirant, who had initially declined to step down for Ugwuanyi, has now decided to support him after he was engaged and appealed to not to rock the boat. According to a source at the office of the state chairman of the party, Abba, 'These actions are to ensure that we exhaust all avenues that would help us take all leaders along, not minding that this candidate we have settled for has been seen as very popular across the state.' It is gathered that Chime, along with the party leaders in the state, would also take the decision to the State Executive Committee of the party where it would receive the final approval before the coming party primaries. While Eze has been protesting, other known chieftains of the party, including Abba and Ambassador Justina Eze who is also a member of the party's board of trustees have been voicing their support for the endorsement. Specifically, Ambassador Eze has reacted to the press conference addressed by the senator in Abuja during which he alleged that what happened on the day the North zonal caucus adopted the Ugwuanyi was an ambush against him and that it was a mere gathering of the people from the senatorial district, expressing shock at the about-face. She contended that having taken part in the caucus meeting that adopted the candidate, she saw the comments of the senator as unfortunate and a strange act that should not be encouraged in the interest of the people of the senatorial district who have been longing to have the governorship seat zoned to them for nearly two decades.

Preferred Successor Chime has also justified the endorsement of the lawmaker, saying he has already found his successor who perfectly fits into the kind of governor the state requires by the time he would leave office. Chime said, 'I already know the person that will succeed me, by the Grace of God. We already know him. We don't have opposition here. PDP is the only party here, once we speak, the people have spoken. So we expect him to win. Like I said, by February, we'll be going to the poll to vote yes or no. I don't expect any serious minded person to contest against him, though we are not stopping anybody, anyway. This is just our wish and prayer. He fits into the person I would like to take over from me. He fits in perfectly. He's widely acceptable, kind hearted and a team player. He has all it takes; he's being in House of Representatives for three terms. I think he is eminently qualified.' On the statement by the party's national leadership warning state chapters against endorsing candidates, the governor said rather than issue warning statements, the party should commend states that were able to reach a consensus through dialogue rather than confrontation. 'The party cannot and never be against any level of the party coming together to agree on a candidate. What should be their problem if any, would be if any level of the party stops other people from buying forms. Here people are free to buy forms. We endorsed the president as the presidential candidate; it won't stop him from going for primaries. It won't. But it will be a mere formality; any other person coming out will be coming there to ridicule himself because the party has spoken. But it can't stop anybody from buying form constitutionally,' Chime said. He continued, 'That we have endorsed him is a statement to whoever that is coming that the party has spoken but if you like, of course, the party wants to make some money but if you like you can pick form. Nobody will stop anybody from buying form, buy your form and go for primaries, what you find, you take. Nobody is going against the party directives. I'm not sure what they said affects us. As far as Enugu is concerned, we are not stopping anybody from contesting. Thank God, under the present dispensation, all forms are bought in Abuja. Nobody has the powers to stop you from buying forms. If anything, the party should encourage it. They should congratulate us for this feat, for coming together to say this is our choice.'

New Entrant Meanwhile, another chieftain of PDP from Enugu West senatorial zone, Chief Anayo Onwuegbu, yesterday declared his intention to contest the governorship position. Onwuegbu who had contested for the governorship three times in 2002, 2006 and 2010, also expressed his opposition to any form of zoning and adoption of consensus candidate, noting that he would take part in the November 29 governorship primary. Addressing newsmen in Enugu, Onwuegbu, who hails from Akpugoeze community in Oji-River council of the state, said his decision to seek the governorship for the fourth time was an outcome of wide consultation in the state and beyond. He said the governorship seat of the state cannot be subjected to a zoning arrangement, noting that since the advent of democracy in 1999, politicians from all the three zones of the state have been contesting for the position. According to him, 'You can continue to contest for a position and when you are defeated, you claim that the position has been zoned to the winner. All of us will have to contest and whoever wins at the end of the day, we'll all congratulate him. I wish all my fellow contestants the best in our envisaged peaceful and friendly contest, after which we shall still remain great sons of Wawa land. 'I am contesting the election so as to reconcile the political class and present to the people of the state the leadership that will work with a roadmap of action which will involve all and sundry in the humanitarian emancipation of our self-esteem and general development of Wawa land. 'I neither present myself as a candidate of the West, East and of the North but as Anayo Onwuegbu who wants to work with you to evolve a new Enugu State where you can have a say in the determination of your existence cum your overall life development.' In any case, it seems clear that Ugwuanyi may not encounter any major obstacle in his governorship bid. Thisday