ENUGU: FIRE MAY BE KINDLED IN COAL CITY
Will Barrister Sullivan Chime get a second term as governor of Enugu State? This is a question made inevitable by recent developments in the coal state. Indeed, Chime is fighting what could be described as the greatest battle of his political life or future. To start with, it is not yet known if he would run for another term. And if he will, on what platform he would so do.
Although, his name appeared on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) list of candidates released on Monday, yet his candidacy remains in contention. Whichever way, the battle for the control of Enugu Lion Building would be what the late Afro-beat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, called roforofo fight. It is a 'war' between former friends, who have become sworn enemies.
On Monday, January 31, a Federal High Court in Abuja reportedly gave an ex-parte order directing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the INEC to accept the name of Chief Anayo Onwuegwu as the governorship candidate of the party for the April polls. Onwuegwu enjoys the sympathy of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwod's faction of PDP in the state.
But in a swift reaction, Chime insisted that he remains the bona fide standard bearer of the party in the forthcoming election, arguing that INEC had already acknowledged receipt of his nomination form.
A statement signed by the Director-General of Sullivan Chime Campaign Organisation, Dr. Festus Uzor, said: 'The campaign organisation urges the good people of Enugu State, all well-wishers, especially PDP members to remain calm and not be distracted in any way by these vain attempts by few desperate politicians, who are out to cause mischief. It is on record, going by INEC timetable, that the deadline for political parties to nominate their distinct candidates for the various seats in the April elections had since elapsed and his PDP nomination form within the stipulated time. In turn, INEC also duly acknowledged receipt of his form.
'Therefore, we implore our people and party members to focus on the numerous campaign programmers aimed at giving Governor Chime a landslide victory at the polls, while urging everyone to ignore this latest lame effort to distract the government and hoodwink Nigerians.'
In the same vein, a former National Auditor of the PDP, Barrister Ray Nnaji, dismissed the court order, saying it was of no effect. According to him, 'it is an exercise in futility because the order is in vain; the order has nothing, it has no effect, the efficacy is very weak and by the time we display certain facts, which the court was not privy to before giving that order, you will find out that the order would be discharged. So, Chime is still the candidate.'
The attempt to forestall Chime's candidacy is a fallout of the long drawn battle between the governor and Nwodo over control of the party in the state.
The supremacy battle led to the removal of Nwodo as national chairman of the PDP just seven months after he came into office on June 17 last year. And few days after Nwodo's removal, there was a threat by unknown persons to burn down his Enugu home. The home of his younger brother and former Information Minister, Chief Nnia Nwodo, was also said to be a target.
The ex-PDP chairman's political opponents are believed to be behind the threat.
The Enugu scenario reinforces the saying that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, but permanent interest. To be sure, Chime played an important role in the emergence of Nwodo, who was once accused of involvement in the National Identity Card scam, as PDP secretary. At a thanksgiving service at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Ogui, Enugu, few days after grabbing the exalted office, Nwodo was effusive in his gratitude to Chime for 'his dogged determination and support', which helped him clinch the top job. Nwodo also pledged to deepen internal democracy in the party.
The PDP governors were not favourably disposed to Nwodo's reform agenda, because it tended to whittle down their power. PDP sources said the Nwodo reforms created bad blood within the party even as Nwodo attempted to dissolve executive committees in states where the leadership were embroiled in controversy.
Enugu was one of the states with two parallel executives produced by the 2008 parallel congresses of the PDP. One faction chaired by Vita Abba was loyal to Chime, while the Ray Nnaji faction belonged to the Ebeano dynasty headed by Chime's predecessor and benefactor, Senator Chimaraoke Nnamani.
At the time Nwodo assumed office Nnaji had joined the Chime camp and filed a notice of discontinuance of the suit he instituted when the former National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, recognised the Vita Abba faction on assumption of office. However, two of Nnaji's co-plaintiffs, Messrs Charles Nwabueze and Rueben Ochi, returned to court, saying they were not part of the withdrawal notice filed by Nnaji. Furthermore, they wrote to INEC saying they were taking over from Nnaji.
