In Enugu, the Coal City state, there is no gainsaying that the politics of 2023 has started. The gladiators may not have come out openly to declare their interests but they fly all kinds of kites to gauge the mood of the people. For those who monitor events in the peaceful state, the signs of the battle ahead are there to see.
About three years to the next general elections, there is already a growing conversation on the zone that would produce Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s successor in 2023. Ordinarily, there should not be any argument on that, considering that power rotation among the three senatorial zones has become entrenched in the politics of the state since 1999. But in politics, anything is possible and the gladiators know that the rules can be changed even in the middle of the game.
In 1999, when democracy was reintroduced in Nigeria, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani from Enugu East emerged the first governor of Enugu State, was re-elected in 2023 for a second term, thus serving for eight straight years. Also, after his administration, he was succeeded by Sullivan Chime from Enugu West who also served for eight years. In the same trajectory, power shifted to Enugu North when Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was unanimously elected in 2015 and re-elected for a second term in 2019.
Unlike Nnamani, Chime, in line with the already existing zoning formula made his position known early, by declaring in 2014 that his successor in 2015 will come from Enugu North. In one of his political outings, he said “anyi ejebe Enugu North’,meaning, we have gone to Enugu North. It was not in doubt where he wanted his successor to come from and that was how the incumbent governor, Ugwuanyi emerged the guber candidate of PDP against all odds and subsequently won landslide in the election.
So, with the seamless transition of power from East, to West and finally to Enugu North, many agree that the full circle has been completed and should start all over again. The thinking is that despite the challenges the state has faced since the Fourth Republic, Enugu is one of the states that have recorded tremendous achievements for the people.
For critical observers, the zoning arrangement is not peculiar to Enugu as it has worked and is still working in Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Delta and majority of the states across the country. In the estimation of many, it has engendered political peace and unity in those states and the South Eastern state has no reason to scuttle the arrangement now especially under Governor Ugwuanyi whose disposition for peaceful coexistence of the people is unequaled.
Not a few agree that the success of the state since 1999 is because of the mutual understanding on power rotation among people of the three zones of the state. Even with the differences in interests of Enugu politicians irrespective of parties, the zoning arrangement has drastically reduced the level of rancour and acrimony among her people.
But as the clock ticks to 2023, one of the arguments being pushed by some power brokers in the state is that there was no time that elders of Enugu sat down to agree on any zoning arrangement. They believe that there was no formal agreement on power sharing among the three zones that make up the state. In their argument, the phrase ‘zoning arrangement’ in Enugu has become some sort of a tradition that has been deceitfully planted in the minds of the people without concrete evidence to back it up.
The consideration for power sharing, they argue, should be more on cultural groups and not on the basis of zones.
Writing on the Enugu zoning debate, a public affairs analyst, Akpa Francis had recently asked the following: “what happened to the four cultural groups in Enugu State which include: Nsukka Cultural group, Agbaja Cultural group, Nkanu Cultural group and Greater Awgu Cultural group?”
The direction of his argument is that cultural groups should be used to determine Governor Ugwuanyi’s successor in 2023.
He added: “Historically, His Excellency Okwesilieze Nwodo and His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi are from Nsukka Cultural group. His Excellency Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo and His Excellency Chimaroke Nnamani are from Nkanu Cultural group, His Excellency C.C. Onoh and His Excellency Sullivan Chime are from Agbaja Cultural group. What happened to Ndi Awgu (Greater Awgu) Cultural group? Are they not part of Enugu State or are they not fit to produce a governor of Enugu State?
“If Agbaja and Ndi Awgu cultural groups are lumped into one senatorial zone, that does not vitiate their specific cultural identities. There are four cultural groups in Enugu State and this is a verifiable fact that cannot be denied.
“The politics of the South-East has been dominated by cultural groups. Why will Enugu State’s case be different? Is it because Ndi Awgu are involved and nobody is talking about cultural groups?”
For some people, Mr Akpa may have put up a convincing argument with regards to cultural identities except that it would be counterproductive to change the zoning arrangement which has been working for the progress of the state since 1999. Many support the argument with the fact that in virtually all the states in Nigeria, power sharing is based on zones and not cultural blocs.
In Enugu, many believe that those pushing to use cultural identities for 2023 know the truth but want to scuttle the seamless zoning arrangement to further their vaulting ambition and political interests.
However, because of the peace and stability enjoyed in the state in the past 21 years which is largely attributed to the mutual understanding in power rotation in the state, majority of people of the state and most reasonable persons especially leaders of conscience believe very strongly that the zoning arrangement would continue.
A public affairs analyst, Joseph Aneke joined the zoning debate with a position that the issue of cultural bloc is a voyage by some selfish politicians out of sheer desperation and want of facts to keep the unsubstantiated argument alive.
He said: “this is the first time we are hearing about the so called cultural blocks as the basis for sharing political offices in Enugu political engineering, management and administration.
“Enugu I know and understand is fully standing on a comfortable political tripod including Enugu East Senatorial Zone, Enugu West Senatorial Zone and Enugu North Senatorial Zone. And the issue in contest is the zoning arrangement which was extracted from the three zones in question. So, if we are discussing zoning template, it should rotate within the three zones already created as basis for the rotation of public offices meant for the state and not cultural groups.”
Political watchers argue that in most states of the federation where zoning arrangement has be entrenched, watery issues like written document or agreement do not suffice. Zoning arrangement is like a doctrine that goes down well with the people and it is predicated on senatorial basis and not cultural blocs, or sundry clannish tendencies.
Many believe though that irrespective of the arguments being canvassed by some interested parties, the zoning arrangement would not change under Governor Ugwuanyi who is not only very grounded in the politics of the state but has benefitted from the zoning arrangement. Many observers insist that the governor should not be distracted from his commitment to provide democracy dividends and leave legacy projects for people of the state by the time he would have completed his second tenure in 2023. Those who have followed the governor’s modus operandi in politics can predict that he would not allow those who are battling to disrupt the effective zoning arrangement in Enugu to have their way.
Governor Ugwuanyi is known for justice and equity, hence the expectation is that he would hand over the battle to a politician from Enugu East in 2023.