ABIA 2015: Strong Demand For Change Versus Equity And Power Shift
THE Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) victory in the governorship election in Abia State has posed some questions, while attempting to answer many others. Perhaps, the outgoing governor, Theodore Ahamefula Orji, has finally answered his critics, who thought that he was not in control enough to install a successor. Has Orji, therefore, started his own political lineage in the manner his predecessor, Orji Kalu? Is the victory of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu a reward for Orji’s performance in his second term? Or is it a statement of intent by the Ukwa/Ngwa as they claimed the long awaited governorship stool? Has the victory finally settled the question of rotation of power and answered the thorny questions in the Abia Charter of Equity? If yes, is the question settled along ethnic lines or senatorial zones? Will an Ngwa man in Abia Central emerge as governor in 2031 when power shifts to the zone after the Ngwa in the South, the mainland Ngwa, has produced the governor? How important is religion as an issue in the electoral decisions in Abia as no Catholic has ever being elected governor in the last 16 years?
Like most indigenes of Abia, the State Commissioner for Special Duties (and Legal Matters), Mr. James Opara, believes that the election “is first an affirmation of the power shift to the Ukwa/Ngwa axis, an area that has never produced a governor. The best they attained even in old Imo State was the post of deputy governor. The two deputy governors under the late Sam Mbakwe were from Ukwa/Ngwa. They have produced about six or seven deputy governors hitherto, but this election has broken the hold of old Bende on the political leadership.
“Secondly, this election was a referendum on the performance and integrity of T.A. Orji. He has kept his word on his second term campaign promise that if re-elected, he will ensure that power shifted to Ukwa/Ngwa. He fought for it and achieved it in spite of the opposition to change the status quo. So, we had an election that addressed the compound issues of equity, fairness and justice. Fortunately, PDP picked the right person, which made the election easier. Ikpeazu has the political experience, education, administrative acumen to be a good governor.”
In an election where ethnicity was an issue, and the candidate of the next viable party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Alex Otti, was judged to have changed his ancestral lineage to benefit from the ethnic sentiments, Ikpeazu won because, essentially, he is an Ukwa/Ngwa man.
On this score, the Ngwa people had no apologies. The common refrain was: “This is our turn.” On the eve of the rescheduled governorship election on April 25, huge coffins appeared overnight at strategic corners in Abia South council and Abia North council, areas regarded as APGA stronghold. The message was scary: “Vote against PDP and die.” Whether this warning was heeded or not was not certain, but voter turn out was low in the election.
Ikpeazu had everything going for him. First, he hails from Obingwa Council (the heart of Ngwa) in Abia South senatorial zone where PDP zoned the slot. At the primary, he dusted many prominent Ngwa politicians, heavy weights. Seen as a likable person, with the experience of having held several political appointments and administrative positions under Kalu’s administration and Orji’s administration, the government settled for him and this gave him a huge advantage. It is said that Kalu’s deputy, Acho Nwakanma, who is Ikpeazu’s in-law, facilitated his entrance into Kalu’s administration. Incidentally, Nwakanma was among the governorship aspirants who lost to Ikpeazu. His experience in government meant he was already an insider in the state. The backing of government also meant an access to steady campaign funds, “as we all know that Ikpeazu, a common lecturer, couldn’t afford the war chest to run a governorship election,” said a source. With the mix of government support and Ngwa agitation, Ikpeazu’s victory was assured.
A source from Ngwa but close to Ikpeazu’s campaign team said: “The Ngwa support was overwhelming. It was also responsible for Orji winning the Abia Central Senate seat because his Umuahia people didn’t vote for him. He even lost in his polling booth. He got his votes from the three Ngwa councils in Abia Central, which are Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South and Osisioma. The other three councils of Umuahia North, Umuahia South, and Ikwuano didn’t quite vote for him. The votes were a thank you gift from Ngwa people in the Central to Orji for making their kin governor. What simply happened was that the Ngwa nation, whether in Central or South voted massively for the success of Ikpeazu.”
Chief Reagan Ufomba, an Ngwa man from Isiala Ngwa, who lost his nomination as APGA’s governorship candidate under controversial circumstances, faulted the manner in which the Abia Charter of Equity has been “manipulated and interpreted.” According to him, “what we have always said in Abia is that it is Ukwa/Ngwa, Old Bende and Old Aba Divisions. What Orji did is to unlawfully exclude the Ngwa people in the Central by saying that the zoning is for the South. The clamour is that an Ngwa man becomes governor and an Ngwa man from Central is also an Ngwa man. And if the argument is stretched further, the ancestral home of the Ngwa nation is Isiala Ngwa and that area is in Abia Central. To sustain the clamour, the head should not be excluded for whatever reason. Every Ngwa man migrated from Isiala Ngwa.
“How some Ngwa people including myself found themselves in Abia Central where we are lumped together with Umuahia is an administrative accident. But if you are Ngwa, you are Ngwa; it is not about senatorial zone.
“The Charter of Equity was therefore not followed. The senatorial creation is a recent event. The charter relies on Old Bende and Old Aba Division. If we are looking at it from the senatorial point of view, when the shift comes back to the Central after Abia North has had its turn, then it will be the turn of the Ngwa people in Abia Central to produce the governor. The Umuahia side, with their three councils produced Orji. So, morally, the three Ngwa councils in the Central will produce the governor. There is no written law to that effect.”
Clamour For Change Or Ethnic Sentiments
WHAT did the people of Abia vote for in this election despite the clamour for an Ngwa man as governor? Ufomba said: “Abia people voted overwhelmingly for change. Their choice was APGA. But the right mix was not introduced. APGA leadership was confused when they meddled with my nomination. If we had introduced the religious and ethnic mix, definitely APGA would have been victorious.