Indeed, Nnaji's defection to Chime's camp shocked many. He had presented the picture of a die-hard Ebeano loyalist, someone who would swim and sink with Nnamani. In an interview with this reporter in his office in Enugu, he had said that he would fight to the end because he was the duly elected chairman of the party in the state. Hear him: 'I know of myself, Barrister Ray Nnaji, as the chairman of PDP in Enugu State. I don't know of any other person though, there is a meddlesome interloper, Mr. Vita Abba, who is claiming to be chairman because Prince Vincent Ogbulafor had given him his recognition and blessings. But in actual sense, I have the recognition and certificate. That is why we are in court. The matter has been in court since 2008.
'They brought preliminary objection as stumbling block. We argued it with Mrs. Ofia (SAN) and her team. I was standing alone and was able to get ruling in my favour. Again, Ogbulafor and the party brought another stumbling block. That one came in March and it was in my favour, too. So, all the stumbling blocks have been cleared. What is left now is the application for interlocutory injunction, which will happen very soon.'
When the reporter asked him if it was true that the Ebeano group was in disarray as it appeared, Nnaji fired: 'The Ebeano family is not in disarray. How can that be, whereas the governor of the state is an Ebeano product. If that is the case, the government is in disarray, because it is only a father that can disown a son, a son cannot disown a father. It can never happen. Whether Chime likes it or not, he is Ebeano. Ebeano is intact; it is in control.'
As it turned out, Nnaji was only acting like a typical Nigerian politician, who had perfected the art of sophistry. He was only blowing hot air. Less than two weeks after, he left the Ebeano group for Chime's camp.
A torn umbrella
Last August, INEC wrote to the PDP National Working Committee (NWC), listing Enugu as one of the eight states where all is not well with its executive committee. On account of the above, Nwodo scheduled a fresh congress of the party to elect a new executive for the state. The Chime camp was not favourably disposed to the Nwodo position. They regarded it as a calculated attempt by the then national chairman to hijack the party's machinery in the state by installing stooges. Thus, the seed of discord was sown between Chime and Nwodo, resulting in a flurry of suits.
The battle for the soul of the party in the state has been as intriguing as it is interesting. The Chime camp is repressive, firing on all cylinders, adopting all manner of tactics to subdue the former national chairman.
A few instances will suffice. At the behest of Chime, Nwodo's local government chairman passed a vote of no confidence on him. In the same vein, traditional rulers in the state passed a vote of no confidence on Nwodo and asked for his resignation. To rub it in, a casket bearing Nwodo's name was taken round Enugu even as he was made an object of bashing in newspapers and on the Internet by Chime's cronies.
Scandalised by the massive campaign of calumny against him, Nwodo cried: 'I have been assaulted, I have been bashed and I have been condemned to death and carried in a casket.' He further alleged that a price had been put on his neck.
Friends as foes
Interestingly, Chime is also at war with Nnamani. He has practically chased Nnamani out of town, teaching him a few lessons in politics. During a recent visit to Enugu, security was beefed up around Nnamani and his home in a manner akin to intimidation. Chime also tells everyone who cares to listen that Enugu never really worked under Nnamani, an administration he wielded considerable power in various capacities for eight years.
Indeed, Chime is working day and night to eclipse Nnamani's hitherto towering profile. One of the strategies he adopted was to wipe out what could be regarded as the legacies of his predecessor.
And one of the ways to achieve that purpose was to abandon the projects initiated by the Nnamani administration, no matter how laudable. According to an aide to the former governor, 'all the buildings at the Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT) started by the Nnamani administration have been abandoned by the Chime government, which has not made any effort to put even a single block on the ground there. The staff quarters is the worst hit, as the woodworks in some of them are now rotten and falling apart. The place has become a bush, a home for reptiles.
