The political atmosphere in Imo State has arguably never been this electrified.
The most typical discussion amongst groups in the state today is the question of who wins the governorship race tomorrow.
Hope Uzodinma, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would have had it easy. He would have flown through the wings of the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election.
However, the crisis within the APC in the state, caused by the ambition of the outgoing governor, Rochas Okorocha, to choose his replacement, may well become the party’s Achilles heel.
The race was to be a straight one between candidates of the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but the controversy that trailed Mr Uzodinma’s emergence disrupted that design.
Now, votes will be divided among four major candidates: three of which were initially aspirants in the APC.
Ifeanyi Araraume and Uche Nwosu left the ruling party to fly the flags of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, (APGA) and Action Alliance (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 would be facing the PDP’s Emeka Ihedioha, who now stands a better chance as a result of the division.
Though Ikedi Ohakim, a former governor of the state, is also running under the Accord Party, his chance is relatively the slimmest as the party is yet to establish a strong structure in the state.
House of Commotion
Mr Okorocha’s decision to oppose his party for the governorship election, but wield support for Mr Buhari in the presidential polls has become the Wildstorm threatening his political career.
It all started with the governor’s insistence that Mr Nwosu, his son-in-law would succeed him in office.
Mr Nwosu had won a controversial governorship primary organised by the governor and other stakeholders, but a presidential panel conducted a separate primary which produced Mr Uzodinma as the candidate.
Since then the APC’s house of commotion is yet to find peace, as the contentions set the outgoing governor against the national leadership of the party, represented by Adams Oshiomhole.
It also saw several breakaways and realignments of major actors within the Imo APC fold.
After the primaries, Mr Okorocha asked his son-in-law to contest the governorship seat under AA, a party he formed in 2005, while he contested the Imo West Senate seat under APC.
Battle on many fronts
Even though he was controversially declared “winner” of the senatorial seat “under duress”, the governor’s victory was short-lived by the crisis that followed.
While still battling with the contentions trailing the result declaration of Imo West, Mr Okorocha was handed an indefinite suspension by the APC, two days after Mr Buhari was declared winner of the presidential polls.
The ruckus had turned into a game of wits, ego and power play, especially between the governor, Mr Oshiomhole and other power blocks within the party.
Mr Okorocha’s payback package is to ensure the APC loses the governorship election this Saturday even if it would destroy the house he helped build.
Mr Ihedioha, a former deputy speaker, was busy gathering momentum while the APC was trapped in disarray.
It did not come as a rude shock to keen observers of the political interplay in Imo when Mr Okorocha’s estranged deputy, Eze Madumere, launched a fierce attack on the governor a few days ago, endorsing Mr Uzodinma, the APC candidate.
Mr Madumere had been embroiled in a supremacy battle with Mr Okorocha because he had wanted to run for the governorship seat against the wish of his boss.
Unlike Mr Madumere, President Buhari played the devil’s chess when the APC campaign train made a stop in Imo.
Rather than outrightly endorsing the party’s candidate, the president asked a crowd of supporters to vote for “any candidate of their choice”, a move perceived as a smart ploy by Mr Buhari to keep the governor’s support and that of Mr Nwosu’s AA who had promised the president a million votes.
On the other hand, Mr Ihedioha was getting a leap of straight-cut endorsements.
Imo elders, drawn from the three senatorial zones of the state, the advisory council of elders and the retired military officers of the state were among power blocs that supported the PDP candidate.
Another angle that might have upped the game of Mr Ihedioha is the resonation of the unwritten zoning formula among political blocks in the state.
It is believed that the Imo West 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 Mr Okorocha (2011 – 2019) who ruled two terms each.
While AA’s Nwosu hails from Imo west, Mr Uzodinma is the outgoing senator of the zone whom the governor is angling to replace.
Most political forces in the state including elders of Imo West and Mr Udenwa, the former governor, all had a consensus to zone the coveted seat this time to Mr Ihedioha who hails from Imo East to maintain power rotation.
Again, the PDP candidate has strong control in his Imo East (Owerri zone), especially in the three Local Government Areas of Ezinihitte, Aboh Mbaise and Ahiazu, referred to as ‘Mbaise Nation’.
However, Mr Ihedioha has one major challenge to contend with: the disunity and discrimination among politicians from Owerri zone and the historical rivalry between indigenes of Mbaise and other parts of Owerri zone.
Power of incumbency
The status-quo of the overwhelming power of incumbency and control of state machinery is a factor that played out in the last presidential and National Assembly elections. It would be testing its efficacy in Saturday’s polls.
The election was adjudged by observers and participants to be fraught with irregularities such as ballot snatching, invasion of polling units and harassment of voters by thugs.
Shortly before the governor’s arrival, PREMIUM TIMES reported how a journalist, duly accredited to cover the polls, was harassed and briefly detained by the thugs in Mr Okorocha’s polling unit at about 10:14 am.
This happened in the presence of police officers at the centre. It was also reported that the returning officer of Imo West zone was “forced” to declare Mr Okorocha winner of the Senate seat.
With the preceding, Mr Nwosu, the former Chief of Staff of the governor is also a candidate to beat.
Unlike other governorship candidates, like Messrs Araraume, Ihedioha and Uzodinma who have been on the political turf of the state for over a decade, Mr Nwosu is relatively new.
He is flying under the wings of the ‘powers that be’. This will count when polls open tomorrow.
Possible vote split
Mr Ihedioha would be counting on gaining from the APC’s ‘calamities’.
He has a sturdy chance of taking over from Mr Okorocha. He has successfully weathered the storm which assailed him from within his party.
Also, the PDP’s fold in Imo appears more organised. This was evident at the just concluded National Assembly election.
The PDP cleared the federal constituency and senatorial seats in Imo East and was winning in most LGAs in Imo North before the election was declared inconclusive.
Mr Ihedioha would be counting on moping up the ‘residual’ votes that will come from a possible split of votes between candidates of the APC, AA and APGA.
The race has already shown its colouration through the presidential and National Assembly election in the state two weeks ago.
The tussle could be won by the most organised and not the most acceptable.