Cat and mouse: Governors and their senators

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By EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR

A couple of second term governors in the country are aiming to step up to the Senate when they leave office in 2015. The move is in some cases orchestrated by their associates, and sometimes, the enemies of the incumbent senators representing the governors. Here and there, the intrigues are inspiring opportunistic political tackles across the land.

Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State may have become the latest in the league of second term governors with an eye for the Senate.

Stakeholders from the governor’s Abia Central Senatorial Constituency at the end of a meeting last week, said the resolution was upon what they described as the governor’s good work in office.

One time national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor was among the several stakeholders from the party who were at the meeting that was organized by eight members of the House of Assembly from the area.

The adoption of the governor as the zone’s sole candidate for the Senate seat was irrespective of the intentions of the present occupant of that seat, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu.

Senator Nwaogu, a veteran political fighter who fought her way to relevance in the House of Representatives, and in 2007, triumphed over two senators to take the Abia Central seat in the Senate may, however, not be bothered. Senator Nwaogu is presently enmeshed in the battle to succeed Governor Orji and make history as the first woman to be so elected as a governor.

*Top L-R Govs Orji, Akpabio, Chime; Bottom L-R Sen Nwaogu, Etuk, Ekweremadu

*Top L-R Govs Orji, Akpabio, Chime; Bottom L-R Sen Nwaogu, Etuk, Ekweremadu

A couple of senators are, however, not as lucky as Nwaogu. Many of them with an eye for continuity in the Senate are entrenched in battle that is redefining political allegiances and alliances across the land.

However, no example has brought the issue to perspective as the battle of wits between Governor Godswill Akpabio and his senator, Alloysius Etuk, (Akwa Ibom, North).

In a tone that must have shocked many and especially Senator Etuk, the governor during a reception for some visiting senators last April, told them that he was looking forward to joining the senators in the next Senate in 2015. Akpabio who apparently had not informed Etuk of his intention, added salt to the injury for the incumbent senator, when he said that Etuk would be his campaign manger for the contest.

The comment apparently brought out fire from Senator Etuk, who before then, had been regarded as a weakling who would cave in at the first mention of any interest in his seat by Governor Akpabio.

Etuk fired back almost immediately and probably with the aim of getting maximum impact resorted through a radio station saying:

“Akpabio must as a matter of fact respect my office if he does not respect me like I respect his office.”

“I have told him that there is no vacancy in the senate,” as he advised the governor to look elsewhere for political relevance.

“He can look elsewhere.  If he needs a vacancy to be filled, let him look into the state execute council vacancy and fill.”

Etuk’s assertions it was learnt, flow from the zoning arrangement in the senatorial district which stipulates that it would be the turn of Abak 5, which has never produced a senator to do so in 2015. Given that Akpabio’s section of the constituency has been producing senators, many are waiting for a titanic battle ahead.

Among the second term governors who are constitutionally barred from a third term in office, a number of them have indicated interest in proceeding to the Senate. The interests of the governors has especially put those senators who represent the governors at special risk. Sycophants around the governors have formed the habit of forming groups and pressing the governors to advance their political relevance through the Senate.

In some other cases, local enemies of the incumbent senators are also stirring trouble for the senators by encouraging governors to go to the Senate knowing that it would be an opportunity of driving the senators from office.

While a number of the senators representing the two term governors are facing the future with equanimity, a couple of them like Senator Etuk are determined to fight it out.

Among the governors speculated to have some interest in proceeding to the Senate are Governors Theodore Orji, Abia; Sullivan Chime, Enugu; Gabriel Suswam, Benue; Emmanuel Uduaghan, Delta among others.

Senator Liyel Imoke, governor of Cross River has been the subject of much speculations as a possible contestant for the Cross River Central senatorial seat in 2015.

The speculation around Imoke is fueled by claims that being a former senator, that he could be in pole position for a principal office, and possibly the Senate presidency if President Goodluck Jonathan does not seek reelection.

Such speculations may have fueled the subtle squabble between aides and associates of the governor and the incumbent Cross River Central senator, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN who is remarkably, the Leader of the Senate.

Senator Ndoma-Egba who was at one time one of the closest associates of Imoke, it is learned, is interested in returning to the Senate in 2015 and it is thus not surprising that apprehension may have led to acrimony between his camp and that of the governor. Senator Imoke it was learned, is however, not interested in returning to the Senate.

“The governor is not contesting any other election again. He wants to rest after his second term. He keeps telling us that to contest an election is not an easy task, it is stressful and he will want to rest after his second term,” his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Christian Ita, told a national daily this week.

