By Ifeanyi Amanze
Time there was when all you needed to do to win an election in Abia State was to be colorless, a stooge and a card carrying member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Time there was when all you needed to do to win an election in Abia State was to be in the good books of the Orjis–from Orji Uzor Kalu to Theodore Orji.
It was (and still is) a brand of godfather-ism that neither transformed to meaningful development for the State nor raised policy discourses during election season. Back then, votes never counted and the peoples’ will were routinely trampled upon with glee. The ordinary folks never mattered in the larger scheme of things, it appeared.
All of that is perhaps changing and for good as well.
When former GMD/CEO of Diamond Bank, Alex Otti, left his plum job at the bank to pick up the Abia governorship ticket on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), he was unwittingly playing the role of the game changer in the politics of his home State. He’s brought an array of colours to the race on the stomp grounds and Ndi Abia will doubtless recall this period in their electioneering history for decades to come.
Otti’s campaign structure is patterned after a 21st century one, complete with a grassroot movement that keeps endearing the candidate to a wide spectrum of eligible voters. The Otti campaign has perfected the door-to-door campaign initiative where young men and women volunteer their time and resources to woo prospective voters for candidate Otti. In the blazing sun and in the pouring rain, these denizens of Abia can be seen ensconced in charm offensive sessions with ordinary folks from the countrysides to the urban settlements.
“This is the first time I’ll be doing this and it’s all because at long last some of us have seen a candidate who shares our aspirations and who we can identify with”, one volunteer in Umuikaa, Isiala Ngwa south told this writer one humid afternoon, a wide grin emblazoned on his fine features. “I’ll be voting for the first time and it is worth the while convincing other young folks to vote as well. Abia has to be rescued”, he said, before proceeding to the next compound to woo more undecided voters for the candidate.
“He’s like one of us”, said another volunteer who simply identified herself as Ngozi. “When we meet him, it’s like talking to the guy next door. When you engage with the guy next door, it’s only natural to go the entire hog for him and for the State he envisions”, Ngozi said.
This grassroot on-the-ground movement of the Alex Otti campaign is matched by an ebullient campaign online. Facebook and Twitter pages trumpet the Otti campaign mantra of #AbiaFirst and #HelpIsHere and the candidate interacts directly with his Twitter followers through his personal handle of @realalexotti. The aforementioned Twitter hashtags have since assumed lives of their own. The messaging has been consistent online and offline and the candidate is winning more friends to his cause by the day.
“Abia has had a raw deal with Governors since it was carved out of the old Imo State. This seems like one opportunity to get it right”, a trader in Ariaria said as she pointed to the unkempt surroundings and pot-hole ridden roads before her. “How successive governments have allowed this place to degenerate into a jungle, is beyond us”, she added.
“That is my Governor…. God bless Otti”, wrote Kingsley Chimezie on the “Friends of Alex” Facebook page opened by the campaign. “My amiable governor”, wrote Oleka Nnanna Obiejemba on the Facebook page as well. The “Friends of Alex” facebook page is fast becoming a canvas on which the next phase of a new Abia is being scrawled. Otti’s Facebook friends also chip in with policy suggestions of their own for their “next Governor”.
“I am ready to work for you for free. Just say the word”, one gentleman wrote on the page.
Nigeria’s looming general election is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory on the continent. And Abia State in Southeastern Nigeria appears to be blazing the trail on the campaign and excitement front.
“We’ve suffered for too long…for far too long”, Chimezie, another Otti disciple, told this writer in Umuahia.
*Amanze wrote in from Umuahia