Ahead of the 2023 general elections, it will not be an easy journey for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate in Abia State, Prof. Uche Ikonne.
This is considering the trending political disaffection, realignments and defections rocking the party.
This recent development followed the emergence of Ikonne as the PDP standard gubernatorial flagbearer, a development that is questioning the Abia Charter of equity signed by the founding fathers.
Ahead of the fourth Republic in 1999, old Abia State was broadly divided into the Aba and Bende political blocs.
While the latter now comprises of the people of Abia North senatorial district with Umuahia North, Umuahia South and Ikwuano Local Government areas as part of Abia Central, the former mainly are the people of Abia South, with Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South and Osisioma Local Government areas, also part of the Abia Central Senatorial district
The power rotation controversy has pitted stakeholders of the old Bende bloc against their old Aba (Ukwa-Ngwa) counterparts.
Ikonne hails from Agburuike-Nsulu in Isiala Ngwa North Local Government area of Abia Central Senatorial district, while Governor Okezie Ikpeazu also hails from Isialaukwu, Mbato Autonomous community in Obingwa Local Government Area of the State. They are from the same Ukwa-Ngwa bloc and are ethnic brothers
Discrete findings checked out that the governor’s kinsmen – the Ukwa-Ngwa bloc are insisting that they should produce Ikpeazu’s successor in 2023 to balance the gaps in governorship to the advantage of the old Bende ethnic group.
Now, the contention has got to its head. This is as Ikpeazu’s predecessor, Senator Theodore Ahamefula Orji, who anointed and facilitated Ikpeazu’s victory in 2015 had in a stakeholders’ meeting convened at his instance declared that power should return to Abia North in 2023 in deference to the the Abia charter of equity.
Orji, who said those campaigning to retain power in the Ukwa-Ngwa bloc are on their own, had also described such political moves as “a dangerous voyage
But the position of Orji, who represents Abia Central Senatorial district in the National Assembly, did not settle down with proponents of Ukwa-Ngwa 2023 continuity.
In a reaction, the Ukwa-Ngwa leaders of thought in a statement stated that, “eighteen years of Umuahia (old Bende) zone to eight years of Aba zone cannot be equity”.
The leaders explained that the record of the civilian governorship of Abia State shows that Umuahia (old Bende) zone has dominated the process for so long.
“Umuahia has produced Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, two years of January 1992 to November 1993; Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, eight years of May 1999 to May 2007; Dr. Theodore Orji, another eight years of May 2007 to May 2015. It adds up to 18 years.
“Aba zone will have only Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu who will complete eight years from May 2015 to May 2023.
“What type of equity equates eight years to 18 years? Was equity absent when the Umuahia zone had the governorship for 18 years? Another eight years for the Umuahia zone would be 26 years for the Umuahia zone and eight years for the Aba zone. We do not see any equity in that proposal,” they stated.
Against this backdrop, the old Bende political leaders said the Onu truncated governorship, by a military coup and now an indigene of Ebonyi State upon the creation of new States should be discountenanced.
They also averred that since the rotation of governorship power started from the Abia North Senatorial district in 1999, moved to Abia Central senatorial district in 2007 and, finally moved to Abia South in 2015, it is rational, fair and equitable for governorship power to return to Abia North in 2023.
But leaders of the old Aba political bloc (Ukwa-Ngwa) rebutted it. Their take is that power should only rotate between the old Aba and old Bende political blocs that existed when the Abia charter of equity was made, not on senatorial zones. And that since the power rotation has gone full circle, it could start afresh from any of the two blocs in 2023.
In disagreement, Prof. Gregory Ibe, Chancellor of Gregory University, Uturu, (GUU) and gubernatorial hopeful said the distortion of the Abia charter of equity forced him to pull out of the PDP for the 2023 general elections.
Ibe explained that after he had drawn his blueprint for the transformation of the State in 2015, under the PDP, it was former governor Orji who prevailed on him to step down on the basis that it was the time of Abia South (old Aba bloc) to be governor.
In his words, “Convinced by the arguments on the need to implement the content of Abia charter of equity, I not only stepped down but deployed my resources and subsequently campaigned for Ikpeazu to become governor.
“1n 2019, when Ikpeazu was to go for a re-election, he sent a delegation of political leaders and elders of Ukwa-Ngwa, led by senator Adolph Wabara and Elder Emmanuel Adaelu, to secure the Abia north (old Bende) support.”
