By Samuel Ibezim
The battle for the soul of the Imo State government house is hotting up by the day. Although the governorship election will hold in 2019, politicians mostly from the All Progressives Congress, APC, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, are already scheming to out manoeuvre their opponents to emerge the flag bearers in their respective parties in their bid to succeed Rochas Ethelbert Okorocha as Imo State governor whose tenure expires in May next year. Religious leaders are also weighing in to determine who among the politicians will clinch the ticket of political parties.
As at press time, there are over 23 governorship aspirants openly jockeying for the Douglas House (the seat of Imo government) recently renamed “Peoples House” by Okorocha. Interestingly, APGA has the highest number of aspirants totalling over 13 (all from Owerri Zone); five are from APC, the ruling party in the state while PDP has five. Of the total number, only eight aspirants appear to have some structures to wage a successful campaign.
Of all the aspirants, only one person from APC, Uche Nwosu, chief of staff to governor Okorocha, is from Orlu zone, which has produced most of the governors in the State. With him in APC is Ifeanyi Ararume from Okigwe zone, which has also produced a governor, which ruled the State for four years since the current democratic dispensation began in 1999. Three other APC aspirants are from Owerri zone which is yet to produce a governor for the state.
They are Eze Madumere, the incumbent deputy governor, Jude Ejiogu, the immediate past secretary to government of Imo State and Chuks Ololo, an engineer, who is married to Okorocha’s sister. Also from Owerri Zone are Senator Samuel Anyanwu, Tony Nwulu, representing Oshodi/Isolo 11 federal constituency of Lagos State and Emeka Ihedioha, former deputy speaker, House of Representatives. These three are running on the platform of PDP along with Ikedi Ohakim, former governor of Imo State and Senator Athan Achonu, former Senator representing Imo North Senatorial zone. Both Ohakim and Achonu are from Okigwe zone. As it is, Frank Nneji, ABC Transport owner, is the front line APGA aspirant from Owerri zone.
It appears that all the aspirants have what it takes to successfully compete in the race in terms of education, money and requisite managerial acumen but some are better positioned to clinch the crown.
Starting from Nwosu from Nkwerre/Orlu zone, his major strength could also be his albatross. Married to Okorocha’s eldest daughter, Nwosu is the governor’s anointed candidate. But the public perception is that Nwosu’s father-in-law is foisting him on the State in a bid to entrench his family dynasty in Imo politics using the power of incumbency. He is largely seen as Okorocha’s smokescreen to govern the state for a third term.
Since the beginning of the year, the governor has used every public gathering to solicit for the continuation of his “rescue mission” agenda by urging Imo people to support Nwosu as his replacement in the government house. The governor used the ‘rescue mission’ slogan, successfully in 2011 to clinch power.
But Okorocha’s poor performance in office could negate his plans for his crown prince as he has been accused of running the state like a family business. Imo people’s resentment of Okorocha’s policies may affect the emergence of Nwosu as APC flagbearer.
He may also not get the party ticket because he is from Nkwere local government area in Orlu zone as Okorocha. This has created cold war within the governor’s cabinet as some of his cabinet members from Owerri zone are angling to produce the next governor. They have been competing to get Okorocha to choose one of them to succeed him.
One key cabinet member from Owerri zone interested in succeeding Okorocha is Madumere. But the governor’s open support for Nwosu to the detriment of his deputy has caused division among the government house staff as loyalists on both camps fight each other while their leaders pretend that nothing is happening.
Mindful of the clamour by Owerri zone to produce the governor, and the likelihood that they will not support his son in-law, Okorocha contracted a newly installed traditional ruler from Umuoyima Autonomous Community in Owerri municipal to adopt Nwosu as an Owerri son so as to justify his claim to vie for the post.
Another move by Okorocha to ensure his son-in-law succeeds him, is the transfer of his chief press secretary, Sam Onwuemedo, to Nwosu to fight his political war. Of recent, most press releases from Onwuemedo on behalf of the government centres on Nwosu becoming governor in 2019.
Unfortunately, the governor’s desire to enthrone his in-law as his successor has also caused rift in the APC. But Okorocha appeared not to be perturbed as he urged APC members from Owerri Municipal Council who visited him to declare their support for Nwosu’s gubernatorial ambition.
