The centre can no longer hold. This appears to be the right description of the polity in Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi states, as politicians and other centrifugal forces grapple with issues of zoning and where the governorship should anchor in 2023.
The way it is, unless a deliberate effort is forged to arrive at a common understanding, what had been practiced as zoning arrangement in the three states might either continue or be altered to return the polity to the survival of the fittest.
Zoning of governorship ticket, whether deliberate or not, began in the three states after the 1999 general elections. Beneficiaries of that exercise in the affected states (who were mostly of the Peoples Democratic Party – PDP) were allowed to complete the second leg of their terms in the guise that power would rotate to another zone to make for peaceful coexistence and promote a sense of belonging.
As such, in Abia State, former governor, Orji Uzo Kalu, who hails from Bende in Abia north senatorial zone, ruled the state for eight years between 1999 and 2007. At the conclusion of his tenure in 2007, Orji brought his political power to bear to ensure that Theodore Orji, from Abia Central senatorial zone, who also was his Chief of Staff, replaced him.
Theodore Orji, at the conclusion of his tenure also ensured the emergence of the incumbent governor, Okezie Ikpeazu from Obingwa, in Abia south senatorial constituency as his successor.
In Ebonyi, the trajectory began with the senator representing Ebonyi north, Dr Sam Egwu. Egwu after his eight years moved power to Ebonyi Central in 2007, which ensured the election of Chief Martin Elechi. Elechi did eight years and through a vigorous campaign of leaders of the state, power was moved to Ebonyi south in 2015. The arrangement produced incumbent governor, Dave Umahi.
The situation in Enugu State was not different. At the inception of democracy in 1999, the senator representing Enugu East senatorial zone, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani waded through the opposition to emerge as the governor of the state. He won again in 2003 for another four years.
To sustain the order, he single-handedly moved power to Enugu west and nominated his successor, Sullivan Chime, whom he supported to win the election in 2007. In the same vein, Chime attempted to preserve the order by moving power to Enugu north, where the incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi emerged in 2015.
With the power trajectory gone full cycle and tasted for eight years by each of the senatorial zones in the three states; what now unsettles the polity of the three states are: whether the rotation arrangement should be sustained to continue from where it started in 1999 or whether a fresh cycle should be introduced or jettisoned completely.
Scheming over the debate has taken the centre stage. Politicians, stakeholders and the electorate are seriously divided on the development as the 2023 general elections approach.
Investigations by The Guardian indicates that the desire by those who claim it is their turn to produce the next governor in 2023 and those who feel that the arrangement should be jettisoned for the field to be thrown open for a fresh start are tearing the people apart and in the process heating up the polity.
IN Abia State, an alleged plot to retain the governorship slot for another eight years in Abia South, (especially Ukwa Ngwa) is creating tension in the state. Ikpeazu is said to be in sync with the Senator representing Abia south, Enyinnaya Abaribe to retain power in the area.
Abaribe, who has represented the area in the senate in the last 16 years, recently returned to indicate interest in the governorship seat of the state, even when he hails from the same zone as the incumbent governor. Although, many dismissed his interest at first, as part of the ploy to retain his seat at the senate beyond 2023, proceeding to pick the governorship nomination form of the party has set tongues wagging and legs busy over what that portends for other zones and the fate of the tested formula.
A serious political disharmony has crept into the state as his desire is considered a threat to the governorship rotation of the state as contained in the state’s Charter of Equity. Abaribe has continued to tell anyone interested to hear that he remains the best person to lead the state at this time.
Meanwhile, there are worries that Governor Ikpeazu could not rise to defend the zoning arrangement, but has instead maintained sealed lips, despite obvious threats to peace and harmony. They stated that he would rather by his action support his kinsman to alter an arrangement that benefitted him.
First, they pointed at the governor’s refusal to remind the Senator of the existing charter of equity in the state that does not favour Abia south at this time. They also pointed at the recent dissolution of the board of the Abia State University (ABSU) Uturu, chaired by the former Senate President Adolphus Wabara for allegedly speaking out against the move to retain power in Abia south (Ukwa Ngwa).
