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Orji Kalu and nullification of his election by tribunal

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
15 September 2019   |   4:15 am
Abia State’s former governor, Orji Uzo Kalu is not a political neophyte. The All Progressives Congress (APC) senator representing Abia north was governor for eight years.

Former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu PHOTO: LADIDI LUCY ELUKPO

•••Implications For Him, APC And Southeast
Abia State’s former governor, Orji Uzo Kalu is not a political neophyte. The All Progressives Congress (APC) senator representing Abia north was governor for eight years. On two occasions, he contested for presidency and lost. At other times, he contested the senatorial seat of his zone and lost. The defeats did not whittle his spirit.

Providence, however, smiled on him during the build up to the 2019 general elections when he pitched membership with the APC and won the senatorial election. It was a victory that was however, suspected to have been earned dubiously.

But Kalu, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which declared him winner, scored 31,201 votes to defeat then occupant of the seat and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, who polled 20,801.

The Returning Officer for the election, Dr. Charles Anumudu, who declared the result, said Ohuabunwa came second, while the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) Chief David Ogba scored 11,410 votes.

On the strength of the result, Kalu went to the Senate and emerged as Chief Whip. This was after he mounted an elaborate campaign to become the Senate President and why the Southeast should be allowed to produce senate president. He however chickened out when the chips were down.

Back to Orji’s victory at the senatorial election, Ohuabunwa had protested the result and declared it “a daylight robbery.” He had claimed that the number of cancelled votes, totaling 76,889, was higher than the margin of lead, put at 10,402 votes, adding that the difference between the margin of victory and cancelled votes was 66,487.

For this, he had approached the Tribunal in Umuahia, the Abia State capital. On Monday, the Tribunal delivered its judgment. It had annulled the election of Senator Kalu and ordered the INEC to conduct supplementary elections within 90 days in eight wards in Arochukwu Local Government Area and several other polling units in Ohafia and Isukwuato LGAs, where votes were cancelled during senatorial election in the district.

The ruling of the Tribunal now leaves the senator to contend with his political opponent over 76,000 votes still outstanding in the district.

Ordinarily, Sen. Orji seems to have has a head start going by the already declared results. Apart from leading in the first ballot with over 10,000 votes, Kalu has a knack that had always seen him navigate difficult political terrain, which could be of great advantage when employed in the supplementary exercise.

Kalu, it could be recalled had at a time, left the glamorous PDP as governor to form a new party, the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and used the platform to contest and win elections for his second term in office as governor as well as those of returning members of the National and State Assemblies who decamped from PDP to join his new political party.

In the event of a rerun, he will be expected to leverage his relationship with the powers that be at the national level to his advantage, in addition to his financial muscle. He also has the connections that are expected at this time to see him through.
On the other hand however, Kalu would readily tell anyone interested about the Supplementary election that running over his opponent, in a state controlled by PDP would be an arduous task, especially, now that all eyes and attention would be focused in the district.

He knows too well how badly the leaders of the party had wanted him out of the political scene and the estranged relationship he has enjoyed even with the people he elevated in politics.

What the PDP in the state may not want to accept at the moment would be to have a fraction of its senatorial zone to be controlled by another political party. The South and Central senatorial zones of the state are firmly controlled by the PDP, apart from producing majority of members of the State House of Assembly.

In Ohuabunwa, PDP see a member who has made valuable contributions to its survival in the state. He is at peace with leaders of the party, the state government as well as other officials in the state. He campaigned vigorously for the return of Okezie Ikpeazu to power and like Kalu, commands huge support in the constituency.

In all the fight Orji Kalu had with his estranged political godson, Theodore Orji, Ohuabunwa never abandoned Theodore. He supported him all through and ensured that Kalu never had his way.

The truth is that, it would be difficult for the party to abandon him in this time of need, especially now that the PDP at the national was prepared to throw in anything to sustain its hold in the state. Ohuabunwa is also not a push over. He had won election in the past and had used the first four years in the senate to work for his people. It is said that if he was able to muster enough evidence that dwarfed the victory of Orji Kalu, then it is erroneous to believe that he is a featherweight.