During the visit on Monday, February 12, he recommended his son-in-law, saying: “Uche Nwosu is hardworking and never gets tired. He is a humble young man. He is not proud or arrogant. So, power won’t get into his head. In spite of the position he occupies, you can’t see him quarrelling with anybody or maltreating anybody. He does not segregate against anybody, whether from Orlu, Owerri or Okigwe zone… I have checked him in and out and I’ve not found him wanting.”
However, Nwosu has some hurdles to jump to success. For a start, his ambition has divided the APC in the state as people who are opposed to his ambition are teaming up with other opponents to fight him. Among his opponents is Madumere, Imo State deputy governor, who has dared the governor by refusing to step down for Nwosu. On February 19, Imo Trumpeta Newspapers, a local tabloid, reported of a bloody clash between the supporters of Nwosu and Madumere at local government council of Mbaitolu where casualties were recorded.
Also, Nwosu will have to win over some Imo people who sees Okorocha’s action as a moral burden. Batos Nwadike, a presidential aspirant from Imo State said if Okorocha “searches his conscience and finds it worthy, then he can go ahead because posterity will judge him rightly or wrongly. I wish him luck and well.”
Indeed, Owerri people who are claiming that it is their turn to produce who governs the state are not likely to support Nwosu especially when their son, Okorocha’s deputy is also interested in the job. The internal wrangling between the governor and his deputy is equally seen as dangerous for the party as both have been in the government house since 2011.
The deputy governor has made his ambition to succeed Okorocha public and he expects Okorocha to support because he has been loyal to him even before he became governor. His loyalty to the governor was recognised in 2011 when he spent five days in the prison because he was accused of leading supporters of Okorocha who pelted the convoy of former President Olusegun Obasanjo with sachet water when he came to campaign for Ikedi Ohakim, the then candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party. This incident earned him promotion from chief of staff to Okorocha to his deputy. His unquestionable loyalty to the governor also won him several awards and national recognition.
But that was when the going was sweet. In recent times, he was reported to have declined the offer of the governor to run for the Senate and allow Nwosu to take the governorship slot. Perhaps, having realised that Okorocha will not support his gubernatorial ambition, he threw away his “rescue mission” muffler and other regalia that define his loyalty to Okorocha. The Mbaitolu-born deputy governor is currently fighting for his office as he stands to step on the same banana peel that fell Jude Agbaso, whom he succeeded after he was impeached as a deputy governor.
To his advantage, Madumere is from a royal house in Owerri zone. But he is despised by some people who consider him as a lame duck because of his past loyalty to the governor and for keeping quiet amidst some unacceptable policies of the government.
However, Madumere has to outwit Senator Ararume, a veteran in governorship race, to clinch the party governorship ticket. Ararume has been contesting the ticket since 2007. The Mbano-born politician is hoping to be like President Muhammadu Buhari who contested election four times before he eventually won. Will Ararume also be lucky in his fourth bid for the Peoples House?
He will have to first beat other aspirants to get the APC ticket to stand as a governorship candidate. This may not be easy given the fact that Okorocha wants the ticket for another person. He will have to adroitly deploy his political sagacity to realize his ambition. Ararume left the PDP to align with Okorocha after he was denied the party ticket. It is yet to be seen if history will repeat itself and he ends up not getting the APC ticket for the governorship election.
What may work for him is that he has become a force to reckon with in the party as his son served briefly as a commissioner in the Okorocha led administration. Besides, Ararume is known for donating heavily to support and sustain any party he is a member. But he was maligned by his opponents in the past, especially by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who campaigned against him in 2007 saying he was inadequate to be a governor. Despite this, Ararume seems unperturbed and focused in his governorship drive.
Apart from him, Ihedioha, the PDP candidate in the 2015 governorship election, is making a comeback bid. He gave Okorocha a good fight for the governorship before he finally lost at the Supreme Court. Indeed, the Realnews reporter was at Owerri in 2015 when Okorocha, in one of his campaigns, ridiculed Ihedioha’s campaign slogan: “my words, my bond” and told his supporters that green cap, (in reference to Ihedioha who always wears green cap) would not govern the state.
