Abia in throes of governorship tussle
Solidarity visits cripple businesses, governance
Barely one month into his second year in office as Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu played host to a delegation from the African Development Bank (AFB). The delegation met with officials of the state on how best to assist with infrastructural development.
Both parties have arrived at a $200 million credit facility to bridge infrastructure deficit especially in Aba, the commercial nerve-centre of the state.
Already, the ADB team, along with officials of the Federal Ministry of Works, has been taken round some of the proposed project sites including Ikot Ekpene road, Obohia, Ohanku and Port Harcourt roads.
But from the period the delegation visited and left, no word has been heard from them prompting fears that the deal may have been put on hold, apparently as a fallout of the crisis that has engulfed the state following the sack of the governor by an Abuja High Court.
Similarly, the week before the distraction commenced, Setraco Construction Company kicked off Fox road, a 4.6 km road, from the Port Harcourt Expressway across to Ariaria International market to Brass junction in Aba.
Also, they were to undertake a 5.6km underground drain that would take storm water from Ukwu-Obara popularly called Ukwu Mango down to the river. There was an arrangement where the AFB act as guarantor, paying Setraco a specified amount while the government pays the bank.
The project took off but when the tussle started, the Bank held back ostensibly watching to see how it would end. Setraco too is waiting and watching; everything has come to a standstill more or less.
This same scenario has played out in other vital projects such as: the Owaza Gas plant; Abia seaport project in Ukwa east, Azunmili; a flyover at Ossisioma through a; a modern abattoir on the outskirts of Aba; an industrial cluster for leather works and garments; and others.
Perhaps the only exception is the remodeling and rebuilding of Enyimba undertaken by the Swiss International Hotel, which stuck to the agreement with the state. Hopefully, in 13 months time, the Hotel would be ready.
An official of the state informed The Guardian that the African Development Bank was inclined to give Abia the 200 million dollars credit facility but has developed cold feet shortly after the political stalemate set in.
“Since they came and were conducted round by the Commissioner for Works, they have returned back to their Headquarters in Abijan and we have not heard from them. They too would be watching keenly what is happening in the state and until everything stabilizes, nothing positive will come from them,” the official said.
From the onset of the crisis, hardly a day passed without one group or the other paying solidarity visits to the Government House in Umuhia, to empathize and encourage the governor.
The Guardian learnt that the Governor was disturbed that almost every business in the state was in a standstill sequel to the unending solidarity visits, as individuals, groups and communities try to outdo one another.
It was said that the governor has met with some officials and directed that something has to be done to end the solidarity visits because of the negative consequences on the state economy stressing that it was high time Abia people returned to their businesses.
Politically, the governorship crisis has created camps, not just within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but also divisions inside the polity, threatening the harmony among the three political zones of the state – Abia North, Central and South.
Prior to the 2015 elections, what practically swayed the sentiments against Chief Alex Otti of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) who was Ikpeazu’s main rival, was the issue of his place of origin; whether or not he was from Ngwa or Abia South as he claimed. As it turned out, the opinions and mindsets worked against him.
Otti’s determined battle to correct the impression about this notion among the citizens of the state proved abortive.
It was discernible that the sentiment of the zoning or power sharing among the three zones of the state played major role in determining the outcome of the last governorship election in the state in which Ikpeazu won.
“Orji Uzor Kalu is from Abia North, he ruled for eight years; Theodore Orji is from Abia Central, he ruled for eight; Okezie Ipkeazu is from Abia South and this is the first time somebody from Abia South is becoming governor, so when people from Abia North like Alex Otti and Uche Ogah scheme to abort the turn of Abia South, that is courting trouble,” a stakeholder hinted of the danger inherent in the scheme to upset the current arrangement in the state.
Besides, there is the argument that the people entered into an agreement to entrench the rotation policy among the three zones through the ‘Abia Charter of Equity’, which allows power to rotate among the three blocks.
The objective is to avoid a situation where a likely change in the power equation of the state could become apprehensive and tension-soaked capable of igniting chaos that might breach the peace of the state.
Thus if Ogah, who hails from the Abia North, like Orji Uzor Kalu, succeeds in the bid to become the governor, it means that Abia North has gotten a second slot at the expense of Abia South that was yet to produce a governor since 1999.
Political observers believed that it was for this reason that the people of Abia, particularly Ngwa people were insistent on their opposition to anyone from North or Central.
The reality however is that Abia people have been polarised by the developments along Senatorial districts lines.
“So politically, it is causing a kind of disunity among us, as the Abia South man now look upon those from Abia North as persons who do not want them to also have their own turn in becoming governor of the state; whereas Abia South supported them to have their own tenure of eight years,” an indigene of Abia Central volunteered.
Though such threats or sentiments has no place in the Nigerian Constitution, just like zoning of governorship seat among the three senatorial zones, the adoption of the zoning principle by major political stakeholders has succeeded in reducing political tension and animosity in several states across the country.
The governorship crisis has snowballed into the ruling party. Before the crisis there was no faction in the PDP, but few weeks after, a faction with links to the ousted national chairman, Senator Alli Modu Sheriff emerged.
Chidi Nwosu, the immediate past member of the State House of Assembly who represented Umuahia South constituency, leads it. Though Uche Ogah has remained silent on the issue, it was alleged that his supporters have lined up to back the man clinging to Sheriff.
While it is yet to be established the correlation between the governorship tussle and the emergence of the two factions, it should be noted that the persons contending with Ikpeazu are all members of PDP.
“Before the crisis there was no faction in PDP. Everybody in Abia unanimously agreed with the outcome of the congresses that held up to the May Port Harcourt convention before Sheriff came with his distraction. The former state chairman, Senator Emma Nwaka finished his tenure and handed over to a new person, Johnson Onuigbo,” an official of the state PDP asserted.
Reacting to the development, the Onuigbo-led executive said: “The officers of the state PDP that emerged from the state congress of 10th May 2016 headed by Chief Johnson Onuigbo remains the only authentic executive committee in the state as matter of fact and law.’
On his part, Nwosu who claimed his ‘positive change group in the state PDP’ had been sidelined, said: “The scenario is that there are two factions of the PDP at present in Abia. A true state Congress to be directed and overseen by the Acting National Chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff is in the offing.”
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Enyinnaya Appolos, admitted the negative impact of the crisis and the distractions on governance when contacted.
His words: “As a result of the constant emphasis on developing Aba and the potentials therein investors within and outside the country showed so many interest and they were beginning to yield fruits because they see a conscious and dedicated approach, a government that is serious about opening the city. But all these efforts are halted because of the current challenges.”