The defection of a former governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, to the All Progressives Congress seems to be ruffling some feathers in the Coal City, writes Christopher Isiguzo
The recent defection of former Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State to the All Progressives Congress (APC) has suddenly ignited political activities in the state as top political leaders within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have commenced moves to possibly whittle down the impact of the former governorâ€™s exit from the party.
Prior to his exit from the PDP sometime in March this year, the former governor had maintained a low political profile almost two years after he handed over the reins of governance to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Even though he has always been in the state, he had hardly featured in political activities within the period.
Perhaps, the only major engagements he had after May 29, 2015, when he handed over power were the countless solidarity visits by different groups from across the three senatorial zones in the state during which they applauded his 8-year reign as governor.
One of such groups then, the Udi people led by all who mattered in the state â€“ the traditional rulers, political leaders, opinion moulders, and religious leaders â€“ had welcomed Chime back and presented him with a warrior-statue, which according to them, showed that their son had successfully taken the state to the next level. They also told Governor Ugwuanyi not to deviate from the development path but ensure that he maintained his campaign promises of running a government of seamless continuity and consolidation.
But suddenly, with the former governorâ€™s exit from the PDP and formal defection to the APC, even those who had rolled out carpets to receive him when he left office have hurriedly returned to roll back their carpets and in the process â€œpressured to take back their kind wordsâ€.
For instance, a group from Umuneke Udi, same kindred with Chime and led by a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Gary Eneh, came out to dissociate itself from the former governorâ€™s defection to the APC, accusing Chime of poor performance during his time as governor. They went ahead to pledge their allegiance to Governor Ugwuanyi, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and Hon. Denis Amadi representing Udi/Ezeagu federal constituency.
Another set of people also came from Udi North and alleged that their area was abandoned during Chimeâ€™s reign. According to them, the construction of the long stretch of Eke-Ebe-Egede-Umulokpa-Afa road by Chimeâ€™s administration was not enough.
But undaunted by the attacks which according to him were intended to stop him from joining the APC, the former governor on May 6, organised a registration awareness rally at the expansive Community Secondary School, Udi-Abia, where the state literally stood still.
The rally, which was seen as the first of its kind in the South-east for APC, attracted an unprecedented crowd of party faithful from the 17 local government areas. In attendance were the partyâ€™s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun; Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal; National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso; and Chief George Moghalu amongst other members of the partyâ€™s National Working Committee (NWC).
There were also the national vice-chairman, South-east, Chief Emma Eneukwu; former Speaker of the State Assembly, Eugene Odoh; Chimeâ€™s opponent in the 2011 governorship election, Okey Ezea; and the Director General, Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu.
Former Senate President, Ken Nnamani (who was out of the country at the time); former governor of old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo,; former National Secretary of the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu; Chief Baywood Ibe; and veteran actors, who were out of the state sent their goodwill messages.
After personally receiving Chime into the party, Oyegun said: â€œI have been to the east several times but this is the greatest visit. Change has finally come to Enugu State. South-east is special because for too long you have been yearning for change,â€ expressing optimism that the APC would sweep the South-east in the next general election and dismissed insinuations that the former governor joined the ruling party to escape EFCC prosecution.
â€œThe coming Anambra State governorship election will be a test of what I am saying. We have Anambra in our pocket. Abia is in our kitty. Or is it Ebonyi?â€ said Oyegun, who extolled the virtues of Chime, whom he said was the best performing governor during his dispensation and expressed joy that he has found his right direction by joining the progressives.
â€œI hope to return to the east very soon. This is more like the semi-finals. We are coming back here for the finals very soon,â€ he said.
National vice chairman, South-east of APC, said Chime was a big loss to PDP and a soothing gain by the APC. â€œChime left PDP on his own volition. He did not leave because of any threat or intimidation. It is because of the calibre of man like Chime that the national officers led by the national chairman stormed Enugu to receive him into the party.â€
But not done with Chime, another crowd of people under the aegis of Udi Consultative Forum led by Mr. Eric Chime stormed the Government House on a solidarity visit to the governor barely 24-hours after Chimeâ€™s registration rally in Udi.
