Major political gladiators are preparing to throw their hats into the ring in the battle for the Enugu East senatorial seat in what appears to be a rematch of the 2011 contest, writes Christopher Isiguzo
Ahead of the 2015 general elections, tension is gradually building up in Enugu State as politicians commence intensive political manoeuvring with a view to winning various political positions.
Though, the governorship seat in Enugu State is also up for contest at the next election, the recent pronouncement by Governor Sullivan Chime that National Assembly members from the state who had served two terms would not be allowed to seek re-election has shifted attention to the legislative positions. The incumbent lawmakers have positioned themselves for a possible showdown with the governor. And many other politicians, especially those serving in the governor’s cabinet, are also gearing up for an intense political battle.
A close look at the situation in the state shows that the flashpoint may be the Enugu East senatorial district, where some political heavyweights have indicated their interest to vie for the senatorial seat.
The Enugu West senatorial seat has already pitted the incumbent senator and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, against his one-time political ally, Chime, who is said to have privately declared his intention to slug it out with the lawmaker. That of Enugu North, currently held by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Works, Ayogu Eze, has not yet attracted attention as the people of the area seem to be more engrossed in the struggle for the governorship seat zoned to them by the Chime-led Peoples Democratic Party’s stakeholders in the state. They said they did the zoning in the spirit of equity, justice and fair play.
As at the last count, about five strong politicians had indicated either open or private intentions to vie for the Enugu East senatorial seat currently held by a former Deputy Leader of the House of Representatives and present chairman of Senate Committee on Communications, Prince Gilbert Nnaji.
Apart from Nnaji, who will be seeking a second term as senator – having previously also held the House of Representatives seat of Enugu-East/Isiuzo federal constituency twice – former governor of the state and leader of the Ebeano political dynasty, Senator Chimaraoke Nnamani, Director General of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) and former Minister of Information and Communications, Frank Nweke 11, Chief of Staff to the governor, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo, a renowned businessman and pilot, Chief Evarest Nnaji, and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Dr. Ben Nwoye, have shown interest in vying for the seat. The Enugu East senatorial seat is, no doubt, the most keenly contested ahead of 2015, considering the calibre of personalities jostling for it.
Since the return to democracy in 1999, the Enugu East senatorial zone has had four senators, but none has had a second term. While the former governor of old Anambra State and one-time presidential aspirant, Chief Jim Nwobodo, represented the zone between 1999 and 2003, his kinsman, Chief Ken Nnamani, took over in 2003 and went on to become the President of the Senate. In 2007, former governor, Chimaraoke Nnamani took over the senate seat. But after falling out with his erstwhile political godson, Chime, Nnamani’s bid to return to the senate in 2011 on the platform of the little known People for Democratic Change, a political party he formed in the wake of his political squabble with Chime, could not yield any result, as he was defeated by Nnaji.
What really makes the Enugu East senatorial race interesting is the fact that virtually all the contenders appear united in their bid to stop Chime’s Chief of Staff from going to the senate in view of the commanding position she occupies in the present administration in the state. Before the likes of Nnamani and Nweke joined the fray, the position was thought to be her exclusive preserve. Visitors to Enugu, especially from the Agbani end of Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, are welcomed with beautifully designed billboards with bold inscriptions “Ifeoma Di Níru 2015”, simply depicting her readiness to grab the senate seat in 2015. There is also the reference of her aspiration as “light at the end of the tunnel”, in what may be seen as an allusion to the alleged lacklustre performance of the incumbent, Nnaji.
Nwobodo is from Udi in Udi local government, Enugu West senatorial district, but married to an Nkanu man in Enugu East senatorial district. She has been so influential in the administration of Chime that many people describe her as the de facto governor in view of the manner she bestrides the political landscape of the state. She was fully in charge of affairs when the governor was away for almost five months. The ship of the state moved as if there was nothing amiss. Though, she is yet to formally declare her intention to contest for the senate, the manner chairmen of the six councils under the Enugu East zone have been championing her senatorial aspiration speaks volumes for her determination to replace Nnaji in 2015.
Only three weeks ago, the entire leadership of the PDP in her Nkanu West Local Government Area endorsed her candidacy, despite the fact that virtually all the other contenders, except Nnaji, also hail from the same council. As it stands, the senatorial seat seems simply hers.
Nwobodo displayed a lot of political savvy and dexterity at the last local government election in the state, where her ensured that all her candidates from the chairmanship to councillorship were elected. While she was busy installing her acolytes, her opponents were probably engrossed in other activities.
Nweke announced his intention to run for the senate before newsmen at his Enugu residence recently. He said he decided to join the race because of his desire to provide quality representation to people of the zone.
“I believe I’m eminently qualified and have what it takes to represent the good people of Enugu East senatorial zone at the senate come 2015. I also strongly believe that I have what it takes to become the most effective and vibrant senator Enugu East senatorial district has ever produced, if given the opportunity to serve in 2015,” Nweke stated at the declaration of his interest in the race.
On how he intends to slug it out with his former boss and ally, Nnamani, under whose administration Nweke had served as Chief of Staff and who also nominated him to become a minister, Nweke said, “It is the electorate of the area that will decide who will represent them.”
