There are two forces that propelled the idea of this thing called zoning in Enugu State. The movement for the actualization of Wawa State (no pun intended) generated the first force. Thereafter, twin policies from the first civilian governor of the Wawa land (old Enugu State) attached wings to the idea.

The Wawa people comprise indigenes of four colonial divisions – Abakaliki, Awgu, Nsukka, and Udi. Enugu, the legacy capital city, is almost at the centre of these old divisions. In the beginning, the colonialists and missionaries set up camp at Udi. Like Onitsha in Anambra, this ultimately gave Udi Division a first mover advantage in education and white-collar jobs.

First-Mover Advantage

The creation of Enugu State in August 1991 exposed the old Udi Division advantage. Udi-Ezeagu ended up having a preponderance of senior civil service positions. It was also no surprise that the first two Wawa people to govern the old Anambra State – Chief Jim Nwobodo and Chief Christian C. Onoh – were from this Division. Jim came from the Nkanu and Nkanu as we know it today was part of old Udi Division. Culturally, old Udi Division comprises four clans, namely Agbaja (Udi-Ezeagu), Nike (Enugu North and East), Ntuegbe a.k.a Awkunanaw (Enugu South and parts of Enugu East and Nkanu East), and Nkanu (Nkanu West and East). Through the yeoman efforts of C.C. Onoh, Ngwo Town today rotates leadership of Enugu North with Ogui-Nike while also fully identifying with its native Udi.

The preponderance of senior positions held by the more politically sophisticated Agbaja people inevitably stirred up resentments. This is somehow a misplaced resentment. Old Udi, particularly Agbaja people, had a head-start in education and in securing blue- and white-collar jobs. In addition, Agbaja people proved over time to be generally smart and industrious. Perception of undue aggression among them is a character trait that bred resentment. Otherwise, the fact that they inherited their preponderance of civil service positions from the previous Anambra-controlled Civil Service further buttresses their innate capacity and industry.  

Nevertheless, people from other zones felt marginalized and unfairly held down by the Agbaja bloc. Nsukka Division openly complained. The University of Nigeria had delivered high-caliber manpower for Ndi Nsukka in particular. But they found it difficult to progress, even after their candidates managed to enter the civil service. However, the people that bore the brunt were from old Awgu Division. Today, they still remain the endangered species in the service.

Gerrymandering

Something else happened to set the stage for the acrimony we witness today in the name of zoning. Enugu split into three senatorial zones when the old State was created in August 1991. Abakaliki and Nsukka became senatorial districts. Old Awgu and Udi Divisions merged with Enugu Capital Territory to become the Enugu Senatorial Zone. When Abakaliki left, the larger Enugu senatorial district further split to become Enugu East and West Senatorial Districts while Nsukka maintained its status as one district.

Two problems arose from this redistricting exercise. The first problem was that Enugu East and West proceeded to hold Nsukka District down with their population advantage. The second was that, in the redistricting exercise, Enugu Senatorial District was gerrymandered in a way that gave Agbaja and Nkanu clans an unfair advantage.

Were the redistricting done on the basis of the old colonial divisions, the emerging senatorial zones would have been shared between old Awgu and old Udi Divisions. In contrast, the gerrymanders systematically balkanized Awgu, with some parts flung into old Imo State (parts of old Awgu Division are currently in Ebonyi, Imo and Abia States.) What remained of old Awgu – the three local governments of Aninri, Awgu and Oji River – subsequently merged with Agbaja clan to form the Enugu West Senatorial District, under firm political control of Ndi Agbaja. Nkanu, the other part of old Udi, merged with Awkunanaw and Nike clans, and further annexed Isi-Uzo from Nsukka Division to form Enugu East.

Both Jim and CC were in the vanguard of this gerrymandering.

The Nsukka Factor

The subtle resistance we see today from Old Awgu and Isi-Uzo in the so-called zoning arrangement appears to be a reaction to the gerrymandering clinically executed by their more politically sophisticated cousins from the old Udi Division. Old Awgu and Isu-Uzo have become a bone in the throat for those who use the so-called zoning mantra to grab power. The underground battle is not whether it is the turn of Enugu East to produce the Governor. It is the realization by Ndi Awgu and Ndi Isi-Uzo that if they do not fight now, their state of neglect and underdevelopment will become total and unending. In this battle, they face the more formidable, more sophisticated politicos from Nkanu.

Everyone is therefore watching how Nsukka drives the dynamics of this thing called zoning in Enugu. In this, the past seems to be catching up with the present.

