Rebounding Ebeano Political Machine

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Ugwuanyi
Ugwuanyi

Ex-Gov Nnamani out, Gov Ugwuanyi takes the driving seat.

By Ozo Udenegbarajinobi

Senator Chimaroke Nnamani made that first call.

It was a cold Monday last September.

It was never expected, at least from the other end; like out from the blues.

On the other end were former Governor, Sullivan Chime, his erstwhile classmate and bosom friend who succeeded hi into the Governor’s stool in the Enugu State Government House, in 2007.

That call was the first since both charted their different courses on May 29, 2007. But it appeared Nnamani was determined to bring in the old players of the Ebeano Political family. The next day, a Tuesday, Chime visited him in Agbani, his country home. The photographs of this visit on social media baffled many.

But Nnamani was really determined. He had made similar calls to Senator Ike Ekweremadu and other players, many of whom were foundation members of the Ebeano way back between 1996 and 1999.

He was then said to have put a call across to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, boss of the State Government, and boss of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Enugu State. The governor was said to be instant in giving his nod for actions outlined, to be taken.

Nnamani called in his usually reliable aides: organizational strikers and event management buffs. In just three days, it erupted in grand solidarity visit the like of which was never seen in Enugu State in the last 13 years.

“Enugu is Ebeano and Ebeano is Enugu” yelled one exuberant member running up to the giant gate of the massive foreground of the Government House, Enugu. Then, the birds of the air had suddenly fluttered away from the trees, the environment shaken and despite the slight drizzle, the atmosphere becomes one of frenzy. They were volleys of ovation coming from the Lion Building – home and office complex of the Governor of Enugu State. It was massive, and almost entirely shut off the atmosphere as they rose further into repetitive cymbals, raising further, and intensifying in the decibels.

They were like the ovations of old, in the old Roman auditorium; only that this was one larger, more thunderous, more deafening, and arresting. And certainly, not tales mine honest historians.

Of course, there have always been events in the Government Palace as other such palaces in Nigeria. But this was different. For any person not privileged to be inside, there were sufficient reasons to guess that some unusual number of people had gathered, and were jubilant over some issues soon unraveling in the confines of the former seat of Government of Eastern Nigeria. The roads had been sealed, from the New Haven intersection with the Independence Avenue leading to the Government House. The same was the case at the Upper Presidential Road, Ibusa Avenue, Agric Bank Junction, and other minor entry points, even though Okpara Square. More and more, particularly from the rural areas, kept arriving, pouring in, and riding in rickety or gleaming buses. Some had to do a two-kilometer walk to get to the venue of the function.

The masquerade had unveiled, heralding bigger, almost endless ovation causing those still on their way to quicken their steps, some broke into short runs, to gain access into the complex.

So, what could be unveiled with such deafening hooting, hollering, clapping and dancing by such tumultuous number that shook the residents of the otherwise sedate and serene upper-class quarters as the Independence Layout to curious awakening?

It was the peak of the solidarity visit of the Ebeano Political organization to Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the governor of Enugu State. It also turned out to be, surprisingly, a transfer of the mantle of leadership of the Ebeano Political Machine from Senator (former governor) Chimaroke Nnamani to the present lead occupant of the Lion Building.

The unleashing of the Ebeano event, especially in the high volume it came, couldn’t have been a surprise to consistent watchers of the political organization.  The Ebeano Political Machinery hardly needs an introduction in Nigeria’s political discourses. Its history is though relatively young. Yet, it is certainly one of the earliest that emerged in reaction or preparation for the 1999 transition. It was in the gloomy, damp cold days in 1996, during the political transition gyrations and detours of the military. A time only those imbued with turns of faith ever believed that the Army actually wanted to hand over power to the civilians.

It was that time a high degree of courage was required to form the nucleus of a power-seeking group, build it into an uncanny capacity for details, minutely organization, and a measure of precision which soon snowballed into a quasi-political culture. These were from a motley of largely minor – many illiterate – patient grassroots political organisers, who were attracted to the promises of then American returnee, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani. He was campaigning for the office of governor Enugu State.

They were really itinerant, and at each spot they arrived, they were distinct simply from their campaign call name and sign, Ebeano. It soon evolved into a slogan, which was followed by the creative rendition of common locality songs with the term of equal joiners, equal partakers as the simple denominator.

