March 18, 2023 gubernatorial election in Enugu State will go down in history as the fiercest political contest since the creation of the State some three decades ago. Not even the famous 1979 governorship tussle between the defunct Nigeria People's Party (NPP)'s Chief Jim Nwobodo and defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN)'s Chief Christian Onoh of old Anambra State could rival it. It came with a lot of intrigues, suspense, drama, misconstruction, propaganda and harsh realities, thanks to Peter Obi's unique innovative entrance into the national politics that birthed the OBI-dient movement and altered the usual colouration of electoral certainties across the strata. Not even former governor Chimaroke Nnamani could comprehend it, as he has been running rampage on Twitter (his newly found abode) trying to wrap his head around it.
Enugu have never had such competitive election!
After the wave of February 25 presidential and national assembly elections that swept seven out of eight federal constituency seats and two out of three senatorial seats in the state to Labour Party, many cynics wrote off Peter's Mba's chances and announced the obituary of PDP in Enugu.
However, those who despised Mbah's chances at the time did it not on the basis of his competency or otherwise. It was purely on two factors they considered drawling albatrosses against his emergence. First was his association with former governor Nnamani, who, allegedly, was his ipso facto godfather. Second, was the party he ran in, which is out of tune with the hoi polloi of the state.
There was nothing Mbah could do to unwind these stereotypes in the people. PDP was fast losing its relevance in the southeast, the zone that had served as its life wire when it ran into out-of-power identity crisis from 2015. And caught up in such dilemma in the heat of a fast approaching election, he had to renegotiate his campaign train. He started running a competency-driven campaign. Gradually, he replaced the apparel of godfatherism and PDP's totem, with the garb of a political novitiate, an astute technocrat, and a successful administrator who is premiering in the state's electoral arena.
Fortunately for him, as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the election, the steam of those albatrosses gassed out.
The competitiveness in the contest was back, and each camp intensified their grip of the masses' trust. But the gruesome murder of Barr. Oyibo Chukwu the previous week was not something the opposition would allow to smoke off just like that. It marked another turning point in the race. Many around town alleged that his PDP opponent in Enugu East Senatorial seat race was responsible. Some Labour Party faithfuls who were supposed to imitate Mr. Peter Obi by running issue-based campaign cashed into the narrative and used it to promote their campaigns, and hunt for sympathy votes.
They labelled PDP a murderers' party and further depleted what was remaining of its meagre goodwill. Not even the usual appeal to religious sects could help its candidates. Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi — a Catholic (the dominant christian sect in the state) lost to Barr. Okey Ezea — an Anglican.
Peter Mbah, a Catholic too, went to Ugwudinso Eke Catholic pilgrimage center, and was almost booed off, but for the intervention of the host priest. This is irrespective of the fact that his opponent in Labour Party is an Anglican. These worshippers were acting on unverified false information that has sailed as truth. All allegations of man's inhumanity to man hanging on former governor Nnamani is transferred by default, to Mbah. On him lied the burden of 'inherited' vicarious allegations. And his doom's day was predicted to come with March 18 election.
Amidst all these, Mbah's heart remained enlargened. He never held grudges against the people. Perhaps he knew they were being misled by few campaigners of calumny. His undauntedness astounded me the most. Being unruffled in the heat of social misconception is a rare virtue called temperance — emotional intelligence.
The cultural affiliation of Isi Uzo people to Nsukka (Enugu North zone) made many believe that Mbah's rival — Hon. Barr. Chijioke Edoga, an equally competent candidate, was running as Nsukka candidate. All the Obidients cliques within the zone offered their wings to fly his campaign. The slogan "LP from top-to-bottom" became chorusal. Statistically, Nsukka zone commands at least 52% of votes in Enugu State. With boundless acceptance which Edoga's candidacy received among them, it is almost a done deal for him.
