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•Atiku, Ikpeazu, Ayu, Otti, Emenike, others mourn 

•He died of multiple cardiac arrests, his family reveals

Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has directed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State to conduct a fresh primary election in the next 14 days to replace its governorship candidate, Professor Uche Eleazar Ikonne, who died yesterday in Abuja.

A statement from Ikonne’s family said he died of “multiple cardiac arrests”.

In directing PDP to replace its governorship candidate, INEC clarified that the deputy governorship candidate of the party could not automatically assume the position of the gubernatorial candidate since the election was yet to start.

INEC National Commissioner on Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, told THISDAY that the party had the opportunity of conducting a fresh primary within 14 days, according to the dictates of the Electoral Act.

Okoye said the 14 days started from the day Ikonne died.

The national commissioner stated, “He (the deputy governorship candidate) can only fly the flag if election has commenced. They have to hold a fresh primary within 14 days of the death and then they submit to INEC.”

The family of Ikonne formally announced the demise of the Abia PDP governorship hopeful yesterday, saying he passed on by 4am at the National Hospital Abuja “after a brief illness”.

In a three paragraph statement, the son of the deceased, Dr. Uche-Ikonne Chikezie, said his late father had shown signs of recovery after receiving, “proper treatment” abroad. Chikezie said his father relapsed in return and eventually succumbed to “multiple cardiac arrests.”

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

The family spokesman added that “further details and arrangements would be made known to the public after deliberations and meetings are made within the family”.

After months of speculations on the whereabouts of Ikonne, Ikpeazu had finally admitted during a radio programme last week that the governorship hopeful was, “lately indisposed”.

But he had assured the people that the sick candidate was recovering gradually and progressively, adding that he would “return sooner or later”.

Meanwhile, PDP, its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, the governor of Abia State, Dr. Ikpeazu Okezie, governorship candidate of Labour Party (LP), Dr. Alex Otti, and other well-meaning Nigerians have sent their condolences over the incident.

Atiku mourns death of Abia governorship candidate

In the statement issued by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, Atiku described Ikonne as an erudite scholar of repute with vast experience in administration, whose contributions in advancing knowledge within the academic community would be appreciated by generations unborn.

He said as a strong member of the PDP, who should have led PDP to victory in the forthcoming general election in Abia State, Ikonne’s death came as a rude shock.

Ikpeazu directed that all flags at Abia State PDP offices should be flown at half-mast as a mark of respect for the party’s late standard bearer.

The governor, in a press statement he personally signed, directed that the ruling party should halt all campaign activities at all levels till Monday, January 30.

Ikpeazu, who had anointed Ikonne as his successor, mourned the demise of the governorship candidate, adding, “It is with a heavy heart but total submission to the will of God that we announce the passing of our PDP governorship candidate for the 2023 general election, Prof Eleazar Uchenna Ikonne,.”

The Abia chief executive and leader of the ruling PDP in the state urged all PDP leaders and members “to remain calm as we navigate through this difficult period together.”

Also, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Ikechi Emenike, expressed sadness over the death of the PDP governorship candidate.

In a statement issued in Umuahia, Emenike said he received “the bad news with rude shock.”

He described the death of his fellow governorship contender as “a sad development for Abia State in the ongoing democratic process.”

The National Working Committee (NWC) of PDP directed that the party’s flags at the national secretariat, Abuja, be flown at half-mast in mourning the death of Ikonne.

Its National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Debo Ologunagba, in a statement issued yesterday, said Ikonne was an outstanding and committed member of the party who contributed to its continued success in Abia State and in the country.

The main opposition party described Ikonne as a committed patriot, very brilliant academician, seasoned optometrist and excellent administrator, who gave himself to the service of his people and humanity, and for which the people of Abia State were resolved to elect him as governor.

National Chairman of PDP, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, said the party would miss its governorship candidate in Abia State for the 2023 general election.

Ayu, in his statement issued yesterday, described Ikonne’s death as a rude shock. The national chairman said the late politician was a true friend, loving father and devoted husband who valued family over everything else.

The Abia State chapter of PDP said it had also commenced mourning. Vice chairman of the party, Hon Abraham Amah, who is also the acting state publicity secretary, made this known at a press briefing where he read a statement by the ruling party.

Abia State PDP said, “His death is very painful, coming at a time when he was recuperating from illness and had shown great signs and willingness to join us in the second leg of our ward-to-ward tour that is ongoing across the 184 Wards in the 17 Local Government Areas of Abia State.”

Otti also suspended all his campaign activities towards the governorship election in Abia State, owing to the death of Ikonne.

Otti, who is also mourning the death of his campaign council chairman, Chief Nnanna Ngwu, expressed sadness at the news and described the passage of Ikonne as unfortunate.

Otti recalled the last moment he had with Ikonne, where they both shared some “exciting brotherly pleasantries” at a public function, regretting that death has to snatch him away from his family and loved ones.

The LP governorship candidate said in a condolence message issued on his behalf by his media adviser, Ferdinand Ekeoma, “To Learn that Prof. Ikonne has passed on a few days after we prayed and wished him quick recovery and return to the campaign trail, is to say the least very unfortunate, but we cannot question God who decided to call him back home at this time.”

Abia State governorship candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Professor Greg Ibe, also expressed sadness at the death of his fellow contestant. In a statement signed by the director general of his campaign organisation, Longman Nwachukwu, Ibe said saying he received with rude shock, the unfortunate death of the PDP governorship flag bearer.

As a mark of honour to his fellow contestant, the APGA governorship hopeful announced “immediate suspension of all his political activities, including publication of campaign materials and transmission of radio and TV jingles till further notice.”

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•On character, competence, capacity he has no contest

With her appearances at the ObiDatti movement campaigns marked by trendy dance moves and crowd-moving eloquence, no one needs to be told that Aisha Yesufu means business in her quest for good governance.

As a civil rights activist, Yesufu’s support for any government, according to her, is usually based on competence with good governance as the end result. This explains her involvement in the ObiDatti campaign train. Her choice of candidate she noted, is based on the fact that she wants someone in “office who will not allow those that will use tear gas on us when we go out to protest”.

And so, for her, of all the presidential candidates contesting in this year election, “Peter Obi is the most competent of all the other ones”, she said, stressing that if Obi wasn’t, “I’ll definitely not be in his camp.”

During a time out with Charles Aniagolu on Arise TV’s Prime Time show, during the week, Yesufu declared that her focus wasn’t even about whether the person is going to win, “It’s about the most competent.

I would do whatever Nigeria needs to get out of the situation it is right now. It’s like every other thing I’ve always done. For me it’s all about what you are bringing in; you know your value. The biggest job I do very well on Peter Obi’s campaign is the fact that I criticise him and I check what he does. I’m sure that Nigerians have noticed in the past few months he has really come up. He is always learning and ready to learn and always willing to be criticised. So that’s the reason why we work so well together and we’re still working together”.

Surprisingly, she revealed that they sort of irritate each other sometimes adding however that “that’s the way it should be. I’m not there to do your excellency thing. You need to just get the work done, and that’s what I’m doing. The moment he gets into office by the grace of God, I’m on the streets making demands on him every day and if he doesn’t give us the things we need, we’ll be on the streets protesting”.

Asked whether her being in the campaign train of Peter Obi will give him votes, she said, “I hope so, and I believe so. I’ve seen a lot of people who say to me that wherever you are we’ll go. That gives them confidence but puts a lot of pressure on me. But I think I do bring a lot of value to it. Beyond that, Peter Obi is such an easy sell, honestly. It’s not really about even bringing anybody, it’s just about the fact that he is good. He is competent, he cares, he is passionate about Nigeria, he is patriotic, and he wants to serve. And those are the qualities that make him competent.”

She however pointed out that it is not possible for every Nigerian to believe Obi is competent, stressing that “the good thing is that many more Nigerians believe he is. I would say in my own opinion, 80-90% of Nigerians believe that. When it comes to issues of competence, character, capacity, there’s no contest; Peter Obi has it”.

