For Chief Ikechi Emenike, Chairman/Chief Executive of Development Economic Resources Limited (DER Ltd), publishers of The African Economy magazine and of Annual Meetings Daily, the official publications of the World Bank/IMF, the African Development Bank, the African Union and the Commonwealth, May 25 must have come as a depressing anti-climax for a political journey that started over ten years ago; on that day the Supreme Court rejected his appeal to replace Chief Theodore Orji as the governor of his native Abia State.
Before his journey to that unhappy day, he’d earned his stripes in journalism as a successful editor of the defunct ‘70s/ ‘80s must-read newsmagazine, Newbreed, under the perfectionist task master, the late Chief Chris Okolie. From Newbreed he’d moved on to head and turn around another the publishing company, West Coast Communications Ltd, owned by the late Chief Fred Brume, and publishers of the since rested bilingual Business in ECOWAS. He’d then set up his own successful publishing company, DER Ltd in 1990.
Twelve years later Emenike decided to follow the footsteps of journalists and newspaper publishers like Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe ( first premier, Eastern Nigeria, and first president – albeit ceremonial – of the country) , Chief Obafemi Awolowo (first premier of the West and first opposition leader in the First Republic), Chief Lateef Jakande (first civilian governor of Lagos State), Chief Bisi Onabanjo (first civilian governor of Ogun State) and Aremo Segun Osoba (second civilian governor of Ogun State), that had moved on from journalism to politics after they had successfully established themselves in that field.
Some of us who knew him as friends and associates thought it was a wrong career move – and told him so. His late father, Chief Barthemeus Emenike Nwagbana, who hated politicians because he believed, not without some justification, they were inveterate liars and two-timers, was simply horrified. Ikechi’s simple answer was that our politics has been such a mess precisely because good people had left it in the hands of political charlatans.
And so, in defiance of his old man and of his sceptical friends, he became a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State. He joined it with a strong determination to make a difference in his state which by then had already earned its terrible reputation as the kidnap capital of Nigeria and one of the most badly governed in the country, among other notorieties. To make the difference, he spent his time and considerable resources to build the most formidable grassroots political machine in the state, comprising youths, women and community leaders.
In 2002/2003 he contested for the party’s ticket for Abia Central senatorial seat, and won handily against Dr. Chris Adighije. That was when he had his first baptism of fire in the long string of painful baptisms he was to suffer in his political journey, culminating in the May 25 anti-climax I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this piece; the cult-like PDP cabal in the state, backed invariably by the party’s headquarters in Abuja, reversed Emenike’s win and gave the ticket to Adighije. Adighije went on to win the seat in the senatorial election.
In spite of this impunity, Emenike stayed back in the party, convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it still provided the most credible platform for a successful political career in the state and elsewhere. However, having lost the party’s senatorial ticket in 2003, he decided to raise the political ante in the next general elections in 2007 by gunning for the governorship ticket. He was to be greatly disappointed.
His first disappointment, however, was Chief Onyeama Ugochukwu, then Chairman of Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) and a leading PDP chieftain. Well ahead of the general elections in 2007 Emenike approached the older Ugochukwu to confirm the veracity of speculations that he already had his eyes on their state’s governorship. He too, he told Ugochukwu, was interested. He was, however, prepared to forgo his ambition and go for the Senate if the rumours were true because he regarded his older professional colleague as a role model; like Ugochukwu, Emenike had read Economics, gone into banking initially and had ended up in Journalism. (Ugochukwu was a successful editor of the rested Daily Times and of the rested London based West Africa magazine in its heydays.)
Ugochukwu denied the rumours. Consequently Emenike revved up his political machine for the PDP governorship ticket. However, as the primaries approached it became as clear as daylight that Ugochukwu was indeed interested in the governorship of their state. It was also clear to Emenike that he had no ghost of a chance against Ugochukwu given the total absence of internal democracy in the PDP.
Convinced that his political machine was formidable enough to overcome the powerful PDP juggernaught, he left for the rival All Nigeria Peoples Alliance whose presidential candidate was General Muhammadu Buhari. He contested the party’s governorship ticket against Dr Chukwu Nwachukwu, the pioneer Director-General of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), and won.
Predictably Ugochukwu won the PDP ticket. Meantime, the state’s sitting two-term governor, Chief Orji Kalu, who had become estranged from the PDP cabal in Abuja and had preferred Theodore Orji, his chief of staff, to succeed him, had left PDP to form his own party. Again predictably, T. Orji picked the party’s governorship ticket. All of which made the state’s governorship contest in 2007 essentially three-cornered.
As we all know, T. Orji won under heavy clouds of suspicions that the results had been cooked even before the elections were over. Both Ugochukwu and Emenike challenged the results before the courts. They were, however, unsuccessful and in the end Orji served out his first term.
Last year’s governorship election would probably have been a repeat of 2007’s. But then Emenike returned to the PDP well ahead of the elections when it seemed ANPP had become a poor clone of PDP due to ANPP’s internal crises that looked suspiciously engineered by the PDP.
Then again, along the line, Governor T. Orji became estranged from his erstwhile godfather, Orji Kalu, and was compelled to go shopping for a new platform to get a second term. He left first for the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA) but ended in PDP. So in the end, by the mysterious ways in which politics moves in Nigeria, all three rivals in the state’s governorship elections in 2007 on different platforms became rivals for PDP’s governorship ticket in last year’s elections.
As the sitting governor, T. Orji became the preferred candidate of the PDP cabal in Abuja. It tried to persuade Ugochukwu and Emenike to step down for him. Ugochukwu caved in. Emenike refused.
With the Abuja PDP cabal fully behind him, T. Orji moved to dissolve the party’s state executive council which seemed loyal to Emenike, and installed his own. The dissolved executive council went to court. As a result of this development there were two parallel PDP primaries in the state. T. Orji won that conducted under the aegis of the new executive council, while Emenike won that of the original executive council. The Abuja cabal backed T. Orji who went on to “win” the governorship election.
Almost everywhere he went during his campaign, the governor was booed for poor performance during his first term. Not surprisingly he sought reconciliation with Emenike to tap into the latter’s grassroots support as the election approached. The reconciliation was successfully brokered by some prominent clergy in the state; the two signed a well publicised communiqué to jointly campaign for the success of the PDP “without prejudice to any case pending in court,” a reference to the case Emenike had instituted before the election tribunal, challenging the legitimacy of T. Orji’s membership of the PDP based on the party’s own constitution.
However, no sooner was T. Orji back as governor than he renounced the communiqué. Emenike than felt obliged to carry on with his litigation. He lost all the way to the Supreme Court when the court ruled on May 25 in effect that courts have no business inquiring into how political parties conducted their primaries.
In the case of Emenike, the Supreme Court ruled that he had no case against T. Orji because he did not participate in the primaries conducted by the PDP national headquarters whose word, the court said, was final.
But then in the earlier case of former Governor Sylva of Rivers State which, as a layman, looked to me like Emenike’s, the same court had said Sylva could not denounce the PDP primaries in which he had lost to the incumbent governor as illegal once he had participated in it. The common factor here seemed to be that both winners enjoyed the support of Abuja.
I could, of course, be wrong, but the apparent contradiction between Emenike and Sylva’s losses look like a classic case of heads or tails you lose, so long as you are not in the good books of the country’s movers and shakers in Abuja.