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How Obidient ‘Tsunami’ tests Southeast governors’ Senatorial ambition

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
26 October 2022   |   2:50 am
The recent abduction of Hon. Linus Abaa Okorie, the Labour Party (LP) Senatorial contender for Ebonyi South Senatorial District, reinforced the simmering challenges confronting outgoing Southeast

[FILES] Ebonyi state governor, Umahi

The recent abduction of Hon. Linus Abaa Okorie, the Labour Party (LP) Senatorial contender for Ebonyi South Senatorial District, reinforced the simmering challenges confronting outgoing Southeast governors’ ambition to retire to the Red Chamber of the National Assembly in 2023.

In Abia State, Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu has the popular Senator Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe to contend with. For the Southeast Governors’ Forum chairman, King David Umahi, Labour Party’s Linus Okorie and Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Senator Michael Nnachi are determined to interrogate his popularity in Ebonyi South Senatorial District.
Coming to Enugu State, where outgoing Governor Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi picked the PDP Senatorial ticket for Enugu North District, a former serial governorship aspirant on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC), who is now in LP, Chief Okey Ezea (Ideke) is proving a huge torn on the electoral flesh of the incumbent governor.
If the three outgoing governors succeed in their quest to graduate to the National Assembly, they would have replicated similar ascension by Senators Chimaroke Nnamani, Sam Ominyi Egwu, Theodore Orji, Orji Uzor Kalu and Owelle Rochas Okorocha.
Apart from Nnamani, Orji and Okorocha, other former governors like Kalu and Egwu could not secure immediate progression to the Senate after their tenures due to come political exigencies that cut short their ambitions.
For instance, in 2007, when he served out his tenure, Kalu’s aspiration for the Presidency displaced him from contesting the Senate, just as in 2011 the strong political clout of late Senate Uche Chukwumerije could not secure him another term.

Governor of Enugu State, Ugwuanyi

Like Kalu, the former Ebonyi State governor, Egwu, attempted to become the President and national chairman of PDP at the end of his eight years tenure in 2007. His attempt to retrieve the PDP from his former Commissioner for Finance, Senator Tony Agbo, ended in futility as Agbo insisted that he was too big a politician to serve as a placeholder, especially after serving as Speaker of the old Enugu State House of Assembly, long before Egwu joined politics.
It was a similar political incongruity and miscalculation that denied the former Imo State governor in the same class ’99 governors, Chief Achike Udenwa, the opportunity of travelling to Abuja as Senator to represent Imo West Senatorial District.
Udenwa’s decision to plant Osita Izunaso as a placeholder and the plot by late Senator Arthur Nzeribe to return to the Red Chamber, both suffered a setback. The maverick Nzeribe stonewalled Udenwa’s efforts to take the place of Izunaso by insisting that in the event of a voluntary withdrawal by the Senatorial candidate, he (Nzeribe) was the rightful replacement having been returned as the first runner-up in the Senatorial primary.
Out of the five Southeast states, only Anambra State does not have the penchant for governors hurrying to represent their zones at the Senate after their tenures, perhaps due to the convoluted politics of the state. Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju suffered the political wickedness of being denied an automatic second-term ticket in 2003, unlike his other PDP colleagues. Peeved by that mistreatment, Mbadinuju veered into the Alliance for Democracy (AD), where his second-term aspiration could not bear a successful outcome.
But, Dr. Chris Ngige, who was rigged into office as placeholder governor in Mbadinuju’s place, could not sustain the electoral heist that propelled him into office for four years. In 2006, Peter Obi, the governorship standard bearer of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 2003 poll, retrieved his mandate as a validly elected candidate.
In 2011 Ngige made it to the Senate, which was his original ambition before the political godfathers imposed him on PDP as governor. Ngige struggled to defeat the former Director General of the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the late Prof. Dora Akunyili after the Anambra Central Senatorial District election was declared inconclusive.

