Aba By-election As a Referendum for Ikpeazu’s Urban Renewal Efforts

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Emmanuel Ugwu-Nwogo predicts that the race to fill the vacant office of the federal legislator representing Aba Northend Ab a South in the House of Representatives will be a stiff fight between the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party candidates, with a slim chance for an upset from the All Progressives Grand Alliance

At the ‘mega rally’ of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held on March 15, 2021 to kick-off the party’s campaign for the Aba federal constituency by-election, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu did no mince words on his expectations. He called on voters in Aba North and Aba South local governments that make up the federal constituency to come out en mass and vote for the PDP candidate, Hon Ebisike in the by-election scheduled to hold on March 27, 2021 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The governor said that he has done a lot so far in transforming the commercial hub of Abia with massive reconstruction of critical roads in the city. He therefore challenged the residents of Enyimba City to reciprocate the efforts of his administration to put Aba in good shape as far as physical infrastructure is concerned. He reminded Aba voters that his government has not only built several roads in Aba but is also poised to do more within the remaining span of his second tenure. At the last count government said it had built 64 roads in Aba and still counting.

Though Governor Ikpeazu referred to the PDP candidate for the House of Representatives seat as a young committed party man with the capacity to represent the people well, he continued to paint a picture of himself standing for election. Therefore a rejection of Ebisike at the poll would translate to a rejection of Ikpeazu’s transformation of Aba. The governor also stoked the growing sentiments among the Ngwa people, who have been clamouring for an indigene to represent Aba in the House of Representatives. Ikpeazu noted that since the dawn of the present democratic dispensation in 1999 no indigene of Aba has gone to the National Assembly to represent the people. That didn’t come as a surprise given the cosmopolitan nature of the sprawling commercial city with non-indigenes comprising majority of the city dwellers. But having waited this long for an indigenous federal lawmaker, Ikpeazu insisted that this time around “equity and fairness demand that an Aba indigene be allowed to represent them at the National Assembly for the first time since 1999.”

Every PDP stakeholder at the rally bought into the sentiment expressed by Governor Ikpeazu. His deputy, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu affirmed that a vote for PDP was a vote for the state governor who has done great things for Aba. Former deputy governor, Chief Acho Nwakanma, who chaired the campaign rally, stated that Ikpeazu has indeed done so much to deserve the support of Aba people. The Abia PDP chairman, Rt. Hon Asiforo Okere took the sentiments further afield, saying that “it is only an Aba indigene who was born and bred in Aba that can represent Aba well”. According to him, the by-election has offered an opportunity for an Aba boy to come and complement the works of Governor Ikpeazu, an Aba boy himself. Ikpeazu and other PDP henchmen have every reason to be worried about the Aba federal constituency. It has not always been a play ground for the ruling party even though it has held sway at government house Umuahia interspersed by a brief spell of two years by the Progressive Peoples Alliance(PPA) between 2007 and 2009. Since 2015 the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has been occupying the Aba federal constituency seat, which was won by Hon Ossy Prestige in 2015 and had his mandate renewed in 2019.

But the seat became vacant early this year when Hon Prestige died in Germany on February 6 following an illness. The affable lawmaker was among those politicians thrown up by the political tsunami that Alex Otti engendered in Abia in 2015 that almost toppled PDP from power. Prestige was popular and coupled with the leaning of residents towards APGA, especially since Otti flew the party’s governorship flag in 2015, he got his mandate renewed but died less than two years into his second tenure. This has presented an ample opportunity for the ruling PDP to reassert its influence in Aba after its candidate in 2015, Hon Uzo Azubuike failed in his attempt to be re-elected for a second tenure at the National assembly. With the recent political developments, especially the defection of Otti to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the chances of APGA to cling on to Aba federal constituency is very slim. As it stands, the by-election is considered a two horse race between PDP and APC. APGA has suffered massive defections and is barely gasping for breath in Abia’s political space after losing most of its notable figures.

The main opposition APC earned its new status after benefitting from the crisis and discontent in APGA. Almost all the notable defectors pitched their tent with APC and it is expected that the party would leverage on its new found strength to snatch Aba federal constituency. However, there are fears that the choice of Mr. Mascot Uzor Kalu as the candidate of APC in the by-election could boomerang on the party. Mascot is a junior brother of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who is currently representing Abia North in the Senate. Loud grumblings have been coming out from the APC camp following what some party members consider as manipulative imposition of Mascot on the party. Not a few APC members from Aba federal constituency and beyond are questioning the propriety of the former Abia governor propping his junior brother up to join him at the National Assembly. However it appears nobody wants to rock the boat in order not to expose the party’s underbelly to the advantage of PDP.

