2011: CHIME WALKING ON BANANA PEELS
In Enugu State, that things have finally fallen apart among power brokers ahead of the 2011 general election is no more news. Except a miracle happens, the stage is set for a political showdown in the Coal City state. As it appears, the state governor, Sullivan Chime who inherited the once-dreaded Ebeano political structure has eventually run into troubled waters.
Analysts argue that it would be preposterous to imagine that Chime would be sitting pretty comfortable now. He is certainly in a tight corner and with the election barely six months away, the political sharks in the state are all patiently waiting to feast on him.
But the way it is, whether the lawyer-turned politician will safely swim ashore or not is only in the belly of time. Like in other states across the nation, politicians in the former capital of East central State are gearing up to take one another in a predictably fierce battle.
For followers of events in Enugu, a cloud of uncertainty is gradually gathering around the second term ambition of the governor who won the 2007 election via the Ebeano political structure established by Nnamani, his predecessor and estranged godfather.
Analysts argue that until recently, the game should have been a walkover for Chime and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which has enjoyed an intimidating presence in the state since 1999 when democracy was re-introduced in Nigeria. But there are strong indications that Chime might lose control of the PDP structure in the state as a coalition of aggrieved members from the ruling party continue plots to wrest power from him and stop his second term ambition.
Not a few believe that even with the advantage of being an incumbent, his road back to Enugu Lion Building is already strewn with thorns.
From a close range, the battle is between Chime and all other power brokers in the state led by the national chairman of PDP and also former governor of the state, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo. Surprisingly, the struggle seems to be uniting some politicians in the state who hitherto, were strange bedfellows. While Chime is banking on the incumbency factor, his opponents are hoping to make handy their wealth of experience when the time comes.
Though the battle has been there for sometime, it finally boiled over last week when the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP ordered the immediate dissolution of the executive of its Enugu chapter. In the order, the PDP announced the setting up of an eight-man panel to conduct a fresh congress in the state. The statement also directed the former executive of the party to handover immediately to the congress panel and cooperate with it.
But in a sharp reaction, the embattled chairman of PDP in the state, Mr Vita Abba said the national chairman of the ruling party did not have the powers to dissolve the executive of the chapter. ' Ordinarily, we would not have bothered with the incoherent submissions of the characters behind the baseless report. But we deem it necessary to put the records straight if only to expose the fallacies inherent in their suppositions.
'The decision to issue the said release without reference to the National Working Committee (NWC) and the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party is most irresponsible and smacks of hidden agenda. It is now very obvious that the brains behind the announcement of the purported dissolution are desperate to thwart the existing peace in the Enugu State Chapter of the PDP and at the same time scuttle the party's efforts to support Mr President in his quest to win the forthcoming primaries and the election', he said. The effort to survive the political turf littered with 'banana peel' did not stop with the tough position of Mr Abba as the State Assembly also condemned the dissolution of the executive of the state chapter.
Members of the House who are beneficiaries of the automatic policy of Chime called for the immediate suspension of PDP national chairman for what they called flagrant abuse of the party's constitution. In a motion by Michael Onyeze (Igboeze North) which was unanimously adopted, the House passed a vote of no confidence on him and urged the party at ward, local government and state levels to commence a process of suspending Okwesilieze Nwodo.
Many believe the position of the House is expected as the controversial policy would have assured their re-election to their seats. While some of them have been in the House since 1999, many of them were elected in 2003.
Bone of contention
Apart from other factors at the background, the most contentious issue remains the automatic policy of Governor Chime. Though the state chief executive had severally denied it, many believe that he is bent on returning all the elected officers of the state in the 2011 election. The calculation is based on the fact that virtually all the local government Chairmen and Councilors were given such privileges recently in the state.
At a recent local government election in the state, the governor ignored the cries of the majority and literally imposed the incumbent office holders on the people. Many who had various aspirations in the poll and even went further to obtain nomination forms at outrageous costs were simply told to wait for a more opportune time.
So, with the benefit of hindsight, power brokers in the state do not want to take any chance in the coming general election. Their interest is to ensure a free and fair poll to give the people a sense of belonging and stop the 'carry go' policy. What people in this school of thought believe is that it is only such a process that can throw up a credible class of political leaders in the state as many of those who are currently in the state and National Assembly have outlived their usefulness. Many wonder why some elected officers should be re-elected for up to four consecutive times.
