By Dare Odufowokan
Since the return of the country to democracy in 1999 after years of military rule, never had the contest over which zone should produce the governor of Abia State been as heated as what the current crisis being generated by the 2023 gubernatorial contest, reports Assistant Editor ‘Dare Odufowokan.
There is increasing tension in Abia State political scene as some political leaders from Abia North Senatorial District, both in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition parties, this week, warned Governor Okezie Ikpeazu against what they described as calculated attempts to deny Abia North Senatorial Zone the chance of producing his successor in 2023 as agreed in 2015 when Ikpeazu emerged as the state governor.
Prominent political leaders and groups across the state allege that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, is neither doing enough to respect the Abia Charter of Equity that would ordinarily favour Abia North Zone to produce his successor in 2023 nor give the entire Abia North Senatorial Zone and Umuahia North Local Government Area in Abia Central Senatorial Zone the opportunity of contesting for the governorship ticket of the ruling party, the PDP. Some party sources even claimed the governor already told at least “three political caucuses in Ngwaland, of his non commitment to the charter, contended that the governor’s resolve to deny Abia North Senatorial District of their right is no longer in the realm of speculation.
“It is real. Before now, keen observers of Governor Okezie’s body language accused him of planning to jettison Abia Charter of Equity and all other political understandings in order to instal a particular stooge. Many of us, as political insiders in the ruling party and as leaders in the state, dismissed such allegations because we know how Governor Okezie emerged as the state governor in 2015 and how he secured his re-election in 2019. We know the agreements that were reached and we thought he and his handlers would not want to go back on these fair agreements at the risk of disturbing the peace Abia has enjoyed so far.
“Today however, we have discovered that in the last six or so days, when he met with several groups, he actually confirmed to them his resolve to ignore the existing agreements, the same agreements that ensured his emergence as the state governor. He resolved to impose a particular loyalist of his, who is from Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area in Abia Central Senatorial District,” our source, an insider, said.
According to the source, “the governor, who has been under sustained pressure from some Ngwa political interest groups, first made up his mind to choose his successor only from Ngwaland. At that time, he resolved that he could choose his successor from any part of Ngwaland, including his Senatorial District, Abia South. This decision was without recourse to the fact that he, also from Abia South Senatorial District, would, in 2023 complete his two term tenure as the State Governor.
It was perhaps because of this original resolve that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu told virtually every Ngwa community he visited recently that they were still included in the communities eligible to produce his successor. This created so much confusion both in Abia South, his senatorial zone, whose patriotic leaders boldly pointed out at any of such gatherings that they have had their eight years two terms and of course in Abia North Senatorial Zone whose turn it is to produce the state governor.
However, in opposition to the growing agitation by Abia North for power shift to the zone in 2023, the Young Peoples Party (YPP) in the state said that any district could produce the next governor arguing that power has gone round all three zones and could begin all over again from anywhere. The Chairman of YPP in the state, Hon. Emmanuel Nwoko, who posited this at a press conference in Umuahia, said that the party would not cede its governorship ticket to any particular zone but throw it open to all competent Abians from any district.
According to Chief Emeka Kalu, a frontline chieftain of the ruling PDP in the state, the existing charter of equity, which guarantees rotation of power among Abia North, Abia South and Abia central senatorial districts of the state must be sustained in the interest of development and unity of the state. Kalu, a former governorship aspirant, said no section of the state would be allowed to scuttle the existing zoning arrangement for the 2023 governorship election in the state. He said a power shift among the three senatorial districts has come to stay in the state for the interest of fairness and equity.
He decried alleged sectional intrigues by the people of Ukwa/Ngwa extraction of Abia state over the Governorship seat of the state in 2023 general election, warning that on no account should the existing charter of equity be truncated as doing so will not augur well to the development of the State. He appealed to political actors in the state to obey the current zoning arrangement by allowing Abia North produce the next governor. “Zoning would help promote greater peace, unity and political stability in the state, why would a certain clan want to cause confusion with regards to the zoning arrangement. It is wrong for a section of the state to come now and scuttle everything. Abia North should be supported in 2023. We have the numbers to deliver any party,” he said.
