Perhaps, it will not be easy to write about the politics of Nigeria, South East Geo-Political Zone or indeed Enugu State without bringing in the Ike Ekweremadu factor or influence. That may mean being unfair to history or unkind to the politician.
Also, it may not be right to write about the political growth of Senator Ekweremadu without bringing in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the famous or infamous Ebeano Political Structure, said to have been created by former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani, apparently for the purpose of recruiting “new breed” politicians in Enugu, the Coal City State. No doubt the PDP and the Ebeano (the place to be) was the ladder on which Ekweremadu and majority of other politicians of note in the state climbed to limelight.
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Born in 1962 at Amachara Mpu in Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State, Senator Ekweremadu trained as a lawyer and was at a time a lecturer at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Enugu Campus. Armed with both bachelor’s and masters’ degrees in law from UNN, Ekweremadu was called to the bar in 1987. Besides, he has a PhD in law from the University of Abuja (Uniabuja).
As providence would have it, Ekweremadu has, on the platform of the PDP, represented Enugu West in the Nigerian upper chamber of the National Assembly since 2003. He has enjoyed re-election by his constituents in four consecutive terms: 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. Ekweremadu replaced Senator Ibrahim Mantu as Deputy President of the Senate in 2007; an office he occupied for eight years.
As a grassroots politician, Ekweremadu was one of those who did mass mobilisation of the electorate while piloting the PDP campaign train of Dr Chimaroke Nnamani way back in 1998 and 1999. When Nnamani was elected governor, he appointed Ekweremadu his Chief of Staff (CoS). He served in the office till 2002 when he was appointed the Secretary to the Enugu State Government (SSG).
In the April 29, 2007, elections, Ekweremadu was re-elected senator with a positive difference; he was elected and also elevated to the office of Deputy President of the Senate under the senate presidency of David Mark.
Describing how immense Ekweremadu’s influence had become at this stage, author Sheddy Ozoene, in his book titled: “Clash of Interests: Godfathers and the Contest For Political Power in Enugu State”, wrote: “From the position (DSP), he became so powerful as to personally influence appointments into committee chairmanship positions allocated to the South East zone in both chambers of the National Assembly. It was a dream come true, even for his godfather who had stood by him all through the battle and who had also found himself in the red chamber of the National Assembly.”
Ekweremadu, in September, 2009, was appointed to lead the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ad hoc committee to work for the return of constitutional order in Niger Republic, and in 2011 he was elected first Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament. Thereafter, in the same year, Ekweremadu was elected Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament.
Although the right to contest for the office of Enugu State Governor is a natural and constitutional one for every bona fide indigene of the state, and Ekweremadu is one such indigene, many still wonder why a man who, people believe, has seen it all in the power play both at home and beyond the shores of Nigeria, would “come down so low” as to aspire to govern his Enugu State rather than playing “the kingmaker role.”
However, Ekweremadu, others claim, is being driven by patriotism, altruism and the desire to contribute more to the socio-political and economic growth of his home state.
Since Ekweremadu declared interest in the race for the Enugu Government House in 2023, people say the political atmosphere has witnessed more tension and confusion, equating his emergence literally to the appearance of a big masquerade in the village arena that sets natives and small masquerades on their toes!
But Ekweremadu said that those waving the banner of zoning in the state were being far from the truth – in fact, being economical with the truth.
He has since described the current raging debate on zoning arrangement in the state as “travesty of politics”, maintaining that it was being used by politicians in the state to garner sympathy to, in the long run, impose an unpopular aspirant on the masses.
Ekweremadu emphasised that there was no discussion anywhere in the state about zoning, stressing that he was not a product of zoning.
He argued that Chimaroke Nnamani, Sullivan Chime and the incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi were not products of zoning, pointing out that it would be treachery of politics for anybody to talk about zoning now that he came out with the intention to lead the people of the state.
He has vowed that, if elected governor, he would not interfere with the funds of local governments, insisting that he would institute a three-tier system that would be functional and effective.
He said the testimonies of his service in the senate and the impact he had made in Enugu West showed that he had done well, emphasising that it was time to replicate the same in all parts of the state.
He, however, expressed belief in balancing the call for zoning and equity with capacity and content to move Enugu State ahead.
What critics say
An Enugu-based artist and printer, Mr Edward Nwachukwu, said he would like Ekweremadu to jettison his governorship ambition and simply make himself a statesman who would be a rallying point for young politicians in the state.
Nwachukwu said, “Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s ambition of becoming the next Governor of Enugu State is not a very welcome idea. As a ‘political lord’, so I may put it, he has reached the pinnacle of anybody’s political ambition, having served as the deputy senate president, President of ECOWAS Parliament, CoS, SSG, Chairman of Aninri LGA, etc.”
Another resident of Enugu State, though an indigene of Ebonyi State, Mr Nwokpo Okorie, said, “We are watching the situation as it unfolds. Ekweremadu has been in the Nigerian senate for 20 years and now wants to become governor of his state. He has the money. He has the contacts. He has the network and education. He has given many people scholarship in the three senatorial zones of the state. He has built projects in the three senatorial zones. But will the powers that be give him the governorship ticket? That is the question?”
A business woman from Awgu, who preferred anonymity, said Senator Ekweremadu’s aspiration to become Enugu State Governor next year was not an easy ambition.
She said, “You will notice that a good number of the members of the state House of Assembly are against his aspiration. But when you consider very well the Ekweremadu argument, you will notice that it seems as if he is saying the truth; he is saying that the fact that the three zones have produced governors for the state doesn’t necessarily mean that the next governor will come from Enugu East. He said that Awgu cultural zone has not produced a governor; and it’s a good point.”
Commenting on the development, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), said “legally speaking” there was no hindrance to the aspiration of Senator Ekweremadu to become the Governor of Enugu State.
According to the President of the Enugu-based CRAAN, Olu Omotayo Esq, the Nigerian Constitution in Section 177 provides qualification for election into the office of the governor of a state, adding that, “I submit that once he satisfies the four requirements in Section 177(a) to (d), he is good to go.”
Omotayo who spoke with Daily Trust in Enugu further said, ‘’The conditions listed are (a) must be a citizen of Nigeria (b), has attained age of 35 (c), has a membership of political party and is sponsored by that party (4), has been educated to at least school certificate level. I submit that since he satisfies the four requirements under Section 177 of the constitution, nothing stops him from contesting for office of the Governor of Enugu State.”
The CRAAN president further said the fact that Ekweremadu held some high ranking offices in the past did not constitute an impediment, but could be seen as an added advantage.
“I further submit that Section 182 of the constitution provides an exhaustive list of conditions that may disqualify a candidate. Some of the conditions which are up to 14 are that the person has acquired citizenship of another nation, adjudged bankrupt, presents a forged certificate to INEC, adjudged to be a lunatic or of unsound mind, etc,” he said.
Daily Trust further reports that from all the nooks and crannies of the Enugu political space, attacks have trailed Ekweremadu’s declaration.
Perhaps, the first to haul the first stone on the senator is a former National Auditor of the PDP, Barrister Ray Nnaji, who threatened to drag the PDP to court should it fail to maintain the current rotation and allow Ekweremadu or others from outside Enugu East to pick the party’s governorship ticket.
Briefing newsmen in Enugu, Nnaji, who expressed concern over the silence of the party leadership on the rotation of the governorship position, insisted that by convention and practice, the seat should be zoned to Enugu East.