At a civic reception organised in his honour on February 1, 2014, at the Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, Governor Theodore Orji, declared that his successor would come from the Abia South Senatorial District, particularly from the Ukwa/Ngwa bloc.
He anchored his decision on the fact that of the three senatorial districts in the state, only the southern district was yet to produce the state governor since its excision from Imo State in 1991.
Orji Uzor Kalu, who hails from the northern district, ruled the state between 1999 and 2007 while the incumbent who concludes his second term in May is from the central district. Ogbonnaya Onu, the first civilian governor of the state, hails from the Afikpo Division, which in 1996 became part of the newly-created Ebonyi State. He ruled the state between 1992 and 1993.
At the time Mr. Onu became the state chief executive, there was the Abia Charter of Equity, which would have ensured that for the purpose of fair play, the position would rotate among Afikpo, Bende, Isuikwato and Aba Divisions, in that order.
Although, the zoning principle in the state is not in any way formally documented in the new Abia, since Mr. Orji’s declaration last year, the political permutations changed, especially in his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the obviously dominant party, which has been in power since the return of democracy in 1999.
Nevertheless, with time governorship aspirants not only emerged from the southern senatorial district, comprising Aba North, Aba South, Ugwunabo, Ukwa West, Ukwa East and Obingwa local government areas, but also from the other two districts.
For instance, on the PDP platform alone, billionaire oil magnate, Uche Oga, contested the primary from the northern district while former Group Managing Director of Diamond Bank Plc, Alex Otti, a serving senator, Nkechi Nwaorgu, and Uzo Azubuike, contested from the central district.
Those from the southern district who showed interest in the race were a serving senator, Enyinnaya Abaribe; former deputy governor of the state; Acho Nwakwanma; the immediate past Minister of Labour and Productivity, Emeka Wogu; Friday Nwosu; and Okey Emuchay.
However, the entry of the a former Deputy General Manager of the Abia State Environment Protection Agency, ASEPA, Okezie Ikpeazu, also from the south, changed the political calculations. Reason: He was the anointed candidate of the outgoing governor. Expectedly, Mr. Ikpeazu went on to clinch the ticket beating five others, namely Messrs Wogu, Oga, Nwakanma, Marc Wabara and a former Commissioner for Housing, Iheanacho Okezie at the December 8 primary election.
Mr. Okezie is not alone in the February 28 election contest. He will slug it out with major contenders from other parties, five of which are front runners.
In the All Progressives Congress, APC, Chinenye Nyerere, also from Obingwa Local Government Area in the southern district as Mr. Ikpeazu, emerged as consensus candidate.
Mr. Otti, an Ngwa man in the central zone, who felt dissatisfied with the PDP process dumped the party and picked the ticket of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, though after defeating Chikwendu Udensi, by 485 votes to eight.
Yet, following his defeat, Mr. Udensi, a former local government chairman, from Arochukwu in the northern district, defected to the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, where he clinch that party’s ticket. This was apparently made possible by the withdrawal of Ndukwe Ikoh and Anya Kalu Anya from the race.
The United Progressive Party, UPP, picked a former deputy governor of the state, Chris Akomas as its candidate. Mr. Akomas is from Nenu in Obingwa local government area in the southern district.
Although it is believed that the race is between Messrs Ikpeazu, Nyerere, Otti, and Akomas, Mr. Udensi cannot be dismissed with a wave of hand.
The popularity of the PDP as well as the support from the outgoing governor will certainly give Mr. Ikpeazu an edge over the other aspirants. The government is already mobilising support for the biochemist to ensure his victory in order to continue with “Ochendoism” the doctrine of the outgoing governor whose traditional title is Ochendo.
Besides, the PDP candidate may also receive support given his accomplishment and experience in leadership. Many believe that he will bring his experience as a public servant to bear if given the opportunity to run the God’s Own State.
Apart from being a former transition committee chairman of Obingwa Local Government Area of Abia State in 2002, Mr. Ikpeazu, who holds a doctorate degree, served as the special adviser to the governor on the environment.
He was later appointed the General Manager, Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest and Safety Scheme, ASPIMSS, in 2007. In 2010, he was named the Chairman, Governing Council of Abia State College of Health Technology, Aba. In
2011, he was reappointed General Manager of ASPIMSS. He held that position until 2013 when he was redeployed to ASEPA.
Also, based on the understanding that the governorship seat should be zoned to the south where he hails from, he is expected to get support from there. The zoning of the governorship slot to the zone was well received by the people as it is believed that it will address the age-long marginalisation of the Ukwa-Ngwa people.
However, the votes of the southern zone will be split between Mr. Ikpeazu and the Messrs Nyerere and Akomas who are from the zone and perhaps with Mr. Otti, who is an Ngwa man in the central district.
