By Anayo Agu

Countdown to the federal and state elections is well underway and the anxiety is palpable. In churches, mosques, and shrines, Nigerians across political, ethnic and religious divides are praying for peace during this election cycle which many describe as a watershed in our checkered history. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), about 93.5 million registered voters are expected to cast their votes on February 25, 2023 to elect a new president and members of the national assembly. In a similar manner, the governorship and state assembly elections will take place on March 11, 2023. These elections, if conclusive, are expected to redirect Nigeria’s political trajectory and usher in a new dawn. Today, Nigeria sits on the brink of a political precipice due to an inept and divisive government led by President Muhammad Buhari of the All Peoples Congress (APC).

Enugu State – A Two Horse Race, And A Battle of The Two Peters:

Enugu State is one of the states of interest that are poised for an epic, political battle. The atmosphere is becoming increasingly tense as all permutations and ground work point conclusively toward a two horse race, between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP). While this conclusion may stir the hornet’s nest, it is our hope that no one will misconstrue or twist it to suggest that other parties campaigning for the elections are no longer relevant. No such insinuation is intended. The primary motive of this article is to highlight the state of the campaign, and the two candidates and parties accounting for over 80% of grassroots mobilization with noticeable footprints in most electoral wards. They are the ones substantially shaping voter attitude and choices. The two leading candidates are Dr. Peter Mbah of PDP, and His Excellency Peter Obi of LP. Of course, there are a few exceptional candidates such as Princess Adaku Ogbu-Aguocha of APC whose socio-political activism has evolved into a real and growing threat to His Excellency Senator Chimaroke Nnamani’s desire to return to the red chamber. While we sincerely acknowledge APGA’s governorship candidate, Frank Nweke, Jr, for his compelling presentations, nonetheless, we agree with most observers that he appears to be a one-man army badly weakened by inadequate campaign infrastructure, foot soldiers and other critical logistics.
So, in a nutshell, and in context of the above highlights, Dr. Peter Mbah of PDP clearly stands out as the candidate to beat in the governorship race. What makes the contest intriguing however, is the fact that His Excellency Peter Obi, who ironically, as the alter ego and presidential candidate of the Labor Party (LP), is perceived as Mbah’s “de facto” opponent, not the presumed gubernatorial candidate of LP, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga. The reason for this anomaly or paradox is not farfetched.

Labour’s Unresolved Gubernatorial Tussle:

The Supreme Court has reserved February 27, 2023 to decide who LP’s gubernatorial candidate in Enugu becomes, but that pending decision is not why Peter Obi is perceived as Mbah’s opponent. Here is the real reason. Last year, two presidential polls conducted in September and December by ANAP, a nongovernmental organization chaired by the Founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Dr. Atedo Peterside, rattled the two main political parties, PDP and APC, when it reported that Peter Obi of LP was favored to win the presidential election. The polls also predicted that Obi would win over 50 percent of all votes cast in the South East including Enugu State. Those nonpartisan reports corroborated widespread sentiments shared by most potential voters across two geopolitical zones, South East and South South.
As a third force, Obi and his cohorts, against all odds, have done an incredible job of awakening Nigerians to their political rights and power. The ripple effects of this awakened political consciousness which gave birth to the Obidient Movement, accounts for Obi’s surging popularity nationwide. It also explains why candidates of his party in Enugu State see him as their magic wand for electoral victory. Without any exception, every LP candidate stands on Obi’s credentials. Everyone piggybacks on his goodwill. As a result, Obi is the campaign mantra on every LP lip, and Mbah’s de facto opponent.
One of the unintended consequences of this mass scramble for Obi brand is the failure of LP in Enugu State to craft the kind of campaign manifesto and strategy expected of a party truly desirous of rolling back the momentum of a formidable opponent as Mbah and his party, PDP, that is deeply entrenched in the psyche and political culture of Enugu people. Furthermore, contrary to the expressed values and modus operandi of its presidential candidate, the local party surprisingly wastes precious time and resources relentlessly attacking and seeking to undermine their opponents, especially Peter Mbah, instead of seizing the political space to make a difference ahead of the elections.

How The Battle Grounds Are Shaping Up:

The coming elections in Enugu State will feature a major battleground – Enugu North Senatorial Zone, and a mini battle ground – the Coal City otherwise known as Enugu Capital Territory. For the Coal City, the defining variable is the rising influence of residents (non indigenes) in Enugu politics. This growing phenomenon is presently accentuated by the Obidient Movement. It is expected to impact vote patterns in the capital territory. Already, reports coming from critical communities such as Coal Camp, Kenyeta/New Layout, and Ogbete Market indicate that the coming elections won’t be business as usual.

