Ikpeazu, Ahaiwe and challenges of running a late governorship campaign
One thing that has played out with the conduct of Saturday of fresh governorship primary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Abia State on February 4 is that the state governor, Okezie Ikpeazu is bent on producing his successor from his Ngwa Clan.
The fresh primary of the party held at the Umuahia Township stadium, which produced the immediate past Chief of Staff, Okey Ahaiwe, as the governorship candidate of the party in next month’s general election. The fresh primary was called following the death of the former governorship candidate, Prof Uche Ikonne, who died on Wednesday, January 25, 2023 from a protracted illness.
The Guardian gathered that Ahaiwe, who hails from Umuire Village, Eziama Ntigha Autonomous community of Isiala-Ngwa north council and appointed Chief of Staff in April 2022, following the resignation from office of Chief ACB Agbazuere, polled 469 votes out of the 516 votes cast to emerge winner.
Agbazuere had resigned to contest election to the House of Representatives to represent Isiala-ngwa North/South Federal Constituency of Abia State.
A peep into the governorship candidate showed that he is not a neophyte in the politics of Abia State. Although he may not have contested any public office, he has however worked for the success of those who contested elections in the past in the state.
Before becoming the Chief of Staff, Okey Ahiwe had served in the campaign council for governorship elections in Abia State as well as being part of the National sub-committees of PDP for the conduct of party primaries in cross river & Oyo states. In 2019, he was the Coordinator of Coordinators for the re-election of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu. This job actually brought him closer to the powers that be in the state.
Fondly called Kicker, the businessman served as member of the Abia state security trust fund and has contributed to the development of his Ngwa land, being the President General of Ngwa Patriotic Forum.
Other aspirants who contested with him are; a former commissioner for Works Bob Ogu, businessman Chief Eric Opia and a female aspirant, Ezinwayi Jona stepped down for him.
Others who insisted on participating, including incumbent Deputy Governor, Ude Oko-Chukwu, Senator Emma Nwaka, Sampson Orji and Lucky Igbokwe performed woefully. Collectively, the three of them polled 35 votes from the exercise.
With the passing on of Ikonne that threw up anxiety and speculations on how the state could navigate another primary, especially with the love lost between Ikpeazu and the national leadership of the party; it is a thing of joy that Ikpeazu was able to push through his candidate a second time.
It is this determination that Ngwa land should produce his successor that created divisions in the party to the point that certain big wigs have left to pitch tent with other political parties from where they would challenge the PDP in the coming elections.
Ahaiwe, who hails from the same local government council with the late Ikonne is a central figure in Ikpeazu’s kitchen cabinet. Appointing him as replacement for the former Chief of Staff was to enable him understudy the workings of government, especially after his name featured on the list of three possible successors Ikpeazu allegedly presented to some stakeholders of the party before the primary of last year, but was rejected.
It was gathered that Ahaiwe’s name was actually the first on the list, which contained Ikonne as second and Eric Opiah as third; but that he was rejected following a protest by a major backer of the governor that he was not well known to him. The politician was said to be instrumental to Ikpeazu being made governor in 2015.
According to the source: “Ikpeazu had no choice than to succumb to the wishes of his backer after he had told him that he did not know Ahaiwe too well and will not submit to him. He had told him that he would rather support Ikonne who was second on the list on the ground that he had been in public service and served meritoriously. Although Ikpeazu did not quite like the idea, he however, decided to live with it since it supports his aspiration to have an Ngwa man as his successor”
On 30th January, 2023, when Ikpeazu summoned the state caucus of the party to deliberate over Ikonne’s replacement and possible date for the fresh primary to beat the 14 days stipulated by the guidelines of INEC, he was said to have re-presented the list to the caucus. This time, however, there were only Ahaiwe and Opah.
He was said to have pushed his preference for Ahaiwe, stressing that he had shown capacity going by the few months he served as his Chief of Staff as well as played more prominent roles in ensuring the stability and advancement of the party in the state.
