In this piece, S.A takes a look at the political developments in Imo State as the 2015 governorship race gathers momentum
As activities for the 2015 elections gradually gather momentum, the quest for the political soul of Imo State continues to witness an increase in the number of contestants.
According to political observers, governorship elections elicit in Imo State uncommon interest due to the unique nature of its politics. The state has a fair representation of the three dominant parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress, the All Progressives Grand Alliance and the Peoples Democratic Party.
Before now, Imo had remained a core PDP state but the inability of the party to produce a governorship candidate in 2007 changed the equation as the state fell into the hands of the little known Progressive Peoples Alliance, whose candidate, Ikedi Ohakim, emerged winner. But midway into his tenure, Ohakim defected to the PDP, following complaints of overbearing influence by the founder of the PPA, ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State.
In 2011, Ohakim’s second term ambition was halted when his re-election bid suffered a loss. There were allegations of maladministration, highhandedness and disrespect for the clergy. He lost to the incumbent Governor, Rochas Okorocha, who came in on the platform of APGA but later defected to the APC.
APGA, which felt betrayed has been aiming at reclaiming its mandate come 2015. On the other hand, the incumbent, who had before now promised to be in office for only one term, changed his mind and is now desirous of a second term on the platform of his new party, the APC. But the PDP has vowed to reclaim the state at all cost. Imo parades a good number of PDP chiefs such as Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Senator Arthur Nzeribe, Nze Ozichikwu Chukwu, to mention a few. Thus, all the three parties are leaving nothing to chance in their quest to occupy the Imo Government House in 2015 but the quality and credibility of their candidates in the make-or-mar exercise will play a major role in determining the winner of the race.
Based on the foregoing, a brief perusal of the profiles and chances of the various aspirants jostling for the exalted position has separated the contenders from the pretenders.
Okorocha came in as the people’s darling in 2011. His popularity at the beginning of his tenure was at its peak as he was generally seen as the best option to wrest power from Ohakim whose popularity had dwindling drastically. Okorocha hails from Orlu zone which also produced ex-Governor Achike Udenwa who was in power for eight years (1999-2007). He rode to power on the goodwill of APGA and also enjoyed the support of the people at the beginning of his tenure. His decision to slash his security vote and plough back same for the development of education endeared him to many even as he was tipped for the prestigious position of Igbo leader at the demise of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. His oratory and outspokenness on national issues – especially those concerning Igbo interests – added an impetus to his growing popularity across the South-East. His massive developmental projects also counted in his favour.
But his rising political profile nosedived when he joined the APC; a step many political analysts believe was miscalculated. Despite the fact that Okorocha for now seems to be the only known governorship aspirant of the APC in the state, political observers say he has very slim chances of winning re-election for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is the consideration that if Okorocha is re-elected, his Orlu senatorial zone would have unfairly dominated the governance of the state, a development political forces in other zones, particularly Okigwe zone, have vowed to resist.
Okorocha’s critics also accuse him of working against the Igbo interest by distancing himself from governors from other South-East states. His opposition to the Presidency is also believed to have denied the state some federal interventions and goodwill, particularly, ecological funds. They say his fraternity with the North and the South-West over his rumoured vice-presidential ambition is not in the interest of the Igbo.
His free education policy is also believed to be neither here nor there. There is serious grumbling among ‘Imolites’ that the tertiary education policy of the governor, which makes indigenes pay less than non-indigenes, is rather injurious to the state as more admission slots are given to non-indigenes in a bid to generate more funds. These notwithstanding, the massive structures in Owerri, the state capital, as well as the transformation in Orlu are all to Okorocha’s credit. His supporters also believe he will coast to victory because of his transformations in the health sector. Time will tell whether or not the governor would be able to scale the hurdles before him.
