Political gladiators in Enugu State have commenced underground moves to try to outwit each other ahead of the ward, local government, and state congresses of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state. Christopher Isiguzo writes
Ahead of the state congresses of the Peoples Democratic Party, the political temperature in Enugu, the Coal City State, which had been low in recent times, is gradually rising. Major political actors within the party have commenced underground moves to try to outsmart one another in the forthcoming political outing.
The congresses are where state executives and delegates to the national convention of the now opposition party at the national level are expected to be elected.
With eyes on the 2019 general election, most stakeholders are already packaging their political godsons and goddaughters with a view to ensuring that they secured important positions in the state executive. This is in order not to lose out in the next general election and to avoid the political struggle and squabbles that rocked the state in the build-up to the last general election.
A critical look at the political activities across the 17 local government areas of the state shows that all eyes are on the major political gladiators, including the national leader of the party and Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who is PDP’s highest ranking political office holder at the moment, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the party leader in the state, as well as members of the National Assembly and other notable party chieftains.
Though none of the political leaders is yet to give a signal as to the direction of the pendulum, those eager to secure positions are not leaving anything to chance. At the moment, both Ekweremadu and Ugwuanyi are keeping their cards close to their chests. The governor was recently quoted as saying the “time is not yet ripe for endorsements.”
Ordinarily, most political watchers had almost concluded that since the PDP had lost out at the federal level, there may not be much to clamour for any more, more so with the array of leaders that had dumped the party and embraced a ruling All Progressives Congress. But the reverse is the case.
Since the timelines for the 2016 chapter congresses and national convention of the party was released, the now opposition party that had led Nigeria for 16 years has been full of activities and trepidation.
Some have wondered what is still relevant or interesting in a political party that was recently defeated in a national election, negatively branded by the ruling APC, and torn by internal crisis. But beneath the façade of weakness lies a great potential for revival.
PDP is presently witnessing an upsurge of interest in the leadership of the party both at the national and state levels. In Enugu State, PDP is a household name, a bold brand with a towering image of the best appreciated political party. There are many reasons why the PDP is prominent in the state. One is that since the return to democracy in 1999, the PDP has won about 90 per cent of all elections in the state.
Secondly, the people appear to be at home with the party in the state due to what some have described as effective delivery of the dividends of democracy in terms of physical infrastructure and human empowerment. The party has produced the three governors that have governed the state since 1999, namely, Senator Chimaraoke Nnamani, Mr. Sullivan Chime, and now Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who assumed office about 11 months ago.
It has been difficult for any other political party to make inroads into the state. PDP in Enugu State has produced the president and deputy president of the senate in the Fourth Republic. They include former Senate President Ken Nnamani and incumbent Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.
There is no doubt that the question of who leads the PDP in Enugu State is bound to generate tension. Stakeholders hope that the tensions would lead to the emergence of the best candidates as leaders of PDP in the state.
With the advent of APC in Nigerian politics, the PDP as an opposition party is becoming more aware of its challenges and the possible consequence of any mistakes in the choice of its party leaders. Though, APC does not seem to be major threat to the PDP-dominated Enugu State, the PDP is being careful in its choices.
At the moment, no fewer than 10 politicians have shown interest in the chairmanship of PDP in the state. They include, Deacon Okey Ogbodo, a former commissioner in the state, Dons Ude, Frank Anioma, Steve Oruruo, Chijioke Ugwueze, Jerry Eneh and Enoch Agbo.
However, while the main gladiators are yet to show direction, some issues that might ultimately decide where the pendulum would swing have started playing out. For instance, there appears to be an unwritten understanding that the next chairman must come from Enugu East senatorial zone since the other two zones, Enugu North and Enugu West, have already produced the governor and deputy governor, respectively. While the present state chairman, Ikeje Asogwa hails from Igboeze South in Enugu North senatorial zone, his predecessor and now Igwe Onyioha Nwanjoku, hails from Aninri in Enugu West senatorial zone. Many feel it is natural for the position to go to the remaining zone.