Nweke’s ambition received a boost recently when he was endorsed by the Nkanu Peoples Forum, a political pressure group in the state. Rising from its 2014 first quarterly meeting in Agbani, NPF said Nweke met their criteria for the senator required to represent the zone in the next dispensation.
President of NPF, Chief Jerry Okoh, stated that the group had after a thorough examination of Nkanu sons and daughters zeroed in on Nweke for his experience in national and international affairs, economic sagacity and cultural values of Nkanu clan. Okoh said that the group was of the opinion that the zone in the past six and a half years had had ineffective representation in the senate and could no longer field representatives that lack grasp of what the people desire from their legislators.
He said the former minister did Nkanu people proud in all his national assignments, especially in his present job as director of NESG where, according to him, Nweke has effectively spurred Nigeria’s economic policies with landmark propositions to the federal government.
However, despite his towering credentials, many political watchers tend to believe that Nweke may be standing in for Nnamani, in event he fails to sort out the landmines on his way to full return to PDP. Though, he is also believed to have some strong political power blocs in the corridors of power in Abuja behind him, having served as Minister of Inter-Governmental Affairs and later Information and Communications under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, most people in his area still think he never carried the grassroots along while he held those positions. Nweke is also said not to have fully identified with the local chapters of his party, PDP, except recently when he declared his intention to contest for the senate.
Nwoye, while declaring his interest to contest the senatorial position, expressed confidence that he would defeat his opponents in the PDP in a transparent poll because the ruling party had failed the people of the Enugu East district.
He said, “Enugu has two senators and one empty seat; we’ve been left with only two voices. All the things that made us come back from USA are still there. I, therefore, give myself for the senate so we can ask the president to account to the people.
“I will be seeking for the flag of APC to run for senate. My hope is that we will look at the candidates like Nnaji, Nnamani, Mrs. Nwobodo, Nweke Jnr. We will look at everyone based on experience to access character, to pick and I believe I am the most qualified. It’s unfortunate we have two senators and one vacant seat and we’ll not like that to continue.”
The former governor recently announced his return to PDP, which he had left in 2011 to form the PDC. His political fortunes ever since he left office have nose-dived following his disagreements with his political godson.
Nnamani, while he was leaving office in 2007, secured the senatorial ticket of Enugu East district for himself and spent the next four years in the National Assembly. But his re-election bid suffered a setback as the ruling PDP rolled out the drums and ensured he never returned to the senate.
But Nnamani recently announced his return to the PDP and declared his readiness to contest the Enugu East senatorial seat in the 2015 election. His return has remained a subject of serious controversy. While the party executive in his Agbani ward dismissed his return as a fluke, the chairman of the ward who was later suspended from the party for anti-party activities, Monday Ngene, thought otherwise. As far as Ngene was concerned, the former governor had met with all the necessary criteria that qualified him to be readmitted to the party. Ngene also claimed that the former governor had been issued with party’s membership registration card on January 4.
Ngene said Nnamani’s membership card number was 0276943 and had been duly signed by the PDP national chairman, national secretary, national organising secretary, ward chairman, and ward secretary. He gave the former governor’s ward number as 3259.
Commenting on his return to PDP, Nnamani said he was filled with joy to be accorded such privilege and honour by the party, noting that he would not disappoint the people in view of the high expectations Nkanu people have in the coming political dispensation.
According to him, “It is not for me to judge, it is for history to judge; to judge between the Nkanu I met when I came back in 1996, 97, 98 and the Nkanu of 2014. It is left for them to judge the vibrancy, the dynamism, the confidence, the dignity of the Nkanu man. It is left for people to judge. Today Nkanu’s have returned; some have returned as political chaperons, some have returned as political attendants, some have returned as political introducers and I am not surprised; partly poverty driven, but Chimaroke is not one of them.
“As I answered the clarion call in 1996/99, I thank God that a day like this has come and you can count me. You can stand and count me as an Nkanu man; proud and tall, unconquered, undefeated and un-intimidated.”
Notwithstanding the former governor’s influence in the politics of the state, observers see the controversy surrounding his return to PDP one of the biggest challenges he would face in his bid to return to the senate. The way he is able to resolve the question of his return will go a long way in determining how much impact he would eventually make in the main election.
Chief Evarest Nnaji, who equally contested the PDP primaries for the senate seat in 2011 but lost to the incumbent senator on controversial circumstances, is yet to publicly announce his aspiration. But the billionaire business mogul and pilot, according to inside sources, is preparing for the senatorial contest. He is said to be very close to the corridors of power in Abuja and could use that to his advantage when the chips are down. How far the Abuja connection would help his ambition is unclear.
The incumbent senator, Gilbert Nnaji, is yet to declare for another term, but activities at his campaign office are gathering momentum. His major disadvantage is the belief in many quarters that he has not provided effective representation for the people of his senatorial zone.
All Eyes on Enugu East
The Enugu East senatorial race looks set to be one of the most interesting to watch ahead of 2015. For now in PDP, Nwobodo appears to be the main contender – pending the regularisation of Nnamani’s return to the party. Thisday