Between 2007 and 2015 another of the Kalu brothers, Nnanna represented Aba at the House of Representatives. The eight years he spent at the green chamber has continued to be regarded by Aba residents as the “most unproductive representation” of the constituency at the National Assembly. This is the baggage that APC would be carrying to the poll as it hopes to deliver its candidate, Mascot, who had previously tested his popularity at the poll but failed to sway Aba voters to his side. Senator Kalu has been campaigning vigorously for his brother to get the mandate of Aba voters. But he came under fire last week after claiming that the Federal Government through his intervention is funding the ongoing infrastructural projects in Aba. The chief press secretary to the Abia governor, Mr. Onyebuchi Ememanka berated the Abia North Senator for trying to take a joint credit with his party for what Governor Ikpeazu has been doing in Aba. The Abia governor’s spokesman accused Kalu of engaging in “shameless lies and distortion of information about the state of affairs in Abia State and Aba in particular, simply because he wants his youngest brother to join him at the national Assembly”.

A member of the House of Representatives from Abia, Hon Uzoma Nkem Abonta has also lashed out at Senator Kalu “for turning a campaign for elective position to a campaign of calumny, deceit, falsehood, and wicket propaganda”. Abonta, who represents Ukwa East/Ukwa West federal constituency, said in a video he circulated on internet that, as a former governor, Kalu ought to know the difference between federal roads and state roads, hence crediting the reconstruction of internal roads in Aba to the federal government “is hazardous, careless and calculated to deceive the people”. “If his campaign is based on fake and deceitful statement, then the right people that know the terrain and the true position of things should be voted to represent Aba,” Rep Abonta said, adding, “I think the era of deceitful politics is over.”

Unlike PDP and APC that are dictating the pace in this race, APGA appear to have lost steam and its candidate, Destiny Akaraka Nwagwu is almost campaigning as a lone ranger. The party that had Aba in its grip since 2015 can no longer muster the energy and resources to reclaim the seat it lost through death. No doubt the defection of Otti and his numerous supporters from APGA has dealt a devastating blow to the party. It is still early for the hitherto main opposition in Abia to have recovered well enough to do battle with the two formidable opponents waiting to take control of Aba federal constituency.

Meanwhile Governor Ikpeazu has intensified his campaigns for the PDP candidate, telling Aba residents that the ongoing reconstruction of major roads in Aba is just a tip of the iceberg of what lies ahead. Last Sunday he took the campaigns to two churches, namely, St. John’s Anglican Church, Osusu, Assemblies of God Church, Osusu Road. He told the faithful that his commitment to transform Aba remains intact, adding that massive infrastructural development he has done in Aba so far represents a third of what he has planned to do for the commercial city between now and May 2023, the end of his tenure. The Abia chief executive assured that his administration would deliver a six lane Port Harcourt road, Ngwa Road , Obohia, Ohanku Uratta, among others. “We have been here, working together, clearing our gutters and fixing our roads,” he said, adding, “Now, because of this Federal House election, they have all returned from Abuja and Lagos “. Alluding to Senator Kalu’s attempt to appropriate the reconstructed roads done by Abia government and credit them to the federal government, Governor Ikpeazu said: “Some of them are even laying claims to the roads we built here (but) I am not worried because the people of Aba know who is building the roads”.

Due to their past experience and feeling of abandonment by previous governments that failed to tackle the city’s decayed infrastructure residents of Enyimba City had developed cynical attitude to government’s gestures. This has spurned the general belief that Aba people are hard to please and it’s yet to be seen if they have acknowledged the urban renewal efforts of Ikpeazu which has resulted in a new look Aba with hitherto impassable roads receiving a touch of solidity and smoothness with accompanying drainages. The perennial flooding in Aba has abated in recent years and the Ikpeazu administration is working on a lasting solution to the problem. It has embarked on the construction of underground water channel which would be done without pulling down houses as was previously planned.

As the D-Day for the by-election draws near there would be apprehension, and expectation. Would Aba residents show appreciation to Governor Ikpeazu for what he has so far done in Enyimba City and vote for PDP candidate. Would APC surge past the ruling party and win the gold or is it likely that a weakened APGA could miraculously take the prize. The electorate of Aba North and Aba South would decide with their ballots on Saturday, March 27, all things being equal.

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The seat became vacant early this year when Hon Prestige died in Germany on February 6 following an illness. The affable lawmaker was among those politicians thrown up by the political tsunami that Alex Otti engendered in Abia in 2015 that almost toppled PDP from power. Prestige was popular and coupled with the leaning of residents towards APGA, especially since Otti flew the party’s governorship flag in 2015, he got his mandate renewed but died less than two years into his second tenure. This has presented an ample opportunity for the ruling PDP to reassert its influence in Aba after its candidate in 2015, Hon Uzo Azubuike failed in his attempt to be re-elected for a second tenure at the National assembly. With the recent political developments, especially the defection of Otti to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the chances of APGA to cling on to Aba federal constituency is very slim. As it stands, the by-election is considered a two horse race between PDP and APC. APGA has suffered massive defections and is barely gasping for breath in Abia’s political space after losing most of its notable figures. The main opposition APC earned its new status after benefitting from the crisis and discontent in APGA. Almost all the notable defectors pitched their tent with APC and it is expected that the party would leverage on its new found strength to snatch Aba federal constituency. However, there are fears that the choice of Mr. Mascot Uzor Kalu as the candidate of APC in the by-election could boomerang on the party. Mascot is a junior brother of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu