With the recent Supreme Court ruling on Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the 2015 Governorship Election in Abia State, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, reports on PDP’s role in the whole saga and the way forward for Uche Ogah and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu
ASIDE the leadership crisis at its national level, the in-fighting in Abia State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since May 2015, which crystalized in the prolonged legal battles over the right governorship candidate, can be traced back to the intrigues before and after its December 8, 2014 governorship primary election.
Although Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu won the primary election, polling, 489 votes, followed by Uche Ogah, who got 103 votes, Emeka Wogu, a former Labour Minister who got 33 votes and Marc Wabara, who got three votes, insiders told The Nation, that the state chapter of PDP has ever since suffered greatly because the processes leading to the outcome of the primary election was widely rejected by many of the aspirants and their supporters.
PDP role in the saga
Our investigation confirms that it was the ‘seed sown at this period’ that was responsible for the in-fighting and the legal battles that have threatened the PDP-led government of Abia State since 2015 when Governor Okezie Ikpeazu took over the reins of power in the state. A source close to the PDP-led government of Abia State when the primary election was held, alleged that the then state government did very little to resolve the differences after the primary, a development he said that ‘only widened the gulf.’
The matter degenerated when the runner-up, Ogah, took the case to the Federal High Court, Abuja, accusing Ikpeazu of committing some tax offences and therefore challenging his eligibility to contest the 2015 governorship election as the flag bearer of the PDP. On June 27, 2016, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, found Ikpeazu guilty of tax offences and therefore sacked him from the office as governor of Abia State.
Following the judgment and order for immediate inauguration of Ogah as Abia State Governor, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), issued the Certificate of Return to him.
Not satisfied with the ruling, Ikpeazu had gone to the Court of Appeal which in August, 2016, affirmed his election and quashed the judgment of Justice Abang.
As would be expected, Ogah approached the Supreme Court, praying the apex court to uphold the ruling of the High Court.
Since then, observers held their breath even as the state government alleged that the prolonged legal battle affected governance. A PDP source also confided that for as long as the case lasted, most PDP grassroots leaders and members in the state were confused and unable to decide which of the group to support openly. “The state PDP suffered greatly all this while because both members and grassroots leaders did not know which of the groups to support openly. It affected the party greatly even as it helped the opposition to find its feet in the state,” the source said.
But even with the May 2017 Supreme Court ruling on the case between Governor Ikpeazu and Uche Ogah, which retained the governor as the PDP candidate and winner of the election, The Nation learnt that the party in the state is yet to resolve the seed of internal distrust that germinated before and after the 2015 primaries.
The way forward
Although Uche Ogah, the aspirant that took the matter to the Supreme Court, had since accepted the ruling and congratulated Governor Ikpeazu, The Nation learnt that the party is yet to reconcile its warring members.
Ogah had, in a carefully worded acceptance and congratulatory message, released through his Chief Press Secretary said: “the Supreme Court unequivocally reaffirmed your nomination and election as the authentic governor of our beloved state, Abia.
“I have always been a law abiding citizen and will continue to be. My challenge of your nomination was borne out of a genuine desire for clarity and to see that things are put in its right perspective and today our apex court, the final arbiter have spoken.
“As the legal battle comes to an end with the Supreme Court declaration, I’m exceedingly happy today that in the course of this struggle, I never resorted to self-help nor encouraged my supporters to indulge in any form of violence.
“My interest in politics is not for fame or personal aggrandisement but to impart positively on the lives of the common man and to make our dear state, Abia, the envy of other states.
“My dear brother, it is worthy of note that my desire to see our home state in the right footing, developmentally and economically is not in doubt and a course I can put everything within my reach to see to fruition.
“Finally, from the depth of my heart, I wholeheartedly congratulate you and pray the Almighty God to guide you right in the enormous task of building a new Abia State where peace and tranquility reigns.”
Ikpeazu had also, in his post-victory message, called on Abians to join hands with him to ensure the accelerated growth and development of the state.”
These statements, though carefully chosen, confirmed fears that except the ruling PDP succeeds in rebuilding confidence amongst its members in the state, through genuine reconciliation, the party may continue to lose members to the opposition parties.
Commenting on the way forward from the point of view of Governor Okezie-led State Government, Comrade Bonnie Iwuoha, the Commissioner for Information, told The Nation in his office in Umuahia few days to the Democracy Day that the state government is open to genuine reconciliation. As he puts it, “The way forward is to unite the people of Abia State. The governor has appealed to those who contested with him, even now, as we plan for the Democracy Day, we are extending invitation to all to come and celebrate Abia. The doors are wide open. I was told that Dr. Onuoha Bourdex, who contested the Abia North Senatorial Election on the ticket of APGA, came on his own to congratulate the governor. The truth is that the interest of Abia should be the overriding factor.”
What next for Ogah?
Although his close associates said Ogah, the President of Master Energy Group, has since the Supreme Court’s ruling devoted most of his time to the day to day running of his conglomerate which has over 15 subsidiaries even as he is now sighted more often at the multi-faceted factory he built in his Uturu home, his political future has become a source of concern both for the ruling PDP in the state and the opposition political parties who are courting him.
There are feelers that Ogah may soon dump PDP for one of the opposition political parties in the state. According Chief Samson Ogbonna, a retired school principal and community elder in Abia North, “there is every sign that Ogah will no longer remain in PDP. If that happens, we cannot blame the young man. We all know that he was not treated fairly in PDP, in spite of the prominent role he played as a major financier of the party in the state. He was also a major contributor to the Abia State Government’s Youth Empowerment Programme in the government of Senator T. A. Orji, yet when this family disagreement started, many of us felt he was not fairly treated. PDP in the state and by extension, the state government then is like a father whose children had some disagreements. The right thing to do would be to resolve it fairly. So, except such genuine peace process is initiated and effectively carried out, no one would be surprised if Ogah leaves PDP and joins any of the other parties,” he said.
Already, there are signs that Ogah may consider joining the All Progressives Congress (APC). Besides the fact that most of the leaders and members of his political structure, ‘Abia Rejoice’ have already joined APC, The Nation gathered that the party had send powerful delegations to woo Ogah, even as they reason that his membership will further boost the party in the state. Chief K. C. Ugbajah, the former Commissioner for Works and former Executive Chairman of Ikwuano Local Government Area, who was a member of the APC Contact and Mobilisation Committee that visited and wooed Ogah, told The Nation that the party believes Ogah will move over to APC to help propagate the message of change in the state.
The Director-General of Buhari South-East Youth Movement (BUSEYM), Engr. Nwabueze Onwuneme, who also confirmed the APC moves to woo Ogah in the state, told The Nation that his group are waiting for Ogah to join APC in order to join hands with them to promote President Muhammadu Buhari’s developmental programmes in the South-East. “I can confirm to you that efforts are being made to ensure that Ogah takes the right step, which is to join APC and support President Buhari’s efforts,” he said.
As the preparations for the 2019 General Elections gathers steam, Abia stakeholders are anxious to see how PDP will handle the Okezie Ogah saga even as the opposition parties woo estranged PDP members and other top politicians in the state.
Others are former Speaker, House of Assembly and the PDP’s deputy governorship candidate in the 2014 election, Hon. Adejare Bello, from Ede in the Western senatorial district as well as former chairman of Ife East Local Government, Chief Gbenga Owolabi.