Abia: The Beginning Of Liberation Politics?

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Orji’s defection to APGA was given the garb of immediacy and rapidity by the overtly perceived antagonism of the Esin–led national leadership of PPA, and, remotely, by irreconcilable differences between the governor and his predecessor cum political godfather, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.

Not a few Abia State indigenes were  jolted by the decision of the state Governor, Chief Theodore Ahamefula Orji, to quit the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA).  Orji took the million dollar “liberation” decision on June 28, 2010 via a letter titled “Withdrawal of My Membership from PPA” to his former Urban Ward 1 Chairman. The letter was copied to the appropriate authorities, including national chairman of PPA, Chief Larry Esin.

Barely 24 hours after dumping PPA, Orji pitched his tent with All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA). Orji’s defection to APGA was given the garb of immediacy and rapidity by the overtly perceived antagonism of the Esin–led PPA national leadership of PPA, and, remotely, by irreconcilable differences between the governor and his predecessor cum political godfather, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.

Special Assistant to the Governor on Print Media, Chief Joshua Nnayere-Ogbonna, said Orji would not have stormed out of PPA but for the brazen display of hatred by the party’s National Working Committee (NWC). “The governor would not have left PPA if Larry Esin (PPA National Chairman) did not do what he did some days ago,” said Nnayere-Ogbonna,

The NWC had summoned Orji to the PPA National headquarters, Abuja, on June 24, 2010 to answer charges of non-performance. The governor shunned the belligerent invitation but wrote that he be given two weeks to appear before the party leadership.

The Abia governor was summoned along side the Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK) and Senator Uche Chukwumerije. But supporters of the governor say the other two invitations were just to fulfill all righteousness as the governor was the main target of the summons.

Peeved by the governor’s effrontery in shunning the summons, the PPA national leadership read its riot act to the governor, giving him August deadline to “respond” to issues they raised. The party’s stand on the Abia governor was read by the PPA national chairman. Among other things, they charged Orji to clear salary arrears owed civil servants in the State, complete all on going roads rehabilitation in Abia; pay the Deputy Governor, Comrade Chris Akomas, all his outstanding entitlements and make up with OUK.

This move was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Orji said the party passed judgment without hearing his own side and believed that his interest would no longer be protected in PPA. So, he took the quit option, in contrast to his earlier vow that no one can push him away from PPA.  

At a meeting with PPA faithful on April 7, 2010 at the 66 Aba Road secretariat of the party  in Umuahia, Orji said that apart from the Kalu family, he was the next biggest financier of the party, adding that having contributed immensely to the formation and funding of PPA, anyone believing that he will leave the party was but a wishful thinker. That grand standing has obviously been discarded. 

Explaining his decision to leave PPA, Orji told the people of Umuawa, an Ohuhu Community, who came on a solidarity visit, penultimate Thursday that he had to leave  PPA to liberate Abia.

“The PPA was no longer ready to protect me, rather they are ready to push me to the world and portray me as useless and that the party is not responsible for my uselessness. What I have done is to save my face. That’s the only alternative. I have to prove to the world that I am myself. So I’ve removed myself from the clutches of the PPA. By so doing, I’ve also removed all the people of Abia state from the clutches of PPA. It is not an easy decision to take, but I had to take it because of our children and because of tomorrow,”  he said amidst applause from the people. 

Garry Allen, an American Journalist and his colleague, who authored “None Dare Call It Conspiracy,” an expose on the plot of influential politicians and business moguls to control world affairs through floating the United Nations, remarked that in politics, nothing happens by accident. He contended that anything that happens is designed to happen the way it happened.

The decision by Governor Orji to Quit PPA did not take close watchers of Abia politics by surprise. Many believed it was bound to happen and has actually been long in coming. The opposition PDP had alleged at the inception of Orji’s administration that he would not last more than six months in office. They had posited that the PPA founder and financier, OUK, had a sinister grand plot to elevate his younger sibling, Mr. Mascot Uzor Kalu, who until June 30, was the Chief of Staff, to the position of Governor.

According to PDP, Kalu was planning to impeach Orji and replace him with his deputy, Akomas, who, after sometime, would equally be impeached. They alleged that this would pave the way to install Mascot as the “de facto governor,” to enable the Kalu political dynasty maintain its strangle hold on Abia politics.

May be the PDP even helped to keep Orji in the saddle this long because of its predictions on the future of PPA and impending implosion in the party, its unrelenting, ferocious legal challenge of the PPA victory of the governorship polls in 2007. The legal battles have gone full – cycle and is now at what seems to be its final bus stop: the Owerri Division of the Court Appeal, for a retrial.

