Ugwuanyi Still Holds the Aces

Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

By Uchenna Nwatu

Like most states in Nigeria, Enugu State is characteristically buzzing with political activities as another election cycle draws close. And as is usually the case, the attendant horse-trading has resulted in a number of defections. Forget that the attendant celebration – even of those with barely significant electoral worth – is carried on so stridently in ways that often mask the actual self-serving motive, tactfully projected as altruistic. We are, after all, on the cusp of another election – a time when cheap rhetoric comes dangerously close to trumping the truth.

Enugu State witnessed the defection lately of a politician whose clout, by every measure, could be considered significant, even if sometimes overstated. He is Senator Ayogu Eze, the presumed candidate of the All Progressives Congress for next year’s governorship election in Enugu State.

The buzz created by his announced defection had offered a strong hint of APC’s desperation for a foothold in Enugu State. And given the pomp witnessed at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, on September 8 when he made his first visit to the state after that defection and the crowd it attracted, an observer might be tempted to conclude there is a strong chance the party’s dream could be actualized. But realpolitik often offers a better view of reality vis-a-vis the crunch-time thinking that influences the choices made by the electorate in a developing society such as ours.

Indeed, herein lies the folly of it all: The presumed choice of Eze is an indication the party yields to the tacit understanding that Enugu North Senatorial zone will produce the governor of the state. In settling for him, apparently, the party would be hoping to blunt whatever electoral advantage the incumbent and likely candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, would reap from being an indigene of that zone. So, in the event the gambit unfolds as they hope and their candidate triumphs, it results in the scuttling of the tacit agreement for a rotational governorship among Enugu’s three senatorial zones and, ultimately, confers the undue advantage of a possible extra term for Enugu North Senatorial zone.

Even as a hypothetical scenario, that is difficult to contemplate for electorate in the two other senatorial zones comprising Enugu East and Enugu West. They would naturally be inclined to voting in a manner that ensures the swift return of the governorship to their zone which, in precise term, means predominantly casting their ballots for the incumbent.

However, it is wrong to assume that the electorate’s voting decision would be shaped by such base regional instincts only. It will by and large be tempered by such considerations as the incumbent’s performance which, so far, has been hailed as outstanding by a significant percent of the population across the state. This includes, ironically, most leaders of the APC who had equally hailed “the big catch”, a phrase the party had coined for a publicized welcome rally for Eze that never held.

For instance, the former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani, had during the 17th Convocation Ceremony of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology praised Gov. Ugwuanyi’s remarkable leadership qualities and the fact he always deploys the state’s resources for the common good, noting that he was “moving in the right direction and deserves everyone’s support”.

Senator Nnamani’s commendation for the governor was also effusive when he described him as “a governor for everybody” at a reception organized by the Enugu State government in honour of the Nigerian Ambassador to Republic of India with Concurrent Accreditation to Bangladesh and Nepal, Major General Chris Sunday Eze (retd). “We are enjoying somebody that has a large heart, not minding his political affiliation,” said the APC chieftain who also urged “other states to emulate what is happening in Enugu State”.

Former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, spoke in a similar vein when the Enugu State governor visited the former’s Amechi Awkunanaw, Enugu South community last October during campaign for the local government election in the state. “You are a different governor. A governor who wants to lead well must be for all political parties. He (Gov. Ugwuanyi) has surprised everybody and has done so well and united everyone. He has conscience,” said Nwobodo, who is also an APC leader in the state.

These self-validating comments by key opposition party figures in Enugu State are testaments to the capacity of the incumbent governor and could be deemed a referendum on his stewardship. Yet, his second-term appeal does not merely derive from those; it resides, rather, in his sustained investment in urban renewal programmes and projects that improve living conditions in rural communities across the state. A sense of how well he has performed could as well be seen in the huge impact that his administration’s increased spending on the Free Maternal and Child Health programme has had on Enugu State’s maternal and infant mortality rate, described as among the least in the country.

Another deed that has helped his popularity soar very high is the “One-Community-One-Project”, a grassroots development initiative conceived by the Ugwuanyi administration to ensure government presence in the 450 autonomous communities in the state. The programme gave inhabitants of each community the latitude to select any N10m-worth project they consider expedient. The communities have since received cheques of N5m towards that end. Inclusive governance couldn’t be more practical than this.

In addition to these, recent reports that ex-governor of the state, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, is running for senate after all on the PDP platform has also further changed the dynamics. The APC had long hinged its hopes of securing ample votes in the Enugu East zone on having the former governor who still enjoys a huge following at the grassroots run on its platform, even luring him with a promise of a senatorial ticket. But this recent step has put paid to that and made the APC’s dream of wresting power from the ruling party in Enugu State the exceedingly futile bid it had always been.

Nwatu, an archivist, lives and works in Enugu.