Emmanuel Ugwu, in Umuahia, writes on Abia State after the governorship election litigation, which ended with the recent Supreme Court pronouncement

From December 31 last year to February 3, Abia State went full circle in political quagmire. The state found itself swinging from the acclamation of equity, ostensibly brought about by the election of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu as governor, to the uncertainty that ensued when the opposition almost snatched power through judicial pronouncement. The Peoples Democratic Party, which prides itself on being the dominant party in Abia, was jolted to the marrow when it appeared the opposition All Progressives Grand Alliance was about to push it out of government.

Uncertainty descended on Abia when the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri upturned the election of Ikpeazu and declared APGA’s governorship candidate, Mr. Alex Otti, as the winner of the governorship poll. The fear was that equity in Abia politics was at the brink of receding after the PDP had zoned power to Abia South senatorial district. The emergence of Ikpeazu was seen as the end of marginalisation of the Ukwa/Ngwa political bloc who had never occupied the number one political position since the creation of Abia in 1991. The Ukwa/Ngwa people were irked by the news from the appeal court and publicly expressed their anger by embarking on protests. The political atmosphere was highly charged and there were fears about the eruption of violence if Ikpeazu was eventually ousted.

It took the judgement of the Supreme Court to douse the tension. The affirmation of Ikpeazu’s victory evaporated the gripping fears among the Ukwa/Ngwa. The slogan ‘oke ezuola Abia’, which translates to equity has finally come to stay in Abia, made real sense to those who believed that it was time every section of Abia was carried along in power sharing. Abia North and Abia Central had already held the governorship position for a cumulative period of 16 years since the inception of the present democratic dispensation in 1999. And Abia North also produced the first democratically elected governor of the state, in the person of Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, when his local government, Ohaozara, was still part of Abia State.

The immediate past governor, Senator Theodore Orji, who was the architect of the power shift to Abia South, represented Abia Central at Government House for eight years. Orji’s bold initiative to have his successor from Abia South has made the Ukwa/Ngwa bloc to regard him as the one who put an end to their marginalisation. Aside from honouring him with chieftaincy titles, they had expressed their appreciation instantly when the Ngwa section of Abia Central massively voted for him in the senatorial election.

Even though they faulted the success of Otti’ s appeal and expressed optimism that it would not stand, the governor and his supporters were still in trepidation as the verdict of the apex court was being awaited, as it could have gone either way. In fact, on the day the Supreme Court was to give its judgement, there was cautious optimism in the camp of the ruling party while the opposition was bold in its expectation of a favourable outcome in the belief that their victory at the Court of Appeal was “tight and sound”.

That apparently informed the presence of a live band stationed at APGA’s secretariat along Ikot Ekpene Road, which was playing to the delight of party supporters in anticipation of good news from the Supreme Court in Abuja. But the music stopped abruptly when the news of Ikpeazu’s victory hit the opposition like a thunderbolt. The disappointment among the opposition supporters was devastating given that they had built a solid confidence that Otti’s inauguration as governor was inevitable after his victory at the appeal court.

After the hard fought battle on two fronts, ballot box and court rooms, both the winner and the loser were united on the need to organise thanksgiving services to offer their gratitude to the Almighty God. Ikpeazu strongly believed that that his journey to Government House, Umuahia, against all odds was programmed by God.
“If it were for contacts or what money can buy, I won’t be here,” he said. His speech at his victory thanksgiving/rededication of Abia State service on February 17 at the Umuahia Township Stadium smacked of a man freshly emboldened by his triumph. The judicial pronouncement that his seat was no longer shaky and could not be threatened by the opposition in the next four years was enough assurance.

Quoting from the Bible book of Galatians 6:17, Ikpeazu said, “From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He predicted, “All our opponents will diminish so that the glory of God will shine in our state,” adding, “Those who plan to battle me do so at their own peril because I will continue to hide behind the Cross and defeat them.”

Referring to the opposition, the governor said, “Those ready to repent will be forgiven and brought on board. Let them bring their ideas so we can move Abia forward.”

