By Joel Nwokeoma
Make no mistake about it, when the 1,632,293 voters armed with their Permanent Voter Cards head to the 4,523 polling units, 4,752 voting points, 305 wards of the 654 autonomous communities located in the 27 Local Government Areas in Imo State on Saturday, March 9, to choose from the motley bunch of 70 governorship candidates who will govern the state from May 2019, the name, Rochas Okorocha, will not be on the ballot. But he is the main issue in the election. He is the dog in the fight. And he is ready to fight to the finish. And fatally too. Media accounts of what transpired at the last presidential and National Assembly elections in the state, especially in Okorocha’s Imo West Senatorial District where the Returning Officer, Prof Innocent Ibeawuchi, said he declared him the winner of the senatorial election “under duress” are just a dress rehearsal of what could happen on Saturday during the turf war called governorship election. The governor had promised to put his “blood and life” for it. I will come back to this later.
In case you missed it, there are 70 candidates contesting to have the keys to the doors of the famed Douglas House, Owerri on Saturday. The Independent National Electoral Commission says that is the highest number it has ever recorded for any position at any time in history in Nigeria. The venerated Dee Sam Mbakwe, of the blessed memory, was the first civilian occupant of the building between 1979 and 1983.
In the figures released by INEC on the 2019 elections, Imo ranks 17 on the log of the total registered voters in Nigeria with 2,272,293 out of which 640, 000 refused or failed to claim their PVCs, making them ineligible to vote on Saturday. If the election is free and fair, and the PVC-bearing voters are allowed to cast their ballot in a non-violent ambience, pundits believe it is not unlikely that Okorocha could be the biggest loser, after all.
Though absent from the ballot, because his two-term eight-year constitutional limit expires in May, Okorocha’s succession politics has foreshadowed the elections in the state. What he has done and failed to do, especially in the run-up, have all combined to define the contours of the electoral contests.
The governor is desperate to have his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, who recently defected, on his instigation, to the obscure Action Alliance following the latter’s loss to Hope Uzodinma in the All Progressives Congress governorship primary, to succeed him. And he is dead serious about it. As noted earlier, he had said it is either his way or his life! In September 2018 while swearing in the newly appointed Secretary to the State Government, Mark Uchendu, and nine Permanent Secretaries at the Government House, Owerri, Okorocha swore he would “put” his “blood and life” to ensure that Nwosu, until recently his Chief of Staff, becomes his immediate successor. In his words: “Uche Nwosu is the immediate past Chief of Staff. I pray that one day, I will shake you as the immediate past governor of Imo State. I will put my life, blood to see that I shake Nwosu.” Incidentally, there are also strident forces determined not to allow that to come to pass.
The forces, many of whom are within and outside the party, and opposed to Okorocha’s loud, showy and war-like approach to politics, see his insistence on Nwosu as an open declaration of war. A seeming admirer of the Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz, who defined war as a continuation of politics by other means, Okorocha, on his own, sees politics as a continuation of war by other means. But he found his match, so it seems, in a rainbow coalition of fellows mobilised and primed against his fatal and phantom fantasy. Accentuated by disenchanted and evidently disheartened Imo indigenes, most of whom accuse him of vainglory and inordinate ambition of aiming for a third term in disguise by foisting his son-in-law on party members and the state at large, they are waiting to bring his “familiocratic” brand of politics to a crushing death come Saturday. Hence, Imo State presents a classic case of a grim confrontation between one man’s desperation and a people’s collective determination to oppose it.
Aside, Okorocha’s action is vehemently opposed by the combined forces of a determined coalition made up of party chieftains drawn from both within and outside the state. Arrayed on the one hand are the Abuja-based politicians led by the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who has never disguised his disgust at Okorocha’s deadly insistence on having his son-in-law to succeed him, by hook or by crook. On the other hand is a rainbow coalition of Imo indigenes led by Senator Hope Uzodinma, now the party’s governorship candidate; deputy governor Eze Madumere, Senators Osita Izunaso, Benjamin Uwajumogu and Ifeanyi Ararume, now governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, and many others. Ironically, Okorocha had earlier masterminded the removal of John Odigie-Oyegun, as the party chair, to be replaced by Oshiomhole.
Things came to a head during the party’s ward congresses. In the ward congresses held on May 5, 2018, the coalition swept Okorocha and his loyalists off the party’s structure in the state. The appeal committee constituted to determine petitions arising from the exercise affirmed that the congresses were held as scheduled and party officials duly elected. It took the intervention of Aso Rock before a livid Okorocha had some respite again, leading to the cancellation of the results of the congresses. That marked the beginning of a long drawn battle for political survival for Okorocha, ultimately culminating in his loyalists defecting en masse to the AA following their losses in the APC’s primaries late 2018.
While Okorocha remained in the APC, openly campaigning for his son-in-law, and President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, his foot soldiers led by the self-same Nwosu soldiered on in the other camp. This act fetched him and Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State a suspension from the party by the National Working Committee last week.
However, far beyond the issue of Okorocha’s insistence on Nwosu as his successor is that of the geography of his choice. Nwosu hails from Orlu Zone (Imo West), just like the governor, that controls 12 out of 27 LGAs in the state. It is also the same zone that had produced Governor Achike Udenwa between 1999 and 2007. With the exception of the short-lived reign of Ikedi Ohakim from Okigwe Zone (Imo North) between 2007 and 2011, it means Orlu Zone alone has governed Imo for 16 years out of 20 years since the return of civil rule. This is the reason behind the resolute opposition of most Imo people to Okorocha’s selfish pursuit.
Going by the Imo Charter of Equity, signed and endorsed by prominent Imo political leaders in 1991, to ensure balance, equity and justice by rotating power among the three zones, the battle should have been a straight battle between Owerri Zone (Imo East), where Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party hails from, and Okigwe Zone, where Ararume and Accord Party’s Ohakim, who is campaigning for the completion of the turn of his zone, (having lost his re-election bid in 2011 to Okorocha). Ohakim promises to hand over to Owerri Zone in 2023. Even the APC’s Uzodinma (Orlu Zone) shouldn’t have a look-in given that political calculation as that will amount to injustice to other zones. But Okorocha tore the charter into shreds insisting, like a Leviathan, that he was not bound by any such zoning formula.
How someone who was asking Ndigbo to vote massively for President Muhammadu Buhari in order to pave the way for the emergence of an Igbo president come 2023 is not allowing such an understanding under his domain beggars belief.
Among the Igbo, when a man calls his kinsmen, the old and young, to a public feast, naturally, the public (Oha) will make mincemeat of whatever the individual cooks for them. But when the public wants to teach a recalcitrant individual a big lesson, all the villagers will invite him to a feast where he alone will be forced to eat up all that is cooked as a punishment. Everyone avoids such a scary reality. That is what some funky Igbo call “Ohasierism” (public anger). On Saturday, the Imo electorate will cook, literally, for Okorocha, the same way he has served them a salad of “Iberibeism” (idiocy) by insisting it is his son-in-law or nothing! In this confrontation between desperation and determination, you can only guess who the loser will be.
But one thing is sure: the people are determined to pull down the statue of ‘iberibeism’ erected in Imo State by Okorocha.
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