ENUGU 2011: IT'S FIGHT TO FINISH BETWEEN CHIME AND NNAMANI
The politics of Enugu State is built on a tripod. Udi, Nkanu and Nsukka are the dominant intra- ethnic groups in the state. Each season, they seek to call the shots in the power equation. During the ill-fated Third Republic, Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo, an Nsukka indigene, was governor.
However, his administration was cut short following the palace coup by , Gen Sani Abacha, which effectively ended the transition started by Gen Ibrahim Babangida. Between 1999 and 2003, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani, who hails from Nkanu, was governor. The present governor, Mr Sullivan Chime is from Udi.
Again, the clouds are gathering over the political firmament of the state. Groups and individuals are aligning and strategizing following the release of the 2011 elections timetable by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Indeed, it promises to be battle royale, though many of the political gladiators are still keeping their plans and aspirations under wraps, bidding their time.
Checks, however, revealed that the battle for the soul of the coal city state will be a straight fight between the camp of incumbent Governor Sullivan Chime and his predecessor, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, head of the Ebeano dynasty. There is no love lost between the two former secondary school classmates and buddies.
Interestingly, Chime's emergence as governor of Enugu State was facilitated by Ebeano. According to the state factional chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Barrister Raymond Nnaji, 'incumbent governor of Enugu State is an Ebeano product. He, Chime, cannot disown Ebeano because it is only a father that can disown a son; a son cannot disown his father. It can never happen. So, whether Chime likes it or not, he is Ebeano. If he is not Ebeano physically, he is Ebeano in spirit.'
While Nnamani served his eight-year tenure as governor of Enugu State, between 1999 and 2007, Chime was part and parcel of the administration. Between 1999 and 2002, Chime was legal adviser to Nnamani. He was elevated to the position of Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General in 2002 and he served in that capacity till the administration ended in 2007.
Despite Chime's chummy relationship with Nnamani while in office, the former's emergence as his successor came as surprise to many. While many of the top functionaries of the Nnamani regime indicated interest in the plum job, Chime did not. In fact, if he was interested in becoming governor, he did not show it. Those touted as likely successors at the time included the likes of then deputy governor, Chief Okey Itanyi, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Dan Shere, former Minister of Information, Mr. Nweke Jr and deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. While others declared intention to contest the office and attended political meetings, Chime did not. Indeed, some of the aspirants conducted themselves in a manner that suggested that they were sure of Nnamani's endorsement and support. It was only Itianyi who, though interested in being governor, was technically out.
Chime got the nod because he did not belong to any of the factions that were desperate, in the quest to succeed Nnamani. The former governor reckoned that the choice of a neutral person, as Chime, would be better for the PDP, as he feared that picking any of the other contenders, who had polarized the party, may spell doom for it. According to an aide of the former governor, 'Chime's seeming indifference to the succession struggle caught the fancy of the former governor.
Some of the other aspirants appeared so desperate to take over the reins of power that Nnamani became uncomfortable with their aspirations. Eventually, to the surprise of many of us in the administration and, perhaps, those outside, Nnamani anointed Chime. Subsequently, Nnamani got the party leadership in the state to cue into that and started mobilizing for Chime. As it said, the rest is history.'
With the massive support provided by Ebeano, Nnamani's political machinery, Chime coasted to victory in the 2007 gubernatorial election. However, many insist that Chime's electoral victory was a product of the 'notorious PDP rigging machinery.' According to the former gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Okechukwu Ezea, 'it was a situation where somebody did not campaign, he had no manifesto other than the fact that he would be put in the office and he was put in office. Nobody voted for them.'
Friends at war
In any case, the tale began to twist soon after. Even before Chime was sworn-in, the Ebeano group began to crack . Some sources insist that crises of confidence began to rock the group as the new kid on the block started to alienate the machinery that threw him up and ensured his emergence as the number one citizen of the state.
Perhaps, Chime only manifested the traits of a good apprentice, showcasing the lessons he had learnt from his master. It could be recalled that the former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, played a vital role in the emergence of Nnamani as governor but was later sidetracked. In fact, the situation was that Nnamani made Enugu so hot for Nwobodo that the latter rarely visited even his home town, and got sent into political oblivion. Indeed, theirs was a long standing relationship sacrificed on the altar of politics.
According to the 2003 gubernatorial candidate of the United Nigeria Democratic Party (UNDP), Chief Alex Obiechina, 'Nnamani was one of the Nwobodo boys when we were in the university. In fact, Nwobodo, as governor of old Anambra State, made Nnamani the leader of the Wawa students caucus then and gave him a Volkswagen Beatle with which to run around and mobilize students for his government. So, he is an old ally of Nwobodo.
