Rochas Okorocha image via The Guardian
BY LEO SOBECHI
MARCH 20, 2019
"Like good wine, lawmakers mature with age in the legislature." Those were the summations of late Senator Uche Chukwumerije five years ago in an interview with The Guardian. The bearded and well-spoken Senator was sharing his thoughts on the quality of federal lawmakers from the Southeast geopolitical zone.
As at the time the late Chukwumerije spoke, most observers were worried at the low-level intellectual capacity and poor grasp of issues by federal legislators from the zone, especially given state governors’ insistence of sending mediocre characters to the National Assembly to maintain their stranglehold on the political structure of their states.
Not that alone, Chukwumerije also reacted because his desire to retain his seat at the Senate was facing stiff opposition from the governor of his home state, Abia, Chief Theodore Orji, who was not only rounding off his constitutional two-terms in office, but was also angling for a stint in the Red Chamber.
The point to note is that prior to the 2019 election, state governors in the zone had the last say on who gets what as far as elective and political appointments were concerned, particularly those that go to the twin chambers of the National Assembly.
Incidentally, the governors’ control on the electoral machineries did not come about by happenstances; rather, it was their own response to four extenuating circumstances that predisposed the election environment for their intrusion, including self-preservation in office, desire for hegemony, averting challenging situations and control of the party apparatus.
Incubation of impunity
Perhaps due to the entrenchment of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Southeast, politicians with strong contacts at the national headquarters of the party, especially the National Working Committee (NWC), focused more on obtaining the party’s ticket for an election, because they knew votes did not count.
As results for an election were sure to be written before the vain ritual of accreditation and voting, the heavyweights swooped on NWC to ensure that they fly the party’s flag, since the constitution stipulated that only the party headquarters could send names of candidates to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for election.
But prior to the reign of impunity in the polity, Southeast was riled by two worrisome political developments that must have propelled the state governors to aggressively intervene in the nomination and therefore (s)election of candidates for the federal legislature. First, as part of the revolving chair of the Senate Presidency, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim chanced on the leadership of the Red Chamber after two others had fallen by the wayside, occasioned by inorganic banana peels on the senate floor. Although Anyim secured the construction of the only durable road in the zone, the Okigwe-Afikpo road by virtue of his office, the most outstanding feature of his occupancy of the Senate Presidency was his legendary political combat with then Ebonyi State governor, Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu.
But for the famed power of incumbency (state treasury), Anyim had nearly succeeded in denying Egwu a second term ticket on the platform of PDP. To this day, the cost of that epic political battle continues to take a toll on the state, including aborted vision, programmes and development initiatives.That Ebonyi State International Hotel, Ebonyi Trade Centre, Unity Square among others, have remained uncompleted could be traced to that great political distraction that actually led to loss of lives both in material and psychological terms. Arising from experience of their colleague in that devastating political exchange, many a state governors in PDP prayed against a senator from his state becoming a president of Nigeria’s Senate.
Then there was the great political insurrection in Enugu State. Former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, found himself in the senate through a clever political engineering, after the then president-elect, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, informed him that he was not a potential candidate for any ministerial or such other appointment at the federal level.
Three years after winning a bye-election into the senate, Jim rallied some members of Enugu State House of Assembly to attempt impeaching the sitting governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani. The dingdong and intrepid political scheming for the 2003 general election put residents of the state on emotional tenterhooks as everyday reports of gangs and counter-offensive against recalcitrant lawmakers filled the airwaves.
At the end of the day, failing to uproot the governor, Senator Nwobodo and the state lawmakers alongside some 38 gubernatorial aspirants defected from PDP to the United Nigeria Democratic Party (UNDP), thereby allowing Nnamani the leg room to ventilate his Ebeano (here is where to be) ideology.
It could therefore be said that it was against those checkered but contentious political backgrounds that state governors in the Southeast devised the devious means of throwing up weak characters for representation in the National Assembly. Within the past five election cycles and iberibersim of the state governors, Southeast has the curious reputation of producing sundry legislative characters that achieve distinction for somnambulism, enforced silence and inability to move a simple motion based on oratorical disability or even verbal constraint verging on English language barrier.
