The race for the coveted seat of Governor of Abia State, come 2023 has started. The 2023 game promises to be different from the previous elections, judging by the alignment and realignment of political juggernauts going on now. Victory for an eventual winner will definitely, is determined by several factors.
Major faces that can alter the game
SENATOR ORJI UZOR KALU
He is the Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate and a two-time Governor of Abia from 1999 to 2007. He is regarded as the grandfather of the present crop of politicians in the state, having made Chief T A Orji his successor in 2007. The present governor, Okezie Ikpeazu is also a by-product of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, because Ikpeazu was appointed the local government Chairman of Obingwa LGA, during Kalu’s reign as Abia’s helmsman. It was Ikpeazu’s first major political outing. Kalu is the strongest force to reckon with, as his popularity in the grassroots adds an advantage for any candidate of his choice.
In the 2019 general elections, Kalu gave a good account of himself, winning the Abia North Senatorial seat, clinching the Bende federal House of Reps position for his party, APC which Ben Okezie Kalu won while capping it all with the victory of Hon Nkeiruka Onyejiocha, the Umunneochi/Isukwuato House of Reps member. Onyejiocha is today, the federal House deputy Chief Whip. This is not forgetting the Bende North State House of Assembly position won by Hon Chijioke Chukwu, of APC.
SENATOR T.A. ORJI
Senator Theodore Ahamefule Orji is a political protégé of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu who has now grown to become a power house in political history of Abia State. Take it or leave it, Ochendo, as he is fondly known call the shot and was instrumental to the emergence of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, a university lecturer as Abia’s Governor in 2015 and played a key role in the Governor’s re-election in 2019. Now a Senator representing Abia central constituency, Ochendo counts among the strong ladders through which a candidate must climb to victory in 2023.
HON CHINEDUM ORJI (IKUKU)
Hon Chinedum Orji is the Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly and also the first son of Senator T A Orji. Soft in speech but loaded in strategy, this young Orji who is an engineer by profession before joining politics, draws his support base from the common people. Now in his second journey in the chambers of Abia State House of Assembly, Hon Chinedum Orji commands much respect in the Abia legislature, as many of the young legislators in the House are believed to be his “boys” who are expected to maintain their loyalty to him even up to 2023.
CHIEF B. B. APUGO
Chief Benjamin Apugo, (BB) is a strongman of Umuahia politics, whose reign as a kingmaker dates back to 1991, when his preferred candidate, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu won the Governorship of the old Abia State. Dr Onu was relatively unknown in the politics, but Apugo “brushed him up” and sponsored him to victory, to the surprise of many people. Compared to Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, the late Ibadan political strongman in areas of strategy and ability to sponsor even a rookie to prominence, the Ochiagha Ibeku is another face that will determine a winner.
DR UCHE OGAH
He is the minister of state for mines and steels. The Onuaku Uturu-born owner of Masters Energy Ltd ventured into politics in 2015 and has remained relevant since then. He lost to Okezie Ikpeazu during the 2015 PDP primaries and in 2019, flew the flag of the All Progressive Congress (APC) where he lost to the same Ikpeazu, coming second after the polls.
CHIEF REEGAN UFOMBA
Chief Ufomba hails from Ntigha, Isiala Ngwa North LGA and has interests which cut across politics, business, mining, oil and gas, business consultancy etc. He is a grassroots maestro who is loved by his people and a strong apostle of a governor of Ngwa stock. He is a force to reckon.
PROF GREGORY IBE
Ibe is the founder of Gregory University, Uturu and an investor whose investments are mostly domiciled in Abia State. A former lecturer with Abia State University, Uturu before founding his own school, Ibe is a man whose popularity is looming larger on daily basis. Though, he has not declared any political ambition, his body language points to indicate that he is interested in the Abia number one seat.
Alex Otti is a two-time governorship candidate in Abia on the platform of his former party, All Progressive Grand Alliance, (APGA) who gave Okezie Ikpeazu a tough and resounding fight in 2015 and 2019 governorship polls. Now, he is back in the ring again, with eyes fixed on the number one seat of the state. Operating from a new cruise ship, APC, Otti has declared that “the battle to liberate Abia State from PDP has started”
He is the Senate Minority leader, from Obingwa LGA. He is an experienced politician and a trusted member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). His personality looms large in entire Ngwa nation and Abia politics in general because of his fearless disposition. He is an enigma, a four-time senator and a loud voice for Ndigbo and the Peoples Democratic Party.
FACTORS THAT WILL SHAPE THE GOV’SHIP RACE
PDP’s winning history
The new Chairman of PDP in Abia, Chief Allwell Asiforo, on assumption of office recently, declared that “Abia is a PDP State, Abia has been a PDP State and Abia will remain a PDP State. We are united and formidable than ever.” Asiforo continued, “I shall consolidate on the achievements recorded by my predecessors in ensuring that our dear state remains a one hundred percent PDP”
This statement by Asiforo simply captures the mood of the umbrella party which is not ready to lose its winning streak since 1999. The friendly image of the PDP in the South East may also enable it to retain power. But this postulation will be further enhanced if it fields a popular candidate.
