Peter Mbah, the Peoples Democratic Governorship candidate for Enugu State in the 2023 elections is running a very tough campaign, faced as he is, with an unprecedented uphill in the likeness of the new kid on the Nigerian political block, Labour Party.
Even the very first electioneering campaign of this 4th republic, between 1998/1999 was not this challenging in Enugu. With an unfaded Jim Nwobodo on the anchorage, it was easy for nearly everybody in Enugu to take political refuge under the umbrella of the PDP, and even when the eight years of Dr Chimaroke Nnamani represented what might have, hitherto, been the very worst era for the state, a number of factors ensured opposition politics was never properly incubated beyond the presence of a few commercial-minded traders, who mostly were planted by the ruling party as reinforcements to their hegemonic interests.
The 2023 elections, however, are wearing the colours never seen on the Nigerian political rainbow, thanks to the emergence of Peter Obi as the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, the erstwhile nonstarter that has suddenly become the leading party to beat in nearly all the states of the federation that they have been able to plant frighteningly fast growing tree.
Those who celebrated their party tickets as if an election has been won are sweating, and Mbah appears to be one of many of them. The presence of Chijioke Edeoga with the labour represents one of the biggest headaches of the Enugu political establishment, and as efforts are being made to torpedo his advancing ship, the Mbah campaign is also working at pulling the rug from under his feet, especially in his main political base, Enugu North senatorial district.
During one of his rather too frequent stomps of the zone in November, the PDP candidate was reported to have promised to concentrate “most of the development efforts of his administration” in the zone, should the people give him their votes in February 2023.
For those that are not familiar with the fractured terrains of Enugu politics, the state is sharply divided along three zones of Enugu East, Enugu West and Enugu North. Going by the vanquished rotational order imposed on the people by the political establishment, Mbah and Edeoga are flying the flags of Enugu East zone in the elections, the same way as the APC candidate, Uche Nnaji.
Besides the jaded reputation of PDP in Enugu, and in most other parts of Nigeria, Peter Mbah’s governorship ambition has been profoundly imperilled by twin burdens of the soaring acceptance of the Labour Party across the country, and the historical toots his opponent in Labour Party has in Enugu North. This has been why the bulk of his campaign activities has been revolving around the zone. Enugu North produces approximately 52 percent of the entire votes in the state. Whoever loses this zone has already lost the election even before the final tally.
This explains why Mbah is toiling and labouring to sway the mostly decided voters, with appeals and promises that many believe, are as politically unrealistic as they are, if you like, transactional. Who would believe that a sincere governorship candidate would concentrate “Most” of his development efforts in a zone that is not his? Even if Enugu North is the most decadent, development-wise, in the state, what motivation would a governor who came to power to fly the flag of his senatorial district, would make him work intentionally to develop another zone at the expense of his own?
History serves as ready and reliable source to debunk this. Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, who is Peter Mbah’s political mentor, made no pretensions about where his development priorities were during his time as governor of the state. He was famous to have told those who criticised his lopsided concentration of projects in favour of his Nkanu area to “wait for their turn.” And he matched these words with action. He unilaterally violated the rule that made Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), a multi-campus institution by building the entire institution in his Agbani village. When it was time to construct the Southeast campus of the Nigerian Law School, he also, by executive fiat, took it to Agbani. The same Nkanu, this time Itukwu-Ozalla, through the influence of the former governor, is host to the permanent site of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH).
Early in the second term of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s administration, he made strong promises to return ESUT to its pre-Chimaroke multi-campus status, but it does seem that the overbearing presence of the former governor has forced an abandonment. The Enugu University of Medical Sciences, currently under construction at Igbo Eno, Orba (the governor’s hometown), was initially programmed to be the College of Medical Sciences of ESUT, but apparently, this displeased the god of Enugu politics. The University of Education in Awgu, whose foundation stone was laid back in 2018 by the governor (I have not heard of any significant progress on this for some time now), was also to have been the Faculty of Education, while the Faculty of Agriculture was to have been taken to Uzo Uwani. But who dares displease a god, like Chimaroke?
So, when Mbah talks about concentrating his development efforts in Nsukka (Enugu North), it evokes cynicism, with these recent historical facts in the minds of the people. Everybody knows that those promises were being made as vote-swaying tactics, rather than a sincere appreciation of the overriding development imperatives of the Enugu North zone. Like it or not, the convenient zoning of political offices in the state has widened the gulfs of mental divisions across the state, and it is most especially between Enugu East and Enugu North. Were Peter Mbah to be even sincere in his promise (and he is certainly not), his folks, whose ticket he is carrying, will not allow him do that.
Across the state, especially in the capital, the bullying has already started. People from Enugu North in the state civil service are daily being subjected to taunts and slurs of all sorts, counting down to the end of their “regime” in Government House.
“Shebi una brother go soon comot and we go enter. Una go see wetin go happen.”
These and similar or related statements are being freely exchanged in the various ministries in the state. People cannot wait for their brother to “enter” so that they’d have the privilege of visiting the brimstones of sectional advantage against those whose sins are being from the wrong zone. Imagining Peter Mbah concentrating development projects in any zone other than his, is therefore almost impossible, given the mental gullies that politics have been digging between the people.
From my remote observatory, I have been monitoring the Mbah campaign as it struggles to create messages that can at least appeal to the people. It is a very difficult campaign for him. The overshadowing spectre of Chimaroke and the inglorious Ebeano-era politics in Enugu have kept tripping him from behind. It is also widely held, across the state, that the current administration, has performance gaps that have the people quite agitated. These are factors that have been dogging the Mbah project, and it appears he is fully aware of them, and in his efforts to be seen to be different, Peter Mbah is being forced to make very unrealistic promises.
The truth is that Nigerian voters appear to have left most of the politicians behind. Most people in the political contest arena are oblivious to the deep reawakening of the average voter and have been deploying recycled political appeals of years gone by on a people whose knowledge has grown in such a short period. 12 years ago, or even 8 years ago, for instance, it would have been possible for people to flock around Mbah and his promise. But time has changed the people in a number of ways. People are demanding practically possible things of their leaders. Pies-in-the-sky kinds of promises will not scratch anything.
In Enugu, as in nearly all parts of Nigeria, people are booking seats in a plane that would fly them away from the past and into a different kind of future – a future of equity and equality, a future of accountability and probity, a future of human and humane leaders; a future devoid of demigod leaders inflicting them with Stockholm Syndrome and a future they can measure, feel a part of and significantly control.
I doubt if Mbah checks any of these boxes. Although he has been trying to keep a measured distance from his political godfathers, everyone knows it is because he is realizing that although they may have given him the party ticket, they are very unlikely to sway votes his way, especially in Enugu East and Enugu West zones. But no matter how far he pretends to be away from them, the people are aware of those, on whose promptings, the puppet is dancing.