By SHEDDY OZOENE
With juicy carrots on one hand and barbed sticks on the other, the All Progressives Congress has been cashing in on the internecine feud that has engulfed the Peoples Democratic Party in the recent past. Even as efforts are being made by notable leaders of the party to resolve the dispute between the Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Sherrif factions, the APC has succeeded in luring fair-weather politicians away from the party. The exodus of such political ‘heavyweights’ has been most pronounced in the South-East geopolitical zone, the latest being the immediate past governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime. Though he has not publicly joined the APC, he found the national dispute within the PDP a convenient alibi to quit.
The big fishes have been the most vulnerable: if there are no Dasuki funds to refund, like in the case of Jim Nwobodo, there is a national appointment to keep, like in the case of Ken Nnamani or a platform is needed for a governorship election, like in the case of Andy Uba. The list continues to grow, especially in Enugu State, but the decision by Chime to jump ship is most curious, and provides a different perspective on its own.
Though there was noticeable disquiet in Enugu over the news of Chime’s defection, not many party faithful would lose much sleep, after all, not many have even sighted him in public since his departure from Lion Building, Enugu state’s seat of power. However, the statements he made as he exited the party have raised a few eyebrows. After parting ways with the party on whose platform he rose to the governorship of Enugu State, he has tried to justify his decision, and ultimately find accommodation within the APC. Forget his claim that “the PDP I joined in 1999 and had the opportunity of leading in the state for eight years no longer exists in the true sense of it”, his real intention is to rally whatever remains of his supporters to another platform where he plans to actualise whatever personal political aspiration he nurses.
Many say he is frustrated with his downward slide in political relevance since quitting office. After becoming Enugu governor on popular acclaim in 2007, Chime maintained a fair rating all through his eight years tenure, made even more so by the sentiment against his predecessor, Chimaroke Nnamani. After what many consider to be an eventful–-even if controversial—tenure, largely defined by Nnamani’s propensity for stepping on toes and the high-handed tactics he applied in extracting political loyalty from subordinates, Chime’s eight years offered a sharp contrast in leadership style. While he didn’t totally disappoint on that score, it was always going to be difficult to maintain political relevance out of office considering his awkward aloofness and his ascetic, self-effacing nature that keeps him withdrawn from the public.
He may also have been miffed that he is increasingly being overshadowed in the political scheme of things in Enugu State. On this score too, he stands to be blamed. Ever since he left office, the man noted for his reclusive nature has not identified with the party at the ward, local government and state levels, a sharp contrast from what obtains with other leaders who make it a point of duty to attend any and every party meeting. The fact that his very popular successor, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, coupled with a formidable ally like Ike Ekweremadu, has built an awesome political structure in the state ought not to displease him or create unnecessary animosity in the state.
The speculation that Chime may be spoiling for one more dog-fight with Ekweremadu for the Enugu West Senatorial seat in 2019 is far-fetched. Though he was muscled out in 2015 by Ekweremadu, even as a sitting governor, it is doubtful if Chime can muster the political clout to stand Ekweremadu who by virtue of being the Deputy Senate President, is the highest ranked PDP man in public office in Nigeria today. In the nation’s order of protocol, Ekweremadu is also the foremost Igbo politician in Nigeria. When considered against his low approval rating among his Udi and Enugu West kinsmen over what they consider his uncharitable statements and low-energy performance in the area while he was the state governor, Chime has no chance in a senatorial contest involving Ekweremadu.
However, Chime may be charting a very unlikely route to launch to the forefront of Enugu politics: immediately after taking the PDP exit door, he reportedly mounted the campaign to get INEC to deregister Ekweremadu’s PDP. He has been vehement in saying the PDP was no longer working in tandem with the constitution that created it, and insisting that neither Makarfi nor Sherrif can actually lay claim to the position of PDP National Chairman.
Many have referred to the ex-governor’s ongoing corruption case with the EFCC as his reason for quitting the nation’s opposition party. Though he strenuously denies the EFCC link, the fact that he has been hard put explaining his government’s financial indiscretions gives a lie to his grandstanding. Chime who was also mentioned in a N450 million campaign funds largesse, has tried to absolve himself from any blame on the disbursement of the fund spent during the 2015 general elections. His performance as governor is a different matter altogether. While there is a preponderance of opinion that he was above average, the latter day disagreements with the state House of Assembly which unearthed some allegations involving him, his children and siblings were indeed revealing. He vehemently denies owning some choice properties like The Polo Malls, Park&Shop and some top-notch hotels in Enugu, some of which are built on what the House said are public lands. Saved by the bell, as they say in boxing, as appeals from notable leaders and the oncoming elections of 2015 stopped imminent impeachment proceedings before he exited office.
Has Chime always been a loyal member of the PDP? It is debatable considering that he picked up the party membership card from his Udi ward only after his predecessor, Nnamani, had fingered him as the party’s governorship hopeful in 2007. His decision, ill-advised as it is, does not, therefore, come as a surprise. As it is, that association with the party lasted just as long as his governorship. It may yet be a good riddance for a party in dire need of commited leaders.
Ozoene writes from Nsude, Enugu State.