Enugu: As NASS candidates prepare for campaigns

Chimaroke Nnamani

• Strengths And Weaknesses
The Stage is set for political campaigns after intricate primaries that threw up candidates for the National Assembly election.

The manner and outcome of the primaries in Enugu State indicated seriously that the elections proper for the National Assembly seats would be a direct contest between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). This is at least going by what transpired in the state where other political parties showed little or no presence.

From the official list released by the electoral umpire, the APC and PDP would contest in the seven federal constituencies and three senatorial seats available in the state. The federal constituencies are:

Enugu north/South. In this federal constituency, the PDP is presenting a two–term member, Prince Offor Chukwuegbo against APC’s Nelson Maduka Arum, a new entrant, while Chukwuegbo beat the incumbent Chime Oji in the primary of the PDP to clinch the ticket. Chukwuegbo is a grassroots politician and knows the terrain well.

In Awgu/Oji River/Aninri federal constituency, the PDP is returning another three-term member, Toby Okechukwu against new entrant from the APC, Vin Martin Obiora Ilo. Obiora Ilo is a veteran broadcaster and may enjoy protest votes emanating from complaints that the position should shift to another area.

For Enugu east/ Isiuzo federal constituency, the PDP is presenting former Council Chairman, Cornelius Nnaji, against APC’s Kate Nnamani. For Nkanu East/ West, Nnoli Nnaji, who beat incumbent, Chukwuemeka Ujam will square up against APC’s Tony Nwafor. In Igbo-etiti/ Uzouwani, the PDP is presenting a former member Martins Oke against Jonathan Chukwuma of the APC. Chukwuma was a Deputy Speaker at the House of Assembly at a time.

For Udenu/ Igboeze north, Atigwe will run against APC’s Barth Ugwuoke. For Udi/Ezeagu, PDP is presenting the incumbent, Dennis Oguerinwa against APC’s Joe Mammel, a former commissioner in the state, while at Nsukka/Igboeze south, a fourth-term member Pat Asadu of the PDP will square up against, Mr. Ikechukwu Ugwuegede, a former commissioner in the state.

These parties also have their candidates for Enugu East, Enugu West and Enugu north senatorial constituencies.

But while preparations get underway, the wounds inflicted by the primaries in some cases are yet to heal; signs that some aspirants who lost in both political parties have not accepted their defeat are still prevalent.  While some politicians embittered by the outcome of the primaries decided to move to other political parties to pick their tickets, others decided to stay behind to slug it out.  There are also those looking forward to the elections proper.

For the PDP, while series of meetings are ongoing to placate those aggrieved, the APC has set up a reconciliatory committee headed by the former governor of the state, Sullivan Chime to midwife peace. The committee will also strive to bring back the likes of Chief Gbazuagu Nweke, Group Capt. Orji (rtd); among others, who ditched the party due to the outcome of the National Assembly primaries in the state.
FOR the Enugu East Senatorial Constituency seat, the former governor of the state, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani is the PDP’s candidate. He will be facing a new comer, Chief Lawrence Ezeh of the APC and others. Incidentally, Nnamani defeated Ezeh and incumbent Senator, Gilbert Nnaji and four others at the primary to clinch the ticket of the party. Ezeh had ditched the PDP after the primary to clinch the ticket of the APC.

Nnamani is a household name in Enugu State. His popularity arose from serving as governor for eight years, as well as representing Enugu East senatorial zone for four years. As governor, he set up his political structure christened the “Ebeano family.” This structure, which became the nucleus of the PDP at a time went into oblivion when he left office as governor in 2007. His successor in office, Sullivan Chime, who though was a product of the family refused to fund its activities.

Nnamani was forced into opposition when things began to look rough for him and his political structure.  He jettisoned the PDP and moved his political structure to the newly formed People for Democratic Change (PDC). On two occasions, in 2011 and 2015 elections, he attempted to use the PDC to return to political prominence by vying for the senatorial seat of Enugu East to no avail.
As the bells for politicking in 2019 tolled, Nnamani was rumoured to have dumped his PDC for the APC. Credence was learnt to this when members of his political family moved in their numbers to the APC. The discontinuation of the fraud allegations he had faced since leaving office as governor in 2007 brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) also gave fillip to the rumour.

Utazi

The other was the alleged frosty relationship that had existed between him and Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi following refusal of the latter to allow him to produce the chairmanship candidate of his Nkanu West local government during the last council election in the state.

