South-East Bureau Chief, JUDE OSSAI, examines the historical dimension to the political quagmire in Abia State, particularly as it concerns the Abia Equity Charter, which spells out power rotation among the three blocks in the state.
THAT Abia State which prides itself, as “God’s Own State”, is enmeshed in political turmoil is no longer news. Perhaps, what is strange is that the protagonists in the crisis, who are from within and outside the state, seem not prepared to drop their weapons.
Both Drs Okezie Ikpeazu and Uche Ogah are laying claim to the governorship seat of Abia State following the pronouncement of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja on June 27, 2016 that Ikpeazu ceases to be the governor of the state, prompting the Independent National Electoral gradually crippling as attention Commission (INEC) to issue a should issue certificate of return to Ogah, a development that has now culminated into what will go into the annals of history in the state as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, political tussle.
Daily, salvos are fired by each camp as the final resolution of the logjam is awaited at the Court of Appeal. The latest of the drama in Abia came at the weekend, when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) claimed that INEC erred in issuing a certificate of return to Ogah, because the certificate issued was for the April 11, 2015 election, which the commission itself declared inconclusive. By this, Ikpeazu appeared to have had his hold on the governor’s seat strengthened, as the party maintained that only the certificate of return issued to Ikpeazu remained valid, because he got it after a supplementary election had been conducted.
A visit to Umuahia, the state capital, last Monday by Sunday Tribune, showed that this is not the best of times for Abians, as the crisis which had bedeviled the state has dealt a serious blow on the people, particularly the common folks.
Sunday Tribune investigations revealed that government activities have stalled as many of the state top government functionaries have shifted attention to the legal tussle engulfing the state. Even the unpaid bills to some state government employees have been largely attributed to the political conflict in the state.
The puzzle is that the crisis has persisted, even with the Abia Equity Charter agreed upon by the founding fathers of the state. The charter simply defines power rotation arrangement among the three “federating” blocks in the state. The underlying reason for the charter if s to ensure that no block is left behind in power distribution or subjugated through the tyranny of connivance of the majority or better connected block(s).
Following the creation of Abia in 1991, Ogbonnaya Onu of Afikpo division was elected governor after meetings at Abiriba and other places that referenced the charter and other variables. Abiriba Kingdom actually sacrificed its son who was running for governorship to allow old Afikpo take the first shot at Abia governorship seat in the spirit of Abia Charter of equity.
After Onu, the next elected governor was Orji Kalu of Igbere in old Bende division. He governed for eight years uninterrupted, making the two divisions, Afikpo and Bende, to have had their shares, though Afikpo division had joined Abakiliki to form Ebonyi State.
By a somewhat strange political twist in 2007, Chief Theodore Orji of Umuahia, also of old Bende block, succeeded Orji as the governor for another eight years.
To many Abians, the zonal politics as per senatorial zones introduced by Kalu and which stopped his erstwhile deputy, Enyinnaya Abaribe, from emerging as governor was the first problem that threw the state into political crisis. The argument was that power should have moved to Aba division after Kalu as he (Kalu) was said to have promised to run a single term and hand over.
Little wonder, it was Abaribe who mobilised Ukwa/Ngwa people of Aba division through a pressure group christened, “Otu onu” (one term only) against Kalu’s second term in 2003.
Theodore Orji, popularly called “Ochendo Global” by his admirers served out his eight year tenure as governor before moving to the Senate.
The moral stance of larger segment of Abians is that with Kalu from Abia North and Orji from Abia Central have governed the state; somebody should be allowed to rule state from Abia South senatorial zone, more so as the Bende block had produced two democratically elected governors of the state.
A cross-section of people interviewed agreed that the people of Abia South Senatorial Zone have been marginalised, despite their numerical strength. The zone controls nine out of 17 local government areas that make up the state, yet the incumbent governor (Ikpeazu) is the only stock from district who has become the state chief executive.
Some of the rhetorical questions they raised included: should power go back to the Abia North Senatorial Zone? Will there be harmony after the storm with old Bende and old Aba having been on the governorship saddle for 16 years?
To the opposition, the new political configuration of the three senatorial zones should be discarded, stressing that whoever wants to rule the state should be elected on merit.
A High Chief, Uche Akwukwegbu, who said he remains the Prime Minister, despite removal from office by his kinsmen from Ibeku Kingdom, told Sunday Tribune that the fundamental problem in the current political crisis could be traced to last Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial primaries, alleging that Governor Ikpeazu was imposed on the people by a “cabal” in the state.
