By Petrus Obi, Enugu
From the outset, the battle for Enugu East senatorial district seat promised to be an interesting battle. In the build up to the last general elections, when the former governor of Enugu State Sullivan Chime pencilled down his then Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo for the position, the signs of trouble has always been eloquent.
For one, the Nkanu people who constitute the majority in the zone did not agree with the governor’s decision.
While the intrigues and behind-the-scene manoeuvre continued, the then deputy governor, Sunday Onybechi stirred the hornet nest by declaring interest in the same senatorial position.
This did not go down well with Chime and events that trailed that ambition is now history as Onyebuchi was impeached on the flimsy reason that he reared chicken in his official residence.
This did not however settle matters as the incumbent incubent then, Senator Gilbert Nnaji was ready to go to ‘war’ to retain his position.
The entry of a former governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani into the race made matters ‘worse’, and the entire game became more interesting and unpredictable.
A crowd-puller and great mobiliser, Nnamani took the stage by storm with his house-to-house campaign, while bombarding radio listeners with campaign jingles made from local Nkanu folklores which took over the airwaves and almost became an anthem in and around the state capital.
While Senator Nnaji and Ifeoma Nwobodo became front runners in the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), Nnamani was the sole candidate in his party Peoples for Democratic Change, (PDC).
At this stage, the battle between the Deputy President of the Senate, Chief Ike Ekweremadu and former Governor Chime was at the peak. The former governor had sought to dethrone Ekweremadu from his position.
The battle between these two heavy weights divided the PDP in the State with Nnaji taking sides with Ekweremadu, while Nwobodo relied on the structure of her boss, the former governor.
By the time the political arithmetic was being summed up, Ekweremadu as the ‘old woman with old cooking utensils’ used experience to hijack the PDP structure in the state paving the way for Nnaji’s emergence as the PDP senatorial candidate for Enugu East.
An alleged last minute attempt by the former Chief of Staff to dump Chime’s camp for Ekweremadu’s having noticed where the pendulum was swinging to, is believed to have led to the present rift between the former governor and Nwobodo, who many referred to as the de facto governor in the immediate past administration.
With Nnaji as PDP candidate for the senatorial election, the stage was set for a head on collision between a political godfather and his godson. Nnaji was a member of Nnamani’s Ebeano political group, that held sway in Enugu State between 1999 and 2007. It was also the then governor that made it possible for him to go to the House of Representatives.
However, he later joined the ‘rebel’ group led by Chime and defeated his master, Nnamani in his bid to return to the Senate in 2011. Nnamani had contested and won the senatorial election for the zone in 2007. Following his disagreement with his successor, he left the PDP and formed the PDC, on whose platform, he contested and lost the 2011 senatorial election to Nnaji.
So, with both men contesting against each other in 2015, the campaigns were very interesting.
For many, it was to be a walk over for the former governor, who maintained a very strong and ardent followership especially in his zone.
As the results started filtering in on election day, Nnamani was reported to be leading. His supporters were waiting for a formal declaration of the result, so that they could roll out the drums in celebration. They would, however, be disappointed when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Nnaji as the winner of the election.
All hell was let loose in the state capital as Nnamani’s supporters took to the streets in a protest that lasted for days. The former governor vowed to reclaim his mandate which he said was stolen with the aid of security agents and INEC officials.
While the trial at the tribunal lasted, there was tension in the air as all awaited the outcome of the petition filed by the former governor. The judgment was finally delivered on Monday October 12th, nullifying the entire election on the grounds that the conduct did not comply with the 2010 Electoral Act.
Justice Mathew Aderawa, who delivered the judgment said: “The first respondent, while trying to deny that irregularities marred the election, exposed more mutilations of results in polling stations where he won. Ballot papers were not accounted for, which affected the outcome of the result. Irregularities occurred in the six local government areas that constitute the senatorial district.
“Sufficient evidence was laid before this tribunal showing that the first respondent inflated results while deflating the petitioners’ result. These irregularities and non compliance were substantial to mar the outcome of the election.
The petitioner has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the election did not comply with the provisions of the electoral act 2010.”
Relying heavily on the evidence of the forensic expert, who testified on behalf of Nnamani, the tribunal held that irregularities alleged in the conduct of the election were “gross and fundamental,” pointing out that that does not comply with the rule on accreditation of voters and with proven cases of multiple voting, ballot box stuffing and over voting is nullity.
“Based on the foregoing, we hereby void the election and order a fresh election,” Justice Aderawa summed up.
Although Nnamani’s supporters were not completely satisfied with the ruling as they expected an outright declaration of the former governor as winner, they still went wild in celebrations taking over the streets of Enugu.
The supporters who thronged the major streets of Enugu chanted songs of jubilation in praise of the erstwhile governor and also displayed various posters of Nnamani even as they halted vehicular movement in the State capital. As Nnamani and his former protégé warm up for the re-run, political watchers believe that the incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi holds the key to the repeat election.
A former ally to Nnamani, Ugwuanyi is still believed to have maintained a good relationship with the former governor.
At the same time as a PDP governor, it is expected that he will root for his party to retain the senatorial seat.
It is believed however that if the election is conducted fairly and freely that Nnamani will come out victorious in the re-run election.
But should the governor throw his weight behind any candidate the equation may be altered. (Daily Sun)