The PDP flag-bearer is faced with some challenges, though. The manner he emerged as the PDP candidate at the party’s primary election on December 8, did not go down well with a cross section of party faithful. This could lead to protest votes against him at the main poll. And many of the aggrieved aspirants and members have revolted in different ways with some saying Mr. Ikpeazu was not the choice of the people but that of Mr. Orji.
Mr. Oga is currently in court challenging the process. He contended that the primary election was a fraud because there was no formal accreditation and that the voters were just given tags during the exercise.
The aspirant, who is the President of Master’s Energy, also alleged that the state chapter of the party hired thugs to vote in a different venue – Township Stadium – instead of Ibeku High School where voting ought to have taken place.
Yet, the outgoing governor’s support for Mr. Ikpeazu might work against the PDP flag-bearer in some ways. To be sure, some Abians say they are not impressed by Mr. Orji’s performance and that he therefore does not deserve to be honoured with the opportunity of nominating a successor. To many, he has no legacy. Besides, others believe the governor cannot boast of a sustainable political structure.
Despite these drawbacks, Mr. Ikpeazu believes he is the one that would turn around the fortunes of the state.
“My commitment is to serve God and humanity. Therefore I am driven by a strong determination to achieve results. In this regard, I am propelled by the fundamental needs of our people. I believe that to successfully achieve this, there is need to consult and involve a wide spectrum of our society,” he said.
Although a businessman and well connected, Mr. Nyerere came into politics when he ran against Mr. Abaribe in the PDP senatorial primary election some years ago. He subsequently ditched the ruling party for APGA.
The APC candidate is a close ally of Governor Rochas Okorocha and he is in fact the general manager of the governor’s group of businesses. Though Mr. Nyerere is believed to be sponsored by Mr. Okorocha, he is reputed to have managerial skills to run a state. His Ngwa roots from the southern zone might also work in his favour.
However, Mr. Nyerere’s alleged link to kidnapping activities in the state some years back is still in fresh in the minds of some people and this could work against him. That allegation however remains unproven. He was also reported to have paid a nocturnal visit to GEJ Barracks in Ohafia recently where he organised a party for the rank and file. The reason for that was not clear.
The candidate’s alleged backing by Mr. Okorocha might also count against him as some Abians believe he will be taking instructions from outside of the state, if elected.
Another issue that might pose a challenge to Mr. Nyerere is that the APC is not popular in the state. In defence, the politician said popularity is a relative term, insisting that he would win the election.
On his part, Mr. Otti’s wealth of experience in the corporate world might attract votes from the people.
Again, for the Ngwa people of the central district, namely Isiala Ngwa, Obioma Ngwa and Ossisioma, the APGA candidate will be the rallying point. Also, APGA is popular in the state.
Mr. Otti is also believed to have some links with the Arochukwu people in the northern district, which will make him have inroad into the zone to catch some votes.
Of all the candidates, the retired banker is the only one not linked with any godfather in the state.
However, his refusal to allow the zoning formula that would allow his kinsmen in the southern district produce a governor might rob him of votes in that district.
Mr. Udensi enjoys grassroots supports having been a former local government chairman and secretary general of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON. Indeed, there was jubilation in some parts of the state when news filtered into the commercial city of Aba that he had picked up the ticket of the PPA.
The PPA flag-bearer will also ride on the popularity of a former governor of the state, Orji Uzor Kalu, who recently dumped the PDP to rejoin the PPA on whose platform he is running for the senatorial seat of Abia North. Mr. Kalu’s political structure is intact despite his frosty relationship with Mr. Orji.
The popularity of the PPA in the state is also an added advantage since it is on the party’s platform that Mr. Orji won election in 2007.
However, Mr. Udensi apparent rejection of the understanding that the southern district should produce the next governor might work against him at the poll.
He appears not to be bothered about this. He recently served Mr. Orji a quit notice.
Until recently, nothing much was heard about Mr. Akomas, politically. He might have been working behind the scene though this will be proven on February 28.
This will be the second time he would be contesting the governorship election having done so in 2011 on the platform of the PPA. Therefore, his political machine might still be there.
Unlike others, he is not new to governance having served as Commissioner for Commerce and Industry in the Kalu administration before he became deputy to Mr. Orji in the latter’s first term.
What might work against him is that his party is new. He will however enjoy the political structure of the National Chairman of the UPP, Chekwas Okorie, who is not only an indigene of the state but also its presidential candidate.
Despite the above factors, what is certain is that Mr. Orji and his predecessor will play crucial roles in determining who wins the February 28 poll in the God’s Own State.