From PETER OKORE, Umuahia
Virtually, most of the political parties existing in Abia state, including the majors, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; All Progressives congress, APC; and the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, have controversies trailing their concluded primaries. In spite of the odds, the parties are engrossed in expectations of what decisions could result from both their party hierarchy and the Electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Indeed, the just concluded party primaries in Abia state, however, did not go without issues peculiar to electoral malpractices. Some of the glaring ones observed during the primaries, which may, if not addressed, affect the conduct of the main elections next year include the issue of Delegate-lists and self interest of party-members/stakeholders.
Others are political maneuverings and manipulations, violation of procedures, threats of litigations over the concluded primaries, defection of aggrieved members to other political parties, high- level monetization of delegates, state concern; especially the high debt-profile and under-development of Abia state, dangers of funding a government-sponsored aspirant with public money, prevailing strike by Teachers, unpaid pensions and Gratuities for many years, etc.
These issues are real problems steering the various parties on their faces. The big question the electorate are asking is how these aspirants, who have scaled through the first hurdle (primaries), can cope with these problems if elected. Some of them (aspirants), rather than give ideas on how to tackle the problems, are rather, succumbing to the lobby of sharing public funds with stakeholders, godfathers, and the likes.
But, from the look of things, some aspirants stand the risk of winning at the polls during the real elections and losing same position at the courts.
For instance, a look at the three (3) political parties showed that APGA parades a credible team for the guber race. And, this party has been acclaimed as the next party Abians could look-up to for rescue and sustained development.
But what is trending now with APGA has become a source of worry to the populace, faced with the personalities yearning to take over the mantle of leadership in Abia.
In their primary conducted at the Kolping Society of Nigeria Conference Hall, Prof. Gregory Ibe, Chancellor of Gregory University, Uturu, came top with 283 votes to emerge winner. Chief Etigwe Uwa (SAN) came second with 148 votes. Major-General Ijoma N. Ijoma scored 36 votes to come third; while Sir Chikwe Udensi scored 12 votes to come 4th in the contest.
These are credible men who can move mountains if they work as a team. At the end of the election, the Abia State APGA Primary Election Chairman, Mr. Echezona Etiaba declared Prof. Gregory Ibe as winner. After the declaration and Prof. Ibe reading his acceptance speech, Gen. Ijoma expressed dissatisfaction over the conduct of that primary.
He gave strong indications that he would head to the courts for clarifications of what transpired there. According to him, he came to the venue of the primary with five buses loaded with his supporters and delegates. At the end of the exercise, Ijoma doubted how only 36 people voted for him. On his own, in spite of pressures to make comments about the primary, Chief Etigwe Uwa (SAN) remained calm and dumfounded.
For Udensi, by the time Etiaba was about concluding his task, it was heard that he (Udensi) was also conducting his own parallel primary at an Hotel in Umuahia. That faction also produced Sir Chikwe as governorship candidate for the APGA in the 2023 governorship election. Udensi accused the SWC of APGA of manipulating the process of the primary, which produced Prof. Ibe. He alleged that fake delegates were used for the primary election.
With these two parallel elections, APGA has two guber candidates. It is then left for the party to decide or the court decides for them.
On the part of the PDP, it paraded an anointed candidate, Prof. Elieza Uche Ikonne, former VC of Abia State University, Uturu and ten(10) others for the guber race, including the deputy governor of the state, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu and a lady, Mrs. Ezenwanyi Jonah.
Before the primary, Enyinna Abaribe, Minority Leader in the Senate and member representing Abia-South in the National Assembly withdrew and denounced his membership of PDP. Prof. Gregory Ibe, Sen. Emma Nwaka and a few others also withdrew from the contest. At the end of the day, even all those who had withdrawn and left the party also got votes.
Chief Ayodele Fayose, former Ekiti state governor, who was the Returning officer for Abia, declared Prof. Uche Ikonne the winner, having scored 468 out of 554 votes cast and qualified to fly the party’s flag in the 2023 guber election. The second runner-up was Mr. Lucky Igbokwe, who scored 45 votes, while Ude Oko Chukwu scored 6 votes.
Prof. Ikonne, thus became the lone candidate for Abia PDP in the 2023 election. But awaiting his chances are the state chapter of the PDP breaching the party’s rotation arrangement as well as allegations surrounding his being imposed on the state.
To determine Ikonne’s competence are his activities at the Abia Polytechnics Aba and Abia State University, Uturu where he left backlog of unpaid salaries to staff of Abia Teaching Hospital and withdrawal of accreditation by the National University Commission, NUC, to the University’s School of Medicine and Surgery.
