It is still about one year to political party governorship primaries in Imo State, but the issue of which produces the next governor is already on the front burner.
Owerri zone has the tradition of holding annual political summits during which it makes its stand known on the governorship seat. This year’s edition which was the fourth having begun the summit in 2017 held on November 13, 2021 at All Saint Anglican Church premises, Egbu in Owerri North Local Government Area of the state.
At the summit, Owerri zone insisted that it will produce the governor of the state in 2023. In what is now popularly known as Egbu Declaration, it hinged its demand for the governorship diadem on equity.
In fact, a prominent son of the zone and former governor of the state, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha assured he was going to clinch the governorship diadem because” the administration of Senator Hope Uzodimma has already campaigned for him”.
He was also quoted to have warned Imo people resident outside the state or in diaspora to be careful returning home for the yuletide because of insecurity in the state.
Expectedly, the former governor had drawn flaks from the supporters of the administration of incumbent state governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma.
On Friday, November 19, three support groups namely Orlu Political Consultative Assembly (OPOCA), Owerri Zone Political Leaders Forum (OZOPOLF) and Okigwe Political Assembly (OPA) pointedly told anyone including Ihedioha nursing the ambition of replacing Gov Uzodimma on January 14, 2024 to perish the thought.
In fact, the three groups said the zoning arrangement in the state had since been rearranged to the extent that it now starts with the incumbent governor, who is from Orlu Zone of the state. They warned Owerri and Okigwe zones not to field any governorship candidate in any of the parties for the 2023 poll.
Imo State stands on a tripod politically. The tripod represents the three geo-political zones of Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe in the state. The arrangement has been that the governorship seat rotates among the three zones.
But the surprising thing is that in spite of this zoning arrangement, Orlu Zone has maintained a certain dominance that has even begun to irk its well-meaning indigenes. In 1998, leaders of Owerri zone among whom was Chief Innocent Nwoga insisted that the governorship seat of the state be ceded to Orlu Zone.
As at the time, Orlu Zone hadn’t produced a governor of the state. Only Okigwe and Owerri zones had produced governors of the state. Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe from Okigwe zone had ruled the state from 1979 to 1983. Ditto for Chief Evan Enwerem from Owerri zone who ruled from 1990 to 1992, though his tenure was cut short by the military which seized power.
The ceding of the governorship slot to Orlu Zone informed decision of the then two major political parties to field only indigenes of Orlu Zone as their flag-bearers.
While chartered accountant, Chief Achike Udenwa was fielded by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Peoples Party (APP) picked renowned engineer, Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu. It was an all-Orlu affair. So head or tail, an Orlu zone indigene must cruise to Douglas House, the state’s seat of political power.
Udenwa won and served out his first term successfully. He won a re-election which he also served out and the mantle fell on Dr. Ikedi Ohakim from Okigwe zone who served only one turbulent term of four years. Ohakim’s effort to secure a second term was thwarted by Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who won the 2011 governorship poll.
Okorocha hails from Orlu Zone. He ruled for eight years too like Udenwa thereby making Orlu zone to chalk up 16 years on the governorship seat while Okigwe zone had the governorship seat for four years only.
This was the situation when the 2019 polls held. Ihedioha, who lost the 2015 governorship poll by a hair’s breadth was again on song. He was declared winner of the March 19, 2019 poll though he did not make the constitutional 25% votes from two-thirds of 27 local government areas of the state. He made it only in 14 council areas instead of 18.
His closest rival and Action Alliance (AA) candidate, Uche Nwosu also didn’t make the mandatory two-thirds. There was to be a runoff but the state didn’t want that as it might lead to Nwosu’s victory which many detested because of his liaison with the then outgoing governor.
Against this backdrop, the Ihedioha’s camp concentrated efforts at getting Nwosu out of way by convincing the courts including the Supreme Court that Nwosu had double nomination. Ihedioha’s legal team convinced the apex court that Nwosu was nominated by both AA and the All Progressives Congress APC for the governorship poll. This being the case, the Supreme Court disqualified Nwosu.
With Nwosu out of the way, the thinking might have been that Ihedioha would make the mandatory two-thirds since Nwosu’s votes were no longer in contention. It was also believed that the APC never fielded a candidate in the poll since Nwosu had its nomination too. Nobody therefore envisaged what happened on January 14, 2020 to occur.
The same Supreme Court declared Senator Hope Uzodimma, who placed fourth in the poll winner and duly-elected governor of the state on the platform of the APC, which had also fielded Nwosu. Imolites were shell-shocked at the development and have remained shocked till date.