APC’s root from the centre, Otti’s entrance may swing pendulum
Until 2019 general elections, APC was regarded as a rookie organization in Abia. But the 2019 polls where the broom party swept through victory in most parts of Abia North, buoyed by Orji Uzor Kalu’s presence, returned the party to reckoning. And now, Dr Alex Otti, the enfant terrible of Abia politics has added weight to the muscles of the APC. This is not forgetting that the party derives enormous clout from Abuja, where it rules in the centre. But can APC upend PDP’s winning streak?
Donatus Nwankpa, Abia APC chairman appears to be providing the answer. “APC will take over Abia in 2023. We have noted and corrected all mistakes we made in 2015 and 2019 and by 2023, we are going to liberate Abia from the total misrule imposed on her by the PDP” Nwankpa boasted at Oboro, Ikwuano LGA while receiving Chief Emeka Atuma, former national organising secretary of Social Democratic Party (SDP) into the APC.
Old Aba zone vs old Bende bloc as the decider
On Wednesday, 20th August, 2020, the leaders of Abia Advisory Council, evaded some sensitive questions from journalists about which political bloc or zone in the state should be allowed to produce the next governor of the state in 2023. It was during the unveiling of programme of events for celebration of Abia at 29 at Secretary to the State Government (SSG’s) office, Umuahia.
Abia Advisory council is a powerful team made up of surviving founding fathers of God’s own State. The council is also made up of some top administrators and technocrats who advise and assist the state government in key decision makings. But reacting to a question of rotational governorship, Dr Anagha Ezeikpe, the chairman of the council, only urged Abians to work towards the continued unity of Abia, telling the media men that it was the responsibility of the Abia State House of Assembly to enact a law endorsing Abia chatter of equity.
The chatter of equity, Ezeikpe suggested, would enable sustained political equilibrium in the state if it is made a law. Represented by Chikezie Wachuku, another founding father, Dr Anagha Ezeikpe said he was much interested and impressed by the success made by the state in her 29 years of existence. But Ezeikpe’s response did not solve the problem of which block should produce the next governor between Ukwa/Ngwa and Old Bende division. Ukwa Ngwa popularly known as Old Aba Division is made of 9 LGAs namely Aba North, Aba South, Ugwunagbo, Osisioma Ngwa, Obingwa, Ukwa West, Ukwa East, Isiala Ngwa North and Isiala Ngwa South. On the other hand, Old Bende is made of Seven LGAs namely Umuahia South, Umuahia North, Ikwuano, Ohafia, Arochukwu, Umunneochi and Bende LGAs.
It is a consensus among the people of Old Aba that their Bende counterparts have taken a bigger chunk when it comes to political leadership of the Abia State. To them, the ‘cheating’ dates back to the era of Dr Michael Okpara, former Premier of Eastern region (Umuahia Ohuhu in Old Bende), Orji Uzor Kalu (Igbere in Old Bende) and Theodore Orji ( Umuahia- Ibeku ) also of Old Bende. The Ngwa group insist that Okezie Ikpeazu (Obingwa in Old Aba Division) would leave office in 2023 when his tenure ends but power should not head to Abia North Senatorial zone which is in Old Bende, but should head to Umunnato Ngwa which is made up of Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South and Osisioma Ngwa.
A strong politician and philanthropist, Chief Reegan Ufomba of Ntigha, Isiala Ngwa North aptly captured this argument when he told journalists during a gathering at his country home that ” The seat of governance which Dr Okezie Ikpeazu is occupying today, we made it possible. But somewhere along the line during the move to actualise a governor of Ngwa stock, we the people of Isiala Ngwa decided to support a candidate from Ngwa, irrespective of the local government the person comes from. I believe that the gesture we showed our brothers will be reciprocated if a good person presents himself to lead Abia in the future.”
A holistic examination of Ufomba’s call reveals that the Ngwa nation is not ready to allow a power shift to the Old Bende, in 2023. They want it to be free for all aspirants, including Ndi Ngwa. However, the visits of Senator T A Orji and his son, Chinedum to the Abuja home of Senator Orji Uzor left many mouths agape. This is because the three men were, until the visits, sworn political enemies for 11 years. Political watchers believe that the visits may have been informed by the need to perfect a return of power to Old Bende, in line with rotational governorship. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has been wise on the issue, preferring to talk about governance than who should succeed him.
At Ariaria market, Aba, a trader, Thaddeus Okoye made it clear that traders cared less about who ruled Abia, but what he offered the people, especially the traders. According to him “An average Ariaria trader does not care about who rules Abia State. We care about our own welfare. If you provide us good roads, good drainages and security, we traders are capable of taking care of light, water and accommodation” said Okoye. Abia 2023 game will indeed be an interesting scenario to behold. The gladiators are positioning. The electorates are waiting.