Again, Ikonne being the anointed candidate of the governor is closely linked with the submission of the controversial 3-man adhoc delegates list to Abuja without the knowledge of the Abia state Secretary of PDP. Secretary, Mr. David Iro. Mr. Iro,who has been on suspension for one month for his utterances, described the handling of the state Delegates-list as an “impunity, stressing that there was no time a congress was ever held to elect the delegates. “We cannot endorse impunity in Abia state”.
The INEC also refused to accept that list and directed that congress be held to elect the delegates. Whether the actual congress to elect true delegates for Abia state in the concluded primary is still an illusion. But the former Attorney-general of Imo state Chukwuma Ma-Chukwu Ume, in his letter of May,9, 2022, warned about the calamity that may befall PDP in Abia state as a result of clear disregard to the guidelines for the conduct of party primary.
He appealed to the national chairman of the party, Sen. Iyorchia Ayu to intervene. Not only that former Senate President Adolphus Wabara spoke against the breach of party guidelines to satisfy a personal interest. For that, he was relieved of his appointment at ABSUU. There were others who spoke against this.
The Abia state chapter of the PDP had in its wisdom zoned the governorship seat for Abia in the 2023 elections to two senatorial districts of Abia- North and Abia- Central. Sources allege that with Abia South completing her two tenures, the position should go back to Abia North to begin another round of the arrangement, in obedience to the Charter of Equity being adopted by the party.
Former governor and now Senator representing Abia-Central in the National Assembly, Chief Theodore Orji had continued to drum it that the next power should go to Abia North. But this did not go down well with Governor Okezie Ikpeazu. Probably, his reason could be that former governor, now senator representing Abia-North in the National Assembly, Dr. Orji Uzo Kalu planted Chief Theodore Orji after his in castration.
Theodore Orji planted Okezie Ikpeazu. Then, why not Ikpeazu plant somebody as he leaves office, he probably reasoned. Stakeholders and good people of Abia state, reasoned that such perennial acts, tolerated in the past, amounts to impunity and encouragement of godfatherism.
As a result opinions were divided and and divisions arose within the party hierarchy. This has made many party faithful relinquish membership of the PDP. For the first time since 1999 stakeholders/elites in Abia have spoken against any impunity in Abia state.
The likes of Onyema Ugochukwu, former NDDC chairman; former secretary of Abia state, Dr. Eme Okoro, Enyinna Abaribe, Charles Ogbonnaya and others took the matter to Abuja to seek redress on the issues of the 3-man delegates list and the violation of the party’s rotation arrangement.
Off course, there are still others who speak from both sides of their mouths. Till date no primary election has been conducted in Arochukwu due to allegations of imposition of government candidates.
On the part of the All Progressives Congress, the party has conducted two parallel primaries, using Direct and Indirect modes. The faction that used indirect primary produced Chief Ikechi Emenike as governor with 672 votes.
Emeka Atuma came second with 150 votes.
Not long after the declaration by the Returning officer Mr. Tony Obiefuna, there was a rumour making the rounds that a court has declared Emenike’s election as invalid. This had to do with his court case which has to do with his suspension from the party as a member. Following this order Emeka Atuma started parading himself as having been elected winner of that primary.
Later, it was also gathered that the other faction that used Direct primary, as directed by the party Headquarters, had elected former Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Sampson Ogah to fly the APC flag in the 2023 guber election. From the foregoing, APC has three (3) guber aspirants in Abia.
In her letter withdrawing her senatorial candidacy in the primary, Sen. Nkechi Nwaogu stated that she was totally disappointed with the on-going protracted division in the state APC. In the letter dated May 27,2022, Nkechi explained that the faction of the APC that brought out Ikechi Emenike allegedly used the unapproved in-direct mode to conduct the primary, while the faction that brought out Uche Ogah used the direct primary as directed by the APC leadership. The right situation is yet not clear for APC in Abia.
All-in-all a cursory look at the guber primaries held in Abia state indicates that the stage is set for legal processes and what the amended 2022 Electoral Acts, when assented to, will have in stock for credible elections in Nigeria.
It is only this instrument that will straighten issues before and after the 2023 general election for Abia citizens to have a good and development-oriented government that can change the narrative, there is need for the parties and aspirants to close ranks, harmonize interests, let-go party affiliations and front a formidable candidate to fly the flag of that party for the good of the state and citizenry.
For, opinions are ripe that Abians are ready to sink or swim with any credible candidate in the forthcoming general elections, who can salvage the state, irrespective of the political party.