Even before the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) holds its crucial National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting next Tuesday, indicators have emerged that the party is actually on trial in South East geopolitical zone.
The singsong in South East is for the zone to produce the next President after President Muhammadu Buhari bows out on May 29, 2023. As such, what happens at next Tuesday’s NEC meeting regarding the contentious issue of zoning, as well as the Presidential primary, would determine how far the party can go in the region during the 2023 poll.
However, amid the suspense and apprehension over PDP’s ambivalent posture over zoning, the recent three-man ad hoc delegate election in the zone left some plausible clues as to how things might turn out at both the primary and main election.
In four out of the five states that make up Southeast, the exercise was marred by accusations and counter-accusation of hijack of poll materials and violence. While the exercise was pushed forward to today in Ebonyi, policemen were forced to seal up the Abia State secretariat of the party.
It would be recalled that Ebonyi State PDP witnessed a sudden change in its leadership following the ruling of an Abuja Federal High Court, which invalidated the election of Tochukwu Okorie as chairman for flouting the party’s guidelines before the state congress.
Barrister Silas Onu, who was originally tipped to be returned unopposed before some stakeholders picked Okorie, was affirmed by the court as the authentic state chairman.
Few days to the three-man delegate election, the National Working Committee (NWC) of PDP bowed to the court’s decision and reinstated Onu as the state chairman. However, in the process of trying to conduct the three-man delegate selection, which process had been underway, some governorship aspirants who had made arrangements with Okorie, tried to hijack the process from the new state chairman leading to chaos.
Announcing the cancellation of the exercise, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Debo Ologunagba, said the NWC’s attention “has been drawn to reports of a purported conduct of 3-man Ad-Hoc Delegate Congress in Ebonyi State today, Wednesday, April 4, 2022.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the said 3-man Ad-Hoc Delegate Congress in Ebonyi State on Wednesday, April 4, 2022, is by law, null and void and as such unrecognised. This is because such Congresses are by law, subject to be monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which in this case, was not available to monitor the exercise.”
He said based on the unavailability of INEC to monitor the exercise, the NWC rescheduled the conduct of the 3-man Ad-Hoc Delegates Congress in Ebonyi State for Thursday, May 5, 2022.
However, as the shift coincided with President Muhammadu Buhari’s two-day working visit, the exercise was rescheduled for today, even as the party announced the reconstitution of the committee earlier sent to conduct the delegation election.
For Anambra, The Guardian gathered that stakeholders primed at working against the Presidential aspiration of former Governor Peter Obi, mobilised to ensure that the delegates are those that could vote for Rivers State governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike.
This is just as supporters of current national secretary of the party, Senator Sam Anyanwu and former governor Emeka Ihedioha clashed over the materials for the conduct of the election to throw up the three-man delegates for the primaries.
Yet, as crises hit the other state chapters, a silhouette of the form, which the forthcoming governorship election will take in Enugu State, emerged during the three-man election in the state.
Although the exercise was peaceful, it provided indicators that the Ebeano political grouping could continue to dictate the pace of politics in the state, especially given the governorship aspiration of immediate past Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.
Sources within Enugu PDP said the outcome of the three-man adhoc delegates’ election proved that Ekweremadu’s governorship ambition could hit the rocks.
But, based on what happened in 2015, when a parallel exercise was held to throw up alternate delegates, those close to the former Deputy Senate President said it was not over yet, hinting at the possibility of swaying the delegates during the primary.
Alerted by the speculations, Governor Ugwuanyi was said to have planned to receive the delegates last Thursday, ostensibly to apprise them of the need to sustain the peace and harmonious atmosphere that attended their election. Although many expected the governor to guide the delegates, but the postponement of the primary made that step impossible. Also, The Guardian learned that based on suspicions that some politicians were making plans to alter the list of the adhoc delegates at the party’s headquarters in Abuja, the chairman of the Electoral Committee, Prince Vincent Yandev Amaabai, declared that so such thing will happen.
Amaabai, had while supervising the progress of the exercise stated that the adhoc delegates’ poll “is a proper election supervised by INEC,” noting that INEC representative in the person of Anthony Obinna, was the person sent to monitor the exercise.
While commending Governor Ugwuanyi for his inclusive leadership style that kept the party united in Enugu State, Amaabi recalled that ever since the NWC mounted the saddle, no negative report had come from the state.
“The list of the three ad hoc delegates that emerge here is what we will send to the national secretariat in Abuja. Nobody can change anything. It is what you people do on the ground here that we will submit to Abuja,” he declared.
