The President of Mben Political Assembly (MPA), Chief Eme Uche Onuh has said that Abia North Senatorial Zone must produce the next governor of Abia State. According to him, this is in line with the Abia Charter of Equity, which the founding fathers of the state at its creation enunciated as an unwritten code to ensure peaceful transition of political power, especially the governorship, to the various blocs that make up the state.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, Chief Onuh called on serving Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe from Abia South, who has indicated interest in the governorship race, to halt such ambition for peace to always hold sway in the state.
What are your expectations of 2023 general elections?
My expectations may not be far from that of other Nigerians who are eager for peaceful and transparent elections; an election where votes count; the people decide their leaders whether at the centre or states. This is another opportunity for the electorate to take their destinies into their hands by voting out their representatives they felt have not performed and bring in new ones. The governorship elections conducted in some states recently give one hope that the electoral empire seems to be improving and we hope that it will do better in 2023, which is the litmus test for the new electoral bills we are expecting to be passed into law. Generally, it’s going to be far better than what we have had in the past in terms of organisation by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The electorate are becoming more sophisticated, more aware and livelier, and voter apathy may likely be very low.
Coming to Abia State, where your group, MPA is insisting on abiding by the Abia Charter of Equity. What is this charter all about?
It is an unwritten gentleman’s agreement made by the founding fathers of old Abia State at its creation on how to share political power, especially the office of the governor among the constituent blocs (the Old Divisions, which the Colonial masters created ) to engender equity, justice, fairness as the panacea towards enthroning an enduring peace in the state. When I said Old Abia, it was before the Afikpo axis which was then part of Abia was carved out to form Ebonyi State. After some parts of the states were ceded to Ebonyi, there was a rearrangement (which was still unwritten) to make it zonal; bearing in mind that our Abia like other states in Nigeria has three zones – Abia North, Abia Central and Abia South. Based on this, the governorship position rotates among these three senatorial zones.
How far has this been observed?
Politically, Abia is the most peaceful state in the federation because the charter has been observed fully and there has not been any attempt to breach or truncate it. It started in 1999 with Abia North when Senator Orji Uzor Kalu was the governor from 1999 to 2007; thereafter, Senator T. A. Orji took the slot of Abia Central from 2007 to 2015. The sitting governor, Okezie Ikpeazu from Abia South started from 2015 and by God’s grace would round off in 2023. You can see, it has been very smooth and no zone has complained of being given the short end of the stick. In fact, people cite Abia as a state where this rotation formula is working perfectly.
There have been complaints in some quarters that the ambition of some people like the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe from the same local government and the zone with the incumbent governor might scuttle the charter…..
Senator Abaribe is a man I hold in high esteem. He is a respected Igbo leader and I see him as an emerging great statesman. The constitution guarantees him the right to contest for the number one position of the state, no doubt about that, just the same way it guarantees every other Abia citizen, except of course, Senators OUK, T.A. Orji and Governor Ikpeazu, when he runs out his tenure next year, because they have exhausted their constitutional requirement. However, the truth of the matter remains that for somebody like Senator Abaribe to nurse such an ambition is at variance with what he stands for and at the same time preaches at the national level. He is one of the vocal voices canvassing for president of Igbo extraction based on the spirit of equity, fairness and justice; he always talks that the presidency should rotate to South-East. How could he be talking of fairness at the centre when at the state, he wants to succeed the governor who is from the same local government with him? Not just the same local government, his house is just about a kilometre away from that of the governor. Is it fair to others? He should not be seen as trying to cause confusion in the state, which he is helping to build. A man of his pedigree who knows the consequences of taking that route is what gives me so much concern. I implore him to bury that ambition; he can return to the senate, where he roars like a lion in defence of Ndigbo. Even though in politics there is no morality, but what he is trying to do, is it fair to other zones? Look at what happened in Ebonyi State, the former governor, Martins Elechi when he was to leave wanted to distort the succession arrangement as we have in Abia, and we all know where it has landed him. When Ebonyi North and Ebonyi Central have taken their turns, Governor Elechi wanted to truncate it, but for resilience and doggedness of the present governor, Dave Umahi from Ebonyi South, he would have had his way. I love Senator Abaribe; I will be the unhappiest person if he should go into political wilderness. We are appealing to him to lend his support to Abia North to continue in that order to ensure peace and development.
If you say it is Abia North that is supposed to produce the governor, is there any provision for micro zoning within the zone?
The first fight is to have it come to Abia North and thereafter we micro zone it. MPA is working assiduously to make sure that it comes to Ohafia clan, which is the Ohafia South. Ohafia is the third biggest town in Abia and it is the capital of Abia North, with a large voting strength. We have supported other clans in one political office or the order.
In 1999, we supported Bende Local Government Area to produce the governor, Senator Orji Uzo Kalu on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). At the same time, we supported Isuikwuato to elect Gen Ike Nwachukwu (retd) as senator representing Abia North, even when our late brother, Chief Ojo Madueke was to go for that office, but the ticket was taken from him at the last hours by the powers that be then, and yet we didn’t bear any grudges and still went ahead to support Senator Nwachukwu. At the same time, we supported Hon. Mao Ohuabunwa from Arochukwu for the House of Representatives. We got nothing; not even the speaker of the state Assembly. OUK was impressed with the votes he got in Ohafia, and he is still getting the same huge support. In 2003, we supported Orji Kalu for his second term. We equally supported the late Dr. Uche Chukwumerije from Umunneochi for Senate. He took over from Nwachuwku. Uche Chukwumerije went for first, second, and third terms in the senate, we still supported him. Ohuabunwa went to House of Representatives two or times before he went to the senate. Right now OUK is in the Senate from 2019. One of us, Hon D. K. Uduma went for the House of Representatives, the Election Tribunal sacked him after two years and replaced him with Hon Arua Arunsi from Nkporo. That was the highest we have got. At the state level, the Abia deputy governor Hon Ude Okor Chukwu from Nkporo was the Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly. The offices have continued to be shared by people from other areas and we have been supporting them hugely. For all these our brothers, Ohafia has been like a vote bank for them. So, this is the time for them to reciprocate and support a person from Ohafia to emerge as the governor.
If it comes to Ohafia, do you have people who can mount the saddle and reposition the state on the path of great development?
Ohafia people are not afraid of anything, except failure. We are an achievement-oriented society. Wherever we go, we always leave indelible marks. Let us look at the antecedents of few Ohafia people. The late Prof Eni Njoku was the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG). He laid the solid foundation for what that great citadel of learning is today. He was also the first Minister of Mines and Power. Remember the late Prof Eme Onuoha Awa, former chairman, National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the integrity he brought to that office. There was also the late Prof Kalu Ezera at University of Ibadan and former legislator. There was Dr Abai Njoku, Nigeria’s first deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, four times minister is still here, and in the ecclesiastical circle, you have Dr Uma Ukpai, and there are still more that space may not permit me to mention.
Like I said, the only thing an Ohafia man is afraid of is failure. If an Ohafia man becomes Abia governor in 2023, the narrative about the state is going to change for good. The community is over-endowed with technocrats, professionals in different callings.