By Damian Duruiheoma, Owerri
The most topical discussion amongst groups in Imo state today is the victory of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Chief Emeka Ihedioha in last Saturday’s election.
The returning officer of the Imo state governorship election, Prof. Francis Otunta had declared Ihedioha the winner of the election during the early hours of Tuesday having polled the highest number of votes cast, 73,404 to defeat Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA), Ifenyi Araraume of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who polled 190,364; 114, 676 and 96, 458 votes respectively.
Ihedioha’s victory, to many residents, is seen as Governor Rochas Okorocha’s loss and that of the ruling APC, which had stood a better chance of retaining the state had the governor not brought his 2023 presidential ambition to bear.
The governor had in the course of trying to remain ‘relevant’ to contest the 2023 presidential election, insisted that his son in-law, Uche Nwosu would succeed him as the next governor of the state. And this was against all odds which ranged from the urgent need for the governorship seat of the state to rotate to other senatorial zones of the state (Owerri and Okigwe). Uche Nwosu is from Nkwerre local government area of the state in Orlu Senatorial zone, same as Governor Okorocha, who hails from Ideato South LGA.
It is believed that the Imo West (Orlu zone) has got their fair share from the power rotation, having since 1999 retained the governorship seat of the state for 16 years through Achike Udenwa (1999 – 2007) and now Governor Rochas Okorocha (2011 – 2019) who ruled two terms each.
Most political forces in the state including elders of Imo West and Udenwa, the former governor, all had a consensus to zone the coveted seat this time to Ihedioha who hails from Imo East to maintain power rotation.
The governor had thought that with his son in law, he would have had an enormous war chest to prosecute the 2023 presidential polls after President Muhammadu Buhari must have completed his second term in office.
In his attempt to foist his son in law on the APC as its governorship candidate, Okorocha met a stiff resistance with members of his party, particularly those from Owerri zone, who described it as a third term bid in disguise.
This resulted to crises from the APC congresses that held in the state, which polarized the party into factions, and eventually, giving rise to a “reluctant” Senator Hope Uzodinma to emerge as the party’s governorship candidate.
Hope Uzodinma, the APC’s candidate would have had it easy and considering that Imo is the only state controlled by the party in the south east, he would have flown through the wings of the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election as Okorocha did in 2015 general elections.
However, the crisis within the APC in the state, caused by the ambition of the outgoing governor, to choose his replacement, nailed the party’s chances. Moreover, Hope Uzodinma hails from Orlu Zone, thus presenting another impediment to APC chances.
Before the election last Wednesday, the race was to be a straight one between candidates of the APC and the PDP, but Governor Okorocha disrupted that design by sponsoring his son in-law to pick the ticket of the AA and backed him up with the state government structures and heavy fund to go into the election.
Going into the election, votes were divided among four major candidates: three of which were initially aspirants in the APC with Araraume and Nwosu leaving the ruling party to fly the flags of APGA and AA respectively.
Their defections were as a result of their failure to win the APC ticket in the primaries enmeshed in several controversies.
The trio faced the PDP’s Emeka Ihedioha, who went into the election favoured by zoning arrangement to clinch the seat and as a result of the division.
Again, before the election, the PDP candidate had strong control in the nine local government areas in his Imo East (Owerri zone) and for the first time in the election history in Owerri Zone, the nine LGAs came together to put up a strong showing.
Loss of goodwill
Another factor that gave Ihedioha and PDP victory was what many refer to as Governor Okorocha’s loss of the people’s goodwill. Recall that Governor Okorocha flew into power in 2015 on the wings of the people’s goodwill. He was seen as the messiah that would come to rescue the state from the hands of then governor, Ikedi Ohakim.
Under Ohakim, the masses lost trust in government as the then governor was seen to be running the state like an emperor. Okorocha exploited the hardship that was existent in the state then and promised to make free education a state policy. He used his Rochas Foundation Colleges as an example of what he would do for the state if he assumed power.
He equally promised to conduct local government elections and allow the third tier of the government to control its own resources. All these promises however, turned out to be lies and deceit as the civil servants were the people whose salaries were deducted to ensure ‘free education’. Again, Okorocha ran the state worse than his predecessor as the local government system was under his tight grips while projects were executed only by members of his family.
Above all, the governor lost it when he started owing pensioners, a development that forced the senior citizens out on street protests on several occasions. Civil servants were equally not spared as their salaries were slashed down to 70 percent.
The governor’s action that broke the camel’s back was the forceful demolition of Ekeukwu Owerri and other markets and the eviction of their traders within the Owerri municipality without any alternative, thus putting thousands in hardship. Thousands of traders stayed weeks and even months at home without having any place to sell their wares.
This resulted to traders still staying put on Douglas Road, Rotibi Street and other adjoining streets long after the Ekeukwu market had been demolished. As all these were ongoing, Okorocha made himself a common enemy of the state and boasted that nobody could take the governorship position away from his son in-law. He went as far as telling the political gladiators in the state that he had already retired them and they include Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, former governors Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim; Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and a host of others.
All this played out and resulting to the huge amount of money thrown into the elections just to deliver Uche Nwosu. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise to keen observers of the political interplay in Imo when INEC declared Ihedioha as winner of the governorship election in the state.