Ikonne: Ikpeazu returns to Abia zoning nightmare he didn’t recognise
Abia State governor, Victor Okezie Ikpeazu must be a worried man. Ikpeazu, who joined forces with the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike to give their party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), sleepless nights, has been mourning, having lost his anointed successor and governorship candidate for the 2023 elections, Prof Eleazer Uchenna Ikonne, to cold hands of death. He has since embarked on a fresh political voyage.
The man who is currently the PDP Senatorial candidate for Abia south constituency has returned to the drawing board in an effort to produce a replacement for Ikonne, as was the case with two previous administrations in the state.
He was conspicuously absent at the campaign flag-off of the Enugu PDP, attended by other governors in the G-5 (Integrity group) including Wike, Samuel Ortom, Seyi Makinde and host, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
Sources stated that his absence might not be unconnected with the effort to beat the 14 days stipulated by law for the conduct of fresh governorship primary, as the party had approved 4th February 2023 for the exercise.
Weathering a stormy opposition in his own PDP that favoured the unsigned Charter of Equity that prescribed rotation of governorship slot among the three regions of the state in 2022, the governor had thrown up Ikonne from his Ngwa axis (Isiala Ngwa North) to succeed him, against Abia North zone, where the power should have returned. He did not mind that he comes from the same axis and is serving out eight years in office.
His insistence had brought a sharp division in the party. The likes of Professor Gregory Ibe (now APGA governorship candidate); Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (APGA senatorial candidate, South), Chief Chuku Wachuku, Chief Enyinnaya Chima Nwafor (YPP governorship candidate) among others had left PDP in annoyance.
Abia had been governed by Orji Kalu from Abia north from 1999 to 2007; Kalu took power to the Central with Theodore Orji governing from 2007to 2015; Theodore took power to the south and the mantle fell on the incumbent governor, Ikpeazu, who will be rounding off in May this year.
Last week, however, Ikonne passed on, thus throwing a fresh challenge to the party. Many had come up with the suggestion that his death should be used to mend fences in the PDP at the state level, by ensuring that the state’s Charter of Equity is enforced to the benefit of Abia North. They had insisted that doing so would restore the sanity that would guide it into the election.
Another school of thought had asked that the party looked the way of the second runner–up in the primary election held last year, who has remained with the party and continued to work even when other aspirants abandoned the party.
They had contended that currently, the party leadership in the state was not in the best of shape as a vice chairman presently superintends its activities following the exit of the chairman last year. The vice chairman, they added acts as the Publicity Secretary of the party.
In the bid to assert control and stay within the 14 days stipulated by the Electoral Act for the conduct of fresh governorship primary, the governor had led the state caucus of the PDP to a meeting on Sunday, January, 29 2023, to resolve the issues created by Ikonne’s exit. The meeting had emerged with retaining power in Ikonne’s Isiala Ngwa north local government council.
The state’s vice chairman of the party who is also the acting publicity secretary, Abraham Amah had listed those in the meeting to include Ikpeazu; former governor, Theodore Orji; Speaker Chinedum Orji and senatorial candidates, Mao Ohuabunwa and Austin Akobundu and called for the continued support of members towards the party’s victory.
The decision of the caucus is an indication that nothing has changed after all and that the party is prepared to go into the 2023 elections, irrespective of perceived opposition from members. Restricting the contest to Isiala Ngwa north meant that the state party leadership does not want the ticket removed from the area and in the long run, has potentially foreclosed the chances of other aspirants from the area.
A source indicated that this could open another can of worms in the party ahead of the elections should the leadership at the national level insist on equity, fairness and enthronement of a credible candidate for the election.
But a source in the meeting who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity, maintained that the decision to retain the slot at Ngwa was the right thing to do considering the confidence the party has built in the area since the late Ikonne emerged, adding that, “it will make the contest less acrimonious”.
He added: “Politics is about number. I seriously think that it will be in the interest of the PDP. If you move the slot from Isiala Ngwa North, you will be creating another issue. Again, it will be premature to move to another senatorial zone, which very likely would have been the Central. Doing so will mean a fresh start. All we ask our members to do is to continue to support the party and have the trust in our ability to present somebody that will meet their aspiration as we had done in the past”.
Ikonne was considered a fine gentleman and an academic. Said to have had over 36 years experience in public service, but whether that would have earned him victory in the election that he unfortunately did not live to contest with the level of opposition that greeted his emergence remained an issue in the state, especially with the over bearing influence godfathers have on the state since 1999, a development that has resulted in its underdevelopment.
Convener of Abia Equity Group, Rev Okechukwu Obioha told The Guardian: “I don’t expect anything different from the caucus of the PDP after the death of Ikonne than for the party to continue on the path of failure. It is a curious development. The PDP defaulted and the only option is to continue on the path of ridicule. Wherever they go now is too late in the day. We were saying that there should be equity in the state; but they failed. There is rotational agreement, which the PDP defied and the gods are angry. Whether they take it to the north or south now, it is too late in the day because, the people have joined other political parties to campaign against the PDP. They have chosen other political parties after reviewing the 24 years of PDP leadership of under development of the state,” he stated
Obioha further argued: “Orji Uzor Kalu was governor, he could have used money and power to retain the position in his Abia north; but he believed that there is wisdom in moving it to Abia Central, and he did. After the eight years of Abia Central, Theodore moved it Abia south and that is where Ikpeazu benefitted. Now, when it was Ikpeazu’s turn to return it to Abia north, he faltered and said that it must be in terms of clan and tribe. He keeps talking about old Bende, Isikwuato and Umunneochi that are not in the Bende. One of the things that I also want to point out is the denigration of the Abia Tower by Ikpeazu with Ikonne’s picture.
That is a serious denigration and defacing of Abia identity. The gods could be angry with the party for doing so and therefore, they should desist from doing so. They should look inwards and ask questions about the under-development they have made the state to pass through these 24 years and the attempt to turn the will of the people. The people have tilted towards the Labour Party candidate, Alex Otti. So I don’t know how they intend to reverse it with their choice.”
What is not known is how far the governor has gone in repairing his relationship with the national leadership of the party; as a staunch member of the G-5 governors (Integrity group) Ikpeazu has stoutly opposed the national headship of Dr Iyorchia Ayu in the party.
Although, it is prerogative of the party at the state level to decide where it would swing its ticket in any election, sources stated that it would require doing so in consultation with the leadership of the party as well as other factors that could enable it achieve victory.
Before now, Ikpeazu had ignored the national leadership to align with the G-5 governors, and did the flag-off of the state campaign where flags were handed to candidates of the party in the elections.
A source said the governor was not likely to defer to the national leadership in this regard and would insist on going ahead with whatever his fellow governors are up to, thus raising posers as to why the acting Board of Trustees Chairman of the party, Adolphus Wabara was not at the meeting that discussed Ikonne’s replacement.
“Wabara, aside from being a former senate President is an indigene of the state. By his position in the party, he remains a key stakeholder. So why was he not at the meeting, and has anybody told us why only a few persons are the ones that should decide the fate of the people of the state? It shows you that things are still not okay with the party and that these few are desirous to continue to hold the state to ransom,” he said.
He added that pandering to the leadership of the party would mean submitting to the choice of the national chairman and the presidential candidate of the party. He added that on the other hand, “the PDP will be interested in winning the governorship election of Abia State and will leave the state with their choice”
In the unfolding development, it is not clear whether the national leadership of the PDP will not use this opportunity to extract commitment from Ikpeazu and his G-5 friends, whether it will just limit itself to sale of expression of interest and nomination forms to the aspirants and nothing more?