By Chido Nwakanma
Senate Minority Leader and Moral Authority Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe declared open the race for Governor of Abia State 2023-2027 on 24 December 2021 with a courtesy call and declaration of intent to the incumbent governor Okezie Ikpeazu. The statement was at the Umuobiakwa Palace or alternate government house of Abia State. Abaribe went with a 50-vehicle motorcade of party lords and influential stakeholders across the local governments of Abia State and the three senatorial zones. The Abaribe declaration deployed surprise as one of the tested principles of war.
After a gracious reception, even the state government seemingly gave vent to this surprise in a statement that bewailed the ambuscade. The information said the declaration is a distraction from work ahead of the Abia State government and its governor. Really? So, what has distracted the governor in the last six years of perceived poor delivery? Please!
Abaribe has taken the offensive. He has seized the initiative and needs to exploit it maximally. So let us do a SWOT analysis and look at the political, economic, sociological (ordinarily scientific), and territorial (PEST) circumstances of this crucial moment.
A key strength of Senator Abaribe is his earned moral authority as a voice for Ndigbo. The many platforms of Ndigbo in the social sphere have hailed his declaration and look forward to his victory. The calculation is to have Enyi Abaribe and Chukwumah Soludo leading the state governments in charge of the principal Igbo economic centres of Aba and Onitsha. Abaribe earned his pips by his moral stance and advocacy for Ndigbo in the Senate and public outings.
Political experience is another strength. Enyi Abaribe has been in the mix of Abia and Nigerian politics since 1999. He is now like a tested civil servant who knows all the plans, programmes, corpses, and cemeteries. He can use knowledge of the terrain and players to his advantage.
While the element of surprise offers a first-mover advantage, it can also be a weakness. Abaribe has shown his hand, and the opponents can mobilise and strategise for a counter. Note, however, that December 2021 is political December for the 2023 elections. The primaries of the parties will commence in February 2022. There is no time for dillydallying by others.
Abaribe’s 12-year stint in the Senate could also be a weakness. He has upheld party loyalty and has not been publicly pointing to other directions for the governments that have held Abia State down except for his battles with Orji Uzor Kalu, the originator of the failed governance template of Abia. Senator Kalu has been working overtime on infrastructure constituency projects in his zone. He has characteristically made fanciful claims of huge Federal Government expenditure and releases of up to N50 billion. Except that the claim sounds so much like the one he made about the infrastructure renewal at Aba ahead of the Federal Constituency elections, attempting to appropriate them to himself as initiator. It fell flat.
Another weakness will feature in the PEST analysis.
Abaribe could rewrite the political template of Abia State regarding the rotation of political offices. His quest represents the opportunity as each of the three senatorial zones has had its chance at the governorship. 2023 represents a fresh start. It is a challenging proposition, though.
The threats would come essentially from chinks in the armour. They include the aspirations of persons from other senatorial zones. The more insidious threat will feature his fellow Ukwa La Ngwa of the Abia South and Abia Central zones. Then there is the First Son, who has positioned himself as Speaker and Successor-Apparent over the years.
Then there is the hardy perennial Dr Alex Otti. He has contested twice. Some portions of the street claim that he lost only to electoral malfeasance both times. Expect him to join the race from the Bende Division after giving up h claim to Ngwa.
The political factors include how well or poorly Okezie Ikpeazu performs in the critical 2022 in the key areas where Ndi Abia have complained. They include essential roads of Aba, the much-beloved Ururuka Road that links Ikpeazu’s homestead and reminds the people of the heydays, and the main arterial road that cuts through communities in Abia North, worker’s welfare, and outstanding salaries and pensions. Therefore, it is understandable that Ikpeazu avoids open antagonism with his brother, the governor.
The political and environmental are intertwined. It will require deft advocacy and networking for one Ngwa to succeed another from the local government. Many arguments support and counter the proposition.
There is the internal matter of the Ukwa La Ngwa bloc. Abia State has two divisions of Bende and Aba. The Aba Division groups in the Ukwa and Ngwa. Together, the Ukwa and the Ngwa have the most significant number of local governments in the state. The cousins insist that the Bende Division has enjoyed 16 years of rulership through Orji Uzor Kalu and Theodore Orji. They want a reciprocal 16 years for the Aba Division. Fair is fair.
The internal challenge before Abaribe and his team is convincing the Ukwa to allow another Ngwa man to take the slot when they win the consent of Bende. A ready compromise would be for the Ukwa to take the senatorial seat of Abia South as a first step.
If Abaribe is leaving the exalted national platform for the governorship, he makes the point for rebuilding capacities at all levels of our political governance. It is even more so for our local governments that the governors and politicians have made suitable only for the dregs of the system. The local government narrative needs to change as a few people are doing.
Finally, candidate Enyi Abaribe would have the burden of expectation. His entry has raised the stakes. He would have to work hard in the next 15 months to justify those expectations by articulating a winning value proposition for the management of Abia State and its resources. To whom much is given, so much more should the citizens expect.