Both Orji and his estranged godfather, Kalu, have been faithful to the golden rule of Nigerian politics: denying the obvious in public. Both have persistently, consistently and fervently maintained that there was no schism between them. Orji has consistently maintained that he was in charge, that neither Kalu nor his mother, Eunice, was calling the shot. The governor’s aides have since ensured that the refrain did not die, telling those that cares to listen that TA or Ochendo, as the governor is popularly called, was in charge.  

Truth be told, Kalu has physically maintained his distance from the Abia seat of power since he left office in May 2007. He only made a dramatic pubic appearance at the Umuahia Township Stadium during the 2008 Democracy Day celebration where he declared that he does not in any way interfere in Orji’s administration.

 But the way the former governor surrounded Orji with aides not just loyal to him (OUK) but who were serving until his exit from power led many to suspect ulterior motive on the part of the ex-governor. Upon leaving office, OUK ensured that the governor inherited his domestic staff in Government House, security personnel, ADC, Driver etc. This made observers to raise eye brows. Observers saw it as a strategy to keep a close tab on Orji and to ensure regular information flow on the governor’s activities.  

When it was time for appointments into the state executive council, sources at Government House disclosed that all members of the cabinet were chosen by Kalu and his mother. Orji lent credence to this rumour when he declared during the inauguration of his first cabinet that he did not know many of the commissioners and was meeting them for the very first time but expressed hope that those who nominated them were confident that they could deliver. 

When Orji dissolved that cabinet and sought to bring in some of his own men into the second cabinet, he was said to have met a brick wall. Sources alleged that he was only given very few slots which he rejected. 

It was gathered that when Orji could not have his way, he left for the United States of America “to cool off.” This, according to sources, contributed to the delay in constituting the second cabinet of the administration inaugurated on July 10, 2009. That cabinet which lasted less than a year was dissolved on Monday, June 28, 2010, in the wake of the present rift between the governor and PPA. 

Furthermore, it was gathered that the immediate past council administrators, from chairmen to councilors, all were alleged to be candidates of the Kalus. An observer said this accounted for why neither the governor nor the House of the Assembly mustered the political will to sanction the local government  chairmen over their inability to pay workers salaries, some of them, for as long as one year! 

Board appointments, according to our sources, were not different as the Kalus ensured that only their candidates got the jobs. Given this scenario, many had queried why Orji, an executive governor, could not assert his influence and authority in running the state. Many others said that OUK just gave Orji the yam and held onto the knife.

 Most of the governor’s kinsmen have been so much piqued that they openly called on the governor to break away from the Kalu family and assert his authority. One of such people is Prince Benjamin B. Apugo. The influential PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) member has always admitted working for the emergence of Orji as governor. Little wonder when he paid Orji a courtesy visit shortly after his assumption of office, Apugo warned Orji “to distance himself from OUK if he desires to serve Abia people well.

In response, Orji, at that meeting, threatened to resign if he came under intense pressure. The strong man of Abia politics, Apugo, kept lambasting Orji for non – performance, but by late last year, he changed tone and urged Abians to pressurize Orji to free himself from the bondage of the Kalus and use Abia allocation to develop the state. He alleged that PPA was determining what Abia resources should be used for instead of the governor and laid the blame of the governor’s low performance on the door steps of PPA.

“If Abia’s allocations get to Abia State, T.A will use it to work. I am calling on Abians to put pressure on Governor T.A.Orji to perform in the remaining one and half years of his tenure.  If T.A.Orji leaves office without doing anything concrete, the people that will challenge him will say the Ibeku-born T.A.Orji and it will affect me. That is why I am shouting that he should forget about reporting to anybody and use the allocations of the state to develop Abia,” Apugo told newsmen at his Nkata-Ibeku country home.

“The Governor should pick up courage and do things for the interest of Abia people. Heaven would not get loose. He should come closer to the people that voted him in. He should not turn his back on the people because of PPA,” he added. 

In the midst of the whole milieu, Orji kept his cool, assuring Abians that he was fully in charge. However, signs of cracks between PPA and Orji began to emerge by middle of last year.  The Ibeku people had gone to the Camp Neya, Igbere, country home of OUK to thank him for making their son governor. They equally used the opportunity to ask that Orji be allowed to do a second term. They had expected an unfettered approval by the PPA BOT chairman. But OUK spoke tongue in cheek.

