… The N30 billion 2023 election sinkhole*
By Edwin Maduako
It is no longer news that the Governor of Enugu State, His Excellency, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, in a desperate bid to win a seat in the 9th senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023, has dipped both hands in the treasury of Enugu State.
And each passing day, Governor Ugwuanyi throws his hands deeper into the common till of the people, at a time the state is hanging on weak threads of economic stagnation, unpaid pensions and salaries, as well as social inequality.
The bazaar began months before the PDP primaries. Facing an uphill opposition from former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu knew that only money would give him and his camp an edge. The former DSP was a formidable opponent, who felt he had the backing of the National Executive Committee of the PDP. But he did not reckon with the determination of Governor Ugwuanyi, who is known to believe in the philosophy that “money can buy anything”.
While Ekweremadu was waiting for the PDP hierarchy to prevail on the governor to hand him over the ticket, Ugwuanyi, with access to Enuhu State funds, moved into the leadership circles of the party and began to dispense favours.
It is rumoured that the National Chairman of the party, Dr Iyorchia Ayu was high on his list of beneficiaries. Ayu, it is rumoured, received a whopping N5 billion from the coffers of Enugu State to ensure he threw away the perceived loyalty of Senator Ekweremadu to the party in favour of Ugwuanyi’s candidate, Peter Mbah.
While this was going on, the governor was also said to have arrested the greed of other national executive members of the party with a sum said to be more than N2 billion. Even the party officials that came to supervise the primaries in Enugu were not also left behind, rewarded as they were, with another princely sum, said to be around N2 billion to share among themselves.
Ugwuanyi’s queer generosity has become legendary in many political circles in Nigeria. In a country where love for money is exponentially high and there is little due diligence on how much of public funds a person in a position of executive leadership can access and dispense, Governor Ugwuanyi became a bride sought after by many who had one political advantage to sell.
It became common knowledge that hangers on in and around the Aso Rock seat of power also constituted themselves into influence peddlers and convinced the Enugu Governor of their capabilities to influence the presidency into conceding certain opportunities in the APC chapter in the state. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were also made available to these people, many of whom did not even know anything about the management of the party.
Word around the Villa became, “You don collect your own?”, a reference to the endless streams of dollars from Enugu, directed to ensure at the time that Senator Ekweremadu was prevented from decamping from his PDP to the APC, where it was feared he might win the governorship ticket.
Not done there, the governor, who is also rumoured to have hijacked the APC leadership in Enugu State, was said to have doled out another N500 million to a stalwart of the party in the state, Chief Ugo Agbala, in a bid to stall Ekweremadu’s bd to join the APC. Recall that he employed the same method during the 2019 elections. It is widely believed that Barr. George Ogara was planted as the governorship candidate of the party in the state in that political cycle to prevent the popular candidate, Senator Ayogu Eze, from providing competition against Ugwuanyi.
The same Ogara is in the contest again, this time, as deputy governorship candidate to Uche Nnaji, the APC flagbearer. Hundreds of millions of naira were said to have also been invested in this project, all geared towards making sure the PDP had an easy passage to Enugu Government House in 2023. The Enugu Government treasury is apparently bottomless and it appears the governor is determined to empty it to fulfil his 2023 dreams.
The Fear of Labour Party
Ugwuanyi has also made strenuous efforts to topple the Labour Party structure in the state by using placeholders as candidates,. The desperation is presently at fever peak.
First, he planted Chief Everest Nnaji, popularly known as Odengene, to tussle for the ticket. At the time the Labour Party was battling to finalise its primaries, Odengene and his group were reported to have arrived Abuja with billions of naira to persuade the Labour Party leadership to jettison the candidacy of PDP-reject, Chijioke Edeoga. It was reported that it took the direct intervention of Presidential man-of-the-moment, Peter Obi to stop the effort in its tracks.
As it stands, the governor is alleged to still be investing billions to ensure that Edeoga, who is increasingly looking like the frontrunner in the elections in Enugu State, is frustrated. One of the steps said to have been taken by Ugwuanyi, is the deployment of one Ernest Ugwu to jostle for the senate seat of the Labour Party in Enugu North senatorial zone. Ugwuanyi is in the senate race and he is confronted by a veteran political fighter, Okey Ezea.
With the momentum of the Labour Party, triggered by the emergence of Peter Obi, as well as widespread disenchantment in Enugu North Senatorial Zone against Ugwuanyi, whom many accuse of being a failure, Okey Ezea looks like one who would topple Ugwuanyi’s Senate ambition. To make the contest easy, the governor has been said to have engineered Ernest Ugwu into initiating a court case against Okey Ezea, claiming he is the rightful senatorial candidate of the Labour Party. This is against the fact that Okey Ezea has already been given the Party certificate of return.
People in the state began to ask questions when Ernest, a young man of limited economic and political means, engaged the services of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to prosecute his case against the Labour Party. SAN services, especially for election-related cases, run into hundreds of millions of naira, a sum, those who know him, believe he could not afford.
As reward for his willingness to put his integrity on the slabs for him, Ugwuanyi was also said to have doled out N200 million to Ernest. This sum, it was said, went into the purchase of a Landcruiser SUV and a Hilux pickup mini truck.
Not sure that the Ernest Ugwu gambit would work, the Enugu governor has resorted to the jamboree that saw him turn the Enugu Government House into a political tourism centre. Daily, groups are invited or encouraged to throng the seat of government, chanting praises and worship songs, and in exchange, sums ranging from N5 million to N10 million are given away. This was the same scenario ahead of the 2019 elections during which more than N50 billion was allegedly spent on political crowd-sourcing.
However, the stakes are higher this time around. That is why the governor, who was giving out an average of N2,000,000 to each group of his praise singers in 2019, is now servicing these hangers-on with N5 million each or more, depending on how political value is rated.
To make sure that the rewards go round, the governor has also been hiring an endless stream of aides. As at date, there have been more than 2,000 such appointments; SPAs, SSAs. SAs, Tas, EAs and even commissioners. The minimum salary is N180,000 per month. All the Local Government Chairmen have also been mandated to appoint at least 1,000 SAs each at a salary of between N30,000 to N50,000 each month.
Those close to the governor estimate that the outflows from the coffers of Enugu State may be in the north of N30 billion. And it is still early days, yet. February 2023 is still about six months away, and the spending can naturally only get higher as the election draws closer. In a state where there is hardly any development project taking place in all the 17 Local Councils in state, it becomes a wonder where these monies being paid these appointees are coming from. Multiply 1000 appointees per local government by the 17 local governments in the state and you will have at least 17,000 appointees.
How desperate can a governor be? In a state where pensioners have not been paid for 8 years; in a state where local government workers have been on strike, in a state where schools have been shut following another strike by teachers, in a state where infrastructural development is stuttering, one wonders the nature of goodwill Ugwuanyi wants to take into the 2023 elections?
But then, it does appear that those who believe the governor thinks he can buy anything much the same way commodities are traded in the Orie Orba market in his home town are correct. And he believes that if it had worked for him in the past, it would work for him again.
Maduako, a political commentator, lives in Ugwuoba, Oji River LGA