BY EMMANUEL MGBEAHURUIKE
As the race for the 2019 governorship seat heats up in Imo State, all the zones in the state are laying claim to the seat. However, Owerri zone is contending for the seat earnestly. EMMANUEL MGBEAHURUIKE captures the scenario.
To keen observers of the Imo State politics , the 2019 governorship election would be a tough battle between the Imo East (Owerri) and the Imo North senatorial zones of the state.
Although he has consistently refused to disclose his anointed candidate to succeed him, Governor Rochas Okorocha, who currently calls the shot from the Douglas House Owerri, has severally dismissed the zoning governorship arrangement between the three zones of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe as grossly undemocratic.
The businessman turned politician is of the view that the state only needs a governor with relevant administrative acumen, vision and pragmatic instincts to attain greater heights in growth irrespective of the geopolitical background.
But to the major stakeholders of Owerri and Okigwe zones, this is a bitter pill to swallow with respect to their claim to being the rightful occupants of the prestigious Douglas House Owerri in 2019, in keeping with the zoning arrangement in the state.
To be sure, analysts opine that each of the zones has a case. Owerri zone has only ruled the state for a period of 18 months through the late Chief Evan Enwerem who held sway from January 1992 to November 17, 1993.This is in contrast to that of Imo West (Orlu zone) which bestrode the state like a colossus between 1999 to 2007 through Chief Achike Udenwa – a chartered acccountant.
Similarly, while the Late Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe who ruled the old Imo State from 1979 to December 1983 was from the Imo North (Okigwe), Chief Godson Ikedi Ohakim, who lost to incumbent governor Rochas Okorocha in 2011 is from Okohia, in Isiala Mbano local government area of the same Imo North Senatorial district.
Thus, the people of Imo East (Owerri zone),hold firm to their demand that what is sauce for the geese should equally be sauce for the gander.
Curiously, Imo West, where Okorocha hails from, is said to be covertly scheming to retain power beyond 2019, much to the chagrin of both Owerri and Okigwe zones.
Thus not prepared to take chances, various interest groups and associations from both sides of the divide have since commenced intensive and extensive consultations with some prominent major stakeholders to realise the aspirations of their people.
For instance, in Owerri zone, such groups as Mezie Owerri, Owerri Peoples Assembly and Owerri Stakeholders Forum and Imo Equity Movement have not relented in their agitation for a governor of Owerri zonal extraction in 2019.
The picture is the same in the Imo North (Okigwe) senatorial enclave where such groups as Olu Okigwe and Okigwe Peoples Assembly are insistent that the zone must complete its truncated tenure in 2019.
Owerri zone, which has only ruled the state for 18 months through the late Chief Evan Enwerem who hailed from Atta, in the Ikeduru council area of the state appears to enjoy the sympathy of Orlu zone.
Consequently, a number of politicians from the zone angling to succeed Okorocha have since commenced overt and covert consultations, negotiation and dialogue with the political godfathers, prominent traditional rulers and even some religious leaders to realise their gubernatorial dream.
Some of the politicians include: current deputy governor Prince Eze Madumere; ex-Interior minister and 2015 APGA governorship candidate-Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho; Chief Humphrey Anumudu; Chief Charles Onyeagbako; former deputy speaker of the House of representatives and 2015 PDP guber candidate, Chief Emeka Ihedioha; Chief Okey Eze; and Hon Uche Onyeagocha.
In Okigwe zone, there are Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, ex-governor Ikedi Ohakim, Chief Jude Nzeako.
Political analysts believe that if Okorocha does not manage the selection of his successor maturely, it might spell doom for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.
For a state whose guber elections have always been unpredictable, pundits predict that the 2019 experience may turn out to be the most intense since the return to the present political dispensation in the country. If early reports are anything to go by, the governor, it was gathered, is tinkering with supporting his son-in-law, Hon Uche Nwosu, for the top job, a situation which is beginning to unsettle the political landscape in the state.
Of the lot eyeing the seat is the deputy governor, Prince Eze Madumere, who had served as chief of staff to Okorocha. Besides being a political disciple of the governor for several years, Madumere – widely admired as meek, humble and unassuming, enjoys grassroots support for his philanthropy over the years.
