A Political Correspondent examines the nomination process and concludes that Ebonyi governorship is a 3-way battle between PDP, APC and APGA.

A total of 13 political parties fielded candidates for the 2023 governorship elections in the Southeast State of Ebonyi. The Governor, Dave Umahi, is not a candidate as he will complete a terminal second term ion 29 May. He is however gunning for a senate seat.

Ebonyi State INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Joseph Chukwu, published a final list of governorship candidates on 5October.

As in all political contests, many are called, few are favoured to make a good run, and one must win. It is not clear who will win at this stage. However, on paper, it is a straight battle between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). This is not discounting either Labour or All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Unless a bandwagon effect occurs, Labour Party may create minor impact in the governorship elections. As in most states of the Southeast, Ebonyi Labour is also opportunistic. Almost all Labour candidates in the Southeast suffered primaries defeat in major parties and ran to pick up a waiting Labour ticket. This was the case with Edward Nkwegu, the Ebonyi Labour candidate. He came last among five contestants at the APC primaries, scoring less than one percent of the votes cast. He immediately ran to Labour after the humiliating loss.

Without Nkwegu, and all other things being equal, the expected 3-way Ebonyi State governorship battle may become a straight fight between the PDP and APC. The political heavyweights – the likes of Senators Sam Egwu and Anyim Pius Anyim – are in the PDP. Ranged against them are current authorities, represented by Governor Umahi and most members of the House of Assembly. Umahi strengthened the opposition APC to become the dominant party after he switched allegiance from the PDP. He rode to power in 2015 and 2019 on the PDP platform.

The other candidate to watch is the APGA nominee, Prof. Bernard Odoh, a former government secretary. He will therefore square up with Francis Nwifuru (APC) and Ifeanyichukwu Odii (PDP).

How the candidates emerged

Here is how the candidates emerged, setting the stage for a 3-way governorship battle in Ebonyi State

APGA as already noted had the least contentious primary. Incidentally, the party had said before that it was not going to follow a zoning arrangement for the gubernatorial nomination. The primaries Congress was set for 29 May with former Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Bernard Odeh as sole candidate.

APC: The APC had a contentious primary. Umahi sought to bring sanity into the proceedings by asking Ezaa and Izzi subethnic groups to propose candidates. The Ezaa easily picked their illustrious son, Sen. Julius Ucha. The Izzi battled between Speaker Nwifuru and former RMAFM chair Elias Mbam. Trouble started when Gov Umahi openly endorsed Nwifuru. This endorsement sealed the fate for other candidates, as was apparent when the primaries held. The party split in two – the Mbam and Umahi factions, and each went ahead to organize separate primaries. Umahi protégée, Speaker Nwifuru easily won the primaries with xxx votes, followed by 743 votes. The runners up were Rosemary Nwogbaga (63), Julius Ucha (22), Elias Mbam (10), and Edward Nkwegu (8). Mbam, meanwhile organized a separate primary at which he was sole candidate and winner. After coming in last place, Nkwegu defected to Labour Party. INEC eventually recognized Nwifuru as candidate.

PDP: Similar parallel congresses dodged the PDP and continued to tear the party apart until the matter resolved in favour of Ifeanyichukwu Odii by the Supreme Court. Before this time, the battle for leadership of the party raged between deposed State Chairman, Silas Onu, and his successor, Tochukwu Okorie. The matter of who is legit went to court, forcing the national leadership of the party to cancel the primaries. However, the Onu faction had already held a primary and nominated Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odii, a businessman. The national leadership, meanwhile, recognized the Okorie faction and the candidate that emerged from it, Senator Joseph Ogba. The courts intervened by ruling the Okorie faction illegal and cancelling Ogba’s nomination. The legal battled continued to the Supreme Court which ruled on 14 September that Odii is the legitimate party candidate.

An interesting scenario

The major factors that that will impact the election are zoning and the defection of the governor. Ebonyi has three senatorial districts divided between two political blocs – Afikpo and Abakaliki. Abakaliki bloc has two Senatorial Districts (North and Central) while Afikpo his one (Ebonyi South). Expectedly, the Abakaliki bloc is in charge because of its superior population. Governor Umahi is the first Governor to come from the Afikpo bloc after the North and Central Districts have had their turns. The governorship, by rotation, was to return to Abakaliki bloc in 2023 and this is certain to pass. Although APGA said it will not zone its primaries, the party eventually ended up with a candidate from the Abakaliki bloc. The other two (PDP and APC) picked their candidates from the same Abakaliki bloc.

Zoning is therefore no longer a factor in the election because all three or four frontrunners come from the Abakaliki political bloc. This has squarely positioned the election as a vote on Governor Umahi’s decision to leave the PDP for the ruling All Progressives Congress. The governor’s decision means that he has both state and powerful federal machinery at his disposal to prosecute the election. At the same time, Ebonyi is a traditional PDP state. It remains to be seen whether the Governor’s moves will result to a shift of alliances by turning the State into an APC enclave.

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