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Curious Abia State political scenario that may shape 2023

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Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe

The results of the 2019 polls in Abia State have brought the state into a curious public focus. The polls saw two Abia State ex-governors, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, and his successor, Chief Theodore Orji, who both governed the state for two terms of eight years each, elected into the senate. While Orji was re-elected senator for a second term from Abia Central District on the PDP platform, Kalu of APC became an elected first-term senator from Abia North District.

Interestingly, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe also of PDP, who was re-elected into the senate for the fourth term from Abia South District, was Kalu’s first deputy when now Senator Theodore Orji was also ex-governor Kalu’s Chief of Staff. From 2019 polls, Senator Orji’s son, Hon. Chinedum Orji, also of PDP, was re-elected into the current 7th Abia State House of Assembly where he was unanimously elected Speaker of the House.

A little over three and half years ahead of the 2023 elections, two political blocs within Abia North Senatorial District that would take a second turn to produce the next governor of the state have started to agitate for and lay claim to it. Curiously, many desire to know the reason behind the election and or re-election of these three senators after they had served the state in elected positions for many years and why they continue to offer themselves yet again and have refused to leave the stage for others despite that qualified people abound and are willing to also serve the state and their fatherland.

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Also curious is the import of Senator Orji’s son (Chinedum) entry into active politics and why there are agitation and claim by the two Abia North blocs to the 2023 Abia governorship.

Senator Orji Uzor Kalu
He started at a much younger age and soon became a man of the people. He had served as an elected member of the short-lived House of Representatives during the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida diarchy and long after this, he was elected governor in 1999 and re-elected for another term.

After serving two terms as governor, he tried unsuccessfully to be elected into the Senate but was defeated by late Senator Uche Chukwumerije and another attempt by Senator Mao Ohuabunwa of PDP who he (Kalu) defeated in 2019 to realize his senatorial ambition.

Senator Kalu is widely known in the state, and even across the country; arguably, he is not a lightweight politician. Going by his charismatic and political astuteness, philanthropy, nationwide connections, and amiability, he parades large political admirers and supporters across the state and beyond.

However, his fame gradually suffered a decline. It was why he failed two elections in his bid to get to senate until this year when he successfully contested on the ruling APC’s platform.

Mr. John Nwoke expressed the view that Kalu’s popularity when it comes to winning an election is hinged on how he allegedly changed his positive disposition to many of his former political associates, including Senators Orji and Abaribe who he parted ways with politically at some point among many others. 

“You can’t put Orji Kalu in your pockets,” Nwoke said. “He naturally would want to have his way. If you see him as a lightweight, you will be proved wrong. Recall how he quit PDP under President Olusegun Obasanjo, formed Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and got re-elected as governor along with majority members of the state’s House of Assembly and all National Assembly members from the state who decamped from PDP to his then newly formed PPA”.

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Senator Theodore Orji
Senator Orji, on the other hand, never aspired to be an active politician much less to the extent of seeking elective office. He simply wanted to rise to the peak of his civil service career as permanent secretary from which position Senator Kalu, as governor, appointed him (Senator Orji) as his Chief of Staff for the eight years he (Kalu) was governor.

Perhaps, having established Orji’s competence and acceptability by the people of the state, Kalu would later support him to contest and he won the governorship and succeeded him on PPA’s platform.

Many are, however, agreed that it was not only Kalu that worked for the emergence of Orji as governor as being claimed in some quarters. A political analyst in the state, Mr. Onyema Ukaegbu, pointed out that Senator Orji had, during his years in the public service, as Chief of Staff and first-term governor built tremendous goodwill that endeared him to the electorate who voted for his second term re-election as governor after he had decamped from PPA and returned to PDP.

“If Senator Kalu made Senator Orji, why did he (Kalu) not stop Orji’s second term Guber re-election?” Ukaegbu asked.

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe
This is one man who was deputy to Kalu during his first term in office but could not continue with him under two years. After Abaribe’s exit, Kalu appointed late Dr. Chima Nwafor in place of Abaribe. The same Nwafor did not also complete that tenure with Kalu.

Abaribe had contested the state Guber election under the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and lost to Senator Orji. Luckily, Abaribe, who continued to persevere politically, has won the senate seat for four consecutive times when he returned to PDP.

Hon. Chinedum Orji
He was not in the public sphere until his father’s bid for second term governorship. It was gathered that when his father as governor introduced Youth Empowerment Programme, Chinedum not only supported it, but he played a role that attracted many people and politicians to contribute to the programme in cash and kind.

It was this role that won him the admiration of the youths in the state who expectedly vowed to support his father’s re-election. And having re-elected his father, the youths in their bid to have one of their own in an elective political position, prevailed on him to vie for election into the state’s House of Assembly, first in 2015 and again in 2019.

