… Protocol team said to pilfer millions daily from support groups visiting to praise the governor
By Okechukwu Obikwelu
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State appears to find his back against the wall in his now desperate effort to save his political life. He is not only fighting to ensure that his hand-picked candidate, Barr. Peter Mbah, wins election as Governor of Enugu State under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but is fighting become the Senator to represent Enugu North in the 2023 general elections in Nigeria.
The battle, unlike any since the return of Nigeria to democracy in 1999, looks to be fierce, as realignments in the political architecture in the state are making things a lot more difficult for Ugwuanyi than anticipated. With Chijioke Edeoga increasingly riding the waves of the Peter Obi momentum, the chances of both Mbah and even the governor dim each passing second.
But the Governor, a political chess grandmaster, has been working night and day to create a pathway for victory for himself and his party. He has always had one weapon – money – and this, he has ostensibly put to good use.
Since the end of his party’s primary elections offered him the senatorial ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party on a platter, and Mbah, the governorship candidate, Ugwuanyi has resumed his political money distribution strategy in the state. Having weaponised poverty in Enugu state, he knows that once he makes funds available to be shared with the poor folks in the state, votes would naturally pour in for him.
To create a smokescreen of being popular among the people, Governor Ugwuanyi courts support groups to visit him at the Government House to express their solidarity. This, he did during the 2019 elections and he has resumed that same political trickery again. So far, groups such as cashew sellers’ union, masters of ceremonies association, barbers’ union, Keke drivers’ unions, wood sellers, among scores of such odd groups, have visited him and many are still being invited to visit.
Each group that visits receives between N5 million to N10 million from the “nrashi” political exponent. In the local parlance, “nrashi” is the dubious ideology of sharing government funds for political gains. This, this writer has discovered from extensive investigations, has become a major racket among close aides of Governor Ugwuanyi. Available information avers that aides of the governor now act as “consultants” for these desperate political pilgrims for a very decent fee.
What is happening is that each person who is able to mobilise any group for a visit reaches out to these aides, who then convince the governor of their strengths, or the stalwart leading them, as well as the political efficacy of the group in turning in votes for the governor in 2023. Once this is done, the aides, who work mainly in the protocol unit of the governor’s team, would strike a deal that will have them take a portion of the “nrashi” amount the governor would give the visitors.
Findings indicate that many groups the Governor gave N5 million actually took home a net sum of N3 million, while the group, took away N2 million from the goody bag containing the gift. Those who belong to the elite class that was given N10 million, on their part, would receive N6 million or N7 million, in the end, depending on their negotiating power. Agreements are reached in advance with these middlemen, and because they are usually the ones who go in to “organise” the cash, they remove their pre-agreed share before the money is handed over to the “beneficiaries.”
It is a very discreet operation. Nobody complains or even dares to report, because agreements are reached well in advance. Any group that disagrees with this sharing formula are locked out of the gates and would not be granted access to the government house for the money-for-praises scheme.
Our informant also revealed that these “consultants” in the government house have also recruited their agents in all parts of the state. The duty of these agents is to scout for groups who would want to visit, strike the deal with them and pass the information to the protocol officials, one of whom is a cousin to the governor, whose younger brother is a local government chairman in Enugu North senatorial zone.
There is huge money being made by these people. If, for example, there are 10 visiting groups to the Governor in a day and the sum of N5 million is given to each of them, it means the men behind this racket would pocket a princely sum of N20 million, at the rate of N2 million off the amount given to each of the 10 visitors.
It is not clear if Governor Ugwuanyi is aware of this racket. What we heard was that it will be difficult for any of the visiting groups to report the racketeering being carried out by the protocol officers, because it is always pre-agreed. Secondly, the money is seen as free money, and since most of the visitors are said to be determined to vote for the Labour Party during the elections, there is no point in reporting the scheme.
Okechukwu Obikwelu, a freelance writer, lives in Trans Ekulu, Enugu