The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State is electing a new governorship candidate on Saturday for the 11 March election, the party has announced.
The rerun primary election follows the death of Uchenna Ikonne, the party’s governorship candidate in the state.
Mr Ikonne, a professor and former vice chancellor of the Abia State University Uturu, passed away on 25 January at the National Hospital Abuja, according to a statement from his first son, Uche-Ikonne Chikezie, on behalf of the family.
The professor of Optometry had been endorsed by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as his preferred successor.
Before Mr Ikonne won the ticket, the party had zoned it to Abia North and Abia Central senatorial districts.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how several party members from outside the two districts protested the arrangement. Some of them later defected from the PDP in protest.
The deceased governorship candidate hailed from Nsulu, a community in Isiala Ngwa North Council Area.
Isiala Ngwa North where Mr Ikonne hailed from is in Abia Central District.
Following his death, the PDP micro-zoned the ticket to Isiala Ngwa North in the Abia Central District.
The rezoning of the ticket to the district indicated that the PDP has maintained its position in the district.
Battle of three
The new arrangement forced many aspirants, mainly from Abia North, to withdraw from the new race, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
This newspaper gathered that the PDP has cleared three aspirants from Isiala Ngwa North to contest for the ticket. They are the Chief of Staff to Governor Ikpeazu, Okey Ahiwe, the State Commissioner for Works, Bob Ogu and a famous entrepreneur, Eric Opah.
Key aspirants and chances
However, PREMIUM TIMES reliably gathered that the governor has anointed his Chief of Staff as his preferred successor and Mr Ahiwe is therefore expected to win the primary.
Multiple sources from the PDP circle confirmed to this newspaper that the governor has settled for Mr Ahiwe.
“Ahiwe is the chosen one. It is signed and sealed,” a source said.
The chief of staff was among the aspirants that contested for the ticket in May but was asked to step aside for Mr Ikonne.
Mr Ogu and the entrepreneur, Mr Opah, were said to have been used to add to the number to avoid presenting only one contestant for the exercise. Sources, however, said the two have been promised public positions if the party wins the general election.
Trouble still looms
A controversy over the selection of three-member ad-hoc delegates from each ward is yet to be buried, despite the emergence and death of Mr Ikonne last year. Only the delegates are qualified to vote at the primary.
‘How it began’
Before the previous primary, many party members had alleged the production of a “fake” list of ad-hoc delegates across the 184 wards of the state.
The ward congresses for the election of tge of the PDP were initially billed for 30 April, but were cancelled due to a court order.
Although the party rescheduled the congresses for 4 May after the order was vacated, it failed to hold because of a public holiday observed on that day.
However, while some party members waited for the announcement of a new date for the congresses, Governor Ikpeazu allegedly wrote a list of the delegates across the wards and sent it to the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.
But Mr Ikpeazu and his loyalists claimed that the ward congresses were held on 6 May although seven of the then aspirants denied the claim.
On 22 May, the aspirants, led by Enyinnaya Abaribe, the then Senate Minority Leader, at a press conference at the party’s secretariat in Abuja, asked the NWC to take immediate action to prevent an “impending implosion” of the party in Abia State.
The incumbent deputy governor of the state, Ude Chukwu, who was also a governorship aspirant at that time, was part of the seven aspirants who rejected the delegate list.
Describing the list as a nullity, the then aspirants said the action of those who compiled and submitted it to the party’s national secretariat was against the law.
“Only the national chairman and national secretary of a political party can communicate with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at their National Headquarters in respect of congresses, primaries and conventions. Neither the state chairman of a party nor the REC of INEC has (sic) any role in the matter and so the said congresses of the 6th day of May 2022 are dead on arrival,” Mr Abaribe had said at the conference, on behalf of the six others.
“It is preposterous that what is being bandied as a list emanated from an imaginary congress conducted via a letter of notice to the Abia State Resident Electoral Commissioner signed by the Abia State Chairman of the PDP, Mr. Allwell Asiforo Okere. The implication being that the functions of NEC and NWC were performed by a State Chairman of the party and not the National Chairman and Secretary of PDP,” he added.
INEC too has maintained that Abia State PDP did not conduct its ad-hoc delegate election.
“Please, refer to your letter dated May 11, 2022 requesting confirmation if the commission is in receipt of a letter from the PDP national chairman and national secretary that rescheduled the party’s Abia State ward congresses that failed to hold on May 4, 2022.
“This is to confirm that the last notice received from the PDP national headquarters was the one that scheduled the Abia State ward congress May 4, 2022,” INEC said in a letter, adding that it was still expecting a new date after the congress failed to hold on the scheduled date.
ALSO READ: 2023: PDP releases timetable for fresh governorship primary in Abia
The letter, signed by the commission’s Secretary, Rose Oriaran-Anthony, and dated 13 May, was written in response to an enquiry by an Abuja-based legal practitioner.
The faction of the party in the state loyal to Mr Ikpeazu, however, continued to insist that it conducted the three-member delegate elections.
Some of the seven aggrieved aspirants, including Mr Abaribe, later defected to opposition political parties in the state.
A member of the PDP in the state, who asked not to be named, told PREMIUM TIMES that the old and controversial delegate list earlier used during the election of Mr Ikonne will still be used for the rerun primary.
However, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the validity of the list is still being contested before the Federal High Court, Umuahia.
One of the aspirants in the 25 May primary, Sampson Orji, filed a suit in the court seeking the nullification of Mr Ikonne’s governorship ticket on the ground that the delegates that voted in the primary were not elected.
The court is yet to rule on the matter, it was gathered.
There are feelings that if the PDP should go ahead with the rerun primary without addressing the controversy over the delegate list, it may jeopardise its own chances of participation in the general election, such as played out in Zamfara State in 2019.
“It remains an albatross on anyone that gets the governorship ticket,” a high-profile party member said of the delegate list.
The Zamfara Scenario
Two factions of the All Progressives Congress in Zamfara State, led by Kabiru Marafa and then Governor Abdul’aziz Yari had fought over the control of the party in the state ahead of the 2019 elections.
Because of the disagreement, the party failed to hold valid primary elections within the stipulated time, as required by law.
Although the INEC went ahead to allow the party to participate in the polls, and the party won every seat including the governorship, the Supreme Court later voided all votes cast for the party and consequently voided the victory of all its candidates in the February 23 and March 16, 2029 general elections in the state.
The court ruled that the party had no candidates in the elections, as it failed to conduct primaries in accordance with its own rules and as required by law. It consequently ordered candidates of the political party that came second, which happened to be the PDP, to take over as the duly elected contestants.
Ironically, virtually all those awarded the offices, including Governor Bello Matawalle, later defected from the PDP to the APC.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999