The group, which had traditional rulers and notable politicians including the Deputy Senate President, Ekweremadu, in its team expectedly took a swipe at the former governor insisting that his defection to the APC was akin to a political suicide.
Specifically, Ekweremadu identified political inexperience as the cause of Chimeâ€™s current travails and explained that if Chime were experienced in politics, he wouldnâ€™t have taken a â€œvoyage into the APCâ€. Ekweremadu refuted Chimeâ€™s claim that his (Chime) kinsmen, who have been opposing his entry into the APC were sponsored, noting that the people of Udi were independent-minded people.
Ekweremadu said Governor Ugwuanyi will go for a second term in office since the other two senatorial zones of Enugu West and Enugu East did two terms each. He also said it was not true that it was because of the crisis in the PDP that made Chime leave the party, adding that the former governor would have consulted the people and the PDP before leaving. He told the crowd that the problem in PDP would be resolved soon and that however the matter goes, their views would be sought before next line of action. Chime had in a pre-defection media conference given the reasons behind his decision, explaining that he informed all the people that needed to know about his exit from PDP. He however said â€œunless something remarkable happensâ€, his new party will clinch the governorship seat of the state by 2019, and declared the PDP a dead party. He said he was not yet sure, who would become the partyâ€™s candidate by then.
He also berated Ekweremadu for allegedly sponsoring protests and campaign of calumny against him with the sole intention of stopping his inevitable defection to the APC, while using the forum to dismiss as false and mischievous, recent claims by Ekweremadu that he did not provide appointments to people from his Aninri council during his reign as governor. He accused the senator of peddling falsehood against him and also sponsoring some political hirelings to rain abuses on him.
â€œPDP is dead and anybody running as PDP candidate will be wasting his time. There is going to be an election in Anambra State this year and the PDP may not even have a candidate. The Anambra election will teach them a lesson. Every serious politician in Anambra has already moved. I expect Peter Obi to end up in APC if he still wants to be politically active. Letâ€™s not speculate what will happen between now and then but I can assure that the change has come to Enugu State. PDP is now part of history in Enugu State.â€
Chime, who spoke on a wide range of issues, equally decried the level of negative media reports against him, which he insisted were totally sponsored.
He said, â€œIn about four weeksâ€™ time, it will be exactly two years since I left office. Between then and now, a lot has been said about me, mostly negative. Most of the stories were being sponsored by whoever. I decided to stay away not just from the media but from politics. But events have formed me out from retirement.
â€œA lot has happened and not too long ago, I announced my resignation from that party, the PDP. Technically, you can say I left the party but actual fact, the party left me. The party left me because the party introduced to me in 1999 no longer exists. That party no longer exists. That party was badly run down, mismanaged. The party abandoned its constitution that used to guide us. The party eventually came to where it is today â€“ dead. It is no longer a functional party.â€
Speaking further, he said, â€œToday, we have two groups, each are laying claim to the leadership so wrongly, so unconstitutional. The one by Ali Modu Sheriff, he was appointed, never stood for any election, just to serve out the tenure of Bamanga Tukur after the exit of Adamu Muâ€™azu. That was how Sheriff came in. That tenure has since elapsed. But he is still claiming to be the chairman.
â€œOn the other hand, Makarfi is claiming to be the chairman of a non-existing body he calls the caretaker committee. There is no provision for caretaker committee in PDP constitution. The makers of the constitution never envisaged the situation that later arose, so illegal, so unconstitutional. PDP is now a party without leadership; it has become a party without leadership and anything without leadership cannot be functional. They cannot even call for NEC.