It is a matter of public joke in the Southeast that some lawmakers from the zone could not pronounce ‘Czechoslovakia’ or spell ‘Biscuit’ in an oral contest. However, in the emerging Ninth National Assembly, it could be said that the zone seems to have learnt some lessons on the need to send its first 11 to the bicameral federal legislature.
One remarkable piece of evidence of the emergent change in the stature of federal lawmakers from Southeast is the surprise controversial outcome of Imo West Senatorial election, in which the outgoing governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has his senatorial ambition put in abeyance. If Governor Okorocha, who propounded the farcical theory of political iberiberism, loses ultimately in the ongoing disputations about who, between him and the PDP candidate, actually won the election, he would go down in history as the first state governor in the zone to lose a senate bid while in office.
That electoral misfortune could, in the final analysis, be explained by both the governor’s diminished goodwill as well as the declining appeal of impunity in the zone. On the other hand, if Okorocha ultimately finds his way to the Ninth Senate, he would make history as the first Imo State governor to make it to the Red Chamber.
After the electoral loss in his first attempt after leaving office as governor, former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, was able to snatch victory in the 2019 poll to represent Abia North Senatorial District in the Senate. He would be joining his successor, Theodore A. Orji, Dr. Nnamani and Dr. Egwu as former governors from Southeast in the Senate.
Abia State has made history by sending former governors and deputy governor to the Ninth Senate. Highly cerebral Senator Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe, who would be making his fourth stint in the Red Chamber when the Ninth Senate is proclaimed, was Kalu’s deputy before their estrangement in 2003. In Enugu, the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, had to foil attempts by certain entrenched political interests to thwart the second term senatorial ambition of former governor Nnamani. Nnamani, who would be in the upper legislative chamber as a ranking senator, like Kalu, would have their former underlings as their contemporaries.
While Kalu will share podium with T. A. Orji and Abaribe, his former chief of staff cum political godson and deputy, Nnamani will reunite with Ekweremadu, his former chief of staff and Secretary to the State Government (SSG).Egwu and Joe Obinna Ogba, who was Ebonyi State PDP chairman during his governorship, are returning as ranking senators, while Anambra has the distinction of producing two ranking female senators in Iyom Uche Ekwunife and Stella Adaeze Oduah.
Apart from Orji Uzor Kalu, who emerged from All Progressives Congress (APC) and Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah, the only senator from Young Progressives Party (YPP), the others are PDP, which places them on the opposition flank, not minding what happens to the election petition by the party’s presidential candidate in the recent election, Atiku Abubakar.
In the forthcoming dispensation, therefore, the ingenuity and understanding of the Southeast legislators would be put to test. It is not known whether Ubah would end up aligning with the ruling party, but given their boisterous nature, it is yet to be seen what dividends their association could bring to Southeast.
At the fourth Senate, the zone paraded solid lawmakers, like Adolphus Wabara, Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim, Mike Ajaegbo, Dr. Eriobuna, Evan Enwerem among others. But, the zone was robbed of sterling performance by the lack of synergy caused by their squabbles for personal interest and political progression.
In the Ninth Senate therefore, the expectations would be very high. The greater burden of legislative input and realisation of group interest for the Southeast would fall on Senator Abaribe and Nnamani. Although Nnamani, Egwu and Kalu belong to class of 1999 governors, Nnamani distinguished himself by the sheer combination of intellect, engaging wit and understanding of contemporary issues, especially the complexities that define the Nigeria project.
Right from the days of Senator David Mark’s presidency, Abaribe had carried on as a true representative of the yearnings of the geopolitical zone. When the Ninth NASS convenes, he would partner Nnamani as the front row champions from Southeast.Without prejudice to other senators, therefore, how far those nagging issues concerning the Southeast get ventilated and receive national attention would depend on the interventions and political sophistry of the two men, assisted by the two amazons from Anambra State.