A political analyst and commentator on policy matters, Dr. Ken Madu, has described the election and re-election of Kalu, Orji, Abaribe and even Chinedum Orji to their various positions as democratic in so far as they were done in accordance with the law.

“In my own assessment, their antecedents qualified them,” he said. “But we expect that they do not plan for their graves in elective public offices. Rather, they should take their turn reasonably and give others a chance to succeed them”.

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Why they won re-elections
MANY in some quarters attribute Senator Kalu’s 2019 senate election victory to his personal merit and courage to speak out on national issues, especially issues that are pro-Southeast, his national acceptability, including his membership of ruling APC, at a time APC has few Southeast members of substance and political weight that President Muhammadu Buhari could listen to. These are besides his various philanthropic gestures to the people.

Senator Orji succeeded mainly because of his insistence before the 2015 polls that his successor must be from the Ngwa stock from Abia South Senatorial District whose turn it was to produce the next governor from 2015. The Abia Central Senatorial District that Senator Orji represents comprises six LGAs, namely three non-Ngwa LGAs – Umuahia North, Umuahia South, and Ikwuano and the three Ngwa – Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South, and Osisioma Ngwa.

To reciprocate his gesture, the Ngwa bloc in the state has vowed to, as they did in 2015, to re-elect Senator Orji back to senate in 2019 so that he would again support the re-election of Governor Ikpeazu (an Ngwa) to enable him to do a second term like his two predecessors of Abia North and Central – Uzor Kalu and Theodore Orji.

According to Chima Eze, it was reasonable that if the Ngwa should resolve to elect and re-elect Orji, it would be imperative that Orji’s kinsmen of the three non-Ngwa LGAs would vote and return him naturally.

Senator Abaribe can be said to derive his longevity in the Senate on his merit as a vocal senator that not only speaks for the interest of his zone but the Southeast as a whole. It is also alleged some quarters that he is being elected and re-elected to stop him from bidding for the governorship against governor Ikpeazu who both hail from Obingwa LGA in Abia South District and thus stir needless competition among Abia South Guber aspirants in such a manner that would split their votes in favour of a non-Abia South candidate.

According to reports, it was to dissuade Abaribe from the Guber contest that he was allowed to re-contest for the senate in 2019. But the main reason is that his being a fourth time and ranking senator would stand him in a position to emerge the Senate President if PDP had won the 2019 election.

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The call by Dr. Madu for the trio of senators – Kalu, Orji, and Abaribe – to consider leaving the stage for others is already being rationalised within their constituencies with respect to where their successors will emerge in 2023 and their political fate thereafter.

What next after current senate tenure?
MADU has advised Senators Orji and Abaribe to either contest for the presidency in 2023, seek a federal appointment or aspire to the leadership position of their party. He opined that Abaribe would not, on moral ground, re-contest for the senate after four terms or the governorship after his kinsman Governor Ikpeazu would have completed two terms on behalf of their Abia South Zone.

According to Madu, the Senate seat will, in 2023, go to Aba or Ukwa axis, both in Abia South zone, adding that it would be out of order for Ikpeazu to aspire to the senate in 2023. He advised rather that he should seek ministerial or other appointments at the federal level and including party office.

For Senator Kalu, Madu said being a first-time senator, he could re-contest, adding that Hon. Chinedum Orji should re-approach his Umuahia Central Constituents and his wider Abia youths for direction whether to return to the state House of Assembly or seek election into the House of Representatives.

Agutation for and claim to 2023 governorship 
THE founding fathers of the state had, during their agitation for its creation out of old Imo State, propounded in a document called Abia Charter of Equity that the principal offices of the proposed Abia State, especially that of the governor, should be made to rotate among the then four-component districts, namely Afikpo (now in Ebonyi State), Isuikwuato, Bende and Aba to allay fears of domination or marginalization by any of the components against the other or others.

Abia State got its name from the four districts’ first letters – ‘A’ for Afikpo, ‘B’ for Bende, ‘I’ for Isuikwuato, and ‘A’ for Aba. Afikpo was later ceded to Ebonyi State during its creation.

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Before the creation of Abia in 1991, it was agreed that the governorship would rotate then among Afikpo, Bende, Isuikwuato and Aba districts which were all in the proposed area for Abia State. But after the creation of Abia State, with Afikpo ceded to Ebonyi, the governorship position’s rotation changed from district to the three senatorial zones along with with Abia North, Abia Central, and Abia South districts.

Abia North Senatorial District (or Old Bende) is to take the next slot for the second time going by the rotation along the three senatorial zones. Abia North or Old Bende now comprises two blocs – Isuikwuato and Umunneochi (which used to be one Old Isuikwuato before the creation of Abia State from the old Imo state) and the Ohafia/Arochukwu/Bende (Ohafia Bloc). 

The next governor from 2023 is supposed to come from either of the two blocs (Isuikwuato of Ohafia). But indication has emerged that each of the blocs has started laying claim to it.