This was how Orlu Zone upstaged Owerri zone to return to power. The zone is seen as the Northern Nigeria of Imo state because like the North, it has continued to monopolize political power in the state.
Therefore, Orlu zone retaining power in Imo State beyond 2024 is what many Imolites wouldn’t like to hear let alone allow it come to fruition.
Chief Oliver Enwerenem is a former member of the state legislature that represented Ezinihitte Mbaise State Constituency. He is also Chairman, Egbu Declaration Central Planning Committee, 2021 and Chairman, Odinma Owerri, a socio-political organization of Owerri zone.
Enwerenem is piqued that OPOCA, OZOPOLF and OPA would canvass the continuation of the hegemony of Orlu Zone in the state.
He described as irksome and Abacha-like the assertion of the OPOCA, OZOPOLF and OPA that no political party should field gubernatorial candidates from Owerri and Okigwe zones in the 2023 governorship poll in the state.
Fielding questions at Hardtalk, a current affairs programme aired on Zanders105.7FM, Owerri on Saturday, November 20, Enwerenem regretted that Orlu zone has also monopolized the Vice Chancellorship seat of the state-owned Imo State University, Owerri.
The former lawmaker lashed out at the leaders of the three groups that canvassed another term for Gov. Uzodimma, saying such leaders have made the state a laughing stock to the extent that no indigene of Imo State was found good enough to be included in the delegation that recently visited President Muhammadu Buhari to seek the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the incarcerated leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
Enwerenem said; “It is charlatanism for anyone to say zoning has been reworked to start with incumbent governor.
“Charlatanism is our problem. They have made Imo State a laughing stock that no Imo person was in the delegation to Aso Rock. My heart bleeds over this. But we can’t take them serious. Does it mean we now have a Sani Abacha in Imo State?”
A former two-time member of the House of Representatives, Matthew Omegara sees the issue differently. Speaking in Owerri, Omegara insisted that Uzodimma is deserving of a second term for rescuing Imolites from the stranglehold of Okorocha, who seemed unstoppable to foist his son-in-law, Nwosu as his successor in 2019.
Hear Omegara; “I’m aware Senator Uzodimma had purchased form to seek re-election into the Senate, but we went and beckoned on him to rescue the state from Okorocha who was bent on having a third term by proxy. For this, he deserves to do a second term”.
Omegara also insisted that Ihedioha stands disqualified for advising Imolites in diaspora to think twice in returning home this yuletide due to security breaches in the state.
Second term is constitutional but it is not guaranteed that an executive will have his mandate renewed because the constitution provides for it. In all climes, second term is earned through superlative performance of the executive in his first term. Though in politics, other variables may come into play.
Presently, many Imolites want a power shift. They want another zone other than Orlu to produce the next governor of the state. Even some indigenes of Orlu zone are unhappy over the monopolization of the governorship seat by their zone. Some of them also feel the zone is yet to gain anything holding tightly to the state.
Precious Nwadike, the publisher of the Nigeria Watchdog Newspaper is an indigene of Orlu Zone. His recent trip to the zone made him to begin to question the rationale behind Orlu Zone holding onto the seat for these years and still counting.
Nwadike said he came face to face with infrastructural decay and deficit in the zone and therefore concluded that monopolizing power was not worth it.
Coming to achievements, critics of the Uzodimma administration see it as a failure though it is yet to clock two years on the saddle. Security of life and property is believed not to have fared well under Uzodimma’s watch. Unknown gunmen have continued to be on rampage. Jailbreak occurred on April 5. There have also been spates of killings and arson in the state.
Government has been consistent in blaming opponents and enemies but why it is yet to unmask and bring to book any is befuddling.
Government hasn’t fallen asleep over the security breaches though. It gave an invite to the military to help the police contain bandits who are running riot in the state. But the invite seems to have compounded the situation.
Izombe Community in Oguta Local Government Area of the state on October 19 went up in flames. Awomamma Community in Uzodimma’s Oru East Local Government Area followed suit on November 22. The inferno was reportedly ignited by soldiers following the killing of some of them by miscreants.
But can two wrongs make a right? No. And the unfortunate thing is that those whose houses were razed by the soldiers are not the malefactors responsible for the death of the soldiers.
Ihedioha understands that the people are disenchanted over their parlous state at the moment. He believes his short-lived government showed a flicker of hope to the people than the current gloom that seems to hover in the state under Uzodimma’s watch. That could be what he meant by “the Uzodimma administration has campaigned for me”.
Also, his Owerri zone isn’t happy over the manner the governorship seat was snatched from it.