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March 18: Pressure on Ugwuanyi, Ikpeazu

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
13 March 2023   |   3:40 am
Outgoing Governors Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State are under pressure. The pressure is how to produce their successors after the defeat they personally suffered, as well as their Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the Presidential and National Assembly elections in the February 25 elections.

Governor Okezie Ikpeazu

Outgoing Governors Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State are under pressure. The pressure is how to produce their successors after the defeat they personally suffered, as well as their Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the Presidential and National Assembly elections in the February 25 elections.

Indeed, these governors, whose tenure ends in May 29, 2023, had wanted to go to the senate afterwards. This was not to be as they lost woefully in their senatorial zones. While Ugwuanyi lost to Okey Ezea of the Labour Party (LP); Ikpeazu lost to Enyinnaya Abaribe of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). While the PDP under the Ugwuanyi secured one of the two senatorial seats and one of the seven House of Reps seats in Enugu State; the party under Ikpeazu only secured one House of Reps seat in the elections.

The development has put the two governors under pressure and raising doubts about their ability to produce their successor in the March 18 governorship and State Assembly elections. In fact, the duo, since the commencement of the current politicking have not hidden their desire to produce someone that will replace them, given that they succeeded their predecessors in a similar manner.

While ex-governor, Sullivan Chime produced Ugwuanyi, Senator Theodore Orji produced Okezie Ikpeazu. That is the trend that has manifested since 1999 in both states.

For Ugwuanyi, he had rebuffed several pressures from stakeholders and other interests in Enugu State to anoint a businessman and entrepreneur, Mr. Peter Mbah as his successor, the moment the party settled for the rotation of governorship seat to Enugu East senatorial zone last year.

There were well over 10 aspirants that queued up to pick the party’s governorship ticket, including some commissioners working in his cabinet. But all that did not change the governor’s preference, as he had to ditch them for Mbah. The governor allegedly rebuffed pressure from his Nsukka zone to retain power in the area, as well as support the aspiration of the Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate, Chijioke Edeoga, who is said to share blood link with Mbah.

Since his emergence, Mbah has continued to enjoy the support and patronage of the ruling government in the provision of security and other paraphernalia that could enable him fit in as the “governor in waiting”. Being the favoured candidate of the party, he did not need to put much effort in finding those who would work for his victory.

Gov. Ugwuanyi

Ugwuanyi has ensured an elaborate campaign; he has ensured that his campaign office remained the best among his contenders. While many campaign directors for the other governorship candidates lack means of movement or have no offices to operate from, such is not the case with those of the PDP, as they were assigned offices and optional vehicles.

Many support groups aided by the state government have also been formed to ensure his victory, even as the candidate has become visible in almost every function that has the state government’s imprint, among others. Mbah has campaigned throughout the wards and local government councils of the state. There is no major junction and popular area in the state without his campaign imprint. When other candidates were still battling to put their manifesto together, Mbah had already made his public and gearing to go.

Lately, Chime was recruited into the Mbah project.  Chime, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) openly endorsed his candidacy and at various platforms told the electorate that he remains the best the state can afford at the moment. Other leaders of the state, including Jim Nwobodo, Okwesilieze Nwodo and Chimaroke Nnamani, among others are also part of the project and insisting on his election.

In all these however, Ugwuanyi would not go to bed and sleep with his two eyes closed. Not after the voting pattern last month that was heavily against his party. It would amount to erasing his eight years imprint in Enugu State should he fail to produce a successor or erasing the PDP in Enugu State under his watch.  He would go into history as the only governor in the state so far that could not produce his replacement. Many believe that the governor has excelled in his responsibility and that getting the people of the state to vote for his anointed one would be a way to appreciate his services, while it would mean a rejection should he fail in the task.

Realising the enormity of not seeing Mbah through the project, the governor has not rested on his oars since the last elections were concluded. He has put the defeat of last month’s election behind and continued to meet with stakeholders on the need to help him deliver Mbah. He has asked them to look at his manifesto; he has insisted that Mbah as his successor has excelled in private enterprise; he has insisted that zoning should be upheld and supported without fear or favour.

