Perhaps, the proposed visit of President Goodluck Jonathan to Enugu State will help diffuse tension in the state as well as refocus the battle for 2015, writes Akinbami Faloye
That the South-east is in high mood as it prepares to receive President Goodluck Jonathan and other national leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to Enugu for the zonal rally of the party is not in doubt. What has agitated the minds of party faithful and Enugu citizens, however, is whether the few hours the president would be spend in the coal city would be enough to see through the alleged political impunity going on in the state as well as the douse the simmering crisis in the Enugu chapter of the PDP.
For instance, since Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu reportedly â€˜challengedâ€™ the decision of Governor Sullivan Chime of the state to unilaterally decree that all federal lawmakers from the state serving out their second term and upwards must retire in 2015, a lot has changed about the politics of Enugu.
That pronouncement by Chime made at a Town Hall meeting to mark the 2013 Democracy Day at the Nike Lake Hotels drew public ire including the open reactions from Ekweremadu and the behind the scene condemnation by those not bold enough for fear of the unknown. That declaration was also widely considered dictatorial and selfish since the governor did not consult other party stakeholders before making public the statement.
There have also been some suggestions that even the governor himself who is completing the maximum two terms as governor, would have certainly gone for a third, and even more terms had the constitution permitted. This school of thought is backing its assertions with the governorâ€˜s burning and almost desperate desire to go to the senate at the expiration of his tenure a situation that has heightened political tension in Enugu.
Some therefore allege a grand design by the governor to sweep away the present lawmakers to create space for himself and his cronies.
These were part of issues discussed at a meeting the governor held in Abuja with all the National Assembly members from the state where he maintained his stand that it was over for all the National Assembly members from the state.
Whatever his stand, Chime is seen as uncomfortable with the rising profile of Ekweremadu, who has initiated as well as changed the lives of many within and outside his Enugu West senatorial zone. His constituency project, which is said to have turned things around in his area, has also been extended to other parts of the State. Ekweremadu is therefore seen as the only threat that can alter the plans of the governor to retire the lawmakers.
Ekweremaduâ€™s goodwill in the state is said to have endeared him to the party machinery in the state especially the ward, local government and zonal levels where he has taken it upon himself to see to their welfare since becoming Deputy Senate President.
Chime, who is known to have done less in this regards was actually however advised to reach out to the party executives at the ward level thereby forcing him for the first time as governor to give out Christmas packages to PDP executives at different levels.
Not until it became clear to him that Ekweremadu may have penetrated even the governorâ€™s own Udi Local Government where the PDP council chairman, Mr. Uche Ogbodo, openly challenged the plot to scheme out Ekweremadu and carter to his senatorial ambition.
Uche immediately faced alleged victimisation that many of Ekweremaduâ€™s supporters are said to being subjected to across the state. He was first suspended and later purportedly removed by the governorâ€™s henchmen. He was however reinstated by the National Executive of the party, even though the governor and his Chief of Staff, Ifeoma Nwobodo, were believed to have refused to allow him to function.
The governor is also believed to be afraid of the close relationship between Ekweremadu and President Goodluck Jonathan. Chime, it was said, once snubbed Jonathan during a visit to the South-east as vice-president, while other governors were on hand to receive him.
It was about the same period that he allegedly kept the former national chairman of the PDP waiting for several hours. But the visitors who came in from Abuja got tired of waiting and allegedly left in anger. Chime was almost gravitating towards that when during the recent visit of party stakeholders from Enugu to the new PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, stated clearly that it was the first time he was visiting a sitting National Chairman of the party.
He would later insinuate that he visited because of the fear of Ekweremadu and the politics of 2015. “As a governor for seven years by May, this is the first time I am coming to this place (party headquarters) with a delegation of Enugu State to identify with any Chairman,” Chime had aid on that occasion.
Realising the consequences of the face-off between the two highest office holders in the state, the PDP National Vice Chairman, Col. Akobundu and the BOT Members, former governor Jim Nwobodo and former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, brokered a peace meeting in Abuja at the instance of President Jonathan. The party leaders were not happy with the sour relationship between the duo and the face-off between the two camps.
They reportedly told the governor that there was no way he could stop the Senator by zoning the governorship to Nsukka zone on the mere suspicion that Ekweremadu wanted to be governor and at the same time prevent him from returning to the Senate. They asked both leaders to go home and settle on the best way forward.
