In the last eleven months, Ebonyi State has been in the limelight and at the centre of public attention for two major reasons: the defection of Governor David Umahi from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling party at the centre, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the evident transformational and developmental strides of the governor.
The bold movement of Umahi from the opposition PDP to APC was, no doubt, a momentous event that was believed to have been driven solely by principle as against opportunism. Obviously, his defection set the stage for other prominent Nigerians to follow suit. Since he left PDP in November 2020, two other serving governors, ex-governors, serving and erstwhile federal lawmakers have seen the need to join the governing APC, making the party wax stronger under the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee.
On account of the exemplary leadership of Umahi, he has remained in the position of Chairman, Southeast Governors’ Forum since 2017. His unwavering stand against the activities of IPOB and outright condemnation of their sit-at-home order has portrayed him as a firm and courageous leader, a detribalised Nigerian, a patriot and nationalist, who has an unmitigated faith in the oneness, indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a sovereign nation.
The kind of development Umahi has brought to Ebonyi State has been described as unprecedented as can be seen in the model of flyovers built with a view to making Ebonyi an investment destination, international airport aimed at boosting the state’s economy, the University of Medical Sciences which has structures that can compete with those of first-generation universities. He has embarked on massive and sustainable infrastructural development, providing a network of roads across the state that can stand the test of time. Aside from Lagos and Abuja, Ebonyi State has the highest network of roads as of today in Nigeria.
Last year, Ebonyi under the watch of Umahi emerged first in the Southeast Zone and one of the best states in terms of economic performance in the country. And just recently, Ebonyi was announced as one of the top five states in the 2021 Fiscal Performance Ranking, a manifestation of Umahi’s sound fiscal management and prudence in the handling of public funds.
In the light of Umahi’s outstanding performance and remarkable feats, there is a fundamental challenge as to who has the capacity, not only to continue with his developmental pace but also to maintain what he has put in place. It is on this basis that the need arises for a critical analysis of those angling to take over from him, to scrutinise their pedigree, their past and their present.
Some Ebonyians that are reportedly eyeing the governorship seat in the two main political parties in Nigeria, the APC and PDP, are presented below.
Barrister Augustine Nwankwegu
Nwankwegu is from Izzi Local Government Area (LGA) in the northern senatorial district of Ebonyi State. He is a former Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly. He represented the Izzi West State constituency in the Ebonyi Assembly. A legal practitioner by profession, Nwankegu was appointed Ebonyi State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in 2015 by Governor David Umahi. The legal pundit was sacked in November 2017 over alleged indiscipline and dereliction of duty.
The ex-Ebonyi Attorney General appears to be looking forward to contesting in the governorship election in 2023 on the platform of APC. He joined APC in August 2018 ten months after he was relieved of his appointment as the state’s Commissioner for Justice. He was one of those who left the PDP for the APC possibly to work against Umahi’s re-election bid in 2019. Now that the governor is in the APC and has become the leader of the party, will it be easy for him to secure the party’s ticket? Does he have the financial buoyancy to run as a serious contender for a governorship race?
Rt. Hon. Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru
Born on February 25, 1975, Nwifuru, a building technologist was elected into the Ebonyi State House of Assembly to represent Izzi West State Constituency in 2011. He first emerged as the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly in 2015 and was reconsidered for the position by his colleagues in 2019.
Does he have what it takes to govern Ebonyi State? Some believe that with the way he has successfully headed the legislative arm of Ebonyi State since 2015, he may really not find it difficult to pilot the affairs of the state. The speaker’s supporters have continued to maintain that he has done his best to positively affect the lives of his constituents.
But his critics strongly disagreed, insisting that there is nothing significant on the ground in Izzi West State Constituency to show for the over ten years he has spent in Ebonyi Assembly, out of which he has been speaker for over six years.
Sir Edward Okereke Nkwegu
Born on August 28, 1960, Sir Edward Nkwegu, widely known as EDON, holds a BSc and MSc Degrees from Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT). Nkwegu hails from Izzi, one of the local council areas in the northern senatorial district of the state.
Analysts believe that as one with a successful business background like the incumbent governor, he would have the requisite design and knowledge to develop the state the way Umahi did and consolidate on his numerous laudable achievements.
