By Jasper Uche
As ‘the only game in town’, politics has no season in Nigeria. It is played in season and out of season. Understandably, political power gives access to stupendous wealth, constitutional/extra-constitutional powers, and exceptional influence on critical pillars of democracy and democratization: the civil society, the press, political parties, state apparatus, regulatory institutions, as well as, the authoritative allocation of resources. Thus, the allure of political power is very tempting and irresistible. The struggle for it is usually carried out with a do-or-die desperation. Abia State is no exception.
Even though 2023 is still far, the social gospel of zoning, especially as it concerns the gubernatorial slot in the state, is nearly setting old allies at daggers-drawn. There are drumbeats of veiled threats, insensitive bravado, and sectional consultative reach outs, leading to alignments and realignments. Okezie Ikpeazu, the incumbent governor, recently joined the fray, but on a disarming note. He declared that he won’t allow the politics of 2023 to distract his government. Notwithstanding, a major take away is that the lobbyists of power retention in Ukwa/Ngwa bloc have courage of their convictions, and that they are taking their message to high places.
Ordinarily, the move should not elicit grave concerns, if not that it would leave a ‘critical mass’ of the state as the perennial hewers of wood and drawers of water. The founders of the state under the auspices of Abia State Movement envisaged this unfolding scenario, and crafted ‘a charter of understanding and equity.’ The word ‘equity’ is an inviting lexicon. It connotes impartiality, fairness, and the principle of ‘live and let live’. In the legal community, the maxim: “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands” is used to underscore the fact that he who appeals to conscience, goodwill and justice, must be above board. In politics, it entails that the big fish would not pounce on the smaller fish to assume a colossus. Hence, tradeoffs and sacrificial commitments to agreements (even with the weakest stake holding partners) are sacrosanct; to engender political stability and a legacy of social harmony.
In a democratic setting like ours, the practice of equity in power succession and allocation of public good is germane. The aphrodisiac obsession that ‘might is right’ is destabilizing in the long run, and leaves the weak at the mercy of the strong. ‘Might’ in this sense could mean – superior political brinkmanship, financial war chest, connections in high places, demographic power, access to the media, and control of state institutions. By sheer clairvoyance, the progenitors of Abia State worked out a peaceful template for less acrimonious power sharing, and any muscular attempt to desecrate the Will of the elders comes with indecipherable implications. Ambitions should therefore not destroy the social trust which the ‘charter of equity’ tends to preserve. Ultimately, power comes from God. The relatively weaker person today might be the stronger tomorrow. Hence, those who are stronger today, by divine benevolence, should be magnanimous while savouring the leverage.
Of a truth, our brothers from Ukwa/Ngwa bloc did not get to Abia Government House on a platter. The journey was long and tortuous. The agitations started in the old Imo State. At a time, it looked as if Ukwa/Ngwa sons were confined to deputy governors only. However, the dynamics of democracy changed the disheartening pattern. Like an idea whose time had come, 2015 became a defining moment for Ukwa/ Ngwa bloc. Okezie Ikpeazu, an indigene of the area, was for the first time in history, elected the governor of the state. It took the large-heartedness and personal/official commitments of former governor and now senator – Theodore Orji to break the age-long jinx. Ikpeazu was re-elected in 2019, and by the grace of God, would serve out his term in 2023. By doing so, Orji stepped up the principle of power sharing along senatorial zones by shifting power to Abia South – peopled by the old Aba Division or Ukwa/Ngwa bloc. Of course, he took a cue from his predecessor, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu who comes from Abia North, and had set the pace by influencing the choice of his successor – Theodore Orji from Abia Central. Therefore, logically speaking, power should return to Abia North in 2023. And by geographical coincidence, Isuikwuato District, one of the four major components of the state, is in Abia North.
Hitherto, the discussions around power sharing had been skewed along the two major political blocs in the state – old Bende and old Aba Division or Ukwa/Ngwa. Such narratives, consciously or unconsciously, gloss over the fact that Isuikwuato District had been a stand-alone component, right from the pursuit of the creation of Abia State. Isuikwuato District (comprising Isuikwuato and Umunneochi LGAs) was never part of old Bende Division. The district was carved out from Okigwi (Okigwe) Division under the then Owerri Province, just as we had Aba Division and Bende Division, previously under Owerri Province, and later Umuahia Province. Similarly, Afikpo Division used to be under Ogoja Division, and later Abakaliki Division. Consequently, when Abia was created in 1991, the major components of the state were: Aba, Bende, Isuikwuato and Afikpo, with all the first letters fused to get the name – ABIA. As an Igbo word, some towns in Igboland answer the name: ABIA, which represents friendship and co-operation. In the Bible, ABIA is named after one of the grandsons of King Solomon, and it means, “Jehovah is Father.” Given this lofty background and destiny attachments with divinity and metaphysics of a good name, Abia had been christened ‘God’s Own State’ by the first executive governor, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu who comes from the old Afikpo Division, later ceded to Ebonyi State when it was created in October 1996.
The turns taken by Orji Kalu and Theodore Orji, both of whom come from Bende and Umuahia respectively, and which belonged to the old Bende Division, are used to advance the debates around power retention in the old Aba Division. The proponents insist that since the old Bende had produced the governor twice, the old Aba Division should also take a second slot after Ikpeazu’s tenure in 2023.
As plausible as the argument appears, it raises fundamental questions. What would become the place of Isuikwuato District that had not produced a governor of the state? How do you reconcile the ‘charter of equity’ which recommends that “the administration of ABIA STATE shall be on the basis of strict equality as between the two Senatorial Zones of Aba and Umuahia and the recognition of Isuikwuato as a District…”? Must the ‘charter of equity’ be justiciable before a section of the political class respects its dictates? Isuikwuato District does not have the population strength to go it alone, but it parades a huge reservoir of human resources. What it lacks in number, it has in quality. At this juncture, it is instructive for all the political actors to go back to the provisions of the charter that birthed the state. Our brothers from other parts of Abia North should support Isuikwuato District, and join forces to persuade our Ukwa/Ngwa brothers to reconsider their stand. The present generation cannot afford to rubbish the wisdom of the founding fathers. On equity, we stand.
- Dr. Uche teaches Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.