By Fidelis Oguama
The spate of speculations over the political future of immediate past governor of Enugu state, Sullivan Iheanacho Chime, came to an end last Saturday when he registered for the ruling All Progressives Congress. At the Udi/Agbudu ward office of the party in Enugu state, he was issued the party’s membership card number 00669001, ending his association with the state’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party on which platform he rose to become the state governor. Later that evening, in front of party faithful ferried from far and near, including nearby states of Benue, Anambra and Ebonyi, to witness the defection of the state’s former helmsman, he declared that his mission in the APC was to return Enugu to the mainstream of national politics.
For the APC, Chime was obviously a big catch. For the party that already has the likes of Chief Jim Nwobodo, former Senate President Ken Nnamani and former Speaker of the State Assembly, Eugene Odoh in the bag, the battle for take-over of the eastern heartland has started in earnest. However, the event has raised an uncommon uproar in Enugu state, and particularly among Chime’s kinsmen in Udi Local Government Area who claimed that his action was indeed, a betrayal.
Chime’s defection had stirred both anger and indignation from his Udi kinsmen. The reaction was spontaneous: the following morning, they had massed up in their thousands from all the 22 communities and headed to the state’s seat of power in Enugu to voice their reservations. The group which included the member representing Udi/Ezeagu Federal constituency in the National Assembly, Dennis Amadi, former Minister Fidelia Njeze, the LG Chairman Hyacinth Ngwu, top serving and former office holders and traditional rulers came under the aegis of Udi Consultative Forum. The Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, later arrived to show solidarity with Udi people, numbering over seven thousand. They did not mind waiting for all of six hours before Governor Ugwuanyi who was hosting the South East Governors’ Forum emerged around 4pm to receive them.
In his speech at the occasion, their leader, Chief Eric Chime -– a businessman —said the former governor betrayed the Udi people and the state in general “by abandoning the political platform through which we all supported him to become governor of Enugu state”. He said Chime has said many incredible things, not only against the PDP on whose back he rode to prominence, but also against the present administration he helped install. While he recognized that he had the right to choose whom to associate with, politically, the UCF chairman was dismayed that Sullivan Chime chose the All Progressives Congress, the party through which untold hardship has been visited on the generality of Nigerians. According to the UCF Chieftain who claimed that Sullivan Chime was blinded by personal political ambition, “what every right thinking Udi man expected from him is for him to reciprocate the good gesture of support that all sections of the state gave him while he was governor, and especially since the entire state harkened to his choice of Ugwuanyi as a worthy successor”. While he thanked the governor for the continued upgrade of the popular 9th Mile Corner, one of the largest industrial hubs in the South East, which used to be the metaphor for neglect of Udi LGA during Chime’s tenure, he made it clear that “Sullivan Chime is totally on his own and we are not with him on this journey to nowhere”. He ended his speech by saying the defection which attracted a hired crowd, would not change the political landscape of Udi and Enugu state.
The state’s deputy governor, Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo who is Udi by birth and whom many associated with Chime, was particularly excited about the solidarity visit of Udi people to Ugwuanyi. While addressing the crowd on the grounds of Enugu Government House, she stood with her kinsmen. She reiterated her loyalty and commitment to Governor Ugwuanyi whom she said, has shown Udi people uncommon love and promised them all those amenities they could not enjoy even under their own son. “Today, Udi people are speaking with one voice to say that we will not waver nor relent in our support for Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the PDP. You have made me proud as your daughter, and from what we see, APC cannot use Udi to launch a challenge in Enugu state”. Her speech had followed the hilarious reference to Chime as a lone-flying grasshopper, made by one-time Rector of the IMT Enugu, now Igwe of Abor, Chief Callistus Njeze. According to Njeze, “Udi people are known to move like locusts and when you seen a man on a lone flight like Sullivan is, he must be a grasshopper”. It drew hilarious laughter.
Like in many states where sitting governors quarrel with their predecessor over money, government’s policy direction and allocation of political offices, it has been a different story in Enugu. None of these was the bone of contention between Chime and his successor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; yet for some inexplicable reasons the former governor had started the drift, making some uncomplimentary remarks about Ugwuanyi, before finally announcing his departure from PDP. The statement that he wants to take Enugu state to the mainstream of national politics, is taken with a pinch of salt, coming from a man who as a sitting governor, never made any impact even in the South East sub-region.
Many suspect that the ex-governor’s ongoing corruption case with the EFCC is his reason for quitting the nation’s opposition party, while speculations linger that he may actually be looking for a platform to square up again with Ekweremadu for the Enugu West Senatorial seat.
As far as Deputy Senate President is concerned, if Chime’s departure is for mere political expediency, then he has not learnt from history. Ekweremadu said Chime who became governor fortuitously, has not matured politically. “If he was experienced and had a sense of history, he would have understood that his predecessors like Chief Jim Nwobodo and Chimaroke Nnamani who split with their successors and went on such political journeys against the people’s will, never recovered from such misadventures”. While declaring that Chime’s departure is a blessing in disguise, he declared as “a big flop” the event of the previous day which was witnessed by only one APC governor, Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto. He assured that the entire state was committed to a seamless second tenure for Governor Ugwuanyi.
Ugwuanyi, who was visibly elated by the outpouring of support for him thanked the people of Udi for showing such unusual solidarity. He assured them that the lingering crisis in the PDP will be resolved and that whatever became of the issue, he would return to them for advice.