Less than one week to the governorship and State Assembly elections the atmosphere appears tense in Enugu as political parties, their candidates and supporters struggle to outwit one another in the upcoming race.
The four leading gubernatorial candidates in Enugu State include Uche Nnaji of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Frank Nweke Jr of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chijioke Edeoga of the Labour Party and Peter Mbah of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The state which has been dominated by the PDP since 1999, was shaken by the ongoing political wave as the incumbent party lost substantially to the Labour Party in the February 25th presidential and National Assembly elections. For the first time, an opposition party won the presidential election in all 17 local government areas in the state with almost 90 per cent. Peter Obi of the Labour Party polled 428,640 votes to defeat his closest challenger, Atiku Abubakar of PDP, who scored 15,749 votes, while Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC scored 4,772 votes, less than one per cent of the total valid votes.
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The Enugu biggest Upset In the 25th February poll
The most striking thing about the election was the incumbent governor, Rt. Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, losing the senatorial election to the opposition Labour Party candidate, Barr Okey Ezea, in Enugu North Senatorial District. Ezea scored a total of 104,492 votes to defeat his closest rival, Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, of the PDP, who scored 46,948.
LP also won other National Assembly polls, except for Enugu West Senatorial district where Mr Osita Ngwu of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was declared the winner for the Senate position.
Enugu East Senatorial district was, however, not conducted due to the death of the LP candidate, Oyibo Chukwu, who was killed three days before the election. The election has been scheduled to hold alongside that of the Governorship and State Assembly on 18th March.
Labour Party candidates who won the House of Representatives seats include Prof Paul Nnamchi for Enugu East/Isi-Uzo federal Constituency; Mr Sam Atu of Enugu North/Enugu South federal Constituency; Mr Dennis Agbo of Udenu/Igboeze North Federal Constituency.
Others are Chidi Obetta of Nsukka/Igboeze South Federal Constituency; Chijioke Nwodo of Igbo Etiti/Uzo-Uwani Federal Constituency; Chijioke Okereke of Oji River/Agwu/Aninri Federal Constituency; Mr Sunday Umeha of Udi/Ezeagu Federal Constituency.
It was said that the Enugu people massively voted for the Labour Party out of annoyance over what they considered the “sins” of PDP against them in terms of lack of access to benefits of governance.
With the upset in the 25th February elections, other political parties, especially the leading ones, are busy strategising on how to win the soul of the state.
The PDP’s Mbah
The PDP which is in power has been battling to return to the Lion building come May 29. The governorship candidate, Peter Mbah, who hails from Ashishi Owo, in Nkanu East Local Government Area, has been campaigning vigorously, discussing his plans for the state in different sectors when elected.
Recently, a former governor of the state, Barr Sullivan Chime, who is also a chieftain of the APC, endorsed the candidacy of Mbah saying he is “the best Enugu can offer now.”
“I have had interactions not just with him (Mbah), but also Frank Nweke (APGA), Chijioke Edeoga of the Labour Party, and to me, looking at the field, Peter Mbah is the best Enugu can offer now.
“I have no reservations whatsoever in endorsing and supporting him. I believe knowing Peter Mbah too well, that he will not disappoint Enugu,” Chime said.
The endorsement was said to have become the last straw that broke the camel’s back in the relationship between Mbah and the former governor Chimaroke Nnamani.
Nnamani had apparently withdrawn from the Enugu State PDP campaign and worked for the APC’s Tinubu even when he is contesting for Senate in the Enugu East senatorial zone.
Even though he was among others, suspended last month by the PDP national leadership for anti-party activities, he is still in the contest. He had recently, argued that his suspension from the party lacked both moral and constitutional backing.
The LP’s Edoga
The Labour Party on the other hand has continued to canvass support for its candidate, Edoga. The party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi has urged his supporters to vote for the governorship candidate in the state.
