Enugu voters are no longer looking like lambs to the slaughter, thanks to Sen Ike Ekweremadu’s weekend public declaration. That singular action – boldly stepping out to contest the governorship of Enugu State – has suddenly made Enugu a democratic state.

While I was in Lagos, my colleagues used to tease me that Enugu, politically speaking, is the land of sheep. By this, they meant that godfathers easily cowed and intimidated everyone into running away while they grabbed the governorship position. To an extent, my friends were right about the intimidation which began long before 1999. We only had a brief respite when Gov. Sullivan Chime brought cold water into Enugu by focusing on governance rather than politics. Today, many miss the Sullivan touch of inclusive governance. Chime’s administration sowed the seeds of stability and growth. He did this by making efforts to solicit citizens’ input and providing services to all of the constituents equally.

Like Lambs to the Slaughter

Gov Chime did away with the intimidation. Sadly, something more pernicious and retrogressive has supplanted it. Our people are herded like chickens into pens in a political farmhouse. Here, Enugu politicos cluck and scratch in the dirt while waiting for occasional bowl of corn from the farm manager.

The result is there to see. Less than six months to the beginning of party primaries, no Enugu politician has publicly declared interest to succeed Gov. Ugwuanyi. Politicians in both the ruling PDP and the opposition APC in Enugu State are in a state of nervousness. None has the liver to declare an intention to run. Why is this the case? Some put it to the effects of godfathers’ subtle intimidation and systematic impoverishment of the people. Others point to the total emasculation of the opposition in the state.

Everywhere in the world, godfathers aim to close the democratic space and so it is with Enugu. The godfathers have served a warning, asking everyone to stay away because the governor will handpick his successor. Governor Chimaroke Nnamani proudly speaks of how he singlehandedly handpicked a successor. Sullivan Chime is more restrained. He speaks about how the governorship went to the northern district for the sake of equity and fairness.

We commend Chime because his decision did not lead to a fait accompli. Instead, there was a healthy internal battle for the ticket between two northern district warriors – Rep. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and my friend, Sen. Ayogu Eze.

Chickens in a barn

Sadly, things have changed for the worse. Before this time in 2014, Gov. Chime had made clear his preference over where the governorship slot should go, and why. He preferred the northern district in order to achieve fairness and balance among the senatorial districts. The current tenant of Lion Building refuses to speak about what is fair and just in choosing our next governor. Consequently, our state has transformed into a huge playground for divisive gossip and political gamesmanship. Today, the noise of marginalization, zoning, rotation, micro-zoning and whatnots echoes in an intentional leadership silence chamber.

Politicos caged in the farmhouse are no longer waiting for the “owner” to arrive whenever he pleases with the cornmeal. Potential aspirants pray to be handed the bowl. They are ready to pledge to continue a proxy task of feeding all of us trapped in the farmhouse.

This animal farm in a nutshell is what the Enugu godfathers describe as “political tradition” in the State. As a very prominent godfather explained it, the tenant that Enugu people put in Lion Building should become the landlord. As landlord, he will determine the next tenant, who in turn will become the landlord to determine the next tenant. And so on, ad infinitum. When you think about it, this is what a “political structure” like Ebeano seeks to achieve in Enugu. It created a cabal of politicos that determines who should manage the people’s barn every four years.

Leadership selection

The godfathers have warned the people about two things as sure as tomorrow sun. The governor will choose his successor and whoever he chooses becomes our next governor. As far as Enugu is concerned, the choice is not about competence and experience. Of course, they usually rig the primaries and delegates system to favor whoever the governor selects. After this, the choice of the people is of no importance. We are presented with the prospect of installing a government of the people by a Cabal for the Cabal.

For now, I am not concerned about the Senator’s qualifications for the job or whether he will win or lose. Neither is this about whether or not the so-called zoning favors him. Nor is this an argument about whether he should not have aimed for a higher position. What’s important is that he rescued Enugu from the dirty image of a people that do nothing about leadership selection. Without his intervention, Enugu politicos will still be sitting in their cages waiting for a godfather anointing.

Our mumu don do. Let other politicians emerge and throw their hats in the ring.

Enugu State is not the private property of Governors Chimaroke Nnamani and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. They were and are our servants. We elected them to take care of our affairs. We expected them to help organize things so that our youths will have jobs. With good men at the helm, Enugu residents will have peace. Life will become easier for people in the villages whose votes gave each of them eight-year tenancy at the Lion Building.

The Warriors of Old

They cannot therefore turn around to choose those to replace them as tenants in a house that belongs to the people. In the choice of a new tenant at Lion Building, they have only two votes between them. Their two votes cannot make anybody governor. We the people have the rest. This is the time that people power counts.

Enugu used to be a vibrant political setting. I witnessed the tail end of the First Republic as a child. My father told me stories of the grandmasters of the game from Wawaland, the likes of Chief Christian C. Onoh, Igwes Charles Abangwu, Dennis N. Chukwu, Basil C. Okwu. In the First Republic, for instance, NCNC had a run for its money when they passed over D.N. Chukwu to select another to run for House of Representatives for old Awgu Division. Denchukwu, as he then was, decided to run as an independent candidate, from where he bested the NCNC. This impressed Zik so much that he quickly made peace. His colleagues nicknamed him “hurricane,” and oku n’agba ozara (harmatan fire) in the House.

I also recall the yeoman battles put up by proponents of Wawa State that led to creation of Enugu. And, before then, the titanic battles between C.C. Onoh and Zik over who governs old Anambra State, with Chief Jim Nwobodo as Zik’s surrogate. Undaunted, Chief Onoh, Aninefungwu, deployed federal machinery of the ruling National Party (NPN) to crush Nwobodo. It was a spectacle watching our beloved Jim, “a sitting governor,” crying like a baby on national television.

Where did our warriors disappear to, leaving us like lambs to the slaughter? Why should we accept the boasts that a governor will choose who to succeed him? Who wants to make Enugu people look like lambs to the slaughter?

Democracy redefined

During the Third Republic and a good part of this Republic. we encountered a vibrant set of inheritor politicians, firebrands that gave godfathers a run for their money. The names that jump to mind at this time are Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu and Ugochukwu Agballa from the West. What about gladiators from the northern district? We had radicals such as Barrister Okey Ezea and Peter Okonkwo, as well as Chief Fidel Ayogu. Gov. Chimaroke, as dreaded as he then was, could not halt the surge of his deputy, Ezenwata Okechukwu Itanyi. These were folks with the heart of a lion, going by what we saw them do.

As a top Government official during 2019 electoral battle, I was very glad when a stout opposition arose. This was after my friend and brother, Chief Ayogu Eze, left the PDP to fight Ugwuanyi from the opposition camp. He may have gallantly lost the battle, but he scored a big victory for democracy. He made Enugu a home where democracy lives and breathes. It is this same warm sentiment that I now extend to brother Ekweremadu over his governorship declaration. He made a loud statement that cleans Enugu from being like lambs to the slaughter, politically speaking.

He is saying that Enugu should vote for, not anoint, a new governor for 2023. And before this vote happens, we demand to hear what prospective tenants intend to take to Lion Building. He will make it possible for us to hear them, judge them, and choose the best manager for the job.

Let the chickens continue clucking and scratching in the dirt. They will join the lions who have already made a headway and are warming themselves into the hearts of the people. And they will eventually meet Enugu State voters who determine the next tenant to occupy the Lion Building. We shall be waiting for them.

Enugu like lambs to the slaughter by Ogbuagu Anikwe