Speaking in favour of Ohafia zone in a recent press statement, Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), an umbrella body of all youth organizations in Southeast, led by its President-General, Chief Goodluck Egwu Ibem, said Abia State has been rotating the governorship seat among the three senatorial zones – North, Central and South – as recommended by the state’s founding fathers in the Charter of Equity which, however, has yet no legal backing.

“Abia North produced Senator Orji Uzor Kalu as the Executive Governor from 1999 to 2007. Abia Central Senator produced Theodore Orji from 2007 to 2015 while Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia South took over in 2015 to end his second term in 2023. Now that Abia South is having its turn, the governorship position will move back to Abia North Senatorial zone in 2023.

COSEYL posited that out of the five local government areas, namely Ohafia, Bende, Isuikwuato, Arochukwu, and Umunneochi LGAs that comprise Abia North Senatorial zone, Bende LGA produced the state governor in 1999 and Senator 2019. Similarly, that Isuikwuato produced a Senator Ike Nwachukwu from 1999 – 2003 and presently, a federal minister in the person of Dr. Uche Ogah. 

Arochukwu produced senator Mao Ohuabunwa in 2015 and Senator Uche Chukwumerije from 2003 to 2015. In addition, it now has Hon. Nkeiru Onyejeocha as principal officer in the federal House of Representatives.

According to COSEYL, after rationalising the sharing of state and federal political positions in the state, it saw that the only local government area in the zone that has not produced a senator or a governor from 1999 to date is Ohafia Local Government Area. And so for equity and justice, the group says Ohafia LGA should produce the next governor in 2023.

“Over the years, Ohafia has been marginalised in political positions and 2023 is the ample time to right the wrongs,” the group said in the statement.

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The second term serving deputy governor of the state, Dr. Ude Oko Chukwu, hails from Ohafia LGA. He was a three-term state lawmaker and became the 5th House Speaker. Another foremost politician of repute, Chief Ukpai Agwu Ukpai, is also from Ohafia.

COSEYL’s position might have been prompted by the recent claim to the position by the Isuikwuato bloc under the aegis of Isuikwuato District Welfare Association (IDWA).

IDWA’s claim was made known in a communiqué it issued to journalists after its non-partisan meeting held late July at the palace of the traditional ruler of Enyi na Obiangwu Isuikwuato, Eze Ezo Ukandu, a former Chairman of the State Traditional Rulers Council.

IDWA noted that its resolution to claim the slot and agitate for it (2023 Guber slot), was taken before the 2019 polls but it was decided that its exposition should be withheld in order not to shake the order of rotation that might prevent governor Ikpeazu of Abia South Senatorial District from smooth re-election.

According to IDWA’s statement, “For the people of Isuikwuato District, time, season and circumstances define moments and also inform decisions. The dominance of old Bende people over the district is ossifying and relegating our people to an inconsequential entity to the project ABIA.

“We are not old Bende. It is an error of judgment to connote, to lump, to regard, to assume and subscribe to the people of Isuikwuato District as old Bende. It is strange and remote to be so addressed; not even in the time of colonial masters. This is a historical and administrative wrong foisted on us by the new slave masters. We refuse to accept that. We want to engender political distillation needed to acknowledge our common ancestral political heritage. We were of the Okigwe Division.

“The Abia State gubernatorial seat should be drafted by all parties to Isuikwuato District, in the spirit of Abia Charter of Equity. We have supported Afikpo mount the rostrum of power. We worked wholesomely and tirelessly for Bende to take their slots. We even disabled our sons for Aba Division to assume power in the spirit of a good conscience; what is good for the geese is also good for the gander”.

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Besides, IDWA stated that its people were being marginalised in the Abia Project which stands on four legs, stressing that their district must be respected and honoured in the political architecture of the state.

According to IDWA, “Since creation, no substantive office is zoned to the district in line with the Abia Charter of Equity. In chapter 6, PP 134 – 135 titled the ‘Basis of Administration and the Rotation Principle’ emphasised that the following offices and political posts shall be fairly distributed and not be held at one and the same time by persons of the same Senatorial zone.

“Governor and deputy governor, governor and Speaker of the House of Assembly, governor and secretary to the government, Chairman Civil Service Commission and Head of Service, Chief Judge, and the Attorney-General, Chairman Local Government Service Commission and Chairman Electoral Commission and Head of Service and Secretary to the state government.

“All the above named, not even one has come to the Isuikwuato District since the return of democracy in 1999. In the prelude to the creation of Abia State on August 27, 1991, the men and women of weight from the area contributed their substance and time in the creation of their dream state, Abia. In fact, the first meeting of Abia State Creation Movement was launched in Isuikwuato District”.

IDWA commended Governor Ikpeazu, describing him as equity governor with resolve to leave an enduring legacy of service and urged all Abians to support the governor stressing, “for without peace there will not be development and without development, there will be no peace”. 


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