BY ANAYO OKOLI
THE 2011 general elections have come and gone and the usual electoral battle has shifted to the tribunals. In Abia State where the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won all the seats contested, viz; governorship, three senatorial seats, eight House of Representative seats and 24 House of Assembly seats. To the party and its supporters in the state, the performance is a feat but it is important to look at the odds that worked in favour of the party to sweep the polls.
Before the elections, the party was not in complete unity as there was the group loyal to incumbent Governor Theodore Orji and those loyal to Chief Ikechi Emenike, who emerged governorship candidate of the party in parallel primary election held by his faction.
The two primaries were conducted the same day at different venues in Umuahia, the state capital. While Senator Emma Nwaka is leading the governor’s camp, Chief Ben Etie leads the Emenike camp. Though there was parallel primary election, Chief Theodore Orji was recognised by the PDP headquarters and the flag of the party was issued to him for the election.
At this junction, it may be necessary to recall why the party got divided into two. Governor Theodore Orji was until he joined PDP, a member of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), having left his former party, Progressive Peoples Party, PPA, following a quarrel between him and his former political mentor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu on one hand and the party on the other hand.
Shortly after joining APGA, the PDP leadership, led then by Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, stormed Umuahia to woo Orji to join the party. Information touted around then was that the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan needed him in the party to boost his chances of securing the party’s presidential ticket. The deal was sealed and Orji joined the PDP.
Before then, the party was his greatest opposition as the governor. However, the move through the help of the presidency made all the former foes to come together. Thus, all the aggrieved members came together under one umbrella.
But trouble began when the existing executive committee of the party led by Chief Ndidi Okereke was dissolved by the party’s national leadership. In its stead appointed a caretaker committee led by Nwaka. This was not palatable to some stakeholders in the party; notable among them were Chief Ikechi Emenike and Chief Reagan Ufomba. While Ufomba left in annoyance and joined APGA, Emenike remained in the party and contended against the dissolution of the former executive committee, saying that it was illegal to dissolve it. So this threw up two factions, hence the parallel primary election. To justify its action, the party held a congress in Umuahia to ratify the Senator Nwaka led executive committee.
After the primary election conducted by the Orji camp was recognised by the national leadership of the party, Emenike and his group, who were not satisfied by the action of the party headed to the court to challenge the decision. They claimed that the dissolution was illegal as the tenure of the committee had not elapsed then. Though the court ruled in favour of the Orji group which made it possible for him to fly the flag as the governorship candidate on the election day, Emenike’s camp appealed the decision of the court which is pending.
Though there was disagreement, the national leadership and the Nwaka-led committee were behaving as if nothing was at stake. They never made any serious move to reconcile the two factions, though Governor Orji was said to have made effort, which the other faction believed was not enough. As the elections were approaching, both camps were busy campaigning.
While Orji was leading his campaign train urging the people to vote for him, Emenike was also leading his train urging the people to vote for PDP, no matter who held the flag at the moment. He was said to have held a total of 552 meetings with his supporters in 184 wards of the state, including women supporters called Emenike Ladies and Emenike Maidens. Sources close to him said that he spent millions of Naira to host these meetings, as he was said to be providing each ward N100, 000 for running the ward offices.
On his part, Governor Orji, with all the paraphernalia of incumbency, no doubt made great impact, moving from community to community, soliciting for votes. He was frank to the people that he had not done much as he would have wanted to do and he blamed this on his former political mentor and former governor of the state, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, who he alleged held him in bondage, allegedly not allowing him to use the state funds to develop the state. Having liberated himself and by extension the people of Abia State, he claimed, he would fasten the development of the state and move the state to the level it ought to be. Perhaps, the people bought this message and it helped him and the party.
Despite the aggressive campaigns mounted by both Orji and Emenike, one of the greatest factors that worked for the PDP was last- minute truce between Orji and Emenike, which was brokered by Bishop Sunday Onuoha, who is a PDP chieftain and mutual friend of the two. In the meeting held few days to the elections, when the Governor paid condolence visit to Emenike over the death of his father, it was agreed that they should all work together to ensure that PDP won in spite of court matter over the candidacy tussle. So for them, it is the party’s victory first before other things.
With this truce, all the camps willingly came together, worked and ensured that PDP emerged victorious. Now PDP is the winner with Governor Orji as the winner as declared by INEC. However, if the tide changes in court and Emenike takes charge, it is still PDP. For the state, head or tail, PDP is the beneficiary unless the opposition succeeds at the tribunal to overturn the PDP victory.