Likely Dislocation
In Orji Kalu, the ruling PDP in the state, see an opponent whose political ego should be diminished at all cost. Kalu’s political fame has been on the decline for some time now. This is because the current “owners” of the PDP in the state believe that given a chance, he would overshadow every other politician in the state.

Before joining the APC at the end of the elections in 2015, Kalu had made an effort to return to the PDP, which launched him to prominence but was frustrated by the leadership of the party in the state. He had not been considered for any major assignment in the state since he left office as governor.

Deep rumours have it that the embers of prosecution being fanned around him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged sleaze committed during his eight years old rule in the state are being ignited from the state to ensure his wings are clipped politically. Kanu was governor from 1999 to 2007.

A source told The Guardian that ensuring that he lost in the Supplementary election is one task his opponents are prepared to pursue to any limit, so as to finally humiliate him out of politics. The source disclosed that, he remains one of the few politicians in the state being considered as a stumbling block towards plans for 2023.

It was gathered that one of his major obstacles in the state remains his former Chief of Staff, a two-term governor and Senator representing Abia Central, Theodore Orji. Although he did all in his powers to foist Theodore on the people of the state in 2007, that alliance collapsed when Theodore realised that he was man enough to decide how to run his government in the state. The love lost between the two has refused to heal.

Theodore is said to be instrumental to the coming on board of the current administration led by Dr Okezie Ikpeazu in the state. He (Theodore Orji) was said to have worked in concert with his son, Chinedum Orji to ensure the emergence of Okezie in 2015 and has remained in control since then.

Sources stated that while Orji is now enjoying his second term in the senate, Chinedum who is also serving his second term at the House of Assembly is compensated with Speakership of the House. It is also freely alleged in the state that the agreement reached in enthroning Okezie was to enable him support and hand over power to the younger Orji in 2023.

The source disclosed that the realisation of this plot has given rise to the early agitation by Abia north, which incidentally is Orji Kalu’s zone to take the slot for governorship in 2023 for the second time based on the rotation of power along the three senatorial zones of the state.

The zone had argued that, since the three senatorial zones – Abia north through Orji Kalu had ruled from 1999 to 2007; Abia Central through Theodore Orji from 2007 – 2015 and Okezie Ikpeazu from 2015 to end in 2023, have had their slots, there was need to return power to the area (Abia north).

The opposition however, holds that since the three zones have had their turn, there was nothing wrong should there be a fresh start in power allocation from any of the three zones. This is perhaps, one curious development, which will be settled in the state with time.

How Rerun Could Affect APC/Southeast
Senator Orji Kalu is the Chief Whip at the senate; one of the prime positions that the Southeast zone got by the grace of the present leadership of the Upper Chamber. Some persons see him as the “noisy type” by the way he reacts to almost every issue, especially concerning the federal government, among others.

His membership of the APC has improved the rating of the party, especially in his state. He is seen to have given visibility and voice to the party in the state

It is on record that his Abia north senatorial zone produced two members of House of Representatives and some State House of Assembly members during the last general elections. His membership of the APC is seen to have brought the needed vibe and push for the party in the state. He is a politician with experience, reach and resources, from which APC has benefitted. Some say that a major support root of the party would have been damaged if the re-run does not favour.

Joining the APC after the 2015 elections, Kalu had promised to deliver Southeast and President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2019 elections. Although Buhari secured 25% votes in the zone, it was not entirely ascribed to Kalu, as he was said to be more concerned with his election than any other.

At the end of the election however, he canvassed the setting up of a committee to inquire into the role played by each of the leaders in the election that denied the party outright victory in the zone. He also called for sanctions for those who might be found guilty.

A loss will definitely impact his party, while he may be reduced permanently to a mere onlooker. This is because; there won’t be any room for him anywhere in the politics of his state.