From Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
In 2023, the three Senatorial Districts of Ebonyi State would have taken turns in producing governors of the state known for its potential in agriculture.
It started with Sam Egwu (Ebonyi North) to Martin Elechi (Ebonyi Central) and now to David Umahi (Ebonyi South). Barring unforeseen circumstances, all the zones would have enjoyed eight years in office after Governor Umahi completes his tenure in 2023.
A charter of equity by the founding fathers before the creation of Ebonyi had indicated that gubernatorial power will rotate between the Afikpo and Abakaliki blocs that make up the state. However, on creation, the Abakaliki bloc formed the North and Central Senatorial Zones with the Afikpo bloc forming the Southern Senatorial zone.
So far, the governorship power has rotated among the three Senatorial zones of the state.
Though there has never been any convincing evidence to back up such agreement, as Daily Sun gathered that the document was not eventually signed by all the parties but political leaders in the state have always followed that arrangement in deciding the leadership of the state, hence, it has become some form of convention. This was among the reasons Ebonyians opposed former Governor Elechi when he attempted, albeit out of anger and frustration to impose Chief Edward Nkwegu from the North on the state in 2015 as his successor.
Elechi’s move then was occasioned by the gang up against his preferred candidate, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu from Afikpo, who was Minister of Health at the period.
But the political realities in the state today present a clear threat to the zoning principle in the state as the two major clans in the state, the Izzi and the Ezza people from the North and Central Senatorial zones respectively, insist that it is their turn to govern the state in 2023.
Ezza and Izzi are the two most dominant and unarguably the most populated clans in the state. And because of their huge population and ubiquity, they are not only conspicuously dominant but they have always been very influential in determining the swing of electoral victory in every gubernatorial contest in Ebonyi.
The Izzi occupy three of the four local government areas in the Northern zone of the state namely Abakaliki, Izzi and Ebonyi council areas, while the Ezza are found majorly in Ezza North and Ezza South local government areas of the Central Senatorial district of the state. But, they could also be found in other local government areas across the state. For instance, Ezza are in Onicha local government area of the Southern Senatorial District, Ishielu in the central, Ohaukwu in the North and in some other local government areas of the state.
Their numbers notwithstanding, 25 years after the creation of Ebonyi State, the two clans are yet to produce the governor of the state despite their unquestionable influence in the politics of the state.
However, ahead of the 2023 general elections, the two clans appear battle-ready to change the narrative. While the unwritten power rotation agreement in the state since 1999 favours the Izzi people, their Ezza brothers, say it is their turn to produce the governor being the eldest clan in the state. They also argue that allowing them produce the governor will be in appreciation of the contributions of some of their illustrious sons like the late Dr. Ofia Nwali, to the creation of the state.
To announce their readiness to produce the next number one citizen of the state, the Ezza in a communiqué recently published in some national dailies and signed by the traditional rulers and political stakeholders, said they were ready to produce the governor of the state in 2023.
But the Izzi people had in 2019 announced that it was their turn to govern the state in line with the zoning arrangement in place since 1999. The Izzi argued that given that the first civilian governor of the state, Dr. Sam Egwu, is from Ohaukwu in Ebonyi North, it was their turn because the remaining three local government areas in the zone are all Izzi because Ohaukwu should not be contesting again.
The Izzi clan appealed to all political leaders in the state to respect the ongoing zoning principle in the state for the interest of peace and unity of the state.
One of the prominent leaders of Izzi and former Minister of State for Health, Chief Fidelis Nwankwo, who addressed newsmen in Abakaliki, recently, maintained that the Izzi had always supported other clans, stressing that it was time for them to be supported to produce the leader of the state.
The rivalry and competition between the two clans over who produces the next governor of the state has been aggravated by the recent defection of the State Governor, Umahi, to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
While the position of Gov. Umahi was not yet clear on which zone he will be supporting in 2023, it is safe to posit that the governor is most likely to support the Izzi based on his observable political actions and utterances since he won his re-election in 2019.
The issue may have taken a new dimension with the declaration by some Ebonyi indigenes, under the platform of Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in the Diaspora (AESID) that zoning be discarded in the next governorship election. They said competence and credibility should instead determine who emerged the next governor of the state and not zoning.