At the same meeting, which held at Senator Ken Nnamaniâ€™s Abuja home, Chime was said to have expressed displeasure that Ekweremadu did not restrict himself to lawmaking, but was busy siting federal government projects as though he was competing with him. But Ekweremadu was said to have maintained that representation was a critical aspect of legislative business, hence the need to get government interventions in matters affecting the people.
As far as political observers are concerned, the Abuja peace talk failed because rather than exhibiting a positive action from the meeting, what follow was politics of endorsement and counter endorsement.
The decision of the Deputy Senate President to keep mute over what position he would be vying for next year has not helped matters. But the governorâ€™s camp, with the help of the state Chairman of the PDP, Vita Abba has been on the case of local government party executives and Council Chairmen in to endorse Chime as the candidate for Ekweremaduâ€™s senate seat.
Abba, who also nurses a governorship ambition, has been accused of initiating the endorsement project. Although the party chairman has distanced himself from some of these allegations, there have been cases where local council chairmen and party executives were allegedly threatened to endorse the governorâ€™s senatorial ambition and that of Nwobodo.
Yet the alleged campaign to stop Ekweremadu or anyone seen as standing in the way of the governor or Nwobodo is pounced on. Royal fathers from Ezeagu Local Government who had joined their subjects on an appreciation visit to Ekweremadu for his development focus were allegedly harassed and forced to either recant or lose their stools.
Also for advising against some hasty endorsements as well as resisting the attempt to force PDP chairmen in the five LGAs of Enugu West Senatorial District to sign a document purportedly zoning the senatorial seat from Greater Awgu (Chief Ekweremaduâ€™s area) to Udi/Ezeagu (Chimeâ€™s area), the party chairman in Udi LGA, Uchenna Ogbodo, has not been allowed to function.
A Permanent Secretary in the state, Eze O. Eze was also allegedly sanctioned for advising against the sponsorship of a newspaper advertorial against Ekweremadu by the Awgu LGA chapter. The Permanent Secretary was unceremoniously demoted to a Director.
These stakeholders are allegedly funded to place adverts announcing the purported endorsements of Chime by LG party executives without even consulting the executives concerned. But some courageous council executives have been issuing statements and placing advertorials denying any such endorsements.
In furtherance of the rivalry, government recently descended on the Ikeoha Foundation, an Ekweremadu NGO. The Commissioner for Education, Prof. Chris Okoro, ordered secondary school principals not to release their students to participate in the 2014 edition of Ikeoha Quiz Competition, which has promoted competitive learning for over a decade in the senatorial district.
Winning schools and runners up usually receive instructional and science equipment, while overall winning students who gain admission into higher institutions of learning have always received half a million naira each.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr. George Eze, has recently stopped the distribution of 20,000 units of anti-malarial drugs acquired by the Ikeoha Foundation to assist health centres in the area to fight the malaria scourge, the highest killer of people in this part of the world. Unfortunately, this has not gone down well with the people of the state who believe that there should be a limit to politics.
The politics of 2015 in Enugu has also found its way into the proposed building of a befitting Secretariat for the party because Ekweremadu has been removed as Chairman of the project. A project Committee was set up a few years back with the Deputy Senate President as Chairman and State PDP Secretary at the time, Mr. Don Udeh as secretary. A land opposite the old ESUT was mapped out for the project just as PDP political office holders were to contribute an agreed amount for the project.
At the end, only Ekweremadu, National Assembly members and a few LG Chairmen complied bringing the total money raised to N21 million. The money which is in a Zenith Bank account has Ekweremadu and Udeh as the signatories to the account.
Meanwhile, some drawings had been submitted following the call by the Committee. While those drawings were being processed, Abba reportedly took over the project and no explanations were offered the Project Committee. Consequently, action has been suspended on the project just as those who had made good their promise plan to return the money.
Abba has since not returned to Ekweremadu after he asked for the money and was referred to the Project Secretary, who also has the cheque book. There has been alleged attempt by some people to hijack the project. And the chairman is believed to be working in concert with those who refused to make their own part of the contributions.
Despite the onslaughts, however, many political pundits believe that only a democratic and constitutional process can remove or throw up Enugu’s representative at the National Assembly in 2015.
“After all these, Governor Chime and Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo have not become the PDP candidates for the next election; neither have their actions precluded anyone from contesting any political position in the State,” a political analyst, Nicholas Ozor said.
Thus, as President Jonathan visits the state, the logical question to ask is whether he and the PDP national leadership would arrest what Hon. Paul Anikwe, former member of the state assembly and currently the chairman of Enugu West Peoples Forum described as “Enugu’s descent into a political garrison”.