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Published On: Sun, Mar 4th, 2018

Abia 2019: It could be anyone’s game as Ikpeazu, Otti, Ogah brace for battle

By OBINNA EZEUGWU

With one good year left before Nigerians return to the polls for the 2019 general election, it is probably too early to begin to speculate on the possible outcome of governorship elections in various states. But Abia state seems to provide an encore of 2015 in dramatis personae, yet this time around the game may be different.

It is still months before party primaries, and obviously no concrete assertions can be made until there are candidates, but in Abia, it is a different kettle of fish; everything is almost decided in this respect. The state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu would certainly be seeking a second term in office under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and as long as the party’s candidature is concerned, it is a settled case.

In 2015, it was a two-horse race between the governor and Dr. Alex Otti, candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Indeed, it was an election many insist produced the APGA man, but he lost out to the machinery of the then ruling party. Ahead of 2019, Dr. Otti has thrown his hat in the ring.

At a birthday party organised in his honour on Sunday last week, he noted:

“Somebody said that if you started a journey in the morning, and you were clear about your destination, the only reason to stop is that you have gotten to your destination.

“It is either you go back to where you are coming from or you continue until you get to your destination. We are continuing until we get to our destination.”

It was an event that had in attendance, Chief Willie Obiano, governor of Anambra; Chief Victor Umeh, APGA senator; Alhaji Aliko Dangote among others, all of whom more or less promised to support him. It’s a given that he would take the party’s governorship ticket, so it’s Deja vu.

But there is now a third player in the mix. In a surprise judgment in 2016, Justice Okon Abang of Federal High Court, Abuja, who by the way, is fast becoming notorious with bizarre judgments, sacked Governor Ikpeazu and declared billionaire business man, Uche Ogah as governor, arguing that he was the rightful candidate of the PDP for the 2015 election. It was a judgment that ruffled feathers, but in the end, Ikpeazu survived.

Ogah has since defected to the country’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and is warming up for the governorship election. In the event, and it is likely, it would be a three-horse race between him, Dr. Otti and Dr. Ikpeazu. It promises to be a contest, indeed anyone’s game.

Ogah-and-Ikpeazu

Many political heavyweights in Abia, including former governor Orji Kalu are presently in the APC, the party is surprisingly waxing strong, but ordinarily, going by events in the polity, it cannot pose a threat in the state, and indeed the South East where it is almost a pariah party, but with Uche Ogah, some say things might be a lot different.

“Ogah has managed to build structure in Abia, he is on ground,” said Mr. Godwin Ejiofor, a political analyst.

“Ordinarily, APC is not popular anywhere in the South East and the Python Dance which led to the death of so many people has compounded its case.

“But if Ogah is candidate,” Mr. Ejiofor notes, “people may vote for him based on his person because like I said, he has structures on ground.”

Mr. Chidi Ajaegbu, former chieftain of the PDP made similar remarks about the APC: “APC is a hard sell in the South East,” he noted, “and the way the government handled Operation Python Dance has worsened the situation.”

However, the Anambra example where the party came second to the ruling APGA, beating the PDP to third place in the November 2017 governorship election suggests it could be more of a threat than people are willing to admit, especially in a clime where federal might and funds play huge roles in deciding the outcome of an election.

In 2015, the PDP won by what could be described as “jankara” style, nearly losing to Dr. Otti of APGA who was widely seen as a far more viable alternative to the party which had been in power for almost 16 years and which many said had misruled the state.

The major culprits in this regard were Orji Kalu who governed from 1999 to 2007 and his successor, Senator T. A. Orji who did eight years, from 2007 to 2015.

Ikpeazu had spent the greater amount of his time as governor fighting for survival. He has had to contend with several court cases from Otti and Ogah, as well as Mr. Friday Nwosu who had also laid claim to the PDP governorship ticket. Notwithstanding, he has managed to put up a few projects, especially roads, but many say more was expected of him. Many have continued to criticize him for owing workers and pensioners in the state for several months.

“I was a key player in the defeat of Alex in 2015, but Okezie has performed far below my expectations,” says Mr. Ajaegbu who has now defected to APGA and is looking to stop Senator T. A. Orji as senator representing Abia Central Senatorial Zone.

“I had cause to go to APGA and I have had very comprehensive discussions with regards to the direction the state is going and I felt that we need somebody who can put up infrastructure and bring in the private sector to try and reflate the economy, pay salaries and pensions and of course reduce government spending, especially the waste that goes to ghost workers.

“Unfortunately, I think Ikpeazu is constrained by the people who claim to have made him governor.”

In Umuahia, the state capital, there seem to be a consensus among neutrals that given a level playing field, the governor could lose in 2019. But there is never going to be a level playing field. In fact, many say the administration is already making life uneasy for potential opponents, including Otti who is apparently no longer welcomed in the state. Ogah, according to many accounts, suffer similar case: Intimidation and official high handedness.

But it’s all too obvious that the APGA man is a formidable opponent, a technocrat who has proved his mettle as a professional banker and could easily point to his achievements to make a case for himself.

“I think Alex (Otti) will do well as governor,” Ajaegbu says, “he will bring in the private sector and try to give governance a direction in Abia.”

Nonetheless, with a number of projects, especially roads in Aba to point at despite the challenges his administration has faced, Ikpeazu would have confidence and sufficient campaign materials, and according to Mr. Sam Hart, Special Adviser to the governor on public communication, neither APGA nor APC poses any kind of threat.

Speaking about APGA, he said: “We don’t even consider APGA as an opposition. Where are they now? All their members in the house have joined us.

“The party is not an opposition, as far as we are concerned, they are not relevant. They are free to gather, make their noise and do whatever they want to do, but we know that they do not pose any threat to us,” he noted.

While APC membership is growing rapidly in the state, Hart insists that the party does not exist in real terms and that those joining are only looking for favours from the federal government.

“You cannot mention APC in Abia State. There is no APC in the state, if you mention the party, nobody will listen to you. APC is at the federal level and all those who are using the name of the party are not looking at Abia State, they are looking at Abuja, it is for them to get whatever they can from Abuja.

“We do not begrudge them; they are free to use APC to hustle to get whatever they want to get from Abuja. We are not standing in their way; we can only wish them good luck. Their noise is strictly for Abuja to recognise them. There should be no mistake about that”

Confidence is not lacking in any of the three camps. The opposition is hopeful that the governor has not performed well enough and for that reason, many will likely vote against the party. That can be true, to an extent, but there are other key factors that could decide the outcome.

Importantly, it is a given that an incumbent has almost everything at his disposal, and Ikpeazu has made sure to bring most political stakeholders in his fold using the resources available to him.

Again, there is a strong sectional politics in Abia. The governor is from the Ukwa/Ngwa axis in Abia South Senatorial District. The people claim strongly that it is their turn to govern for eight years. His predecessors: Orji Kalu and T. A. Orji having come from Old Bende zone in Abia North and Umuahia in Abia Central respectively.

It was this sentiment that largely contributed to Ikpeazu’s victory in 2015. The Ukwa/Ngwa axis produced disproportionately large number of votes to hand him victory.

Otti nonetheless also insists he is from Isiala Ngwa South, the same zone as Ikpeazu, but many argue that he was only born and brought up there, and that he is actually from Arochukwu in Abia North. Ogah, on the other hand is from Uturu in Abia Central.

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