Despite the opposition against Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, he seems unruffled in the sense that in the face of the mounting opposition, his style and attitude to governance has continued largely unchanged.
The Abia helmsman is so calm that one would think there is nothing to lose for a man who is seeking for a second term. For him, it is no hurry, no worry, at least as far as the eyes could see.
But the truth is that never in the political history of Abia State has there been the kind of opposition that is mounting against Governor Ikpeazu. Though most of the political parties, about 30 of them, have governorship candidates, Ikpeazu would have to contend with very formidable old foes.
Aside the little known parties and their candidates, even Ikpeazu would agree that to be in the trenches with the likes of Uche Ogah, the All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial candidate and Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA), is not a tea party.
One would have thought that after the governor’s recent meeting with contractors working in the state, work would resume in all the sites, at least to convince the people that government is working and sway their votes as the election approaches. Curiously, it is not so. Apart from the resumption of skeletal work on Aba road in Umuahia, precisely the reinforcement of the ceramic bridge, nothing is happening anywhere.
The fly over at Osisioma junction in Aba, has stood hanging like the ruins of an antique castle. Work stopped on the project long before now. The people of Nkporo, in Ohafia Local Government Area, the deputy governor’s community, have publicly withdrawn their support for the governor and his deputy, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu.
The pack was led by the former member representing Arochukwu/Ohafia federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Arua Arunsi, who was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Their grouse is that they have nothing to show for the support for PDP. Their son, the deputy governor, had been the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, before running as Ikpeazu’s deputy, yet the community has no road. The group was at the APC candidate’s campaign headquarters, Umuahia for an alignment with him.
Also, the people of Arochukwu were disappointed that rather than resuming work on the Abam -Arochukwu road, the governor went to flag off a new road, the Abam ring road, in the same local government area, which from all indications would not go beyond the present earth work.
Again, the Port Harcourt road in Aba in which structures on both sides were demolished to allow for expansion, compounding the hardship the people are put through, is largely unattended to, except the slow pace of work on the drainage.
And, in spite of the efforts made to clear arrears of workers’ salaries and pensions, secondary school teachers, local government workers and some parastatals including Health Management Board (HMB) and Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH) are still being owed.
In fact, the pensioners recently appealed to traditional rulers and religious leaders in the state to intervene over their plight. They said the governor had abandoned them after reneging on the promise to pay them by installment. At the moment, payment of salaries is tied to release of Paris Club refund. Nothing is said of the monthly revenue allocation to the state from the federation account.
These, among others, more than the political parties and their candidates, are the issues that would shape the campaign for the state governorship election. While the opposition parties are expecting to cash in on them, it will, however, be uncharitable to say that the governor has not made some achievements in the three and a half years of his administration.
He has made indelible impact in human resource development, promotion of made in Aba goods and the face-lift given to Aba, the commercial hub of the state.
Recall that in 2015, the battle for the soul of the state raged after the election. While Friday Nwosu, Ikpeazu’s kinsman and Ogah, who had lost the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary to Ikpeazu challenged the matter in court, citing irregularities in the governor’s tax papers, Otti, who was APGA’s candidate challenged the election on the basis of what he described as glaring malpractice and non compliance with the Electoral Act.
During the collation and declaration of results local government by local government, Otti was leading until the result from Obingwa, Ikpeazu’s local government area turned the table, upsetting the hitherto impressive result of Otti.
The over 82,000 votes posted from Obingwa was by the opposition considered too bogus to be credible. It formed the basis for the legal challenge in addition to the invasion of the INEC state headquarters, venue for the result collation and declaration, by the leaders of the PDP including then Governor Theodore Orji.
The court ordered a rerun which the governor won with ease. Otti challenged the tribunal’s verdict and was consequently declared winner of the election and ordered to be sworn in immediately, but Ikpeazu appealed the order and was retained as governor.
But, the pre election matter of tax evasion took a twist, when Ogah approached a court to declare him the rightful candidate of the PDP, being next to Ikpeazu during the primary, on the ground that by virtue of the irregular tax receipt, Ikpeazu does not qualify as candidate of the party.
He overtook Nwosu in the pursuit and was declared governor and issued with Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). A state High Court, however, swiftly issued stay of execution. The matter was again resolved at the appellate court in favour of the governor.
The candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) at the time, Nyerere Anyim, did not challenge the election in court. Nwosu is still in opposition to Ikpeazu, having taken his supporters to APC.