At the meeting were the former governor, Theodore Orji; the Speaker of House of Assembly, Chinedum Orji; Senatorial Candidates for Abia Central and Abia North, Austeen Akobundu and Mao Ohuabunwa, respectively as well as members of the state executive of the party.
The source noted also that the governor had convinced the meeting into accepting his choice on the ground that removing the slot from Ngwa clan was too late and could be counterproductive since the area had embraced the former candidate, stressing that retaining the slot in Isiala Ngwa North would boost the chances of the party in the election.
“Following his insistence, the meeting endorsed that a replacement should come from Isiala Ngwa north and that the ticket should be restricted to only aspirants from the area”, the source said, adding that the task was then on how to convince other intending aspirants to accept his choice and support it.
He stated that the development opened the window for a contest between Ahaiwe and Opah, adding however that more push was added to the aspiration of Ahaiwe “when the local government executive of the party in Isiala Ngwa was railroaded into endorsing him as their choice candidate, just as pressure was mounted on Opah to step down for him”.
It could be recalled that few days to the fresh primary, rumours were awash that while Abia PDP had invited interested aspirants to pick up forms for the primary election, the party’s leadership had quietly reached a consensus to support Ikpeazu’s Chief of Staff to pick the ticket.
Lucky Igbokwe, one of the contestants during in the primary where he secured only 12 votes, had apparently in a bid to oppose the rumoured imposition, kicked against involvement of new contestants in the fresh primary. Igbokwe, who participated during last year’s primary that was won by Ikonne believed that it was not in the interest of the party to go into the March governorship election with a fresh candidate. Will he stop at that? To him, those who contested with Ikonne earlier had their plans on how to govern the state and win the election in the state. His view and position did not alter an already laid out plan to enthrone Ahaiwe.
A few others had also preferred that the party leverage the fresh primary to address existing contentions of zoning arrangement in the state. PDP had started a zoning arrangement in 1999 that had seen governorship power rotate among the three geopolitical zones. The governorship should have returned to the North where it started in 1999 if the arrangement is upheld.
The fact that the three other contestants in the fresh primary refused to step down for Ahaiwe including the incumbent deputy governor, who was said to have ignored promptings to address delegates at the venue of the exercise, was an indication of a healing process that is not complete. The deputy Governor who hails from Abia North strongly feels that the party has been unfair to his area, despite relinquishing power after serving for eight years. This is part of the contentions in the party.
And the real challenge
WITH the interplay of forces that has resulted to the election of a fresh governorship candidate for the PDP, the real challenge facing the party is how to transform this to victory in the coming election, especially with three other strong governorship candidates – Ikechi Emenike of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alex Otti of the Labour Party (LP) and Greg Ibe of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Since the political parties concluded their primaries last year, other candidates have been traversing the length and breadth of the state selling their manifesto to the electorate and in turn asking for their votes. Only the PDP candidate has not gone round. Will the Abia electorate accept a governorship candidate it is not conversant with and a manifesto they are yet to interrogate?
With the time frame left, Ahaiwe has just few weeks to catch up with others. Is he going to adopt the blueprint developed by Ikonne, which he was not able to market due to his ill health? How will he decide his running mate in the ad hoc arrangement that has been put up for his emergence?
He will need to convince the rest of the state why the Charter of Equity should be jettisoned if there must be progress in the state and for the deepening of its politics.
The way it is, Ikpeazu will need to be on top of his game. He will need to bring the heavy influence that resulted to a nil primary contest for Ahaiwe last Saturday to convince the electorate of the state that he has seen somebody that will continue from where he will stop from May this year. He will need to convince the national leadership of the party that the choice of Ahaiwe is the best for the state and that the party has remained a strong one under him.
Ahaiwe said he is coming from the private sector, promising successes in oil and gas, adding that the eight months he served as Chief of Staff would further count for him to galvanise the state on the path of success.
Ikpeazu believes that PDP in the state remains the reservoir of human resources, noting that practically all the candidates of other political parties in the state were former members who left on account of their personal ambitions, which ran contrary to the position of the party.
He assured that the party will win the elections in the state, stressing that the peaceful conduct of the primary was a strong signal of the party’s readiness to retain the state.