Chief Martin Agbaso is one of the backbones of APGA in Imo State. But for some political opponents, Agbaso would have won the 2007 governorship election in the state. The Owerri-born businessman has since then maintained close ties with the APGA national leadership just as he did maintain a close relationship with the late Ojukwu. His political structure was very instrumental to Okorocha’s victory in 2011 when his younger brother, Jude, was elected the deputy governor but was later impeached when he fell out with his principal. Since then, the elder Agbaso, who felt disappointed in Okorocha, wants to unseat the governor come 2015. He is widely seen a strong leader of APGA in Imo State today. But the recent defection of an ex- Minister, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho (retd.), from the PDP to APGA, poses a serious threat to Agbaso’s governorship ambition as both stalwarts hail from the same political bloc in Owerri zone.
The defection of the Emekuku-born politician to APGA is already causing ripples within the party. The financial capacity and educational background of the oil magnate have put him in good stead in the race. Another factor which seems to be counting in his favour is his perceived cordial relationship with the Presidency. He is believed to have maximised his opportunity as Minister of Interior to empower a lot of Imo indigenes and this has endeared him to many Igbo youths.
But analysts believe it would be difficult for Iheanacho, who is considered a newcomer in APGA, to hijack the party’s structures. Some believe his apparent popularity is because of his financial capacity.
Be that as it may, the people of Owerri zone are strongly gunning for the number one seat using two formidable platforms – APGA and PDP. They believe that should both Agbaso and Iheanacho fail to clinch the APGA governorship ticket the zone will press its governorship quest through PDP.
The Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, is one of the prominent PDP governorship aspirants from Owerri zone that is generally believed would make a serious impact in the race. He is a three-term member of the House of Representative with vast political experience. The Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala federal lawmaker is also believed to have the needed resources and political clout to match Okorocha’s power of incumbency. His closeness with the Presidency is also a plus to his ambition. He also enjoys the overwhelming support of notable PDP heavy weights in Owerri zone.
But the odds against him include the growing animosity that he allied with House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, to negate the zoning arrangement of the PDP, which ceded the position of Speaker to South- West. His critics say he should not be allowed to be a beneficiary of zoning in his state because he worked against it at the national level.
Apart from the anti-zoning slogan against the deputy speaker which political pundits believe will soon fizzle out as the election draws nearer, Ihedioha appears set for the race to occupy the Imo Government House come 2015.
Senator Chris Anyanwu, who has represented Owerri zone for two consecutive tenures, has not hidden her ambition to be the first female governor of the state. She is one of the most charismatic senators in the National Assembly. Her numerous empowerment programmes as well as her stance on national issues have endeared her to many. Her recent defection from APGA to the PDP seen by many as a strategic political calculation has further brightened her chances of realising her ambition.
But her major hurdle remains the fact that in the political circles many do not think the state is ripe for a female governor. Imo still parades a large army of political lords that may prove too tough for a woman to control.
Senator Ifeanyi Ararume from Mbano in Okigwe senatorial zone is no debutant in the Imo governorship race. But for the stiff opposition of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007, when the former President openly campaigned against him despite being in the same party, there is a strong possibility that Ararume would have been Imo governor. Even when he took the PDP to court to reclaim his denied victory at the party primaries, Obasanjo, bent on stopping the multi-billionaire politician declared at a rally in Owerri that the PDP had no candidate for the election, thus paving the way for Ohakim to sweep the polls. In protest, Ararume defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria (now APC) on whose platform he almost realised his ambition in 2011.
Some of the things that may work in his favour are his contributions in the restoration of Imo and Abia states to the Niger Delta Development Commission when both states were unjustly removed from the commission.
The former governor, whose second term ambition in 2011 was shattered by Okorocha, has vowed to reclaim his mandate in 2015. His loyalty to the national leadership of the PDP seems to be working in his favour. He is also believed to have learned from his mistakes. But his public rating doesn’t seem to have improved.
The Omuma-born Senator Hope Uzodinma, who represents Imo-West senatorial district, hails from Orlu senatorial zone that is being accused of dominating Imo governance. The PDP lawmaker’s popularity has been on the increase and many believe he may clinch the party’s ticket if he decides to run especially considering his closeness to Aso Rock. But his major challenge is the zoning formula as the PDP is less likely to try the people’s patience by giving its ticket to an Orlu man in 2015. Already, party stalwarts from Owerri zone have threatened to defect en masse with their structures and followers to APGA should the PDP deny the zone the governorship ticket