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2023: Otti and emerging permutations in Abia

Published by The Nation on Sun, 29 Nov 2020

Recent mass movement of supporters and allies of Dr. Alex Otti to the APC and the ongoing realignments have thrown up a new political debate and permutations ahead of the 2023 election in Abia State, reports Associate Editor, Sam EgburonuSINCE Dr. Alex Otti, a banker, officially joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abia State, few months after he announced his exit from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a party on whose platform he ran for governor in 2015 and 2019 elections, his name has continued to feature as one of the most likely flag bearers of APC in 2023.This is notwithstanding the fact that Otti is yet to personally declare intention to contest for governorship that year. Asked if he would contest the governorship election on the platform of APC in 2023 and if he does, what his focus would be, Otti told The Nation in a recent exclusive interview that 2023 is still a long time from now. Frankly speaking, 2023 is still a long time from now. It would not be proper to begin to assume what will happen in 2023 except if you are God. I am focused on good leadership; good governance. That is what I have stood for since I joined politics and I will stand by it; whether I am contesting or I am not contesting; whether I am a candidate or I am not a candidate; my voice would be heard and some of the things I have condemned; I will continue to condemn them, irrespective of whether it is one party that is in power or another party, he said.But a political analyst who told The Nation during the week that he has become one of the politicians favoured to fly the APC flag in 2023 is not dissuaded by his hesitation. His presence in APC is one of the major recent developments that have resulted in the emergence of a new political movement in Abia which has already created a new form of political realignment and rapprochement in the state. Any student of the current happenings in the state will tell you that the mass movement of his supporters and allies to the APC has also thrown up a new political debate and permutation ahead of the 2023 election in Abia State, said an APC chieftain in Abia, who added quickly that the issue of who would fly the flag of the party in the state in 2023 can only be decided at the convention since the party now has very credible and influential members likely to aspire for the position.DOES OTTI HAVE WHAT IT TAKES'Dr. Alex Otti, a first class graduate of economics and a former bank Chief Executive shocked the corporate world and political pundits in 2014 when he voluntarily quit his plum job as the then GMD/CEO of Diamond Bank to run for the governorship seat in his home state of Abia, citing alleged bad governance in his state as the reason for the tough decision.Even the newsmen that covered the press briefing in Victoria Island that afternoon looked furtively at each other as Otti walked in casually, perhaps from the Diamond Banks boardroom, where he announced his resignation few minutes earlier, to explain to them in the small hall why he had to cut short his tenure as the Bank GMD/CEO for an uncertain political contest.The fear the reporters and his admirers within and outside the hall nursed then was because, as at that time, Otti had become a guru in the banking and finance world, but he was considered then to be a political greenhorn. So, the risk was clear to all; but Otti was determined and could not be deterred. He has instead surprised both the common electorate in Abia and his political rivals.The first surprise he gave his political rivals, especially those who dismissed him on account of alleged limited experience in partisan politics, was a rare display of deep knowledge of mass political mobilisation strategy. Most political watchers agree that Abia State witnessed the biggest political mobilisation and awareness in 2014/2015, mainly because of his robust campaign strategy.In spite of his decision to run the election on the platform of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), a party that had little visibility in the state then due to the absence of notable personalities and structures, Otti was able to set up what some observers described as intimidating structures, including tangible offices in the 17 local government areas of the state. He also went ahead to woo many notable individuals who either joined APGA as a party, or aligned with him individually after being convinced of his seriousness and capacity. Before the ruling party, PDP, knew what was happening, APGA had already become a powerful force in the state with many capable hands as candidates for various offices in the election.By the time the election was over, APGA was able to win 11 House of Assembly seats out of the 24 seats and a Federal House of Representatives seat; this was in spite of reported cases of open threats and violence allegedly unleashed on Otti and his party. Confirming the claim of harassment and intimidation, Engr. Nwabueze Onwuneme, an APC chieftain and APC Abia House of Assembly candidate in Umuahia, said: The climax of such