By Laurence Ani
For many observers not familiar with the politics of Enugu State, the statement by Senator Ike Ekweremadu describing the 2019 general elections as “the easiest we have ever had” may have seemed like mere political posturing. But the result of the election announced last Sunday evening by the Independent National Electoral Commission’s state collation officer, Professor Joseph Ahanaku, has proved a strong validation for the deputy senate president’s comment at the Peoples Democratic Party’s campaign round off held on March 6 at Obollo Afor, in Udenu Local Government Area.
Besides, Senator Ekweremadu’s submission had a faultless premise. Eulogising Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, he said: “Your good governance has made our election very easy.” That pretty much echoes the sentiments of a majority of Enugu State residents who have in the last three and a half years experienced robust governance that has brought remarkable development across the state, and given the people better living conditions.
So, for the electorate, the huge votes they had cast to reelect Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was a fitting payback for his good works. You really do not have to look long and hard to find those good works because every community in the state, including the most remote, now bears visible imprints of government presence courtesy of the Ugwuanyi administration’s innovative “Every community, one project” initiative. But it is not only this project that earned the governor the sort of wide acclaim that could only have made the resounding victory he got at the polls on Saturday, March 9, possible.
Other impressive scorecards abound. And while some may not be immediately discernible, quite a number of these are self evident. However, they are all inspired by a simple philosophy that essentially considers the people’s welfare as an irreducible minimum in every government policy. That worldview reflects in Gov. Ugwuanyi’s comment during a courtesy visit to the Government House, Enugu, by some pensioners early this year. “You could build skyscrapers and be hailed for building a gigantic legacy project. But of what purpose will such project serve if the people are hungry and unhappy? My greatest legacy is if the people are happy; they are my greatest legacy project,” the governor told the pensioners who had come to commend him for his sustained payment of arrears of gratuities stretching back to past administrations.
The emphatic nature of the victory secured by Ugwuanyi (the governor had 449,935 votes while the All Progressives Congress’s candidate could only garner 10,423 votes) as well as other candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party is as much a statement on the governor’s popularity as it is a reflection of the unity in the party – a point which leaders of the party insist has been missing for years. Former senator, Dr. Hyde Onuaguluchi highlights this very succinctly. “Ugwuanyi has reunited everyone in PDP. There’s no dissenting voice here,” he told the large gathering that thronged the Udenu council secretariat to witness the PDP’s campaign grand finale.
“The peace we’re enjoying here is an uncommon peace. It’s difficult to hold power and not wield it adversely. But Ugwuanyi has done that successfully. So there’s no room for dissension. There may never be any leader like him in Enugu in future. We all have to learn from him because we have never had the sort of peace like we’re having now. There has never been anyone like him,” Onuaguluchi noted further.
Senator Ekweremadu concurs. It was only in Ugwuanyi’s reign that the PDP had yet to experience the sort of fissure which usually created bitter camps especially during elections, he said. “This is the first time we’re not having crisis,” he said, adding that it stemmed from the governor’s humility and love for peace. “I have always known him and I can tell you his humility isn’t because he is eager for votes; that is just his nature,” the deputy senate president added.
In an age of unbridled narcissism, such commendation is an eloquent testimony on Governor Ugwuanyi’s character and bespeaks an attitude clearly in tune with the altruistic demands of public office. In both words and deeds, he has repeatedly reaffirmed his convictions that suburban and rural communities should not be places politicians visit only while soliciting votes ahead of elections. For him, it’s simply a question of commonsense, and the remarkable attention he has devoted to those areas underscores that. As he often says, “we will continue to direct our policies and projects towards these locations because that is where most of our people reside”. This is no populist rhetoric. He continues to demonstrate socio-economic inclusiveness in practical terms, implementing humongous infrastructural projects in rural communities where such were once inconceivable in the past, and carrying out sustained urban renewal programmes in settlements with hardly any developmental hallmark despite their location in the city.
The prevailing peace and harmonious co-existence for which Enugu State is reputed and for which Ekweremadu, Onuaguluchi and many other political leaders and clerics credit Governor Ugwuanyi is, to a large degree, rooted in the inclusiveness adopted by his administration. An equally significant point to note is that the governor’s remarkable electoral triumph shows that popularity is not fortuitous; it is earned.
Although Ugwuanyi’s reelection had long been fairly predictable, it’s instructive he still campaigned like he was facing a stiff competition. Apart from serving as a subtle reassurance to the masses that they won’t be taken for granted, it helped rouse them from whatever lethargy the initially postponed general election may have understandably engendered.
And, indeed, the resolve to retain a people-centric philosophy in all matters of state policy remains as firm as it has been all through his first term. He fully appreciates the weight of the people’s expectations and is no less mindful of the complacency that an electoral victory could create for a re-elected incumbent. For him, there would be no room for such indulgence. His acceptance speech makes that very clear. It’s time to get back to work considering the sacrifices and support of the people in renewing his mandate, he said. Nothing can be more reassuring.
––Ani, a former editor of ThisDay, The Saturday Newspaper and Saturday Telegraph, resides in Enugu.