By Charles Onyekwere
When the late General Sani Abacha on October 1, 1996 created Ebonyi State from the old Abakaliki division of Enugu State and the old Afikpo division of Abia State, the joy of the people knew no bounds, as they believed and rightly so that their days of marginalisation from among the other zones in their old states were over.
Indeed, since creation, the state has had the chance to be ruled by governors from the three zones of the state, an opportunity that those zones may not have had in their former states.
Though the state was created by the military government and had imposed some military administrators on it from inception, including Navy Commander Walter Feghabo (retired) and late (retired) Commissioner of police, Simeon Oduoye, it has not however stopped it from the expected power rotation on return to democratic rule.
Since 1999, when the country returned to democratic rule, the governorship position has rotated from one senatorial district of the state to another in a peaceful manner.
A core Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state, Dr. Sam Egwu from North Senatorial District had first taken the mantle of leadership of the state when he was elected and sworn in as the first indigenous governor of the state on the platform of the PDP in 1999 and he held sway for two terms of eight years, he was followed in 2007 by Chief Martin Nwancho Elechi, another PDP governor from Ebonyi Central senatorial zone, who also served out his two terms of four years, ending in 2015.
Then the incumbent governor, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, came, another PDP governor from Ebonyi South Senatorial District who would serve out his two terms of four years in 2023.
Though the 2023 governorship elections is still almost two years away, it is however already creating tension in the state, over who succeeds the incumbent, Umahi, come 2023.
This is especially interesting because, before now the tension will be limited to the zone that is to produce the governor, but now that the governorship seat has gone round the state, it is open to everyone from any part of the state to show interest and for this, tension is building as no part of the state can claim sole right to the position.
The tension is further heightened by recent developments, when the Senator representing Ebonyi North senatorial zone and former governor of the state, Dr. Sam Egwu, his counterpart from the Ebonyi Central senatorial zone, Chief Obinna Ogba and their Ebonyi South senatorial zone colleague at the upper legislative chamber, Chief Ama Nnachi, all elected on the platform of the PDP were allegedly shunned during the just concluded wards, LGAs, and state congresses of the party, which gives a clear indication that there is imminent crisis in the PDP fold, and this cannot be far from the battle over choice of the next governor of the state.
However members of the House of Representatives from the state loyal to Governor David Umahi attended the Congresses, they include Hon. Chukwuma Nwanzuku (representing Ebonyi/ Ohaukwu federal constituency), Sylvester Ogbaga (representing Abakaliki/ Izzi federal constituency), Hon. Anayo Nwonu (representing Ezza North/Ishielu federal constituency), while Hon. Livinus Makwe (representing Ivo, Ohaozara and Onicha federal constituency) and Hon. Idu Igariwey (representing Afikpo North/ Afikpo south) were absent. Another pointer to the fact of the unending face-off: during the just concluded local government elections, the three senators and the two House of Representatives members also boycotted the event despite invitations being extended to them.
The absence of the three senators and the two House of Representatives members during the exercise that was well attended by party faithful may not also be unconnected with their alleged demand for the change of all the state party executives ahead of 2023.
Governor David Umahi who participated in the state congress, called for peace in the party, saying there is no reason for unnecessary tension in the polity.
He said, “The best thing is to put your confidence in God, support the people and support the government.
If you like, you can go 20 times, if your people need you, what is my own problem? I am not going to make trouble or become enemy to people. I have nothing to fear and I must not replace myself.
God will bring my successor. So, there should be no tension in Ebonyi State.
The governor who vowed that influences from outside the state will not work or have a say in choosing his successor, warned political gladiators in the state to stop overheating the polity, adding that it is too early to play politics of succession.
However, the member representing Ezza North/ Ishielu federal constituency, Hon. Anayo Nwonu, had recently denied that there is face-off, infighting or political rift between Governor Umahi and members of the National Assembly from the state.
Nwonu who is the chairman, House committee on Correctional Facilities who spoke in Abakiliki, said the rumour of the face-off is a mere anticipation by political enemies.
The lawmaker recalled that the rumour started making the rounds following the absence of some National Assembly members from the state in the state functions.
At the swearing-in of the elected council chairmen, the governor reiterated that he had no regret for backing the reelection of the council bosses in the state, saying that his administration is founded in God and anyone who fights him will fail.
“The worst you can do is to fight a man with anointing; our government is an anointed government.”
According to him, “Life is all about, if you wash my hand, l wash your hand and that’s why we insisted that all the people that helped us from 2015, though we were badly challenged, we have managed to carry them along.
It is not possible to be 100 percent perfect, but we are making all the efforts. Umahi had at another function reiterated his stand that he won’t hand over to somebody that is older than him in 2023.
This has further fuelled speculations making the round in the state that the Governor may have penciled down three people serving under his administration who would likely succeed him.
Those on the speculated list include Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, RT. Hon. Francis Ogbonnaya Nwifuru.
Nwifuru was first elected into the hallowed chamber in 2011 to represent Izzi West Constituency and was first elected the House Deputy Chief Whip.
He emerged as Speaker when the fifth House of Assembly was inaugurated in June, 2015 and also re- elected in 2019 for the same position.
The third time lawmaker is from lzzi Local government under Ebonyi North senatorial zone of the state. Another candidate believed to be on the governor’s list is Dr. Kenneth Igwe Ugbala.
Ugbala was the finance officer, Goodluck Jonathan’s Campaign Organisation during the 2015 general election.
In 2016, Governor Umahi appointed him Senior Special Assistant on Internal security and was elevated to commissioner for Border Peace and Internal Security.
In 2019, he became the Secretary to the Ebonyi State Government and coordinating Commissioner to oversee all the state ministries.
The SSG has lectured at both state and federal universities in some states. He hails from Ezza South Local Government under Ebonyi Central senatoria zone of the state. Another candidate is Engr. Fidelis Nweze Kings, an engineer.
He first served as commissioner for Works and Transport during Governor Umahi’s first tenure. Currently, he is the commissioner for Infrastructural Development and Concession.
Nweze had during his tenure as commissioner for Works and Transport handled state projects including flyovers, road construction, buildings and others.
Also, interested in the 2023 governorship is Senator Joseph Obinna Ogba who has started consultations across the state.
Ogba, hails from Nkalagu community in Ishielu Local government of Ebonyi State.
Presently, Ogba is a second term senator, representing Ebonyi Central Senatorial Zone in the 8th upper chamber.
He started his career as a referee in the Nigerian Football Referee Association. He was later appointed chairman of Nigeria Football Referee Council, Anambra State.
In 1998, he went into politics and was elected chairman, Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, where he became the chairman of chairmen (ALGON).
The senator was also a commissioner for Youths and Sports. Now, he is the chairman, Senate Committee on Sports.