'Of course, Nwobodo was instrumental to Nnamani's victory. He pressured the PDP hierarchy to take him as candidate. The state primaries was a battle between Nwobodo's camp and Okwy Nwodo's group. Nwobodo fought very hard and used his connection to ensure that Nnamani got the PDP primaries ticket. Infact, when Nwobodo thought they were already through it and was on his way to Enugu from Abuja, he got a message at Gwagwalada that Nwodo's candidate had been chosen, he ran back and was able to overcome them. That was on December 25, 1998.'
And to rub it in, Chime began to court politicians who had problems with Nnamani. But defending his action, he explained: 'What happened during the last dispensation had nothing to do with me. Yes, my predecessor had problems with some of the so-called old ones. But government is for everybody. The other day, we inaugurated our state council of elders. All our past governors including him, the past senate president, serving deputy senate president, I mean all our sons who have served and distinguished themselves are all members of the council. So we want everyone to be part of government.
'Why do you want to exclude anybody? It doesn't make sense. So you're young or old, whatever, come and join us. For example, one of the former governors, Dr Okwy Nwodo, is a member of the council. He came for the meeting and participated. A week later, he gave evidence against me at the tribunal. I wont hold that against him. Government is government, you don't bring in personal issues. If the meeting (council of elders) is called again, he would come and we would hold our meeting and he would genuinely contribute his own quota. I believe that is government. As a leader, you must be accommodating and live above board. I don't have any business disagreeing with anybody because government property is not my personal property. But we have to protect it because that is what is right. We are here to serve the people with the people'.
But while Chime has been defending some of his actions since he assumed office, Nnamani has maintained stoic silence. Observers contend that Nnamani's silence since he severed ties with Chime is making the latter uncomfortable as he could not fathom the next move his former principal would make.
Chime's survival tactics
Chime has made deft political moves in the attempt to consolidate power. For instance, he has not reshuffled his cabinet since he was sworn in. Although many of his executive council members were part of Nnamani's government, Chime is said to have kept them in his cabinet so as to continue to enjoy their support, as he fears that sacking them could make them return to the Ebeano camp. In fact, the most Chime had done was to move a few of the commissioners from one ministry to another.
In the same vein, he retained most of the local government chairmen and all the councilors during the December 2009 local government election. The reason is also to continue to enjoy their support. Another profound political move made by Chime was that on assumption of office, he embraced popular programmes, which endeared him to the people. Unlike Nnamani who embarked on big projects, like the International Conference Centre, Lomalinda Housing Estate, Enugu State Univerty of Technology (ESUT) permanent site etc, Chime restricted his energy to rehabilitating failed roads, erection of street lights and provision of pipe borne water etc, which will affect the common man.
According to an Enugu resident, Mr. Chika Chukwu, 'unlike before when we used to visit the mechanics regularly to repair our cars damaged by the bad roads, the coming of Chime has changed all that. The roads are now smooth, we now enjoy street lights, so we are happy with our governor.'
Again, Chime has worked hard to reduce the rank of opposition in Enugu. Sources maintained that he has won over all those who could have caused him all sorts of problems. They include some of Nnamani's former allies like Dr Oscar Egwuonwu of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) whose petition at the election tribunal resulted in the nullification of Chime's election on January 18, 2008. However, his neck was saved by the Court of Appeal, which affirmed his victory on July 11.
Indeed, many of such politicians are said to be in the good books of the state government, including a fire brand perennial governorship aspirant said to be Chime's blood relation. Ironically, many of these politicians had opposed Chime's candidature when Nnamani anointed him. One of them is fingered as the brain behind Nnamani's problem with the EFCC. Like Chime, most of them hail from Udi, one leg of the tripod on which Enugu politics stands. Chime also enjoyed the support of former governor of old Anambra State, the late Chief Christian Onoh because his (Onoh's) younger brother, the late Herbert Onoh, married Chime's elder sister.
A member of the Ebeano family, who did not want his name in print said: 'Some of the politicians hobnobbing with Chime are doing so because of hunger. Some of them are professional politicians without any other source of livelihood. So, in the face of hunger, they can sell their birthright. That is the tragedy of Enugu politics.'
However, Vin Martin Ilo, Special Adviser to Chime on media, denied that state funds were being used to settle potential trouble makers.
He asked: 'Why are people being ridiculous? Why is it so difficult for us to acknowledge a right thing that somebody has done? The only reason these people are back here with the governor is because they are men of integrity, who want to stand with the truth, who want to stand with progress, who want to stand with genuine development of their state.'
Ezea, however, maintained that there is orchestrated effort to kill the opposition in the state.
Hear him: 'During the last local government election, Enugu State government wanted to disenfranchise the opposition by saying that chairmanship and councillorship candidates must pay N250,000 and N50,000 respectively. This is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void. We went to court over this mater because the constitution does not provide that before you contest any election you must pay any money.
