Until Tuesday, January 24, 2023, Professor Uche Eleazar Ikonne remained the governorship candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Abia State Chapter for the March 11, 2023, election. Going by every political permutation, he was the candidate to beat. Forget about the stories told by some highly educated and well-placed persons of Abia extraction, who live in the metropoles across the country, Prof was surer of emerging the next governor of the state than any of the contestants.

The reasons are obvious: his platform is huge and deeply entrenched with structures and membership running on family lines across all corners of the state. There is hardly any family in the state that doesn’t have at least one of their very prominent sons or daughters deeply planted in the PDP. The party over time has grown to be something very close to a family affair, people and families have become so attached to it to the point they don’t view omissions as deliberate acts designed to hurt; they see them where they do exist as mistakes of the head and not the mind, something that can be corrected very quickly. So, the party isn’t a one-man affair. Such counts for so much in participatory democracy. Brand loyalty. That is one.

Another would be that Professor Ikonne hails from the Ngwa block of the state. Many had thought he was of the same senatorial zone with the incumbent Dr Okezie Victor Ikpeazu; no, they are both of the Ngwa stock quite alright but administratively placed in different senatorial zones – Dr Ikpeazu hails from Obingwa, the biggest local government in the state, while Professor Ikonne is from Isiala Ngwa North which is part of Abia Central Senatorial zone.

Abia Central comprises six local governments, three from the highly populous Ngwa clan and another three from the old Bende division. Ngwa people can afford to flex some political muscles because Ngwa has the added advantage of being the largest single clan in the state with more local governments to the bargain.

They are like the Mbaise group in Imo State, who as a single group has more numbers but unlike the Ngwa clan has fewer numbers of local governments compared to the Orlu group. the Ngwa people have the highest number of local governments ascribed to any single unit in the state, this in itself means lots of political power. The Ngwa clan suffered lots of hindrances in the state’s power matrix for a long while. It was because of finance and to an extent absence of sophisticated political organization, but all that seems buried in the past now with the group’s ascendancy to power with the help of Senator Theodore Orji, a former governor of the state of Bende extraction from Abia Central, who was assisted into power by Dr Orji Uzor Kalu also of Bende extraction from Abia North Senatorial zone.

Professor Ikonne’s foray into politics and his emergence as candidate for the governorship of the ruling party in the state has not been without deep controversies, especially over the right or wrongness of keeping the seat within the Ngwa clan. Those who push the case insist no faith is broken when it is known that Bende handed over to Bende when T. A. Orji took over from Orji Kalu.

Despite the expectations over zoning arrangement, Ikonne remained a candidate that won admiration of the people across all the divides. He appeared humane, easy to read, he was not only intellectually very formidable, but he has also had experience in top level management, having hit the peak of his career in Abia State University as Vice Chancellor. It was an obvious advantage. He wasn’t afraid to jell with the people always wearing his infectious smiles.

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He knew the state like the back of his hands, its people and the complexity of its peculiar kind of politics and politicking. He called most people by their first names. I told friends before the demise of Prof Ikonne that experience in governing Abia State was an important requirement if any of the chief executives intended to make great success of the onerous task of administering the state. Politicians and the stakeholders, even the populace have different antics designed to win them favours. A teacher in one of the summits organised for new appointees disclosed it was common for advisers and aides to “advise to gain.” Duplications of agencies and roles are commonplace, eating very deep into very scarce state resources not to leave out “workers” whose names are on the pay roll but would never see the confines of their place of work until pay day. Ikonne confided he was aware and ready to take measures.

I can disclose from practical experience spanning many years at top level operation in the governance set up of the state that the undercurrents are so much and deadly. They could be too hot for an inexperienced hand to even understand early enough, not to talk of initiating answers. I would think the incumbent governor, Dr Ikpeazu, may have had this point as one of the factors before he decided to line up his difference making support behind Professor Ikonne irrespective of what some thought was a disadvantage posed by his relative advanced age. Even though I never met Ikonne before his  candidacy through party primary, the attack on age grounds never made so much sense to me and still doesn›t.

    Wisdom and agility are not the preserve of  age, especially wisdom and vision. Let’s take age matter first: revolutionary or transformative minded fellows can carry relevant vision and fire even in great old age. Mbazulike Amaechi, first aviation Minister our country had shortly after independence, a Zikist who went to jail on account of his fight for our independence, carried so much fire in his bowels into late his nineties until he passed on few months ago. He dissected our national challenges and proffered far better solutions than the so-called modern people have ever done or can do. Close to 100 years he was traversing the country in search of solutions. Pa Adebanjo is fighting for a new Nigeria while the young sit in luxurious joints from where they vent their anger about the degenerated state of our country

   The youthful may be smarter but nothing says a healthy old man can›t run his schedules very efficiently. When finally I was privileged to meet him, I discovered he was aware of some of viewpoints that had some degree of contempt for the aged in power. So, he tried to prove a point, he walked sprightly, was always very animated, brimming with unique vision about his new adventure. I admired that. A friend I just made who is close to those in the rooms of power told me the incumbent governor is never tired of telling close friends he settled for Ikonne because “he wanted someone more knowledgeable and more matured.” My friend quoted Ikpeazu to have said: “I know once I leave by May I won›t have reason to interfere in the governance process in any way.”

I personally heard Ikonne say: “ Look I am not your typical kind of politician, I don’t see myself as one, I regard myself as a civil administrator who will require the people at every point to function well. I have advocated that if I am to be a successful politician and leader I will have to just go ahead making promises, whether it can be done or not shouldn’t matter, just tell the people what they want to hear, but I have said capital no to that, when they make requests I either say what is possible or I tell them to wait until I find out what is possible later but I am sure more will be done.”

    Ikonne said he knows the problem of development of the state and would not make so much fuss over issues like road construction, payment of salary. Like me, he considers those as routine matters. He has set his eyes on big vision he styled “Tiger Economy” under which he envisioned modernised education system that will churn out productive graduates, giving vent to inventive abilities already inherent in the people, internationalization of trade and commerce, development of mechanized agriculture as the fulcrum for industrialisation of the state. He wanted to grow the per capital income available to people in the state. He envisaged a sea port in a part of the state closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Those were his lofty dreams.

I was most enamoured of his personality, very genial. I am one of those who still believe the Igbo leaders have made things worse for their people by their “Emperor” kind of rules and protocol. We need plenty doses of compassion. Ikonne just had more than enough to dispense, he was free and affable, and often when he spoke to a gathering he found space to acknowledge people’s contributions to the country or state. I had long concluded he would make an excellent choice for the position of a governor but see how it turned out. He died last Wednesday without opportunity to speak to his people. He transited with his great vision. What a loss. Nearly everyone in Abia is in tears, and many Nigerians too. We are shocked and pained. May his soul rest in peace.