The contention for the Benue North East senatorial zone is one that has matched the incumbent, Senator Barnabas Gemade and Governor Gabriel Suswam.

Gemade unlike Etuk is no ordinary push over at local and national levels, having been a minister and national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Gemade it is learnt, is interested in retaining his seat, but associates of Governor Suswam have for long been irritatingly drumming support for a Suswam bid to the Senate.

A possible move to the Senate would put Suswam, a former member of the House of Representatives in contention for the office of Senate President whether or not the present occupant, that is Senator David Mark, returns in 2015.

Struggle for power

Remarkably, the struggle for the Benue Northeast Senatorial seat in 2015 is alleged to be at the centre of the rivalry between Suswam, Gemade and Mark for presidential access. Whereas Mark had in the past almost monopolised appointments from Benue at the beginning of the Jonathan era, indications are that Suswam through his steadfast loyalty to Jonathan is increasingly taking a leading role in nominations and issues concerning Benue more than Mark.

It is a development top level sources say has festered relations between the presidency and the Senate President.

There are also suggestions that Suswam believes that his continued faithfulness to Jonathan would in the end help him to retain the PDP structure and thus, provide him the opportunity of an unfettered entry into the Senate.

However, what promises to the most contentious battle is the unfolding tit for tat between the deputy president of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State for the Enugu West Senatorial District.

Just like the normal sibling rivalry, the Ekweremadu and Chime contest, is a rivalry that emanated from their days under Governor Chimaroke Nnamani. Ekweremadu became Chief of Staff when Chime as Special Adviser reported to him.

When Ekweremadu became Secretary to the State Government, Chime became a commissioner reporting to the SSG. When Ekweremadu became Deputy President of the Senate, Chime in turn became governor and thence some claim, commenced a battle by the governor to express himself outside Ekweremadu’s shadow.

The shadow boxing between both men which occurred for most of the first term turned full blown recently at a meeting between the governor and members of the National Assembly from Enugu State during which the governor decreed that members who had served for two or more terms would not be returning to the National Assembly.

That meeting was almost a reminder of that night in 2007 when then Governor Chimaroke Nnamani had lined up Enugu members of the National Assembly and his associates at home and dictated what and what offices they would vie for in the 2007 election.

Ekweremadu it was learnt, however, stood up to Chime and told him that he had no capacity to dictate for them and moved that the meeting be closed if the governor had no other agenda. Ekweremadu’s stern stance reportedly emboldened another member of the National Assembly who seconded his motion for the adjournment of the meeting.

Since that controversial meeting, Ekweremadu and the governor have not sat together but aides and associates have increasingly exchanged barbs.

Ekweremadu who it was believed was about relinquishing his seat in 2015, it was learnt, has based on the challenge from the governor now set himself for a possible challenge with the governor who it is alleged may have set his sights on Ekweremadu’s seats.

Ekweremadu who has through his influence drawn several Federal Government projects to his Enugu West constituency has recently through an aide accused the governor’s camp of trying to destroy constituency projects facilitated to the constituency.

The chief press secretary to the governor Mr. Chukwudi Achife, has, however, debunked the claim saying, “the allegations are not only baseless and completely fallacious but the tone in which they were made, smacks of desperation.”

After two terms in office Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan it was learnt was setting himself on retiring and probably back into his medical practice.

However, the governor it was learnt may cave in to pressures from associates to step to the Senate. Besides the attraction of sustaining his political relevance in the polity, a move into the Senate is almost a free entry for the governor if the incumbent senator, Senator James Manager decides to step down.

Senator Manager has spent an unprecedented three terms representing the Delta South senatorial district. Should he step aside for Uduaghan, it would be in line with the convention that each of the three major tribes in the constituency, Itsekiri, Isoko and Ijaw would take the seat turn by turn.

The last occupant was Senator Stella Omu from Isoko. Senator Manager’s longevity has largely been traced to his influence in the PDP machinery cobbled together by the former governor of the state, Chief James Ibori under whom he served as commissioner.

The intentions of a couple of other governors remain in the realm of speculation. Governor Chibuke Amaechi of Rivers State who is also ending his second term in May 2015 has for one been the subject of much political intrigues. He has been severally reported as aspiring for the vice-presidency, presidency and now more recently, senator.

His political foes within and outside Rivers State have sought to destroy him politically by portraying him as ambitious on account of his stance on issues.

The governor has, however, taken the flaks of his critics in his stride saying that his agenda and the reason for the enmity against him essentially flowed from his principled defence of Rivers State interests, particularly the treasury and oil wells.

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