This weekend’s gubernatorial and state assembly election in Enugu is a straight fight between the Obidient Movement, which powers the Labour Party (LP) in the 2023 general election, and the Ebeano Confraternity, which has been controlling the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state since the return of democratic rule in 1999. Still, many in Enugu State do not believe that there will be a fight as such.
“It will be a walkover for the Obidient Movement and the Labour Party”, says Victor Nwobodo, a former PDP supporter who owns a major entertainment centre in the state capital. “The people want a change throughout the state, after 24 years of PDP’s rule. It will also be an easy victory for the Obidient Movement in the Enugu East senatorial election which will hold the same day as a result of the assassination of the Labour Party candidate, Chief Oyibo Chukwu, a former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) chairman in the state, who was murdered alongside his personal assistant, Sunday Igwesi, just three days to the February 25 National Assembly election. Their bodies were burnt. And so was their vehicle in the scene where the atrocity was committed at Amechi Uwani in Enugu South Local Government Area”.
Public sympathy is obviously with Labour. Chief Oyibo’s younger brother, Sir Kelvin Chukwu, who studied both law and mass communication and is a businessman, is now the LP standard bearer in the senatorial district. The party is exploiting the strong public sympathy. For example, it has been highlighting that the PDP in the state where the late politician once served as the secretary has refused to condemn the assassination or consol the Chukwu family. Not even the PDP governorship candidate, Peter Mbah, a fellow lawyer and Nkanu man, has condemned the murder or expressed condolences to the bereaved family. In the same manner, the PDP administration in Enugu has not been moved, even by President Muhammadu Buhari’s strong condemnation and directive to security agencies to bring the perpetrators to book, to speak on the heinous act.
Chief Chukwu’s major opponent in the election was Nnamani of the PDP who has since been expelled from the party, with the party writing two letters to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) where it claims that it has no candidate in the Enugu East senatorial election. The PDP national leadership accused Nnamani of anti-party activities for openly backing the All Progressives Congress (APC) against his own party in the presidential vote.
The signs appear more ominous for the PDP. Outgoing Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi made headlines for being the only governor to seek a Senate seat but lost to Labour even in his polling booth and polling unit, to say nothing about the ward whereas his colleagues managed to win their wards. Ugwuanyi was defeated by little-fancied LP’s Okey Ezea by 46,948 to 104,492 votes. Labour won seven out of the eight House of Representatives seats in the state. As typical of Nigerian politicians, a number of PDP leaders in Enugu have joined the LP, including aspirants who sought the PDP’s gubernatorial ticket last year. They include Evarest Nnaji, the chairman of Odengene Aviation Service, and Emmanuel Uche Ogbodo, a top appointee of Governor Ugwuanyi. Even PDP’s main donors in the state are now falling over themselves to donate to LP’s governorship candidate, Chijioke Edoga, a lawyer, journalist and former member of the House of Representatives. The new prominent shifts started with LP’s outstanding performance in the February 25 national elections.
PDP’S attempt to get the church on its side was disastrous, according to Uche Agwu, a former Catholic senior seminarian who runs a transport business. Over 2,000 youths chased the party’s gubernatorial candidate, Peter Mbah, away from the Ngwu Di Aso Pilgrimage Centre at Eke in Udi LGA on Sunday, March 5, where he went to address the Catholic Youth Organisation of Nigeria (CYON) attending the 2023 Lenten Youth Week. The youths demolished all the drinks Mbah brought, making two priests smuggle him out of the scene through the backdoor. The same day, the parish priest of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in New Haven Enugu, Father Chris Okechukwu, was almost attacked physically by congregants for trying to say a few favourable words about the politician. The same scene almost repeated itself the same day at the Assumption Parish at Nkwo Nike in Enugu where Father Celestine Nwogbu’s attempt to introduce Mbah to the parish was rebuffed with outright viciousness, almost unknown in the Catholic Church during mass.
“Sheer desperation forced the PDP two weeks ago to introduce the outlawed caste system into politics in his native Nkanuland”, observes Maria Ugwu, a social science lecturer at the Enugu Campus of the University of Nigeria. “It was ill-advised because the majority of people are on the other side of the cultural divide and have bigger swaths of land. Many of them who were hitherto indifferent to partisan politics or were supporting the PDP have since reconsidered their position. It is not good news for the PDP at all. The ill-advised PDP attempt won Labour candidates the sympathy of non-Nkanu indigenes”.
As though to add more drama to the electioneering campaign, the PDP claimed that the Obidient Movement had endorsed Mbah, showing video clips of a motley crowd of supposed members of the movement supporting the PDP candidate. The famous Nollywood actor, Kenneth Okonkwo, a spokesperson of the LP Presidential Council, promptly discredited the claim. A few days later, The LP presidential candidate, Peter Obi, was in Enugu and described Chijioke Edoga as the undisputed candidate of both the Obidient Movement and the Labour Party in the gubernatorial election.
The Enugu people, it seems, have made up their minds about voting for a change this weekend.