Tension is mounting in Ebonyi State over which of the zones will produce Governor David Umahi’s successor in 2023. This is as critical stakeholders are divided on whether the governorship seat should be zoned to a particular senatorial district or clan in the state or thrown open to all qualified candidates.
So far, the two major political parties in the state-the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are yet to take definite stand on the zoning of their governorship tickets.
Since the inception of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, the governorship seat has rotated round the three senatorial districts in the state. It started from Ebonyi North with Dr. Sam Egwu serving as Chief Executive of the state from 1999-2007. Thereafter, Chief Martin Elechi from Ebonyi Central took over the mantle of leadership from 2007 to 2015. Umahi, who succeeded Elechi as governor, took the turn of Ebonyi South; and will complete his second term on May 29, 2023.
Going by the rotational arrangement, it is assumed that Ebonyi South, where the incumbent governor hails from, is out of the gubernatorial contest in next year’s election. Already, both the APC and the PDP have chosen their state chairmen from the zone.
Nevertheless, a school of thought argues that since the governorship seat has gone round the three senatorial districts, zoning should not be an issue in the 2023 contest. Those in this school of thought believe that throwing the gubernatorial contest open will make it possible for the best candidate to emerge as the next governor of the state. According to them, zoning negates the principle of true democracy with its negative implications on development.
On the flip-side, others argue that the state should continue with the zoning arrangement. However, within this group, there is no consensus on what should be the basis for the zoning of the governorship position. Some of the stakeholders want the zoning to be on the basis of the senatorial zones while others want it to be based on the clans in the state. Yet, another group wants the zoning to be between the two major blocs in the state. Ebonyi State is made up of the Abakaliki and Afikpo blocs. While the Abakaliki bloc consists of Ebonyi North and Ebonyi Central, Ebonyi South is the only senatorial zone in the Afikpo bloc.
Governor Umahi is seemingly among those who believe his successor should be from Abakaliki bloc. The governor, while addressing stakeholders from the Ezza clan, at the Christian Ecumenical Centre, Abakaliki, recently, said “the gubernatorial ticket will be for Abakaliki bloc. Anybody who is qualified within the bloc can contest”.
However, a former Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, wants clans to be the basis of zoning the 2023 governorship seat. Onwe, an APC chieftain argues that the existing zoning formula, which favours senatorial zones has not been fair to the Ezza clan where he belongs.
According to him, “there is nothing like zoning formula existing in the state. What played out in the first round of the governorship slot in the state was more or less a happenstance. I have to put it that way, because there had never been anytime stakeholders in the state sat down and agreed on where the governorship should go at any point in time. There has always been this singsong about a charter of equity, but nobody has ever sighted the document and there has not been any proof of the existence of such document.
“However, if there had been anything like charter of equity for the state, it would have been a good guide. But according to what we were told, the charter of equity people are always talking about, only proposed that upon the eventual creation of the state, that the zone that gets the state capital between the two blocs that make up the state; Abakaliki bloc and Afikpo bloc, should not produce the governor of the state. But eventually, that didn’t happen because the then military government had interest in Dr. Sam Egwu from Ebonyi North and he emerged the governor of the state against the intent of the charter.
“At that time, someone from the South not only contested in the primaries but also in the general election. It was not as if the Northern part was allowed to produce the governor that time. The same thing happened in 2007 when Chief Elechi came on board and in 2015 when Gov Umahi came in.
“Some people are saying now that it has gone round, that it should go back to the North where it started; others say it should come to the Central. But my take is that stakeholders should come together to define the next move of the governorship. And if you ask me, I will say, well, since it has gone round the three zones geographically, it can now start by clans, and what I mean by that is that there is a particular clan in the state that is the eldest and by population, it is the largest. That is Ezza clan. What stopped the clan from producing the next governor? Is there any crime in that?
Nevertheless, former Minister of State for Health, Chief Fidelis Nwankwo, disagrees. Nwankwo, who is a PDP chieftain from Ebonyi North, is of the opinion that the existing zoning arrangement has helped stabilise the politics of the state and should be sustained. He cautioned the opposition party not to allow itself to be manipulated into altering the governorship zoning pattern which will return power to his zone, Ebonyi North in 2023.
“I can only speak for my party, the PDP. Zoning has served us well. It has helped to maintain orderliness, peace and unity in the party. My advice is that it should be continued. And if we are continuing it, the sequence has to be maintained. The governorship started with Ebonyi North, moved to the Central and finally to the South. In 2023, it has to start from where it initially started and that is Ebonyi North, and after that it goes to Ebonyi central,” Nwankwo stated.
Like the former minister, Egwu and Elechi are of the view that the 2023 governorship should be zoned to Ebonyi North, with the Izzi clan, in the zone, as the beneficiary. Izzi is the predominant clan in the northern part of the state.
Speaking at a civic reception for the new Bishop of Abakaliki Diocese, Rev. Dr. Peter Nworie, by the Izzi clan, recently, Egwu said they should be supported to produce the next governor of the state.
“Izzi people have been known for their loyalty, accommodation and hospitality. None of Ebonyi governors, both in the past and presently, has complained against these people in the state, since the creation of the state,” he said.
Egwu, who is at the forefront for existing zoning formula to be sustained noted that “it is on this arrangement that Chief Elechi emerged from Ebonyi Central Zone, thereafter, we advocated for the South but some people kicked against it on the ground that the people of the South will suppress us but we insisted because we believed in equity and coupled with the fact that coming together of some persons who were maltreated in Enugu and Anambra States and those who had similar experience under Abia and Imo States was divinely.”
He added: “So, power should go back to where it started in order to maintain the trend. Ebonyi North Zone has waited for sixteen years and therefore the people are to produce the next governor; I have shared the same view before now and I was supported by Chief Elechi and I am sure that the present governor will also do the same because anything contrary will not be ideal for the state,” the former governor posited.
As plausible as Egwu’s position might seem, those who understand the political undercurrents in the state told Daily Sun that the former governor’s push is to enable him garner support of Izzi people for his aspiration to return to the Senate for a third term in 2023. Speaking against the governorship seat for the Izzi means that the clan would roundly move against him and his aspiration.
So far, politicians from the Ezza and Izzi clans of Ebonyi Central and Ebonyi Senatorial Districts, respectively, are positioning for the governorship position. Notable among them are Chairman, Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Chief Elias Mbam; Senator, Ebonyi Central, Obinna Ogba, members of House of Representatives, Anayo Nwonu and Sylvester Ogbaga, and former Minister of State for Health, Fidelis Nwankwo, among others.
In the main, analysts say the challenge before the APC and the PDP, ahead of the 2023 governorship poll, is to resolve the zoning controversy satisfactorily, so as to go to the poll with a united house. There is no doubt that the success or otherwise of the parties at the poll will depend largely on how the issue of zoning is handled.