For the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaigner, the number one campaigner for Peter Obi is President Buhari. According to her, Buhari “has given Nigeria so much bad governance that people have gotten sense. So, they know it is no longer about, ‘is he a northerner, or Muslim? But people are looking for one who is competent. We’ve had the corruption, the insecurity that has increased over time under Buhari which have ensured that people no longer look the way they would have four years ago but now focused on who would come in and make their life better.

“The beauty about the ObiDatti movement is that a lot of people who are in other parties especially the so called two major parties, who say they are  PDP or APC, when it comes to presidential candidate, they’re going with Peter Obi”.

Presently, Aisha Yesufu has been accused by people in the opposition camps of abandoning her activism and suddenly engaging in partisan politics but she explained that she has always been into partisan politics and so didn’t start with peter Obi. “I’ve always been into partisan politics right from 2015. I supported Muhammadu Buhari in February 2015 and a lot of people in his camp were happy. But that didn’t stop me from holding him accountable and criticising him and saying the fact that we had an issue, we had a government at that time that was failing: unprecedented failure. “Unfortunately for us, we brought in someone that we thought at least would do better but ended up worse.

They are actually making the last administration (President Jonathan’s) to look as if it was good; even though it’s better than this one, it was never good at that time. It’s also the reason  we are saying to Nigerians today that if they vote anyhow, it will get to a time when people would actually say Buhari’s tenure was actually good. I voted for Buhari reluctantly because I knew the two candidates, I didn’t know the other participants during the 2015 election”.

In 2019 she recalled, “I was on the campaign train of Dr Oby Ezekwesili. That’s why I’m surprised that you people are talking as if this the first time I’m into partisan politics”.

On whether her activism is only inclined towards politics, Yesufu said “I don’t have a career in activism. I’ve never been paid a dime in activism even my own NGO is self-funded. I’ve never called myself an activist and I don’t still see myself as an activist. I’m a trader and I build houses and I sell houses…so I’m an active citizen; one who got tired of just sitting down and watching the country being run by all sorts of charlatans. And we got to a place where we couldn’t even recognize our country anymore and I decided to no longer be a passive citizen.

“Just to let people know, on my 40th birthday, I realised that I was also a problem of Nigeria; my silence was a problem and I decided I would no longer be silent. I said if God gives me another 40 years, I will devote it to Nigeria and we’re on the ninth year.

“What is happening in Nigeria today is phenomenal. For the first time Nigerian youths are saying they want to be in charge. I’m so proud of what they are doing”.

Regarding the level of acceptance the ObiDatti candidacy has received from the north, she said Obi’s running mate, Sen. Yusuf Ahmed Datti has been doing a great job though not very vocal about it. She further disclosed that some Islamic groups endorsed Peter Obi during the week.

 ”We’ve reached a place where people have realised that this is not about religion but competence,” she intoned.

Reacting to the allegations of drug dealing, money laundering and corruption that the APC and PDP are levelling against each other’s presidential candidates, Yesufu said “they are saying the fact about each other, and I think Nigerians should listen to them, believe them and don’t make excuses for them”, emphasising that this is not time for us to be led by such characters.

 ”For us at the campaign, we focus on the issues; the insecurity, out-of-school children, economy, unemployment etc.

 ”There are so many issues and we don’t want to be carried away. Nigerians must never forget that where we are now is as a result of bad governance both from PDP and APC. And now, APC has thrown the country to where it is now.

 ”We have the ruling party giving us someone that Buhari is more mentally and physically fit than. That’s the insult of the highest order and Nigerians shouldn’t take that lightly. We also have APC giving us what they want to give us. Its time for us to know that this is within our power, we have the power in this country and we must be the deciders of who gets elected, not parties

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Buhari Jika, a younger brother to the governorship candidate of the New Nigeria People Party in Bauchi State, Haliru Jika, and some of his relatives have dumped the party and joined the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in support of Governor Bala Mohammed’s second term bid.

Also, the Campaign Coordinator of former Governor Mohammed Abubakar, Auwalu Ganjuwa, and the state chairman of the Aspirants’ Forum, Abbas Barde, have also joined the PDP.

