Aside the fanfare that greeted the presidential campaign of the Peoples Democratic Party in Enugu State last week, it was also an opportunity to resolve the controversy that had trailed the party’s gubernatorial nomination in the state, writes Christopher Isiguzo
The controversy that trailed the outcome of the December 8, 2014 gubernatorial primaries of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was finally laid to rest last Friday, January 9, when the party’s National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Múazu formally accorded recognition to a three-term member of the House of Representatives and the acclaimed winner of the primary election in the state, Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi with the presentation of the party’s flag to him.
Though the mammoth crowd that gathered at the main bowl of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, came ostensibly to receive the party’s presidential candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan and other party leaders in readiness for the February 14, presidential election, the presentation of the party’s flag to Ugwuanyi literally took the shine off the event.
Party supporters had come from all the 17 councils in the state to demonstrate their loyalty to the president and in the process, sent a clear signal that the recent “admonition” by fiery Catholic Priest, Rev. Ejike Mbaka, did not make any impact on the people of the state as they remained irrevocably committed in their support for the PDP.
Prior to the presidential campaign kick-off and presentation of flag to Ugwuanyi as the party’s standard bearer, three other gubernatorial aspirants, a billionaire businessman and owner of Peace Mass Transit, Dr Maduka Onyeishi and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Works, Senator Ayogu Eze as well as one Prof Onyeke Onyeke had been laying claim to the gubernatorial ticket, with each insisting that he was the rightful winner of the December 8 primary election.
However, while each of the trio had headed for different courts apparently to get what they couldn’t secure from the “authentic delegates” that reportedly elected Ugwuanyi as the party’s candidate last year, the party’s leadership in the state had made it clear that Ugwuanyi’s candidature was irreversible considering that the primaries that produced him had all the trappings of legitimacy.
Not only did it take place at the approved venue, it also had all the authentic delegates as well as the panel from Abuja led by King Asara Asara fully present. It was therefore not completely surprising when Mu’azu handed over the party’s flag to Ugwuanyi last Friday.
Muazu, who was called up to the podium after Ikeje Asogwa, the party’s chairman and Governor Chime had presented their addresses to the gathering literally lifted the governorship candidate’s profile higher than expected following the high rating of the National Assembly member whose gubernatorial ambition has set a record yet to be broken in popularity in the state in the past decades.
In the words, Mu’azu said “This is one of the most popular candidates I have ever met in this period of electioneering in our country”. And as he gave that verdict said to have reflected the rating of Ugwuanyi at Wadata Plaza, headquarters of PDP in Abuja, he called on other aspirants who had run against the candidate to joins hand with him and the party while also urging Ugwuanyi to work with all party faithful whether they had run against him or not.
Muazu, however, formally handed over the party flag to him, declaring that it was a flag of victory from the party.
Ugwuanyi thanked the party and the people of the state for the confidence reposed in him and assured them that he would consolidate on the current gains and take the state to the next level of development. The Enugu PDP governorship candidate however promised a robust campaign to begin in earnest.
“The presentation of the party’s flag to me by our national chairman is a call to duty, a charge to work hard with my governor and the rest of the team to deliver Enugu State to the PDP 100 per cent as has been the tradition and that I will surely do, God being my helper.”
Other speakers at the event which stood out as the one with the largest crowd in recent time included the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa-Ibom, Theodore Orji of Abia and Sullivan Chime of Enugu States as well as the Director General of Jonathan's campaign committee, Dr Ahmadu Ali and PDP Women Leader, Kema Chikwe.
They all took time to not only eulogised President Jonathan but also predicted victory for Ugwuanyi, President Jonathan and other party candidates in next month’s general election.
Akpabio, while speaking, ruled out the possibility of a parallel government by the APC, noting that President Jonathan will win the election "fair and square", adding that “voting for them means voting for insurgency. We cannot hand over Nigeria to vandals. They cannot benefit from the misfortune they've unleashed on Nigerians," he said.
Abia Governor said the people of South-east would not give their votes to the same man that clamped their leaders including Ekwueme, Nwobodo and Dr Sam Mbakwe to prison, while his Enugu counterpart added that ordinarily, the president had no need coming to Enugu as the state remains his major support base.
On his part, Vice-President, Namadi Sambo said the PDP administration under President Jonathan had done a lot for the people of the South-east including the Akanu – Ibiam international airport, the rehabilitation of the railway line from Port-Harcourt to Makurdi, the ongoing construction of the second Niger Bridge as well as the construction of about 200km of roads in some parts of the zone.
Eulogising the zone as having produced some of the nation's great leaders, who made enormous contributions to the overall development of the nation, the Vice-President said the only way to sustain the contributions of the zone's founding fathers was for the people to vote massively for the president.
The First Lady, who spoke in the Igbo language, made a passionate appeal to the people of the zone to vote her husband again in next month’s presidential election. She said when she came for campaign in the zone in 2011, she promised that if her husband was elected with their support, the Igbo will no longer enter Aso Rock Villa, from the back yard but through the front door.
According to her, the promise had been fulfilled and therefore called on the women in the zone to wake up in support of her husband, saying the 35 per cent representation was already theirs. She urged women in different professions to come out and participate actively in politics and take their due share of the positions and responsibilities, noting also that the time of women being confined to the kitchen was over.
President Jonathan, on his part, challenged the Presidential candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari to unveil his blueprint on how to fight corruption and revive the nation's economy, noting that unlike in 1983 when Buhari clamped "innocent Nigerians" into kirikiri, there are new and modern ways of fighting corruption. He said his administration had tackled the problem of corruption in the last four years using modern technologies.
"People keep accusing us of being corrupt. Let them bear in mind that no nation can thrive with corruption. We hate corruption but the issue now is that they have not told us how to deal with it. They should show us how they will manage the economy better than us. Let them unveil their blueprint," he said.
The president, who spent the better part of his 53-minutes address tackling the Buhari administration in 1983, said he stood miles away from the APC candidate in terms of possession of democratic credentials, noting that despite the promises the opposition leader made when he took over as the nation's military leader, the economy nearly collapsed on him as a result of his anti-people policies.
"I've told them that this nation must move forward. I cannot run the nation based on my heartbeat but it ought to be based on global practices. This is a man who jailed Dr Alex Ekwueme for no reason and also jailed Jim Nwobodo for 301 years because of allegation of corruption yet they were innocent. We must run Nigeria based on the rule of law. In a democracy, somebody is talking about throwing people to kirikiri.
“That's not what is expected in a modern democracy. We cannot go back to archaic way of fighting corruption. Today, salaries are paid through the electronic system – IPPIS for all federal workers – and this has reduced corruption in the system. They want us to be fighting imaginary enemies; catch people, lock them up, show them on TV and celebrate it. I can't do that. The best way to stop robbery and corruption is to use technology.
"When we came on board, agriculture was a major avenue for stealing money but all that has changed; we adopted the technological way and today, farmers now get their fertilizers directly. By the time we finish with all the sectors, Nigeria would be completely rid of corruption.
“Also, their impression that everybody who drives private jet is corrupt is laughable. In other nations – in America, Europe and Asia – businessmen, who do genuine businesses have their private jets; are they now saying all those people are corrupt and should be thrown into kirikiri?
"On the economy, we have the best hands managing the economy. Our Finance Minister is one of the best in the world today. They accused us of stealing the foreign reserve; it simply means they don't know what foreign reserve is because nobody steals the foreign reserve. Buhari is coming with the same message he brandished in 1983 when he was a young man not knowing that things have changed. We cannot fight corruption his own way," he noted.