2023: Rumpus in Ebonyi over zoning arrangements


Ahead of 2023 governorship election, there is fresh rumpus in Ebonyi State over which zone should produce Governor Dave Umahi’s successor. Assistant Editor, ‘Dare Odufowokan, reports that disagreements over zoning arrangements currently threaten the peace in both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.

Weeks back, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ebonyi State chapter, announced that it has zoned its governorship ticket to the Abakaliki bloc of the state. Abakaliki bloc comprises of two senatorial districts of the state, Ebonyi North and Ebonyi Central senatorial districts. Incumbent governor, Umahi, is from Ebonyi South senatorial district.

The announcement by PDP followed months of speculations over whether the party will zone its governorship ticket or allow all aspirants, irrespective of the parts of the state they hail from, to vie for it. Before the announcement, chieftains of the opposition party had been divided into pro-zoning and anti-zoning proponents, with each group urging the party to accede to its requests.

State chairman of the PDP, Elder Fred Udeogu, while making the announcement in Abakaliki, the state capital, noted that the two senatorial zones will harmonize, decide for themselves on whether the North or the Central will produce the next governor of the state. “Our party leaders decided to zone the governorship position to Abakaliki bloc.

“Ebonyi South is holding the governorship position now. They don’t have to go again. And so, when the time comes, the Abakaliki bloc will now harmonize on whether the governorship position will go to either Ebonyi north or central zone,” he said back then.

Though the announcement ended months of anxiety occasioned by the zoning debate, it however started a new wave of agitations by anti-zoning forces within and outside the party. A number of PDP chieftains opposed the arrangement announced by the state chapter of the party and wasted no time in telling Udeogu and his fellow state officials to promptly retrace their steps.

While some are displeased with the exclusion of Ebonyi South senatorial district, others feel the ticket should be specifically zoned to either Ebonyi Central or Ebonyi North, and not to Abakaliki bloc, which encompasses both. In the midst of all these, there are those who simply want zoning done away with “to allow for the best candidate from any part of the state to emerge as governor.”

Many of those displeased with the zoning adopted by PDP, especially outside the party, eagerly waited to see what the ruling APC will do. And finally, last week, Governor Umahi, while lifting the ban on governorship aspirants in the APC from embarking on consultation and political activities in the state, gave hints about what the ruling party may have in mind as far as zoning is concerned.

Umahi, who spoke through the Commissioner of Information and State Orientation, Mr Uchenna Orji, said, “The Chairman-In-Council announced the lifting of the ban on political consultations ahead of the 2023 General Elections and expressed determination to consult widely especially with the House of Assembly, the EXCO, the Elders Council, founding fathers, women organizations, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other relevant groups with a view to getting opinions on where the governorship position shall be zoned to.

“For the Governorship seat, he made it clear that Ebonyi South, having benefited from the principle of zoning, shall not be allowed to contest as his administration’s support shall be for Abakaliki block. EXCO noted the intention of the Chairman of Council and kick-started the debate on where the governorship seat will be zoned between North and Central Zones.”

Though the governor, according to the announcement made on his behalf by Orji, expressed readiness to discuss with other stakeholders within and outside the ruling APC, he left nobody in doubt of his agreement with those who feels aspirants from his own Ebonyi South senatorial district should not be allowed to vie for the governorship ticket of the party.

“Tactically without saying it directly, the governor is playing along with those who say the zoning of the governorship seat in Ebonyi should be between the old Abakaliki and Afikpo blocs. This is exactly the bone of contentions. While some want the arrangement retained, others would want the zoning to be done on the basis of the current senatorial districts,” a party leader told The Nation.

Growing agitations

But prominent indigenes of the state under the aiges of Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in Diaspora (AESID) have rejected zoning agreement proposed by both the APC and the PDP, saying competence, capability and credibility should be the standard for anyone to succeed Dave Umahi in 2023. The group urged political parties to shun the calls for zoning and embrace competence.

“Ebonyi people truly deserve nothing but the best, most credible and competent hand it can get from any part of the state who understands the prevailing challenges of anthropogenic poverty, lack of human empowerment, health and educational deficiencies arising from poor policy planning and executions among other negative trends and its attendant consequences on our people,” it urged.

The President, Amb. Paschal Oluchukwu, added that “It bothers placing properly on record that the so-called, non-existent ‘charter of equity’ which some rented script writers are bandying in the media does not exist and people from the three Senatorial zones of the State have equally vied for the coveted position of the governor of the Salt of the nation.

“Owing more to the fact that by what could be justified as divine providence, the three Senatorial zones despite these contests have all tasted power via the occupation of the Governorship seats in the state, it is therefore wisdom for Ebonyians to anchor their search for Umahi’s successor on the tripod stand of competence, capacity and credibility which would ultimately translate into such a leader’s ability to reverse the numerous growing negative statistics and economic woes that the current government of Umahi has brought upon our dear state.

“Besides, power as such analysts should have been aware by now only comes from above and it is never given but taken. Much more than the zone of an aspirant, AESID would, we reiterate implore Ebonyi people to continue to study the records in and out of office of any contender and place same side-by-side with the prevailing challenges facing the young state and seek out for only those who can reverse the negative indices.”

