The attempt by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to annex the South East territory was rudely halted by the massive loss of its hurriedly repackaged “change” gubernatorial candidate, Tony Nwoye, a former PDP member. By voting massively for APGA’s Willie Obiano, Ndi Anamra simply embraced performance and rejected an uncertain future of possible failure. The situation of APC in the South East is made more unfortunate by the entrenched feelings of discontent among the people about their heightened marginalisation by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC federal government. Nwoye’s case was particularly made worse when the APC national headquarters chose its worse performing governors, notorious for their inabilities to perform the most basic task of monthly payment of workers’ salary, to lead the campaign against a governor whose performance earned him the sobriquet “Alert Governor.” However, before the Obiano hurricane in Anambra was the Ugwuanyi consolidation in Enugu State.
In a country where the ability of state governors to pay workers’ salary is considered a major feat, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu qualifies as one of the best performing governors in Nigeria. In addition to prompt payment of state and local government workers’ salaries and pension of retirees, Ugwuanyi has embarked on and completed massive infrastructural projects across the state, with an appreciable concentration in his Enugu North Senatorial District. The massive turnaround and urban renewal efforts around the university town of Nsukka and environs, though without prejudice to the development of other parts of the state, is justified by the principle of rotation of the governorship seat among the three senatorial districts to ensure equitable and even development of all constituent parts of the state. The developmental efforts of Ugwuanyi have deepened the already entrenched dominance of the PDP in Enugu. Today, Ugwuanyi leads a PDP structure in Enugu State that is a formidable political machine that comprises national and state Assembly members and state government appointees whose relevance is largely premised upon their performance in public office and constant touch with the grassroots. Therefore, when the Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) issued a notice for the conduct of council elections scheduled for November 4, the victory of the Ugwuanyi-led PDP in the state was expected to be a consolidation of the numerous achievements of his administration. As expected, the elections were massively won by the PDP but not without some sad incidents of election violence.
The APC chairman in the state, Dr. Ben Nwoye, had accused leading figures of the PDP of masterminding the attacks on its members during the local government elections in Enugu; an accusation that PDP quickly denied. The media space has been awash with claims, counter-claims, accusations and counter-accusations by both parties. Okey Ezea, the APC gubernatorial candidate, is at the centre the raging controversy arising from the incidence of electoral violence that took place in his Igboeze South Local Government Area of the state. In a widely-circulated press statement, Ezea claimed to have been physically assaulted by thugs whom he suspected were acting on the instructions of PDP leaders in the local government. In reaction to this claim by Ezea, PDP stakeholders not only denied the allegation but placed the blame for the violence on the doorsteps of the APC chieftain, whom they maintained has a notorious history of political “terrorism” and brigandage dating as far as 2007. The name “Idege” as Okey Ezea is commonly known among the people of Igboeze South, evokes sad memories of electoral violence, with attendant arson and bodily injuries on his victims. As far back as 2008, during a similar exercise of local government elections, thugs suspected to be acting under the instructions of Ezea, brutalised one Chijioke Onoja and in the process chopped off one of his ears. Citizen Onoja didn’t survive the attack for long. Till this day, this sad story is still being told by the natives. Similarly, a female ad hoc staff of ENSIEC also claimed to have been brutalised by Okey Ezea during the November 4, 2017, local government elections. And the list goes on. The current incidence of election violence is now being investigated by security agencies and PDP stakeholders have threatened to institute a court action against Ezea for defamation of the character of its leaders. While electoral violence stands condemnable under all circumstances, it is equally important to reveal in public some private engagements between the leadership of both parties in the state in order to establish the possible motive for violence; revelations that will put all contending issues in proper perspective and possibly provide a lead for security agencies in their investigations.
In putting Enugu first before partisan considerations, Ugwuanyi extended a bunch of olive branches to his main opponents in the 2015 gubernatorial election, prominent among whom is the APC candidate, Ezea. Despite the clear dominance of the PDP in Enugu State, Ugwuanyi opted for a quasi-unity government in the state, wherein the interests of APC in general and its gubernatorial candidate, Ezea, in particular were well incorporated. Ugwuanyi’s bipartisan approach to governance has resulted in close collaboration between the party in power and the opposition APC in the state, a commendable feat that has largely blurred the lines of division with the concomitant effect of peace and stability in the polity. These conciliatory efforts of the governor were clearly demonstrated in the political processes leading to the November 4 council elections. First, the nine-man transition committee that was appointed by the Ugwuanyi administration to oversee the affairs of Igboeze South Local Government Area included Ugwoke Ceizer, a nominee of Ezea. Secondly, Ezea was not only privy to the choice of Dr. Fidelis Odoh as the PDP candidate for Igboeze South Local Government Area but was also present at the stakeholders’ meeting on September 21 at Ikenga Hotel in Nsukka town, where the candidate was adopted. To further deepen the broad consensus and bridge-building effort of the governor and PDP stakeholders in the area, Ezea was given the privilege of nominating Ngozi Ugwoke, whom the party adopted as its councillorship candidate for his Itchi Uwani Ward 1.
For a political leadership that has conceded so much in order to accommodate everyone under a pan-Enugu arrangement devoid of partisan polarisation, the motive for violence becomes doubtful. As far as Enugu is concerned, APC is nearly non-existent and does not in any way pose a challenge to the dominant PDP that may require state-sponsored violence to overcome. Due to the failure of the APC-led federal government to address the genuine cries of marginalisation of the South East and the impressive performance of the PDP administration in Enugu State, the APC cannot make any inroads in this part of the country as clearly demonstrated in the local government polls in Enugu. With the promise of the Buhari administration to open up the “chopping space” by expanding the federal executive council and filling up of vacant board positions, it may have become politically expedient for APC stalwarts in the South East to feebly raise the banner of the party while playing victims of political persecution in order to attract sympathy and be rewarded accordingly from Abuja. The same reason that may have informed Ezea’s volte face, leading the feeble APC attempt on the day of local government election after having participated fully in the internal processes of the PDP in his Igboeze South Local Government Area. The word on the streets of Enugu suggests that Ezea may have been treated to a dose of his own medicine by members of his own political family who violently resisted his attempt to truncate their prospects of benefits accruable to them from his initial arrangement with the PDP leadership in Enugu State.