Following the Court of Appeal order for a fresh election in Abia North Senatorial District, former governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), Senator Mao Ohuabunwa of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), David Onuoha-Bourdex of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and other big stakeholders have gone back to the drawing board for what insiders say would be a ‘big clash.’ Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, reports on the current intrigues and what may decide the result of the election
Since the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri, the Imo State capital, upheld the appeal of the former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, against Mao Ohuabunwa’s election as the senator representing Abia North Senatorial District, the political texture of the zone has become highly charged.
Kalu’s appeal against the ruling of the election tribunal was based on the tribunal’s non-admittance in evidence of the list of accredited voters register of the zone though it was reportedly obtained and duly signed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Hon. Justice I. G. Mbaba, in his ruling on the matter, had described the ruling of the tribunal as not only “misconceived but sad and absurd, by rejecting the true certified copy of the INEC document, stating that the accredited voters’ register of Abia North met the provisions of the Evidence Act in respect to computer generated data.” The court therefore ordered a fresh election in the senatorial zone.
The growing passion
With this ruling, the candidates and other major stakeholders in the zone have quickly returned to the drawing board to restrategise for the fresh contest.
Our investigation this week across Arochukwu, Bende, Isuikwuato, Ohafia and Umunneochi, the five local government areas that make up the senatorial zone, shows that most of the leading candidates in the cancelled election, especially Orji Uzor Kalu of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) , Mao Ohuabunwa of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), David Onuoha-Bourdex of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), have already commenced fresh mobilisation in a bid to take the plum seat.
Some electorates who spoke with The Nation during the week said the fresh election is poised to throw up long suppressed passion that may ultimately shape the future political tendency of the people in the zone and in Abia State in general.
“Here in Item, the tension is already building up. This is understandable because our people are particularly touchy over the entire process and are determined, this time around, to make a point to the rest of the people in Abia State. Item ancient kingdom, which is made up of nine medium-sized towns, have been greatly marginalised since 1999. Taking cognizance of the huge population of Item Kingdom and the near absence of dividends of democracy here, the people feel betrayed both by the PDP and the PPA that have had the opportunity of ruling this state before. The serious candidates and political leaders in the state, who saw the true result of the last elections from this area know this fact and seem desperate now to lobby Item electorates,” said Udoka Orji, from Item in Bende Local Government Area. Orji, a public administrator, analyst and politician, contended that “if the fresh election is free and fair, many would be shocked as people’s true political interests here have been suppressed for too long by cabals who have no interest of Item people.”
Mrs Ebere Kalu, a teacher in Asaga Ohafia, Ohafia Local Government Area, also spoke with passion on the likely outcome of the fresh election in Abia North. “We are not happy at what has been happening in our political environment. Here in Abia State, elections are repeatedly manipulated by a few greedy members of the political cabal that have no interest of the people. With this fresh election, we are praying that INEC and the security agencies will do their jobs well so that the people’s vote will count. It is only when this is done that we can truly say, this is the popular political party or candidate. For now, it has remained the game of the powerful ones against us, the common people.”
Considered as one of the most hotly contested zones in the country during the March 28, 2015 senatorial election, and given the alleged desperation of the high profile candidates, observers say the Abia North fresh election promises to be very intriguing.
Quest for fairness
The quest, amongst the five local government areas that made up the senatorial district to produce top political leaders is at the back of the rising political temperature in the area.
For example, following Kalu’s failure to break the backbone of the PDP power lords in the state and return to the party, his critics said the Abia North senatorial contest represents for him the ultimate battle to remain politically relevant in the state. They said it is his grand plot to return to the scene and square up with his political detractors who held him down for eight years.
Even his associates and supporters do not contest this allegation as they clearly express their determination to ensure Kalu’s victory, explaining that it would serve as a stepping stone to the battle for the political soul of Abia State. As Dr. Orji Onyiukwu puts it, “The people afraid of the former governor’s victory at the senatorial contest are afraid of his return to the political scene because they can’t stand him. We are happy the appeal court saw through the electoral fraud that purported Mao Ohuabunwa of PDP as the duly elected senator for Abia North. So, we are not taking this fresh election lightly as we intend to ensure that the right candidate wins.”
It would be recalled that prior to the 2015 general election, Kalu had issues with PDP leadership in the state and only had to pursue his senatorial ambition by resorting to the PPA platform at the last minute.
