“Abia people sinned by voting Orji Uzor Kalu“, says Nnanna, 42 an Aba-based taxi-driver as he maneouvres his way through Dan Fodio Street, trying to avoid the pile of dirt strewn across the road, his few grey hairs straightened out as if in apprehension. “So God punished us by giving us Theodore Orji.”

The hard-hitting statement is revealing. Orji Uzor Kalu was governor of Abia State between 1999-2007. Theodore Orji, his successor and estranged political godson, has been in power since then. By virtue of Odogwu’s statement about Theodore Orji, it appears that there is a growing sentiment that the current governor has performed below par and that – at least at the state level – his party should be held responsible.

Current Governor of Abia State, Theodore Orji
Current Governor of Abia State, Theodore Orji

In 2015 with the now postponed general elections seven weeks away, the political tension in this south eastern Nigerian state is palpable. The race to succeed Theodor Orji who must leave office because of term limits is closely contested between Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and his closest challenger, Alex Otti of the All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA). There are a few other lightweight candidates in the race – prominent among them being Chief Nyerere Anyim of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC).

Almost no one is interested in the identities of the candidate’s running mates.  Otti picked a renowned teacher, Dr. Eme Uche Eme who is a woman while Ikpeazu has teamed up with the current speaker of the Abia House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ude Oko Chukwu.

To a large extent traders in this bustling Ariaria market – seem united in their resolve to oust the PDP from power. Otti, the banker-turned-politician, whose name has been on everyone’s lips since his resignation as CEO of Diamond Bank, the fifth largest bank in Nigeria, to enter politics. By contrast, Ikpeazu is an academic who holds a doctorate in Biochemical Toxology. Until his emergence as the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate he was the Deputy General Manager of the Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA).

“Na only APGA and PDP dey hot here”, says Ugochukwu Orji, a keke NAPEP (commercial auto-rickshaw operator) on a ride through the Power Line section of the market. “PPA’s Chikwe Udensi and APC’s Anyim Nyerere stand no chance; just ask all these market people.”

For some traders, blood lines and community relationships weigh heavily on their choices.

In the words of Okechukwu Madu who sells fabrics in the market, “Alex Otti is from Arochukwu side and that makes him my kinsman, so I’m voting for him. PDP has weakened this state.”

From banking chief to gubernatorial aspirant
From banking chief to gubernatorial aspirant

Orji, the keke NAPEP driver, complains about the level of infrastructural decay in the state, adding that residents of the state who thought Orji Kalu was underperforming have experienced an even greater shock under the present governor. “You can’t compare them, it’s an insult to Orji Kalu”.

There is very little goodwill towards the ruling party’s candidate. “Okpeazu might be a good person but he has no mouth. Even if he tries to be a rebel against his godfather but before you know it, his tenure will be over,” says the taxi driver.

For Egemba Ogbonnaya, 49, if the PDP wins, the new government would have the face of Ikpeazu but the voice of his predecessor and that is unacceptable, he says. “I would’ve supported Okezie Ikpeazu but he stands for continuity for T.A. Orji and that is what many of us don’t want. If Orji is here, I will tell him to his face. Otti (APGA) is the person we are voting. Or even Nyerere (APC); anybody but PDP!”

Despite discontent with the state-wide candidates, the PDP’s presidential candidate incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, will likely win a clear majority in the state.

Odogwu, Madu and Orji all voted for President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 and will do so again. The same is true for Kelechi Orjinta, a 20-something-year-old shoemaker who engraves ‘Made in Biafra’ on his products.

“Buhari, Atiku and all of them are the sponsors of Boko Haram”, rants Orjinta as he brushes one of the leather slippers he is polishing. “Buhari has no vision and if he is saying the bombings will stop, he’s right because when bose [pidgin slang for supervillain] talk, everyone must obey. They want to give Goodluck a bad name so they can hang him. If you check history, you’ll see that the man ‘no get better mind’. He is a greedy man and if he enters, Nigerians will cry. He could even Islamize this country”.

Ogbonnaya rationalizes his preferred vote for the office of the nation’s number one citizen. “As for presidency, I will vote Jonathan. He has failed us but I will still vote him. Both APGA and PDP are one so we will vote Jonathan because APGA is endorsing him for president.”

The Independent National Electoral Commission’s reasons for postponing the election are well-documented. For residents of Abia State who have not received a Permanent Voters Card (PVC), there are fears of disenfranchisement. Others like teenage Alex Iheanacho who is an apprentice to Ogbonnaya, say they are not bothered about voting. “Government has never helped me before in school and in this market” he says. They are however greatly outnumbered by the vast majority of traders who will exercise their democratic rights.

There is still quite a bit of time before the final votes for President and Governor are cast, but recent polling by NOI Polls suggests that Dr. Alexander Otti and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan will likely carry Abia. It seems the market agrees.

By Eromo Egbejule

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