Also abandoned is the Lomalinda Housing Estate, which would have been a pride to the state. The estate had reached 70 per cent completion at the time the Nnamani administration elapsed. Today, it houses reptiles and rodents. The same treatment is given to the Ozara-Agbani road and the Teaching Hospital projects. Perhaps, most disheartening is the situation at the International Conference Centre at Okpara Square, which is in the mould of the Abuja International Conference Centre. It was billed to be an income earner for the state because it has several facilities for rental, including halls and rooms.'
Perhaps, Chime's approach could not have been anything different. He learnt so well from his benefactor, Senator Nnamani, who proved to be a master in annihilating the opposition. It would be recalled that when Nnamani called the shots, he ran the opposition aground. Such people like former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, were made to sneak in and out of Enugu State.
Instructively, Nwobodo played a big role in the making of Nnamani right from his days as a student. When the former was governor between 1979 and 1983, he assisted the latter, then a medical student at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), to become leader of the Wawa students caucus. And to ease Nnamani's movement as well as boost his profile, Nwobodo gave him a yellow Volkswagen (Beetle) car. The relationship endured for several years.
According to a chieftain of PDP, Dr. Alex Obiechina, 'Nwobodo was instrumental to Nnamani's victory. He pressured the PDP hierarchy to take him as candidate. The state primary 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 governorship primary ticket. In fact, 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.'
But shortly after Nnamani became governor, he fell out with his benefactor.
Ironically, a somewhat similar scenario played out between Nnamani and Chime. In fact, Nnamani could be said to have brought Chime from nowhere and made him governor against all calculations. Again, theirs was a long-standing relationship.
Nnamani and Chime were secondary school classmates. When the former became governor, he made the latter, who is a lawyer, legal adviser and later elevated him to Commissioner for Justice. Towards the end of Nnamani's tenure, several politicians within and outside the government showed interest for the plum job. But if Chime had any interest, he never showed it. He never attended any political meetings with those aspiring to take over from Nnamani. Chime's seeming indifference to the issue of Nnamani's successor endeared him to his boss.
According to a former commissioner in Nnamani's government, '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's leadership in the state to cue into that and started mobilising for Chime. As they say, the rest is history.'
Chime's victory was hotly disputed. According to the 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 the office. Nobody voted for them.'
Even before Chime was sworn into office, his relationship with Nnamani had gone sour. And it had steadily deteriorated over the years. Today, the two men have become enemies.
While it appears on the surface that Nnamani is having his tail between his legs, having been overwhelmed by Chimes's arsenal, sources maintain that the former governor has only beaten a retreat, waiting for the auspicious time to bare his fangs. That auspicious time is the April elections.
The sources, which did not want to be mentioned, said: 'Nnamani is a lion and cannot be scared away from battle by anyone. He is merely waiting for the right time to teach Chime the lesson of his life. As is known, he did not participate in the PDP primaries in Enugu State. The reason being that he had formed another political party, PDC, with the sole aim of stopping Chime's re-election dream. He is strategising and building alliances with other major stakeholders so that Chime will not have a place to hide
Nnamani's PDC has chosen former Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Dan Shere, as its governorship candidate. Chime and Shere are no strangers, having worked together under Nnamani, hence they know each other's strength and weaknesses. Of course, this will make the contest more interesting.
Shere enjoys massive support from Nsukka where he hails just like Nwodo. A source close to Nwodo squealed that should Onwuegbu fail to get the PDP gubernatorial ticket, the Nwodo camp and the Ebeano dynasty may explore the possibility of working together to oust Chime. Obiechina is said to be a more marketable candidate because of his antecedents in business and philanthropy.
Waxing philosophical, he said: 'Both camps will buy into the axiom that your enemy's enemy is your friend.'
The voting pattern of Nsukka people could decide where the pendulum would swing. It is the largest of the tripod on which Enugu politics stands. Should they vote en block for their kinsman, Chime may have some troubles.
If Chime gets the votes of his Udi people as expected, he may not secure the support of Nkanu axis believed to be under the firm control of Nnamani, who hails from there. Of course, to underrate Ezea could be a mistake on the part of other gladiators. And considering the personalities involved, nothing will be spared in the 'war'.