2023 and acid test for Abia state’s charter of equity
What is not contestable as the 2023 general elections draw near is that zoning, the strength of the political parties, their candidates and choice of running mates as well as the influence of the political heavy-weights will to a large extent determine who will be the next governor of Abia State.
Of these factors however, the zone that should produce the governor in 2023 appears central among other considerations for the number one office of the state. This is because of the tension that has been imported into the electoral system by those who insist that zoning should be retained and those who believe that the next governor could come from any zone of the state. Those in support of rotation are of the opinion that it has created a sense of belonging, arguing further that certain zones that benefitted from it could not have done so, while others against it, feel that the next tranche should begin with the next governor.
Already the manner of emergence of the candidates for the number one slot underscores the seriousness in the contest. For instance, while no governorship candidate has come from Abia south, apparently due to their belief that it is not their turn; the duo of Abia north and Central are sparing no effort in squaring up against each other for the number one position.
While the North has produced more contestants in Professor Gregory Ibe of APGA, Bishop Sunday Onuoha of African Democratic Congress, Mascot Uzor Kalu of Action Peoples Party, Jonas Chibuike of Action Democratic Party, Apostle Mrs Grace Johnson – Ogbuneke of SDP and Nnennaya Lancaster- Okoro of the PRP, the Abia Central Zone has Professor Ikonne of the PDP, Dr Alex Otti of the Labour Party, Dr Ikechi Emenike of the APC, Enyinnaya Chima Nwafor of YPP and Bishop Emeka Nwankpa of Accord party.
The zoning mantra, though not legal but contained in a document called “Abia Charter of Equity” and began in 1999 has ensured rotation of power at the centre among the three geo political zones of North, South and Central in the state.
If the order the governorship had rotated among the three senatorial zones since 1999 is followed as stipulated in the Abia Charter of Equity (Charter), Abia North is the zone expected to produce the next governor in 2023. This is because each of the three zones would have by May 29th, 2023 taken turns to produce the governor. That would have also meant the start of another round of governorship rotation beginning in 2023.
Going by the Charter, the North, Central and South have in turns produced governors that ruled for two terms of eight years each in the persons of Senators Orji Uzor Kalu for North and Theodore Orji for Central and now Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, who took the turn of the South and is due to complete his second term in May, 2023.
Recent developments have signalled that this Charter provision/recommendation is threatened with the emergence of candidates, especially from the central, which handed over to the incumbent governor and where the incumbent is also poised to return power having picked his successor from there.
But a first indication that this Charter would not apply for the 2023 election was the agitation by Ukwa Ngwa group, who insisted on producing the next governor after Ikpeazu, despite that he (Ikpeazu) is of Ukwa Ngwa bloc that consists Abia South and part of Central.
They had based their argument on the ground that the Old Bende bloc (non-Ukwa Ngwa) that comprises Abia North and some parts of Central had produced the past state governors for sixteen years; and that they should be allowed to produce the next governor in 2023 for the next eight years to balance the sixteen years the Old Bende.
To seemingly support this scenario, the state ruling PDP decided that the next governor should emerge from the Abia Central zone, which comprises nine local government councils, three of Ukwa Ngwa and three Old Bende (non Ukwa Ngwa). They include Isiala Ngwa north; Isiala Ngwa south; Osisoma Ngwa; Umuahia North; Umuahia South and Ikwuano councils.
The party had further gone on to conduct its governorship primary election in the state where an Ukwa Ngwa person of Abia Central Zone extraction Professor Eleazar Uchenna Ikonne emerged as candidate.
The development had widened the gulf in the party leading to the resignation from the PDP of some top members including professor Gregory Ibe (Abia North), Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Chief Chuku Wachuku, Engr Enyinnaya Chima Nwafor, among others.
While Professor Ibe and Nwafor quickly joined APGA and Young Progressives Party (YPP) and became their guber candidates respectively, Abaribe and Wachuku who joined APGA and YPP became senatorial candidates of the political parties for Abia South and Central senatorial zones respectively for the 2023.
This scenario of dumping the Charter, the lopsided concentration of party offices in the PDP, Ikpeazu’s performances in office, selection of running mates, and crisis in PDP, APC, and gender among others will determine the voting pattern in the guber election in the state.