This humble beginning was such that the then elite class of Enugu treated it with derision, consigning it to a mere gathering of sons-of-nobody. It was a costly mistake. They never reckoned with the capacity of the founder, Governor Nnamani, to expand so much and seize in the common terrains of the elite. They did seize, indeed unsat some staid elites, set to create new elites, and more importantly, unraveled and refined the lower class as the real people whose collective votes decide the leadership in a democracy. A daring upset, you would say. This writer may even agree with you.

But of course, it was a battle for Governor Nnamani. Enugu was home to star-studded bureaucratic, diplomatic and political heavyweights, who had previously enjoyed uninterrupted political patronage from one government after the other. Those rightly super-rated old justices of Courts, Judges of High Courts, former governors, former military administrators, former federal permanent secretaries, wealthy and influential traditional rulers, etc, had in the past, dictated who was appointed to which office. It was a set of old privileged men who were only accustomed to being asked to make nominations for appointments into political offices.

“No! It has to stop”, Nnamani was said to have yelled.

“Why”, was the question shot at him, by the men that mattered (then).

“Democracy doesn’t work that way”, he may have retorted; and he was told, “let us see how far you can go.”

Wait for it. The avalanche broke.

For the all-important office of the Chief of Staff to the Governor, he chose – guess who – Ike Ekweremadu, a 1986/87 graduate of the University of Nigeria, UNN, not London, not Oxford. Nsukka.  He was a down-town legal practitioner.  For the office the Legal Adviser (in Government House), he picked Mr. Sullivan Chime, his classmate in the College of Immaculate Conception, CIC, Enugu. His uncle, Onyemauche Nnamani took the previously the privileged-career-civil-servant office of the Secretary to the Government of Enugu State. The present governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, from his own obscurity in his native Udenu Local Government locality barreled into the House of Representatives, just as many others. One way or other, and out of a formerly neglected obscure group, each of the persons who have been through or still serving in the National Assembly, the State Assembly, and the executive arms of the State and local governments, without exception, from 1999 to the present date, were all joiners or recruited, developed, built and moved to higher callings in political participation and government through the Ebeano Political organization.

You can guess there was no love lost between the emergent, upstart, group, and the old elites. Of course, the old elites fought back and there was war. This war was so intense and high in propaganda that every imaginable allegation was developed, spruced up, and leveled against the government of the undaunted Nnamani. The elites knew or felt certain there were days of reckoning ahead. One was the 2003 general elections.

But they never knew, the Ebeano machinery was just evolving and would crystalise with brutal credulity. They won the elections, totally and without a hint of political opposition. It looked strange, and common guesses caused fingers to be pointed at rigging.

But here was what Ebeano did, which they did not know.

Nnamani always maintained that democracy was all about people – the common people. In effect, the Ebeano concentrated on the building of people-structures down to the lowest class and clusters across the State. It first broke the entire State into 54 Development Centres, roughly coming into three from each of the 17 Local Government Areas. To effect the conduct of elections into the headship and running of these Centres, a State Electoral Commission, ENSIEC was created, which in turn created ENSIEC many electoral Wards in each Development Centre.

The following mathematical buildup was the unchallengeable assemblage soon deployed. The Ebeano erected a 17-man/woman executive committee in each of the ENSIEC Wards, the Development Centres, the Local Government Areas, and the State for men, women and youths. In effect, one ENSIEC Ward had functional a 17-Member-Executive for each of Men, Women, Youths (ENDA and YDA), Babes (for girls) groups, etc. So, in each ENSIEC Ward, there were 102 political party officeholders driving the Ebeano principles and practice at all times. In campaigns, it was total mobilization as every section of the voting population was taken, sealed, and put to use of the machinery. No political party ever had such a detailed organization closely resembling the communist maximum encircling.

The elites were baffled.

It was then not surprising that a tumultuous crowd as the one assembled in Government House resulted from a mobilization exercise of just a few days. This operation was said to be led by the soft spoken, quite effective and experienced Dan Shere, a medical doctor, whose own pedigree runs like a telephone directory. He was Local Government Chairman, Commissioner for Sports, commissioner for Finance, Secretary to Government of Enugu State, Pro-Chancellor of University of Port Harcourt, and above all, the quiet “diplomat/negotiator” who handled the ever tempestuous relationships with the angered elements of the inconsolable old political order – that type of grumbling ancien regime dubbed the nagging nabobs by the cerebral Ukpabi Asika.

