In the strictest sense, the March 18, 2023 election is the first real election in Enugu State since the current democratic dispensation. For the first time in recent memory, Ndi Enugu are witnessing a hotly contested election with serious campaign efforts to woo the electorate.
We have been inundated with memorable jingles and persuasive radio commentaries. We have been nonplussed by flaring emotions and dramatic outbursts, even in the churches.
We have watched our illustrious brothers and sisters wage a war of rhetoric, ego and brinkmanship on social media and WhatsApp groups. All these fascinate us because that is democracy at work. Drama is the high point of democracy. And we pray they keep it that way; a raging war without a drop of blood.
Our brothers, Frank Nweke Jnr of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Peter Mbah of the Peoples Democratic Party and Chijioke Edeoga of the Labour Party are, in my view, the top three candidates. They all mean well for Enugu. I know Frank and Peter closely. But that is where it ends. In this contest, we shall hold all the candidates equally accountable for whatever happens to Enugu. And whoever emerges the winner among them shall be reminded that there are consequences for failure and betrayal of the hopes and dreams of Ndi Enugu.
Predictably, our three frontline candidates have good intentions for Enugu. Their manifestoes bristle with ideas of what they would do to turn Enugu to an Eldorado, if we give them our votes on Saturday. Nweke summed up his mission to Enugu’s Lion Building as “building a stable and prosperous state where every citizen is economically empowered, has access to potable water, excellent healthcare and qualitative education; a place where every life is secure and treated with respect and dignity.”
Mbah’s vision is “to make Enugu one of the top three states in Nigeria in terms of Gross Domestic Product, and achieve a zero per cent rate in the poverty headcount index.” Edeoga’s mission is “to aggregate our people’s hopes, expectations and aspirations, transforming them into measurable social and economic deliverables that impact the individual, the family, the community and the state.”
They all have seemingly excellent programmes that could lead to the realisation of their missions, but that is not the thrust of this intervention. My dog in this fight is the future of Enugu.
In my view, there are five key criteria with which we can assess these aspiring leaders. These are competence, capacity, character, courage and compassion. It is fair to assume that after months of intense campaigning, manifesto-flaunting and grassroots networking, Ndi Enugu should be familiar enough with these three gentlemen to rate them on these five parameters.
They can tell who among them has a track record that ticks all the boxes perfectly. Which of the three is competent and has the capacity to transform Enugu? Which has the strength of character, the courage and compassion to be an effective leader? These are the questions Ndi Enugu must answer with their votes on March 18.
From my assessment, in terms of competence and capacity, Chijioke falls behind Frank and Peter. But sometimes, it takes more than competence and capacity to win elections. Many times, fate has a hand in the affairs of men. Cast adrift by the clandestine politics of the PDP, he obviously struck gold when he picked up the LP ticket. Now, he just might ride the wave of the Obidient Movement all the way to Government House.
Frank, on the other hand, has significant experience and track record as a federal minister across four ministries – Intergovernmental Affairs and Special Duties; Youth Development; Information and National Orientation; as well as Information and Communication. In the private and civic sectors, he was the Director General and Chief Executive Officers of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group and an investor with diverse interests in technology, petrochemicals, fintech, media, real estate, construction and trading.
Peter is a very successful entrepreneur, having founded Pinnacle Oil and Gas, perhaps the leading downstream oil marketing company in Nigeria, shortly after leaving the service of Enugu government as Commissioner for Finance, and is well schooled, having garnered multiple law degrees including an MBA.
However, there are immediate fears the candidates and their parties must allay. First, reports that some candidates are recruiting thugs and stockpiling arms to foment trouble in the coming polls are dangerous and bound to affect the outcome of the elections.
These will dampen voters’ enthusiasm and inevitably lead to results that will not reflect the electoral choices of the people. Since democracy is the enthronement of the preference of the majority, our candidates must do whatever they can to douse this reigning fear and increase our collective sense of safety in the coming elections.
Second, the growing interest of our people in participating in the electoral process to choose their preferred candidates must not be stifled by personal ambition. For the first time since the advent of the Fourth Republic, Enugu recorded a surge in voter registration to bring the total number of registered voters in the state to 2,112,793. Interestingly, out of this figure, only 468,891 (22 per cent) voted in the last presidential election. Obviously, if nothing is quickly done to shore up a sense of public safety, the coming elections will witness even poorer turnout of voters in the state.
Indeed, anyone who truly wants the progress of Enugu should be happy that after 24 years of ruling the state, PDP is finally being challenged for the first time. Accountability is the defining character of democracy. Ndi Enugu are finally asking questions about PDP. As the ruling party in the state, PDP has never had to break sweat over elections.
The total lack of opposition had given the party an entitlement mentality and a false sense of safety. Successive PDP governors had erroneously mistaken the peaceful nature of Ndi Enugu for docility or spinelessness, or both.
Not only have they been short on dreams, they have not also been long on empathy. Enugu has not experienced any great physical changes in the past 24 years. There are no monuments, no legacies and no landmark infrastructure for PDP to point at. It is as though time had stood still.
For a state that had inherited infinite advantages from being a colonial headquarters and a regional capital, opaque vision, rudderless leadership and a pitiful lack of ambition have hamstrung Enugu. It is hoped that the current ferment of opposition will change this obvious indolence in the leadership cadre and usher in a new crop of leaders, who are hungry to make history.
Indeed, it is hoped that this landmark season in our political evolution will instil in our leaders the desire to rise above the seeming bug of averageness; to dream big and touch the future. We all want a new Enugu; a modern city with first-class infrastructure, a city where something as basic as water can be taken for granted as in all other cities.
We want a state with access roads connecting the rural areas and a clear vision for rural development that will lend roots to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We want a state that will finally shrug off the cloak of poverty and the stigma of being rated among Nigeria’s poorest states. Whoever takes Enugu must have the courage to commit to a new vision, a new era, and a new type of politics.
Finally, we, the indigenes of Enugu and notable members of the civil society are monitoring every development in these elections with keen interest. There are no behind-the-scenes operations in Enugu’s political circle that go unnoticed. We are fully committed to making the basic sacrifice in safeguarding our newly found democracy. To that end, we should all troop out in great numbers to cast our votes for the candidate that meets our leadership criteria of competence, capacity, character, courage and compassion. As for me and my household, of the five leadership traits to look out for, character is the greatest.
*Chioke, Prince of Obioma Kingdom in Udi Local Government Area, is an indigene of Enugu State
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