Old and New Breed Jostle for Abia Senatorial Seat

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Nwaobia Chigbu

Although the 2019 senatorial elections is still months away, the race for Abia South seat has become hot and interesting. Already, it is the most intriguing in Abia State, considering the aspirants that have so far come out in the leading political parties and the issues that currently dominate discussion among the electorate.

Of all the three senatorial districts in the South-east state, Abia South has so far attracted the highest number of aspirants for the 2019 elections. They include the incumbent Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who is poised to contest for a fourth term in office, Chief Chinwe Nwanganga, Professor Ikechi Mgbeoji, Dr. Solomon Ogunji, and Rt. Hon. Emeka Stanley, all on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.

On the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the leading aspirants include former Managing Director of the defunct Hallmark Bank, Sir Mac Wabara, and an internationally acclaimed Petroleum Engineer, Chinedu Onyeizu.

On the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), there are strong indications that Chief Chris Nkwonta will run. The Akwete, Ukwa East billionaire ran against Abaribe in 2015 but lost.

Onyeizu, 38, represents the new breed in the politics of Abia South. Born November 23, 1980 at Abayi – Ohanze village in Obingwa Local Government Area of Abia State, Onyeizu, an engineer of international repute, plans to carry the flag of APC in the senatorial election for Abia South. Young, fresh and intellectually deep, Onyeizu has, since he declared his interest in the contest, never ceased to attract attention.

Close watchers of the unfolding campaign intrigues in the area say most of the other “experienced” aspirants for the seat, including the big and the mighty in the politics of Abia South, are already jittery over Onyeizu’s acceptance and growing popularity among the youths and a large section of the old.

So, why would a young man like that, with little or no political experience, become such an instant factor to reckon with in a race that parades old political lords and known moneybags? Many factors could be adduced for this. The first is, perhaps, the personality, himself. Onyeizu, according to the people that have associated with him at close quarters, is a brilliant example of a determined youth eager to make a difference when it matters most. He was born and brought up in a middle class family of five (three boys and two girls). His father is a licensed land surveyor and his late mum was a secondary school principal. He had his primary and secondary school education in Aba, and later attended Federal University of Technology, Owerri, where he graduated in 2002 with Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.) in Petroleum Engineering. Between then and now, young Onyeizu has travelled far and near in search of the mythical Golden Fleece and everywhere he went to, he has made visible marks that seem to confirm his destiny to reach the very top. His has been a story of excellence wrapped up in a humble soul.

Onyeizu did his NYSC in Bayelsa State and his meritorious service during this period earned him the Best Corps Member award (given by the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State) in the 2003 Batch A set. As a young university graduate, he single-handedly invited a team of 10 expatriate ophthalmologists for a free eye surgery camp in Bayelsa State. His humanitarian project restored sight to 67 cataract blind people in the society.

In 2006, Onyeizu was recognised as the Best Young Engineer in West Africa by PENWELL Petroleum Group, a UK-based organisation, during the 2006 Offshore West Africa Conference in Abuja. He developed and presented a GIS model that is capable of detecting and transmitting real time data on vulnerability of the environment to spill in a Niger Delta oilfield.

Well exposed, he has had the privilege of studying at prestigious universities like Harvard University in the USA, Herriot-Watt University in Scotland, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts for postgraduate degrees.

He started his professional career as a Natural Gas Research Associate with the Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) in 2004 and joined Chevron Nigeria Limited in 2007 where he worked in various petroleum upstream projects. With a scope of expertise that includes Petroleum Asset development, Strategy Planning, Power and Energy Policy development, and Project Management at senior executive levels, Onyeizu is well exposed and experienced in development issues. He is, undoubtedly, the kind of leader and representative society needs at this point, when the youth and the working class, the critical segment of the voting population, are eager for real change in the politics of the oil-rich Abia South senatorial district.

The argument today is that among the aspirants, Onyeizu is the only one that has the real experience to advance the course of Abia South, in particular, and Abia State, in general, as an oil producing community. He is the only one that has the critical knowledge for proper development and utilisation of this natural resource. What the so-called experienced politicians, like the incumbent Abaribe or the other moneybags, like Wabara, have to present is their huge bags of money or long years of service in the public sector. The fear they have as the 2019 election campaign begins, is that this young man, Onyeizu, has today offered something fresh and new! Something that is most needed by a people so blessed, but so denied of the benefits of their God-given blessing that they sometimes feel they are victims of an oil curse.

Given his background and track record, his supporters would have little or no difficulty in marketing him to the critical electorate. Though the youngest among the aspirants, he has the critical experience that counts. In 2016, while studying for his MBA at MIT, Onyeizu developed and shared a policy and technology based model capable of transforming Nigeria’s petroleum industry. His model promises to position Nigeria as a global hub for crude oil refining and distribution in West Africa and the rest of the world. His work received global recognition and was later published by MIT in the October 2017 edition of MIT Expert blog. He later founded an organisation, Africa Policy Evaluation and Research Associates (AfriPERA), focused on working with national and regional governments and institutions on developing and reviewing policies on energy, power, agriculture and economy for the development of Africa and other emerging economies.

No wonder, even the high and mighty are already fidgeting as this young promising aspirant steps out? The questions informed analysts would soon begin to ask is, why would such an aspirant, with clear vision and potential, not inspire and attract the youth, young adults, the aged and even the grassroots who have been deceived for long by the so-called experienced politicians and money bags? Today’s voters, especially the youth and other segments who feel betrayed, are no longer gullible. For them, the Abia South senatorial election in 2019 will be a battle between the expired old leaders and the vibrant youths who are ready to hit the ground running. They know what is good for them and are no longer ready to be deceived by the same set of leaders that have used them to fly high for years but have nothing tangible to offer the common people at the grassroots.

· Chigbu writes from Lagos.