Yet, Peter Mbah scheduled Town Hall meetings across all villages in the zone. He marketed his manifesto to them. Naysayers never gave him chance. But like rain drops, his message was having regenerative effect on their souls. Like Peter Obi who used nine months to turn Nigeria's national politics around, three weeks between Presidential and gubernatorial elections were enough for Mbah to change the narrative. He started winning people's heart back, when he proved by his body language, that he is an independent candidate using PDP as special purpose vehicle (SPV) to ascend the office. Not a few Nsukka people believed, few days to the election, that he may have been a victim of a single story.
The D-Day came, and Ndi Enugu went to the ballot albeit manifest voter apathy resulting from the disappointment of Peter Obi's alleged stolen mandate. 17 Local Government Areas voted in unanimity. The collation of results indicated a neck-to-neck contest. It was a two horse race. Before the controversial Nkanu East result came in, the two were separated by paltry figures in the neighborhood of 3000 votes.
The allegations of over voting on Nkanu East result kept the state in her worst political stalemate for three days until 22nd March when it was resolved and final result declaration made in favour of Peter Mbah with 3,317 votes difference.
The jubilation was out of this world!
The people celebrated widely — an eloquent testimony that the results represented the wish of the people. However, there are still disgruntlement among those insisting that INEC overreached itself in declaring Mbah the winner. Opposition insisted Nkanu East result needed outright cancellation. Such grudges can be healed if the winner became magnanimous in victory, without making the loser pliant. Mbah knew this. And he was prepared to soothe the hearts.
And so he mounted the rostrum a day after, to deliver his acceptance speech; and like Cardinal Karol Wotjila (archbishop of Krakow Poland) who reigned as Pope John Paul II, he began his speech with "do not be afraid!" A speech that prepared the world for the most remarkable papacy ever witnessed in recent history.
Here was Peter Mbah. He knew that in the build up to this election, seeds of discord were sowed. A chasm of dichotomy was created between Nkanu and Nsukka zones. Many made it look like Hon. Edoga was an Nsukka candidate. Some people in Nsukka are currently apprehensive as to what will become their fates now that their candidate has lost.
Mbah opened his mouth and let peace flow: "Let me restate that ours will not be a government of any section of Enugu State. It is your government, Ndi Enugu. Under our administration, there can never be division between Nsukka and Nkanu or any other section of the state. We are all brothers and sisters. Those who attempted to create a wedge between us failed woefully. We were massively voted by every section of the state. Those who wanted to smack our heads together had an ulterior motive and it was to create perpetual fussing and fighting between us. We resisted their machination and today, we are coming together stronger. Our resolve thereafter is to pursue the spirit of divisiveness from our state."
Dr. Mbah left no one in doubt as to where his regime is headed. In a 1,126-worded statement spread across 20 paragraphs, he mentioned Nsukka five record times as he reassured that they're integral part of his policy plans. The soothing balm was well massaged into the tissues.
He went ahead in paragraph 16 to reiterate his resolve to embrace all section of the state: "Ours shall not be an administration by a section of the state. We shall run an all-inclusive government designed to provide an inclusive economic development for our dear state."
Finally, he made another landmark remark — calling on his opponents (those he ran the race with) to join hands with him in pursuit of the Enugu project. "Let me, at this juncture, call on everyone to join me in this task of chiseling a great tomorrow from the rock of a despondent today. In the elections that we ran, we are all winners. No one is a victor, nor is anyone vanquished. The task at hand transcends emotions, politics and other mundane divides. It is why I extend my hands of fellowship to all my colleagues with whom I ran the gubernatorial election. Our dear Enugu State is greater than all of us. Let us come together and give our people a tomorrow that befits their hard-work, industry and ancestry of greatness."
After the address, not few Nsukka people hissed a sigh of relief, saying in native parlance: "uso okpeye dr' gē isì ye" (may he match his words with action). First step is to make an endearing statement. The next is to live up to it.
May daylight spare us!