“The clamour for change was there because there was a need to walk away from bad governance. There was the ethnic mix that an Ngwa man has never been governor and the religious mix that a Catholic had also never been governor. If these were brought together and introduced, certainly APGA would have won. But my nomination was taken away by a misguided leadership and our people are not so sophisticated to the point of knowing that you can be declared by the courts as the validly nominated candidate and not what the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) or Victor Umeh is saying, whereas he never participated in APGA primary.”
Said the source close to the Ikpeazu camp: “It is difficult to see how religion or any church could have been a factor in the election. Truth is: religion has never played any role in Abia politics. Kalu, Orji, and Ikpeazu are not Catholics. Voting is usually done on ethnic lines and on the makeshift concept of power shift along the lines of old Umuahia or old Bende or old Aba structure.”
He however noted: “People voted for change and it has to be admitted that APGA was the face of that change in this election. Many people didn’t know who the APGA candidates were, but they still voted for APGA. They voted for change in party and politics and the next party to vote for was APGA. They simply wanted the Cock, the symbol of APGA. The spirit of APGA is just in the people; the Odumegwu-Ojukwu aura still pervades their thinking and acceptance of APGA, and this to me is the reason many of those who followed Otti to APGA and ran for House of Assembly seats won.”
But according to Opara, the House of Assembly election, where APGA won 11 seats to the 13 seats won by PDP, confirms two things. He said: “The people wanted a change from the way PDP has been doing things. And they got it. Secondly, the election in Abia was free and fair. If PDP had rigged, then it certainly would have been different. The votes of Abia people counted in this election.
“Those who attribute this development to the reign of protest votes miss the point. Do we assume that APGA is non-existent in Abia, or that they would only rely on aggrieved members of PDP, which is now the dominant party, to win elections? I don’t see it so. There was a contest and the people voted for what they wanted. APGA is a credible party platform to win an election in Abia. They won where they won and lost in the same manner. Religion didn’t come in as an issue in this election. We are all Christians and no one cared about the details of it. There were more dominant factors, other than religion.”
A traditional ruler from the Bende area explained that this election “is a clarion call on both politicians and the people. Godfather-ism in Abia politics has been demystified. For example, many PDP candidates, supported by the government in the House of Assembly election, lost. This shows that there is a limit to imposition; it can also work against a party. The crucial thing in an election is the desire of the people. When they want change, they will go for it. The PDP imposed over 70 per cent of its candidates after their primary and the aggrieved parties kicked against it.”
According to him, “it can be argued that but for the Ukwa/Ngwa sentiment, the imposition of candidates by the PDP would have even cost them the governorship election. The results of the election in the House of Assembly reflected the actual voting pattern in this election. The APGA had a strong showing in this election and I believe the governorship election was a lot closer than what was declared.”
Ahead of the rerun, APGA was behind with 83,053 votes. PDP led with 248,456 to APGA’s 165, 406 votes. At the end of the rescheduled election, Ikpeazu polled 264,713 while APGA and Otti polled 180,882.
New Beginning In Abia?
AHEAD of the governorship election, there was a campaign to “rid Abia of the Kalu/Orji factor in politics.” According to a source, “Orji has not done well. He never quite managed to impose himself on governance. He was largely seen as a stooge of his predecessor and that feeling held until his second term when he stirred up and tried to work. Abia lost four years to the service of that relationship. We anticipate that a similar scenario will play out with Orji imposing his successor, hence the need to see the emergence of a new person devoid of that linkage.”
It was also speculated that there was a quiet campaign mounted by the former governor to see the victory of APGA. This aligned with the independent views of some section of Abia, who didn’t want a change in the status quo or the zoning of power to Ngwa land, despite calls “in the spirit of equity and fairness.”
At the end of the election, there was the feeling that despite the handicaps, “Otti and APGA ran a good race. For a first timer, a virtual newcomer in politics, he had a strong showing. There is no doubt that he and APGA were outmuscled by the power of incumbency.”
For critics of Orji, the issue is whether Ikpeazu will be another stooge in Government House. Opara, Orji’s Special Duties Commissioner insists: “ We have to admit that it is difficult to see anyone emerging as either president or governor without the support of certain groups of people. But this will not mean that the person will be expected to now mortgage his conscience to satisfy these people to the detriment of the masses or the people that actually voted him in.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I don’t see how Orji will now visit on Ikpeazu what he suffered in the hands of Kalu for several years. Will Orji therefore do to another what he didn’t want Kalu to do to him? It is perhaps easier for him, because he will be busy in the Senate to find time to interfere or meddle in the affairs of the government. Has he not had enough of government to know he should not?”
Ufomba had told APGA supporters that it is not over yet and stressed: “We stand a chance of winning the election at the election petition tribunal. We have evidence of electoral irregularities, rigging, violence, collusion between PDP and INEC ad hoc staff, intimidation.”
A media consultant close to Otti said: “The rerun was fraught with confusion, which understandably, the ruling party could pass as strategy. For example, we have noted how the election, planned to hold in Umunneochi Council in Abia North District, was botched at the last minute after electoral materials were dispatched to the area. The rerun was billed to hold in nine councils, but it held in only eight councils amid conflicting reports.”
Ufomba noted further: “We will look at what INEC has done and assess areas that suffered flaws. The law has provided that those areas be challenged. We will challenge what was churned out in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa councils and the confusion that was thrown up where Obingwa, a council in contention, and Isiala Ngwa were missing in the rerun. INEC has not done well, and we will ask questions.”