Barr. James Okpara, had similarly tasked the people of Ukwa/Ngwa in Abia South and Central senatorial zones to reciprocate the support which the Abia North zone gave their kinsman, Ikpeazu in the 2015 governorship poll. He added that it would be unfair to deny Abia North zone a chance to produce the next governor in 2023 and enjoined politicians to shun divisive tendencies in the interest of the state. “We must avoid anything that will cause restiveness in Abia. That an Ngwa man is Governor of Abia today is also to the credit of the Abia North zone. We stood our ground and insisted that Abia South must take their turn. Most of us from Abia North sacrificed to ensure the governorship seat went to Abia South. Governorship contests are not based on might or money; it is mostly based on trust and goodwill. Abia North extended goodwill to their Abia South brothers.
“I’m aware of a mammoth rally in Umuahia that was addressed by the then outgoing governor, Chief Theodore Orji, appealing to everybody to support Abia South for the 2015 governorship. Abia North people were fair and just. I doubt whether there would have been peace and justice if somebody from Abia South did not emerge Governor of Abia in 2015 because storms were already gathering. And two weeks to the 2019 governorship election, elders of the Ukwa/Ngwa clan visited Abia North seeking support for Governor Ikpeazu’s second term. The traditional rulers of Ukwa/Nkwa also paid a visit to their counterparts in Abia North for the same purpose. The message was; support our child for 2019, in 2023; we will support Abia North in 2023. It was an undertaking. Except one or two elders, all elders and monarchs who were part of the visit are still alive and have not denied it,” he recalled.
Another chieftain of the PDP, Okechukwu Apugo, said no section of the state would be allowed to scuttle existing zoning arrangement for 2023 governorship election in the state as power shift among the three senatorial districts had come to stay in the state. He said zoning would help promote greater peace, unity and political stability in the state and urged political stakeholders and parties in the state to embrace the principle and objectives of zoning.
“Power rotation has become sacrosanct and must be respected by all political parties and aspirants in line with the Abia Charter of Equity,” Apugo said, adding that it would amount to political betrayal for those that had benefitted from power shift to turn around and campaign against it. “The governorship position has rotated among the three senatorial districts in accordance with the spirit of the Charter of Equity and should not be truncated. “Equity and fairness demand that power should rotate back to Abia North. It is only the greedy and selfish, and those not having the interest of a united Abia at heart. That will oppose this arrangement,” he said.
Signs of trouble
Amidst fears that the issue of which zone should produce the next governor of state may be tearing apart the leadership of the PDP in the state, former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, recntly advised Ikpeazu to respect the existing zoning arrangement for the 2023 governorship election in the state. Wabara, who noted that Ikpeazu assumed the position of governor as a result of the zoning arrangement, expressed surprise over ongoing controversy trailing the state’s next governorship election. He condemned what he described as conspiracy theories from several sections of the State on where power should shift to in 2023.
“If Ikpeazu’s predecessor didn’t believe in equity, there is no way we, the Ukwa/Ngwa people would have smelt that seat. If Senator Theodore Orji had not pronounced that he was going to hand over to Abia South, I don’t think Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu would have been Governor. The Governor knows my stand. He should follow the footsteps of his predecessor. Ikpeazu should be a child of equity and do the needful. My advice is that he should be in charge of equity and do things right and there would be peace. And I know he won’t be misled. I don’t want to go to into the nitty gritty of the conspiracy theories here and there. All these conspiracies will not help; Abia State will outlive all of us. Let him guide us, The Governor has nothing to fear. By next year or 2023, let him grow from child of equity to father of equity,” Wabara said.
