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IN EBONYI, IT'S WAR BETWEEN FRIENDS AND FOES

By NBF News
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Abakaliki is the capital of Ebonyi State, which was created on October 1, 1996. Carved out of the old Abia and Enugu states, its name is derived from the River Aboine. Bound to the east by Cross River State, to the north by Benue, to the south by Abia State and to the west by Enugu, Ebonyi State is found in the southeastern region of Nigeria.

Ebonyi has a land area of about 5,530kms. It goes by the sobriquet, Salt of the Nation, because of the huge deposit of salt therein, especially in the southern axis. Indeed, the secessionist Biafra republic survived essentially with salt locally produced from Uburu salt lake during the civil war between 1967 and 1970.

While the state is constituted of the old Abakaliki and old Afikpo divisions, the major towns include Uburu, Edda, Amasiri, Onueke, Nkalagu, Okposi, Mgbo, Onicha, Izziangbo, and Ishiagu. Ebonyi State is divided into 13 local government areas and three senatorial districts. They are Ebonyi North made up of Abakiliki, Ohaukwu, Ishielu, Ebonyi and Izzi LGAs; Ebonyi South comprising Ohaozara, Afikpo North, Afikpo South, Ivo and Onicha LGAs and Ebonyi Central made up of Ezza north, Ezza south and Ikwo LGAs.

Primarily an agrarian region, it is a leading producer of yam, rice maize and cassava.

Sam Egwu was the first civilian governor of Ebonyi State. An indigene of Ohaukwu (Ebonyi North), he served two terms of eight years between 1999 and 2007. The present governor is Chief Martins Elechi. He hails from Ikwo (Ebonyi central).

The issues
The concern that dominated the political landscape of Ebonyi State in the run up to the 2007 election was the agitation by political gladiators from Ebonyi south to produce Egwu's successor. They had referred to a supposed subsisting agreement by the founding fathers of the state that power should rotate between the old Abakaliki bloc and the old Afikpo division. The document was known as the Ebonyi State Charter of Equity.

As it turned out, the agreement was not honoured. Towards the end of Egwu's administration, politicians from the southern axis began jostling for the plum job. But the Abakaliki zone claimed that no such understanding existed and even if it did by any chance, it was not binding on the current politicians since they were not part of the supposed deal.

Eventually, and to the surprise of many, Elechi, an old retired administrator from Ikwo (Ebonyi Central) emerged as governor. With the development, the state was fractured along sectional lines and a seed of discord, distrust and suspicion was sown. Or so it seems.

Chief Livinus Nwambe, ANPP State chairman, captures it thus: 'Sincerely, I see politics of Ebonyi State as being silently dichotomical in the sense that you have the so-called Abakaliki bloc and the so-called Afikpo bloc. When we were canvassing for the creation of the state, we all believed and accepted that we are one people. We were not interested to take any undue advantage of one another. However, at the creation of the state, it does appear that the Abaaliki bloc, which I belong to, appears to be getting the upper hand in the scheme of things.

'There was a kind of gentleman agreement that if the capital came to Abakaliki, the other bloc would produce the governor and vice versa. But when the state was created and Abakaliki was made capital because of the advantages it had over other towns, the gentleman agreement was not respected and the Abakaliki zone produced the first governor in the person of Dr. Sam Egwu. Again, Abakaliki also produced the second governor in the person of Chief Martin Elechi.

'Our brothers from the Afikpo bloc appear as if they beg to occupy whatever position that they get in the state. They appear cowardly. They cannot stand boldly to ask for their right at any material time. Personally, I like a free and fair competition. I don't like taking undue advantage of people in any competition I am involved. I had expected that our brothers from Afikpo zone should come out and assume equal positions with the Abakaliki bloc in the affairs of Ebonyi State. I want to believe that our brothers from Afikpo zone are pretending that all is well. But when you engage them individually, they will tell you how badly the Abakaliki people are treating them. In other words, there is a plan to retaliate sometime if they get the opportunity. I know that there are pockets of ill feelings, pockets of feelings of deprivation, which does not augur well for the unity of the state'.

To be sure, Egwu played a big role in the process that threw up Elechi. To the chagrin of many politicians who had indicated interest in becoming governor and were considered as front runners like former state PDP chairman, Obinna Ogbu, Senator Azu Agboti, Lawrence Nwurukuru and Frank Ogbuewu, Egwu anointed Elechi and supported him with the awesome party machinery and state apparatus.

In an election that witnessed violence in parts of the state, Elechi was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The ANPP gubernatorial candidate, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, contested the result in court but lost.

Indeed, Egwu's anointing of Elechi was a matter of one good turn deserving another. Elechi had facilitated Egwu's first taste of political office. It was he who, on the creation of the state, took Egwu to the then military administrator, Walter Feghabor, who made him (Egwu) Commissioner for Education. So, when Egwu's fortunes shored up and he became governor, he did not forget where he was coming from.

For the eight years that Egwu served as governor, he maintained a robust relationship with his mentor. Egwu empowered Elechi by giving him lucrative contracts. But unlike those who would collect mobilization fees and abandon the jobs, Elechi executed the projects to Egwu's satisfaction. These acts brought the two men closer.

However, there appears now to be cracks in the relationship between the former governor and his successor. This is because, according to sources, Egwu could not get the foothold he wanted in Elechi's administration because other entrenched forces had hijacked the governor, among other factors.

