Nigeria: Ekweremadu's Decision to Quit - Better Late Than Never

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu raised Enugu's political ante last weekend, when he declared he would not re-contest the Senate seat for Enugu West Senatorial zone in 2023.

At an occasion to mark his 57th birthday celebrations, Ekweremadu told the galaxy of men and women at the event that he was grateful that God had used him to solve certain infrastructural challenges in Enugu West. He did not, however, say why he would not run again.

Speculations are rife that attempting the senate seat after 2023 would be pushing his luck too far. This is going by the level of disenchantment and political battle he had weathered to be where he is presently, especially from the people of his constituency.A segment of his constituency, especially in Udi, believes they have been stagnated, while one person, who is not even more experienced and knowledgeable than others, had usurped their opportunities to his advantage for 20 years.

But Ekweremadu disagreed with them, when he told the gathering in Enugu that his representation in the last 16 years has brought about improvement in infrastructure in the constituency.He said: "Our road infrastructure has improved remarkably. The Awka-Ugwuoba-Oji River-Nachi-Udi-9th Mile-Abor-Ukehe-Opi Road, which is our latest intervention in this regard, has just been awarded.

"We have made progress in electricity and water supply to our various communities. We have built, rebuilt, and we are still building and rebuilding schools, churches, health and civic centres, among others."Our human capital development projects are on the upward trajectory. We have assisted several of our young people with employment in public service. Through the Ikeoha Foundation, we have supported 3,843 undergraduates with bursary awards, 87 with full scholarship, while over 12,155 women and youths have received basic education, courtesy of Ikeoha Foundation Adult Literacy Programme."

Despite these claims, it cannot convincingly be said that Ekweremadu is loved by his people. He has stepped on several toes in his constituency in an attempt to acquire political power. He had faced many political opponents in elections and had defeated them, not out of what he has achieved, but partly because of the party in power in the state.

Ekweremadu was elected to the Senate in 2003. By 2023, he would have completed a fifth term in office, making 20 years. Part of his years in the Senate (12 years) was spent as Deputy Senate President.Aside his journey at the National Assembly, he was the chairman of his Aninri local government in 1997, and was appointed Chief of Staff to Enugu State Governor, Chimaroke Nnamani in 1999.

Nnamani later elevated him to Secretary to State Government (SSG). He held on to the position till 2003, when he contested the Senate seat for Enugu West senatorial zone and won.The seat Ekweremadu will vacate in 2023 has been a subject of contention for the people of Enugu West, made up of five local governments, namely, Aninri, Awgu, Oji River, Udi and Ezeagu.

One man that would receive the news of his 'stepping aside" with a mixture of joy and sadness is former Governor Sullivan Chime, who hails from the same constituency as Ekweremadu.

Although Sullivan had long campaigned against Ekweremadu's alleged "sit tight" attitude, he would have preferred he is trounced in an election to signpost how dissatisfied the people have become about his representation.

When Ekweremadu completed his third term in office in 2015, he had to do the battle of his life to reclaim the party's ticket and win that election in his zone after Chime had decided otherwise.Chime, then as governor, had wanted him and many others, who had tasted elective offices, at least for two terms, to bow out honourably for new crop of politicians under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Chime said it would help the state develop politically.

While some lawmakers, especially those serving at the State House of Assembly obliged, Ekweremadu reportedly railroaded some members of the National Assembly to reject the request and insisted on their tickets. A crisis that paralysed the party thus ensued.It was later discovered that his refusal was hinged on Chime's 2013 pronouncement that his successor would come from Enugu north Senatorial zone. This was against Ekweremadu's wishes, as he was allegedly interested in the governorship position after Chime.

Chime confirmed this in a recent interview, when he said Ekweremadu "came to me and pleaded and I gave it up. I told him it was not a do-or-die affair, but for him to go to the Senate, he must abandon his colleagues and immediately he did, together with all the people he had planned with to cause trouble. That was how he was able to go back. So, I never aspired to go to the Senate. What am I doing with it?" Ekweremadu is yet to deny the allegation.