The architect turned politician was, for over six years, the Chairman of Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Board, (ACTDB), where he was said to have played a major role in the re-designing of Abakaliki Urban Capital. He is the Chairman of Ebonyi State Selection Committee for the Special Public Works programme, an empowerment initiative of the Federal Government that benefited 13, 000 citizens of the state. His people of Izzi clan, which has three populous LGAs in the state, generally believe he has a humane and benevolent spirit.
Nkwegu, seen to have always offered a helping hand to his people, is said to have risen from a humble background as the son of a peasant farmer to become a renowned entrepreneur and business mogul. The philanthropist, who is the Chairman, Board of Directors of Barcelona Hotels, Abuja and Enugu, Edon Nig. Ltd, Edon Aluminium and Manufacturing Company Nig. Ltd and several other companies, is believed to have the financial muscle to effectively featherbed his governorship project.
Senator Joseph Obinna Ogba
Distinguished Senator Joseph Ogba is currently in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly representing the people of Ebonyi Central Senatorial District. He was first elected into the Senate in 2015 and secured re-election in 2019. Born on August 15, 1961, in Nkalagu, Ishielu LGA in the central senatorial district of Ebonyi State, the second-term senator started his Career as a Football Referee in 1995.
A staunch member of the PDP, the accomplished and quintessential sports administrator is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Sports. He was Ebonyi State Commissioner for Youths and Sports between 2002 and 2003.
Believed to be a top contender for the PDP ticket, Ogba attended Federal Polytechnic, Oko, where he obtained a Diploma and Higher National Diploma in Mass Communication. However, a group known as Stakeholders of Ebonyi Central Senatorial District had, in 2019, reportedly petitioned the then Inspector General of Police, IGP, over alleged impersonation and certificate forgery against him. It was alleged that the Senator sometime in 1989 and 1990 engaged mercenaries to sit and obtain results of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) on his behalf.
Political watchers of Ebonyi politics believe that the certificate issue would obviously be used against Ogba in his bid to govern the state come 2023. But his allies, believing that he has done well as a senator are confident that he would succeed in getting the PDP guber ticket and win the Ebonyi 2023 gubernatorial poll.
Chief Engr. Elias Nwelem Mbam
Born on September 2, 1958, Engr. Elias Mbam is the Chairman Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), a position he has held since 2010 till Date. Mbam, from Izzi area council in Ebonyi North Senatorial District, attended Hartford State Technical College in the United States between 1977 and 1979 for an Associate Degree before proceeding to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering in 1984.
Mbam, though yet to openly declare his intention to participate in the contest for the governorship seat in 2023, he is seen as one of those hopefully looking forward to clinching the ticket of the APC in the Ebonyi guber race. It is widely believed that he has the financial war chest to pursue his governorship bid as a serious contender.
However, there is the impression that Mbam, a one-time Minister of State for Finance, has not done anything meaningful for his people in spite of the different high public offices and juicy positions he has held all these years.
It is alleged that he didn’t do much for the Ebonyi people as one of the most privileged Ebonyians. Some of his people fear that if he assumes the position of governor, his focus may not be on continuing with the tempo of development that Gov. Umahi has initiated.
But Mbam’s admirers disagree as they do not see any reason for fear while expressing confidence that the RMAFC boss will do well to transform Ebonyi State, based on his records of achievements as a technocrat if he becomes the governor.
Professor Bernard Odoh
Prof. Bernard Odoh is an educationist turned politician, born on August 5, 1975, in Umuezeokaoha community in Ezza North local government area in the central senatorial zone of Ebonyi State. He was appointed as Secretary to the Ebonyi State Government (SSG) in July 2015 by Governor Umahi – a position he occupied until April 2018 when he resigned his appointment due to a misunderstanding between him and the governor.
The young consummate educationist, astute politician and APC chieftain, attended Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and graduated with a BSc degree in Geological Sciences in 1999. He afterwards earned a Master of Science degree in 2005 and Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Geophysics in 2008 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State.
His major setback, in his bid for the governorship seat, might be his frosty relationship with the incumbent Governor Umahi who now controls the structure of the APC in Ebonyi after his defection to the party. With Umahi as the leader of the party in Ebonyi, some are of the view that it would be a difficult task for Prof. Odoh to pick the party’s ticket.
Odoh’s enthusiasts are not bothered about the cold relationship of their favourite with the governor. They imagine that if Umahi himself could emerge as PDP governorship candidate in 2015 without the support of the then Governor Elechi, the professor could as well achieve a similar feat, no matter the effort that may be made to frustrate him. He has remained steadfast in his determination to contest on the platform of APC, maintaining that he has no problem with the governor but his policies and style of governance.