PDP: A leaking umbrella
The symbol of the PDP is an umbrella, a symbol of togetherness. But in Ebonyi, the umbrella is in tatters, leaking on all sides. The party has two factions in the state. One is led by Engr. Dave Umahi, while Chief Sunday Adol-Awam, leads the other.

According to a chieftain of the PDP in Ebonyi, Barrister Iduma Igariwey, 'the most dominant issue in the party is what people have come to see as the recklessness and impunity of the leadership of the party in the PDP in the state. People feel completely excluded from the mainstream of politics in Ebonyi State. And a lot of people who feel this way are people who brought this administration. This has made it very difficult for us to have unity in PDP. Today, the party is divided'.

The situation is reminiscent of the time when Egwu and former Senate president, Anyim Pius Anyim, battled over the control of the party in the state. In a petition to the former national chairman of the PDP, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, Adol-Awam summarized the situation thus: 'Things have fallen apart in Ebonyi PDP and the centre can no longer hold. The party is deeply factionalised, with rumours and accusations of leaders and groups threatening to cross over to other parties. Any claim by the party or the state government to the contrary is cosmetic and deceptive'.

The petition added: 'The party, working in partnership with the state government, has already shared the senatorial positions in the state to Chief Chris Nwankwo (Governor's in-law - North), Chief Offia Nwali (Central) and Chief Anthony Ekoh (South)'. The joke in some circles is that Elechi wants to operate a gerontocracy as all the men are said to be about 80 years old like himself.

Investigations revealed that the crises bother on the allegations of high handedness, favouritism and imposition of candidates even in the run up to the local government elections. The matter reached a crescendo when Umahi reportedly said that there was no vacancy in Ebonyi Government House for 2011.

The statement caused a widespread discontent among politicians from Ezza (also in Ebonyi Central) at the prospect of Elechi having another term at his age. They argue that Ezza, which is arguably the largest intra-ethnic group in the state, should be allowed to produce the next governor because if they fail to, they will wait for 20 years to have another shot at power going by the PDP zoning arrangement.

Analysing the situation, an Ezza indigene, Chief Nestor Nweze, said: 'If Pa Elechi gets another four years, it will take at least 20 years before an Ezza man will become governor. This is because after Elechi, it will go to Ebonyi South for eight years and then return to Ebonyi North for another eight years. So, on the basis of equity, an Ezza man should take over from Elechi in 2011 moreso as Ezza constitutes 40 per cent of the population of the state.'

Efforts to obtain Umahi's reactions to the allegations proved abortive as he was said to be outside the state on official duties. Elechi is also accused of not properly managing the recent communal clash at Ezillo-Ezza area of Ishielu LGA, which claimed over 200 lives, including 16 policemen. The government is alleged to have taken side with one of the warring communities, even as the crises is believed to be politically motivated. Ezza is the stronghold of Senator Julius Ucha, seen as the main threat to Elechi's second term bid.

However, the state commissioner for Information and Orientation, Comrade Egwu Chima, said it was the handiwork of a few frustrated and disgruntled persons who wanted to embarrass or discredit the government. Chima declared: 'We can't say this is land dispute anymore. It is criminality in its highest form. As far as we are concerned, they shall never and can never win this war, they are wasting their time and they shall have a date with the history of retributive justice'.

Weak opposition
The opposition is very weak in Ebonyi. Only a few of the parties have identifiable offices in Abakaliki. They include ANPP, PPA and APGA. According to the state chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Mr Jerry Obasi, the administration is deliberately and systematically killing the opposition by not operating a unity government as well as starving them of patronage.

Igariwey attributed the lack of strong opposition to the fact that 'Ebonyi people are not empowered like other states in the South East such as Enugu and Anambra.' He argued that as a young state, it is still disadvantaged in many respects. However, with the crises rocking the PDP, some of the disenchanted have moved or are about to move to other parties. For instance, the former mayor of Abakaliki and ALGON chairman, Lady Frances Mgbada, has decamped to the PPA with her supporters. Cerebral and articulate, she maintains that the ruling party will capitulate in 2011. Other high profile politicians could be tempted to seek their political salvation elsewhere.

Gladiators
Apart from Elechi, who has been endorsed by a faction of the PDP, certain names have been mentioned in the permutations for who becomes Ebonyi governor in 2011. Among them is Senator Julius Ucha, who has been in the senate since 2003. A former speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, his biggest advantage is that he hails from Ezza, which is the largest intra-ethnic group in the state. However, people seem to entertain fear about dominance if they come into power. Others include Frances Mgbada, Obinna Ogba, former PDP, former ambassador to Greece (1999-2003), and minister of culture and tourism (2003 -2005) Frank Ogwuewu. He is an indigene of Ikwo like Elechi.

Also being mentioned are; Hon Alex Nwofe, former House of Representatives member between 1999 and 2007; Senator Azu Agboti, who represented Ebonyi South between 2003 and 2007; Dr Mike Oyekachi Okoro, popularly known as Vote for Jesus, and Dr Ogbonnaya Onu. Onu's cutting edge is his impeccable credentials and, as a former governor of old Abia State during the ill-fated Third Republic, he does not have to begin to learn to learn the ropes like a neophyte.

*Next week: In Ogun, will Daniel's anointed survive the lions?