As Abia State prepares for the general elections, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, who visited the state during the week, reports that the conflict between Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of PDP and the governorship candidate of APGA, Dr. Alex Otti, is heating up the polity
The suppressed tension and hostility that have trailed election campaigns in the state became concretised during the week when a debate for the governorship candidates of some political parties in Abia State ended in chaos, even as sporadic gunshots at the Abia Hotels, Umuahia, venue of the event, created confusion and fear.
As the guests at the event ran to different directions for their lives, it was alleged that the gunshots and teargas canisters were actually fired by security aides to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, the governorship candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Dr. Alex Otti, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who were participants in the debate.
The Nation gathered that the trouble actually started inside the conference room where Ikpeazu and Otti exchanged hot banters while answering questions during the debate. At a point, the debate was almost brought to a halt as supporters of the governor cut the proceeding to a halt for over 10 minutes, alleging marginalisation of their principal.
It all began when one of the moderators tried to stop Ikpeazu, saying he had exhausted the time allotted to him to answer a particular question. The governor, visibly embarrassed, openly protested. At this point, as would be expected, his aides and supporters who accompanied him to the debate took over the floor by force in order to defend him. This led to a disagreeable and rancorous atmosphere, a development that paved the way for the sporadic shooting after the debate.
Although the governorship candidates’ debate, organised by some media groups and entitled “2019 Abia Governorship Debate, was not only between Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of PDP and Dr. Alex Otti of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), The Nation reports that it turned out as a straight confrontation between Otti and Ikpeazu, who literally quizzed one another. Other participants however included Hon. Blessing Nwagba of SDP and Accord Party’s Barr. Emeka Uwakolam.
Judging from their utterances and disposition throughout the debate, it would not be wrong to say that each of them came to the event prepared to tackle the other.
But according to the Director, Media and Publicity of Alex Otti Campaign Organisation, Kazie Uko, “they tried to stop the debate just because Dr. Otti looked at Governor Ikpeazu in the eyes and told him unequivocally that he (the governor) was sitting on a stolen mandate. That was all he said as he opened his remarks on why he wanted to be governor of Abia State. Note also that at that point, Ikpeazu did not controvert the allegation.”
Tempers also rose when the APGA candidate also reminded the governor of “his promise not to seek reelection, if he did not complete all projects started by his government,” and wondered “if he was going to keep to his word now that it was certain that the Osisioma Bridge, which the governor had showcased as his landmark project, had become abandoned.”
Responding Ikpeazu said, “Well, I’m going to run for re-election because the money I was supposed to use to complete the Osisioma Bridge, I have used it to complete the Okobo Bridge, on the Abam-Arochukwu Road. At least, I have completed that one bridge, the only thing that is left is to do the road”, Ikpeazu responded to the amusement of some in the audience. The governor also took two other punches at Otti: One, on Abia Charter of Equity and second on Otti’s time as Chief Executive Officer at Diamond Bank.
Reacting, Otti said: “I would have been surprised if after building the road that leads to Akwa Ibom State, from where we know that some people ancestrally hail from, so thank you very much for doing the one going to Arochukwu.
“Now, on the issue of Diamond Bank, there is a transaction that’s going on, so I will not talk much about it. But I will like to remind him that banking business is not like government business, particularly in Abia State. I left banking in 2014, that’s five years ago. I can give an account of what I did in the four years that I stayed in Diamond Bank. Once I left, I left. It’s unlike what we find in some governments where a governor leaves and he doesn’t leave; he continues to manipulate his successor. I do not know what happened in Diamond Bank because I had left. But my records are very clear and they’re there to show”.
On equity, Otti replied: “Equity is important, particularly if you’re coming with clean hands. Abia State is in trouble. Abia is in comatose, so it’s like a man who’s on life support and a doctor shows up and he says he wants to know where the doctor comes from. We need to cure the state. We need to deal with the problems of the state and it goes beyond where somebody comes from ancestrally or where he comes from, by birth. We’re looking for competence, we’re looking for people who are straight, we’re looking for people who have skill, we’re looking for people who have past records of performance and we have seen four years. We are not impressed. ”
“What transpired at the governorship debate confirmed the political tension in the state ahead the governorship election. It is a development we must all be conscious of as the Election Day draws closer. It shows that the bitterness over the handling and results of 2015 elections in Abia is still very fresh. We pray this year’s elections will be free and fair and violent-free,” Chief Ukandu Iheukwumere from Isuikwuato told The Nation in Umuahia
Like Chief Ukandu, Madam Eunice Chikwe, a woman leader in Aba, said the forthcoming elections “will likely reflect the confrontations in 2015.” She however said “politicians and voters in the state seem more prepared this time to guard their votes and ensure that the collective will of Abians is not suppressed at every level.”
It is a known fact today that Abia is another Southeast state that promises to feature intriguing results in the forthcoming elections.