Hon. Anayo Edwin Nwonu (Anatex)
Hon. Edwin Nwonu, popularly known as Anatex, like prof. Odoh, also hails from Ezza in the central senatorial wing of Ebonyi State. Born on October 10, 1976, Nwonu presently represents Ezza North/Ishielu Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State in the House of Representatives. Before he was elected into the House of Representatives in 2015 he was the MD of Anatex Multi-lines Limited. A devoted member of the PDP, he had also worked with the Bayelsa State Government as Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Non-indigene Affairs.
The Ezza-born politician’s outing in the National Assembly is believed to have been impressive as he is seen to have made some meaningful impact in the representation of his people. With well-structured campaign strategies, pundits believe that Anatex may have a field day in the guber primary election of the PDP and go to the guber poll proper to emerge triumphantly.
Senator Julius Ucha
Sen. Julius Ucha, a legal practitioner by profession, born on October 19, 1958, is a top member of the APC from Ebonyi State. He is the first Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly after the state was created in 1996 and democracy entrenched in 1999. He served as Senator representing Ebonyi Central Senatorial District for eight years between 2003 and 2011.
Ucha, who earned his LL.B degree from Anambra State University of Science & Technology, currently represents the South-East Zone at the National Assembly Service Commission. While he was in the Senate he served in several committees which included the committees on Works, Senate Services, Inter-Parliamentary Affairs, Independent National Electoral Commission and Commerce.
Ucha has always had a running battle with Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology for the control of APC before Gov. Umahi defected to the party in November 2020 and automatically became the leader. Since Umahi joined APC the former parliamentarian has ceaselessly sung his praises at every opportunity that comes his way, making many think that he may just be trying to position himself in the good book of the governor for the purpose of his 2023 guber aspiration.
In 2011 and 2015, he contested for the governorship seat as the candidate of the defunct ANPP and APC respectively but failed. He decided to vie for Senate in 2019 also to no avail.
Will Ucha make it this time around if he eventually throws his hat in the ring for the guber contest? Time will tell.
Hon. Sylvester Ogbaga
Born in 1961, Hon. Sylvester Ogbaga is a four-term member of the House of Representatives representing the people of Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State. Ogbaga began his career as a teacher under the Local Government Service Commission, Abakaliki, from 1985 to 1987. He worked as a health instructor and sports coordinator from 1995 to 1998.
His journey in politics started in 1998 when he won the Chairmanship seat of Abakaliki LGA in the council elections that took place across the country on December 5 of that year. While he was local government chairman, he also served as the helmsman of Ebonyi State Chapter of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON).
Elected into the Green Chamber in 2007 on the platform of PDP, Hon. Ogbaga was the Chairman, House Committee on Commerce from 2015 to 2019. He is currently the Chairman of the House Committee on Delegated Legislation.
No doubt, with the long period Hon. Ogbaga has spent in the Green Chamber consistently as a member of the PDP, he has become a force to reckon with in the party in Ebonyi State. Even though his opponents do not see how his years in the House have considerably impacted his constituents, his fans are hopeful that he will make it to the governorship seat of Ebonyi State in 2023. They believe that he is well-rooted in PDP and his chances of getting the party’s ticket are bright.
Chief Godwin Ogbaga
Chief Ogbaga, a seasoned administrator, was Minister of State for Power and Steel, during the short regime of Major General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the man that ushered in the current democratic dispensation in 1999. Born on October 23, 1956, he obtained a BSc in Agricultural Economics in 1979 from the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).
It is on record that as Minister of State for Power – just for a period of nine months – he attracted several electricity projects to different parts of Ebonyi State and many towns in other states of the federation. In the area of human development, he is said to have facilitated the employment of many youths from the Southeast into the former National Electric Power Authority (NEPA).
He was Permanent Secretary/Executive Secretary Ebonyi State scholarship Board (December 2008 – June 2011); Clerk Ebonyi State House of Assembly (November 2005 – December 2008); Acting Secretary to the State Government, Ebonyi State; Executive Secretary Judicial Service Commission, Ebonyi State (1996).
In all the public offices he held, he is seen to have used his position to positively affect the lives of millions of Nigerians. A respected elder statesman and APC member, he has been described by many as a compassionate leader who has shown great love and care for the downtrodden. By virtue of his outstanding achievements in the public service, many see him as a good material for the governorship seat come 2023.