THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma
The provision of infrastructure was one of the Aba Federal Constituency election determinants on Saturday, 27 March 2021. Infrastructure, aka dividends of democracy, featured in arguments for and against the PDP and APC. It took a curious twist.
APC pointed to the born-again Senator Orji Uzor Kalu delivering infrastructure projects in communities within his Abia North Senatorial zone. Their effort was to counteract the overwhelming evidence and likely impact of the rejuvenation of Aba by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu. Ikpeazu fired on double cylinders in fixing the notorious Aba roads that hitherto besmirched him. The results were so outstanding Orji Uzor Kalu sought to claim the credit by stating that the APC federal government must have a hand in funding them. He could not provide evidence. Supporters could not show how infrastructure projects in Abia North would transmute to Aba. The jury is still out on the role of infrastructure as a determinant of voter preference, but it was the elephant in the room of the city of the elephant.
The candidates were like a sideshow in their contest. Both parties rolled out big guns. Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu led the PDP forces with support from Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe of Aba South, the local government chairmen and other party stalwarts. Former governor Senator Orji Uzor Kalu led the APC battalion that included former Senator Nkechi Nwaogu and former minister Emeka Wogu.
The Aba bye-election was thus the battle of the juggernauts. The result was a deep cut that confirmed the dominant tendency in voter preference among the parties in Abia State. Will it change anytime soon? It depends on how much of the dirt on his party Okezie Ikpeazu brushes off by delivering promises rather than promises of deliverance. Salaries remain an albatross and a pain point for many workers in the state. When will Ikpeazu bulldoze this as he has done with roads?
Wogu’s declaration of support for Mascot Uzor Kalu brought up the spectre of indigene versus settler. Ikpeazu’s spokesman labelled it a matter of home pride versus desertion of roots. It floated under the surface in the race.
A respondent shared this non-sequitur with me and was not bold enough to chest it but came under cover of anonymity. “A major factor in the voter apathy you talked about in Aba North-South bye-election was the emergence of two “unacceptable” candidates from APC and PDP. Traditionally, Igbo commercial centres, Onitsha, and Aba, prefer keeping political power out of indigenes’ hands for obvious reasons. Political power in Aba is strongly influenced by elements from the Igbere, Bende, Ohafia axis of Abia North. When the vacancy came up in Aba North/South, Ngwa groups led by Enyinnaya Abaribe saw an opening to change the narrative and whip up Ngwa nationalism for Abaribe’s run in 2023. Sensing that PDP has made an error, Orji Uzor Kalu also saw an opening to return to influence in the key city of Aba. But he ended up making a bigger mistake by rigging the APC primaries for his brother Mascot. Considering that another Orji, Nnanna, was in the same position for eight uneventful years, voters were up in arms. Still, the majority had difficulty choosing from among the two, given the factors I mentioned.”
Voter turnout has been abysmal in the South East. The Aba election continued the trend. It is a stretch that natives protested against one of their kind as a candidate.
A Bende lawyer claimed that his people control 40% of Aba. The Facebook audience reminded him that the Anambra block claims a similar 40%. Where does that leave those from Aba North and South and contiguous LGAs of Ngwa and Ukwaland, Ohuhu and the many others from Imo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Cameroon and other parts of Nigeria and West Africa that live in Aba?
Unfortunately, the needless indigene versus settler matter played out in a post-election demonstration against Senator Orji Uzor Kalu. It was crass and dumb and unclear who sponsored the effete demo. However, the good news is that Aba quickly reverted to its status as an inclusive and welcoming city, a home for all since the 1930s as the city took shape.
Congratulations to Hon Chimaobi Ebisike of the PDP who is heading to the House of Representatives. Congratulations also to his opponent Mascot Uzor Kalu of the APC for conceding.
What to do about the scourge of voter apathy that was a central feature of the Aba election should engage the attention of the Igbo middle class, politicians, and intelligentsia. Many have offered insights in response to my Facebook post. They include disappointment with the performance of politicians since 1999, and the confusion caused by IPOB with their electoral and civic participation boycott call that made young Igbos cut off from the political system. Chimaobi Ebisike owes it to his party and the electorate to run voter education campaigns as well as build credibility through his performance.
Where were the Aba voters? What happened to the middle class and professionals of Aba? Those two groups are the vanguard of democracy across the world. Where is the Nigerian middle class when you need them to make by action the point which they make vociferously in the Social Media Village Square?
Kudos to whoever ensured that phantom figures were not part of the story of the Aba bye-election. Mascot Kalu and the winner accounted for under 15 000 votes. It makes you wonder the whereabouts of the 40 000-plus that allegedly voted for Mascot Uzor Kalu in the internal APC elections for this same contest. Where did they disappear to when the real battle ensued?
to a growing tendency to dynasties in democracy in Eastern Nigeria? Across the South East, some families have tried to arrogate the privilege of a succession of family members in political positions. The Aba case stood out like a sore thumb dripping with the blood of poor performance. It hacked back to the failed imposition of his son-in-law by Rochas Okorocha in Imo State. Yet Theodore Orji succeeded with his son, who bestrides the Abia State House of Assembly as the Speaker.
What do you think, dear reader? Is the Aba bye-election March 2021 a bellwether? Is it the shape of things to come? Happy Easter as we celebrate the resurrection.