Enugu North Senatorial Zone is of special significance for two basic reasons. First and foremost, His Excellency Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, being the senatorial candidate of PDP in the zone is the big masquerade raising a lot of dust in every constituency. Winning the election is not only crucial for his political future and legacy; the opportunity cost of his losing is politically unquantifiable. The good news for his party and supporters is that the governor, apart from being a grassroots politician, has deep pockets. Several reliable sources confirm that he has mobilized a battalion of diehard, foot soldiers that are pitching his message and pointing at his achievements such as the State University of Medical and Applied Sciences (SUMAS), Igbo Eno, and infrastructural developments in the zone. How far these efforts will go in assuaging frayed nerves and converting rebellious youths and aggrieved former members of PDP in some places, only the Election Day will tell.

The second reason Enugu North is a major battleground is that it is perceived as LP’s stronghold because of Hon Chijioke Edeoga’s biological, marital and cultural ties with important stakeholders in the zone. There is also his famed deep political roots and experience accumulated over the years and strengthened when he served as commissioner for local government affairs under Governor Ugwuanyi from 2015-2019. Above all, his party is staking its hope of winning the gubernatorial race on the probability of a decisive, landslide victory in the zone. Without such a breakthrough performance and a substantial win either in Enugu East or Enugu West, LP’s boast of dismantling PDP will end up as mere sound and fury signifying nothing.

Swing Zones and Safe Grounds:

Enugu West and Enugu East Senatorial Zones are considered as “safe grounds” for Peter Mbah and other PDP candidates. Most political analysts are unanimous that several forces are converging to strengthen and validate this presumption. Apart from being traditional PDP enclaves, major stakeholders in the two zones have creatively managed to set aside their differences, and as a result, are proactively campaigning for all candidates of their party. Additionally, Enugu East has not only taken some bold and decisive steps in support of their preferred gubernatorial candidate, Dr. Peter Mbah, they have equally made a public show of their choice by organizing a very successful solidarity rally to endorse him. And the endorsement cuts across political divides.

Enugu West Senatorial Zone, on the other hand, has not only recovered from the mild stroke it suffered during the party primaries, the PDP in the zone has substantially consolidated its dominance through well choreographed and coordinated joint campaigns for its candidates. To cap off their unity of purpose, the former Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu through his campaign organization, is backing Mbah and other PDP candidates fully. Hate him or love him, Ekweremadu remains the single most important political force in the zone, and also boasts of the largest network of loyal followers.

A Rampage Of Endorsements And Solidarity:

Peter Mbah tops the campaign chart on endorsement by a wide margin. While party strategies will certainly differ, the primary purpose of an election campaign is to communicate to the electorate a persuasive message to inspire and motivate them to vote for certain candidates. Perhaps, the quantum and quality of endorsements Peter Mbah has garnered so far from across the state are indicative of widespread acceptance of his manifesto and message. Apart from his wholesale endorsement by Nkanu political leaders, some other high points of the rampage of endorsements include his adoption by a coalition of 12 opposition parties in the state, and his endorsement by a group of top APC leaders from his Senatorial Zone, Enugu East, led by the former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani. Other significant endorsements include those of the former governor of Enugu State and a stalwart of PDP, Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo, and Dr. Jeff Nnama who contested the APGA primary with Frank Nweke, Jr.

Putting everything together, the following is the conclusion of the matter: Enugu governorship election has boiled down to a two horse race between PDP and LP, and a battle of the two Peters. While Obi, among other things, promises to unite and move Nigeria from consumption to production, Mbah on the other hand, offers Enugu State a chance to reinvent its governance model, to do things radically different, and to grow exponentially from a $4 billion dollar economy to a $30 billion dollar commercial hub in eight years. Based on their track records, it is safe to assume that both candidates have the capability to fulfill their promises. The single most important challenge facing their parties is voter education. Conflicting messages emanating from some party leaders especially those pursuing conflicting interests in opposition parties have made this onerous task of enlightening the electorate much more complex.
Enugu State needs a governor who has demonstrable capacity to bridge knowledge and performance. This election, therefore, is not about political philosophy. It is about proven ability to build a 21st century state, and to transparently govern it according to global best practices and democratic norms.

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