In a related development, another group, Ebonyi South Youth Congress (ESYC), has faulted the zoning formula as announced by the PDP in the State. The youth organization argued that it was wrong for the PDP to zone the 2023 gubernatorial election to two senatorial zones of the State stressing that the concept of Abakaliki Bloc was no longer in existence in the State.

President of ESYC, Uka Ibom Anya, called on leaders and Ebonyi people to be vigilant at all times and not to allow agents of confusion to destroy the State by resorting to archaic zoning formulae. “We reiterate our position that it will be wrong for the PDP to zone the Governorship position to two zones in the state, namely, the Ebonyi North and Ebonyi Central Senatorial zones without considering the fate of Ebonyi South Senatorial district.

“There is nothing like Abakaliki Block or Afikpo Block. The two blocks existed momentarily after Ebonyi state was created in 1996. On the creation of Ebonyi state, the Abakaliki block had six LGAs while the Afikpo block had four LGAs. Shortly afterwards, three new LGAs, namely Ebonyi, Ezza North and Ivo were created and the state was split into three Senatorial Zones. Anybody talking of two blocks of Abakaliki and Afikpo now is introducing sectionalism into the state.

“Since 1996, the politics of the state has been based on Zoning in the three Senatorial districts. We urge our leaders and Ebonyi people, in general, to be vigilant at all times and not to allow agents of confusion to destroy the state by resorting to archaic zoning formulae. It is our view that the Governorship slot should be thrown open to the three Senatorial districts or we go back to Ebonyi North where the zoning started in 1999,” the group urged.

A chieftain of the APC in Ebonyi, Chief Augustine Okorie, wants zoning done away with as only the best should emerge as governor of the state in 2023. He urged political parties to jettison any zoning arrangement for the governorship position ahead of 2023 general elections in the state, saying the parties’ nominees should be the most credible, competent and qualified, among others.

“For me, whoever emerges and whoever has the capacity and the support of the people should be our candidate as the ruling party. When you are going into a contest you look for your best, your superpower; you must select your contestants in any competition from the best. My position is that the best of our candidates will represent us in the governorship race; what is important to us as a party is to achieve ultimate victory and we are not bothered about the area where the best comes from,” he said.

Also, Chief Abia Onyike, a chieftain of the PDP, rejected moves to ensure that the 2023 governorship election was zoned to a particular senatorial district in the State. Onyike who traced the political history and culture of the State from 1999 till date, stressed that such “myopic” political arrangement could lead to the creation of new political problems that will adversely affect electioneering campaigns and permutations across the State.

“In a democracy, all voices are allowed to ventilate their feelings. My message to all politicians and leaders is that they should moderate their actions and utterances with a modicum of responsibility. Those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat it or in the long run, are often ignored by history itself, ”the former Commissioner for Information and State Orientation under former Governor Sam Egwu’s administration emphasized.

“It can remind people of the old Abakaliki and Afikpo blocks and resurrect the unresolved issues surrounding the Ebonyi Charter of Equity. Incidentally, Abakaliki block produced the Governor for 16 years before the present Governor (from Afikpo block) was elected in 2015. Based on this reality, there are those who believe that it may not be out of place to allow another person from Afikpo block, to do another tenure,” he added.

Counter positions

For Senator representing Ebonyi North zone in the Senate and first civilian governor of Ebonyi State, Dr. Sam Egwu, only zoning of the gubernatorial ticket of the PDP can guarantee peaceful election in the 2023 general elections. The PDP is anchored on justice and fairness and will follow an already existing procedure to enable each group to know its turn.

“Any deviation from the usual zoning formula would jeopardize the system and cause a situation where Abakaliki Zone (North and Central) with their numerical strength would begin to produce governors at will. PDP is where everybody is recognized both big and the small ones, no one oppresses the other and this is why Ebonyi remains PDP State,” he said.

Supporting the party’s decision to restrict its guber ticket to the Abakaliki bloc, the former Minister said “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 believe in equity.

“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 am supported by Chief Elechi. And I am sure that the present government will also do the same because anything contrary will not be ideal for the state. Go and mark my word, anything contrary will result to a situation where the governorship will be between the North and the Central Zones, which will not augur well, that is why I am appealing that the right thing should be done, justice, fairness and equity.”

But Senator Paulinus Igwe Nwagu, a chieftain of the PDP who represented Ebonyi Central Senatorial zone between 2011 and 2015, debunked Egwu’s claims. According to him, “there was nothing like discussed Charter of Equity. I’m not a small boy. I have been in politics for 36 years, from era of NPN till date. Nobody either in proxy has ever discussed the issue of charter of Equity in Ebonyi State till today.

Speaking on what he described as moves to further micro-zone the governorship seat to the Izzi clan, Senator Nwagu said “Ezza people forms the majority and the eldest clan in the State. What offense have we committed that we cannot be the Governor of the State? When the issue of location of where the capital of the State will be, Ezza was first considered, because they wanted it to be at the centre, but the issue of structure made Ezza people to be denied.

“The Afikpo was also considered for the location of the capital city, but eventually, Abakaliki was chosen. Abakaliki of course, is part of Izzi land. Given the situation, courtesy demands that Izzi people should allow Ezza people to take the governorship seat first. They should take last, based on equity. That is what I will call equity and fairness.”


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