With 2019 elections over and most cabinet formed by new and re-elected political leaders in the country, attention is gradually being shifted to another comprehensive election year, 2023. As we have in other states, political big wigs in Enugu State have begun political calculations ahead of the next governorship election. A major issue ahead of next governorship election in the state has been the existing zoning or rotational system.
At national level, the zoning arrangement is a key feature of the country’s politics. Though not constitutional, it has largely determined the political direction of the country, as to which geographical zone gets the nod for a particular position since Nigeria returned to its longest democratic stretch in 1999.
In Enugu State also, zoning has been one of the key determinants of elections. The arrangement was introduced by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for inclusive politics, equity and to ensure stability in the political and socio-economic landscape. The arrangement demands that power should be rotated among the three Senatorial Zones- Enugu North, Enugu East and Enugu West- that make up the state.
The experience so far
Since its introduction, the zoning arrangement has strictly been followed by political gladiators from the three Senatorial Zones in the state. This is not unconnected with the uninterrupted reign of the PDP in the state since the country’s return to democracy. The rotational system begun with Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani- who is from Enugu East Senatorial Zone. He was elected governor in 1999 and went on serve two terms of eight years which ended in 2007. Following the completion of his tenure, the rotational system came into play with power shifted to Enugu West Senatorial Zone where Sullivan Chime was elected governor. Like his predecessor, he also completed two terms of four years each. In pursuance of the zoning arrangement, power drifted to Enugu North Senatorial Zone following the completion of Gov. Chime’s tenure in 2015. This ushered in the incumbent Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Ugwuanyi, who was sworn in on May 29, 2015 will complete his own two terms in 2023.
Political pundits observed that such consistency with the existing zoning arrangement in state is symptomatic of its growing maturity, politically. “We are very lucky that the rotational system has been consistent. It has been working well,” says Engr. George Ugwu, a PDP Chieftain from Enugu East Senatorial Zone.
He added: “The rotation is a good arrangement because democracy is all about agreement within a group of people. So, if you agree to do rotation and you follow it, that is democracy. Democracy, ordinarily, should always throw up the best candidate but rotation has been able to stabilize the polity, and fostered inclusiveness. It is all about a sense of equity and sense of blessing. Practically, I will say it has been a blessing to Enugu State because if not for the system, there are places that wouldn’t have tasted power since 1999 and by extension would not have had the kind the of development they are presently enjoying.
“The rotational system helps in mobilizing resources for the state. Each zone has its own unique contribution to the development of the state. So, by rotating, you are helping them to explore their own resources in the interest of the state. Look at Chimaroke’s reforms in Enugu East for instance and Sulivan’s administration that massively transformed Enugu West, especially Udi. So, I think rotation has worked and it should be encouraged and supported. It has done well to our country and state.”
Corroborating Engr. Ugwu’s submission, Chief Sunday Nome (JP), Emene 1 of Emene, Enugu East Local Government Area, Enugu East Senatorial Zone said: “Zoning is a very good arrangement because it has developed the state. Assuming it is only one region producing governor, the remaining zones won’t be happy and development would be uneven because every zone has its own peculiarities which requires someone from that particular area or zone to properly harness them for collective growth. Ugwuanyi for instance, is the Governor of Enugu State but there are places you will mention and he won’t know very well until he makes research. But if such place is located in Udenu North where he comes from, he will know the place very well. This applies to everyone. So, the zoning arrangement guarantees that the governorship ticket moves among the three zones and ensure continuity.”
In spite of its acceptability and workability in Enugu State since 1999, there are palpable fears that the zoning arrangement could be disrupted in 2023. This is because some are of the opinion that since the zoning arrangement has completed its cycle in the three Senatorial Zones, it can start from any of them again. Another point by this school of thought is that considering the unconstitutional nature of the arrangement, any of the three Senatorial Zones could lay claim to the governorship ticket when Governor Ugwuanyi’s tenure expires in 2023.
Political stakeholders, especially those from Enugu East who are in line to benefit from the zoning arrangement at the forthcoming election, have however berated proponents of such argument, noting that such would only cripple the steady progress recorded in the state so far.
Commenting on this, Chief Nome said: “Anyone who disrupts the arrangement will only destabilise the tranquility in the political space in the state. If for instance the incumbent governor tries to use his influence to change the status quo, the same thing will happen when another person from other senatorial zones clinches power. By then, there is already confusion in the state. Therefore, such speculated move is largely inimical to Enugu State generally. The argument is uncalled for, too. Since 1999 when PDP took over, the idea that was introduced was largely welcomed by the people of Enugu State and that shows its acceptability among the people. They should shelve any personal interest for the collective good of the state. My advice is everyone should come together to move Enugu State forward. The zoning arrangement started from somewhere. Now that it is coming back to people who started it, why the fuss?”
