By Prof. Oguejiofo T. Ujam
There is no doubt that the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown up a body of new thinking about good governance and leadership selection in Nigeria. Before the COVID-19 confusion, it should be noted that the price volatility that surround petroleum products in the international market elicited concerns about a post-oil economy, especially for a mono-product political economy such as Nigeria.
Within the country, there is no other state where the worrisome situation of the economy is more acute than Enugu State. Enugu State, also known as the Coal City state, is majorly known as a civil servants’ state, despite the fact that close to 80 per cent of the mainly rural population are engaged in subsistence agriculture.
Given the fact that coal, a solid mineral, and a depleting resource, with decreasing demand due to climate change, coupled with the declining revenue from the Federation Account; what becomes of the state in the immediate post-Corona economic uncertainties has been a source of great worry to right-thinking citizens of Enugu State.
It is against this background that many patriotic citizens of the Coal City state worry about what manner of governor the state needs come 2023. The choice of who succeeds Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as governor does not look as if it would be an easy one.
There are many variables surrounding the build up to the governorship. While career politicians aspiring to be governor seem to be very visible or dominate the social media rants and rumours, there are those who are busy developing blueprints and critiquing ideas for a better governed Enugu State. Then there is also the group of silent wailers, who do not have the wherewithal or even the political platform to ventilate their aspiration to provide a credible, alternative leadership to put the state on the map of forward-looking economies in the country.
The sad part of the intriguing look of things as 2023 draws nearer is that some career politicians still believe that politics remains business as usual. That could explain why these crop of politicians are depending on their deep pockets of illicitly accumulated wealth to grant them access to Enugu State Government House during the election.
But, recent instances show that Enugu State electorate have demonstrated strong will even in their assumed political humility, to disappoint the political soldiers of fortune masquerading as socio-economic emancipators of the people.
Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, a returnee medical surgeon from United States of America was able to defeat established politicians such as Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu in the transition to civil rule programme in 1999.
In 2007, Sullivan Chime was able to defeat Fidel Ayogu and Ugochukwu Agballah, because somehow, Governor Nnamani, a very intelligent leader, noticed Enugu voters’ aversion to career politicians. Although some members of the Ebeano political family, like Deputy Governor Okechukwu Itanyi, tried to swim against the tide of Governor Nnamani’s political understanding, the ease with which Chime won the governorship poll proved the governor right in his calculations and interpretation.
Then, in 2015, Governor Ugwuanyi was chosen, because, as a member of House of Representatives he was seen by all and sundry, more as a good man than a politician.
It should be noted, albeit on a rather weak sentimental level, there are those who think that kinship would pave the way for them to mount the saddle, just because they are caught up by a thin fence of senatorial delineation.
Yet, the sophistication of the Enugu electorate is usually belied by their mellow disposition, but bolstered by their high moral inclinations and enlightenment. It is highly likely that Enugu people would still demonstrate that famed political insight to repeat the feat of rejecting moneybags in 2023, despite the current economic challenges, which might make vote buying inevitable.
However, the recent Ovoko declaration by former Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, has shown that career politicians seem not to have learnt any useful lessons from history of electoral contests in the Coal City state.
As part of his soft campaigns for the 2023 governorship election, Ekweremadu had attempted to sponsor a football tournament for youths in Ovoko, Igboeze South Local Government of the state. The development did not go down very well with natives, who felt that the Senator’s aspiration was a calculated attempt to undermine the succession plan of Governor Ugwuanyi.
After some tense moments by some rival youths, Ekweremadu addressed the footballers. He said, “we are going to sensitize the entire Senatorial district starting from Ovoko. Ndigbo siri na, agbaraka na azoana, onye ji ji ana akonye (When a piece of land is under contention, the man with yam will be planting). We refuse to be distracted, our aspiration is to change the story of our people, so that it would be better for all of us.”
Many observers and informed public intellectuals have continued to point to Ekweremadu’s misadventure in Nsukka, where the governor hails, as evidence of his governorship ambition. But for me, that is neither here nor there, because I believe any man can aspire to be anything on earth.
Not minding that the Senator stoked the attempt to redefine the Enugu State zoning arrangement by introducing the idea of rotation according to cultural zones, I am perturbed by the calibre of people showing up to be governor of the state in 2023.
From the Igbo proverb he dropped in Ovoko, which I have styled as Ovoko declaration, Ekweremadu has shown that he belongs to the better-forgotten past, when money and impunity were all that mattered during leadership recruitment.
There is no doubt that as a Deputy Senate President for 12 years, encompassing the doctrine of necessity epoch, the Enugu West Senator must have made much money just by serving. But, for the same man to think that the same money earned at the expense of the people would pave his way to another public office is reprehensible.
Enugu State should be in search for young and intelligent candidates, those who belong to the global knowledge economy and not intellectual wannabes or public moneybags. We want to see governorship aspirants flying on their dreams and boasting of new ideas of statecraft, not entrenched career politicians bereft of ideas, whose only mantra is how to win election by trick or transaction.
The man or woman that would succeed Governor Ugwuanyi in Enugu State in 2023 should be one who can wake giants within our young people and be able to challenge limitations by breaking new grounds through innovative ideas. Ekweremadu and others like him should search for these kind of people and throw their weight around such new leaders to take the Coal City state to the future of shared prosperity and peace.
Ujam, Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry, University of Nigeria, writes from Nsukka