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Enugu 2015: Chime, Ekweremadu and Nnamani in battle of wits

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As 2015 general election approaches, different political realignments and permutations have been ongoing in Enugu State. JUDE OSSAI takes a look at how the planned return of the former governor of the state, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the struggle between Governor Sullivan Chime and Senator Ike Ekweremadu will shape the party.

THE political scenario in Enugu State, just like in any other state in the country, is heating up as politicians are strategising and re-strategising, playing out their scripts ahead of the 2015 general election.  

Indeed, the trio of Governor Sullivan Chime, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and former governor of the state, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, are some of the political gladiators who had since the commencement of the present political dispensation, continued to dominate the political discourse not only in the Coal City State but beyond the shores of South-East geopolitical zone. 

Ironically, the threesome are all products of Ebeano, a political group that held sway in ex-Governor Nnamani era.

Today, Chime and Ekweremadu are singing different tunes following their perceived clash of interests. Both politicians are said to be interested in representing their Enugu-West Senatorial Zone at the National Assembly in 2015.

For Dr Nnamani, it is speculated that the godfather of Ebeano wants to reclaim his leadership role in Enugu State and, perhaps, to realise the dream, he has to abandon his People Democratic Congress (PDC) for the PDP, a platform he rode to political limelight in 1999 as governor and subsequently a Senator.

Prior to the outburst of Governor Chime’s loyalists, the theory on 2015 for the Enugu West Senatorial seat was that Ekwremadu would have an easy ride to the Upper Chambers for the fourth time. The premise was that the incumbent governor might bid farewell to partisan politics largely due to his failing health. But a close source to Chime said the governor, although yet to make a public declaration on his ambition for the Senate, had begun nocturnal moves to advance his political career after his reign as governor. To confirm that gist, a group known as Youth Alliance for Action (YAFA) offered to purchase a nomination form for Chime to run for Senate in 2015.

It was learnt that the pro-Chime group also extended the same offer to the governor’s Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo, if she accepts to run for the Enugu East Senatorial District seat and to the state chairman of the PDP, Mr Vita Abba, who they are pushing to run for governorship of the state.

The YAFA’s Coordinator,  Buchi Aneke, in a statement, said that the decision was a collective view of over 7,000 members at the group’s second annual general assembly in Enugu. The group is made up of Enugu state youth entrepreneurs, technocrats and business executives at home and in the Diaspora.

Sunday Tribune observed that YAFA’s support for Chime came barely a week after the indigenes of Udi under the auspices of “Umuneke Clan” rolled out the drums in support of Ekweremadu’s planned return to the Senate.  

Briefing newsmen in Enugu recently, the President of  Umuneke Progressive Front, Hon. Emeka Aneke, had stated that their people at a special New Year Conference reviewed the socio economic, political and infrastructure development in the clan and commended Ekweremadu for attracting projects that sustain transformation in Udi communities.

The Umuneke Udi clan, where the incumbent governor hails from, therefore, asked the lawmaker to recontest the Enugu West Senatorial seat for the fourth time.

In what many political watchers have described as the biggest blow yet for Chime’s ambition, rather than support the governor’s ambition, his kinsmen said they were solidly behind Ekweremadu’s fourth term bid, based on his achievements in their communities, which they noted surpassed those of Chime, their brother.

The people also noted that Ekweremadu has had quality representation in the National Assembly since his election into the upper chamber of the NASS in 1993, adding that he has given voice to their constituency and the South-East in general. They pointed at Ekweremadu’s rural transformation agenda through numerous constituency projects and appointment of their people into positions of service in federal agencies and parastatals.

According to them, Ekweremadu’s commanding height as Deputy Senate President, speaker of ECOWAS parliament and chairman of National Assembly Committee on Constitution Review were clear manifestations of his national appeal and his role as a key player in the nation’s polity.

“Consequent upon the foregoing, the Umuneke Progressive Front have passed a vote of confidence on Senator Ekweremadu and urge him to re-contest the senatorial seat of Enugu West District for sustained service to the people of Enugu west, Enugu state, South East and Nigeria at large.         

With the current drama playing out in the state as a result of the ambitions of Chime and Ekweremadu, who observers of events in the state have described as heavyweights, to vie for the same position under the PDP, the question on the lips of many people is what will become of the party in the state? With Nnamani’s planned return to PDP and the underground struggle between Ekweremadu and Chime, among other factors, what future lies ahead for the PDP in Enugu State in an era that the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) has begun to gain inroads into hitherto established strongholds of the PDP?

Further checks showed that heads had already started rolling due to the crisis between Chime and Ekweremadu. For instance, two serving commissioners and special advisers were reported to have been suspended from the PDP. The chairman of PDP in Udi Local Government, Honourable Uche Ogbodo announced the suspension of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Amaechi Okolo, two serving commissioners, as well as special advisers to the governor from the party.

