Nigria: Deepening debate over governorship zoning in Enugu


Though the whistle is yet to blow for politicking, meetings in various spots and emergence of political groups are clear indications that Enugu State is getting set for the 2023 elections.

At the center of this build up is the issue of governorship zoning. Though not written, it is unsettling the state at the moment with different positions being canvassed by the people.

The power play in 1999 forced leaders to agree on power rotation among the three senatorial zones. The Senator representing Enugu East senatorial zone, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani, won the governorship election of that year, however, he won based on his popularity, party acceptability and powers behind him. Zoning did not produce him.

After eight years on the saddle, Nnamani moved power to Enugu West senatorial zone. This arrangement, many insisted gave birth to zoning. It produced Sullivan Chime, who after completing eight years ensured that power moved to Enugu North, which produced the incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

If this arrangement is sustained in 2023, it means that Enugu East senatorial zone would have opportunity again to lead the state, 16 years after the last attempt. On the contrary, it means that Ugwuanyi’s successor could come from any zone.

Last week, ex-governor Nnamani joined the fray when he said that Enugu State had benefitted from zoning. He stated that the practice had reduced tension and brought about peace and unity in the polity and should be sustained.

Nnamani, however, provoked discussions and took the ante further, when he added that “whoever Governor Ugwuanyi nominates will be the next governor,” stressing that the idea is in line with convention, which had given the incumbent opportunity to produce his successor without challenges.

Nnamani’s statement drew flake as well as commendations from watchers of event in the state. Those who criticised him insisted that such position undermines the right of the electorate to determine the best candidate, stressing that it is a way of placing the fate of electorates and the entire citizenry in the hands of one man. It was also seen as an indirect effort to throw the contest open to anybody from the state, when indeed, there was a zoning that should return power to Enugu East senatorial zone.

The former governor had gone to justify his position, stating, “this was in line with the precedent that started since 1999,” adding, “We have a tradition in Enugu State politics. The governor is the leader who directs affairs. He will determine, who succeeds him without compromising the electoral processes and whomever he chooses will be our next governor.”

Nnamani’s position was not different from that held by former governor of old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo, who disclosed that zoning has been in existence without any written document. He stated that, “zoning has been agreed by elder statesmen and has been working well in the state.”

Addressing newsmen in his Amaechi country home, Enugu South Council, last week Wednesday, Nwobodo, who craved a return to power in 2023 to Enugu East, insisted that it would not do any good if the principle is stopped.

The Enugu Rebirth group, however, flayed those canvassing for a retention of the zoning arrangement, saying the governor should be chosen on the basis of competence and capacity to effectively manage resources of the state.

Its Director General, Chuka Eze, lamented last Thursday that while other states were strategising to ensure quality leadership and move their economies forward, selfish politicians in the state were preoccupied with zoning.

He pointed out that the larger Enugu people have not derived any benefit from the “allocation of offices by influential political briefcase investors,” adding that the real beneficiaries of rotation have always been the political class to the detriment of the masses.

“We restate our position that since the dawn of democracy in 1999, the good people of Enugu State have not derived, in measureable, tangible economic and social terms, from the phantom zoning of elective political offices.

“On the contrary, the real beneficiaries have been the political class, who find it easy and convenient to divide up political offices and by extension, the resources and opportunities in those offices, among themselves and their cronies, at the expense of the people.”

The group added; “Enugu people need a leader, who will embrace the entire state as one constituency, this cannot be possible through zoning. This is because primarily, the centrifugal forces behind the selection process impel the candidate to see himself as responsible to the zone whose turn he is benefitting from; and this will create unhealthy cycles of bottled-up hatred that is only unleashed when power shifts.”

Amid the debate and the perceived silence of Governor Ugwuanyi, several names have emerged as possible contestants for the state’s plum job come 2023. One of such is former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Ekweremadu hails from Mpu in Aninri Council. Though he has not formerly declared interest, several meetings convened on his behalf in his residences and other spots seriously signposts the difficulty asking him to drop his governorship ambition.

Two years ago, Ekweremadu told a gathering in the state that the senatorial position he occupied was going to be his last in the state. He has been representing Enugu West since 2003.  The other aspirant from his zone is Obi Ozoemenam, a Pastor from Awgu Council, who ran for the office in 2019 on the platform of United Democratic Party (UDP).

The zoning arrangement, if sustained in 2023, will not favour their aspirations. Even as Ekweremadu’s supporters believe that he is the right person for the job and should be given the chance.

