Ikonne: Why Okey Igwe Won’t Ascend As Abia PDP Governorship Candidate

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The death of Prof Uche Ikonne, the governorship candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State, has thrown up  questions regarding who will replace him as candidate.

This follows INEC’s immediate directive to the PDP to conduct another primary election within 14 days, following the passing of Ikonne in the morning of  Wednesday, January 25, 2023, exactly 44 days to the March 11 governorship elections in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states.

Eight off-season states will not join the March 11 governorship elections because previous court-sanctioned disruptions of election results had handed them different political calendars. The off-season election states are Imo and Anambra in the Southeast,  Ekiti, Osun and Ondo in Southwest, and Edo and Bayelsa in South-South.

Apart from Kogi in the North Central, no other  state in the North currently has an off-season electoral calendar for governorship election.

Three off-season elections – one in North Central, one in Southeast and the other in South South –  are already scheduled for 2023. The states are Kogi (North Central), Imo (Southeast) and Bayelsa (South South). They will all take place on November 14, 2023.

Natural permutations within Abia State late Wednesday evening was that Barrister Okey Igwe, Ikonne’s running mate for the 11 March 2023 election, should seamlessly mount the  saddle. But the odds are really against him; and this is why:

Prime Business Africa reports that there is already a legal hurdle making it difficult for the PDP in the state to move Barrister Igwe up the next rung of the ladder. Again, doing so would torpedo the State’s delicate zoning arrangement. This has sealed the fate of the deputy governorship candidate of the PDP, even though the Electoral Act (2022) is silent on automatic succession where a substantive candidate dies before a scheduled election.

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As provided for in Section 34(3)(A&B) of the  Electoral Act 2022, a deputy candidate can automatically ascend the ladder if the substantive candidate died during the voting process or before the announcement of a winner.

Specifically, America-trained Barrister Igwe (49), who is currently a  legislator in the state,  will not  automatically succeed Ikonne as governorship  candidate in the March 11 election.

Section 33(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 stipulates that, where a governorship candidate dies or withdraws before an election, his party must replace him through a fresh primary.

INEC’s Wednesday directive notwithstanding,  the provision of Section 33(1) of the Act compels the Abia State PDP to present a new governorship candidate to INEC on or before 14 days of Ikonne’s death.

This presupposes that the  fresh primary must hold on or before  February 8, 2023 to select and present a new candidate to the electoral body.

Again, from the foregoing, it would appear that the odds are against Barrister Igwe based on the rotation arrangement in the state.  Should Abia State PDP sustain its zoning arrangement, deputy candidate Igwe  is out of an equation that had ceded the governorship slot to Late Ikonne’s Abia Central Senatorial District.

Igwe hails from Abia North.

In the light of the above scenario, Igwe will still stand as deputy, to be paired with a new candidate harvested  from Abia Central Senatorial District.

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How Ikonne Died

Prof Ikonne’s son, Chikezie, had  announced his father’s death on January 25 , followed by Governor Okezie  Ikpeazu’s confirmation of the incident and immediate suspension of all PDP campaign activities in the State.

READ ALSO: Governor Ikpeazu Suspends PDP Campaigns To Mourn Uche Ikonne

Chikezie said his father died by 4.00 a.m. at the National Hospital Abuja.

“He was recovering after taking proper treatment in the United Kingdom but relapsed a few days ago leading to multiple cardiac arrests from which he didn’t recover,” he said.

He promised to release burial details after deliberations by the family.

Late Ikonne, was a  professor of optometry who recently  retired as Vice Chancellor of the Abia State University before joining politics in Abia State.

A Case For Barrister Igwe

Seen as Governor Okezie’s choice,  Ikonne’s candidacy  was met with the stoutest resistance until the governor reportedly pulled through by ‘fiat’.

But there is a strong case for the PDP to simply allow Barrister Igwe step into the gap, considering that the deputy governorship candidate’s  Constituency (Abia North) should  actually be the next in line based on the ‘Equity Charter’ upon  which the state currently ‘shares’ political offices.

Incumbent Governor Ikpeazu, an Ngwa man  from Abia South,  took the reins of power from his predecessor Theodore Orji, from Abia Central. Theodore Orji’s had taken power from Senator Orji Uzor Kalu from Abia North, meaning hat the full cycle of rotation would have been completed after Ikpeazu’s tenure, for power to return to Igwe’s Abia North.

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However, there are talks about the ‘Old Bende domination of Abia politics – the argument that the politics of the old Imo State had seen the Old Bende zone, now comprising the Abia North, occupy the governorship position for longer period and the rest of the zones would need to even out the imbalance.

Ikpeazu’s choice of Ikonne  from Abia Central as PDP candidate was seen by his critics as not only an attempt to return power to ex-Governor Theodore Orji’s Abia Central zone (at the expense of  Abia North).

Head or tail, it is believed that the PDP will struggle to make an impact in the March 11 Abia election  as it is seen as a two-horse race between Alex Oti’s Labour Party (LP) and Enyinnaya Abaribe’s All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA)

Both candidates are from Igwe’s Abia North, the reason PDP might be stuck with Abia Central to possibly lock in  Ngwa votes and still give Otti and Abaribe some meaningful run in the Igwe’s  North and Ikpeazu’s Abia South.

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