Otti also felt there was something for Abians to take home despite his failure to upstage the ruling party. This feeling was aptly expressed in his speech entitled, “It is not all lost: brighter days are ahead of you”, which he delivered to his supporters at a thanksgiving rally held in Aba on February 25. Just like Ikpeazu linked his victory to divine intervention, Otti also attributed his loss to the unseen hand of God, saying, “I can assure you that for God to allow this to happen, there must be a purpose. I have no doubt that it will become manifest in no distant time.”

Otti was not found wanting in using biblical quotations to push across his message. Quoting from 2 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “In everything, give thanks: for this is the will of God concerning you,” the APGA candidate justified the need for the thanksgiving rally after a failed governorship project. He noted that if not for divine intervention Abia could have exploded in an orgy of violence as, according to him, “while the PDP and its agents resorted to violence and intimidation against us, we maintained our cool and played by the rules.” Otti insisted that the peaceful disposition of his supporters was in tandem with their change mantra and philosophy of “Think Abia first”, hence the need to avoid exposing innocent Abians to danger.

However, it is evident that Otti still feels sore about the Supreme Court verdict, which he described as “miscarriage of justice”. He has refused to congratulate Ikpeazu after the battle was lost and won, insisting that PDP did not play by the rules. But Otti’s statement that he would like Ikpeazu to succeed in the interest of Abia people should be heartwarming to the ruling party. He said: “Having accepted the Supreme Court judgement, no matter how flawed, we want the governor to succeed because if he does not, it is the Abia people that will pay for it in the final analysis. But to succeed he must not only repent, but also purge himself of all those primitive and primordial practices that have continued to present the state as a theatre of absurdities.”

APGA’s failure to supplant PDP in Abia has not in any way diminished the opposition. Rather, it has strengthened their hands. The crowing cock has, indeed, changed the face of Abia politics, as it has made the ruling party lose total control of the legislature. Presently, APGA has established its presence in the 24-memeber House of Assembly, irrespective of the outcome of the rerun elections in seven state constituencies.

Taking cognizance of APGA’s newly acquired strength, Otti has assured that the party would not be swept away by the bandwagon syndrome, whereby Nigerian politicians in the opposition easily drift to the ruling party at the state or federal level after every election. He said APGA would be there to provide a virile opposition in Abia politics, not only to put the ruling party on its toes, but also to enhance the growth of democracy.

The APGA candidate said, “One thing that this government would need to understand is that democracy thrives on virile opposition. That, we will have, henceforth, in Abia State. The days where everyone would queue behind one man and sing his praises to high heavens while he is underperforming are over. This opposition will ensure that the government remains on its toes and delivers on the social contract it has with the people.”

APGA may in due course become the only cock crowing among the opposition parties. With its sizeable number of lawmakers, it stands in a vantage position to lead the change in opposition politics. All the other opposition parties, including the All Progressives Congress that failed to make any appreciable impact in the 2015 polls in Abia, are already suffering from inferiority complex. There were over a dozen parties that contested the 2015 general election in Abia but, like in the past dispensations, little or nothing has been heard from them in the post-election period. If APGA sticks to its word of playing effective opposition role, Ikpeazu would be denied the luxury of always having his way, pushing across his policies and programmes, as obtains in states controlled by a single party. His programmes and policies would have to pass through the crucible of divergent views coming from every side of the political divide.

But if the Abia governor sustains his current momentum, the opposition may in the long run have less work to do. He has been relentlessly pursuing his transformation agenda for Abia. Even during the period of uncertainty surrounding his governorship seat, there was no lull in the construction activities going on in the commercial city of Aba, with good roads emerging across the city. By now the governor has crossed over to Abia North and flagged off construction of roads and bridges, as he strives to spread infrastructural facilities across the state. Even communities, like Nkpa in Bende local government that had for years cried for good road, are now in expectant mood following the flag off of their long abandoned road.

While Ikpeazu is not behaving like a governor who would wait for the prompting of the opposition before delivering the democracy dividends, the sticking point would be on the issue of conducting government business in secrecy, which APGA has warned should be a thing of the past. Otti has already called on the Ikpeazu administration “to make pubic with immediate effect, details of the financial position of the state”. Time would tell if the opposition would have its way on this very issue.