2023: Abia state and old issues of zoning, charter of equity
Since 1999, the contest over which zone should produce the governor of Abia State has not been as heated as what’s going on now towards 2023.
Until last month, when Senate Minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe publicly declared his interest to take over from the current occupant of the office, Okezie Ikpeazu in 2023, there was wide- held assumption that power would automatically return to the Abia north, where it started in 1999.
The unwritten arrangement had begun with Orji Kalu, from the north who ruled the state for eight years. He handed over to his erstwhile Chief of Staff, Theordore Orji from the central who ruled for another eight years and now Ikpeazu.
Abaribe, a former deputy governor under Orji Uzo Kalu hails from Abia south (popularly known as Ukwa Ngwa) senatorial district; the same zone that produced Governor Ikpeazu. He has been in the senate since 2007.
Abaribe had confirmed what ordinarily had gone on as rumour during a public function last month when a chieftaincy title was conferred on him when he said he would take over from Ikpeazu in 2023. He had told reporters at the event that he had already communicated his decision to the governor.
“So, what I’m telling Ndi Abia is that they should expect Mmagha Ndigbo as their next governor in 2023”, he had told the gathering.
Abaribe’s desire since it was made known has raised the state’s political ante, with discussions now centered on the Abia charter of equity, which had ensured seamless rotation of political power among the three zones. It is eliciting worries also on the notion that he couldn’t have expressed such interest without an assurance that the government at the centre in the state would gladly back it up, if it would help the present occupant of the seat secure the senate ticket for the south in 2023.
Sources stated that how Governor Ikpeazu could go to Senate without hurting Abaribe, said to be one of his strongest supporters and allies in the state, is giving him some sleepless nights. It is also said that he (Abaribe) remains one of the pillars that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would rely on to prosecute its dreams of retaining power in 2023.
While the permutations continue, proponents of the Abia equity have insisted that Abaribe’s declaration was a slap on the practice as it could distort its flow. They have gone ahead and raised a new song in the state: “Abia State is God’s own state. Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach. God Almighty is a God of equity, justice and fairness. One good turn deserves another. It is the turn of Abia north to produce a governor. It is a sin to distort or disrupt the movement. Anything other than this will cause implosion and disunity in Abia State.”
At the moment, a lawyer, Mrs Nnenna Okoro; a Philanthropist, Onyekwere Akym Uche popularly called OAU; Proprietor, Gregory University, Prof Greg Ibe and Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr Uche Ogar, all from Abia north have reportedly indicated an interest in the race for governorship in 2023 on the notion that it is going to be their turn.
The Abia equity apologists insist that it would be unfair for the rest of the state should another southerner replace the incumbent administration after eight years, explaining that doing so would have given the zone (south), 16 unbroken years of control of power. This is creating friction in the state.
Other actors, especially from Abia south and central, insist however, that the so-called equity was an unwritten practice, explaining that rotation of power since 1999 in the state had solely been based on the decision of the governor.
They stated that at no time had there been discussions and agreement on how power should rotate in the state, adding that, “it has almost become an all-comers contest with the best as the winner”.
One of the advocates and political analysts in the state, Mrs Jacinta Nwosu, went further to insist that the state had suffered because zoning had enthroned mediocrity in the system, stressing that the way candidates were anointed and imposed on the people had retarded development.
For her: “It is high time people thought of progress irrespective of where it is coming from and drop sentiments, which do not have anything good to offer”.
She queried: “How proud are we to say that Abia is God’s Own State given the condition Abia State is right now? God gave us all it takes to make good decisions and we should do that to the glory of God. If Americans could pick an African born American to lead them, what it means is that they are after a soul who could bring about more growth and development to their country irrespective of where such is coming from. I just wonder why we cannot learn from people who think of moving forward but always dwell in frivolities that cannot bring any achievement.”
A Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ikenna Eke, while also criticizing the charter of equity, insisted that, “it has brought the state into a hot soup”, stressing that, “what Abia requires at the moment is liberation from family business.”
According to him, “Those that think that Abia is a business empire have ensured that nothing happens without them. They do this by handing over power to their surrogates from other zones in the name of equity and fair play. Abia was in someone’s pocket during T.A Orji’s administration until they quarreled over-sharing formulas. Now, T.A left and handed over to another surrogate from another zone. That is what is trying to replay in 2023, which citizens must guard against.”