Okezie Ikpeazu

The make-up election for Umunachi, during which N45million separated the two candidates, showed how far the popularity of opposition candidates can go to make things strenuous for former governors in Senatorial contests.
It is against this background that the sudden momentum being generated by the Labour Party in Southeast after the former Anambra State governor, Obi, emerged as its Presidential standard bearer, is causing some sleepless nights for the three outgoing governors of Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu States.
The three states are chasing history to emerge as states with two former governors in the Senate, which Abia State pioneered in 2019. However, recent, there has been much of citizens’ grumbling about the performance of the outgoing governors as well as the rationale for their desperation to become Senators after eight years of administering the entire states as their constituency.
This subdued protest seems to undergird the campaigns by Labour Party supporters in the geopolitical zone for a new political paradigm, even as they decry the years of electoral malfeasance and lack of accountable governance in the region.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2014, Senator Chukwumerije regretted the quality of persons being supported by Southeast governors to represent various constituencies from the region in the National Assembly. He said some of them do not understand the legislative process and why they should be in the parliament, pointing out that during votes and proceedings some of them had to seek leadership from the governors.
Similarly, LP governorship standard-bearer for Enugu State, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga said the penchant for governors to retire to the Senate disposes them towards skewed appointments and improper distribution of amenities so as to brighten their electoral chances for the Senate.  
However, despite such negative observations, the governors insist that the experience they garnered as state chief executives place them to offer excellent representation and legislation to the people.
Consequently, given the ambition of the outgoing governors, the 2023 general elections could present as a sort of referendum on the performance of the affected chief executives’ tenures as far as Senatorial contests are involved.
It is therefore in light of the foregoing that the onslaught of the Obidient Movement, as the supporters of the LP presidential candidate are known, becomes a strong point in the build-up to the February 25, 2023, National Assembly elections in Southeast. The development is expected to impact the governor’s senatorial race in different ways.

ABIA: Ikpeazu versus Abaribe
ABIA South Senatorial District has two powerful political figures- Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Senator Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe- contesting to represent the zone in the 10th Senate. While Governor Okezie feels that Abaribe has overstayed in the National Assembly, the incumbent Senator declared his intention to succeed the governor.
Although Abaribe insists that the Constitution does not put a term limit to members of the legislature, he contended that since Governor Okezie wants a fellow Ngwa to succeed him, he (Abaribe) was most qualified, having served previously as a deputy governor of the state.

But, the governor argued that a person from the Ngwa axis in Abia Central Senatorial District was preferred to balance the 16 years that persons from the Bende axis, namely Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and Senator T.A. Orji, served the state as governors.
As such, having botched Abaribe’s governorship ambition in PDP, the Senator’s supporters convinced him to move over to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), where Prof. Gregory Ibe had already announced his gubernatorial ambition, to pave the way for Abaribe’s return to the Senate.
The euphoria of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s election as Anambra State governor also raised the perception in Southeast that the people were tired of the two major political parties, APC and PDP, especially given that none of the platforms considered a Southeasterner for its presidential ticket.
As PDP confronts the internal dissension within its structure caused by the disagreements between Governor Nyesom Wike and the party’s presidential contender, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, over Dr Iyorchia Ayu’s insistence on retaining his office as national chairman, Abaribe feels that the stability of APGA would enhance his chances.
Both candidates-Ikpeazu and Abaribe-are campaigning on their records of public service. Abaribe’s supporters push the narrative that the outgoing governor did not perform optimally to warrant election to the Senate. They point to the low-level infrastructure and environmental squalor in Aba to drive home their point that Ikpeazu performed below expectations.
Not long ago, the status of Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, where the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) withdrew the institution’s accreditation, became a duelling point for the two senatorial combatants. While some commentators loyal to Abaribe accused the governor of nonchalance and failure to take the educational needs of youths seriously, the state government disclosed that the accreditation was politically motivated, as NBTE has never withdrawn the accreditation of any polytechnic.
During a meeting with members of the Federation of Abia Students, Governor Ikpeazu praised the students’ leaders for not lending themselves to be used by politicians to cause problems in the state. The governor pointed out that the state government had never defaulted in remitting its subventions to the polytechnic, adding that the polytechnic is self-accounting and does not remit revenues from tuition or admission fees to the government.
Ikpeazu, who released N450million to the polytechnic to settle its arrears of salaries, however, pointed out that it was not the business of NBTE to intervene in industrial disputes between any institution and its staff. While insisting that NBTE went overboard by withdrawing accreditation from Abia Polytechnic, Ikpeazu said his ambition to represent Abia South Senatorial District in the Senate must have frightened some unnamed politicians into stoking the embarrassing action against Abia Polytechnic, Aba.
Nonetheless, in the wider Southeast, Senator Abaribe is perceived as the conscience of the Igbo nation, even as young people hold him in high esteem for his principled stance against the perceived antagonistic stance of the APC federal government in the region.  
How these issues, domestic and foreign would shape the contest for the February 25 Senatorial election remains a source of public conversation.