We said earlier that the twin policies of Okwesilieze Nwodo in 1991 gave wings to the current resistance from Awgu and Isi-Uzo. Nwodo named these policies “triangular equilibrium” and “meriquotocracy.” He used the policy of triangular equilibrium to equitably distribute infrastructure among three senatorial districts of Abakaliki, Enugu and Nsukka. On the other hand, meriquotocracy envisaged even distribution of civil and public service appointments and promotions. the Nigerian Constitution recognizes meriquotocracy today as federal character principle. They were excellent policies in conception. However, when the military sacked the Nwodo administration in 1992, other zones felt cheated in the execution of this policy.

Nsukka-Nkanu Skirmish

It was under this state of mutual suspicion that Enugu people came into the New Republic in 1999. Nsukka having become a power bloc scrapped with Nkanu for the grand prize. It was a straight fight between their district champions and former Governors Chief Nwobodo (Nkanu) and Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo (Nsukka).

Seeing that old Enugu Senatorial district held the population advantage, Nwodo wisely entered into an alliance with Agbaja clan. He threw his weight behind Chief Nduka Agu. Nwobodo supported his Nkanu kinsman, Chimaroke Nnamani. Enugu East prevailed with Nnamani based on two factors. One was Nwobodo’s political capital which he drew from the PDP leadership in Abuja. The other were the deft field maneuvers of old Awgu rising stars such as Uchenna Cyril Anioke and Ike Ekweremadu. While researching this topic, I came across statements made by Gov Nnamani after his election. In one, he said that after Almighty God, the next person that delivered his victory was Jim. Ekweremadu and Anioke were subsequently compensated with positions for the critical roles they played in bringing Nnamani to power.

We must concede two things to Gov Nnamani. He thereafter built a political dynasty that effectively pulverized the opposition and installed himself as a fearsome foe. His reign also abruptly ended the Nsukka political surge and enthroned Nkanu as new overlords of Enugu. But it did not end the resentments after he implemented his own version of Nwodo’s meriquotocracy.

Rotation creeps in

Seven years later, Enugu watched in consternation as Gov. Nnamani vacillated on a choice of successor. At various times, he considered two other medical doctors, Dan Shere (Nsukka) and Martin Chukwunweike (Awgu) as potential successors. He discarded both and went for a line of least resistance (or so he thought) in Sullivan Chime. To this day, most discerning observers believe that Nnamani favored Chime for reasons that were not altogether altruistic. In other words, the idea of zoning was far from the governor’s mind when he made his choice of successor.

I equally searched in vain for public records of pronouncements that Nnamani made on this thing called zoning in Enugu. I found none before, during and after he announced his choice of Chime.

Ultimately, it is Gov Sullivan Chime that takes the credit for doing something that resembled “zoning” in Enugu State. Chime realized that by default, the governorship slot had gone to the East and West Senatorial Districts. He wisely embraced equity by insisting that the governorship slot go North after his reign. Chime acknowledged recently that the late Igwe Charles Abangwu planted the idea in his head. Significantly, he did not refer to the decision as zoning. Instead, he variously called it “equity” and “rotation” although the principle was the same.

Clearly, no other Governor before Chime publicly spoke about or acted out of the so-called zoning principle. Not Nwobodo. Not Nwodo. And certainly not Nnamani. Gov Chime is therefore the first to intentionally consider the idea for which Senator Nnamani is striving to claim credit.

This Thing Called Zoning

This thing called zoning in Enugu is a grandstanding political bubble generated at each election cycle by powermongers. It remains a problematic concept simply because Enugu stakeholders never sat to discuss what it means. No one bothers to flesh out the form it should take. And what each constituent unit stands to benefit from it. There is no formal or informal discussions and agreements on zoning and it therefore remains an elite power-grabbing exercise.

Many well-meaning people from Enugu believe that our state will be better off if one of two things happen. One, choose a competent politician or technocrat with capacity, preferably from the marginalized groups of old Awgu or Isi-Uzor. This is a matter of equity as well as compensation for the injustices of political gerrymandering and serial development neglect.

My preferred option is for stakeholders to discuss and agree on this thing called zoning in Enugu State. At the proposed conference, stakeholders will freely examine and agree on principles to guide the concept and practice of zoning. By stakeholders, I do not mean politicians alone. Call it the Enugu Development Summit and you will have a clear understanding of who should attend such a meeting.

It is a crying shame that in this 21st century, a people cannot agree to discuss a common problem. And find a workable and acceptable solution to it. Instead, they constantly resort to gamesmanship to enforce a practice that breeds discord, deepens divisions, and ultimately under-develops our state.

NEXT: How Zoning Underdeveloped Enugu State and a historic challenge before Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.