Nigeria: Was There Ever a Zoning Arrangement in the Coal City State?

7 April 2021

As the politics of 2023 picks up in Enugu State, Chinenye Ugwu interrogates the contentious issue of zoning of the governorship seat

The Nazi propaganda machine, Joseph Goebbels, offered one of the most popular rubrics of propaganda: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, the people will eventually come to believe it."

Often referred to as the "illusory truth effect," this is a cognitive bias and glitch in the human psyche, which tends to equate repetition with truth. Enugu politicians have tried to put this to full use. They saturate the media and social media with a fairy tale of how Enugu's founding fathers agreed on governorship zoning in the politics ushering in the current democratic dispensation and threaten anybody that wants to truncate it. But the question is: how could anybody truncate what does not exist?

Unfortunately, when challenged to name participants and venue of this meeting that birthed Enugu's zoning pact, the promoters resort to expletives, tantrums, and reckless threats. Nigerians know about the 1958 Lancaster/London Conference where likes of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamadi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Professor Eyo Ita, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, Oba Aladesanmi, HRH Emir Muhammadu Sanusi, Chief Nyong Essien, and Chief S.E Onukogu, etc. adopted a federal structure for Nigeria ahead of independence. Much as Enugu does not necessarily need an elaborate conference like London's on the issue, but governorship zoning agreement presupposes that people met at a known venue at a known time to reach a written or gentleman agreement.

But these ones resort to threats and insults because the most difficult job in the world is to defend that which you know to be false. Even Goebbels, the father of the Big Lie Theory, forewarned that "truth is the mortal enemy of the lie."

Meanwhile, to interrogate and establish the existence or otherwise of governorship zoning arrangement in Enugu, Nigerians only need to review the facts around Enugu's governorship contest since 1999.

Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo, a former Governor (old Anambra State), Minister, Senator and a founding father of the Peoples Democratic Party and Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, a former Governor (Enugu State) and first National Secretary of PDP qualify as elders of Enugu State in 1998. Interestingly, in 1998/1999, Dr. Nwodo championed the governorship aspiration of Nduka Agu in PDP (from Udi in Enugu West zone), while Nwobodo championed the aspiration of Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, who hails from Agbani, Enugu East zone. Chimaroke eventually got the PDP ticket and went on to beat All Peoples Party, APP's candidate, Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu (GNG) from Akpugoeze, Enugu West zone, in the main election.

The point is, if there was any agreed zoning arrangement, how come the two foremost elders of Enugu sponsored candidates from different senatorial zones, while Gbazuagu, a key political player, who was a governor-in-the-waiting before the death of Sani Abacha and the General's transition programme, flew APP's flag?

The 2003 governorship race was a straight fight between Ambassador Fidel Ayogu of the ANPP (Enugu North) and incumbent Nnamani. Barr. Peter Okonkwo (Ohamadike) and Chief Anayo Onwuegbu (Omeiheukwu) from Enugu North and West, respectively, also tried their luck. Under a zoning arrangement, nobody outside Enugu East could have contested against Nnamani in 2003.

It is common to hear lies like: "Chimaroke picked his successor from Enugu West in line with the zoning agreement by the elders of the state." But the truth is that the 2007 governorship was not ceded to Enugu West. It was keenly contested, right from the primaries, by interested aspirants from all the zones (except the outgoing Governor's zone). True, Chimaroke anointed his Commissioner for Justice, Sullivan Chime (Enugu West), but it had nothing to do with an agreed zoning cycle, but pure political interest.

It is easily recalled that even Chimaroke's Deputy, Dr. Okechukwu Itanyi (Enugu North) contested against Chime in the PDP primary, which held at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium on 10th December 2006. Indeed 12 out of the 17 LGAs had already voted when four aspirants, namely, Itanyi (Enugu North) Dr. Osita Ogbu (Enugu North), Anayo Onwuegbu (Enugu West) and Dr. John Nwokeabia, marched to the table of the Alhaji Shehu Sambo-led PDP Electoral Panel to protest alleged "manifest fraud" in Chime's favour. They thereafter staged a walkout and later addressed newsmen at Zodiac Hotels, Enugu.

