As the 2019 governorship election approaches, Abia State is one of the 29 states where the elections will be conducted and will thus attract the attention of political pundits.
About 29 political parties have fielded candidates to vie for the office of the governor.
The battle is, however, expected to be between the incumbent governor, Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Uche Ogah of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Blessing Nwagba of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The incumbent was given a return ticket after he emerged unopposed in the PDP primaries in October 2018. He polled 1,991 votes out of 2,207 total votes cast by the delegates accredited for the exercise.
Mr Ikpeazu, who hails from Obingwa Local Government (southern district) of the state, had in 2015, defeated several other candidates to emerge governor of the state – bringing the words of his predecessor, Theodore Orji, to reality.
Mr Orji had in 2014, declared that his successor would come from the Abia South Senatorial District, particularly from the Ukwa/Ngwa bloc.
He based 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.
Mr Orji, who hails from the central district, governed the state for eight years while his predecessor, Orji Kalu, from the northern district ruled the state for eight years as well.
Mr Ikpeazu was the anointed candidate of the former governor, Mr Orji – which according to political analysts, made it easier for him to clinch the ticket in 2015.
From APGA is Mr Ikpeazu’s rival and possibly, his major challenger, Alex Otti.
Mr Otti is an Ngwa man from the Abia central zone. He was a member of the PDP who felt dissatisfied with the PDP process and dumped the party. He then picked the ticket of APGA.
He lost the governorship seat to the current governor in 2015 after which he challenged the results in court.
Mr Otti had urged the tribunal to annul the declaration of Mr. Ikpeazu as governor, saying the election was marred by irregularities and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act. He urged the tribunal to declare him (Otti) the winner on account of the lawful votes cast during the election.
Although, a court of appeal sitting in Owerri had declared that Mr Ikpeazu be removed as governor and Mr Otti be sworn-in, the Supreme Court upturned that decision by re-affirming Mr. Ikpeazu’s election.
The race between the duo is expected to be tough as APGA has gained a stronghold not just in the state but in the South-eastern part of the country as well.
It is believed that the votes of the southern zone will be split between Messrs Ikpeazu and Otti.
On his part, Mr Otti’s wealth of experience in the corporate world might attract votes from the people. For the Ngwa people of the central district, namely Isiala Ngwa, Obioma Ngwa and Ossisioma, the APGA candidate will be the rallying point.
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 get some votes.
Of all the candidates, the retired banker is the only one not linked with any godfather in the state and 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.
There is also Uche Ogah of the APC to be considered.
Mr Ogah, formally a member of the PDP, lost the 2015 PDP governorship ticket during the primary contest to Mr Ikpeazu and unsuccessfully challenged Mr Ikpeazu’s declaration as winner of the election at different levels of courts. He thereafter decamped from the PDP to the APC.
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.
Now an APC chieftain, Mr Ogah seeks to dethrone the governor as he is said to have the backing of former governor Orji Kalu.
Blessing Nwagba is a female candidate of the SDP and currently a serving member of the Abia State House of Assembly representing Aba North.
Also a former member of PDP, Ms Nwagba defected to the SDP after she lost the in the primaries conducted for the federal house of representatives’ seat in the constituency, describing her new party as the “only credible option.”
Although, some SDP local government chairmen in the state allegedly endorsed Mr Ikpeazu, the lawmaker has come out to say she will not step down for the governor.
She has not only accused the PDP of discrimination against women, she has also said she remains the governorship candidate to beat.
The popularity of the PDP in the state as well as the power of incumbency of Mr Ikpeazu has, however, given him an edge over the other aspirants.
Political analysts believe that it is better for Mr Ikpeazu to complete his second term and then hand over to someone from another zone in 2023. This is judging from the fact that the previous governors, Theordore Orji from the central district and Orji Kalu from the Northern district, each served for eight years.
Also, based on the ‘understanding’ that the governorship seat should be zoned to the south where he (Mr Ikpeazu) 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 seen in the 2015 election results and it is believed that it will address the age-long marginalisation of the Ukwa-Ngwa people.
Mr Ikpeazu also believes he is the one that would turn around the fortunes of the state.
In a recent gubernatorial debate which ended in chaos, he rated his administration high on road infrastructure, saying he had built roads that would outlive his administration.
According to him, no past administration in the state built any road that lasted up to 10 years. He also scored himself high on education, security and health, agriculture and development of small and medium enterprises.
His claims were, however, disputed by Mr Otti who argued that the administration had further impoverished Abia citizens.
Mr Otti faulted the governor’s claim on the number and quality of roads constructed by his administration, adding that insecurity worsened from 2015 to date.
He also said only 59 roads with a cumulative length of 79.38km were constructed by the present administration.
The opposition candidate also berated Mr Ikpeazu for failing to pay workers’ salaries and pensions.
Meanwhile, the PDP has dominated politics in the state, restricting the opposition to a few positions in the State House of Assembly and going by the political brawl among parties in the state, the PDP will require more effort to retain the governorship seat.