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New contestants in fresh Abia PDP primary not acceptable — Igbokwe

By Guardian Nigeria
04 February 2023   |   4:02 am
The Abia State branch of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) goes to the poll today to pick its governorship candidate from among the contestants, including Bob Ogu, Eric Opa Okey Ahiaiwe and Mayor Lucky Igbokwe in Umuahia.

Lucky Igbokwe,

The Abia State branch of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) goes to the poll today to pick its governorship candidate from among the contestants, including Bob Ogu, Eric Opa Okey Ahiaiwe and Mayor Lucky Igbokwe in Umuahia.

Ahead of the exercise, one of the aspirants, Igbokwe spoke with The Guardian on why a fresh primary should exclusively be for the previous contestants and not new faces.

He explained that at the last primary election during which the Abia PDP declared the late Professor Uche Ikonne winner, he came a distant second despite the alleged irregularities and arm-twisting. Igbokwe, who ended up working with Ikonne as the youth ambassador for his campaign network, wept when Ikonne’s family released a press statement confirming his demise.

Right now, the governorship race has been zoned to the Isiala Ngwa Local Government Area where Ikonne hailed from, and new entrants are being admitted to take part in the race. Igbokwe has protested that this should not be allowed.

The four contestants, so far, are Igbokwe, Bob Ogu, Eric Opa and Okey Ahiaiwe and there was a question on who should succeed Ikonne as Abia PDP governorship candidate. Prior to this, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) issued an official statement directing the Abia PDP to conduct a fresh primary in 14 days. The state PDP Vice Chairman/Acting State Publicity Secretary, Elder Abraham Amah declared: “Following the death of the Abia PDP gubernatorial candidate, Prof. Eleazar Uche Ikonne on January 25, 2022, and the subsequent directive by INEC to conduct a fresh primary within 14 days to replace him, members of the Abia State PDP Caucus met and zoned the vacant gubernatorial seat to Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area, the home LGA of the late Ikonne.”

Igbokwe is asking: Does zoning the primary to a local government meet the requirements of INEC in the electoral law? According to him, these interrogations are necessary to avoid litigations that could further downgrade the electoral value of the PDP in the run up to the March 10 governorship election.

Igbokwe thinks there was no reason for new entrants to be admitted in the contest, only the earlier contestants should be allowed to participate in a fresh primary. He lined up reasons he believes should have been considered by the state PDP caucus.

The caucus members include Governor Okezie Ikpeazu; former governor, Theodore Orji; Abia State House of Assembly Speaker and House of Representatives aspirant, Chinedu Orji; Senator Mao Ohuabunwa; and senatorial hopeful Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd).

It could be argued that Igbokwe is fighting the battle of his life in Abia politics, especially knowing he has an opening, no matter how small, that can lead to a bigger window in this gubernatorial race. He believes the decision of a few members of the party to allow those who did not participate as contestants in the first primary to take part in the fresh primary holding today to choose a replacement for the party’s governorship candidate was wrong.

Though some party members would argue that by the current arrangement, the party is being properly represented across the geopolitical and senatorial zones of the state, those against the admission of new contestants believe that the path the state PDP is taking is not in tandem with the electoral law and INEC’s directive. To Igbokwe, the Abia people must stay awake and take their destiny into their hands rather than allow a few people to decide it for them.

Would his call suffice and bring victory to PDP, 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) – on the ballot paper?

“My fellow Abians, let me explain. It can never be in the best interest of this state to force upon us contestants who have not been vetted and tested as our potential flag bearers from whom one person will emerge to face the flag bearers of other political parties already on the campaign trail for months now in this all-important governorship election. These are contestants that have not undergone the rigorous processes of formal and informal scrutiny by stakeholders and members of this party in the 17 LGAs,” Igbokwe said.

According to him, the essence of consultation before party declaration is to go round the local government areas, present them with your manifesto and interact with the people before primaries. “Will seven days be enough for this consultation and campaign by these new aspirants?” Igbokwe asked.

He alleged that the first primary was marred by irregularities, which led many party members to withdraw from participation while some left the party. “This should not be allowed to happen again. Why would the modalities for a new primary election be discussed without involving the earlier participants? The decision to zone the governorship to the Isiala Ngwa LGA is wrong.”

Some stakeholders have asked if there was any illegality or electoral infraction committed in zoning the ticket to the Isiala Ngwa LGA and allowing the party caucus to take this decision on behalf of members in the 17 LGAs considering the time lag allowed for a more comprehensive electoral exercise.

In his reaction, Igbokwe said: “Due process is the necessary rule to follow. Those who have laboured to bring the Abia PDP to where it is today should not be ignored. We invested in the party and cannot just be ignored. PDP must create room for growth and not recruit unwilling horses who did not aspire to lead in the first place.

“You do not force a child who did not do well in the sciences to read medicine, otherwise he would flunk his exams. This is why Abia State has failed woefully and keeps failing. Why must it be left open for those who were not participants in the first primary? Calling for fresh candidates to come in for the primary as well as choosing some anointed candidate from Isiala
Ngwa LGA is unacceptable to the majority of PDP stakeholders.”

Igbokwe vowed to contest the idea of calling for fresh contestants for the primary as well as choosing anointed candidate from Isiala Ngwa LGA.

“Festus Okoye, the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee has stated that the election is still one month away, and the ruling PDP has a window to conduct a fresh primary within 14 days of Ikonne’s death. This call is for due process to be followed by conducting a rancor-free fresh primary as INEC has instructed. I urge the governor to do the needful so that there would be minimum reason for any kind of objection to the outcome of the primary.

“The few who voted for me despite the obstacles placed on my part, gave me a second place. Ikonne and I had a good chemistry that brought us together. My mobilisation skills came to the fore and it was a beautiful work experience, though very short. This fresh primary ideally should have been restricted to the earlier participants, not new ones. Why would a fresh primary be discussed without involving the earlier participants?

The important question in the minds of the many who still love PDP is whether the ordeals the party has gone through would put it in good stead to win the governorship election come March 10, 2023. All that the party has as an advantage is incumbency over the opposition and a possible numerical strength from the Ngwa clan over the other senatorial districts,” he said.