Taking a journey into the Abia State governorship election campaigns, Nnanna Eze reckons that the Abia electorate appears wiser now
Aba ma Ndi-Aba is a popular expression among residents of Aba, Abia State commercial nerve centre and those familiar with developments in the city. The expression, which literally means “Aba knows its own people”, comes handy on purpose, often in appreciating virtues and or denouncing perceived vices.
It is a clarion call of sort. In the past, when certain individuals were seen to have acted in situations that were considered noble by residents of the city, they were celebrated and adopted as worthy members of the entity. They needed not be residents of the commercial city. What mattered most was that they were seen to have put up actions that had impacted positively on the people.
It was in this respect that late Igbo icon, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, remained a hero to Aba indigenes even in death. The people, not given to sycophancy or forgetting favours, regularly recall how the Biafran leader literally put his life on the line in defence of his kinsmen. Little wonder that when he died, Aba residents insisted on his lying in state in Aba Township Stadium, where they paid him last respect.
Governor of old Imo State, late Dr. Sam Mbakwe, was equally revered by inhabitants of the commercial city for his glorious role in fighting for the Igbo man before, during and after the civil war. Beside his frontal attack on the Ndiegoro flood menace, which earned him the sobriquet “weeping governor”, his people-oriented governance remains a sacrifice that Aba residents do not forget in a hurry.
Similar appreciation of favour was extended to the Second Republic politician, Adeniran Ogunsanya, chairman of the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), for identifying with the Igbo at their hour of need. At his death, in fact, not only were the markets in the commercial city shut, busses were chartered for traders and workers to go to Lagos to pay him last respect. It is on such occasions that the Aba ma ndi-Aba mantra would be appreciated.
There were also instances where those perceived to have worked against the interest of the city and Igbo land in general, were paid in what was considered their own coin. The expression was in such instances echoed in derision. Yoruba leader and Second Republic presidential candidate of Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Obafemi Awolowo, was for example booed in Aba, during his campaign over what the people considered his unpatriotic role in championing economic blockade of Igbo land during the civil war.
Similarly, Abia State governor, Theodore Orji was pelted with sachet water during Ojukwu’s lying-in-state in Aba Stadium on account of the people’s allegation that his administration had neglected the city in areas of social infrastructure. On the other hand, Rochas Okorocha, Imo State governor, who was there was openly hailed, due largely to his people-oriented engagements before going for elective office. That was the other side of Aba ma ndi-Aba philosophy.
It is on this ground that the twin incidents in the city in the dying days of last month would be appreciated. On one hand, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in the State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, had a taste of the resentment pervading the state, when angry residents in Aba revolted, booed and pelted him as well as his associates with sachet water.
Ikpeazu entered into rough waters with Aba residents at the climax of the annual Half Marathon organised by a local radio station, at Enyimba Stadium in Aba, when some PDP supporters tried to hoist his banner. This vehement opposition by the crowd, it was gathered, stalled the hoisting of Ikpeazu’s banner.
The attack on Ikpeazu was not without cause. As a senior official in Abia State Environmental Sanitation Agency, the performance profile of the agency was rated below average. With major roads and streets in the city virtually taken over by refuse, his aspiration for the governorship is being seen by the people as adding insult to the neglect of the city.
The processes leading to his emergence as PDP candidate has also not been lost on the people. In fact, for the politically active average Aba resident, Ikpeazu is nothing but a stooge being foisted on the state by the departing administration to cover its tracks.
There is also the credibility problem on the government that is seen to be throwing him up. Part of the grouse against it is non-payment of staff salaries. Teachers recently embarked on indefinite strike to force the government to pay backlog of salaries as well as outstanding leave allowances said to be up to seven months
Their counterparts in Abia State Polytechnic are equally gearing up to start their own strike as they are being owed an upward of six to seven months’ salary arrears. Workers in other establishments also owed salaries and allowances are also threatening to join the action.
While the impasse lasts, stakeholders fear that the action would worsen the already deplorable state of education in the state. In fact, a socio-political pressure group in the state, Abia Political Vanguard (APV) has decried the worsening state of workers’ welfare in the state, accusing Governor Theodore Orji-led administration of failing in the discharge of its responsibilities.
The group, in a statement by its President, Comrade Godson Umahi and Secretary, Uche Orjiakor, faulted the trend, stressing that it is detrimental to development in the state. It is the aggregation of these policy failures that are weighing heavily on Ikpeazu.
The PDP candidate has incidentally not demonstrated any capacity to steer the state on the path of development, if elected. The other time, for example, he was quoted to have blamed the poor state of Abia revenue on the oil firms operating in the state not having their headquarters there.
What readily came to the mind of analysts on account of that obvious indiscretion was that he lacked the mental capacity to fix Abia aside the lazy reliance on the monthly revenue allocation from Abuja.
For Aba residents that are used to self-sufficiency and “I can do it” attitude, a man with such dependency culture would be ill-suited to pilot the affairs of the state.
This is in contrast to the rousing reception accorded Dr. Alex Otti, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate, when he visited Ariaria International Market, on Monday, December 22.
Otti had at the occasion, assured his hosts that the days of infrastructure decay and utter neglect of Aba, Abia State commercial nerve centre will soon be over. He also pledged provision of conducive environment for businesses and abolition of multiple taxation which is currently the order of the day.
His heroic reception came on the heels of a recent endorsement of him by a coalition of stakeholders of the Market and Ward 9 Aba North Local Government Area, at his Umuru, Isiala Ngwa South Local Government country home.
The Ariaria Market group, which paid solidarity visit to Otti, stressed that its decision to back him was based on conviction that he would provide good leadership and address development challenges in Abia if elected.
The expectation from the traders on the APGA candidate was based on his antecedents of selfless service to the people. They recalled, for example, that Otti as the Group Managing Director of Diamond Bank, had been involved in the financing of the “141 Megawatts Geometric Power Plant in Aba” in addition to his passionate interest in the development of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that Aba has immensely benefited from.
This is the type of gesture that the Aba residents hardly forget. On occasion as this, they come handy in appreciating and rewarding the person. This is especially as the APGA standard bearer has further assured them of reinventing the city that has suffered neglect in the hands of the current administration.
Ironically, the deluge of endorsements of Otti is not going down well with the PDP in the state. Obviously rattled that it is losing at all fronts, the party has resorted to underhand activities to cow the APGA candidate.
Of late, for instance, there has been the ugly tendency of willful vandalism and in some cases, total destruction of billboards and campaign posters of Otti, by suspected agents and foot soldiers of PDP in the state.
The pattern of the unprincipled action gives vent to the suspicion that the party and agents of the government are behind it. This becomes convincing when even at places where Otti’s billboards share the facilities with those of Ikpeazu, those of the APGA candidate are either vandalised or totally destroyed.
Incidentally, the Abia electorate is wiser. Rather than being disillusioned by the timid antic of PDP, they appear more resolute in rooting for Otti as the man needed to salvage the state.
This is not without reasons. The APGA candidate is a thoroughbred Aba Boy having schooled in Aba, perhaps having his first house in the city and contributing immensely to enhancing his neighbourhood.
Indeed, Aba ma Ndi-Aba and in that spirit has overwhelmingly endorsed support for Onye Aba Dr. Otti.
-Eze, a public affairs commentator, lives in Aba