IT was such a rapturous crowd at Ikem, the headquarters of Isi-Uzo Local Government Area on Wednesday, February 9, 2022. The banners towered above the sea of heads that had seized the sleepy town.

The drumming, the dancing and the contrasting colours of party regalia had enthroned a carnival of the sort.

The event was the official state flag-off of the local government elections slated for February 23, 2022. It was an occasion to hand over the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flags to the seventeen chairmanship candidates.

But it turned out to be a “rehearsal” of the 2023 general elections with the huge crowds of party chieftains and other members who firmly voiced their commitment to determine their own destinies.

And in no unmistaken words, they pledged their undiluted loyalty to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as the uncontested leader of the party in the state. Nobody would have said it more vociferously than the former governor and senator representing Enugu East in the Red Chamber, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani.

“Governor Ugwuanyi is our leader,” says Nnamani, “and we are his followers. Whatever he says as our leader, we will follow. That’s loyalty.”

Other speakers – from Prince Cornelius Nnaji, a federal lawmaker to the Speaker of the State Assembly, Rt. Hon. Edward Ubosi to the former state party chairman, Engr. Vita Abba to the current occupant, Hon. Augustine Nnamani among others, was more a celebration of the standout leadership of Gov. Ugwuanyi who deployed his acknowledged political brinkmanship to moderate the choice of the candidates.

The governor highlighted what it took to achieve the consensus. According to Ugwuanyi, “the politicking was intriguing, the sound was loud, the suspense was thrilling and the tension was palpable, yet the processes were consultative, conclusive and consensual.” The good news is that the aspirants have joined hands with the eventual candidates to forge a common front and achieve victories in both the seventeen chairmanship and 260 councillorship seats.

The beauty of the February 23 election is that it stems the exclusion of the rural dwellers in governance as it marks the first time that governance is consciously given to the rural populace. As Gov.Ugwuanyi succinctly put it, “I must pertinently tell you that our administration is keen on activating the local economy of our rural communities. Therefore, it has become our Directive Principle that all elected council chairmen and councillors must reside in their electoral constituencies henceforth. By so doing, they will necessarily work to secure these constituencies (being residents) and also activate their local economies”.

Among the dignitaries at the flag-off included the state’s deputy governor, Hon. Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, Senator Ben-Collins Ndu, House of Representatives members in Rt. Hon. Dr. Patrick Asadu, Hon. Ofor Chukwuegbo and Hon. Cornelius Nnaji. Others were the party’s former state chairmen – Dr. COC Egumgbe, Engr. Vita Abba and Chief Ikeje Asogwa – alongside other heavyweights.

The seventeen chairmanship candidates comprise Honourables Solomon Onah (Udenu), Vitus Okechi (Igbo-Eze South), Chukwudi Nnadozie (Uzo-Uwani), Pedro Nwankwo (Awgu), Emeka Onunze (Enugu North), Ikenna Nwodo (Igbo-Etiti), Ejike Itodo (Igbo-Eze North), Chiemezie Nkwuo (Enugu South).

Some of the new entrants are Philip Okoh (Udi), Benneth Aja (Aninri), Walter Ozioko (Nsukka), Uche Ejim (Nkanu West), Livinus Anike (Enugu East), Obiora Obeagu (Isi-Uzo), Chinedu Onyeagba (Oji River), Chukwudi Ozoeluba (Ezeagu) and Okechukwu Ede (Nkanu East).

Just twenty hours after the flag-off, the local government campaigns kicked off with the governor leading the contingent to Nkanu East and Nkanu West councils. It turned out to be a day of drama and emotions.

On his way, he electrified the locals when he went into the Eke-Otu and Eke Agbani markets to converse and canvass for votes from both sellers and buyers for his party’s candidates.

This novel electioneering style has injected evident enthusiasm from the excited traders and artisans who surged to catch a glimpse of the face mask-wearing governor who also used the opportunities to advise his subjects on the need to observe all non-pharmaceutical COVID-19 protocols.

At Amagunze, the headquarters of Nkanu East, two former deputy governors, His Excellency Sunday Onyebuchi and Bishop Ralph Nwoye praised Ugwuanyi’s exemplary leadership and good governance while also reassuring the party of the imminent victories of its candidates in the local government polls.

There was sustained laughter when Senator Chimaroke Nnamani came on stage and seemed to capture his days in office when contestation for power was akin to “two-fighting” and Governor Ugwuanyi who does not waste his time wrangling undeclared aspirations or inconsequential political gimmickry. In the words of the senator, “this is because this governor (Ugwuanyi) is a man of peace, a consensus builder and an equitable distributor of political leverages.”

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