By Lawson Agbo
The hopes of the opposition in Enugu State to wrest power from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2023 general elections appear to be farther fetched if the confusion and divisions reigning in the Labour Party (LP), All Progressives Congress (APC), and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the state are anything to go by.
It is recalled that after the primary elections, Dr. Peter Mbah emerged the governorship candidate of the PDP, while Mr Uche Nnaji and Mr Frank Nweke Jr emerged the candidates of APC and APGA, respectively.
However, following Mbah’s emergence in the PDP, two of the defeated aspirants, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga and Chief Evarest Nnaji, defected to the LP to duel for the party’s governorship ticket. This was despite being signatories to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by the about 17 aspirants from Enugu East senatorial zone to support any among them backed by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as his preferred successor.
Also, following the withdrawal of LP’s governorship placeholder and party chairman in Enugu State, Mr. Casmir Agbo, the party conducted a fresh primary election on August 4, 2022 where Edeoga garnered 81 votes to emerge winner.
In his acceptance speech, Edeoga said: “I was a founding member of PDP and we are going to help the PDP to dismantle all its structures in Enugu State”.
However, with a little over 90 days to the March 11, 2023 governorship and State Assemblies elections, the opposite seems to be playing out, as Enugu LP is in utter disarray. The conspicuous polarization of the party along the supporters of Edeoga and Chief Evarest Nnaji popularly known as Odengene amid a litany of lawsuits have become a double whammy daily diminishing the party’s hope to govern Enugu State.
The first sign of a serious division emerged during the August 28, 2022 forum and mini rally tagged “Charity Begins at Home”, which was held at the Shoprite premises to buoy support for Mr. Peter Obi’s presidential ticket. The event was sponsored by Chief Nnaji and had in attendance the National Secretary of the party, Alhaji Umar Farouk. It became a rowdy and shouting match that nearly torpedoed the event until Edeoga’s supporters ultimately staged a walkout.
Meanwhile, piqued by Edeoga’s emergence as the candidate, Nnaji dragged the LP before a Federal High Court in Abuja claiming unlawful exclusion from the primary election contrary to the extant provisions of the electoral Act 2022. In her November 9, 2022 judgment, Justice Nkonye Evelyn Maha annulled the LP governorship primary election and called for a repeat of the exercise within 14 days. However, the fresh primary could not hold within the stipulated timeframe, as LP leadership appealed the judgment.
But because there was no stay of execution of the trial court’s judgment, the party could be said to be without a candidate for now. Although Edeoga’s supporters and officials in the Enugu LP insist that he remains the “authentic” candidate, the national leadership of the LP had in deference to the court declared that the party had no candidate for now.
This is even as some groups have faulted the High Court judgment, saying it was out of tune with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022. For instance, the Enugu Good Governance Group, held that the court overreached itself, as the timeframe for conduct of primary elections had since elapsed.
“The Electoral Act is deliberate and clear that every party must conclude its primary election not later than 150 days to the governorship election. But the period from the date of the court judgment on November 9, 2022 to the governorship election scheduled to take place on March 11, 2023, is about 122 days.
“Section 84 (13) of the Act also unequivocally provides, ‘Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue’.
“Therefore, having not complied with the relevant Sections of the Electoral Act 2022 by, LP shot itself in the foot and lost its right to field a candidate in Enugu 2023 governorship election”, it said in a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Odinaka Okechukwu.
There is also the serious issue of the legal tussle between the initially regonised senatorial candidate of the party in Enugu North, Mr. Ernest Ugwu, on one hand and Chief Okey Ezea and LP leadership on one the hand. Ugwu had gone to court to challenge his replacement, insisting that his signature was forged in both the withdrawal letter and affidavit of withdrawal purportedly sworn by him at the FCT High Court.
Speaking on a national television channel concerning the claim by Ezea and LP that he had no capacity to win a senatorial election, Ugwu retorted: “Assuming I don’t even have capacity to run, as they claim, are we now going to allow someone, who has the capacity to forge my purported withdrawal documents without my consent, someone who forged court documents? Is that what the Labour Party and Peter Obi represent?”