The main gubernatorial election was contested by a coterie of candidates like Chief Ugo Agbala of the All Progressives Grand Alliance backed by Senator Ken Nnamani, Rev. Oscar Egwuonwu of Democratic Peoples Party; Chief Dubem Onyia of the Action Congress, AC (all Enugu West), and most significantly, Barr. Okey Ezea (Ideke) of Labour Party (Enugu North), who was Chime's main challenger and came second with 22,502 votes and Ambassador Fidel Ayogu of ANPP (Enugu North), who came third with 19,550 votes. They also launched a plethora of petitions leading to the annulment of Chime's election by the Tribunal on 18th January 2008. It took the Court of Appeal (highest appellate court for governorship petitions at the time) to save Chime's mandate.

In 2011, Chime snatched PDP's ticket for his second term from the jaw of defeat. Okwesilieze Nwodo, now PDP's National Chairman, was out to undo him over irreconcilable political differences. He had God and the likes of Goodluck Jonathan and Senator Ike Ekweremadu to thank. He battled Labour Party's Chief Ezea (Ideke), Dan Shere of the Peoples Democratic Congress (a party promoted by Chimaroke), and Chief Robert Eze of the ANPP (all from Enugu North) in the 26th April 2011 governorship election.

In 2015, Enugu North was the only zone yet to produce a governor since 1999 and equity favoured them. But the more important factor was that Enugu West senatorial seat, not the governorship position, was the real bone of contention. While the outgoing Governor Chime and Senator Ekweremadu were locked in an epic supremacy battle over senatorial seat, they converged on the candidacy of Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Although Chime believed he had anointed his successor, he obviously didn't know that Ugwuanyi and Ekweremadu have been long allies. This friendship worked for Ugwuanyi, as Ekweremadu threw his political weight, including the delegates structure, which Chime had lost, behind Ugwuanyi to ensure the unity of Enugu PDP and Ugwuanyi's emergence in the 8th December 2014 governorship primary. Onwuegbu (Enugu West) later withdrew for Ugwuanyi. But Senator Ayogu Eze (Enugu North) tried a parallel primary and waged an unsuccessful judicial battle up to the Supreme Court.

So, clearly, as far as Enugu governorship seat is concerned, everybody had always tried his or her luck, but God always gave power to whomever He pleased. The good and most significant thing, however, is that the coveted seat has gone round the three zones, but certainly not based on any pre-agreed zoning formula, as some propagandists would have Nigerians believe, but as it pleased God and Enugu people.

Consequently, Enugu people are at liberty to look for the best hands - East, West, or North zone- to move the state forward come 2023. Those overheating Enugu polity, sponsoring campaigns of calumny against any Enugu son/daughter/section of the state in order to expropriate the governorship through a non-existent zoning order do so in bad faith and taste.

Enugu East zone have a legitimate 2023 aspiration and qualified people to lead the state. But their ambition doesn't preclude other aspirants/zones. Building governorship aspiration on smear campaign and falsehood of inexistent zoning arrangement, instead of marketing their governorship hopefuls, don't help their cause. If they truly believe that anybody vying from outside Enugu East zone is setting him/herself up for disgrace, why warn such person(s)? Why not let the person(s) to step out and be publicly embarrassed at the polls? That is the beauty of democracy.

Ironically, even the loudest promoters of phantom zoning agreement don't believe that Isi-Uzo LGA is qualified to seek the governorship seat under Enugu East zone. According to them, the governorship is for "Core Nkanu". And although Nkanu West produced ex-Governor Nnamani, while Enugu South produced ex-Governor Nwobodo, their sense of equity doesn't include rotating the governorship seat to the backwaters of their "Core Nkanuland" that have suffered perennial political and developmental marginalisation. They are already squaring up to contest. This hypocrisy of coming to equity with unclean hands only further exposes the whole zoning noise for what it is: a stage-managed ruse to service the selfish agenda of a few.

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