7 April 2019

Nigeria: How Governorship Poll Was Won and Lost in Enugu

The recent governorship election in Enugu State was almost an easy win for the incumbent, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, NNAMDI MBAWIKE captures the events that led to that outcome

It is no longer news that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has declared Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi the winner of the March 9th Governorship election held in different parts of Enugu state.

His victory has corroborated earlier predictions of political pundits that the election would be a one horse race for the governor whose style of governance played a very vital role in the success recorded by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Ugwuanyi, who was re-elected for second tenure, scored a total of 449935 votes to defeat the All Progressive Congress (APC) which scored 10,423. Ugwuanyi's victory was not a surprise to close followers of political happenings in Enugu State as they believe that he campaigned vigorously to deserve victory.

Announcing the result, the INEC Returning officer for the Governorship election in Enugu State, Professor Joseph Ahaneku declared Ugwuanyi the winner of Governorship Election, disclosing that he satisfied all the requirements of the law and therefore has been returned elected.

Ugwuanyi's Journey to re-occupy government popularly known as Lion Building, received a big boast when 70 political parties under the aegis of Coalition of Registered Political Parties (CRPP) adopted him as their consensus candidate for the March 9 governorship election in Enugu State few days to the election.

The leaders of the political parties, who conveyed their decision to the governor when they paid him a courtesy visit at the Government House, Enugu, disclosed that their mission was to reaffirm their total, "unalloyed, unequivocal and unconditional support" for his re-election as governor come March 9, 2019. At the time the polls was barely five days away.

Addressing journalists shortly after their decision, the leader of the group, John Nwobodo stated that the move was a reinforcement of their earlier endorsement of the governor in 2018.

According to him, the group then consisting of 34 registered political parties endorsed the governor due to his performance, adding that the number had risen to 70.

He said the ideology and policy thrust of the Ugwuanyi-led administration were in tandem with those of the concerned political parties, which necessitated the endorsement.

The group's coordinator recalled that the body had in March 2018, "then consisting of 34 of the existing 40 registered political parties endorsed you for a second term in office", disclosing that "today, the number of political parties that have joined in the crusade has increased to 70".

Apart from the endorsement of Ugwuanyi by the political parties, several groups including market organisations, youth groups, churches,civil society groups, among others, also declared their support for the governor to go back to the lion building to complete his second tenure.

Following the endorsement of Ugwuanyi by almost all the political parties in Enugu State, close followers of political happenings in the state concluded that the election will be a one horse race for the incumbent governor, because the All Progressives Congress (APC) which many thought would have given the governor a hot chase was swimming in a pool of crisis.

While the APC was still battling with the leadership struggle in the state, its woes were compounded when on March 5, the Federal High Court sacked its recognised governorship candidate Senator Ayogu Eze and ordered INEC to recognise Mr George Ogara of the other faction of the party as candidate of the party.

Perturbed by the development, Senator Eze stormed the appeal court and barely 48 hours to the election, the court quashed the Abuja High Court ruling and reinstated him.

Although Eze claimed that they promptly notified INEC of the decision of the court of Appeal, the electoral body insisted that it was the duty of political parties to submit the names of their candidates and not INEC hence the non appearance of his name in the electoral body's final list.

Apparently to protest the decision of INEC, Eze announced his withdrawal from the election while the election was ongoing on the ground that his name was not in the final list published by INEC.

He told journalists that he could not participate in the exercise because the electoral umpire failed to publish his name in the final list of candidates.

While the election was going on, Eze claimed that he was held hostage in his house by angry voters at Umuida, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, and called for the cancellation of the election.

He insisted that INEC shut him out of the exercise despite a valid court order and demanded that the election should be shifted to enable him carry out campaigns.

He said, "We are protesting because of the delisting of my name. You can see I'm being held hostage here by angry voters, who are protesting that INEC has not treated their candidate fairly.

"We are protesting because of the delisting of my name few days before election and their inability to put it back, almost 48 hours after they were ordered to do so by a competent court of law.

"They are protesting because they believe that their own candidate is being excluded and there is no level playing field. They believe that the duty of INEC is to create a level playing field for all contestants.

"All these people have said they will continue to be here until the INEC does what is right, number one to reschedule the election in Enugu, number two to put back my name," he protested.

Unfortunately, the demonstration turned sour after Eze addressed some journalists who were nearly mobbed by his angry supporters. Shortly after the journalists left, some observers who stormed Eze's residence for monitoring were attacked by the angry agitators.

While the fracas continued, a policeman who was trying to rescue the observers, shot a 30 year old supporter of Eze inside his residence who was later confirmed dead.

The observer group was held hostage at Eze's compound until a combined team of security operatives came to rescue them and took them to the police station.

The remains of the deceased was deposited at the mortuary of the Bishop Shanahan Memorial Hospital, Nsukka.