As a trusted reliable and dependable deputy governor, who has been with the rescue mission government right from inception devoid of any medium of sabotage or controversy, not a few Imo indigenes believe that Madumere if given the mandate would keep the flag flying especially the Free Education Programme of his master.
The consensus opinion is that the time has come for the entire Mbieri ancient enclave to be compensated for the injustice meted to the people by anointing Madumere to succeed Okorocha.
In their quest to lay claim to the governorship seat of Imo State, come 2019, Imo Equity Movement through the former House of Representatives member, Hon Uche Onyeagocha explained that by 2019, Imo State will be 42years old and “Since its creation, the military will have ruled for 16 years, Orlu Zone for 16years, Okigwe Zone for eight years and 3 months, while Owerri Zone for one year and 10months. The next turn should be Owerri zone.”
While responding to the comments by the governor, the group highlighted that “Therefore Owerri Zone cannot encourage violence now that it is their turn to govern. Anyone alleging violence by Owerri people is only trying to overheat the polity. Owerri people should and have remained calm and peaceful, more so in the face of such provocation.”
According to Hon Onyeagocha, Imo Equity Movement admits ownership of educational materials popularising the fact of 2019 being Owerri zone’s turn.
“We make bold to accuse the Imo State Government of destroying our billboards and harassing our people distributing such educational materials. The motive of government for doing so must be to incite our people to violence and then turn around to blame the attendant breach of the public peace on Imo Equity Movement. Our agitation is premised on equity and justice, while the means to achieving it is through peaceful and resolute mass mobilisation”.
With regards to the issue of zoning, he said it was absurd that the governor argues that there is no more zoning in the state. He added that the governor’s claim smacks of double standard since he is practising zoning in his administration.
“If not, then how come Oshimiri who has the same legislative pedigree as Chief Acho Ihim is not the Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly today? Why did he choose Chief Eze Madumere as his deputy, George Eche as the SGI, whereas his Orlu zone has sons and daughters of superior political and administrative experience? In fact, Chief Hilary Eke should not be the All Progressives Congress (APC) party chairman and Barr Ibediro, the party secretary. Orlu zone should have filled those positions as well and all the rest.
“The governor in his statement posited that at no time in the history of the state has any party left its governorship ticket for any zone without a contest from other zones. This cannot be further from the truth, because in 2015, APC left her governorship ticket to Orlu Zone, and better still, to Rochas with nobody from Okigwe or Owerri Zone contesting. In fact, the ticket was preserved precisely for the Okorocha family. When he went out to contest for president, his son-in-law held the governorship ticket in waiting for him; not because there was no credible person from other zones, but it was done in good faith.”
The Imo Equity Movement through Hon Onyeagocha accused Okorocha of bid for self succession and third term. He stressed that by the current plan of the governor, he is sure that he wants to go for a third term in office through the back door.
“We state without equivocation that our governor is now on a self succession project. He wants to run for a third term in office against the spirit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by hiding behind the back of his son-in-law, Chief Uche Nwosu.
It is for this reason that he set up the Ugwumba Movement and appointed his son-in-law to run it. This movement has since taken over the role of the Ministry of Information whose statutory responsibility it is to promote the programmes and activities of the state government.
Today, we see billboards of the Ugwumba Movement showcasing achievements of government and usurping the role of the emasculated Ministry of Information.
“The people of Imo State – Orlu, Okigwe and Owerri – are united and irrevocably resolved that Uche Nwosu will not succeed his father-in-law.”
He revealed that the reason is not farfetched as Uche Nwosu’s candidature is merely Rochas Okorocha’s third term bid for the office of the Governor of Imo State.
According to him, “The Uche Nwosu we know is still incapable of conceiving the idea and taking the decision to run for that exalted office. We therefore respectfully urge His Excellency Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha (OON) to discountenance any advice in this direction as nothing but the hand work of undertakers, enemies and mischief makers who have set out to rubbish his political career. We also urge him to focus on his presidential ambition in the interest of Ndi Igbo.
“Imo Equity Movement which consists of Orlu, Okigwe and Owerri zone indigenes, insists that Governor Okorocha in the interest of Equity and Justice should support the people of Owerri Zone in their bid to produce the next governor, come 2019.”
