By Amah Baldwin
From my Reporter’s Diary
Sullivan Iheanacho Chime emerged Governor of Enugu State amidst protests by fellow contestants.
The April 14, 2007 poll in Enugu State was greeted with protests and street demonstrations by supporters of some of the gubernatorial candidates who claimed that the election fell short of standard, and that the umpire, that is, the Independent National Electoral Commission’s conduct left much to be desired.
April 15, 2007 was Sunday. As electoral officers returned to Achi street Independence Layout headquarters of INEC to submit their results, political parties other than the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP made last minute arrangements to storm the commission’s secretariat.
It followed therefore, that by half past three that fateful afternoon, true to expectation, candidates of four political parties, accompanied by their supporters moved to Independence Layout, to among other things register their misgivings about the conduct of the governorship election and warn the commission not to announce any result which had to do with the said poll.
Chief Dubem Onyia, Action Congress candidate and former minister of State for Foreign Affairs fired the first salvo. Okey Ezea of the Labour Party gave his own reasons, followed by Ugochukwu Agballah of the Accord Party and former Works Commissioner in Enugu State. Fidel Ayogu, representing the All Nigerian Peoples Party, just back from the House of Representatives also disagreed with INEC.
As they poured out their anger in succession, journalists stationed at the commission’s headquarters had a field day. The police and other security agencies had promptly barricaded the buildings. The main entrance to the complex was firmly under lock and key. Mobile police men positioned themselves at strategic positions, their fore fingers dutifully placed on trigger and eyes covered with dark glasses.
The politicians were outside the gate. The journalists fired their questions from inside. Policemen were both inside and outside the premises.
In the course of the question and answer session, supporters of the aggrieved politicians came in droves. War cries came, but the politicians repeatedly announced that it was nothing other than a peaceful protest.
Shouts of, “we no go gree o, we no go gree” persisted, but the candidates continued to remind their supporters not to be violent.
The Iron Gate was touched as more supporters arrived, following which the police fired a few warning shots from behind. Apparently, the police feared the protesting youths were after the buildings.
As if in unison, the candidates, Onyia, Ayogu, Agballah and Ezea protested the shots, shouting in the process that nothing on earth could move them out of the gate until INEC Resident Commissioner, Dr. Abdu Bulama addressed them.
The shots triggered off spontaneous reaction from the droves of protesters. From nowhere, a police van, full of anti-crime police squad stormed the scene, and that signaled the commencement of new rounds of gun and tear gas shots, but into the air. Subsequent teargas shots were too heavy to be taken for granted. Protesters were dazed. Some of the politicians were choked.
Within seconds the entire atmosphere turned rowdy and cloudy, and of course, the politicians, the journalists and INEC officials took to their heels.
The arrow heads, particularly the governorship candidates who vowed to die were the first to take off. Perhaps, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s counsel that one should not argue with any person wielding a gun made sense to the aspiring, but disappointed gubers.
All streets within Independence Layout were littered with human beings, most of them suffocating from tear gas volleys that caught them unawares. When it seemed to the police and the soldiers drafted to INEC that the protesters might regroup to unleash mayhem on the secretariat to stop what one of them referred to as “cooking the result,” the armoured car stationed along Achi Street boomed. It was then that the protesters, and indeed passersby realised that the war machine was not stationed there for nothing. Only those who saw or read Biafra understood that “the handshake had gone beyond ankle.”
The pandemonium could better be imagined. Within seconds, no protester was in sight.
Among the demonstrators was former Governor Christian Onoh. Their protests led to the cancellation of the poll in four council areas of Ezeagu, Enugu South, Udi and Nsukka.
Expectedly the repeated election of April 21, 2007 failed to change the status quo, for Sullivan Chime maintained his lead according to the result released by INEC Resident Commissioner, Dr. Abdu Bulama.