A chieftain of the APGA, Chief Jasper Igwe while insisting that zoning should be maintained for progress in the state, told The Guardian that what the PDP had done by their action was like changing the goal post in the middle of match. He insisted that the idea of supporting a successor of Ikpeazu from Abia Central was not fair on the state, stressing that the governor and his party should allow the peace that had pervaded the polity as per rotation to be sustained.
“Abia North has waited patiently for 16 years based on the spirit of tolerance and brotherhood for power to rotate to other zones of the state; but the way the governor and his PDP have gone so far, seems to say that those who were waiting should be treated as fools. APGA has other interests from other zones of the state but we decided to respect that Charter by ensuring that we picked our candidate from the north. I will not have any problem if other parties have done so. But we have taken the matter to the electorate and all that love peace. Let them use their votes to decide the kind of politics they would want in their state,” he stated.
Reminded that political power was not dashed but should be acquired based on the conviction one has in a candidate and his political party, he insisted that APGA has presented “one of the best anybody can think of in Abia State.”
“This party, which became the symbol of Igbo spirit has Professor Gregory Ibe who is the single largest employer of labour in Abia State as its governorship candidate. We believe as governor, he can curdle, nurture and grow the state the way he did and does his businesses successfully as well as make Abia the second state controlled by APGA after Anambra.
“He has been prepared by nature for great enormous role in Nigeria and as the hope of the hopeless. His vision is a new Abia that will rejig the critical sectors of governance in the state and provide for the implementation of a decentralized governance structure that will take government to the grassroots through the construction of government house annexes in the 17 Local Government Areas, thereby encouraging rotation of state executive council meetings from one LGA to another.”
The PDP has produced the governor of the state since 1999, even as power rotated to the various zones. Are there any possibility that the scenario might change in 2023 following the contention over the zoning and that fact that the party has deliberately decided to flout an existing charter? The fact remains that though the party has dominated over who rules the state; it has seriously failed to replicate same success on other elective positions at the National and State Assemblies. It has been an admixture of PDP, APGA and APC for the elective offices in the state.
However it may be looked at, the capacity of those angling that rotation should be sustained and that it is the turn of Abia north must come to play. Again, does the PDP, which in 2007 moved power to Abia central and in 2015 moved it again to Abia south has what it takes to insist that same should be returned to Abia central, thereby denying the north? Can the APC and Labour Party by their being in power at the centre of the country and the popularity of Peter Obi’s presidential aspiration, respectively, muster enough goodwill to turn the tide?
These are the issues trailing the campaigns in the state. While the PDP relies on its power of incumbency as a strategy and on its guber candidate, Professor Eleazar Uchenna Ikonne, a former Vice Chancellor of the State University; the APC is relying on Dr Ikechi Emenike, a development economist to turn the table.
On the other hand, the Labour Party has a former banker, Dr Alex Otti to pull the surprise. These men incidentally are coming from the Central part of the state.
Looking at the caliber of politicians and leaders from the north, such as former governor, Orji Kalu; Mao Ohuabunwa, Greg Ibeh; Major General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd.) and Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd), among others, they could easily have influenced and sustained zoning system beyond 2023, to guarantee peace and equity for all.
But this was not possible despite their towering influence on the state and the parties. They could not get the two leading political parties – PDP and APC to cede their governorship tickets to their area. Many see their inability to influence and sustain the pattern of zoning as a weakness and apparent loss of control. In fact, if Greg Ibeh had not quit the PDP for APGA, the ticket of the party would have probably eluded the area.
Beyond sustaining the Charter of Equity was the need to break the PDP’s political dominance in the state. A source stated that if PDP is not checked, the party would disrupt the peace, justice and fairness the state had achieved in politics.
He added that: “It was like concentrating power in the two zones of south and central and setting us in the path of political war. I am aware that even the zone that produced the incumbent governor could not have done so, if there was no zoning. So the big question is, why did the party jettison it?”
The governorship race includes smaller parties like the YPP, ACCORD, ADC, SDP and PRP; and they have so far marshaled out their programmes. In the next three, four months, it will be clear how the Chatter of Equity could have remained a problem solver in a state where different political and primordial tendencies cohabit.