violence was the reported invasion of the state collation centre in Umuahia by the then governor and other high ranking PDP leaders from within and outside the state, during which the Returning Officer was allegedly threatened to admit already cancelled fake results from three local government areas in a bid to stop Otti who was leading massively and was as good as having won the election prior to the invasion. The figures of valid votes cast in the governorship election, and which were meticulously tabulated by a five man panel of the Court of Appeal in Owerri formed the basis of their declaration of Otti as the winner of the governorship election on 31st December, 2015, he said.Another surprise that Otti has given his political rivals and which has shown his capacity is his refusal to be discouraged even after the Supreme Court upturned the Appeal Court decision on technical grounds which included non-incorporation of the Card Reader into the Electoral Act.IS HE A NEW COMER IN APC'Insider source confirmed to The Nation that prior to the 2019 election, there were reports of intense pressure from many high ranking APC leaders from within and outside Abia aimed at convincing the ex-bank chief to join the APC, especially when they learnt that his then party, APGA, was enmeshed in endless crisis at the national and state levels.On one occasion, Otti was said to have told some of his APC friends that it would amount to betrayal at that point in time if he decided to leave APGA because most of the aspirants who joined the party and who desired to run for different elective offices did so because of him, hence his decision not to let them down.Even though APGA could not meet its target of capturing the state, Ottis supporters believed that Ottis ability to courageously mobilise Abians from all walks of life while remaining steadfast and uncompromising even in the face of alleged election manipulation by the ruling party in Abia, has set him apart from many others.His silent goodwill, solidarity with the poor masses, fearless disposition in demanding for good governance in Abia and his track record of excellence in the corporate world appear to be the most endearing factors that have won the people over to his side, hence the very loud reception and massive ovation that greeted his recent movement to the APC, he said.Our investigation this week confirmed that more than 90 percent of the former APGA candidates and aspirants in the last election have also moved over to the APC, while two weeks after his official declaration, almost all the executives of APGA at all levels also stormed the APC headquarters in Umuahia where they were warmly and elaborately received by the State Working Committee and Southeast leaders of the APC in Umuahia.With the unfolding political developments in Abia where Otti has swiftly become a strong force and rallying point and the APC becoming stronger by the day, pundits are already predicting a possible new political dawn in the state come 2023.However, in spite of its perceived failure in Abia, the PDP has the experience and structure in the state that would make it difficult for it to be written off, thus the battle is set to be titanic even before the elections draw closer. Besides that, it is not unexpected that other contenders and pretenders alike may make the battle for the APC governorship ticket not to be a walk over for Otti if and when he finally declares intention.Also, given PDPs strength in Abia State, critics of APC in the state said popular governorship aspirants that have defected to APC may have committed serious political blunder as it would be difficult to defeat the ruling PDP. Otti thinks otherwise. He told The Nation, In Abia State, PDP has not served us well over the years. So, we need to look for the alternative and it is clear that the only alternative today in Abia State is APC. We must not forget that the other party, APGA, which was a strong force in the state before now, has been led astray. So, the only option; the only viable alternative is APC. If you do not join APC in Abia today, that means you like what is happening in the state.He also predicted mass declaration of interest for APC in the state. As he puts it: I believe that with credible people joining APC in the state, more and more people will join. Quite frankly, except those who are part and parcel of the bad governance that we have been witnessing in Abia State, every other person should be on our side. There should be no sitting on the fence. If you want to sit on the fence, you are siding with the oppressor. My plea is that everybody who does not like the retrogression in Abia State; everybody who does not like the fact that teachers in the state are being owed salaries for several months; everybody who does not like the fact that pensioners are dying because they do not have food to eat; anybody who does not like the fact that our hospitals and the schools our children go to are in decrepit state, should stand up and be counted against what we have in Abia State. We cannot afford to continue to sit on the fence. We cannot continue to pretend that all is well. All is not well.
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