In a statement in Abuja, January 10, by its president, Paschal Oluchukwu, the association implored Ebonyi indigenes to screen aspirants thoroughly and pick the one that had the capacity to handle the challenges facing the state.
It also urged Ebonyians to ignore “paid political permutators, jobbers and hatchet men, misleading, misdirecting or misinforming Ebonyi people as they battle to choose a credible and competent leader who would take-over the baton as Governor David Umahi’s successor.
“First, AESID wishes to assert that the number one criteria which we implore every Ebonyian and lover of our state to seek out in any intending aspirant or candidate, is competence and credibility which would ultimately translate into such a leader’s capacity to reverse the numerous negative statistics and economic woes in our state. Much more than the zone of an aspirant, AESID would implore Ebonyi people to continue to study the records in and out of office of any contender and place same side-by-side with the prevailing challenges facing the state and seek out for only those who can reverse the negative indices.”
The group argued that the economic prosperity of Ebonyi people was more important than the antiquated zoning of political positions that would not afford them to put their best foot forward as Umahi’s successor in 2023.
However, as we move steadily towards 2023, some chieftains across party lines from the two zones are already warming up to contest the governorship and who will ultimately influence the shape of things ahead of 2023.
Leading the pack is Senator Obinna Ogba, Chairman Senate Committee on Sports. He represents Ebonyi Central Senatorial District; a onetime Chairman of Ishielu local government area and former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. Ogba’s intention to contest the governorship is already visible in the state. Although the two-time senator is neither from Ezza nor Izzi, but his influence and popularity within his party, the PDP, and across the zones of the state will be of great advantage for him.
Standard bearer of labour Party (LP) in the state in the 2015 governorship poll, Chief Edward Nkwegu (Edon) is raving for another contest in 2023. The billionaire businessman and politician is presently a chieftain of the APC and political ally of former governor of the state, Chief Martin Elechi. He hails from Nwofe in Izzi local government area of the Northern Senatorial zone of the state.
Also, pioneer Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly and two time Senator for Ebonyi Central, Julius Ucha is believed to be warming up for the race. Currently, a member of the National Assembly Service Commission representing the South East zone, he was the APC flag-bearer in 2015 general elections in the state. Prior to the period, he had run on the platform of the defunct All Nigerian Peoples party (ANPP). Ucha hails from Ezzagu in Ishielu local government area of the state.
Former Secretary to Government of Ebonyi state (SSG), Bernard Odoh, a Professor of Geophysics who had aspired to govern the state on the platform of the APC in 2019 but lost to Senator Sunny Ogbuoji in a controversial primary election is said to be still eyeing the number one seat in 2023.
Still in the APC is the Chairman, Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Chief Elias Mbam. An illustrious son of Izzi, the former Minister of State (Finance) wants to be governor. Mbam is said to have kicked off his consultations since 2019.
In the PDP is former Minister of State for Health, Fidelis Nwankwo; an engineer. He was Chairman of the Divine Mandate Campaign Organization, the group that secured the victories of Gov. Umahi in 2015 and 2019. Odoh is of the Ezza stock in Ebonyi Central
A four-time member representing Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, Sylvester Ogbaga, recently told journalists in Abakaliki that he would be very happy to fly the gubernatorial flag of his party, the PDP, in 2023. During the return to democracy in 1999, he became the Chairman of Abakaliki LGA.
Anayo Edwin Nwonu, popularly called Anatex is another PDP federal legislator believed to be positioning for the governorship seat. The representative of Ezza North and Ishielu Federal Constituency was first elected in 2015 and re-elected for a second term in 2019.
Francis Nwifuru, Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly is also being touted to be interested in the governorship seat. Nwifuru, a two-time Speaker of the House represents Izzi East Constituency. He was first elected in 2011 and was re-elected for the third time in 2019.
A very vocal member of the State House of Assembly, Chris Usulor, popularly known as Afiaoma, is also eyeing the governorship seat. Usulor is son of late Senator Vincent Usulor. He represents Ezza South Constituency and is one of the proponents of Ezza governorship quest in 2023. In 2019, the lawmaker who is currently enjoying his third term in the House announced his intention to contest Ebonyi governorship seat in 2023. Usulor is among the eight PDP lawmakers who declined to defect to the APC with Governor Umahi.