Today, the story is different. Ogah, Otti and 28 others are jostling to unseat Ikpeazu. Blessing Nwagba, the member representing Aba North in the state House of Assembly, who contested and lost the Aba North and Aba South House of Representatives seat to the former member, Uzor Azubuike, picked the governorship ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
In their campaigns, the candidates point to the infrastructure deficit and the disconnect between the government and the people. Some of them have expressed fears that Ikpeazu is not really in charge and will not go beyond the bidding of his godfathers.
They point to the confusion generated by the counter-directive of the son of the former governor and member representing Umuahia Central Constituency in the State House of Assem bly, Chinedum Orji, to traders to return to Isi Gate from where the Umuahia Main Market was relocated to Ubani.
The counter-order instantly ended government’s effort at enforcing the relocation order. Now, the traders have left the main market thereby defeating the whole essence of decongesting the city and the Ubani Market is a shadow of itself.
More than half of the market has been taken over by grass, while the few traders who have no place to go lament the desertion of the market and the consequent poor sales.
But, the number of governorship candidates, notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the contest is between the big three – Ikpeazu, Otti and Ogah, unless something unlikely happens.
Already, campaign posters and bill boards have taken over strategic locations across the state just as campaign jingles have taken over the air waves. The candidates compare Abia with neighbouring states in terms of infrastructure and wonder what the government has been doing with the state’s resources.
Of particular concern to them is the outlook of Umuahia, the state capital, which they say, in all ramifications, is the worst in the South-East zone.
Ogah’s campaign train has been reinforced and made more formidable with the popularity and expansion of the APC in the state unlike 2015 when the party had to contend with acceptance and credibility among the people owing to the tag of being a pro-Northern and Islamic party.
Ogah has appointed and inaugurated his campaign council with two representatives each from the 17 local government areas of the state and with APC in control of the federal government with the attendant political advantage, many believe that he has an edge.
The president of Masters Energy and the vast Ogah conglomerate was actually the candidate many in the state wished would be governor in 2015, but when he lost the primary to Ikpeazu, he refused to jump ship against the yearning of his supporters, who had wanted him to move to another party to actualize his ambition.
When it became clear that he was resolved to take his time before deciding the next move, the people switched their loyalty to APGA and its candidate, Otti. The outcome of the election proved that the people were dissatisfied with the PDP government and wanted by all means to get rid of it.
The result was that some of APGA’s candidates, who emerged victorious, were not known to the electorate prior to the election. All they wanted was to flush out the sitting government and its choice for replacement. All they wanted was anything but PDP. Otti fought so hard in 2015 but was overwhelmed by the PDP behemoth. APGA picked 11 out of the 24 seats in the House of Assembly that had ran since 1999 without opposition.
Though the party’s fortunes have dwindled over the years resulting in the loss of most of the members either to tribunal verdict or defection, Otti has retooled his campaign machine to take advantage of the goodwill of 2015 to relaunch himself and APGA to political relevance.
Many of those who saw APGA as the alternative in 2015 have stuck with it. The evidence is unmistakable from the number of candidates it fielded for all the positions. Even the effort made to tear the party along leadership and personality lines failed as the electoral umpire recognized and published Otti as APGA’s governorship candidate.
And, besides the fact that Otti is a dogged fighter with enormous resources at his disposal, APGA in Abia State has been strengthened by the victory of the party in the last governorship election in Anambra State and since then it has held periodic rallies and meetings to reassure its members.
N doubt, the fight will indeed be interesting this time and it is not going to be easy for the incumbent government. While it has been calls from various quarters for the electorate to vote against a government that celebrates the payment of workers salaries, Ikpeazu will also contend with his own kinsmen who have risen against his second term bid.
Unlike in 2015, when the Ukwa/Ngwa political bloc saw the governorship position as their right by equity, just last week, hundreds of youths under the aegis of Ukwa/Ngwa Youth Movement dumped the PDP and Governor Ikpeazu over what they described as underperformance.
Members of the group led by Mr. Okechukwu Ukaegbu, stated the position at APGA’s state secretariat in Umuahia, during a solidarity visit to Otti, who they said possess the wherewithal to take the state out of the woods.
Even from Obingwa the governor’s local government has reverberated opposition voices to his second term bid. They point to the lackluster performance and especially Ikpeazu’s inability to complete the expansion of the Ururuka road.
While an analyst, who alluded to the governor’s characteristic insouciance, said that “Ikpeazu is behaving as if he is already in his second tenure,” it is left to be seen if he will have his way on election day.