Whatever ultimately becomes of the LP candidacy in the state, what is not in doubt is that the crisis and legal tussles have effectively taken the life out of the party’s campaign and preparations for an election in which it is the newcomer in the state given that Enugu is traditionally a PDP state. Whereas elections the world over are capital intensive and rely heavily on financial and logistical contributions by individuals and corporate bodies to manage their elections, it is doubtful that people and businesses would commit their resources to the party’s governorship project in its present state of internal strife and disarray.
It will also affect its support among the masses and critical stakeholders. This played out during the official flag-off of Enugu LP’s campaigns in Enugu East Senatorial zone last October. Although the event held at Eha-Amufu, hometown of Edeoga in Isi-Uzo LGA, the attendance was scanty.
“Edeoga is a cathedral without a congregation. Rejected by us, his people, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga resorted to shopping for rented crowds from Ebonyi and Kogi States to mitigate the embarrassment that awaited him on his father’s soil, yet that didn’t work.
“This is what you get when you decide to oppress your people and misuse political opportunities given to you for 25 years”, Eha-Amufu Rescue Group, chided Edeoga.
APC’s divided house
Meanwhile, the Enugu APC has not fared any better either. Besides the deep divisions within their ranks and allegations of corruption, its ticket is gravely flawed as both the governorship candidate, Chief Uche Nnaji who hails from Akpugo in Nkanu West LGA and the deputy governorship candidate, Robert Nwgu, who hails from Nike in Enugu East LGA, come from the same Enugu East Senatorial District and the same Nkanu clan.
Although Enugu APC is parading George Ogara from Enugu North as its deputy governorship candidate, Ngwu’s name is serial number 278 in the final list of candidates published by the INEC. Ngwu could not be replaced within the timeframe allowed by the Electoral Act, obviously due to the divisions in the state’s chapter of the APC. This is considered a fatal blow to the governorship ticket, as it is difficult to elect such a ticket in contemporary Nigeria.
As present, the crisis that dogged the emergence of Chief Ugo Agballa as the party’s state chairman is feasting on their 2023 chances in Enugu. In Enugu East senatorial zone where the governorship candidate, Uche Nnaji comes from, they do not see eye-to-eye with former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani; Nigeria’s ambassador to Poland, retired Major-General Christian Ugwu; Agballa’s immediate predecessor, Dr. Ben Nwoye, party chieftains, Chief Onyemuche Nnamani, Barr Ifeanyi Nwoga, Chief Charles Nwabueze, Chief Maduka Arum, Chief G.B Onoh, among others.
In Agballa’s senatorial district (Enugu West) they are at loggerheads with former governor Sullivan Chime; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama as well as Chief Osita Okechukwu, Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu, Chief Joe Mammel, Mrs Ginika Tor, while Chief Chikwado Chukwuka had since left.
In the northern flank of the state, former Speaker, Hon. Eugene Odoh, retired General J.O.J Okoroagu, Senator Ayogu Eze, Barrister Bart Ugwoke, Hon Ikechukwu Ugwuegede, are also not in their team, while the likes of Ambassador Fidel Ayogu and retired General Chris Eze, have defected to other parties.
The issues of the allegedly uncounted N238 million given to Enugu APC to finance the House of Assembly, National Assembly, and governorship nomination and expression of interest forms in the state and the allegedly unremitted $1.5 million APC national convention bounty are equally tearing the party apart in the state.
APGA’s depleting fortunes
In May, former Minister of Information, Mr. Frank Nweke, polled 273 votes to defeat his closest rival, Dr. Jeff Nnamani, a former Executive Director at Total Nigeria Plc., who mustered 267 votes. But many have reasoned that Nweke may have calculated that former Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, could pick the PDP ticket, thus leaving Nkanu people with no choice than to rally behind him to secure the governorship seat.
But not only did the ticket not go Ekweremadu’s way, he also unequivocally endorsed Mbah and lined his political structures behind the PDP candidate.
Worst still, Nweke’s main rival, Jeff Nnamami, recently hosted Dr. Mbah at his Enugu residence where he collapsed all his political structures, including the real movers and shakers of Enugu APGA into Mbah’s campaign organization.
In view of all these, to say that Enugu opposition parties are in disarray is to put it mildly. Therefore, many believe that except a miracle happens, the Enugu 2023 governorship election has already been lost and won.