Abia crisis: PDP and likely change in power equation
The recent judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue Mr. Samson Uche Ogah, Certificate of Return as the governor-elect of Abia State came to many as great surprise, while others saw it coming, considering that in Nigerian politics anything is possible.
Most surprising was not the court judgment, but the urgency in which INEC issued the Certificate, and the uproars, intrigues, and apprehensions it generated.
Even though, the development which nearly created room for political turmoil in the State has been temporary put on hold, as parties in the dispute await further court rulings on the matter, whichever way the pendulum swings at the end will either change or sustain the seeming power sharing and zoning in the State.
There was no doubt that it was on the basis of the likely change in the power equation of the state that the development became apprehensive and tension-soaked.
It would be recall that before the PDP primary that produced Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as the party’s candidate, there were high-wire intrigues and politics in the party. While majority of the party stakeholders supported the idea of power shift to Abia South zone that has not produced a governor since 1999, some insisted on throwing the contest open for any of the three senatorial zone to grab, yet others argued that the zoning should be between Ukwa Ngwa and the old Bende.
The plank of the decision of the party’s major stakeholders in the state that the power should go to the South was because the North and the Central have before now produced governors of the state for eight year each.
Chief Orji Uzor Kalu who was governor of the State between 1999-2007 hails from Abia North, while his successor, Chief Theodore Orji who was governor of the state between 2007-2015 hails from Abia Central.
It was for this reason that the party stakeholders agreed and tactically zoned the party’s governorship ticket to Abia South zone. It was on the basis of this that Ikpeazu who hails from Abia South zone emerged the party’s candidate, after defeating the likes of Ogah, Barrister Friday Nwosu and others in the primaries. Although some accused Ikpeazu’s predecessor and Senator representing Abia Central, Theodore Orji of imposing Ikpeazu on the party, but those who challenged his emergence lost both in the party and at the court.
It was from this that Ikpeazu’s opponents who were not in support of his victory allegedly started searching for other loopholes to truncate his candidature. That was how the issue of alleged tax evasion against him came to fore, but not many including his supporters took the matter serious initially until the recent judgment of the Abuja Court.
Besides, during the electioneering campaigns ahead of the election, what was used against Ikpeazu’s main rival, Chief Alex Otti of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) was that he was not from Ngwa or Abia South as he claimed.
Otti’s spirited campaign to correct the impression about his community of origin proved abortive. Also his efforts to upturn Ikpeazu’s victory at the court after losing the election to him failed, following Supreme Court affirmation of Ikpeazu’s victory.
It can easily be concluded that the sentiment of the zoning or power sharing among the three zones in the state namely Abia North, Abia Central, and Abia South played major role in determining the outcome of the last governorship election in the state in which Ikpeazu emerged victorious.
But with the recent judgment against Ikpeazu, if by omission or commission, Ikpeazu looses to Ogah at the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court, it simply means that the zoning or power sharing among the three zones in the state would be altered.
With Ogah, who hails from the Abia North, like Orji Uzor Kalu as governor, it means that Abia North has produced another governor at the expense of the South that has not had a governor since 1999.
Political observers believed that it was for the obvious reason that the people of Abia South particularly Ngwa people are threatening fire and brimstones over the judgment that ceded the governorship seat to Ogah.
Although such threat or sentiment has no place in the constitution of the country, 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.
For instance, in Enugu between 1999-2007, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani from Enugu East zone was governor of the state. When his tenure ended in 2007, Mr. Sullivan Chime from Enugu West succeeded him. He was in the saddle for two terms of eight years before handing over to the incumbent governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi from Enugu North.
Also in Delta State, governor James Ibori who was the governor of the State between 1999-2007 was from Delta Central, his successor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan was from Delta South, while Uduaghan’s successor and current governor of the State Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is from Delta North zone. Even in Kogi State, where the Igala people which is the major ethnic group has always held sway, has been altered during the last governorship election with the emergence of Yahaya Bello as the governor.
It must be noted that from the inception of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the principles of zoning national offices was enshrined in the party’s constitution to engender fairness and equity in sharing political offices among the six geopolitical zones. The party stood by the principle until the untimely demise of President Umaru Musa Yar Adua in office. Yar Adua’s death altered the arrangement and since then the party has not been the same. The Northern PDP stakeholders’ opposition to the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s 2011 presidential ambition, which even took legal dimension virtually tore the party apart.
The party leaders later reached a truce that gave Jonathan leeway to contest the 2011 election and won. In 2015, the Northern PDP members who insisted that the party’s zoning principle must be maintained resisted President Jonathan’s move for re-election. But majority of the party stakeholders who knew about the zoning principle and the consequences of altering it played the ostrich for reasons best known to them.
After much hide-and-seek, bickering among the party leaders from the North and South coupled with the judicial pronouncements in favour of Jonathan, the party’s presidential ticket was handed to him without any contest. The party’s constitution was quickly amended to give Jonathan right of first refusal.
With this, coupled with power of incumbency, President Jonathan and the PDP went into the 2015 polls with confidence of getting victory, but the outcome was the opposite. Consequently, Jonathan and the PDP was overwhelmingly defeated by the All Progressive Congress (APC) in most of the PDP controlled states in the North.
Since after the election, some party bigwigs who either sat on the fence or played the ostrich at the peak of controversy over upholding party’s zoning principles have blamed the party’s loss of the presidency to its inability to uphold its zoning principles.
Many of them categorically stated that the party lost the election because it fielded Jonathan instead of a Northern candidate. That is the irony of Nigerian politics and its unprincipled politicians.
Even with 2019 still far away, the PDP leadership has since zoned the 2019 presidential seat to the North, in an attempt to remedy their 2015 mistake.From the forgoing, one can see the reason why the people of Abia South were worried and agitated with the court judgment that removed their son, Ikpeazu from office, and the spirited move by Ogah to replace him.
Commenting on the issue, a Lagos-based lawyer, Chuma Nworji told The Guardian that: “Zoning of political offices is the bane of good governance because it promotes sectional politics instead of good governance. The best and most qualified should be given chance at all times irrespective of his zone.”
But a political analyst and APC chieftain in Lagos, Mr. Jude Idiba said: “The zoning principle has been in operation in Lagos since 1999 and it has brought peace and rapid development in the State. At a time, it was like a battle between Christians and Muslims in the state, but the party stakeholders handled it well leading to the victory of Governor Akinwumi Ambode in the election,” Idiba said.
For now, Ikpeazu and his people will heave a temporal sigh of relief, following the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) ‘s position that both parties should await the courts rulings on the matter.While Ikpeazu remained in office as the governor, Ogah would be outside awaiting further court judgments that may or may not go in his favour.