EBONYI: Umahi versus Okorie
The journey to Umahi and Okorie’s imminent electoral clash preceded the current crisis. Both men were allies even before the then-deputy governor, Umahi, battled his principal, Governor Martins Elechi, for the PDP governorship ticket in 2015.
As state PDP chairman, Umahi had supported Okorie’s aspiration to represent Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo federal constituency in the House of Representatives in 2011. Umahi knew that he would need strong backers from the federal constituency for his governorship ambition.

And, in 2015, as part of the strategy to keep PDP lawmakers in his corner as he contested the party’s governorship ticket with his unwilling principal, who was supporting a different candidate, Umahi, handed incumbent lawmakers with automatic tickets.
That was how Hon Okorie berthed in the Green Chamber for a second term in 2015. However, in the lead-up to the 2019 general elections, Okorie could not mistake signs that the governor would not support his aspiration for a third term in the House of Representatives, because that would be fortifying Okorie’s arsenal to confront him (Umahi) for the Ebonyi South Senatorial District seat in 2019.
Again, knowing that he had prepared the grounds to cross over to the APC, Governor Umahi, as a calculating political player, was said to have confided in close associates that allowing Okorie to get back to the lower house in 2019 could come back to haunt his Senatorial aspiration in 2023.
But, PDP insiders disclosed that the decision to stop Okorie in 2019 was to maintain the rotation arrangement for the federal constituency among the three local government councils, where they said nobody has represented the constituency for more than two terms.
Having taken the development in his strides, when Vice President Atiku Abubakar selected Mr. Peter Obi as his presidential running mate for the 2019 election, the simmering political unease between Umahi and Okorie boiled over. While Umahi led other Southeast political leaders to agitate against Atiku’s ‘unilateral’ nomination of the former Anambra State governor as his running mate, Okorie joined the list of signatories to Atiku’s presidential nomination forms.
The governor and his former Rep remained at opposing political corners until the 2019 elections were won and lost. After Umahi’s subsequent defection, Okorie’s attempt to pick the PDP senatorial ticket for Ebonyi South Senatorial District ran into a hitch. Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, and other stakeholders wanted the incumbent Senator, Dr Michael Nnachi to continue in the spirit of party cohesion.
Peeved by the troubled senatorial primaries, Okorie filed a suit in court seeking a determination of which was the valid PDP structure and set of primaries. While the case was pending, Okorie’s supporters prevailed on him to join LP, where he effortlessly picked the party’s senatorial ticket for Ebonyi South.
No sooner than the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) published the list of candidates for the February 25 poll than Governor Umahi, who had prevailed in the contest for APC’s ticket with Mrs Nwanyimma Agom-Eze, started looking forward to the main poll.
Going by the configuration of Ebonyi South Senatorial District, the Senatorial candidates of the front-line political parties, APC, APGA, PDP and LP, all have their catchment areas well carved out, except Umahi and Okorie, who are coming from contiguous communities.  
While APGA’s Ifeanyi Eleje hails from the populous Afikpo, PDP’s Nnachi is from neighbouring Afikpo South (Edda). So, the thinking is that given the fact that Okorie represented Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo federal constituency, his candidacy would eat deep into Umahi’s vote haul.
The governor’s supporters, perhaps frightened by the possibility of an unpredictable outcome in the senatorial contest, were said to have perfected plans to intimidate the former member of the House of Representatives or keep him out of circulation like was done to the Labour Party governorship candidate in last year’s gubernatorial poll in Anambra State, Obiora Agbasimelo.
Not long after the alleged abduction of Okorie broke out last Monday than the LP national chairman, Julius Abure, urged the Inspector General of Police to ensure that the Anambra scenario does not repeat itself.  
Abure lamented the systematic and unrelenting attacks on LP candidates in the Southeast, noting that the violent attacks expose the fear by desperate politicians of the rising profile of the party and its incursion into the nooks and crannies of the nation.
In a statement, the LP National Chairman, Abure, stated: “It is no longer news that some political actors in some Southeastern states particularly, Ebonyi and Enugu have vowed that Labour Party and its candidates will not be allowed to campaign freely in the zone.
“This is evident with incessant attacks on members and supporters of the Labour Party and that of our candidates, particularly, our presidential candidate. This night attack is viewed by the party as a furtherance of the determination of these political hirelings to frustrate the progressive incursion of the party across the nation and particularly in the Southeast.” 
With his massive grassroots following and philanthropic activities through his Caring Heart Foundation, it is generally believed in the Senatorial District that Okorie would make the election challenge to the outgoing governor.