The paramount chief noted, “the bottled anger has been there in the people of Abia Central Senatorial District. You know Alex Oti lost to Ikpeazu at the Supreme Court. This present constitutional crisis has rekindled their spirit and the rejuvenation made them to throw their weights to Ogah.
Chief Akwukwegbu, who is visibly the arrow head of the opposition in the state, said: “Appointing and not electing is the problem of Abia politics. The best candidate cries home because of imposition. I started politics a long time ago and this is not how it was played”
“Many people in Abia Central are not happy with the election of Ikpazu because they still believe that he did not come through the right channel as he was imposed on them leaving their brother, Alex Oti, of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Originally, the people of Abia Central were with Ogah, but when he lost the PDP primaries to Ikpeazu, they shifted their support to Alex Oti’, he said.
Informed sources told Sunday Tribune that the growing opposition against Ikpeazu might not be unconnected with the refusal of the governor to continue the monthly payment to elders of the state, a policy he inherited from his predecessor. The governor was said to have suddenly stopped the doling out the largesse which runs into millions of naira monthly, a development a government source explained was part of Governor Ikpeazu’s prudency in the management of the dwindling financial resources of government.
“Other areas where some people are not happy with Ikpeazu are irregular payment of workers’ salaries, delay in probing his immediate past predecessor, Orji. But they are not fair to him.
No formal complaint has been made to Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). So, the issue of probing of Orji should not arise. Ogah had the political structure but Ngwa nation wanted power.
The opposition group against Ikpeazu, on Wednesday, took a new dimension as some people under the auspices of the South-East Democratic Coalition (SEDC) and the Abia Progressives Forum (APF) carried their agitation to Enugu, vowing to mobilise the people of Abia to occupy the Government House, if the Chief Judge of the state continue to refuse to swear-in Ogah as governor within the next seven days.
In a joint statement signed by the SEDC Coordinator, Dr Maduka Okebanama and Secretary, Eunice Oke as well as the APF, President, Honourable Ndu Ahaiwe and Secretary, Okey Adibe and made available to Sunday Tribune, the groups said the people of the state would be mobilised from all the 17 local government areas of the state to take part in the exercise.
They asked Governor Ikpeazu to immediately vacate the Government House “without further delay and face his tax case,” insisting that Ikpeazu ceased to be the governor from June 27 when the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Okon Abang ordered that certificate of return be issued to Ogah.
The groups advised all the institutions including government, banks and other private sector operators still transacting any form of business with Abia State government under Ikpeazu to stop forthwith, noting that “such activities would remain null and void” in view of not just the court’s pronouncement and refusal to grant the request for stay of execution but also the presentation of return certificate to Ogah by INEC.
But for Mr Enyinnaya Appollos, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ikpeazu, the SEDC and APF are faceless groups over whom his boss will triumph at last as justice is on his side. Enyinnaya also dismissed the issue of irregular salaries, stressing that Abia is not the only state owing its staff, adding that the state government last week paid its workers\ their salaries.
He also said the issue of imposition was misleading as the current crisis was born out of inordinate quest for power and personal greed on some of the political elite within and outside the state. Enyinnaya said, “Governor Ikpeazu has great passion for developing the state, hence he cut off some of the bogus expenditure. Our governor does not believe in squandermania as his focus is on development of the state. What happened in the judgment of the Abuja Federal High Court was an attack not only on Ikpeazu but on democracy and our constitution.
“The constitution quite is clear on how to become a governor of a state. You must go through the constitutional process. Does it mean that Governor Ikpeazu has no right to appeal? Why the rush by INEC to issue certificate of return? If it was death sentence passed on our Governor Ikpeazu, will he not have the right to appeal?
He, however, said the coast was becoming clearer to many people even with those outside the state for them to understand the real situation in the state’s politics, citing the recent solidarity visit of Senator Biodium Olujimi-led Adhoc Committee of the Senate to Umuahia as an example.
Further checks revealed that the visitors from the National Assembly actually boosted the morale of Governor Ikpeazu and his faithful as the lawmakers on the occasion expressed their support for him as governor and also condoled with families of late Chief Ojo Maduekwe and Senator Onyeka Okoroafo.
Speaking on behalf as her colleagues, Senator Olujimi said that the Nigerian Senate was solidly behind Dr Ikpeazu as governor. “The Senate is solidly behind you in these trying times. You have our support. We were elected to make laws as lawmakers and it is our duty to ensure that our laws are not abused. We are aware of the political situation in Abia, rest assured that the Senate is with you.
“With the support of my people which I am enjoying, I will do everything legally to protect the mandate given to me by Abians. We will not succumb to the antics of desperate people that want to cause crisis in the state,” the governor was quoted to have said in response.