In Igboeze North, the most populated local government in the state, a particular House of Assembly member who has gone back to the same seat about four times was reported to have boasted that his position would be vacant when he eventually dies. During the administration of Chimaroke Nnamani as governor of the state, the same lawmaker was reported to have said in a public function in the state that he would continue to be loyal to the former governor because he gave him the opportunity to become a millionaire. Similarly, another House of Representatives member for Igboeze/Udenu federal constituency perceived to be a passive legislator is still gunning for a third consecutive ticket. The story is the same across the state.
In the estimation of political observers, the governor's reason for the automatic ticket policy is to secure his re-election ambition. The thinking is that even though the former political godson of Senator Chimaroke Nnamani knows that the policy is unpopular with the people but believes that it will be easier for him to win the next governorship election based on the already existing structure. The policy is like the saying, 'Rob my back, I rob your back'. Analysts argue that the governor is sacrificing the collective interest of people of the state on the altar of self- aggrandizement.
The gathering storm
For those who understand the dynamics of Enugu politics, the only thing going for Chime is that as an incumbent, he still enjoys a lot of influence in the state. Many argue that he will still be in charge of the state's treasury during the elections and would have enough money to sustain his support base. Such argument is corroborated by the fact that in Nigeria, most politicians play 'politics of the stomach'.
However, many believe that he needs all the strength he can muster to survive the cream of politicians squaring up for him. Some of them include the PDP national chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo who is believed to have the ears of President Goodluck Jonathan, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani and former governors of the state Jim Nwobodo and Chimaroke Nnamani.
Another political heavyweight which Chime can only ignore at his peril is a former Minister of information, Chief Nnia Nwodo who has been a potent force since the emergence of Jonathan. He was one of those who anchored the formal presidential declaration of the former Bayelsa State governor in Abuja and indeed was the Master of Ceremony. Added to his profile is that he is popular in Nsukka Senatorial zone which boasts of nearly 50 per cent of votes in Enugu State. Recently, he resigned his appointment as chairman of Enugu centenary celebration, a development which is perceived as a declaration of 'political war' against Chime's administration. As it is, what seems to be the only thing uniting majority of Enugu politicians is the 'Chime must go' project. Surprisingly, until recently, Governor Chime had enjoyed the support and confidence of majority of power brokers in the state including those mentioned.
When he assumed power, one thing that endeared him to people was his denunciation of the Ebeano political structure which was perceived as anti-people. Many also had a positive impression of his administration for the modest achievements it has made in the state. Except the political tide changes, he may have lost the goodwill he established before now especially as many see him as a selfish politician who has given about 70 per cent of opportunities in his administration to people of his Senatorial zone alone.
Even with the level of uncertainty in the air, many believe that Governor Chime would not have had much problems getting re-elected if he had concentrated on his ambition alone. Not a few are surprised that he is still clinging to the automatic ticket policy which is obviously very unpopular with people of the state. Majority of people of the state cannot reconcile why he should be protecting those they consider as 'political liabilities'.
The thinking among critical observers is that what should bother Chime now is his ambition and not how to control the state's political structure. Those who hold this position argue that with the emergence of Nwodo as the national chairman, the governor ought to have known that he cannot be left to sorely dictate what happens in the state. The PDP boss was said to have rationally told the governor that he was in support of his re-election bid but that he (Chime) should leave his Senatorial zone (Nsukka) for him. The insinuation is that Nwodo wants to determine what happens in what is considered as his own political base. Many believe it is a fair deal which if the governor were to be an experienced politician, would have easily supported.
The Jonathan factor
There is also a school of thought that believes that Governor Chime did not support the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan when his predecessor, Late Umaru Yar'Adua was indisposed as a result of the terminal illness that eventually ended his life. The calculation is that this may be a pay back time for the governor whose wife is said to be close to the late Yar'Adua family, hence his reluctance initially to support Jonathan's presidency.
Many are waiting to see which way the political pendulum would go. But the questions which continue to agitate the minds of people include: Will Chime make some concessions and follow the political reality on ground? Is he going to face the challenge as an Army General who does not believe in the word surrender? In fact, the questions just keep coming but only time would tell.