Recent events indicate that the state that calls itself ‘God’s Own State’ is an emerging flash point that needs the attention of all Nigerians in the weeks and months to come. The season of anomie in Abia State came full circle on Sunday with adduction of five journalists from Lagos led by the state council chairman of the Nigerian Union of journalists (NUJ), Wahab Oba.
The others are the Zone G Secretary of the union, Adolphus Okonkwo; the Lagos council’s assistant secretary, Sylva Okeke, Shola Oyeyipo and their driver Azeez Abdulrauf. The men, who were on their way from the National Executive Council meeting of NUJ in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, were kidnapped in Ukbariki, near Aba in the Obingwa Local Government Area of Abia State.
The kidnap of the journalists is the latest in the series of kidnappings that have been taking place in Abia State. Recently all the banks in Aba, the commercial centre of the state and the south east as a whole closed their offices because bank managers were no longer safe in the state.
Many businesses have closed while their owners have relocated because there is no longer any guarantee of safety in Abia State. Even the shoe industry for which Aba is known has suffered a terrible loss from the heightened state of insecurity in the Aba. Hitherto, traders used to come from far flung places like Cameroon, Gabon, and Cote d’Ivoire to buy shoes at the popular Ariaria Market in Aba. That kept the shoemakers busy all day long. But all that is now in the past. Abia State has since lost its innocence and a season of anomie has set in. The kidnappers who took the Lagos NUJ officials hostage are asking for N250 million, that is N50 million per hostage.
Briefing reporters in Abuja on Sunday night, NUJ national president Mohammed Garba appealed to the kidnappers to release the journalists to “continue to discharge their social responsibility to the nation”. Garba said: “I got a call from Zain network which is no longer going through; I spoke with Oba -who was shouting, screaming, begging us to give them what they demanded. I also talked to the kidnappers; I told them that the N250 million they are asking for is too much. I told them we are journalists and that we don’t have money, and they started abusing me until they cut off the line.”
As expected both individuals, the government and civil society as well as individuals have condemned the action. Ogbonnaya Onovo has directed the police commissioners of Akwa Ibom and Abia States to get to the root of the matter and ensure that the journalists are released.
While the rest of the country is aggrieved about the security problem in Abia State, the political leaders in the state are behaving like Emperor Nero, who was playing the fiddle when Rome was burning.
Theordore Orji, the state governor, is reveling in his new party, the All Progressives Graand Alliance (APGA). He has left the Progressive People’s Party (PPA), the party platform under which he came to power in 2007. The governor and his camp claim that Theodore Orji has under performed because he was not given a free hand by the founder of the party, Orji Uzor Kalu, under whom he served as chief of staff when Kalu was governor. Theodore Orji was in detention when the election was conducted in 2007. It was the former governor that ensured that Theordore Orji was elected by taking care of logistics and campaign.
Orji Kalu himself has formally returned to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), from where he broke away to form PPA. Theordore Orji wants to seek a second term in 2011 on the platform of APGA while Orji Kalu will want to show that he is still relevant by sponsoring another candidate for Abia State governorship race in 2011. Sources say his younger brother, Mascot Orji Kalu has been penciled down for this. In effect, PPA is dead as a party.
The level of insecurity in Abia State is not likely to reduce in the months ahead. The 2011 election is only months away and politicians will want to take all manner of steps to ensure that they win election or retain their offices as the case may be. Given this scenario, kidnappings in the state may not reduce. The banks that closed their doors to customers in Aba only reopened for business when the Federal Government sent more than a thousand mobile policemen to the state recently. The governor’s answer to the menace of kidnappers was to announce amnesty to them. Once that was announced, other kidnappers in neighbouring states moved to Abia in droves, seeing the state as a safe haven. Part of the result has been the kidnap of the Lagos journalists.
Apart from the governor, Uche Chukwuerije, the only senator elected on PPA platform has also resigned from the party and moved to APGA.
Chukwumerije, in his resignation speech, alluded to the feud between Orji Uzor Kalu and Theodore Orji as part of the reason that there is crisis in the party, a crisis which is bringing PPA “to a road end.”
While Orji and PPA are fighting a war of attrition, Abia State is in a state of suspended animation. Apart from the problem of insecurity, Abia is probably one of the dirtiest states in the country. Refuse heaps compete for space in the cities especially Aba. The roads are bad, infrastructure is dilapidated. A first time visitor to the state will think that governance has taken sudden flight. Indeed it has. Observers say what has happened in Abia State is a replay of the Chinwoke Mbadinuju phenomenon in Anambra State between 1999 and 2003, when a tiny clique of godfathers pulled the strings and milked the state dry leaving nothing for then Governor Mbadinuju to run the state. The result was that Mbadinujun owed teachers and pensioners for more than 12 months. Anambra State was at a standstill.
To these observers, Theodore Orji probably would have done better if he was not tied to the apron strings of Orji Uzor Kalu. The story is that the former governor has not given the incumbent any chance to be his own man, to truly be in charge of affairs of the state.
Given the pattern that has been established in contemporary Nigerian politics, it would be surprising if the former governor did not show more than a passing interest in the way the incumbent, his protégé conducted affairs of the state. Put differently, Theodore Orji sold his right to independence when he allowed Orji Uzor Kalu to bankroll his election and sponsored the members of the State House of Assembly in their elections in 2007. He who pays the piper dictates the tune.
On the other hand, if the governor had endeared himself to the people of Abia State by performing well, even a thousand Orji Uzor Kalus could not stand in his way. What is happening in Lagos State between the incumbent governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola and his predecessor, Bola Tinubu is a good example of how good leadership and high performance can raise a governor’s profile and make him less vulnerable to manipulation by a political godfather.