The preparations and strategies for next year’s general elections gather momentum as politicians return to the trenches to either retain their positions or clinch the positions of their choice. IGBEAKU ORJI examines the chances of the candidates for Abia North Senatorial seat in 2019
Every contest, whether won or lost, has its peculiar challenges and lessons. The lessons help in no small way to shape the outcome of future contests. If the essential ingredients and principles of previous success or victory are retained, it might create the winning formula. On the other hand, if the factors that led to the loss are reviewed and new winning strategy adopted, the table will turn.
Former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, has been in the contest for Abia North Senatorial seat since 2011 but he has never made the kind of preparation as in the present case. Kalu is an enigma, a dogged but suave politician respected by both friends and foes. His political pedigree is not in doubt. In fact, there is hardly any politician in Abia State who did not pass through his tutelage directly or indirectly, including the incumbent Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who served in Kalu’s government as the General Manager of Abia State Passenger Integrated Manifest Scheme (ASPIMS).
It is also on record that he is not the type that gives up too soon on anything he believes in. His tenacity of purpose, more than anything else, is the secret of his success in life. In 2007 he did not mince words about his ambition to become the President of Nigeria. If he wanted to be a senator at that time like other former governors did, nobody would have stood on his way. All that is now history.
Before now too many things were taken for granted in the bid for the Senate seat. For instance, his goodwill across the state as the former governor who touched the lives of the people in indelible ways was not exploited. It was thought that for him to ask for votes to represent the people at the Senate was a little thing compared to the many people and communities that were directly or indirectly impacted by his administration.
The administration at the time unleashed the worst form of intimidation against Kalu; Armoured personnel carriers were stationed at the entry and exit of Igbere, Kalu’s home on the Election Day. The scenario was replicated in every area considered to be Kalu’s stronghold. At the 2011 election so many factors also played against the former governor. The ruling PDP then was at the helm of affairs both at the state and federal levels. It was therefore easy for the security agencies and even the electoral umpire to do the bidding of the pay master. The army at that time not only stationed Armoured personnel carriers on all entry and exit points to Kalu’s house and community but also mounted check points. Those on election duty were thoroughly searched before being allowed into the community upon proper identification. Besides, the Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA), the platform on which Kalu sought the mandate had lost most of its members and support. Little time was spent on mobilizing the people in the senatorial zone.
It was Kalu’s direct personal effort most of the time with little or no political structure that gave him the push. At the end of the day the victory was again given to a less popular candidate in the person of Uche Chukwumerije, of blessed memory. In 2015, Kalu lost to a combination of forces. First the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), reversed itself after the returning officer had declared the election inconclusive, citing irregularities and directed the parties to prepare for a rerun. After declaring the result inconclusive by 9am on March 15, 2016, by 12 noon the returning officer was ordered to declare the result as it is. That was after a protracted legal battle. Even Mao Ohuabunwa who was declared winner of the senatorial contest expressed surprise at the turn of events. He had given up the fight. He said it was God’s hand that turned the table in his favour.
But 2019 will be different. Kalu has given more time to the campaign this time around. Now All Progressives Congress (APC), which in 2015 was regarded as Northern party has gained acceptance in the state through Kalu’s commitment and resilience. At the meeting of the aspirants with stakeholders and State Working Committee last Wednesday, it was discovered that some of the positions had as much as five aspirants vying for it. More people have joined the party and through Kalu’s personal effort the APC has become the party to beat in the state.
The state chairman of the party, Hon. Donatus Nwankpa, told journalists that more would still join as they prepare for the primaries. In 2015, the APC did not win any seat but now has serving members in the state House of Assembly, including the immediate past Speaker, Martins Azubuike, Ikedi Ezekwesili, Solomon Okogbuo and Theophilus Ugboaja. They are coming over with their supporters and those from Abia North who have keyed into the vision and aspiration of the party, will work for the victory of the party and its candidates.
From the experience of the last election the real contest has clearly been in Abia North. While Abia South and Central zones were work over for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates, Enyinnaya Abaribe and Theodore Orji in 2015, Abia North was characterised by a long drawn legal tussle that culminated in a rerun. Kalu has vowed this time not only to win the Abia North senatorial seat, but also to deliver Abia State 100 per cent to the APC with at least 75 per cent vote for President Muhammadu Buhari. And this is not political rhetoric.
In the series of meetings with leaders of the party in the state, Kalu has demonstrated uncommon commitment to the attainment of the goal. Starting with the State Working Committee and the local government executives, he has held meetings down to the ward executives of the party. Kalu’s Igbere country home has become a beehive of political pilgrimage. Unlike previously, APC now has its presence in all the wards and local governments.
Kalu has left no one in doubt regarding his aspiration, little wonder no opposition voice has been heard except of course the incumbent Ohuabunwa whose return to the Senate even from his party is shrouded in uncertainty. In a recent outing of PDP in Abiriba, for instance, the youths openly rejected Ohuabunwa. They alleged that he has not justified his representation of the zone and therefore should forget their votes in 2019. In recent months Ohuabunwa seem to be gasping for breath, a life line that could help him at least for the last time to hang on to the office. He has clearly fallen out of favour with the people. During the reception organised last month by the people of Abam for the state governor, Ohuabunwa was absent. Abam is not only a major political bloc in Abia North but also in Ohuabunwa’s local government area, Arochukwu.
For David Ogba Onuoha, no one knows where his interest lies. In 2015 he contested the Abia North senatorial seat under the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) after he lost the PDP ticket to Ohuabunwa. He left APGA for APC early in the year but quickly made a U-turn after reading the handwriting on the wall. Obviously, he does not have the strength to displace Kalu for the slot in APC. Since his return to APGA little has been heard from his camp. It will amount to self-delusion for anyone to think that APGA in the present equation has the capacity to win any election in Abia State. Some key leaders in Onuoha’s campaign organisation have dumped him while Kalu is increasing by the day.
APGA’s feat in 2015 is clearly understood from the people’s rejection of the immediate past administration in the state. They wanted to bid good riddance to bad rubbish and did not mind who the replacement was. For the first time in the state, people could openly campaign against the incumbent government. For the first time, people could, in spite of the hard times, reject gifts and offers to vote in favour of members of the immediate past administration. For the first time, serving members of that government reportedly lost election in their family compound polling booths. That is how bad it was, that someone would be rejected by his own kinsmen. It was this backdrop that gave rise to APGA, which close to the election, did not have a permanent secretariat. Torn by leadership crisis, the party and its campaign structure revolved around its governorship candidate, Dr. Alex Otti, senatorial candidates, David Onuoha (North), Chris Nkwonta (South) and Aham Nweke (Central).
Sadly, APGA lacked the capacity to protect the votes it got in the election. It is on record that for the reasons stated above, the people overwhelmingly voted APGA with the result that 11 out of the 24 member seat in the House of Assembly was taken from the PDP. APGA also won the Aba North and South House of Representatives seat occupied by PDP. It should be noted that the people that came out against ‘bad government’ in 2015 were not specifically APGA members but a venting of the public disenchantment with the status quo ante. That predictably would be APGA’s best outing. Recall that the legal cross fire was so heated that the courts had to order a rerun for the governorship seat between Alex Otti and Okezie Ikpeazu.
Today, APGA that was the major opposition in the state has since lost that status to APC. Some of the members lost in the court. Others dumped the party leaving only two diehards. Now everything seem fallen in place for Kalu. APC has the Federal Government and with it the appurtenances of office, the game will definitely change this time especially as Kalu did not leave anything to chance. This time around he has done his homework well and the outcome is a predictable dividend of hard work.
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