Wabara, was said to have warned that the PDP might instigate a protest vote in Abia State next year should the party fail to cede its governorship ticket to his Ukwa clan.
He had argued that if his Ukwa clan should not be considered because it belongs to Abia south senatorial zone where power currently resides, “then power should move back to Abia north where it started from in 1999.”
Wabara specifically warned that any attempt to make another Ngwa man (Ikpeazu’s kinsmen) succeed the incumbent would be counterproductive for the PDP, even as he asked the leadership of the PDP in the state not to toy with the Abia Charter of Equity and zoning arrangement for which the party is known.
A day after his statement on power shift, Wabara was removed as chairman, Governing Council of Abia State University, Uturu. His board was replaced by fresh members in what has been described as part of the “ploy to dwarf opposition against the Ngwa clan retaining governorship in 2023.”
Some Abia youths, apparently pained by his removal, had insisted that it was done in bad faith.
The action of the governor in the removal of Wabara, however, got what seemed like support from some traditional rulers in Umuahia north, who visited Ikpeazu at the weekend and urged him to retain power in Abia south, especially Ukwa Ngwa bloc. They insisted that retaining power in the area for another eight years would make up the 16 years in which the old Bende bloc held the sway.
This group of Monarchs was disowned by another group of monarchs from the area led by Eze John Ibezim of Amuzukwu, who insisted that it was not in the place of the royal fathers to tell the political class how to organise their activities in terms of who takes what in the state.
On the flip side, the people of Abia north have vowed that nothing would prevent them from producing the successor to Ikpeazu from the area next year. They stated that it is their turn to do so. Already they have started mobilising their people from far and near to support the quest as well as holding rallies to shore up support.
They bemoaned the position the governor had taken on the matter, stressing that they were surprised that the governor who had in 2019 re-echoed the state’s charter of equity when he was campaigning for his reelection could start singing a different song.
They had quoted the governor as saying in 2019: “The Abia Charter of equity stipulates that the governorship seat of Abia will rotate among the three senatorial districts of the state –Abia north; Abia -central and Abia south. Abia-north governed from 1999 to 2007 when Chief Orji Kanlu was governor. After his eight years tenure, he handed over to Abia Central from 2007 to 2015 with Senator Theodore Orji in charge. I came in 2015 for Abia south; going by the provision of the Abia Charter of equity, Abia south should be supported by Abia north and Central to complete their term of eight years.”
Chief Ephraim Igwe, a native of Arochukwu said: “what could have changed between then and now that the governor would want to thwart an arrangement that has fostered peace and unity in the polity of the state? It is unfortunate that our politicians don’t live up to their promise the moment it has benefitted them.”
No fewer than six people from Abia north have indicated interest to contest the governorship seat. Their clamour, however, recently received a boost as the former governor of the state; Theodore Orji called for the return of power to Abia north. Orji had at a stakeholders meeting of the 17 local government areas in the state, which he hosted at his residence, stated that power had gone round the three senatorial zones should go back to Abia north. He said that anyone opposed to the charter of equity was on a dangerous voyage.
FOR Ebonyi State, although the three senatorial zones have occupied the governorship position, what is now at stake is which zone should start the second phase of the rotation.
With its creation in 1996 and following the country’s political arrangement, the state was carved into three senatorial zones of Ebonyi-north, Ebonyi-central otherwise known as Abakaliki bloc and Ebonyi-south known as Afikpo bloc.
Governor Umahi (Ebonyi south) would be completing the first phase of the rotation among the three senatorial zones by next year, if he is able to wriggle out of his present defection saga; a matter now before courts. A Federal High Court in Abuja had ousted him on the ground that the mandate he is enjoying as governor on the platform of the APC genuinely belongs to the PDP.
The body language he has so far exhibited on zoning before his present saga suggests that he would not be ready to allow the smooth flow of the rotation like in the first phase. This is because after a meeting he held with his executive council last month, Umahi had mooted that he would consult widely with a view to ascertaining the zone that could produce his successor. He had however ruled out Ebonyi-south from the contest. This simply suggests that the contest has been thrown open between Ebonyi central and Ebonyi north zones.