He told them that the performance of the governor would determine whether he would return to Government House or not, meaning that he could not guarantee automatic ticket for Orji. OUK added that it was the responsibility of the party to pick its candidate at the appropriate time, through primaries. The Ibeku people read in between the lines and were not amused. After that visit, things were never the same again. The battle line was drawn.  When Elder Kalu Eke held sway as Abia PPA chairman, everything was smooth sailing. It was gathered that the PPA NWC pressurized Eke to step aside on account of his alleged closeness to Orji. In came Ezeogo Emeka Onouha. No sooner had he settled down as the new chairman of Abia PPA than he bared his fangs. He quickly banned all Pro–Ochendo groups, which, at the material time, was multiplying by the day. It was said that Chinedu, the governor’s son, is the promoter of the pro– Ochendo groups, dominated by Ibeku people, the governor’s kinsmen. Those close to the groups say they are to serve as the war chest for his father’s re-election.

A PPA source hinted that ‘the groups were not banned for any reasons of hatred for or resistance to Orji’s re-election bid, but because the governor allegedly failed to implement an agreement to revive the structures which were used for his election in 2007.  Rather than do so, the governor’s camp was said to have created the pro-Ochendo groups, dumping those who worked for his election. This did not go down well with members of the party who are not of the Ibeku stock.

When the ban order was issued, the governor was said to have ordered the groups to obey it and suspend their activities. But it was too late for the foot soldiers of both camps (the Orji and the OUK camps) to hold back their bottled-up anger.

A war of attrition ensued. While the OUK foot soldiers, through several advertorials, accused Orji of biting the finger that fed him, the Orji group charged back that it was Orji Uzor Kalu that should be grateful to incumbent governor for being faithful to him in the eight years he served as governor, adding that if the governor squeals, OUK will be in goal over the charges of money laundering pending in court against him. 

The tirades were so hot to the extent that the governor’s foot soldiers urged him to be brave enough to break free from his mentor and assert himself. However, both Orji and Kalu continued to paper the cracks of a sagging relationship.   Matters came to a head this year when Orji was said to have discovered a grand plot by the PPA to supplant him with his Deputy who it was alleged was being considered as candidate by the party for the 2011 governorship poll.

The schism between Orji and his party deepened when the Deputy Chief of Staff, and the governor’s kinsman and arch supporter, Chief Charles Ogbonnaya, was arrested and interrogated at the state CID Umuahia for allegedly plotting to kill the Deputy Governor because he wanted to contest for governorship

 ”The truth is that I was detained for five hours at the SCID by a team of Police officers from the IG’s office. The Security officer to the Deputy Governor alleged that I and others were planning to eliminate the Deputy Governor. The security officers alleged that I went to Nenu with a squad to kill the Deputy Governor but when I did not succeed I came back to Umuahia to reduce his (Deputy Governor’s) security personnel.”

“The Police said that I wanted kill the Deputy Governor because he wants to contest  the governorship election and I told them that that was not to my knowledge and if he (Deputy Governor) had asked me I will tell him that he was not qualified, not academically, but by the Abia Zoning arrangement.”

While the frosty relations between the governor and his Deputy lasted (and may actually be going beyond redemption), Orji declared to the media that he has cordial relations with his deputy, even as a source in the deputy governor’s office hinted that the governor was starving that office of funds.

As both the governor and his deputy drifted, Kalu was said to have intervened and invited the duo to Igbere. After listening to them, Kalu was said to have apportioned greater blame to the governor and asked him to take urgent steps to repair the damage already done and arrest further decline. 

On the heels of the Igbere meeting came the PPA summon to the governor to appear before the NWC to defend his non – performance. When the governor failed to honour the invitation, OUK flashed the red card when he was quoted in the media as saying that Orji was free to join any party of his choice.  This was quickly followed by the party’s riot act to the governor in which he was given August Deadline.

Though the party did not give hint of any sanction that awaited Orji, for the governor, publicising his summon by the party was enough insult and embarrassment; issuing him with ultimatum when he has not been heard amounted to adding salt to injury. He could not take more of these. He mustered the courage, damned the consequences and bolted away to APGA. 

Ugochukwu Emezue said the decision by the governor was in response to the clarion call on him to leave PPA for a more friendly political party by the people of Abia State. Chief ACB Agbazuere also hailed the governor’s move as “liberations for Abians.”

 Ohuhu People’s Congress (OPC) holds same view. its Chairman, Uzor Umunna, said in a statement that “ it is a right step in the right direction geared towards librating Abians from mamacracy and papacracy. By this move, Chief Orji has proved to Abians that he is a man of honour and principles.”

The development has brought about political re – engineering in Abia. And the colour and clout of Abia politics is changing.