All these became mere speculations however, when news filtered in last month that the Amakpu-Agbani born medical expert had obtained and filled the expression of interest and nomination forms of the PDP for Enugu East senatorial zone election. And he also ran in the primary that held in Nkanu west council headquarters and won.
Ordinarily, the 2019 senatorial election in Enugu East, should be an easy one for the two-term governor, going by his popularity, the choice of his party as well as the result that emanated from the primary where he won with over 600 votes; this may however not be the case going by unresolved issues within and outside the party, now threatening his chances and that of the party.

Gilbert Nnaji, the Incumbent Senator, who lost in the primary, is working hard to ensure the disqualification of Nnamani. In fact, Nnaji has obtained two injunctions so far, asking INEC and the PDP not to accept Nnamani as the valid candidate of the PDP following the manner in which the primary was conducted on October 2nd and 3rd where indirect and direct methods were employed to determine the winner.

Nnaji, who emerged fourth in the primary, has also asked the court to disqualify Nnamani from contesting in the election, having allegedly entered into a plea bargain with the EFCC recently in the fraud charges leveled against him. These aside, there is the Executive order 6 recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in which Nnamani was listed among those barred from travelling out of the country. The fear is that he may not escape arrest should he return to the country for the 2019 elections. All these are beginning to dwarf the euphoria that greeted his emergence at the PDP primary.
As it is, the former governor is yet to return to the state from overseas where he has sojourned for sometime on account of alleged ill health. He did not appear for screening and was also not present during the primaries that threw him up. What is not clear is whether he will still be away while the campaigns get underway.

Apprehensions are already building, whether those who enrolled him into the race did a proper study or if they are actually working to ‘humiliate” him going by steps taken so far, to tidy loose ends that have emanated since his emergence.

Also being queried is the motive behind the choice of the Senator and House of Reps member from the same Nkanu West council by the PDP.

Ezeh, who his opponent from APC is already enjoying sympathy of the people, coming from an area –Nkanu East council that was literally denied by the PDP. Although, he is new in the game, his philanthropy is said to be swaying support for him. Ezeh, popularly called “Prince of Mburumbu”, single handedly built and asphalted several roads in his area. But whether these could translate to votes for him in the election proper is still a matter of conjecture.
IN Enugu north senatorial zone, incumbent Senator, Chukwuka Utazi of the PDP will square up with two-term Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Eugene Odoh of the APC. Utazi ran solely in the primary of his party same as Odoh. His party, the PDP, which also produced the incumbent governor of the state, is well rooted in the zone. He is not facing any litigation, as he became the compromise candidate of the party leaders.

But against Odoh, who ran in the governorship primary of the PDP in 2015 and lost to the incumbent, Utazi and his party would have to go the extra mile. This is because, since joining the APC in 2016, Odoh has brought vibrancy to the party.  He is seen as one formidable pillar that the APC would rely on in the state. He succeeded in pulling his supporters along to the APC and has continued to woo support to himself. Although many have said that he would offer better representation if given the opportunity, apparently based on his track record, it would not be easy to overrun Utazi, who is going into the election with the full weight of support from the ruling party in the state. Surely, the governor will want his zone to remain intact, no matter the threat. Pundits however believe that all the trappings expected in elections would be deployed to win votes in the area.

Ibekaku-Nwagwu

For Enugu West Senatorial zone where incumbent Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu has held sway for the PDP since 2003, the contest will be between him and a former presidential aide, Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku Nwangwu of the APC. Ekweremadu from his towering heights, experience and reach looks good to return to the senate. He has imprints in almost every local government of the zone and remains a household name in Enugu politics.

To clinch the ticket however, he struggled with four other aspirants at the primaries of his party and does not face any litigation from any of those that ran with him in the election.

Against Ibekaku, however, the Senator may need to perfect his acts. This is because, aside from wearing the toga of one being investigated by the EFCC over alleged corruption, his quest to return to the senate has also come under heavy criticism by people of the area, who feel that the younger generation or fresh faces should be given opportunity. The feeling is that the senate seat meant for five local governments that make up the zone has been held for too long by one council area (Aninri).

Again, contesting against Ibekaku, who trounced notable politicians from the APC in the zone, including the Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, Veteran Politician, Gbazuagu Nweke, among others could be an uphill task.  Ibekaku came to the scene during the 2015 general elections where she ran as the running mate to the APC’s governorship candidate, Okey Ezea, from where she bulldozed her way to the presidency.  She has become a voice in the state chapter of the party and has successfully carved a niche for herself with the large following of women. This has become her major backbone. But the disenchantment that trailed her emergence may downplay her chances in the election.

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