The INEC confirmation was what Sullivan Chime needed to get cracking. First, he addressed the people of Enugu State. In that one page address at his private resident, in the heart of the city, the governor-elect thanked the people for their support. Chime promised to use his mandate for good.
Something happened. The surprising cautious trip of the outgoing governor left the governor-elect almost in-charge of post election scheming, and having made up his mind on the course he wanted to chart, Chime took advantage of the vacuum which no one filled effectively to arrange his house in order and according to his taste.
The announcement and subsequent inauguration of a broad based transition committee to usher in the administration in Enugu State gave rise to suspicion that a clean break with the past was to expected.
The governor-elect had beckoned on the people to come around. A peep into the list of the committees and the sub-committees indicated that estranged members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and politicians from other political inclinations made the list. In fact, the roll call was unbelievable. What a surprise!
In the past, memberships of such committees were known, cycled and recycled. So was the state executive council. Most of the people who made the lists were even astonished at the turn of events. While they naturally expressed delight, some of those who enjoyed power at one level or the other sulked. They believed that their hold on power was a birth right. Obviously, it was inconceivable that the core Ebeano dynasty would allow any outsider to share power with them. But Chime made it clear that for him to enjoy relative peaceful outing, all aggrieved persons must be part of development in Enugu State.
The unfolding scenario also proved that no political structure no matter how formidable could be more powerful or more effective than primordial beliefs and structures nurtured without coercion over the years.
Some sections of the state obviously suffered total marginalization in the past, but Sullivan vowed to stop any kind of discrimination. He pledged to extend services to every zone and to integrate all sections of the state into what he once referred to, as ‘one huge family’.
Some invitees who were yet to read the hand writing on the wall were utterly shocked when an Ebeano praise singer was stopped mid-way into an Ebeano chorus at the Protea Hotel, Nike Lake. The governor-elect, in the company of his aides had just been ushered in at the conference Hall of the Hotel for the official Inauguration of various committees that would take charge of the transition programme, when a man noted for his praise singing, metaphorically referred to Sullivan Chime as Ebeano. Guests had risen for the national Anthem. The scanty response showed clearly that the large crowed of people was not ready for the past time. In fact, the song was in the least infuriating or so it seemed. Even for those who attempted to chorus it, nothing could be as heavy in the mouth. The audience could not just swallow it.
Even before the vote of no confidence on the song of praise, an aide to the governor-elect had rushed to the man with a stern warning, “never repeat the nonsense again.” There were glances. Enugu political top shots, recovering from eight – year imposed exile saw it all.
And so it came to pass that a non Ebeano had emerged the chief helmsman on the saddle at the Lion Building through the instrumentally of Ebeano machinery to the glory of God who decides his kings. To put salt to injury, Chime beckoned on all known political gladiators and elders, earlier consigned into oblivion to rally round for the task of changing what a watcher called, ‘the smeared face of Enugu State’.
Senator Jim Nwobodo, Chief C.C. Onoh, Rear Adm. Allison Madueke, Sen. Ken Nnamani, Group Capt. Jeo Oji, Justice Anthony Aniagolu, Justice Nnaemeka Agu, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, Ezenwata O. Itanyi, Dr. Osita Ogbu, Amb. Justina Eze, Chief Nnia Nwodo, former ministers, governors, Legislators etc. returned to the state. Most of them were either chased out of their own state or were forced to embark on forced exile.
Sullivan Chime, son of a first republic politician HRH Elias Aneke Chime changed everything. Before the poll, nobody thought he could muster the courage to change a policy of exclusion that had existed and subsisted for several years.
Sullivan provided the platform for a new and noble direction. His policy of inclusion relaxed the prevalent siege and fear that enveloped Enugu State. Enugu overcame the toga of regimental enclave where the last orders were obeyed without question.
And so, his once upon a time friend, Chimaroke Nnamani felt uncomfortable and ditched him, fought him, but Chime won all the way in grand style. That is to say he coasted home to victory to the satisfaction of Enugu people.
The difference was clear enough.