Abia State’s political firmament is being daily heated up by no other but the political elite, writes Emmanuel Ugwu
In Nigeria’s political climate, politicians readily change colour every season. They turn foes into friends and vice versa in an effort to build new alliances that suit their prevailing interests. In such situations, old friends and allies become new enemies and political foes.
Something close to this scenario played out in Abia’s politics on Friday September 16, 2016 when a chieftain of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Uche Akwukwuegbu, popularly known as Bawas, in a surprise move, hosted a political gathering, where former governor of the state, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu was the star guest.
On the surface, it appeared like some luncheon. But it would turn out a gathering of aggrieved politicians intending to forge new alliances to fight a common enemy. They ended up opening old wounds and raising the temperature of the already heated Abia polity. It was not just a gathering of politicians, a traditional ruler, who was equally aggrieved, was in their midst and his utterances at the event further fouled the air.
The paramount ruler of Ibeku, Eze Samuel Onuoha Ogurube IV of Ibeku, joined the politicians to fight their perceived common enemy, whom they identified to be Senator Theodore Orji, the immediate past governor of the state.
Eze Onuoha, used the occasion to engage in mea culpa over what he said was the wrong the people of Ibeku had done to Kalu. The offence, according to him, was that the former governor had made an Ibeku son governor but things fell apart between the two former governors resulting to the people of Ibeku turning against Kalu.
The royal father was referring to the misunderstanding that erupted between the former governor and his successor, Senator Orji, which made them become estranged and bitter political foes. After the profusely tendered apology by Eze Onuoha, others followed.
Chief Akwukwuegbu not only apologised to Kalu but also asked for forgiveness, saying he was misled into joining “a political group that left me worse off than I was”. Though Bawas, as he is popularly known, was trying to mend fences with Kalu after six years of political differences, he certainly believed to have overstated his disagreement with Senator Orji by saying he was worse off.
Obviously, Chief Akwukwuegbu is angry with both Senator Orji and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu over perceived wrongs done to him and needed rapprochement with Kalu to fight their common political foe. It was the reason he hosted Kalu to score a political point and spite his new enemies. It was a volte-face for Akwukwuegbu, who was said to be one of the local contractors allegedly patronised by the administration of Orji between 2007 and 2015.
Aside from being a major government contractor, Akwukwuegbu is also said to be a political beneficiary as his wife, Grace Nkem Uche, served as a member of the State House of Assembly for two terms of eight years during the Ochendo administration, which terminated in 2015 when she was denied ticket for third term.
This, and alleged “unfulfilled promises” to compensate his wife with political appointment are believed to be responsible for why Akwukwuegbu has been hitting from every direction and forming new alliances with Orji’s foes. Aside from Senator Orji, Bawas is also angry with Governor Ikpeazu and proudly joined those fighting to remove him from office.
The contractor, in justifying his support for Uche Ogah’s bid to oust Ikpeazu, had told journalists that he was being owed N250 million for road contracts done for the immediate past administration, adding that Governor Ikpeazu has refused to pay the inherited debt. He added that even when he asked for part payment of N5 million to enable him pay medical bills of his daughter who was undergoing a major operation in London, the governor refused him.
Akwuegbu did not hide his ill-feelings towards the governor’s camp. He used the occasion of the political gathering of his fellow aggrieved politicians at his home to lash out at the Ikpeazu administration, saying “Abia people are suffering because of the bad policies of the state government”.
Kalu was visibly elated by the apologies extended to him and the support of his new friends. He said he had accepted the apologies and forgiven his successor. But pointed out that he would never have anything to do with Senator Orji for the rest of his life, adding that he should not be held responsible for whatever his successor did wrong in office.
Kalu, a former presidential candidate of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and who has also used the same platform for his bid to win election for the senatorial seat of Abia North on three occasions, regaled his listeners with stories of his achievements as governor, saying Abia has now become a shadow of itself.
The former governor repeatedly reminded the gathering that he singlehandedly made his former chief of staff governor, only for him to turn against him.
Former PDP state Chairman, Chief Tony Ukasanya, who defected to APGA and later APC after the 2105 election, and Chief Laz Ekwueme, an APC chieftain were on hand to support Kalu in the bashing of his opponents.
But the essence of that gathering appeared to have backfired as the politicians and sole traditional ruler that participated in it have come under fire. Orji debunked Kalu’s claims of making him governor and challenged him “to make yourself senator if you have power to make governor”.
The Senator representing Abia North scoffed to Kalu’s ambition to become a senator. Orji said this much in a statement issued by his media adviser, Mr. Don Norman Obinna, saying the “political misery” of his predecessor was self-inflicted because of “his presumptuousness and self-conceit”.
He denounced the political gathering, which he said was motivated “by greed and animosity” and hosted by an “ingrate”, adding that their public apology to Kalu “for abandoning him after his so-called kindness to them lends credence to their despicability”.
Orji, who berated Kalu for always playing god and giving false impression of possessing the magic wand to make anything possible, including his claim that he made him governor in 2007, said his predecessor was fond of embarking on vain glory.
According to him, “nobody has the power to make anybody (governor) if the plan was not the will of God, adding that God is the only being that has the power and the ability to change a man’s status”. He therefore went on to rais these posers: “If Kalu claimed that he made me governor, who then made him governor in 1999 or did he make himself?
