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BusinessDay

The story of Abia’s liberation 24 years after

The 2023 gubernatorial and House of Assembly Election held Saturday, March 18, 2023, will remain in the minds of Abia people for long, as it brought to an end the twenty four years reign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State.

The March 18 gubernatorial election, in Abia showcased democracy at its best, as many believed, the result reflected the wish of the majority of the electorate.

That accounted for the jubilation in the state, especially in Aba, the state’s commercial hub, and Umuahia, the capital.

The PDP has been the dominant political party in Abia State, since 1999, which gave the state the sobriquet of a PDP State.

PDP won Abia governorship seat at the return of democracy in 1999. Orji Uzor Kalu was elected governor of the state in that year.

In 2006, Kalu briefly left PDP​ and formed Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) which produced Theodore Orji, his successor in 2007.

That relationship went sour and Theodore Orji dumped PPA and rejoined the PDP, which gave him the platform to seek re-election in 2011.

In 2015, Okezie Ikpeazu was announced the governor on the PDP platform, even though some observers have continued to argue that the election was won by Alex Otti who contested on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

But the problem of Abia was not in the party but in the individuals that presided over the state. Since 1999, the state touted as “God’s Own State” has been among the poorly run states in the country. It has lacked basic infrastructural development; civil servants are owed salaries for several months, poor or lack of motivation for workers and pensioners are not being paid their gratuities.

Over the years, government-schools and health facilities have remained descripit and health workers have continued to be at daggers-drawn with state government over load of unpaid wages amounting to several months.

The state has always come readily to mind whenever people allude to non-performing states in the country. Some writers had even suggested that the entire state should be cautioned for a penny!

Chidi Amuta, a freeborn of Abia State, has always deplored the misgovernance going on in his state. In his several published essays and interviews, he has never shied away from pointing out the ills in the state.

In an interview with BusinessDay, published on May 28, 2012 on Page 44, while responding to a question on what he thought of Abia, Amuta said that as far as he was concerned, nothing was going on in terms of democracy dividend in the state. He pointed out that there was a difference between newspaper campaign and actual dividends of democracy.

In his article published in USAfrica magazine a few days to the governorship election titled, ‘The moment to rescue Abia State has come,’ Amuta pointed out among other things that “Abia is easily the most indebted state in the federation with a debt portfolio of over N189.9billion.”

According to him, “To citizens of the state, a tradition of irresponsible and insensitive governance may have become all too familiar and normal. The records speak for themselves. From the administration of Mr.Orji Kalu to that of Theodire Orji and the outgoing Okezie Ikpeazu, the story of Abia has been one long night of deceit, unbriddled corruption and epic incompetence.”

Now, the table with the parallel loss the PDP recorded in 2023 general election. It lost all the three senatorial seats to opposition parties and won only one House of Representatives seat out of eight.

The Labour Party won in Abia Central Senatorial zone, All Progressives Grand Alliance, Abia South senatorial zone, while the All Progressives Congress won in Abia North.

Labour Party also won six, out of eight House of Representatives seats in the State, leaving one each for the PDP and APC.

The Abia PDP after performing woefully at the February 25 Presidential/National Assembly Election, hoped to bounce back at the March 18, Guber/House of Assembly Elections, but the party’s hopes were dashed as Alex Otti, governorship candidate of the Labour Party, won the gpvernorship election having polled 175 467 votes to defeat Okey Ahiwe of the PDP, who polled. 88, 529 votes to second.

For the House of Assembly Election, PDP managed to win 11 seats out of 24 seats. The Labour Party won 10 seats, while the All Progressives Congress (APC) won two seats and the Young Progressive Patty (YPP) won one.

Some political analysts attributed the defeat of PDP at the polls to acts of impunity and selfishness. They were also of the view that the party stakeholders in the state believed that the party had consolidated power that no other party could defeat it in Abia.

Consequently, laxity set in and the party left good governance, which is the best way to consolidate power to depend on rigging, which was its greatest undoing.