Reacting to the incident, the Enugu State Police Public Relations Officer, Ebere Amaraizu said they have commenced investigations into the alleged incident.

Narrating their ordeal, the election observers Accredited by the INEC explained the circumstances that led to death of a 30 year old boy at the house of the APC candidate.

The observers who were at the centre of the fracas at the residence of the gubernatorial candidate of the APC, said they had paid a visit to verify the alleged boycott of the election by the guber candidate. They were members of Global Policy Advocate and Leadership Initiative.

They said they narrowly escaped death during the unfortunate attack on them, despite all the efforts they made to identify themselves before the angry supporters of Eze, who were in their hundreds.

The observers, who were rescued by the police and brought to Enugu from Enugu-Ezike, the group thanked God for sparing their lives. Giving graphic details of the incident, one of the leaders of the team, Mr Frank Ohazulike, said but for the prompt response of security operatives, they would have either been lynched or burnt alive as they were taken for PDP thugs by the supporters of Ayogu Eze.

He further stated that it was cruel for anyone to have claimed that they were PDP thugs.

"We're independent domestic observers, a team from Global Policy Advocate and Leadership Initiative.

"This is an organisation accredited by the INEC. We're the 50th group that was accredited to monitor this election, hence we came down here to Enugu to monitor this process.

"We came here and in the process of going for electoral observation, our car broke down.

"We then looked for an alternative means to move around. Luckily for us, we approached a friend that works in the Government House and he obliged to give us a bus so we could use it to move around.

"At a point, we got a call that Senator Ayogu Eze, the APC guber candidate had allegedly boycotted the election. So, we decided to visit his home at Umuida in Enugu Ezike in order to get our facts and figures right so that we would be able to ascertain the correct information to give to the outside world when writing our reports.

"So, when we got to Senator Ayogu Eze's residence, we requested to see him. We also met some media people there while other observers were coming out from the place. We requested to know if it was, indeed true as it was being alleged that he had threathened to boycott the exercise. Some people alleged that it was because of the removal of his name from INEC list whereas others claimed that they knew that the PDP would compromise the processes. They told us that he was busy inside and would not come out.

"So, as we were driving out of his compound, one man accosted us and asked us where we were coming out from and our mission there. We explained to him and even showed him our ID cards. The man got enraged and asked us: 'why would you people come to this place in a vehicle with a government number plate? We explained that we had an issue on road and we had to get an assistance in that emergency situation.

"We told him that we didn't see that as a problem because even when the president visits non-PDP States, they give the entourage vehicles to move around. We explained to him that in the spirit of oneness, we can always get help to make sure that the electoral process is observed.

"Immediately, the man beckoned on all the thugs within the compound; they were more than 700 and they rushed to our vehicle, smashed the windscreens and other glasses in the vehicle.

"Before we knew it, they started beating us. We were beaten to stupor; they threatened to get the ladies with us naked. If not for the timely intervention of the police, the DSS and the Army, it would have been a different thing. They asked them to stop beating us because we're observers, that we were merely doing our job. Some of the thugs threatened to burn us inside the vehicle. They collected all our phones, our gadgets, our reports and other personal effects.

"There was a lot of pandemonium. Senator Ayogu Eze now came down and called us, asked us what the problem was. When we told him, he apologised to us; he said that he felt bad over what had happened to us. He now pleaded with the police to escort us out of the place.

"The police took us from there to the police station in the area and finally to Enugu until now we were granted bail after police investigation confirmed our name in the list of observers with INEC."

On the claims that they were PDP thugs, the INEC-accredited observer charged: "How can we be thugs; who is saying that? Didn't they see our tags? We had nothing to do with the State Government; it was just on pure emergency that we sought assistance and got that bus from a friend. We actually had a vehicle which we had been using. So, we never had any contact with the State Government. We are observers, properly accredited by the INEC and we did identify ourselves as the 50th on that list."

Although the APC gubernatorial candidate boycotted the election, political pundits believe that even if he had participated in the election, it would have been hard for him to defeat the incumbent because Ugwuanyi carried out door to door campaigns and was endorsed by almost everybody in Enugu State, especially members of the APC.

In the build up to the election, Ugwuanyi enjoyed a cordial rapport with leaders of the APC in Enugu. This scenario came to a head when APC chieftain in the state and former Senate President, Ken Nnamani was accused of having a cosy relationship with the governor, bordering on anti-party activity.

However one other factor that worked against the APC was the prolonged internal crisis that rocked its fold. The protracted tussle between the camps led by Deacon Okey Ogbodo and Dr Ben Nwoye had led to the splitting of the party, such that two APC governorship candidates emerged namely, Bar Tagbo Ogara and Eze.

The crack in the party had seen its major leaders from the state sharply divided and unable to hold a common front in the run up to the polls.

Still, other pundits believe that the politics of inclusiveness practiced by the governor, was the magic that won over even the administration of APC leaders and their supporters in the state.

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