They announced their defection at the re-election campaign rally of Governor Mohammed on Friday evening at Kafin Madaki, headquarters of Ganjuwa Local Government Area of Bauchi State.

They explained that they were convinced by the governor’s developmental initiatives which were geared towards transforming the state.

How We Juggled Schooling With Our Royal Duties -Ondo Female Regents

They blamed the senator representing Bauchi Central Senatorial District, Halliru Jika, for not complementing the efforts of Governor Mohammed through facilitating intervention projects from the federal government to their zone.

According to the defectors, they remained resolute to mobilise support for the re-election bid of the incumbent governor to enable him consolidate on the provision of people’s oriented projects.

Receiving the defectors, Mohammed expressed appreciation on what he described as an attestation of the acceptance of his leadership style.

The PUNCH reports that the governor had, before the rally, inspected the ongoing construction of some strategic roads linking towns and villages across the local government area where he assured the people of speedy completion of the projects.

The projects include the road linking Gubi, Gidan Waya to Kamfanin Fulani as well as Soro, Ganjuwa to Miya.

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Barely a month to the presidential election, the crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party is facing an uphill task to convince five of its elected governors to campaign for its flag bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

Governors Nyesom Wike, Okezie Ikpeazu, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Seyi Makinde and Samuel Ortom of Rivers, Abia, Enugu, Oyo and Benue states respectively, had renounced their membership of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council in September 2022, demanding, among others, the resignation of the party’s National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, to pave the way for a southern successor.

Although the governors are believed to be working for two rival candidates, the intensity with which they attack the Ayu-led National Working Committee in the past few months appears to be waning.

The PUNCH gathered that the inability of the governors to agree on which particular candidate to support is partly responsible for the low spate activities in their ranks in recent times.

Our correspondent learnt that in Benue State, loyalists to the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, were busy reaching out to party faithful in their strongholds to drum up support for him.

A former governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam, The PUNCH gathered, has been convening a series of stakeholders’ meetings in the Benue North-East Senatorial District, urging eligible voters to pitch tent with Atiku in spite of Governor Ortom’s opposition.

An associate of the governor, who pleaded anonymity, said Suswam and playwright, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, had been doing a lot for Atiku since Ortom made his position clear that he was not going to support the PDP presidential standard bearer if Ayu failed to go.

“Suswam addressed stakeholders from Zone A recently and Iyorwuese has been talking with his kinsmen. They are doing it in such a way as not to offend Ortom. They are friends with the governor but they are also careful not to overdo things. As a result, there is a lack of statewide coordination,” he said.

He further noted that while Ortom had not openly endorsed a particular candidate, he had called on his foot soldiers to embrace Peter Obi of the Labour Party.

He continued, “Governor Ortom has already inaugurated an Obi team using his most trusted aides and allies. Former governorship aspirant, Prof Dennis Tyavyar, is chairman of the group. He was Commissioner for Education under Ortom before he stepped down to contest the governorship election.”

In Rivers State, a former PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, is leading the pro-Atiku support base. Alongside a former governor of the state, Celestine Omehia, ex-Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara, and an erstwhile federal lawmaker, Lee Maeba, Secondus is playing the good party man in defiance of Wike’s anti-Atiku’s posture.

Expectedly, Governors Ikpeazu and Ugwuanyi are rooting for Obi, using their foot soldiers to avoid the wrath of the PDP for anti-party activities.

Speaking exclusively with our correspondent, the Director General of ‘House to House Campaign for Atiku Abubakar and Ifeanyi Okowa’ in Borno State, Mustapha Shehu, said the initiative would be replicated in the five states.

“The House to House campaign will definitely break not only the G-5 governors’ hold on their states, but will also pose a significant threat to incumbent non-PDP governors. The Borno House to House has proved to be a check on the Wike-sponsored PDP stalwarts, including some in the state Executive. It has also positioned Atiku as the candidate to beat in the state despite the APC governor and the APC presidential running mate, Kashim Shettima,” Shehu said.

Wike had promised to reveal the preferred presidential candidate of the aggrieved governors in January; a pledge that he is yet to fulfil.

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