Edoga, a former commissioner for environment and one-time House of Representatives member for Enugu East/Isi-Uzo federal Constituency, had setbacks with his candidacy. He initially contested for PDP’s ticket but couldn’t get it as the governor and some other top party chieftains were said to have worked against him during the primaries in May 2022. He proceeded to the Labour Party with his supporters and got the ticket. However, halfway through the race, he was distracted by the court ruling which quashed the primary as a result of a suit filed by Evarest Nnaji, who challenged the exercise. Edoga, however, pulled it off when the Supreme Court, late February, affirmed that he is the authentic candidate of the Labour Party.
Edoga is also said to be riding on the back of the wave of LP’s revolution across the country in which many Nigerians who are disgruntled with the old governance order, seek a change in leadership.
Analysts also said that he is being supported by an army of people dissatisfied with the manner in which he was denied the PDP ticket and others who feel aggrieved by the way the current administration in the state is going about its activities and consider him as one who would turn things around for the good of the ordinary citizens in the state.
By and large, he has also spoken about his plans of repositioning the state in various aspects when elected.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party members have alleged that there is a plan by the PDP in the state to use thuggery and violence to frustrate free and fair elections on 18th March.
The LP governorship candidate in a statement he personally signed and released on Sunday, 12th March, accused the State Government and the PDP of distributing to hired party thugs, the arms, which were approved for procurement by the Federal Government for use to augment the efforts of the conventional security services in the state. He alleged that the PDP’s intention is to hijack Saturday’s polls by violent means and subvert the will of the people to their advantage.
He called on security agencies to intervene and ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order across the state, especially on election day.
Also, army officers reportedly arrested 10 suspected armed thugs allegedly quartered at the Isi-Uzo LGA governor’s guest house on Sunday, 12th March. They were said to be stationed there for the purpose of causing mayhem in the area on the day of the election.
One Odinaka Nnam, who spoke on behalf of Ikem Progressive Youths (a community under Isi-Uzo LGA), in a media report, dismissed it as fake news. However, some reliable sources from the area who confided in Prime Business Africa affirmed that arrests were made by military personnel, who handed the suspects over to the Isi-Uzo Divisional police station at Ikem.
The LP members further alleged that the PDP also plans to connive with INEC in the state to delay the arrival of voting materials in parts of the state and allow voting for short period.
The PDP has, however, denied the allegations, accusing LP members of deploying negative propaganda and spreading falsehood on social media.
APGA’s Frank Nweke Jr
Nweke, a former minister of Information and Communication, and former Director General of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) has also been campaigning, identifying issues he would work on when elected.
Nweke had prior to the presidential election, urged the electorate to vote for Peter Obi.
The APGA candidate November last year unveiled his seven-point agenda for Enugu which he termed “Seven Key Thrusts for Reigniting the Coal City.” Nweke said his administration will focus on Leadership, Governance, Security and Human Capital Development.
He added that he would also seek the Economic Transformation of the state, Environmental Sustainability & infrastructure as well as Technology & Innovation.
He has also spoken about his commitment to restoring local government autonomy to enhance development at the grassroots.
“I have always advocated and pursued local government’s representation, autonomy, and accountability. As the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs in 2004, I insisted on the representation of LGs in the FAAC committee, ensuring that they received monthly allocations directly. It is sad that state governments still abuse this arrangement, thereby stalling development in rural areas. You can hold me accountable to these words: “I will not tamper with local government funds. I will ensure local government autonomy and accountability,” Nweke wrote on his official Twitter handle on Monday, 13th March 2023.
APC’s Uche Nnaji
Nnaji, who emerged as the governorship candidate of the APC in the state in a primary conducted in May last year, pledged to tackle insecurity and unemployment, among other issues in the state if elected.
He unveiled a 39-Point manifesto which touches on areas of agriculture, transportation, tourism, information technology and broadband penetration as well as industrialisation among others.
Nnaji also said that his administration would set up small-scale industrial clusters in each of the 17 local government areas of Enugu State.
As the parties and their candidates go to the poll, emphasis has been on ensuring a free fair and credible exercise that would also guarantee the safety of voters.