However, four hours after reports of Okorie’s abduction made the rounds on various media platforms, the Police disclosed that the former federal lawmaker was in their custody.
In a statement with reference No CZ:5200/EBS/PPRO/VOL. 8/229, dated October 17, the Police Public Relations Officer, Chris Anyanwu, a superintendent of Police, disclosed that Okorie refused several invitations by the police.
Captioned “Arrest of Hon. Linus Abaa Okorie over drug-related matters and several other offences,” the statement declared: “Sequel to initial viral rumours renting the air, cum a Press Release accredited to one Dr David Ogbonna of Hon Linus Okorie Caringheart Foundation, purporting that Hon Linus Abaa Okorie, a former member of House of Representatives, was ‘abducted/kidnapped’ yesterday (16/10/2022), the Ebonyi State Police Command swung into action and later traced the said Honourable Okorie (who had evaded many Police arrests/invitations), to the head office of the Ebubeagu Security Outfit at the Old Government House. 
“Police detectives were briefed on why he was arrested which includes; his activities and utterances that incited and provoked the violence that engulfed Onicha LGA, which left suspected IPOB/ESN operatives or unknown gunmen to unleash mayhem in the area, leaving seven (7) persons dead at the end of that fracas.  Hence, the case has now been taken over by the Police Command for preliminary investigation.”
But, Okorie’s wife, Nkechi, denied that her husband was into drugs, stressing that the governor’s enforcers attacked him for political reasons. Mrs. Okorie expressed apprehension that her husband could be harmed or made to disappear like other high-profile abductions in the state.

ENUGU: Ugwuanyi versus Ezea
further contended that apart from amassing huge wealth from politics in the past 20 years, the outgoing governor has nothing else to present as score card, adding that Ugwuanyi’s ambition to go to the Senate is simply to go an enjoy siesta during plenary.
Yet, Governor Ugwuanyi’s supporters declare that the quantum of development projects attracted to the district by the government compelled the people to commend him with a senatorial seat like other governors.

They list the State University of Science and Medical Studies, massive road infrastructure and General Hospital in addition to massive employment opportunities for Nsukka people as some of the success report cards of Governor Ugwuanyi, maintaining that the governor is a quiet achiever.
On his part, the outgoing governor said those attacking his aspiration are only blinded by envy, pointing out that contrary to their argument of breaching the zoning structure, the power rotation arrangement favours his own federal constituency.
But, as the candidates for the February 25 poll continue to make their cases of why voters should prefer them, at the end of the day, it would be seen how far the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System will be able to ward off vote-buying to ensure that votes count.
However, from fighting off Peter Obi’s vice presidential ticket in 2019, it is obvious that Southeast politicians have another intense electoral battle to contend with in 2023. How to contain the Obidient Movement has become a major task in the zone. And, it is like violent intimidation would feature in great detail as the election draws near.”