By CHIKA NWABUEZE
Barring any last minute change in the date, the 7th Abia State House of Assembly will be inaugurated on Tuesday June 11, 2019 according to a statement issued by the Clerk of the House. The inauguration ceremony which was originally slated for June 6 was shifted, while the valedictory session of the 6th Assembly was fixed for Monday, June 3rd 2019. However, it was gathered that the valedictory session may not hold today afterwards and a new date has been taken.
But beyond the change in the date of the inauguration is the fact that the struggle for the leadership of the 7th Assembly appears to have split the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the state in one hand and the Old Bende and Ukwa Ngwa Division on the other hand. The man at the centre of the crisis is Engr. Chinedu Orji, popularly called Ikuku by his army of supporters, is perceived in many circles as the new Abia State House of Assembly Speaker in waiting.
Investigations revealed that Engr. Orji enjoys tremendous support which cuts across all the local government areas of the state to the point that Governor Ikpeazu, is perhaps left with no other option than to allow the lawmakers choose their leaders without interference. However, the incumbent Speaker Rt. Hon. Chikwendu Kalu, who is of the Ngwa origin, is not leaving the seat without a fight. He has tried not only to rally the strong Ukwa Ngwa sentiments, but also to get the commitment of Governor Ikpeazu for him to retain the seat. But all his efforts seem not to be enough to stop Ikuku from emerging speaker.
News Critic gathered from competent sources within the government circle that the incumbent speaker, Rt. Hon. Chikwendu went to see Governor Ikpeazu over the assembly speakership election, but was told that the governor was busy; hence he could not see him. The speaker is said to have been struggling to get the governor’s nod which he is yet to get at the time of this report as Ikpeazu appears not to be interested.
Those who know confided with this newspaper that the Ukwa-Ngwa group has been trying to instigate quarrel between Ikpeazu’s group and Senator T. A. Orji family that brought him to power. It is believed that the emergence of Engr. Orji as speaker will foreclose any such dispute from occuring, hence the speaker is pulling on all levers to ensure that Ikuku is stopped.
Political commentators are of the view that in the event Hon. Orji fails to win the speakership seat it will mark the beginning of the fall of the T. A Orji family, and marginalization in the new government of Ikpeazu. This marginalization according to watchers will see Orji’s men being sidelined in terms of choice political appointments which may culminate in their losing out in the Abia political schemes.
Perhaps, what is not certain is whether Ikpeazu has such interest to claim freedom and run the show the way he wants, or continue to play along until his tenure is over. However, close sources disclosed that the Governor may want to assert his authority in this second term and he is ready to step on toes. For instance, he has dissolved the state executive council and the transition committee chairmen of local government councils barely four months after they were appointed. Other political appointees like the body of special assistants/advisers also stood dissolved.
While serious lobby is ongoing now by the various interest groups and individuals to make the new list of political appointees, T. A Orji’s men are relying on him and of course Ikuku to scale through. It is still left to be seen if the governor will accommodate all their interests like was the case before with the new unity and force the Ukwa-Ngwa stock has established in the Ikpeazu government.
It is instructive to note that Hon. Orji’s speakership of the state assembly is considered to be fait accompli with the overwhelming support his candidature has received. For instance, the 12 newly elected members of the state assembly have endorsed him for the speakership in an assembly of 24 lawmakers. To analysts, this endorsement did not come as a surprise given that most of them that won election in 2019 are well known Ikuku’s boys. Ginger Onwusibe and the Umuahia south representative are among his boys that made it to the state assembly this time. Also, ranking members like Hon. Kelechi Onuzuruike and Chukwudi Apugo will vote for Ikuku no matter the circumstance.
Be that as it may, some have argued that Hon. Orji who is the Majority Leader has been speaker since 2015 that he was elected into the state assembly unofficially. They said no major decision is taken without his input, and often decisions are taken in his house preceding the seating of the lawmakers. His supporters are of the view that his speakership will benefit the Abia House of Assembly and the state in general because he will insist on the payment of workers’ salaries and pensions as when due. ‘’He is an advocate of good governance, and means well for Abia state, said another.
Also supporters of Engr. Orji went further to dispel the insinuation that he might take over the running of the affairs of the state from the governor, as the number three citizens. There have been fears within the governor’s group that allowing Orji to emerge speaker might jeopardize the executive functions as he might take the shine off the executive. They hinged their fears on the fact that as ordinary lawmaker he wields so much influence such that he is considered as one of the most influential men in Abia state today.
The incumbent speaker, Rt. Hon. Chikwendu was reported to have said that Ikuku is belittling himself by aspiring to be the speaker. He said it is a case of a kingmaker trying to coronate himself king. As one of the lawmakers puts it, ‘’Engr. Orji has his eyes on the ball, the speakership is just to shore up his political profile for the bigger responsibility ahead’’. He might be referring to 2023 General Election in which Ikuku is likely to run for the National Assembly slot.
At any rate, some of the strong argument made against the Orji speaker is that since the position was zoned to the Abia Central senatorial district, it should not come from the T. A Orji family since they are occupying the senatorial seat. Again, some argued that the Chairmanship of the PDP is also with them, since Chief Johnson Onuigbo is from the same community with Orji. But the Direct Touch foundation, the people of Umuahia South LGA and Umuahia North Peoples Assembly said they have endorsed Hon. Orji for the speakership. They said in the true spirit of equity and fairness the speakership remains the slot of Umuahia Central.