Before the latest revelations, many observers contended that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and the political family he belongs to in Abia State actually want to retain the zoning policy they are known to have promoted over the years. But it seems there is no longer consensus on this matter within the political family. For example, it is not yet certain why Governor Okezie Ikpeazu suddenly resolved to shop for his successor from Abia Central Senatorial District, the former Governor Theodore Orji’s zone from where power was handed over to him, just seven years ago. This is so because the former governor and serving Senator, representing Abia Central Senatorial District has remained an apostle of zoning on the basis of senatorial districts, a position that made him to hand over power to Ikpeazu in 2015 in spite of all odds.
It would be recalled that Abia State is made up of three senatorial zones: Abia North, Abia Central and Abia South. When Nigeria returned to civil democratic governance in 1999, the first governor of the state, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, hails from Abia North Senatorial District. His government resolved to uphold the Charter of Equity, a strong pillar upon which the state’s unity has stood since its creation. So, when Kalu completed his two-term tenures, he resisted every opposition and ensured that power was handed over to Senator Theodore Ahamefule Orji who hails from Abia Central Senatorial District. Also when Senator T. A Orji completed his two-term tenures in 2015, he handed over power to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu who hails from Abia South Senatorial District. Based on the spirit of the charter and the political agreements made by leaders and elders of the state, many believe that when Governor Okezie completes his two-term tenures, he will hand over power to a successor from Abia North.
Now that it seems that Ikpeazu may have resolved to jettison this agreement, our source said political leaders from Abia North will not accept such changes. “Abia North is determined to take our turn. Ikpeazu’s emergence as governor, through Senator T. A Orji, was based primarily on this zoning agreement. What he is plotting to do is against all agreements made by his people. It is also against PDP’s position. I recall clearly that a week before Governor Okezie’s re-election in 2019, he sent a delegation of elders and political leaders of Ukwa Ngwa to the leaders and elders of Abia North. That crucial meeting held in Uturu, hosted by Prof Gregory Ibe. Their message was that if Governor Okezie is reelected to complete his second term, at the expiration of his tenure, power will return to Abia North. That delegation was led by former Senate President Adulphus Wabara with the political leader of Ngwa people, Chief Emmanuel Adaelu and Chief (Barr) Theo Nkire, the first Attorney-General of Abia State, among others.
“Within the same period, traditional rulers (Ndi Eze) of Ukwa Ngwa met with traditional rulers (Ndi Eze) of old Bende and made a similar promise that if Dr Okezie is reelected to complete his second term, power will return to Abia North. These are part of what we used to convince our people to vote for Okezie and PDP both in 2015 and 2019. So, an attempt to change the goal post at the middle of the game would not be acceptable. It is an ill advised venture which will not only fail but is capable of fueling insecurity in Abia State,” our source said.
He added: Practically every state have decided that their Governor will come from the senatorial zone that provided the Governor in 1999. The recent Anambra Governorship Election is an example where the three major political parties( APGA, PDP and APC) all picked their Governorship candidates from Anambra South Senatorial Zone, the same zone that produced Dr Mbadinuju as Governor in 1999. In Anambra State, all the zones have taken their turn and agreed to return to Anambra South where it started from in 1999. This is the right thing to do.
“The plan for an Ngwa man to hand over to another Ngwa man is one oppossed by majority of Abians because it will be seriously resisted and there may be crisis in the state. This also means that the governor has carved out Abia North Senatorial Zone and Umuahia North Local Government Area as not belonging to Abia State. “Also, to buttress the fact that the Governor has picked his preferred successor devoid of democratic means, he told members of his cabinet at a recent meeting in his country home that his successor knows everybody at the meeting and everybody knows his successor. This confirms that he has already made a choice.
“Furthermore, zoning and rotation of political offices are contained in the PDP constitution. Everything the Governor is planning to do go against both the Constitution of Nigeria and the PDP Constitution. He must note that rotation is done clockwise and not anti-clockwise or pendulum,” the source said.