Enugu 2023: Problem With Zoning Is Ekweremadu’s Reason For Attacking It

Ike Ekweremadu


Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu has a right to aspire to be governor of Enugu State – no doubt about that. It is his inalienable democratic right to so aspire as it is, indeed, that of any other Nigerian or, for that matter, any Enugu State indigene. A legal and legislative heavyweight, the distinguished Senator knows, as we all do actually, that not even the National Assembly can legislate against any Nigerian aspiring to any political position in the land, zoning or not. So, there is ordinarily nothing wrong with his decision to throw his hat in the ring and run for governor of Enugu State come 2023.

What is wrong, in my view, is his attempt to discredit the existing leadership recruitment process in Enugu as a means of driving his own ambition. There is something inelegant about his disavowal of zoning, for instance. I think it is wrong for the distinguished senator to deploy a latter-day anti-zoning sentiment as a convenient excuse for his governorship aspiration, being that he comes from the ‘wrong part of town’ in the context of Enugu 2023.

Yes, there is zoning in Enugu State and it doesn’t matter when or how it started. That it was never formally agreed upon by Enugu stakeholders is neither here nor there. The distinguished Senator knows, perhaps better than anyone else, that not all agreements are formally written down, signed and sealed – some just exist by convention or practice. Even the British Constitution isn’t a formal document, come to think of it. The truth about Enugu in this political dispensation is that at the end of his two terms of eight years, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), as the first governor of the state in the Fourth Republic, handed over to Barrister Sullivan Chime who, in turn, handed over to Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who, all things being equal, will complete his two terms by next year and also hand over to a successor, who will also be chosen through the same relay fashion that has come to define Enugu’s leadership recruitment process.

That is Enugu’s truth, irrespective of what former Governor Nnamani had in mind when he chose to hand over to Enugu West instead of Enugu North. Nor do I accept, , going by Prof. Ekweremadu’s argument, that the decision to hand over to Enugu North (Nsukka) by Chime in 2015 was dictated more by the spirit of equity and fairness (compassion, if you will) than by the imperative of zoning. No, I think the handover to Enugu North was simply inevitable, not least because it was also the right thing to do at that time – for the good of Enugu. Pray, would Chime have handed power back to an Enugu-East person or to a fellow Enugu-Westerner at the end of his eight years in office in 2015? I hold the view that while the immediate past handover to Enugu-North was pragmatic, even a noble act, it was no favour; it was politics of realism at play.

Now, enough of the stereotyping already! When Senator Ekweremadu argued that what Chime did in 2007 by handing over to Ugwuanyi was not based on zoning but was an action taken in the spirit of equity and fairness (read pity for Nsukka), was he still referring to the same Enugu North zone that had produced the first executive governor of Enugu State? If Nsukka had produced, way back in 1992, the first governor of the newly created Enugu State (when Abakaliki zone was still part of Enugu State), did the zone actually need the pity of the rest of Enugu to be able to produce, again, the governor of the state in 2015? Of course not. It means, in essence, that zoning or rotation of governorship in Enugu State didn’t start in 2015 when Chime handed over to Ugwuanyi; it started in 1999 with the combustive Nnamani who set the ball rolling in his own uncanny way, and Nsukka was a beneficiary of zoning already in full bloom in the Coal-City State in 2015.

Even then, it is as if Ekweremadu isn’t exactly sure how to frame his anti-zoning narrative. In one breath, he says zoning did not start in Enugu in 1999, so there has been no zoning in the State. In another he says going by zoning, Enugu-West (his zone) has produced only one governor (Chime) while East has produced Nwobodo, Onoh and Nnamani, while Enugu North (Nsukka) has produced Nwodo and now Ugwuanyi. Therefore, the next governor come next year should (must?) come from the West and must be micro-zoned to Greater Awgu. Now, is there zoning or no zoning?

It is contradictory still that while Ekweremadu discredits zoning on the basis of senatorial districts (which are constitutional creations), he is all for zoning on the basis of cultural zones (which do not exist in the eyes of the law). That is to say that the principle is the respected senator’s own creation, conveniently engineered to justify his quest for Enugu governorship at a time and in a season such a quest is unlikely to fly, for the simple reason that he comes from the ‘wrong part of town’ in the context of Enugu 2023.

It is a different matter altogether whether rotation has served Ndi Enugu well or not. Which is not even the argument Ekweremadu is advancing to make a case for his governorship! But as Christ was to say as evidence of His presence in the midst of the people (the blind see, the lame walk, etc), isn’t the fact that Enugu is peacefully progressive and no one is feeling cheated, enough evidence that zoning has served the state well?

The pain Ekweremadu feels at his Greater Awgu not having produced the governor of the state is understandable – one can even sympathise with him. But that is an internal problem of Enugu-West to resolve; it cannot be an Enugu State problem, come to think of it. If anything, it would, in point of fact, be highly impolitic, even foolish, for Enugu to jettison zoning by senatorial district basis which has served it well over time, for that based on linguistic sub-groups just to pander to the political interest of distinguished Senator Ekweremadu. In any case, and without meaning to play the devil’s advocate, I note that while Agbaja produced the governor for only eight years, Greater Awgu has been senator for 20 years and counting! And you ask, who is actually marginalizing whom in this dispensation – between Enugu-West and Greater Awgu?

I had actually expected Ike Ekweremadu to interrogate the Enugu zoning principle in relation to its ‘re-entry’ zone after the completion of the first cycle. For me, it would have been more principled for the distinguished Senator to argue that the second round of zoning could start from any senatorial zone. He might have had more people buy into his argument. He would still not have swayed the political establishment which, as the Igbo would say, has both the knife and the head of the chewing stick in matters like this, to tow his line of argument (Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is systems, due process man who will give back as he was given). But, it would have sounded more credible and less selfish.

But to disavow zoning by senatorial districts and settle for zoning by sub-linguistic groups (cultural zones), as Ekweremadu has advocated, speaks to an unhealthy promotion of self-interest in a polity that can do a lot more with altruism.

Abugu, a veteran journalist and publisher, lives in Lagos