But Egwu, now the incumbent senator representing Ebonyi North zone on the platform of PDP, may not be comfortable with the plan of the governor. He prefers that the rotation continues from where it started (Ebonyi north) and specifically called for an Izzi person to succeed the governor.
He had told a meeting of stakeholders in his residence last month: “Since the principle had gone round, the power should go back from where it started to maintain the trend. Ebonyi North has waited for 16 years and therefore the people are to produce the next governor. I have shared the same view before now and I was supported by Martin Elechi. I am sure that the present government will also do the same because anything contrary will not be ideal for the state”.
Other stakeholders from Ebonyi north also support Egwu’s position. They said that it would amount to injustice to begin afresh discussion on power rotation after it had moved full cycle, stressing that it has helped to maintain orderliness, peace and unity in the party
The way it is, however, politicians from the three senatorial zones are waiting for when the discussions become fully consummated, to decide the way the matter is resolved.
THE governorship rotation principle in Enugu State is facing a litmus test since the former deputy senate president; Ike Ekweremmadu declared interest to run for the office of governor in 2023. The arrangement, which began unconsciously in 1999 with Enugu-east to Enugu west and now in Enugu north should ordinarily return to where it started in 1999 (Enugu east).
But Ekweremmadu, who hails from Enugu west, insists that there is no governorship zoning in the state, adding that those fanning the embers are doing so to enable them to impose their puppet as governor in the state.
Many have agreed with him that no such agreement exists, even as he has deepened his campaigns in the state for the number one office. But leaders of the PDP in the state, who met in a caucus in 2013, have produced the minutes of the meeting where the said governorship zoning was reached. From their record, Ekweremmadu attended the meeting and made submissions.
The production of the minutes of the governorship rotation meeting has not deterred those against it. This school of thought is rather of the view that competence, equity, fairness and justice should be used to determine the next governor of the state.
For instance, while canvassing for support for Ekweremmadu, they insist that the Enugu-west zone where he comes from has produced governor once, while the duo of Enugu-east and Enugu-north have produced governor three times and two times, respectively. They stated that giving Enugu-east the opportunity to produce the next governor was unfair, as it would mean enslaving the rest of the state.
“It would mean that the area would have had governorship four times while others are grappling with two. It does not make for justice; it does not make for fair play. It is an indication that the democracy we practice is for the few and nothing more,” they argued.
Like wildfire, the “Ekweremmadu must be a governor campaign”, irrespective of zoning is gaining ground. His Oganiru Enugu group, which is at the forefront of the campaign, is now being supported by the G-17 group (a campaign group in the PDP in the state).
But certain leaders of the state such as former governors, Jim Nwobodo; Okwy Nwodo; Chimaroke Nnamani and Sullivan Chime have insisted that there should be no break in the ongoing governorship rotation arrangement. They have asked incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to allow Enugu-east to produce his successor in line with the arrangement, while Enugu-west will follow suit, eight years after.
Their positions have gained traction with lawmakers in the state, stakeholders and several organisations and group,s saying the Enugu governorship zoning principle should be sustained. Several members of the G-17 have pulled out of the main group to join in the campaign for the sustenance of the governorship zoning. They as well want Governor Ugwuanyi to partake in deciding his successor.
While both camps are holding tenaciously to their views, only Ekweremmadu and former senator from Enugu-east, Gilbert Nnaji, have so far declared interest in the number one seat. Other politicians (including those Enugu east) interested in the office have not yet declared an interest.
A source said: “They are lining up and waiting to be anointed by the incumbent governor. That is the problem with the power rotation and politics of Enugu state. When people are anointed, it closes the door for the public to know their manifesto and programme for the state. It closes the door for competence”.
How the governorship rotation and zoning controversy will be resolved will significantly impact the level of political activism in the states and political parties in contention in the 2023 general elections.