With a few hours to the governorship election in Enugu State, political parties are geared up to lock horns in their bids to take over the Lion Building, the state’s seat of power.
The candidates ended their campaigns Thursday midnight, in line with the guidelines of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
In Enugu, like most states in the South-east, a zoning arrangement has been central to the emergence of the candidates for the governorship election.
All the political parties, last year, zoned their governorship tickets to Enugu East District.
The zoning debate had threatened to tear some of the parties apart, especially the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), when some politicians from outside Enugu East District kicked against the arrangement.
For instance, a former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who was a PDP governorship aspirant in 2022, said there was no such agreement in the party.
Mr Ekweremadu, who is currently being held in London over alleged organ harvesting, hails from Mpu in Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu West District.
The senator later withdrew from the race and subsequently expressed support for Peter Mbah, after he emerged the party’s governorship candidate.
Like the PDP’s Mr Mbah, all the candidates from other political parties, hail from Enugu East District.
A total of 17 candidates from various political parties will be taking part in the election.
Of the 17 candidates participating in the exercise, only four are considered major contenders.
They are a former State Commissioner for Finance, Mr Mbah of the PDP, former State Commissioner for Environment, Chijioke Edeoga of the Labour Party (LP), a former Minister of Information and Communications, Frank Nweke Jr of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and an entrepreneur, Uche Nnaji, of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The candidates’ chances
Although PDP has enjoyed dominance in the state for the past 24 years – winning all elections in the state within the period until the recent presidenial election – Mr Mbah is sweating over the growing popularity of the LP in the state.
The LP recorded an outstanding performance in the 25 February National Assembly and presidential elections in Enugu and other states across the South-east. The LP, for instance, won seven of the eight House of Representatives seats in the state and one out of the two senatorial districts where elections took place.
That was the first time the PDP would lose an election in the state since the return of democracy in 1999. Mr Mbah’s worry about another possible LP’s upset is therefore understandable.
The widespread victories of the LP candidates in the state, observers believe, were due to the “effect” of the LP presidential candidate, Peter Obi, who has been enjoying growing support in many parts of the country.
Again, despite Mr Mbah’s acclaimed competence and capacity, residents of the state appear unwilling to continue with the PDP in the state.
Also, PREMIUM TIMES understands that many residents remain worried about Mr Mbah’s circle of political sponsors and associates, particularly a former governor of the state, whom many believe would help to mismanage the state’s funds if the PDP candidate is elected governor.
These will combine to stand as a big hurdle to the election of the PDP candidate as the governor.
Mr Edeoga has bright chances. As witnessed during the National Assembly elections, there are indications that voters would vote for LP’s Mr Edeoga as part of their revolt against the PDP in the state, which saw the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of the PDP, lose to the LP senatorial candidate in Enugu North District election.
Aside from that, Mr Edeoga’s chances appear to have gained more strength considering that he is being backed by Nsukka people in Enugu North District, which has the highest voting strength in the state.
The reason for the Nsukka’s widespread support for Mr Edeoga is not far-fetched. Mr Edeoga hails from Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of the state. Although Isi-Uzo is in Enugu East District, they have cultural affinity with Nsukka, which comprises six local government areas: Nsukka, Igbo-Eze South, Igbo-Eze North, Igbo-Etiti, Uzo-Uwani and Udenu.
But the LP candidate also has obstacles standing against his possible victory in the election.
Mr Edeoga’s candidacy has been criticised by many residents who believe his cultural link to Nsukka means that his election would be tantamount to the emergence of another Nsukka man as governor after Mr Ugwuanyi, who also hails from Nsukka.
Again, critics argue that the LP candidate is unfit to be the governor of the state because he allegedly did not perform well as commissioner of environment in the state.
Enugu became one of the dirtiest states under his watch, according to the critics.
Mr Edeoga resigned as the commissioner, last year, to contest the PDP governorship ticket, but lost to the eventual winner, Mr Mbah.
He would later defect to the LP, where he emerged as the party’s governorship candidate.
Another hurdle facing Mr Edeoga is his lack of manifesto. Before the end of the campaign, his opponents had been accusing him of not being prepared to govern the state because he did not present any manifesto – a policy document that contains plans and programmes for intending political leaders.
“It is not going to affect my chances. Those people who are nipping those things are looking for excuses because they know it doesn’t matter,” Mr Edeoga said during a radio programme in Enugu last week.
He claimed those who presented their manifestoes in the past were not held accountable after winning their elections.
Mr Nweke, the APGA candidate, is another governorship hopeful likely to cause an upset in the state. Widely loved across the state, the former minister appears to be an alternative to those revolting against the PDP and who believe that their support for Mr Obi should not be transferred to LP candidates who, according to them, lack character, capacity and competence.
He was reportedly endorsed by some LP supporters in the state.
His weakness lies in the fact that his support base is not spread across the three senatorial districts of the state. Can he overcome LP’s threat to emerge victorious? Time will tell.
The APC candidate, Mr Nnaji, is unlikely to win the poll for some reasons. The fact that the APC has not received the needed acceptance in the state and region, remains the major obstacle to his quest to become the first citizen of the state.
Again, the APC in the state has been enmeshed in a prolonged leadership crisis which has resulted in the splitting of the party into two factions.
The crisis, analysts say, may affect the party’s chances of winning the poll as they lack a common font to engage in electoral tussle to win elections.
Apart from Mr Edeoga, the three other candidates hail from Nkanu Area of the state, although from different local government areas. Mr Mbah hails from Owoh in Nkanu East Council Area while Messrs Nnaji and Nweke are from Nkanu West Council Area.
Given that the candidates hail from the same Nkanu land, unlike Mr Edeoga, there is an expectation that they will share votes in the area, a situation that may end up as an advantage for the LP candidate.
In a nutshell, the governorship election in the state is believed to be a two-horse race between the PDP candidate, Mr Mbah and his LP counterpart, Mr Edeoga – with one of them expected to win the poll on Saturday.
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