As revealed, it took only three days of hard and ear-splitting ten-hour a day mobile phone efforts, to marshal the entire Ebeano across the State, from far north Igbo Eze North to far south Nachi in Udi; from far west Uzo Uwani to far east Nkanu East. It was like the opening of an old, carefully sealed, and sprucely maintained groove of trained actors. The old cells came to instant activation as the mobilization expanded from Local Government leadership cells to Development Centres, from where it poured down the INEC and ENSIEC wards. Soon, vehicles were no longer enough, or in some cases, available to convey members to the Government House.

So, coming a long way, having waffled and waddled in obscurity, forming as the cradle of cohesion, turning to local political organization and barreling into the power arena, the eventual glory and dominance of the Ebeano were in 2007, when it caused Sullivan Chime to be so effortlessly elected the immediate successor of Governor Nnamani.

Yes, it was a peak they reached. What followed from this point may not be entirely a matter of conjecture, but what was evident to the outsiders as this writer was that there was a pause. Some silence.

The un-pausing of this silence, which some consider as an interregnum, has become the rebound of Ebeano in the election of Governor Ugwuanyi – core Ebeano man, firmed in political family culture and of immense humility – he will pay whatever it takes to continue to have a peaceful Enugu State.

As the various old songs of Ebeano erupted thunderously and shook the air once again, in Government House, it was obvious that some old political drummers had met some old political dancers in the tunes known and enjoyed by both sides; an era came consolidating.

This era was likely emerging from long deliberations, cool calculations and designs to achieve a shift in operations without causing disruptive developments. Though not directly, both former Governor Nnamani and Governor Ugwuanyi, respectively taking their turns on the podium, struggled to say it diplomatically.

Emerging from what had looked like organizational hibernation, it was time for Ebeano to take some hard decisions. Whereas Nnamani was seen as the hawk who achieved his results irrespective of oppositions, which in turn led to assumptions on why he was unstoppable; Governor Ugwuanyi, on the other hand, is by nature, a conciliatory personality who wins people over, not with the competition but by persistent appeal to the natural, mutual core interests. Many political neophytes see this as a weakness. It is only when they come close or cross the line that they smell the hidden hard stuff.

Shere who addressed the huge gathering before the two big men, came close to saying this. “we owe every bit of our revival to Governor Ugwuanyi, who prefers to work silently, ever trying to appease, to be friendly, to win over; but never have his eyes taken off the rolling ball.”He appeared to suggest that the Governor was the right person at the moment to shepherd a rebirth or resurgence because his style would carry along more than Ebeano had carried. This, he reasoned, was more so because whereas the temperament of the founder, Nnamani, demanded some unrelenting pressure on co-builders, some of whom collapsed from this pressure, the situation at moment called for cruising. And there couldn’t have been any better cruise driver, they must have estimated, than the sedate Ugwuanyi.

In his speech at the solidarity visit, he was at it the usual conciliatory way. “there may have been reasons for some elements of Ebeano to feel estranged, deserted or frustrated or to have been ambivalent. There may have been anger and attempts at abandoning ship, but it is now time to heal, to return, to work together, and move together for the interest of the State.”

He acknowledged that former Boss of Ebeano, Nnamani, expended a great deal of energy in building the political organisation, and that while at work, he never discriminated against anybody. “Rather, he made it a core union of all comers, equal joiners, without regard to class or pedigree.” The gathering erupted in further cheers and joy, when the governor stated that he was, therefore, not going to alter the established culture but to deepen it to the gains of all joiners. He was going to pay attention to getting even non-core persons and outsiders to be part as equal partakers.  

Before handing over the mantle of leadership of the now behemoth political machinery to the Governor, Nnamani declared: “Every organization desirous of growth and development must recognize the need to inject new ideas into the leadership structure. Such new ideas will generate the right kind of energy to face the challenges of the future. And the future is what matters most to any institution, be it business or politics which must be perpetuated

According to him, “every social organization must loosen up to be driven by the currents which determine newer temperaments, newer visions, newer ideas and systems encapsulated in growth and development in the modern era.”

It was therefore time to hand over, and he did. More cheers followed, and it was clear that the political climate of Enugu has taken a new turn – a turn for a turnaround.

It is now official: Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is now the Boss of the Ebeano Political Organisation.

 

Udenegbarajinobi is a veteran political writer who has been on the trail of Ebeano since 2001.

– Oct. 12, 2020 @ 13:15 GMT |

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