Enugu 2023: The debate beyond zoning

Enugu state government

Unlike most commentators on the raging political shenanigans in the run-up to the 2023 gubernatorial contest in Enugu State, I do not share in the general opinion that the contest should simply be reserved for candidates from the Enugu East senatorial district whose turn it is generally believed to be. Apart from the fact that there is yet no known document strictly providing for such rotational template, it may actually run against the grain of Section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which expressly forbids discrimination of any kind.

Even more so, in a multi-party democracy like ours, it is largely untenable to expect that all the parties would agree to field their candidates from just one senatorial district! The usual cloak and dagger game compels each party to gauge the strategic nuances of her major opponents including the zones of their respective choice preferences.

Besides, although “rotation” now seems like a convention cast in iron, the fact still remains that at no time in the past two decades of the current dispensation had there ever been an exclusive reserve of candidates from one zone vying for the gubernatorial seat. In 1999, the contest was essentially between Chimaroke Nnamani, of the PDP and Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu, of the ANPP among others. Whereas Chimaroke is from Enugu East, GNG, as he is popularly called, is from Enugu West. In 2003, Chimaroke did not only have such formidable challengers like Ugo Agballa of the APGA from the West, he was also to contend with the intense opposition mounted by Chief Fidel Ayogu of ANPP, from the Enugu North among others.

In 2007, it was not a free reign for Sullivan Chime from the West as he had to contend with serious opposition from candidates like Barr. Okey Ezea from the North Senatorial zone of the Labour Party among others; even from the East senatorial zone! Therefore, there would not be anything unusual if anybody from any other zone throws his hat in the ring. Even the touted ambition of the former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, as inordinate and unobtrusive as it appears, is with due respect, a storm in a tea cup! As usual with democracy and the established convention in the state, minority would have their say but the majority would definitely have their way! It is no hidden fact that majority of the voting public in the state favour the continuation of the “rotational template” which, without doubt, has helped to stabilize the polity.

My concern is that the current debate for rotation has become so impassioned and intense that an observer might leave with the impression that the idea of rotational governorship is an end in itself. As desirable as that principle may be as a basis for political equity in Enugu, and indeed anywhere else where a socio-cultural tripod exists, it should never be treated in isolation particularly in relation to the qualities of the would-be candidates. To put it clearly, in the event that the governorship rotational principle is strictly adhered to – as I’m convinced it will – consistent with its established order, the feel-good factor of having the pendulum swing in favour of a particular zone should not simply suffice. The expectation should be that it yields a candidate who can at the least approximate the records of the incumbent.

So much have been said and written about the prevalent peace in Enugu State that it may sometimes sound trite particularly to a non-resident. But to those familiar with past experiences in the state, it is not a point that can be over-emphasized. As Senator Hyde Onuagluchi once aptly observed, “It’s difficult to hold power and not wield it adversely.” Anybody who is conversant with Enugu’s recent experiences of arrogance of power would appreciate that this virtue is indeed a very big shoe that would be left behind by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. To put it mildly, Enugu has never had the kind of peace and harmony as it enjoys today.

Governor Ugwuanyi has displayed an uncanny ability at fiscal prudence and management of scarce resources such that the stakes have been raised so high for future occupants of the Lion Building. He has been able to generate resources from almost impossible corners of the state, and prudently apply same with so much transparency. This, to me, is very crucial. The cry for resource control is a cry that cannot be whittled any longer. In the next foreseeable future, it will be foolhardy to expect a people to permit their God-given resources to be pillaged by others who don’t feel the pangs of their despoliation.

Even then, the COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably given us a glimpse of how stupid a wholesome dependence on oil resources could be. Those who have eyes can see that with electric cars so much around, our oil is ominously manifestly useless. Therefore governance in modern age should be reserved for those who can cast a creative vision and fire the imaginative instincts of the populace. How many of the easily touted possible contenders have resumes that approximate to this expectation?

Most of the easily touted possible contenders do not appear to me to have this crucial disposition. It’s not mere conjecture, but a cursory peep into the credentials of the easily touted candidates shows that they are equipped with “deep pockets”, with scarcely any ennobling or redeeming features like administrative experience and capacities.

Fortuitously, the choices that have so far determined the emergence of our past governors were not made on the basis of deep pockets. Chimaroke Nnamani, for instance, was by no means a man of wealth in 1999 when he emerged the candidate of the PDP. Indeed, most budget of his election expenses were borne by some benefactors including Chief Jim Nwobodo and the late Chief Gabriel Nnaji. Sullivan Chime in like manner was not anywhere near such description before he emerged as the candidate of the PDP. Ditto Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who though was well-healed financially, did not flaunt that as a credential.

Therefore, despite how desirable the clamour for rotation may be, we must however be careful not to rotate from progress to retrogression. In most of the analysis about the possible contenders, I have hardly seen anyone whose resume is exciting beyond the propaganda of deep pockets. Among their rank are those one cannot ascribe any business endeavor, beyond portfolio companies without known addresses. Nearly none of them is riding on the crest of his established intellect or creative credentials. Yet, governance in this challenging season goes beyond cant and subterfuge.

Enugu holds a strategic place in the life of every Igbo that the debate should not simply be that this fellow is “rich”! We cannot afford to take for granted the lofty heights we have reached in this particular dispensation where the Wawa man can proudly say that given a level playing field, he too can excel. The debate should also include the intellectual gravitas and administrative skills of possible candidates. Sullivan Chime was not a money bag, but his intellect projected the state to enviable heights. Governor Ugwuanyi was not an advertised moneybag, but he has been able to cast an enduring vision, sparked the creativity of the citizenry and the state is better for it.
The debate therefore should centre on finding someone with capacity to build on the credible milestones of our leaders and cast a vision that can move the state forward.

Nwokedi, a lawyer, wrote from Enugu.

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