Already, the long list of aspirants from Enugu East include, House of Representative member for Enugu North and South, Offor Chukwuegbo; former Permanent Secretary, FCT, Abuja, Chief Chinyeaka Ohaa; former Accountant General of the state, Peter Mba; business mogul Everest Nnaji; Professor of International Law and Global Politics, Jehu Nnaji; former Senator Gilbert Nnaji; Speaker Edward Ubosi and Commissioner for Environment, Chijioke Edoja, among others.

Apparently, feeling that it would be a convoluted process at the end of the day, Nwobodo may have begun early to direct the mind of the governor and the leaders of the state, especially of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flank on where the pendulum should swing.

Nwobodo, who last week called for a return of power to Enugu East, insisted that the slot should be micro-zoned to Nkanu East Council, as according to him, “ it is the least developed Council in Enugu East Senatorial zone.” There are six local government councils in Enugu East. They include Enugu East, Nkanu West, Nkanu East, Enugu North, Enugu South and Isiuzo local council.

Although he claimed he lacked capacity to influence the choice of the council that could produce the next governor, however ‘allowing Nkanu East Council will promote good conscience, equity and justice.”

He further stressed: “Why must I not support the call for Nkanu East to produce the next governor of Enugu State while other local council areas have before now had a senator, governor, Reps member. If you go there, you will see the difference. No road; no water, no federal presence. Zoning it to them will help the council area develop.”

Nwobodo vowed to oppose the governorship slot even given to his council area, stated that it would amount to injustice in doing that.

According to him, Enugu South Council had not only gained infrastructure and government presence, but had “produced himself as governor, Ken Nnamani as Senate President as well as Goddy Agbo as Ambassador, among others.” He said that Enugu East council has held other government positions, including the incumbent Speaker of State House of Assembly and Senator for eight years, while Nkanu West has produced former governor Chimaroke Nnamani, who is also a serving senator, former Minister and other portfolios.

Nwobodo also said that Enugu North has produced late ex-governor Christian Onoh, former Minister and other positions while Isiuzo Council has produced former first Senator Isaiah Ani, current Chairman of PDP and other developmental projects.

No sooner had Nwobodo stated this, his people in Awkunanaw dismissed him as a ‘wishful thinker”, explaining that he was not right in his judgment.

In a statement circulated in Enugu at the weekend under the guise of Concerned Awkunanaw Professionals, and signed by its leader, Charles Ogbodo, the group stated that its members were shocked that Nwobodo could oppose the choice of an Awkunanaw person as governor in 2023.

They said: “It was with shock and disbelief we read reports of the recent statement wherein Senator Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo, announced on record his opposition to the emergence of an Awkunanaw person as Governor of Enugu State, come 2023.

“We reject and condemn in totality, this strange and shameful political posturing, the group said.

“We are ashamed and feel doubly scandalised that a man at the level of our brother, who ought to be at the vanguard of protection and projection of his own people, is in fact, the one always hatching devious plots to diminish and shortchange them, without any scruples.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Chief Nwobodo has the inalienable right, like anyone else, to support any aspirant of his choice, from wherever, vote for any candidate he pleases on election day, but, to seek to unjustly and unlawfully exclude eminently qualified people of Awkunanaw clan, from aspiring to the highest electoral office in their home state, for the simple, single reason that he himself had been governor of old Anambra State, is the height of mass deceit, self-degradation, and shameless advertisement of avaricious proclivity.”

They insisted that Nwobodo was governor in the old Anambra State, which comprises the present Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states and not the present Enugu State, stressing, “if he claims he has taken Awkunanaw’s turn, let him state the projects he attracted to Awkunanaw community except the road he tarred from Gariki Market to his house.”

They urged son and daughters of Awkunanaw interested in the governorship position to come forward and declare interest and asked Nwobodo to retract the statement credited to him within 14 days or lose the respect of the people of the area.

The professionals insisted that it was the turn of Enugu south to produce the next governor. They faulted the argument that Nkanu East council has not enjoyed government patronage, stressing that, “Nkanu East has produced Minister of Power in Prof Barth Nnaji and they produced deputy governor for eight years in the last administration of the state”.

n the other hand, Isiuzo Council also faulted the claim by Nwobodo on why Nkanu East and not their area should get the governorship in 2023. They stated that it was wrong to allude that the senate position Isaiah Ani occupied in 1979 on why the area should not get the office.

They said that Nwobodo should visit the area to see for himself the level of backwardness and suffering of their people, stressing that that they have not enjoyed government’s patronage.

These arguments, indeed, are making the zoning issue controversial in Enugu State.