Suspended alongside the SSG were Youths and Sports Commissioner, Chijioke Agu, Commerce and Industry, Dr Jude Akubilo and Mr.Sunny Agu, a Special Adviser to Governor Chime on Education and Chief OAU Onyema, an aide to the governor.

Curiously, Ogbodo, a close associate of Ekweremadu, who made the announcement of the suspension of the top government functionaries, did so amid reports that he had been suspended from office by loyalists of Chime in the party.

Ogbodo alleged that the affected PDP leaders were convening illegal meetings, adding that such developments could tear the party apart.

According to him, “it has come to a stage where members are victimised because they visited the Deputy Senate President,” adding that some of those who called themselves stakeholders are not comfortable with him because of his relationship with the Senator.

Sunday Tribune findings revealed that the strained relationship between Chime and Ekweremadu was highligted by the latter’s alleged adoption of a governorship candidate from Igbo Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu  State, a development which has led to different groups in the state attacking the Senator.

Ekweremadu had facilitated a meeting of some persons in Abuja where they were alleged to have adopted an unnamed individual from Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area of the state as their favoured candidate for the Enugu State 2015 governorship election.   

The group that first attacked Ekweremadu on the gubernatorial struggle is the Enugu State Stakeholders Advisory Group. In a press release signed by its Chairman, Professor Solomon Okwuchukwu Anadike and Secretary, Chief Sunday Ifeanyi Ojiogu, the group said it would be disappointed if indeed it was true that Senator Ekweremadu had facilitated such a meeting as alleged.

The group, which said it was working towards the interest and development of Enugu State, expressed “grave reservations” over the fact that the Ekweremadu could be facilitating such meetings in Abuja apparently to undermine the appropriate official organs of the PDP in Enugu State.

The group said, “it is our position that Senator Ekweremadu and his accomplices should come down to Enugu where they can engage with the Enugu State PDP and participate in a truly open and consultative dialogue on the matter of the future governance of the state.

The group noted that while the Senator is busy calling meetings in Abuja “it was notable that he not only absented himself from campaigning for the PDP during the last local government elections, but also failed to even show up at the swearing-in of the new local government chairmen held in Enugu on 4th January, 2014”.

“It is Enugu State PDP that will decide who will be its governorship candidate, not faceless conspirators and refugees from Enugu State holding secret meetings in Abuja”.

     The political atmosphere in the state has, however, been further heightened with news that Nnamani was already working with Ekweremadu, a development which made drew the ire of the Enugu State PDP, as reflected in a statement signed by its chairman, Abba, who warned Nnamani to forget about returning to ruling party.

To Abba, it would be a dramatic move that would never see the light of the day, adding that the ex-governor had since gone away from the party.

While the state chairman described Nnamani’s planned return as a bad omen, which the party would not allow to revisit it, findings had shown that efforts were already in top motion to ensure the smooth return of the former governor, with a meeting said to have taken place between Ekweremadu and Nnamani to distil the grievances of the latter and set conditions for his return.

According to Abba, “in spite of the fact that the PDP constitution made provision for returnees, the Enugu State chapter of the party takes exception to any clandestine move by the former governor to return to the party he worked in vain to destroy. He left the party on his own volition and formed an opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC) with the sole aim of destabilising the PDP in the state”.

Abba portrayed his pathological hatred for the ex-governor when he described him as a political liability to Enugu State, reaffirming that the structure of the PDP is intact, formidable and healthy and does not need any distraction from “political intruders” and agents of the opposition political parties, who he said were obviously drafted to destabilise the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Though quite unlike Nnamani, he is yet to respond to the tirades from the PDP camp, the question which political observers have continued to ask is what will his return portend for the PDP in Enugu State? While he is considered as an influential politician, who might have been convinced to return to the party based on the reconciliation efforts of the national chapter of the party,  his reported alignment with Ekweremadu will bring about the emergence of a somewhat unstoppable force in the Enugu PDP. But will that force not lead to greater internal wrangling and possibly implosion for the party, which is presently controlled by Governor Chime?

With the expected return of Nnamani, the Ebeano Lord to the PDP, the war of attrition between Ekweremadu and Chime and the emergence of the APC, the political equation in Enugu State is bound to change as 2015 approaches. But in whose favour will the change be? Who between Nnamani and Chime will win the war of control of the party’s structure when it eventually begins? Will Chime return to the Senate at the expense of the Ekweremadu and will the PDP’s apple cart not be upset in a state it has controlled since 1999 as a result of in-fighting, which has remained the greatest albatross of the party across the country? These questions shall be answered with each unfolding event in the state but one thing is clear, the PDP’s loss might end up being the APC’s or APGA’s gain.

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