Enugu East with six local government areas. But is also been discussed in most circles that Enugu South local government stands out of the rest in view of the absence of notable political office holders from the area. For instance, while Nkanu East and Nkanu West federal constituency already shared the position of Secretary to the State Government and a member of the House of Representatives among themselves, Enugu-East/Isiuzo federal constituency also produced the senator representing the zone as well as the speaker for (Enugu East) and a member of the House of Representatives (Isiuzo). Coming to the remaining federal constituency, Enugu South/Enugu North, aside the House of Representatives seat presently occupied by Hon. Chime Oji from Enugu North council, no other meaningful position has come to the area in the present administration, making Enugu South council appear more like an orphan.
Many expect that when the leaders and stakeholders finally take their decision on where the next chairman should come from, Enugu South would stand out. This is more so with the understanding that the position should be for a core Nkanu man.
With the array of contenders, Deacon Okey Ogbodo, stands out. Those who know him say he is a man of uncommon humility who believes that power belongs to God. He is a man of many political parts, who has withered political storms in the state and is widely believed to possess the qualities for a good leader of PDP.
Ogbodo was not just a founding member of the PDP by 1998, but he was visited with a baptism of fire while trying to guard against derailing the philosophy of the party at the implementation stages of the administration of the party in the state. That was shortly after it emerged victorious from the 1999 elections. He was later to be depended upon when the party experienced turbulence in the state before the 2003 elections.
Sagacity as a product of experience is what goes for Ogbodo. His prowess in both executive and political party administrations are selling points for a man many believe is needed to unite various shades of political opinion in the state.
Ogbodo was a unionist as a banker before his resignation and entry into politics. By 1998 he joined the founding members of PDP in Enugu State to consummate the structure of the then emerging party. He became the governorship campaign anchor for Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani who was became governor of Enugu State in 1999 on the platform of PDP.
He was made Commissioner for Finance in the state, but he later left the position on principle. He later became Commissioner for Lands in that administration and played a vital role in stabilising PDP within the period.
Ogbodo has tested opposition politics within the PDP when he was a state chairman of the PDP during the time the then National Secretary of the Party, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, Senator Jim Nwobodo, then Minister of State for foreign Affairs Dubem Onyia, among others in the PDP decided to check the excesses of the then Governor Chimaroke Nnamani by forming a parallel faction of the party in the state.
Ogbodo’s choice as chairman of the faction was because of his spread of contacts in the three senatorial districts of the state, which he has continued to maintain till date. He will be relying on that experience and structure to make the state a truly PDP stronghold if he eventually becomes the state chairman of the party.
Other factors going for Ogbodo is the issue of zoning, which PDP has maintained as guiding principle. Ogbodo is from the core Enugu East senatorial zone where the party’s chairmanship has been zoned to. He is from Enugu South local government, the hotbed of Enugu politics and a local government currently yearning for equity in the distribution of positions in the state.
Ogbodo is said to be Ugwuanyi’s former schoolmate at Saint Theresa’s College (STC) Nsukka, an advantage that may work in his favour when it comes to the governor choosing whom he had known over the years and could trust.
One thing that may however work against Ogbodo is his independent-minded posture. Many believe it is difficult to convince him on issues contradictory to his Christian faith. Ordinarily, that should be an advantage but in the political terrain a lot of flexibility is required.
Another politician that is also set to take active part in the process is the party’s state secretary, Steve Oruruo, who is also seen as possessing the necessary credentials to clinch the position. Though, he may not be favoured by some of the main variables that may eventually decide where the pendulum would swing in view of the fact that he is from Nkanu West considered to have already gotten their fair share.
However, the fact remains that the PDP is set to up the ante by ensuring that any form of imposition is totally banished from their system considering the report of the Ekweremadu reform committee, which stated that one of the core reasons for the party’s loss at the centre was imposition of candidates in the elections.