New hope for Abia State by Tunde Fagbenle

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Tunde Fagbenle
Tunde Fagbenle

Let me start with a confession: I have Abia friends, quite a number of them whose integrity I can vouch for. All, bar none, are rooting for Alex Otti in the ongoing governorship tussle in that once laudable state that has been reduced to the most pitiable condition from the maladministration and brigandage of successive governors over a number of years. So, my bias swings with justification in favour of Alex. Let no one tell me I’m not Igbo and I must have no say in what happens in Abia.

Well, I’ll say my bit and you can sue me! Abia has been rather unfortunate with the crop of leaders the once proud and industrious people have been saddled with virtually since its creation. Now, rather than grow into the bedrock of industrial possibilities that lie within its capabilities, Abia has been turned into a state for the breeding of miscreants, vagabonds, kidnappers, daredevil crooks, and the like.

But don’t take my word for it. Hear what someone else, in the person of ThisDay newspaper columnist, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, has to say of Aba, once the commercial nerve centre of the state, and Abia State as a whole – quoting from her latest column:

“Today, it is decrepit, an eyesore and insecure. It’s once thriving businesses and industries which gave it the edge over Onitsha, another commercial city in the east, have all closed shop, leaving behind rotting factories and warehouses that have been taken over by insidious Pentecostal churches. The informal trade that has supplanted industries such as Nigerian Breweries, John Holt, UACN and others, now competes with mountain ranges of rubbish heaps and some of the worst roads this country has ever had the misfortune to behold. Was it a surprise that rising unemployment and poverty turned the Ukwa/Ngwa area a few years ago into the kidnapping capital of the southeast?”

The story of Abia in the last 16 years has been the story of Orjis, one Orji (Orji Kalu) succeeded by another (Theodore Orji). In a state that once prided itself for its bright and upright minds – intellectuals, business magnates, doctors, etc.— it is something of a mystery how the state fell, one after the other, into the hands of those whose only business was feathering their own private nests and building of an ‘empire’ of violence, destruction, and fear. Strangely, soon after one Orji helped the other into succession, the two Orjis stopped seeing eye-to-eye, until they became sworn enemies – now!

But that’s not my business. Theodore (by the way, he carries a ‘Dr.’ before his name – well both Orjis do, whatever their worth!) – Theodore spent eight years as governor ending last May. Then, borrowing from the lesson of the antagonism between him and his predecessor, he got it to his head to install a ‘stooge’ as his successor, by hook or by crook. The character is by name, Okezie Ikpeazu, incidentally, also a ‘Dr.’ As an aside, one of my friends, Okoroafor, reminded me not to place too much premium on such title as it is there to be picked ‘two for kobo’ these days!

Then came the gubernatorial election of April 11, 2015 where the outgoing Governor Orji, whose moniker is ‘Ochendo,’ pulled all the stops, using all powers and resources of incumbency to turn ‘night into day,’ to perform electoral magic and have his candidate, the aforementioned Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) declared the overall winner against the glaring victory of the people’s choice, Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

Ochendo’s ‘magic’ was commonplace in the Nigerian clime, but outdoing all others in its extreme brazenness and devilry, making mockery of Jega’s INEC card-reader ace ‘invention.’ Several newspaper reports, save those whose voices were stuffed silent with overflowing dollars, decried what took place: ballot boxes were snatched in full glare of the public; mass thumb-printing of ballot papers stretched far into the night; election results were rewritten at will in the besieged INEC office in Umuahia, padding numbers of places like Osisioma, Obingwa, Isiala-ngwa, etc. beyond scope of probability. Stared in the face by people’s revolt, INEC Returning Officers and the Resident Electoral Commissioner went into frenzy of summersaults that still ended mysteriously in announcing PDP’s Ikpeazu the winner.

Dr. Otti went to the Election Petitions Tribunal to challenge the abracadabra, but was disfavoured by that lower court. Ikpeazu became governor under the heavy cloud of doubts and disaffection. Ochendo and his gang carried on with braggadocio and impunity. As far as they are concerned, force rules; they own Abia! Alex Otti appealed to Appeal Court to challenge the ruling of the lower court. Precedent abounds of stolen mandates that had been challenged and restored to the rightful victor, from Osun to Ekiti, and lately Taraba, states.

Then, on New Year’s Eve the appellate court threw ‘Governor’ Ikpeazu out, declaring APGA’s Alex Otti the duly elected governor of Abia State from total votes cast other than the three local government areas – Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa, and Isiala Ngwa North – where irregularities were too blatant to be considered. It was great relief; Abia rejoiced and looked up with renewed hope and joy. But those obsessed with power don’t give up that easy. Soon after the Appeal Court judgment, Aba, the state’s commercial nerve centre, broke out into pandemonium as demonstrators against the judgment took to the streets, creating mayhem and wrecking havoc.

The demonstrators were believed by the pro-Otti crowd (including my friends of course) to have been hired. There is enough money and power to make that plausible. But there were, too, those who may have lost out or felt disenfranchised by the total cancellation of the thousands (some put the figure at over 200,000) of votes of the offending three local government areas. What is clear is that such demonstration could not be a reflection of disaffection by majority of Abians, going by the spread and margin of victory of Alex in the April election where he won clearly in majority of the Local Governments.

Dr. Ikpeazu, the incumbent governor, has taken the fight to the Supreme Court praying for the nullification of the appellate court’s verdict. Rather than give victory to Alex Otti, Ikpeazu is of the view that rerun of the election is the fairer recourse.

The longsuffering people of Abia have had enough of the nonsense of the past. Nothing must be done now to shatter their hope for a better future.

And that’s saying it the way it is!

(Source: Punch)

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