Enugu state governorship candidate under the flagship of Peoples Democratic Party Dr. Peter Mbah

To him, the success of Mbah in the election would signpost his relevance in the politics of the state. He would have delivered on his promise to cede power to Enugu East senatorial zone in line with the dictates of the party. Contrarily, it would amount to losing all in a single swoop.

For Ikpeazu, who had gone into the 2023 electioneering with full confidence, will be amenable to anything that could deliver Okey Ahiwe in the state. If this is done, it would have wiped away the shame and humiliation that followed his defeat for the Abia South senatorial election seat last month. Like Ugwuanyi, Ikpeazu had gone into that election with candidates for all the senatorial and House of Reps positions. In the end, his party returned only one seat at the House of Representatives.

Incidentally, Ikpeazu, lost the election to Abaribe; a man whom he had fought previously for the PDP’s governorship ticket of the state. Ikpeazu had insisted that Abaribe from the same local government with him cannot succeed him as governor.

To ensure that he produced his successor, Ikpeazu insisted that Abia Central must produce the next governor against agitations to take it to Abia North. He had anointed Prof Uche Ikonne, a retired Vice Chancellor of the Abia State University as his preferred candidate. Ikonne, incidentally died during a protracted illness before the commencement of the elections.

Not willing to give up, the governor sponsored another governorship primary that produced the current flag bearer, Okey Ahiwe. Until his emergence, Ahiwe was his Chief of Staff. He was said to have worked severally for the party by supporting those gunning for elective offices before now and headed some support groups. Ahiwe also hails from same Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area as the late Ikonne in Abia Central.

For Ikpeazu, no amount of sacrifice should be seen as too much to deliver Ahiwe. This is because the deep division currently in the party was created by the choice of his successor. The jettisoning of the party by certain members who had worked in the past for its victories was created by his insistence on retaining power in his Ngwaland, added to the alleged compromised governorship primary that held last year.

Ikpeazu had chosen Ahiwe against several advice that his candidature would not benefit the party, as well as other allegations about his character and credibility. Delivering Ahiwe would not only restore his political fortunes, but would also put to rest allegations that his abysmal performance in office was the cause of his inability to make the senatorial seat. Winning the election for his successor would also signal the beginning of a new political rotation order, as well as the fact that his resistance to cede power to Abia North was not a fluke.

It would go a long way to demonstrate his political control of the state and that the outcome of last month’s election, which he lost did not reflect the wishes of the people, especially his people of Abia South.

To reassert himself, The Guardian gathered that the governor had the moment the results of the last elections were declared, decided to accept it as part of his fortunes. And knowing how difficult it might seem to have Ahiwe pull through, he has resorted to meetings with opinion leaders to resolve issues and allow the party to have its way.

But the major obstacle that the aspiration has faced is said to be against other contenders from three other political parties in the state, such as Prof Greg Ibeh of the APGA; Ikechi Emenike of the APC and Alex Otti of the LP. Sources indicated that the trio has what it takes to match the governor, adding that though several support from the government had been moved towards the way of Ahiwe, it has not been able to dwarf the campaigns and visibility of these contenders.

A source told The Guardian, yesterday, that “the battle in the state is between Otti and Ibeh”, stressing however, that while Otti is riding on the wave of Obidients, Ibeh is being adored for the massive investments he has brought into the state, which have provided employment to the people.

“Ibeh has no investment outside Abia State. All his investments are here and they have employed our people.  For someone who could do that outside public office, given the power, he will most likely do more,” he said.

The odd against Ikpeazu is the reported joy that erupted in the state when he was announced as the loser of the senatorial election. Sources said it was intentionally served to reward him for neglecting his duties and taking his people for granted. “It was also to show that Abia State has not faired any better in the hands of the PDP since 1999 and that the people desire a change,” the source added.

The truth is that between Ikpeazu and Ugwuanyi, the two southeast governors who joined forces against the national leadership of the PDP over the outcome of the national convention of the party that produced the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, lay a big challenge to use the March 18 governorship election to redeem their battered political clout. How best they use the opportunity will go a long way to illustrate their continued relevance in their states.

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