As a seal on the equity pact, it was said there was a reaffirmation among political leaders of the two blocs that at the end of Ikpeazu’s second term, the governorship position would return to Abia North.
Reliable sources also said traditional rulers from the two blocs have similarly endorsed the 2023 power rotation to Abia north senatorial district.
Despite all odds, Ibe said his next action would be to join another political platform to actualise his ambition to reposition the State on the path of a strong economic footing and project developments.
The anti-Ikonne 2023 governorship is not only limited to the PDP stalwarts and members. It also transcended party lines to the apolitical majority groups.
In the State, Senator Orji, his predecessor and Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, APC State leader and former Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe, a newly defected PDP leader are all opposed to the planned Ikonne governorship.
While Ikonne, Ikpeazu and Abaribe are from the old Aba (Ukwa-Ngwa) bloc, the duo of Orji and Kalu are from the old Bende bloc.
Abaribe, it was learnt, has been showing interest over the years to serve the State as governor. But Ikpeazu appears to be averse to Abaribe’s political ambition. Until Abaribe recently defected from the PDP to the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, for a senatorial re-election, he was a governorship hopeful.
He had fought to succeed Ikpeazu as governor but Ikpeazu was said to have imposed Ikonne instead, and at the same time won for himself the PDP Abia south senatorial ticket to replace the fiery lawmaker and put him into political oblivion.
On these premises, Ikpeazu and Abaribe are now working at cross purposes. Though they hail from Obingwa, the area with the most intimidating voting population in the State, sources said elections in the area would be an epic battle to test their electoral capabilities.
In Abia polity and politics, Abaribe is said not to be a beginning politician. In his unbroken political career dated from 1999, he has never been an appointed politician. He has been running elective positions, going through the murky waters and associated crucibles of elections, maintaining a winning streak and popularity like a resource political warlord, sources explained.
As for Ikonne, he will be a first timer. No doubt, he is an erudite scholar and administrator of tertiary institutions par excellence but arguably a political dark horse, who insiders said may find it difficult to use governorship elections as proving ground in politics, especially at a moment when Abia is politically divided.
Even so, Governor Ikpeazu, the backer of Ikonne also rose to power from the academia as a first timer. But he enjoyed undivided support from both the Ukwa-Ngwa and old Bende blocs to win in his first term and second term re-election.
But sources said Ikpeazu may not have stronger art of politics and clout to beat Senators Abaribe, Kalu and Orji who have been in politics before him, kept their structures and had served the State as deputy governor and governors, respectively before they were individually elected and re-elected as federal lawmakers.
Again, the circumstances through which Ikpeazu rose to power were said to be different. One, he was said to have also been anointed by Orji but the zoning mantra was a stronger campaign tool to his favour, which helped to galvanize the popular Ukwa-Ngwa support for him as jinx breaker.
Besides, Orji railroaded Ikpeazu to power because sources said he enjoyed unopposed political thoughts, relative peace, trust and maximum support from most of the political leaders who were then united under the PDP platform against Kalu as the only political enemy they had appeared to have in the State.
Apart from Abaribe, Chief Ikechi Emenike, the APC guber candidate from the old Bende bloc will also challenge Ikonne at the governorship elections.
Abia State has an aggregate of 17 local government areas. While the Ukwa-Ngwa has nine, the old Bende has eight.
Investigations revealed that second to the people of Obingwa in voting population are Ohafia, Arochukwu, Umuahia north and Umuahia south, all in the old Bende bloc.
It is, nonetheless, said substantial part of the Obingwa voting population are drawn from the indigenes of the old Bende who hail from Abiriba, Ohafia and Arochukwu, among others, living and doing businesses over the years in Aba, the commercial hub of the State. They are said to be almost always ready to vote in protest to support their political leaders in the agitation for power rotation and would vote for a governorship candidate of old Bende extraction.
Political leaders who are, however, rooting to retain power in Ukwa-Ngwa are Governor Ikpeazu, Max Nduaguibe and Nkechi Nwogu who had represented Abia central senatorial district and current chairman, Governing Council of the University of Calabar.
Those in support of power shift to the old Bende bloc are senators Orji Uzor Kalu, Theodore Orji and Mao Ohuabunwa, Dr. Eme Okoro, former SSG, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, former chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NNDC, and Hon. Benjamin Kalu, chairman, House committee on Media and Publicity