Until recently, there has been little or no hostility between the ruling People Democratic Party (PDP) and the major opposition party, All Progressive Congress (APC) in Abia State.
If anything, the opposition appeared to have gone under after the 2019 governorship election. The PDP had defeated the APC and APGA during the election.
However some form of rivalry resurfaced in March this year following the battle for the Aba Federal Constituency. The seat became vacant following the death of the former occupant, Hon Ossy Prestige of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared PDP winner of the contest, while the main opposition party in that contest, the APC, returned home with its tail in between its legs.
Much like most states across the country, the opposition parties in Abia have barely played their role of holding the ruling party to account over the running of state. This perhaps is because the leaders of the opposition parties are usually in Abuja or Lagos and only have to relocate for longer periods in the build up to elections.
However, it would seem like the opposition is beginning to find it’s voice with the delay by the Abia State governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu to constitute an executive council six months after he dissolved it.
A chieftain of the opposition party, Benedict Godson, accused Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of running the state like a hamlet.
Godson’s grouse with Ikpeazu is that since he dissolved the executive council which was inaugurated in November 2019 on January 23, 2021 he had in his words been running the state as if it was a personal enterprise.
“This Press Statement is meant to ask the Gov Ikpeazu to tell Abians what kind of shadow Commissioners he’s using in Abia. It is also meant to remind him that Abia is not a hamlet he can administer as he feels.”
Questioning why Ikpeazu is finding it difficult to replace them after this while, Godson added, “Is there something happening behind that Abians need to know? Gov Ikpeazu please tell us.”
“Yes, as a governor he has the right to remove any of his employees, but courtesy demands that he administer Abia as a state not a social club where he owes nobody any explanations.”
On his part, another member of the APC and the chairman of the Petroleum Products Pricy Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Deacon Obinna Atuonwu described the development as unfortunate in all ramifications. “Certainly, there is more than meets the eyes.’
Describing it as a glaring evidence of a leadership that lacked focus, he argued that it would have been understandable if it was a new administration that is trying to be careful with the choice of nominees to avoid making costly mistakes.
Atuonwu further said the situation has lasted this long because the administration is operating in an almost docile and insensitive society which has been so impoverished that it has lost its strength and voice against oppression.
Similarly, media aide to Alex Otti, a two-time governorship candidate in the state, Ferdinand Ekeoma, said he agrees with Godson that the state has no executive council.
Ekeoma maintained that: “Since the dissolution of the previous state exco, new one has not been reconstituted, and the government hasn’t told us the reason for that,” he argued.
He said one of the consequences of the situation is that those ministries without commissioners have been allowed to suffer due to the unnecessary vacuum created by the non reconstitution of a new council.
According to him, the burden of governance is massive in our type of democracy, hence a governor requires collectivism from different directions to achieve the desired result.
“But when the governor decides to go solo, he consciously or unconsciously slows down the momentum in governance, derails himself and retards development,” he said.
But according to the senior special assistant on Media to the governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Umere, the situation has not by any means breached the constitution of the country. He insisted that it is not a hidden fact that there are still some commissioners around performing their duties.
Umere said the most important thing to the people is that the administration is going ahead delivering on its programmes and policies to their admiration, adding that those making the allegations were exhibiting their ignorance of the workings of government.
“The administration has not stopped paying salaries and discharging other obligations. It is going ahead engaging in infrastructure development and quality service delivery. It is still ensuring safety of lives and property which is its prime function. In fact it is working at a premium.”
Umere maintained that although the administration is not copying from President Muhammadu Buhari, after his inauguration for his first term in 2015 could not constitute his cabinet, asking whether the country collapsed as a result of that.
He argued that even those who are not comfortable with the situation are free to approach the courts to interpret if the administration has by any means violated the constitution.
Another public analyst and a chieftain of the APC, Mr. Maduka Okoro, said the situation is gradually becoming unbearable for the people and what he described as the slow pace of administration.
He queried what could be happening in the ministries without the presence of commissioners, who he said are the drivers of government programmers and policy with the civil servants. “Time has come for us to hold the government accountable for this if we want to move the state forward.”
Never known to leave anything to chance, the commissioner for Information, John Okiyi Kalu, while on a radio programme dismissed the assertion that there is an absence of executive council in the state.
Agreeing that the council was dissolved, he said it was not without a remnant that has continued to accelerate full throttle just as the dissolution had not created a discount either in the vision of the administration and delivery of its programme.
Kalu, who described the comments as one of the persistent ploys by the opposition to distract the administration, asked whether there was a constitutionally number of persons required to constitute a council.
Speaking in his own defense recently, Ikpeazu, maintained that the craft of governance runs a twin engine, adding that the moment the administration is running on one.
Ikpeazu, who stepped into his seventh year in office on last May 29, further said at the moment, there are still some commissioners around including those of Information and Health among others.
“This is going to be a wrap up cabinet, so we’re taking our time to make sure that we get people that will not come and put the developmental process on reverse gear. We’re looking at people that can complement what we’re doing and even give it more traction.”
From all indications, this is the longest time any administration in the state since 1999 has stayed without reconstituting an executive council. Granted that the action has not by any means breached the constitution, as some of its defenders have said, but whatever is worth doing is worth doing well.
However those who defend the situation maintain that one of its merits is that the administration has by this inaction with regards to filling up the cabinet positions, saved money that would have been used as salaries for the commissioners.