The race for Abia South senatorial seat promises to be fierce and one of the most closely watched in the February 25, 2023 parliamentary elections, as the poll has set the state governor against the present occupant of the seat.
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe is the Abia South senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the current occupant of the seat.
His rival, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, the PDP flag bearer, is banking on incumbency to unseat the four-term federal lawmaker.
Even at this stage in the campaigns, the outcome of the poll is anybody’s guess but observers agree that the election will be close.
Abaribe is no stranger to the Ninth Senate. Before quitting PDP, the party he was elected on as a senator, he served as the Senate Minority Leader.
As the voice of the opposition in the parliament, he was critical of the APC-led federal government, and once called on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign over rising insecurity under the president’s watch.
Abaribe’s critical stance during debates on national issues in the Red Chamber endeared him to his constituents, PDP’s state and national leadership, and his kinsmen in the entire South East.
The romance grew stronger when he repeatedly called for the release of — and stood as surety for — Nnamdi Kanu, the detained IPOB leader.
Governor Ikpeazu flew from Abia to attend the launch of Abaribe’s autobiography “Made in Aba” in Abuja, where he commended the senator for the quality representation he had provided not only the people of Abia South but also the entire South East.
However, Abaribe soon fell out with his then party and his friend, Governor Ikpeazu when he failed to pick the Abia governorship ticket of the PDP.
The state’s PDP governorship primary caused a serious rift among the political heavyweights, following allegations of imposition of an anointed person.
The May 25, 2022 primary, which produced Uche Ikonne as the party’s governorship candidate, has been criticised by Abaribe and other aspirants who withdrew from the race, for being a “sham” poll.
They alleged “the use of only imaginary three-man ad hoc delegates to the exclusion of the party’s statutory delegates.”
He later dumped PDP for APGA, citing “the shameful display of illegality, impunity and undemocratic decision of the party and after due consultations with my constituents”.
But with APGA already saturated with heavyweight governorship aspirants before his arrival, it became clear to Abaribe that he could no longer pursue his governorship dream in his new party hence his decision to go for senatorial ticket.
Governor Ikpeazu, who is completing his final term in office in 2023, said he is running for the Senate seat to bring his Abia South closer to the federal government.
“As governor, I have not done everything and have not satisfied every interest. I want your support to go to the Senate to represent you. I will attract attention to my people and state government when I get to Senate.
“Part of what I suffered as governor is that I don’t have people helping to attract the attention of the federal government to the state,” he had said in Umuahia.
Governor Ikpeazu has made his way into the heart of his Ngwa brothers and sisters through political appointments given to them over the years, and training of youths in shoemaking, which his supporters believed as largely successful.
The governor is also banking on his achievements as the state chief executive to woo Abia South voters. He situated 70 per cent of his infrastructural projects in his senatorial district.
His wife’s pet projects as the first lady were also cited in the same senatorial zone, some of which include building houses for the less-privileged and paying hospital bills for poor women and children.
Also, Abia is largely a PDP state. Aside from being the ruling party in the state, it won two of the three senatorial zones in the 2019 election.
In addition to deploying his incumbency power for the senatorial race, some observers said PDP’s popularity in the state would also work in the governor’s favour.
On the other hand, Abaribe is racing to retain his senatorial seat, hoping that his popularity and experience in legislative affairs would boost his chances at the poll.
The role he played in the struggle for the release of banned IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is still fresh in the minds of many Igbo youths, including his constituents, who saw his action as unprecedented.
He’s also vocal on the floor of the Senate speaking against the perceived injustice and marginalisation of the Igbo, creating fear in some quarters that his (Abaribe’s) absence in the National Assembly may rob Abia South constituents of the quality representation they deserve.
However, his defection to APGA, a party facing twin problems of popularity and leadership crisis in Abia, is threatening his re-election bid.
Abia State chapter of APGA has been embroiled in a leadership crisis, which has cost it key members, many of whom had already pitched their tents with the Labour Party.
LP’s governorship candidate in Abia is one of the aggrieved APGA members who left the party because they were dissatisfied with the court decisions.
The Peter Obi bandwagon is gaining momentum in Abia, overshadowing whatever is left of APGA’s popularity in the state.
Pundits argued that the 2023 parliamentary election in the state is between PDP and Labour Party.
The contest would serve as a litmus test for the lawmaker to prove his political might in the senatorial district, where the governor is said to have a strong base and enjoys followership.
A PDP chieftain in Abia, Dr Sampson Orji, urged Governor Ikpeazu to step down for Abaribe because he (Ikpeazu) cannot defeat the senator.
Orji, a governorship aspirant in the May 25 primary of PDP, is currently in court with the PDP and Prof. Uche Ikonne.
He said if allowed to choose between Governor Ikpeazu and Senator Abaribe, he would “vote for Abaribe against Ikpeazu” as “it is like asking one to choose between “experience and lack of experience.”
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said the group has thrown its weight behind Ikpeazu because “he has not only demonstrated courage and strength to fight for Ndigbo, he has also shown interest in fighting for the end of the marginalisation of the South East and unification of Igbo-speaking people of Niger Delta.”
Its statement reads: “Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, after an assessment expedition in Abia South Senatorial Zone, called on Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe to quietly quit the stage because he failed to meet the expectations of the people of the zone.
“With the least bills sponsored and least projects attracted on Abaribe’s name, among the other 15 senators from the South East, there is evidence of failure in his representation and Ndigbo needs a younger but experienced personality with persuasive and diplomatic aura to win more friendly and helpful projects.”
According to the group, Ndigbo deserves fresh voices on the Senate floor in 2023, as the era of playing to the gallery is over.
“Ndigbo recommends that Abaribe should quit the Senate in 2023 for federal government appointment in future and relinquish the Senate seat for Abia South to Ikpeazu, who has demonstrated courage and strength to fight for Ndigbo, shown interest in ending the marginalisation of the South East and unification of Igbo-speaking people of Niger Delta with their kith and kin in the region.
“Abaribe has done his best in the last 16 years (by 2023) in the Senate. It is not his birthright or his ancestral right, but he’s expected to serve in another capacity, not in the Senate, in 2023.
“His people complain about the absence of constituency projects and lack of accessibility for the last 16 years,” it stated.
By Abdullateef Salau (Abuja) & Linus Effiong (Umuahia)