Speaking on why he opposed Ekweremadu's return in 2015, Chime stated that it was unreasonable for one person to continue to occupy a seat meant for five local governments for such a long time. He stressed that it was not only limiting opportunities for younger ones, but also creating an individual political empire. He said the Senator had acquired enormous wealth, and that younger ones who were being mentored, would not have a platform to express themselves politically.

He said: "I don't think it makes sense. If all of us behave the same way, then there will not be progress. We will not grow politically. We will be doing our democracy the greatest disservice if we continue to recycle ourselves in office."To further show how uncomfortable they had become with Ekweremadu's dominance and representation, the people had strongly criticised him last year, when he declared that he would not step down for anybody, and that he was prepared to stay in the Senate for as long as he wanted.

Realising the implication of that statement and the negative reactions it attracted, Ekweremadu reportedly planned to withdraw from the 2019 elections, but was allegedly persuaded not to do so by an umbrella association binding the people of his constituency, the Enugu West Peoples Assembly (EWPA).

Leaders of the group had brought nomination forms for him to contest in the senatorial election, claiming it was purchased by the "entire" people of Enugu West, adding that it was an attestation to the fact that they endorsed his continued stay in office.But the lie in their claims was exposed during the primaries and elections proper, as Ekweremadu had to contend with at least six PDP aspirants in the party primary, held at Awgu Local Government before clinching the ticket.

He had thought that it was going to be a "walk over," until he discovered at the venue that none of the aspirants was ready to step down for him, even with persuasions from zonal party leadership.At the election proper, he had come face-to-face with such notable politicians as Juliet Ibekaku, the Presidential Adviser; Chief Gbazuagau Nweke and Chief Walter Oji, among others, who ran from other political parties.

Ekweremadu hails from Aninri local government. And apart from him, other people that have occupied the seat are Senator Hyde Onuaguluchi from Oji River and Senator Ben Collins Ndu from Ezeagu Council. Onuaguluchi ran and won the election to represent the zone in 1999 on the platform of the All Peoples Party (APP). His tenure was truncated two years after, following the Court of Appeal's pronouncement, which nullified his election and declared PDP's Ben Collins Ndu as the rightful winner.

Ndu completed the remaining two years, but failed in his bid to get the party ticket in 2003 to re-contest. Since then, it has been Ekweremadu.

Shortly before the 2019 general elections, Chime had said: "If he wins this time around, we shall wait for him in 2023". As it is, there won't be any 2023 for Ekweremadu, if his claims are anything to go by. He had volunteered to "step aside". The ring has been thrown open and the gladiators would soon swing into action to convince the electorate on why their area is best suited to replace Ekweremadu.

Awgu and Udi have never produced a Senator. Oji River and Ezeagu had their turns truncated. Will another Senator from the four remaining local governments that make up the senatorial district be allowed to enjoy 20 years on the seat? If that is the case, then it will take 80 years for Aninri Local Government to produce another Senator. Where in the zone will the pendulum fall? There is another argument that Udi produced a governor in Chime, who served for eight years. All these make the contention very interesting, going forward.

Jude Owoh, a Public Affairs analyst, said the decision to quit was a good one. He said: "There is a time for every activity on earth, although I expected this from him before now, but it is better late than never. Ekweremadu has mentored people on leadership, and I think he can qualify as a good leader, when he sits down to watch and advise those aspiring to leadership.

"He will also qualify as a statesman, when he creates opportunity for younger ones. I really think God has been fair to him. This is because, as much as I know, he has been around government since the 90's. So, he can apply the experiences garnered to develop our political system.

"His long stay in the Senate, which had been used to advance the cause of his people could as well have created a burden in the zone."He will be leaving a big shoe for his successor. On the other hand, he has taught people how to sit tight in office and use whatever government machinery at your disposal to sustain yourself in office. He has demonstrated that there is no truth in the saying that the youths are tomorrow's leaders. None of the people he raised in the past 20 years has risen above him. That is the tragedy."

As the zone looks forward to Ekweremadu's exit, what looks like a fresh political chapter will certainly be opened, and there will be the rekindling of interests and forces long sidelined to produce the trappings and flavour the area is made of in the state's politics.

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