Unlike the 2015 edition, all members of the committee, including Mr. Okey Ahiwe and Dr. Adetokumbo Pearse, were with the chairman. Also, based on the assurances from the Electoral Committee chairman, sustaining the list of the three-man adhoc delegates favours Governor Ugwuanyi to guide the delegates on how to vote during the primaries. The Guardian was told that prior to the election, the governor had, at a meeting with stakeholders, listed those to be supported for the exercise.
IT would be recalled that in the build up to the Local Council poll, at every campaign stopover, former governor Chimaroke Nnamani continued to remind members that Governor Ugwuanyi is the leader of the Ebeano family, stressing that “Ebeano for Gburugburu means that everybody’s interest is protected.”
But, against the background of struggle by five prominent governorship aspirants, including Dr. Peter Mbah, Prof. Barth Nnaji, Sir Chinyeaka Oha, Evarest Nnaji (Odengene) and Hon. Chijioke Jonathan Edeoga, for PDP governorship ticket, concerns are high how the Ebeano grouping would vote during the primaries.
Senator Ekweremadu, the only aspirant from Enugu West Senatorial District, though also from the Ebeano family, seems to be swimming against the tide, because the governorship has been zoned to Enugu East Senatorial District.
Of the five contenders, only Dr. Mbah, the MD of Pinnacle Oil and Gas Limited, is a bonafide Ebeano. That may explain why many delegates are already singing that, “on this Rock, we shall continue to build Enugu State.”
The fact that both Senator Nnamani and Mrs Ifeoma Nwobodo are from same Nkanu West as Chinyeaka Ohaa and Odengene, how the delegates balances those political interests would be seen, depending on how Ugwuanyi’s mind is working.
Would Governor Ugwuanyi stop Senator Nnamani to empower the former Chief of Staff to former Governor Sullivan Chime? How that could affect the voting preferences of Nkanu people, especially given Nnamani’s popularity among voters could influence the main election. Mrs, Nwobodo, though married into Nkanu West, is from Enugu West Senatorial zone.
Consequently, as the leader of Ebeano, who is also headed to the Senate, whether Governor Ugwuanyi allows the delegates to vote according to their conscience as is being insinuated, any outcome would still be perceived to in line with his direction.
While the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is said to be waiting on the wings to capitalise on a disconnect among PDP leaders, only after the substitution window closes that Ebeano’s staying power could be determined.
In an interaction with The Guardian, former lawmaker, Ikemba Uchenna Igwesi, noted that the Ebeano grouping is an important variable in the calculus of Enugu State political engineering, management and administration.
Noting that Governor Ugwuanyi is the leader of Ebeano, Igwesi said it is the family to which every politician in the state belongs, adding: “I think 95 per cent of political gladiators in Enugu belong to that family. That family midwife our political progress and successes, all of us.”
On the implications of Ekweremadu’s governorship aspiration on the family, just like Senator Ayogu Eze did in 2015, Igwesi said: “It will definitely affect the peace, because Enugu has some understanding. We have some agreement whether it is written or not, the important thing is to remember the agreement and it has been working for us and this has accumulated in the veins and blood of all the electorate in Enugu State that it moves clockwise not anti clockwise.
“And we have never had it the way we are going to have it this time around. Some people by their behaviour, by their political activities, I think they want to create confusion in the state.
“My advice is that it is not proper for us, we have been enjoying this peace in Enugu state and any person who is trying to truncate the peace, I think history will not be fair to the person.”
Igwesi expressed the view that “if equity, justice and fairness is to play out, it is the turn of Nkanu East to produce the governor of Enugu State, I think they should micro-zone it to Nkanu East to be fair to them.”
From what played out during the three-man ad hoc delegate election, is it possible to have an upset as some people anticipate? Igwesi said: “I think the governor himself as the leader of Ebeano family, will dictate where the pendulum swings.
“In Enugu State, we have a system, we have mainstream political structure, which we believe in and that mainstream political structure has been dictating who goes in, by carrying members along through consensus or through all these other means. But, the important thing is that, I think that the Ebeano family is going to produce it and the governor is the head of Ebeano family.”
The former lawmaker remarked that the fact that few individuals left Ebeano family or did not believe in Ebeano family does not deplete the strength of Ebeano family, insisting that it would remain intact.
“Ebeano family is still strong irrespective of the few persons that left the family. You don’t expect the family to retain the same number from day one till now, no,” he added.
As governorship primaries draw near, there are indicators that there would be movements here and there. But, given the reforms in the electoral system and the existence of alternative political platforms, all eyes are on Enugu, particularly the Ebeano grouping, to see if PDP would retain its strongholds in Southeast.
The current fear in Enugu State, which is seen as the oasis for PDP is that any slight rupture in the vivacious political relationship between Governor Ugwuanyi and Senator Nnamani would affect PDP’s health in Southeast, particularly given the supremacy battle between Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe in Abia State.