The 2015 general elections may be one year away, but political gladiators seeking to represent Enugu East Senatorial District in the Senate are leaving nothing to chance, OZIOMA UBABUKOH writes
All appears set for what many consider a clash of the titans in Enugu East senatorial zone of Enugu State. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, where the gladiators are gearing up to contest in the party’s primary to decide the party’s flag bearer for the 2015 elections.
Of the motley crowd of persons who have signaled their intension to contest, three have emerged as front runners. They are — Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo, a former governor of the state, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani and a former Minister of Information, Mr. Frank Nweke Jnr.
What is happening in Enugu East may have overshadowed the seeming battle of supremacy between Governor Sullivan Chime, and the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.
The situation in Enugu East has the potential of heating up the political atmosphere not only in the zone, but the state in general.
Mrs. Nwobodo who some consider a new comer into the murky waters of Enugu politics, when compared to the other two contenders, had told all those who cared to listen, that she was in the race not only to contest but also to win.
For her, she remains committed to the letter and the spirit of her Igbo political campaign slogan –“ Ifeoma di n’iru” meaning a good thing lies ahead.
Her confidence may not be misplaced. This is if her current position as the Chief of Staff to Enugu State Governor is taken into consideration.
Nwobodo’s supporters argue that Ekweremadu, who once occupied the position she currently occupies, went on to the Senate following the support he enjoyed from then governor Nnamani.
History, they argue, is about to repeat itself because she not only enjoys the support of the current governor, she enjoys his confidence.
Political watchers recall that it was Chime, who elevated her from a relatively unknown accountant at Nike Lake Hotel to the coveted office of Chief of Staff.
A serving commissioner in Chime’s cabinet who pleaded anonymity, for fear of victimisation, said “If Chime could do it; he would as well ensure she picks the PDP ticket for Enugu East Senatorial District and then go ahead to win the election proper.”
However, opponents who are at daggers drawn against her aspirations, insist that the fact that she is not a native of the zone should ordinarily ensure that she is not in contention.
She is originally from Amokwe in Udi Local Government Area of the state, but married to a native of Akpugo community of Nkanu West Local Government Area.
While Udi, is located in Enugu West Senatorial District, Nkanu West falls under Enugu East.
But the general feeling among a number of Nkanu men who spoke to our correspondent is that Nkanu is not short of ably qualified indigenes for an “outsider” to represent the area at the National Assembly. Most of them have threatened to frustrate her efforts.
One of such people, an Enugu-based businessman, Mr. Chidi Ejim, said, “Even if the PDP delegates decide to collect money and give her the ticket, we would ensure that we vote her out in the election proper and on a free and fair basis.
“If she gets the PDP ticket, that means Mr. Ben Nwoye of the All Progressives Congress would then most likely emerge winner at the election.”
He argued that other contenders on other political platforms stood a chance of causing an upset if the PDP insists on fielding her as candidate.
Ejim also spoke of the possibility of some aggrieved PDP aspirants moving over to the opposition All Progressives Congress to give her a fight.
A former chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Enugu State Council, Mr. Rock Ogboso, disagrees. He argues that by virtue of her marriage, Mrs. Nwobodo enjoys the rights and privileges conferred on the people of her husband’s locality. This, he said, made her eminently qualified to seek to represent the people.
Ogboso, who is also an indigene of Udi Local Government Area, is of the view that those kicking against her should have done so long before now. He argued that she has used her current office to ensure that the people of her adopted area benefitted from the dividends of democracy.
He said, “It is not even a dispute that she is qualified. The issue of where she comes from is politically inconsequential. She even stands a chance because she is the only woman contesting.
“You cannot rule out the influence of the women at the centre and at the national level. Also, you must remember the 25 per cent affirmative action and how it stands to favour her.”
“You must also consider how many women are contesting. These are also some factors that cannot be swept under the carpet.”
While Ejim may tilt towards Nweke Jnr. and Ogboso towards Nwobodo, a political commentator and public affairs analyst, Mr. Chukwunonye Okereke, thinks otherwise.
Okereke on his part argues that the emergence of Senator Nnamani among contenders has a far reaching effect on whatever permutations people may have because, like him or not, he was governor for eight years and still enjoys a large following among the people.
It can be recalled that Nnanani, is currently on a sensitisation tour of the six local government areas in the zone. It is instructive that he is embarking on the tour on the platforms of the wards he created while he was governor.
Okereke further argues that, “Most stalwarts from his former political platform – the People for Democratic Change – are his engine room and are embarking on the tour with him.
“The only problem he may have is the elite. The elite are not so comfortable with his interest in the senatorial seat. The masses are comfortable with him considering that he was able to empower so many of them while he was a governor.”
For good measure, Okereke observed that Nnamani’s chummy relationship with the National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’Azu, was likely to work in his favour during the primaries scheduled for October 2014.
He, however, admits that the former governor may face an uphill task ensuring that delegates do his bidding in the face of the intimidating presence of his successor.
Some local government chairmen and councillors, suspected to be sympathetic to his cause are beginning to feel the heat as some have been slammed with suspension.
For example, councillors from Enugu South council, Mr. Chidiebere Opara, aka Lasisi, and his counterpart in Nkanu West Local Government Area, popularly known as ‘Two Ciga’, have been suspended.
The chairman of Nnamani’s ward was also suspended. And more heads are likely to roll in the coming weeks.
However, a demographic and geographical statistics survey conducted by our correspondent within the zone over a three-week period revealed that former Minister of Information, Frank Nweke Jnr. would not be a pushover in an event Nnamani decides against the contest.
In the event that Chime succeeds in ensuring that Nnamani fails in his bid, the odds are likely to favour Nweke. Nnamani’s opponents argue that he has yet to formally return to the PDP after he left the party a few years ago. They also argue that they are unaware if he had a waiver as required by the party’s constitution.
Nweke is Nnamani’s protégé. He rode on his back to become Chief of Staff to the Enugu State Governor and subsequently a minister in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime.
Some argue that he is seeking to rely on what is left of Nnamani’s political structure to make his move.
One of his sympathisers, Mr. Chukwunonye Okereke, is of the view that “The elite see him as a detribalised Nigerian who has always got it right with whatever he has set out to do. With him, the dividends of democracy would be shared evenly.”
He was, however, honest enough to admit that Nweke was likely to have a hard time dealing with the ordinary people in the area who have never ceased to accuse him of refusing to dispense political patronage during his tenure as a minister.
The ordinary people in the zone have continued to consider him a technocrat whose allegiance has remained with his fellow elite.
Political observers are of the view that political sins which run deep are difficult if not impossible to forgive. However, like they say in politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies only permanent interests.
Whoever emerges victorious at the PDP primaries is unlikely to enjoy a smooth run at the polls largely due to the fact that the contest for the hearts and minds of an increasingly critical and suspicious populace is going to be as fierce as never before.
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