â€œI challenge them to call for NEC tomorrow. I was a member of NEC as a serving and as a former governor. BoT is more or less advisory organ of the party, but there is no government in power, so the BoT is moribund. Iâ€™m not sure you will find any founding member of the PDP still in the party; they have either left the party or retired from politics out of frustration. So, in a nutshell, because of the collapse of the PDP, people started leaving. It was like embarking on a journey of no destination. People are disembarking from the vehicle called PDP, joining other vehicles to take them to their destinations.
On his decision to join the APC, he said â€œI have made my consultations; I have met with all the ward chairmen in the State. I met with all the local government chairmen. I have also met with all the members of the State exco of the party as well as the national leadership and they assured me that I have a place; that I can come in. They are excited having me in the party and Iâ€™m excited joining them.
â€œAPC is the only viable party in the country that can take any politician to his destination. As of today, (we pray what happened to the PDP will not happen to the APC), APC is the only national party. They have governors in all the zones of the country. It is a national party, not a local party, so we are happy to join the party. I didnâ€™t leave the PDP because of any other reason but because the party died. I said it before, may be the INEC is taking time. This is the time to formally deregister the PDP. The party that no longer plays by the rules should be deregistered. Let them go to court but the question is: which of the factions will go to court?
â€œI also want to say that I am not joining the APC because of any EFCC case or any other issue. Yes, I was invited by the EFCC over the partyâ€™s campaign fund. During that campaign, money was brought as usual, PDP sent money to the Enugu PDP, the money was sent through the bank, N450m, and some persons went there and signed for it. The PDP campaign organization disbursed the money accordingly. They earlier came up with a budget which was modified and the money was disbursed by them in that regards.
â€œThe lady (Rita Mbah) tried to be smart. First, she denied seeing the money, later she came back and remembered she saw the money. In the statement she wrote, very silly, she said she was peeping into the list I was holding. We were at the red carpet so I wonder how she was doing the peeping from where she was staying, maybe she was using microscope, and because she was so intelligent, she remembered the last kobo given to everybody.
â€œAllow the EFCC to do their job. If EFCC feels that I have more to tell them, I expect them to invite me; I gave them my phone number. I donâ€™t have any issue with EFCC. I have heard about petitions, but EFCC has not called to ask me question about anything since I left office. They want to use blackmail; they said it is because of EFCC case; they said I want to run for Senate just to make it look like it is for a personal gain.
â€œWho hasnâ€™t been invited by the EFCC? It is not an issue. It becomes an issue when they take you to court, having found sufficient evidence to prosecute you. Right now, if you go to the various wards, they will tell you that they have tremendous improvement since I declared my intention. Just two days ago, when they had a meeting in the ward, they said 200 people came to register. I didnâ€™t start this journey without letting people know, those who should know. As a former governor, the entire state is my constituency, so I informed those who should know that Iâ€™m leaving the PDP.â€
Political observers have continued to wonder the sudden twist of events since Chimeâ€™s defection in view of the flurry of attacks trailing his decision, more so with the involvement of politicians from Udi in the entire scenario.
But prior to Chimeâ€™s defection, notable politicians including former Anambra State Governor, Jim Nwobodo; the former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; former national secretary of PDP, Rex Onyeabor; former Speaker of Enugu House of Assembly, Eugene Odoh; the wife of former national chairman of PDP, Dorothy Nwodo; Chief Gbazuagu and a transport magnet and CEO of Peace Mass Transport Ltd, Samuel Onyishi, and a host of others had all moved from PDP to APC in the state without a single protest from any part of the state.
It has also been speculated that the obvious tension may not be unconnected with the battle for Enugu West senatorial seat by 2019. It is believed that the former governor, who had in 2015 backed out of the senate race in deference to Ekweremadu might join the fray from his new party and possibly slug it out with the incumbent, who will be seeking his fifth mandate to the senate by then.
The governorship of the state is clearly not in contention as both Chime and Ekweremadu have at different points made it clear that Ugwuanyi would remain in the saddle for two terms like his predecessors, Chimaroke Nnamani and Chime. The intrigues are increasing by the day and no matter how anyone looks at it the fact remains that the politics of the state may not be the same again.