“If Kalu has the magic wand to make people governor as he often claims in his laborious effort to garner sympathy, how come he has not been able to make himself Senator – one of the positions he so much craves – despite contesting on three occasions?”
Orji equally said he had “forgiven Kalu but will not forget how he acted as de facto governor for three years and almost deprived the good people of Abia State the dividends’ of democracy through his excessive demands and family burdens”.
“I am not taken aback by Kalu’s antics. He is the one that needs all the attention, propaganda and media coverage having the desire to becoming the President of Nigeria, CAF and FIFA. My responsibility is to provide qualitative representation to the people of Abia central and that I am committed to doing and not competing with Kalu,” he said.
On those behind the apology, Orji said Eze Samuel Onuoha, Chief Akwukwuegbu, Laz Onwuneme and Chief Ukasanya belong to the class of “fair weather politicians and saboteurs, who cannot be reckoned with (as) they survive by kowtowing persons in power and would turn their backs against the individuals when the goodies cease”.
Orji chided Eze Onuoha saying he has ridiculed the royal stool by going out cap-in-hand to beg when he should have stayed in his palace, like kings worth their salt, for people to pay him homage. He also said the Ogurube IV of Ibeku had limited authority and therefore lacked the mandate to speak for the entire Ibeku people as Ibeku ancient kingdom is made up of several autonomous communities with their own traditional rulers.
“How can a man, who called himself king stoop so low to the extent of attending a political event organised and hosted in one of his subordinates’ house with all his cabinet chiefs? That shows you his standard. A king who can ridicule his stool and crown because of car gift is not worthy of my attention,” he said.
The involvement of Eze Onuoha in the political meeting and his apology to Kalu on behalf of the people of Ibeku has drawn the flaks of other traditional rulers in Ibeku.
Following the creation of autonomous communities in Abia, Ibeku land, which is in the heart of the capital city, Umuahia, was split into 16 autonomous communities, thereby whittling down the power and influence of the Ogurube, who in the past was the paramount ruler of the clan.
The chairman of Ibeku Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Henry Ezekwem has faulted the Ogurube IV for apologising to Kalu on behalf of Ibeku people, saying “Eze Onuoha cannot speak for us at all”. According to him, there was no time the traditional rulers in Ibeku land met and agreed that an apology should be tendered to Kalu, adding that both former governors are politicians, who could resolve their differences on their own.
“If Kalu and Senator Orji have misunderstanding, let them resolve their problem”.
However, Eze Ezekwem, the traditional ruler of Emede, one of the autonomous communities in Ibeku, said the traditional rulers of Ibeku would only intervene in the feud between their son, Senator Orji and Chief Kalu on request and in that situation, the royal fathers of Ibeku would have to meet with their Igbere counterparts since Kalu hails from Igbere in Bende Local Government.
Youths of Ibeku have also risen against the Ogurube IV and the aggrieved politicians, saying they had embarrassed Ibeku land and “danced naked” by apologising to Kalu without the mandate of Ibeku people. The youths under the aegis of Coalition of All Ibeku Youth and Pressure Groups, expressed their feeling in a statement signed by the duo of Emeka Churchill Okezie, chairman and Daniel Nduka, secretary.
The group said it was “alarmed at the recent shameful outing by HRH Eze Onuoha and some few misguided elements in Ibeku land”. The youth coalition, which described itself as an affiliate of Ohanaeze Youth Council (OYC), said with the Eze Onuoha’s participation at the political gathering, “royalty was debased and its sanctity desecrated by a mission and statements that brought odium to the great Ibeku ancient kingdom”.
The group questioned the rationale for the “disgruntled” Ibeku politicians to be hobnobbing with Kalu “their new bride”, noting that while in office for eight years, “Kalu did not affect the life of Ibeku people wonderfully for them to tow that disgraceful mission. The youth group said “Ibeku ancestors are gnashing their teeth for that ignominious outing and faulted “the claim that Orji Uzor Kalu single-handedly made Senator Orji governor of Abia state.
“Nobody can single-handedly make anybody governor as there are many other forces that come into play and ultimately, it is the electorate that chooses their leaders. Even if Orji Kalu played a role in making T.A. Orji governor, he did so thinking that Senator Orji will be used as conduit pipe for him (Orji Kalu) to enslave Abians. It was Senator Orji’s refusal to sell Abia State to Orji Uzor Kalu that generated his angst against Ochendo Abia. All Abians know that and it’s surprising that those that carried out that shameful reception pretended not to know”.
Despite the dust raised by the meeting between Kalu and some aggrieved politicians, observers believe that it was likely going to be a precursor to a new political alliance ahead of the 2019 election. Kalu hinted as much when he told journalists that “democracy is going to be strong in our state and Southeast zone” following the forthcoming realignment of forces.
“We are going to bring strong democratic ethics; we are going to show our people that we are going to rekindle and do what we know best how to do, which is politics and process of anchoring our people to true democracy,” he said. But by reopening old political wounds and heating up the polity, the aggrieved politicians have and if they succeed in stoking animosity, it would continue to fester and undermine the polity.
Kalu was visibly elated by the apologies extended to him and the support of his new friends. He said he had accepted the apologies and forgiven his successor. But pointed out that he would never have anything to do with Senator Orji for the rest of his life, adding that he should not be held responsible for whatever his successor did wrong in office