Umar Yar'Adua , Muhammed Buhari and others contested election for president and they did not pay one naira. Chime, others and I contested for governorship and nobody paid a dime. None of those who contested for Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly paid any money. Go and ask them. The constitution of Nigeria stipulates four basic requirements for one to contest an election, namely; you must be a citizen of Nigeria, you must have attained a certain age depending on the position you are vying for, you must be educated up to secondary school level or its equivalent and you must belong to a political party, which will sponsor you. These are basic four qualifications to stand for election in Nigeria.
' And section 7 sub-section 4 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that anybody who is qualified to vote and be voted for in House of Assembly election in a state is qualified to vote and voted for in the local government election of that state. The Enugu State government deliberately put the fee because they know that the opposition people may not have the money to pay. Meanwhile, the PDP will use government funds to pay for their own candidates.'
During a tour of the state, it was discovered that only the PDP, PPA and ANPP have identifiable secretariats. While some activities could be seen at the PDP and PPA offices, the ANPP looked like a ghost town with the secretary to the state chairman, who identified herself simply as Chinwe, as the only person in the dusty offices. Every effort to speak with the state ANPP chairman, Mr Igaga, proved abortive as he failed to honour scheduled appointments while factional chairman of the PDP, Mr Vita Abba, was indisposed. In short, the situation in Enugu is that the opposition is in a comatose state.
Politics of appointments and abandoned projects
Another contentious issue in Enugu State is the appointment of officials both at the federal and state levels, believed to be skewed in favour of a particular zone. For instance, Minister of Aviation, Fidelia Njeze comes from the same zone with Chime. According to Mr Paul Z. Ogbodo, an Enugu based political commentator, Chime has made about 530 political appointments since he came into office and most of them are said to be women and the majority are from the Enugu axis of the state. Some of them have not even gone for youth service. They have no offices but are given cars in which they cruise about the streets.
Furthermore, most of the projects started by Nnamani have been abandoned by the Chime administration. For instance, all the ESUT buildings started by Nnamani have been abandoned even as no new one was built. The wood works in some of the buildings, particularly the staff quarters are now rotten. The place has become a bush.
The International Conference Centre at Okpara Square is also abandoned. This is a project, which would have boosted the income of the state because, like the Abuja International Conference Centre, it has such facilities as halls and rooms for rentals.
In the same vein, the Lomalinda Housing Estate, which was over 70 percent completed at the time Nnamani's reign ended, has become home to reptiles. The Teaching Hospital, which is about 80 percent complete has been abandoned like the Ozara/Agbai road project.
Joker in the pack
Considering the fact that reconciliation seems far between Chime and Nnamani, something will give sooner than later. A number of options may be considered by the Ebeano clan . Perhaps, the most viable may be for the group to choose a candidate and sponsor him in another party come 2011.
If that option is favourably considered, Ebeano's joker could be to chose a credible candidate from the Nsukka axis and a running mate from Nkanu, which is believed to be under the grip of Nnamani. That option could appeal to Nsukka zone because, though it once produced a governor in the person of Okwesilieze Nwodo, his tenure lasted barely two years without the zone achieving much. Of course, Nsukka enjoys the advantage of being the biggest zone in Enugu state and even agitating for its own state to be known as Adada. Had Senator Ayogu Eze not abandoned Nnamani, he would have stood a chance to be chosen to be Ebeano standard bearer.
But the question is, can Nsukka people trust Nnamani considering that they did not get much from his government even though an Nsukka man was his deputy for eight years?
Apart from Chime, who has indicated interest to contest again, a number of politicians are eyeing the Enugu State Government House. Among them is Okey Ezea, who is pursuing his aspiration on the platform of the PPA. A retired civil servant and legal practitioner, he had vied for the position in 2007 on the platform of LP.
Deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremmadu is also said to be interested in taking over from Chime in 2011. He actually fell out with Nnamani when the latter gave his blessings to Chime prior to the 2007 election. Ekweremadu's aspiration is defined by the fact that his people have made it clear that they cannot support his third term bid in the senate.
Hon KGB Ogbuakwa, a member of the House of Representatives, also wants to be in Lion Building in 2011. In the case of Ugochukwu Agballa, it is not clear what his aspiration would be, having teamed up with Chime. A former associate of Nnamani, he had contested twice on the platform of APGA and lost. Former SSG, Dr Dan Shere, also wants to unseat Chime. Perhaps, his greatest advantage is that he is very popular, particularly among his Nsukka kinsmen because of his philanthropic disposition and community development initiatives.
There is no doubt that more politicians will throw their hats into the ring in due course.
•Next week: The battle to stop Akala in Oyo.