Also speaking, Chief Dennis Nweke, a PDP stakeholder from Ozara, Nkanu West Local Government Area, Enugu East Senatorial Zone of Enugu State said: “I don’t think any right-thinking person would consider disrupting the system. Anybody who thinks of doing that would be doing it at his own peril. The zoning system is a good idea in totality because it offers specific advantages to areas that produce governors in terms of employment, infrastructure, development and political appointments.
“The argument being pushed forward in some quarters is not logical at all. If you count from one to three, the next thing would be to go back from one again. If you want to start three, that means Ugwuanyi or someone from Enugu North can go back to become governor again which is not okay politically. It is only fair and just for someone from Enugu East to emerge the next governor.
Similarly, Prince (Engr) Martins Okwor from Ikem, Isi-Uzo Local Government of Enugu East Senatorial Zone stated: “The people who initiated the zoning system did that to ensure everyone is carried along. In my own Local Government, Councillorship position is rotated among the ward, the same goes for other elective positions. So, we are operating the zoning system and that has made things peaceful because everyone knows that after a particular person, it is others’ turn. Therefore, anyone trying to disrupt the system is not doing the state any good because that would mean the highest bidder could muscle his way to power not minding what happens afterwards.
“It is something that has to be sequential so everyone can have a sense of belonging. We know it is not constitutional but it is a convenient arrangement which makes politics peaceful and guarantees inclusiveness. Anything outside that is chaos and waste of resources. Imagine everyone in Enugu trying to buy governorship ticket in 2023. The zoning system is a local arrangement which has been accepted an d it should not be scuttled abruptly now.”
Internal zoning debacle
Beyond the existing rotation of governorship among the three Senatorial Zones in the State, another subject dominating discussions ahead of the 2023 elections is the need to also practice similar arrangement at the grassroot levels within each of the zones. Commentators say without such, the main objective of the zoning arrangement would be defeated given some zones will continue to dominate others when internal politics is concerned. In Enugu East, the favoured zone to benefit from the existing arrangement for instance, many are demanding either Nkanu East or Isi-Uzo Local Government Area produces the next governor. This is because of what they described as marginalization of the area by other areas Enugu East Senatorial Zone. The zone has three federal constituencies namely: Enugu East/Isi-Uzo federal constituency, Enugu North/Enugu South Federal Constituency Nkanu East and Nkanu West Constituency respectively.
Speaking on this, Barr. Chimezie Ani, a leading PDP figure in Enugu State from Nkanu East Local Government Area said: “I’m of the opinion that our own internal arrangement as regards zoning should also be respected. The rotation state-wise should also be done in Enugu East Senatorial Zone. So, to be frank, Nkanu East should be given the opportunity to produce the next governor in Enugu State. We need it to develop our place. We have a lot of cerebral people that can take up that position.
Arguing that such arrangement would only be sustained when the internal zoning system is working well, he said: “The rotation has pushed Enugu forward. You saw what Chimaroke did when he came in, he tried to touch all the zones, especially his own zone. The next administration of Chime also took that path as well as Ugwuanyi, the present governor. Therefore, the rotation is good and such should be maintained except if some people feel it is for special interest, it should be truncated.” He however, dismissed fears that such disruption would spell doom for PDP in Enugu State. “There will be no political crisis, if the disruption would be the in the best interest of the state. But if the rotation will be made to benefit a particular area from the same senatorial zone, then it won’t be out of place to have such truncated. Nkanu East Local government should be considered because we have never produced a Senator nor a Governor. Our sister Local government, Nkanu West has produced both Governor and Senator. Enugu South has also produced a governor and senate president. Enugu East has also produced a senator. Nkanu East has not, same with Isi-Uzo. So, if I may say, it should be between Nkanu East and Isi-Uzo.”
On his part, Chief Dennis warns disruption of the extant zoning arrangement would end PDP’s popularity in Enugu State. He said: “It is only someone who wants to destroy the advantage of PDP in the state that would contemplate disrupting the zoning arrangement and I can assure you that if that happens, it will affect PDP drastically. If that happens by any formula, the candidate of the PDP that is not following the formula will lose the election. It is not constitutional but it is a political arrangement that benefits everybody. The 2015 general elections where President Jonathan lost election was obvious because of violation of such arrangement between South and North is good example. So, if anyone tries to repeat the same in Enugu, the person would scatter PDP completely.”
Also speaking on the implications of such Engr. Okwor said: “Enugu West would be the least disadvantaged because of their population if disruption occurs,” he said.
The Gov. Ugwuanyi Factor
Most commenters are optimistic of the sustainability of the present rotational system in Enugu State, largely because of the personality of the incumbent governor. “Considering the personality of Ugwuanyi, I don’t think he would allow such happen,” says Engr, Okwor. Also speaking, Chief Dennis said: “The present governor is a gentle man. I know him and he will not be in a hurry to disrupt the system since he is a beneficiary of the system.”
Note: This analysis first appeared in Dega Voice Newspaper, a south-east based newspaper.