The build up to the 2015 senatorial election intrigues in Abia North did not however begin with Orji’s alleged political calculations. It would be recalled that before the demise of former Senator Uche Chukwumerije, other local government areas in the state had protested his alleged plan to return to the senate for a record fourth term.
They argued that the senatorial seat should move to another local government area in the zone. Incidentally, Chukwumerije, who hailed from Umunneoche LGA, passed on to glory just before the election. His exit at that time contributed in building up the passion that characterized the Abia North election which initially produced PDP’s Ohuabunwa from Arochukwu LGA as Chukwumerije’s successor. At the fresh election, this quest and the resultant passion will continue to influence both the election and the result.
‘Big boys game’
Apart from the issue of which local government area or political party that will produce the next senator, a major factor that will likely heat up the political scene during the election and may ultimately count at the final result is the high profile nature of the senatorial candidates. Other factors include the deep pocket of the leading candidates and the popularity of the political parties in the area.
Among the high profile candidates that will contest the election are former Abia State governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu of PPA, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa of PDP, whose short stay at the senate was cut short by the appeal court ruling that ordered the fresh election, Dr. David Onuoha (Bourdex) of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Nnennaya N. Lancaster Okoro of All Progressives Congress (APC).
Orji, who hails from Igbere in Bende LGA, served as the Executive Governor of Abia State for eight years from 1999 to 2007. Although he has not occupied any other political office after leaving Umuahia as the governor, and although his several clashes with other political forces within and outside the state may have left some bruises, observers say he remains, till today, as one of the most popular and widely connected politician from the state. A grassroots politician, he is also said to have uncanny mobilisation potentials that may be very difficult to surpass. Also, as the Chairman of SLOK and one of the current richest men in Africa, Orji sure has deep pocket to draw from. Sources said although he seemed reluctant when his aides bought his nomination form, the former governor, who suffered severe political blow as a result of the face- off he had with his political grandson and former governor, now Senator Theodore Ahamefule Orji, is determined to secure the Abia North Senatorial seat as it will serve as a vantage position to re-position himself politically.
Like Orji, the other leading candidates are no pushovers. For example, PDP’s candidate, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, from Arochukwu Local Government Area, is also a frontline politician. A long serving lawmaker, who was a member of the 4th and 5th National Assembly, Ohuabunwa, who served as Deputy Leader of House of Representatives and Speaker, ECOWAS Parliament, has advantage of experience over other contestants. Sources confided that the founder of Ohuabunwa Foundation also has deep pocket.
Chief David Ogba Onuoha (Boudex) of APGA, on the other hand, has advantage of the popularity of his party in this part of Abia State. The Ugoena Abiriba, is also not to be intimidated by war chest of any of the candidates, being a well known business tycoon. As one of the pioneering entrepreneurs on telephony, plastics business and other specialised concerns, Boudex, as he is popularly called, does not only have deep pocket but is said to be a top player in the financial scene across the country.
This concentration of ‘big boys’ in the Abia North election is a major factor that has raised the tempo. Even the candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Nnennaya N. Lancaster Okoro, a lawyer with concrete local and international connection, is also considered not a pushover in her own right.
Another major factor is the clash of influence of the contending political parties. Since 1999, Abia State has been a PDP state and given the sudden demise of Chukwumerije, his supporters are expressing sentiment over the need to honour him by remaining faithful to PDP. But recent developments suggest that the other parties like APGA and PPA may be more popular in Abia North than results of previous elections have shown. During the cancelled election, observers said APGA attracted many supporters. As for PPA, which was formed by Kalu when he was governor and when he had initial issues with PDP, it has always been marketed in Bende and the entire Abia North as “our own party.” This reality, coupled with the candidate’s influence in the area is a factor that may not be ignored.
As for APC’s Nnennaya N. Lancaster Okoro, a relatively new face in this area, most electorates said she is sure to get impressive following if she becomes more visible. This, they said, is because of the success of her political party at the centre, the suppressed quest for new crop of leaders and the grudge still being nursed by majority of Abia North electorates against previous governments in the state over alleged neglect and marginalisation.
Given the calibre of the major stakeholders and the broader interests at stake, not a few are surprised at the ripples being generated by the soon-to-be held Abia North senatorial election. (The Nation)