Ebonyi stakeholders spoil for war over zoning
Protagonists and antagonists of a charter of equity for power rotation in Ebonyi have stirred the political waters in the state over which of the senatorial zones should produce Governor Dave Umahi’s successor, UCHENNA INYA reports
Ebonyi State has two major political blocs – Abakaliki and Old Afikpo blocs besides the three senatorial zones – Ebonyi North, Ebonyi Central and Ebonyi South. While Ebonyi North and Ebonyi Central are under Abakaliki bloc and have eight local government areas, Ebonyi South is under Old Abakaliki bloc with five local government areas.
Each of the three senatorial zones has occupied the governorship position in the present political dispensation that took off in 1999. It started with Ebonyi North in the person of Dr. Sam Egwu, the current senator representing the zone and former Minister of Education. Egwu governed the state between 1999 and 2007.
The Central senatorial district took its between 2007 and 2015 through Chief Martin Elechi, while the South senatorial district is currently occupying the governorship through
Chief Dave Umahi, who will be completing his eight years in 2023.
But the seeming zoning arrangement notwithstanding, political heavyweights from the two blocs and three senatorial zones of the state have always contested for the governorship position since 1999 that Nigeria returned to democratic rule.
In 1999 for instance, late Senator Polycarp Nwite, Engr. Fidelis Nwankwo, late Senator Andrew Nwankwo and others slugged it out with Egwu from the same North zone, while from the Central zone were late Opoke Odu, Amb. Frank Ogbuewu and Chief Nwagu Onele.
From the southern zone were the current Minister of Science and Technology and a former governor of old Abia State, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; former deputy governor of the state, late Dr. Emmanuel Oko Isu and Chief Onu Odii.
At the end, Egwu who contested on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won. In the 2007 governorship election, Chief Martin Elechi, Chief Obinna Ogba (the current Senator representing Ebonyi Central), Chief Enyi Ukpor, Senator Julius Ali Ucha, Dr. Henry Aloh, Chief Opoke Odu and others contested from the Central zone, while from the North were Senator Polycarp Nwite and few others with Onu contesting from the South on the platform of defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
Elechi, however won the battle and ruled the state for eight years. Whereas 17 persons contested against Elechi in the 2007 election, the number of contestants dropped in 2011 as Elechi and Ucha were the major contenders.
When Elechi completed his second term in 2015, Engr. Dave Umahi from Ebonyi South slugged it out with Chief Edward Nkwegu from the North senatorial district. Umahi flew the flag of the PDP, while Nkwegu contested on the platform of Labour Party. The election was also a keen contest like the 1999, 2007 and 2011 governorship polls
By next year, the South will complete its own eight years in power and some stakeholders in the state have started clamouring for the governorship position to return to the North senatorial district, while others are opposed to the idea. But the South which is currently on the seat is arguing that since the Abakaliki bloc of Ebonyi North and Central zones occupied the governorship position for 16 years, the next governor of the state should come from the zone going by the charter of equity.
The North, particularly the Izzi people, one of the largest clans in the state, are however insisting that they must produce the next governor as according to them, the state capital, Abakaliki, is their land. In the Central, the Ezza clan, the most populous in the state, is arguing that the position should be zoned to it since all the three senatorial zones of the state have taken their turns. Given these agitations, the 2023 governorship election in the state has become more interesting than ever.
Egwu insists on charter of equity
Reacting to the agitations, Egwu (the first civilian of Ebonyi State) said only strict adherence to the zoning arrangement will guarantee a peaceful election in the state come 2023. He stated this in his country home, Umuebe, Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state during a Christmas party he organized for members of the PDP.
He disclosed that during the end of his last tenure in 2007, almost everyone became interested in the position and based on the situation, he appealed that a procedure should be followed to enable each group know the time for its turn.
“It is on this arrangement that Chief Elechi emerged from Ebonyi Central Zone, thereafter, we advocated for the South but some people kicked against it on the ground that the people of the South will suppress us but we insisted because we believe in equity and coupled with the fact that the coming together of some persons who were maltreated at Enugu and Anambra states and those who have a similar experience under Abia State is divine” he added.
He explained that it was based on the notion that they decided to accommodate one another and thereby vigorously campaigned for the southern zone through which Umahi became the governor till now.
Consequently he declared: “Since the governorship position has gone round, power should go back from where it started in order to maintain the trend. Ebonyi North Zone has waited for 16 years and therefore the people are to produce the next governor. I have shared the same view before now and I was supported by Chief Elechi and I am sure that the present governor will also do the same because anything contrary will not be ideal for the state.”
Egwu further advised that any deviation from the zoning arrangement will jeopardize the system and cause a situation where Abakaliki bloc (North and Central) with their numerical strength will produce governors at will.