Responding to the claim of Owerri zone for 2019 governorship seat, the governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha berated the Imo Equity Movement for their agitation. According to the governor, there is no zoning in Imo, only the best candidate will emerge at the end of the day. He called on the people of Owerri zone to forget about any zoning formula in the state. Okorocha described their threat as uncivilized and undemocratic.
According to a release signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Sam Onwuemeodo, this threat is uncalled for and most condemnable.
His words: “The attention of the Governor and Chief Security Officer of the state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha has been drawn to the recent threat by a group of politicians from a particular political zone in the state to kill and burn the properties of people from their zone who would support candidates from the other zones of the state for the governorship of the state in 2019.
“This uncivilised and undemocratic threat bothers on the lives and properties of Imo citizens, and no responsible government would fold its hands and watch few overzealous politicians threatening the lives and properties of the citizens for political reasons.
The governor is worried that such threat could also elicit similar threats from the other zones of the state and a situation like that could lead to undue bickering, especially when it is recalled that there is no zone that has not governed the state and those concerned were elected by the people on merit and not on zonal sentiment.”
According to the governor, it is the popular wish of Imo people that anybody who has what it takes to offer the state and her people purposeful leadership should come out when the time comes not minding which political zone of the state the person might come from. And that has been the stock in the politics of the state since 1979.
“It is also important to remind these elements fanning this ember of division among Imo people out of zonal bias that Imo people have never left political contest in the state for the governorship to one particular zone for any reason.
“For instance, in 1979 Chief Sam Mbakwe of NPP from Okigwe zone, Dr Nwakanma Okoro of NPN from Umuahia zone, Dr Nnanna Ukaegbu of the GNPP from Owerri zone, Mr Steve Evuleocha of PRP from Owerri zone, and Mr Zacheaus Nwosu of UPN from Okigwe zone ran for the governorship of the state and at the end of the day, Imo people settled for Sam Mbakwe from Okigwe zone”.
In the 1983 election, Sam Mbakwe of NPP from Okigwe zone, Chief Collins Obih of NPN from Orlu zone, Mr Sylvanus Ekeanyawu of UPN from Owerri zone and so on, contested the election which Mbakwe also won.
“In the 1991 governorship poll, Dr Ezekiel Izuogu from Orlu zone, Prof Fabian Osuji and Dr Alex Obi from Owerri zone ran for the ticket of SDP, while Chief Evan Enwerem from Owerri zone and Dr Douglas Acholonu from Orlu zone ran for the ticket of NRC in the primaries. At the end of the day, Chief Enwerem from Owerri zone won the election proper.
In the 1999 election, Chief Achike Udenwa, Rochas Okorocha, Greg Mbadiwe, Ezekiel Izuogu from Orlu zone and Humphrey Anumudo and Desmond Iwuagwu (Barnax) of AD from Owerri zone all took part in the gubernatorial election.
In 2007, Hope Uzodinma, Tony Ezenna, Festus Odimegwu, ThankGod Ezeani from Orlu zone with Kema Chikwe, Bright Nwanne, Emma Ojinere from Owerri zone and Ifeanyi Araraume from Okigwe zone slugged it out in PDP. At the end of the day, the contest was narrowed down to Ifeanyi Araraume for PDP, and Ikedi Ohakim for PPA all from Okigwe zone and Martin Agbaso of APGA and Ugo Opara of ANPP all from Owerri zone.
In 2011, it was between Ifeanyi Araraume of ACN, and Ikedi Ohakim of PDP from Okigwe zone, and Rochas Okorocha of APGA from Orlu zone and Chief Vitalis Ajumbe of ANPP from Owerri zone. At the end, Rochas Okorocha won.”
“And in 2015, it was between Ikedi Ohakim, Ifeany Araraume from Okigwe zone and Emeka Ihedioha, Chris Anyanwu from Owerri zone in PDP, vis-a-vis Owelle Rochas Okorocha of APC from Orlu zone and Captain Emma Iheanacho of APGA from Owerri zone, which Rochas Okorocha also won.”
He stressed that from the foregoing, it is clear that Imo governorship has never been left for any particular zone and Imo people have always elected their governor on the basis of merit. These trend, according to Okorocha, won’t change in 2019, no matter the level of threat from some self-centered politicians in the state.
“Imo people do not succumb to any political colouration that will deny them the freedom to elect someone who will take the state to the next level of development and growth.”