However, Ihedioha’s penchant for wearing green cap has fetched fans among the youths who also wear same to identify with him. Of all the other aspirants, Ihedioha is a household name in Nigeria politics as he was the immediate past deputy speaker at the Federal House of Representatives. The Mbaise clan comprising of Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise and Ezinihite Mbaise is his political stronghold. But he is yet to win the hearts of other local governments, especially Owerri which has always had fragile an unproductive political alliance with Mbaise clan. Obviously, Ihedioha is not discouraged as he is unrelenting in his bid to spread his goodwill to win the heart of the people as a strong PDP man.
That notwithstanding, he also has to outwit Nneji, his kinsman who is also in the governorship race on the platform of APGA.
Nneji is a greenhorn in Nigerian politics. The last time he was involved in politics was at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he was the student union government’s director of transport. The successful businessman is a proud owner of the ABC transport that travels within and beyond Nigeria. His company is the only Imo based company registered with Nigeria Stock Exchange, NSE. His business has employed a lot of Nigerians and Africans and he is known for his commitment to improving lives of the under privileged homes. The Mbaise-born businessman while declaring his interest in December 2017, said: “As a concerned and responsive citizen of Imo State, who has spent all my life here in the bosom of my people and made Imo the base of my lifetime investment, I can no longer be at ease and watch the unprecedented polarisation and alienation of our people by our own government.” His declaration on the platform of APGA has made the party the toast of politicians as many others are also joining.
However, some people think that running a successful transport business can’t be compared to managing affairs of a State. Nneji has not served in government in any capacity to know how the system works. Again, his people are worried that his aspiration will divide the bloc votes that Ihedioha got from Mbaise clan in 2015.
Interestingly, Ohakim, Mbano-born immediate past governor of Imo State, who made history in the state as the first governor to be defeated while in office in 2011 by Okorocha, is contesting again. Recently, Okorocha derisively asked him what he forgot in the government house that is making him re-contest. Ohakim, known for his jovial nature, has repeatedly said that he would want to repeat the class by coming to the government house.
During his time in government, he was dedicated to a healthy and clean environment through his “clean and green” policy which won Imo the cleanest state in his time. His popularity is growing in Imo State, especially now that the people are disenchanted with Okorocha’s inept policies and governance.
Nevertheless, he has to overcome his frosty relationship with Ararume as it has not only divided Mbano clan but denied Okigwe zone the political unity to negotiate for its interest. Also, people who served in his administration while he was governor need to be reassured that he will not witch-hunt them if he returns to power. Ohakim once accused most of his cabinet members who are now in Okorocha’s administration of betraying him in 2011. There is rumour that he may join the APGA as his chances of becoming PDP flag bearer are limited. To get the party ticket, he also has to beat Samuel Anyanwu who was a state lawmaker when he was the governor.
Anyanwu is currently in the Senate as a first timer and has gained the trust of the Senate leadership. He is currently the chairman Senate committee on Ethics, Privilege and Public Petitions. Sam-daddy as he is fondly called by numerous fans was in the State House of Assembly for eight years representing Ikeduru constituency. His accessibility and loyalty to his godfathers and followers is a gift that paved paths for him. No wonder Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, a PDP chieftain, adopted him as his son and is willing to use his wealth and goodwill to support his ambition.
But there are people who are not enamoured with Anyanwu. Josiah Odunna, a PDP chieftain, has threatened to go on exile if Anyanwu wins as governor. Ike Nwosu also think that Anyanwu’s ambition could lessen the chances of Ihedioha emerging because they are from the same zone. Besides, Ihedioha wants Ezenwa Onyewuchi to replace Anyanwu at the Senate.
The state which has 27 local government areas is zoned into three – Okigwe, Owerri and Orlu. Since 1999, Okigwe zone has produced Ikedi Ohakim, governor from 2007 to 2011 and Owerri zone has produced no governor while Orlu zone has produced Achike Uzoma Udenwa, governor from 1999 to 2007 and the incumbent governor. Simply put, since 1999, Orlu zone that controls 12 local governments would have ruled the state for 16 years by May 29, 2019, when Okorocha leaves office.
Okigwe zone which has six local governments ruled for four years and Owerri zone with nine local governments is yet to produce any. Only time will tell if politicians from Owerri Zone will put their acts together to successfully occupy the Peoples House come 2019.