But President, Njiko Igbo Forum (NIF) and Co-Convener, Abia State Equity Group, Rev Okechukwu Obioha, disagreed that zoning was the problem of the state. He stated that the peace that had endured since 1999 in the state was basically because the three zones had participated in the sharing of power at the centre.
Expressing full support that the next governor of the state should be produced by Abia north, Obioha insisted that the under- development of the state was not as a result of zoning but “the way in which the baton was handed to surrogates who have been answerable to their masters”.
He told The Guardian: “Zoning is not the problem but the way the batons are being passed. It is a kind of you will remain answerable to me as long as you are there. We are crying that Abia for 16 years and still counting has remained backward in infrastructure. From the time of Orji Uzo Kalu, T.A Orji till now, Abia has remained a backward state in spite of the claim that it is an oil-producing state. It has remained the worst state in infrastructure in the whole southeast. Go to all nooks and crannies, there is so much distortion. The state is in ruins and we are talking of change and somebody is busy trying to inflict a crisis. As you are approaching Abia from the Enugu axis, there is a symbol boldly inscribed on the tower “God’s own state”. It cannot be God’s own state any longer when the majority of the people are living in penury and poverty and a few in the political class are living in affluence. God is not an unrighteous person. That is the reason why something must be done to remove Abia State from the few politicians that have vowed that the state would remain undeveloped.
“There is so much decay in the state. Apart from the roads, many communities are not electrified. There is no public water supply in the state. The school system is in a sorry state, so is the healthcare system. Go to Abia and see projects that have been abandoned. There is no housing scheme for the people. Abia is in ruins because those who took over since 1999 have refused to develop the state. Go to all the states in the southeast, and even now, you will see that Abia is in a sorry state. Look at what is happening in Ebonyi with only 13 local government councils, a state that is not an oil-producing state, compare it with Abia that is an oil-producing state. So where are these resources? When you go to Ebonyi State and come back, you will see that it is a shame to all the people that have governed Abia. Majority of the citizens are suffering. We want a new Abia state.”
He stated that the clamour for power to rotate to Abia North was a genuine call, stressing however that what the state required to move forward was “somebody that has capacity to lead not the business as usual syndrome that they are trying to introduce. We need accountability in Abia State and in this 2023 election; we need to ask those who are already occupying offices to give us an account of their stewardship. The problem of Abia State is the handing of the baton. The truth is that these leaders threw up surrogates that refused to see beyond their nose. In every community in Abia State, there are efficient and credible people who have what it takes to move the state forward but they are not given opportunities. There has not been real democracy in Abia State and that is why I want to ask the youths to go out there and obtain their voter cards that will empower them to realise the change. There has been so much distortion in Abia State”
“There are schemes, bad blood and quarreling being injected into the state at the moment that has affected governance and that is the attempt to thwart the rotation arrangement. That is because Abia south (Ukwangwa) is asking for another eight years. It is very dangerous. I want the people of Abia state to hear me; I want the governor and those that matter to listen that this will not go down well for the state if we don’t check it. It is becoming more dangerous because information from available sources also has it that T.A Orji who got his nomination almost free of charge is also supporting the emergence of somebody from Abia central to occupy the office in 2023. This is causing confusion because it is sad that someone will go into the water and after drinking will pollute the water to deny his subjects water to drink.
“For record purposes, Abaribe and the current governor come from the same area. They are saying that Ikpeazu and Abaribe will swap positions. This has brought some concerns to some of us because it is trying to distort the equity and rotation that is going on in Abia state. So why would Abaribe come to the point of talking about governorship to the extent of going to the governor to announce his ambition? It surprised me that the governor, who is his brother, could not tell him that it is not their turn since they are the ones occupying the office at the moment.
He added: “Let the peace in Abia State continue. Let us not introduce divisive tendencies that could derail the brotherhood that is now at play in the state. The style of governance and the winner takes all mentality is not good for the development of Abia state and this is the system that must change with time”.
MEANWHILE, there is a kind of reawakening in Abia north aimed at ensuring that they wrest power from the incumbent in 2023. Nocturnal meetings are being convened to reassert the claim that it is their turn. The days ahead will show which zones gets upper hand in the race.