He said: “Go and mark my word, anything contrary will result to a situation where the governorship will be between the North and the Central zones, which will not augur well.
That is why I am appealing that the right thing should be done; justice, fairness and equity. Ebonyi North Zone, let us support PDP because it is our party and by grace of God, in 2023, an Izzi man will become the next governor of Ebonyi State.”
Ogba, Nwonu dismiss charter of equity
Faulting Egwu’s position, the senator representing Ebonyi Central and Chairman, Senate Committee on Youth and Sports, Obinna Ogba, argued that there was nothing like charter of equity in the governorship position of the state. He challenged Egwu and other proponents of the charter of equity to produce the document where such arrangement was document.
Ogba, who has formally declared his intension to contest the 2023 governorship election said: “Let me make it clear that there is nothing like charter of equity in Ebonyi State and I challenge anybody to produce the document on charter of equity, so that we can know the signatories to it.
Secondly, there was no time in 1999 the governorship was zoned to the North. That time, the three senatorial zones contested that election. In the North, you have late Polycarp Nwite, Engr. Fidelis Nwankwo, Late Andrew Nwankwo, Prof. Eke and Dr. Sam Egwu.
From the central, you have late Opoke Odu, Chief Martin Elechi, Chief Frank Ogbuewu and Chief Nwagu Onele, among others. Then in the South, you have Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Dr. Emmanuel Oko Isu of the blessed memory, Chief Abara, Onu Odii. “All these people I have mentioned are Ebonyians, they contested that 1999 election and in PDP, Sam Egwu took first, Dr. Emmanuel Oko Isu came second. In a round table discussion, we brought Isu, who took second to run as deputy governor.
You will agree with me that there was nothing like equity that day. “When Egwu was going, Elechi was contesting and I was also on the race. We were 17 in number that contested that governorship.
In the central, I was contesting, Elechi was contesting, Enyi Ukpor was contesting, Opoke Odu was contesting. In the North, Nwite was contesting and so many of them. In the South, a lot of people were contesting, at a stage, Elechi won. When Elechi completed his tenure, Engr. Dave Umahi was contesting, Chief Edward was contesting and Senator Igwe Nwagu was contesting from the central. So, all the zones were contesting.
At the end, Engr. Dave Umahi won. So, there was no zoning. “I want to make it clear that I believe in a gentleman agreement. If there is any discussion today, if there is any meeting today by Ebonyians, and they decide that that we should start zoning, if the discussion is agreed and documented, I will abide by it. Do you know whether they will start from Central?
They can start from the South, they can start from the North but before now, there is nothing like zoning.” The member representing Ezza North/Ishielu federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Anayo Nwonu also dismissed the zoning arrangement.
The lawmaker, who hails from Ezza clan is said to have interest in the 2023 governorship election but yet to formally declare for the position. Speaking to our correspondent, he said that he only believes in democracy and good governance and not zoning or charter of equity.
His words: “I believe in democracy and good governance. When you say zoning, when power comes and it enters the hand of a terror, somebody who is not looking at the welfare of the state, somebody who is not interested to develop the state, is that zoning favourable?
In Ebonyi, we don’t have zoning, what Ebonyi people need is democracy and good governance, somebody who can listen to the poor, the middle class and the rich and know their needs. “You may not perform it 100 per cent but you must try as much as possible to balance it, to make sure that you balance everything very well. I so much believe in democracy and good governance and this good governance is very important.
We have to checkmate the person we are voting in as governor, we have to checkmate the person we are voting as deputy governor, a senator, whatever you want to be because you are with our mandate.”
Ezeuwa, groups want Ebonyi people to elect their governor
A political analyst in the state, Dr. Livinus Ezeuwa, while reacting to the debate on charter of equity, described democracy as a system in which the majority have their way, while the minority have their say.
He opined that Senator Egwu may be afraid that Izzi people, the largest clan under Ebonyi North zone where he represents in the Senate may take the senatorial seat away from him in 2023. He also noted that Egwu’s Ohaukwu Local Government Area under Ebonyi North has held many important political positions than the three other local governments of Abakaliki, Izzi and Ebonyi in the North zone.
His words: “Ebonyi North is one of the geopolitical zones in Ebonyi State. It is one of the zones that have enjoyed privileges of leadership since the creation of Ebonyi State in 1996 and return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999. Ebonyi State has 13 local government areas divided between two old divisions of Abakaliki and Afikpo. While Afikpo division has five of the local government areas,
Abakaliki has eight council areas. Within the Abakaliki division are two major geopolitical zones of Ebonyi Central and Ebonyi North. Each shares equal number of local government areas. “In the North, the local government areas are Ebonyi, Izzi, Abakaliki and Ohaukwu. By population size, Ohaukwu is the least and therefore, politically classified as minority in the zone.
