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A peep into Abia State’s controversial LG poll

By Leo Sobechi, Assistant Politics Editor
30 January 2021   |   3:00 am
The headquarters of Abia State Independent Electoral Commission (ABSIEC) does not betray the debauchery that has been associated with state electoral umpires. Sitting on an expansive acreage

ABSIEC Headquarters

The headquarters of Abia State Independent Electoral Commission (ABSIEC) does not betray the debauchery that has been associated with state electoral umpires. Sitting on an expansive acreage with its resplendent colours, the imposing structure seems to be a reward to ABSIEC for a job well done in the recent council poll in the state.

ABSIEC chairman, Prof. Mkpa Agu Mkpa, told The Guardian it was not so. He said although the building was commissioned a day to the Local Government election, the construction took 90 days to complete, adding that it was his first request to the state government when he was appointed in March 2020.

Yet, the controversies that trailed the 2020 council poll belied the diligence displayed in the construction of the befitting office. This is so because whatever could be said of Local Government Council polls, the exercise in Abia seems to exceed others in infamy due to what stakeholders described as “lack of thoroughness and procedural breaches”.

It could not be ascertained to what extent the huge voter apathy that greeted the council poll could be blamed on the less than excellent conduct of ABSIEC or the overbearing influence of the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

What was orchestrated as the redeeming feature of the controversial exercise turned out like sore thumb of the entire spectacle: Labour Party (LP), which neither participated in the lead up to the election nor put forward any candidate, was invested with six councillorship seats, out of the 10 slots in Ikwuano Local Government Council.

The question, which only ABSIEC and its chairman, Prof. Mkpa Agu Mkpa, the erstwhile Vice-Chancellor of Abia State University, Uturu, could answer is, at what point did Labour Party feature in its preparatory steps to the November 19, 2020 council poll.

Furthermore, why was it not possible for Labour Party, with its lack of visible structures in the state or the more competitive All Progressives Congress (APC) to win any seat in other areas of the state, where PDP showed its dominance?

Sore Puzzles
IN the buildup to the council poll, it was obvious that the contest was going to be between PDP and PDP. Despite its belief that the playfield was not made level by ABSIEC for all political parties, APC was said to have reluctantly decided to participate.

However, The Guardian gathered that after PDP organized straw polls for the selection of its chairmanship and councillorship candidates, the ground was set for the emergence of the party’s standard-bearers as unopposed contenders.

At a seminar organized by ABSIEC for aspirants on November 26, 2020, only chairmanship and councillorship candidates of PDP and APC showed up at the Umuahia Township Stadium.

But, in spite of those details, shortly after the election results were released on December 20, 2020, seven strange candidates were gifted with victories. Prominent on the result sheets were the substitution of Ugochukwu David of Agatanidu ward and Steve Anyalewechi of Oboro ward 3 in Ikwuano Local Government Council.

A pointer to the intriguing development was a purported letter by Agaodi Felix in which he announced his resignation from PDP.

In the letter dated November 26, 2020, Agaodi Obinna Felix of Umuezeukwu Umuigu Oboro of Oboro ward IV, stated: “I won my first council primary election in 2016 and I was the party’s candidate, but unfortunately, two days to the main election my name was removed from Abia state Independent Electoral Commission (ABSIEC) and the party (PDP) told me that her decision is supreme that next time, I will go and convince my supporters to remain calm, which they did.

“Am not just an ordinary member of the party, but a financial member and also a mobilizer. Still nothing was done concerning the ill-treatment meted on me, and my supporters till date.  In this 2020 PDP Councillorship primary, the state LG chairman convinced us that the primary would be very free and fair that we should go and mobilize our people.

“I went and mobilized my people on the day of the primaries hoping it will be free and fair because my supporters were two times more than that of my opponent, but when the PDP electoral officers saw it, they were biased then to my greatest surprise, they went and counted my opponent’s line and never counted mine and wrote result in my opponent’s favour. Is this not enough reasons for me to leave the party?”

Although Agaodi’s letter announced his resignation from PDP, there was no record of his application to join LP, assuming the party existed in the State and Local Government.

Investigation by The Guardian showed that Agaodi, who is now the Leader of Ikwuano Local Government Legislative Council, was surreptitiously smuggled into the ABSIEC result sheet in place of Ugochukwu David, who contested and won the election for political considerations by PDP chieftains.

Ugochukwu disclosed that the Labour Party candidate only featured on the day the result was announced; explaining that PDP leaders said the replacement of the names was due to the fact that the six councillors were connected to a member of House of Representatives, Hon. Sam Onuigbo, who was rumoured to be on his way to APC.

Also, buttressing Ugochukwu’s claims, Anyalewechi told The Guardian, that he was surprised to see that Jeff Aha, whom he defeated at the primary, was used to substitute his name on the ABSIEC result sheet.

Anyalewechi said: “I emerged as the flag bearer and won the election. My agent collected the result. But, to my surprise, our names were changed with LP candidates. Labour party did not purchase forms or even campaign, but ABSIEC announced their names as winners in place of about six of us.”

