In the next four days, the voters in Enugu State, like their compatriots elsewhere, will speak with their thumbs as they elect the governor who occupies the Lion Building as from May 29, 2019. The choice is between the incumbent office holder, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the motley of other challengers whose faces can only be identified on the walls of private and public buildings that are so indiscriminately defaced with the pictures of these Coal City Poster Excellencies!
In fairness, some of the “governorship candidates” have climbed down from the rooftops of illusion to the valley of reality by endorsing Governor Ugwuanyi for re-election, based strictly on his track record of achievements in office. In doing so, they openly praised his humility and performance in office which have engendered peace, progress and the security of lives and property.
In turn, various personalities and groups, ranging from the clergies to traders, civil servants, professionals as well as youth and women bodies, the high and the low have spoken in the same vein that the man popularly known as Gburugburu deserves a second term. Also, the unsolicited awards from media houses like Vanguard, Sun, Independent and Leadership and other reputable national agencies simply and accurately paid due tribute to excellence in public office.
What is actually confounding is that while these endorsements and honours speak to the readiness of the electorate to pitch tent with a tried-and-tested administration, Governor Ugwuanyi has continued to campaign vigorously in all the nooks and crannies of the State. As other candidates have gone dumb, the governor, ironically, has stepped up his get-the-vote-out aggressive grassroots canvassing.
A campaign like no other
It is a campaign like no other. In the past, the usual practice was for council chairmen and other stakeholders to mobilize party members from different wards to attend local government rallies during which various speakers, including the governor, would climb onto the podium to address party faithful who would have waited for hours for the august visitors. In turn, the mobilized members and speakers would sing, clap, dance and be sumptuously entertained at the end while the villagers rushed back to their communities before dusk.
Today in Enugu State, Ugwuanyi has adopted a unique campaign strategy that complements the traditional with the novel. Rather than keep his party men and women waiting for hours under the sun, he chooses to pay unscheduled visits to the citizens and residents of Enugu, some of whom may not even be members of his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Perhaps, he reasoned that addressing other such rallies of party members is akin to preaching to the converted.
But even more instructive is his belief that “it gives one the opportunity to freely interact with that man or woman, boy or girl, citizen or resident who wasn’t expecting you or who would have found it difficult to access you. When you meet with them in the markets, in front of their homes or shops or in the streets, you get first hand information as you talk with them. This explains why I have decided to take my campaigns to the people.”
Thus, in what has become a distinct contrast from the past electioneering styles, Gburugburu has continued to animate his audiences as he embarks on street-to-street, market-to-market, community-to-community, shop-to-shop campaigns that ultimately lead to face-to-face conversations between the governor and the people. As he moves from one shop to the other inside the markets, he converses and shakes hands with market men and women as well as buyers. On the streets, he hugs school children returning from classes and waves to drivers, youths and other artisans.
Without doubt, this campaign style injects enthusiasm and familiarity whose likeliest outcome will be an overwhelming vote count for the governor when the chips settle. From the assurances given by leaders of the various markets and neighbourhoods visited, it elicits some sort of hilarity that Ugwuanyi, the PDP candidate insists on such intense electioneering against the tame and lame opposition.
From Eke-Otu to Gariki, Kenyatta, Timber, Coal Camp markets, from Ogige market in Nsukka to Nkwo Ibagwa in Igbo-Eze South Council, and from 9th Mile Corner to Udi, Ozalla and Orie Emene, traders and other artisans congregated on available open spaces within the markets to welcome their unexpected guest. The respective speeches of the leaders of these groups were more of thanksgiving and reassurances that they would massively vote for Ugwuanyi. They readily pointed to the governor’s Traders Empowerment Grant initiative which has doled out over one hundred and thirty million naira to traders selected via ballots. The goal is to cushion the negative effects of Nigeria’s poor economy, sustain economic activities, tackle poverty by empowering the traders and stabilize the state’s economy.
Beyond the markets, the state government has also empowered no less than two thousand, three hundred Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) while over thirty five thousand MSME owners have received trainings on business development and management.
The most emotional tribute came from the leader of the Timber dealers at Kenyatta market in Uwani, Enugu. “It will be unfair if you’re here to ask us for votes,” he told the governor. “On March 5, 2018 when part of our market was burnt, you came here that night. You returned the next day and again visited the succeeding day. You asked us (traders) to quantify what it would take to reconstruct the shops and after we submitted the estimate, you did not bring your officers to rebuild the market but rather gave the money to us (traders) to rehabilitate the shops. In addition, you gave grants to the traders whose shops were burnt. We will show appreciation with our votes during the governorship elections on March 9.”
Brief and an expression of gratitude
In all the places he has visited so far, Ugwuanyi’s response was always brief and an expression of gratitude. “I am here to show my gratitude to all of you for the votes you gave to our National Assembly candidates during the last elections and to plead with you to vote for me and all our House of Assembly candidates on March 9, 2019. Please, vote PDP all the way and as you do this, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob and the awesome God of David will bless you. Enugu State is in the hands of God and it will surely end in praise.”
And aside his personal magnetism which deeply fascinates the crowds at electioneering venues, one other peculiarity of the Ugwuanyi brand of campaign is that in the quest to rally voters in his relentless push to deliver a second Lion Building term, he has run issues-based on-the-ground mobilization. Clearly, this respect accords well with his bi-partisan governance anchored on politics without bitterness and regard for all irrespective of status or party affiliations.
The expectant benefit of such disposition is that post-election healing shall be faster and reconciliation quicker when Ugwuanyi’s distinctive baritone voice invites his co-contestants and other opposition elements to join him on the journey to make life better and meaningful for the citizens and residents of Enugu State.
*Chuks Ugwoke contributed this piece from Enugu.