That is the local government area where Egwu hails from. Now, examining equity in the political power balance in the zone is necessary to understanding the obsession for equity oozing from the zone and in particular from our respected former governor against 2023. “Democracy is a game of number where majority have their way and minority have their say.
Ordinarily, by the principle of democracy of number, Izzi people with three local government areas coverage in Ebonyi North can be said to be in a position that they can safely produce all candidates to all political positions since it’s believed that, they have the number to elect such representatives.
“But by equity principle and in the spirit of democracy of understanding and inclusiveness, Ohaukwu has produced a governor of Ebonyi State for eight years in the person of Dr. Egwu. Yet, the same Egwu, who has benefited so much from the politics of inclusion, now flies a divisive kite of a deceitful and non-existent charter of equity. No doubt, Egwu’s new found love for a so called equity could be said to be nothing other than selfserving and self-preservation.
“One would ask: Is the former governor afraid that Izzi people would want to take the Senate seat away from him in 2023? Even if it is so, what really is inequitable in his case, that he is raising this public outcry about equity? Has he not served more than any other representative in the zone and Ebonyi State, or should the Senate seat be left permanent in Ohaukwu or for one person?
Does calling for governorship seat to return to Ebonyi North in 2023 in the name equity, a desperate ploy to gain support to return to the Senate in 2023 or just politics of divide and rule to set political fire in the state?
“Come to think of it, Ebonyi North has been a major beneficiary of political positions in Ebonyi state. For instance, Ebonyi North has had Hon. Minister of State for Power in the person of Chief Godwin Ogbaga from Izzi. Hon Minister of State for Finance in Chief Elias Mbam (Izzi), Hon. Minister of Education in Dr. Sam Egwu (Ohaukwu) and Hon Minister of State in the person of Engr. Fidelis Nwankwo (Izzi). The current Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation and Fisical Commission is Chief Elias Mbam (Izzi).
The third citizen of Ebonyi State is Speaker Francis Nwifuru (Izzi). A Board Member of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Commission (ICPC) Sen. Anthony Agbo is from Ohaukwu and its Ebonyi North. “Equity is seen as a call to address a seeming marginalization or injustice. What is the justification for this call by the agitators with statistics presented here if not intended to introduce unnecessary political clash between two brothers?
“Truly, he who comes to equity should come with clean hands. I think it is time Federal Government and National Assembly should begin to make public the funds allocated for constituency interventions for senators and Members of the National Assembly, so that constituents should measure performance alongside financial provisions for constituency projects for our Ebonyi representatives. It is only then that we will know how many senators or representatives that will have the courage to stand before the people in public to preach political sermons.”
A socio-political group, Ebonyi First Movement (EFM), which also dismissed the claim of a charter of equity said the mantra of equity and power rotation arrangement in the state is unfounded and never existed at any point in the history of the state.
The group said that if Ebonyi people wanted a rotation order, a political summit should be convoked to arrive at it. Director-General of the group, Everestus Ekuma, in a communiqué, said the current hype on the mantra of zoning, equity and rotation order as well as the debate it is generating constitutes an unnecessary distraction and an attempt to ambush Ebonyi electorate and capture the 2023 governorship election process.
The communiqué read in part: “Ebonyi First Movement condemns attempts by incompetent aspirants to ambush the process of the 2023 governorship election through the trending lie which purports the existence of a power rotation order or charter of equity in Ebonyi State.
“We hereby refer the peddlers of this lie to the history of elections in Ebonyi State where each of the six governorship elections so far conducted in Ebonyi State were keenly contested by aspirants and candidates from all the three senatorial districts in Ebonyi State.
“The fact remains that at every point in time, Ebonyi electorate have always chosen their governor through the ballot box. We therefore advise anyone who aspires to govern Ebonyi people in 2023 to brace up and meet Ebonyi electorate because there is not going to be any short cut to Ebonyi State government house.”
The group advised those who want to govern the state in 2023 to forget about high-sounding mantras and summon the courage to approach Ebonyi people and tell them why they deserve their support.
Another group, Odinma Ebonyi Foundation (ODEF) disagreed with the equity and zoning claims.
According to the group, to consolidate democracy and set the state on the path of progress and development, equity, zoning as against capacity, competence and credibility should not form the basis for who flies the tickets of the various parties in Ebonyi State. Executive Director of the group,
Collins Azu, emphasised the need for the various political gladiators to rise to the onerous tasks of nation building by dropping the idea of imposition and other trappings that come with zoning.
Azu argued that pushing the zoning idea is tantamount to truncating the lofty dreams of Ebonyi founding fathers, which revolves around building an egalitarian society where love and justice take precedence over other ideals.
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