Anyalewechi disclosed that Felix Agaodi contested the primary and lost, stressing that in the list published by ABSIEC, which was posted on the commission’s office wall, only APC and PDP were shown. While remarking that he has no decision or wherewithal to go to court, Anyalewechi said it is left for Agaodi and ABSIEC to show where he (Agaodi) was handed files containing guidelines, and regulations guiding the election and questionnaires as was given to all candidates at the Umuahia Township Stadium during a seminar.

“We were invited to the seminar through a radio announcement and we paid N15, 000 for the seminar. I have pictures to show that I was at the stadium, Agaodi was not there, because LP did not participate,” he added.

But, reacting to the perceived flaws, the ABSIEC said his commission does not conduct primaries for political parties, insisting that 18 political parties indicated interest to participate in the council poll.

“The first meeting my commission held, there 18 that indicated interest to participate. And on the basis of the number of parties that indicated interest, the ballot papers and boxes were produced.

“Some parties believed that it was business as usual, that the ruling party has swept all the 293 seats. Some said results have already been written, some even took us to court, APC in particular. And when we went to Umunneochi LGA, they seized our men and materials. They said they wanted to check everything, “ he added.

Mkpa said it was based on the delays that the election in Umunneochi, which is a stronghold of APC, that the poll was shifted to the next day, December 19, 2020.

While contending that opposition parties did not plan to contest the election, Mkpa said the most crucial challenge state independent electoral commissions face was the suspicion from politicians, remarking at the level of Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions (FORSIECOM), chairmen are working to ensure that state commissions are made really independent.

He stated: “Parties resorted to campaigns of calumny because they have already felt defeated before the election. I was at the headquarters and not at the field but these were the reports I received. I called for police support from Umuahia to Umunneochi.”

Mkpa said the campaign of calumny and suspicion by political parties contribute to voter apathy, explaining that until state electoral commissions are made truly independent, parties in power would tend to put machinery in place to win.

He accused APC of trying to frustrate the process due to its lack of preparedness and suspicion that it was going to be business as usual. “We need voter education and people to understand that ABSIEC has the right to advertise and recruit ad-hoc staff and not political parties. We did not hire on the basis of party affiliation,” he declared.

The former vice-chancellor maintained that only electronic voting and legislations that insist that voting should be by use of card readers that manipulation would be permanently eradicated.

“If we face the facts, any party in power would put machinery in place to favour it. The cliché that he who pays the piper dictates the tune tends to obtain. I am not saying that obtained in Abia, but SIECs are dependently independent. Am being frank with you,” he reiterated.

Clash Of Two ‘Elephants’
THE saying that when two elephants fight, the grass under their feet suffers hold true in the Abia State 2020 LG poll. Ikwuano Local Government is the home council to political bigwigs like immediate past Governor Theodore Orji, who is also the Senator representing Abia Central in the National Assembly (NASS), as well as Hon. Sam Onuigbo, two-term member representing Ikwuano/Umuahia Federal Constituency in the lower chamber of NASS.

The Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly, Hon. Chinedu Orji, son of the former governor and PDP’s national organizing secretary, Capt Austin Akobundu, are also natives of the area.

While, ABSIEC and PDP celebrated the December 18, 2020 council poll in Abia State as a huge success, Ugochukwu (Agatanigu ward), Anyalewechi (Oboro ward 3); Chinwendu Nwosu, (Ibere Ward 1); Rita Anaba, (Azuiyi Ward); Faith Simon, (Usaka Ward) and Nduka Izuchukwu, (Ibere ward 2), who were sacrificed and supplanted with losers from nonexistent LP, have been left to lick their wounds.

The hapless councillorship candidates seem to have been caught in the crossfire of looming PDP versus APC battle that would be consummated in 2023. Although Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu has been strenuously denying any plans to cross over to federal governing APC, sources maintain that PDP leadership in the state were taken unawares by Hon. Onuigbo’s unilateral cross over.

The Guardian gathered from sources at the National Headquarters of APC that while former governor Orji Uzor Kalu was in Kuje prison, his successor and Senate counterpart, T. A. Orji, was making contacts with a view to defecting to the governing party.

According to the sources, the scheme was for APC to handover the party’s structure to the former governor alongside his godson, Governor Ikpeazu. But, the talks were said to have broken down based on Senate President Ahmad Lawan’s refusal to declare Senator Kalu’s seat vacant and the sudden reprieve from the Court of Appeal, which quashed the 12 years’ imprisonment of the fourth republic former governor.

Within Abia State, although Senator Orji has announced his intention to retire from active partisan politics, he is torn between plans to either impose his son, Chinedu, as governor or scale his political future to the national level by having him represent Ikwuano/Umuahi Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.

With Orji Uzor Kalu rallying stalwart politicians from Abia State to APC, it is left to conjecture what the contest for elective positions would turn out to be in 2023. The clash of ambitions explains the puzzling poodle by ABSIEC in the LG poll.

Cracked Slate
Governor Ikpeazu thumbed up the council poll as being peaceful; notwithstanding the apparent voter apathy that characteerised the exercise in the state.

While declaring PDP candidates as winners of the 17 chairmanship positions, ABSIEC chairman, disclosed that Labour Party won six councillorship seats, while PDP cleared all councillorship seats in the other council areas of the state.

Why it was only in Ikwuano council that LP could perform the electoral wonder might be a pointer to unsettled political scores in Abia politics. But, the unanswered questions about the local council poll remain the burden of ABSIEC and its chairman.