Also, the death of Eleazar Ikonne, a professor and PDP candidate for the 2023 guber election, few weeks to the election and his subsequent replacement with Okey Ahiwe, who resigned his position as chief of staff to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, to contest in the primaries and won, may have affected the chances of the party in retaining the governorship seat in the state.

The choice of Ahiwe’s deputy was also contentious.

Some stakeholders in the state saw the 2023 guber election, as an opportunity to reclaim a mandate that they gave to Alex Otti in 2015, but was allegedly stolen by the PDP.

To these stakeholders, the PDP outgoing government came into power on a stolen mandate, as they alleged that Alex Otti, then of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) won the governorship election in the state in 2015, but was denied victory, by the PDP and INEC.

To reclaim his mandate, Otti, approached the Appeal Court in Owerri, after losing at the Electoral Tribunal. On December 31, 2015, the Court of Appeal removed​ Okezie Ikpeazu​ of the​ Peoples Democratic Party,​ as governor of Abia State and declared Otti the winner of the April 11 and April 25, 2015 governorship elections in the state.

However, on February 3, 2016, the Supreme Court of Nigeria reversed the verdict in favour of Okezie Ikpeazu of the PDP.

Moreover, the wave of the Obidient movement, which stopped Ikpeazu’s Senatorial ambition, as well as the decision of the PDP to micro-zone it’s governorship seat to Isiala Ngwa North area of Abia Central Senatorial also pulled the plug on PDP’s quest to retain power in Abia,

Donald Udogu, a senior advocate of Nigeria. (SAN) attributed PDP’s loss in Abia as the will of God, noting that people are paid in their own coins.

According to the highly respected lawyer, “God is not man, he gives people whatever they deserve despite all human efforts.

“Evil dwells where it is accommodated, but goes away from where it’s rejected. One of the biggest evils we do here is selfishness. We as Africans, Nigerians and Igbos have a serious problem and that problem is selfishness. Nobody has a national interest in whatever he or she does. It’s selfishness that has crippled our economy and kept us where we are today. Most of us who are complaining will be worst if we taste power because it’s a societal problem.

“People celebrate Michael Okpara and Sam Mbakwe today, because it’s the same God that kept them in power. God is still the same, but we humans are changing for the worse, daily. What can we do? We will continue to pray for them despite the situation. We can’t ask God to dethrone them, but we as a people must change our ways of life for God to see that we’re ready for something new.”

Abia was created in August 1991 during the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida military regime.

Meanwhile, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, the outgoing Governor of Abia State has congratulated Alex Otti of the Labour Party, on his emergence as Governor elect.

Ikpeazu noted that Otti has fought a long battle over a long period of time and deserved commendation for his staying power and resilience.

In the words of the governor, “Since we have come to the logical end of this battle, it is appropriate to congratulate the winner, Alex Otti on his hard fought victory.

“In every battle, there will always be a winner and in the spirit of sportsmanship and love for our State, the Governor elect must see his victory as a higher call to service to the people of Abia State.”

Read also: Jubilation continues in Aba as INEC declares Otti Abia governor-elect

The Governor also saluted the other candidates, who took part in the election, especially Okey Ahiwe, the PDP candidate, for their doggedness.

Ikpeazu is of the considered opinion that the Governor-elect should be given an enabling environment to run the affairs of State from May 29, 2023 and advised the candidates not to distract the incoming Governor with court cases.

According to the Governor, “Having myself spent about three and half years in different courts and having experienced first hand, the distraction such cases can cause a leader, I appeal to every candidate in this election not to distract the incoming administration with court cases, so that they will settle down and deal with the very demanding business of governance. Let us break this negative trend of subjecting our governors to endless litigations and allow them to concentrate on providing good governance.”

Ikpeazu assured the governor-elect that he will put in place every necessary measure to ensure a seamless transition from his administration to his.

All eyes are now on Alex Otti to walk his talk.

“The governor-elect must hit the ground running. There is no time to waste. Abia is seriously in need of retooling. Every aspect of the state needs to be overhauled. Otti must look beyond the excitement and wear his gloves for the real battle. I do not envy him. The task is daunting,” Odinaka Mba, an Abia indigene who lives in Aba, said.