By: Gele Agbai
The race to Douglas House, Imo State Government’s seat of power, is between three major contenders. They include the incumbent and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Rochas Okorocha, Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and Emmanuel Ihenacho of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. But some dark horses may spring surprises.
A lot of factors will determine who eventually wins the governorship crown in the state. The factors include the personality of the candidates, their antecedents, achievements and zoning.
The sitting governor, Mr. Okorocha has been campaigning on the basis of his achievements. He claims to have surpassed all former governors of the state including the legendary late Sam Mbakwe, who ruled the old Imo State which included Abia and part of Ebonyi states.
In one of his campaign billboards, he declared, “We never knew that a government could do much.” Mr. Okorocha’s confidence is that he had asphalted more than a 1000KM of roads across the state, built 305 classroom blocks in the electoral wards of the state; and 27 brand new general hospitals in each of the 27 local government areas.
Mr. Okorocha’s administration has also built the Ecumenical Centre, Douglas Sourvenir House, Freedom Square, Hero’s Square, Bongo Square, renovated the former Legislators’ Quarters, etc.
He has equally renovated the Government House, particularly the Sam Mbakwe Executive Council Chambers to the point that the Mayor of Okigwe Zone, Nduka TonyBlack, flew off the handle by berating the immediate past administration in which he played a prominent role for non-performance during its four years in office.
The free education programme of the Okorocha administration is another plus to his campaign. The Ogboko-born businessman-turned politician declared free education from primary to secondary schools at the inception of his administration. Later, he added free tuition at the tertiary level particularly in state-owned higher institutions, first for indigenes and later included non-indigenes. His novel Community Government Councils, CGCs, are equally believed to have boosted his profile owing to the perception that the innovation has brought dividends of democracy to the ordinary people at the grassroots.
There is also the pet-project of his wife, Nneoma Okorocha, She Needs a Roof Project, SNARP. Ms. Okorocha has through the project built, furnished and donated more than 100 houses to indigent widows. This has impacted greatly on the well-being of the beneficiaries to the extent that even critics congratulate her. Some organizations have honoured Mrs. Okorocha with awards for the impact of the SNARP intervention.
A smart Okorocha, in a bid not to rock the boat, chose to retain his deputy, Eze Madumere, as his running mate. Mr. Madumere hails from Owerri Zone which believes it is its turn to occupy the Government House at the moment. Mr. Madumere was chief of staff to Mr. Okorocha for 18 years before he became the governor. He also served in the same capacity from 2011 to March 2013 before Mr. Okorocha’s first deputy, Jude Agbaso, was impeached over allegation of contract kickback. The chemistry between Mr. Okorocha and Mr. Madumere is amazing.
The parents who no longer pay school fees in primary and secondary schools and the students who are training themselves in state-owned tertiary institutions like Imo State University, Owerri, Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo, and School of Health Technology, Amaigbo, without paying tuition, will be reluctant to listen to the opposition which submit that standard has fallen following the non-payment of tuition fees.
They are afraid that Mr. Okorocha’s exit will lead to the reintroduction of tuition fees which they were grappling to pay before the administration came in. A 100-level Bio-Chemistry student, Judith Echefu, said she would prefer Mr. Okorocha retains his seat so she won’t be required to pay tuition fees throughout her stay at IMSU. Her stand is not different from Chukwudi Sopuruchi, another student of the university who hinted that he is afraid that a new governor would re-introduce fees at the institution.
While Mr. Okorocha’s free education has increased school enrolment, the performance of Imo students in external examinations has nosedived in the last three-and-half years. While Anambra and Abia states are front-runners in the external examinations, Imo State is lagging behind. This situation is a sad commentary on the free education programme of the government. The PDP standard bearer, Mr. Ihedioha, told journalists last yuletide that the education system has been debased to the point that the state no longer has adequate and qualified teachers in core subjects like Mathematics and English Language including the sciences. He pledged to restore the lost glory of Imo State in the area of education.
Another factor that will work seriously against Mr. Okorocha is the issue of zoning. Even his Orlu kinsman, Elvis Agukwe, believes that it is not their turn to produce the governor of the state. On May 29 this year, when Okorocha will wind up his first term, Orlu Zone would have chalked up 12 years on the saddle in this democratic cycle. His kinsman, Achike Udenwa ruled from 1999 to 2007, a record which no other Imo person holds.
Okigwe Zone sought to complete what it sees as its turn by doing another four years through Ikedi Ohakim, who was governor of the state between 2007 and 2011. Unfortunately, Mr. Ohakim was not favoured in the contentious primary held by the PDP on December 8, 2014. So, re-electing Mr. Okorocha for another four years is what most Imo people are not comfortable with as it would give Orlu Zone a total of 16 years when Owerri Zone is yet to have a shot at the governorship seat since 1999.
Mr. Okorocha’s re-election may suffer a blow because many also see him as running a nepotic government. The APGA candidate, Mr. Ihenacho publicly derided Mr. Okorocha recently for this. The governor’s lack of respect for the rule of law which had put him at loggerheads with some persons and institutions will work against his re-election. For instance, the elected council chairmen were reinstated but Mr. Okorocha ensured they never resumed. Again, a prominent monarch he removed, Cletus Ilomuanya, was reinstated as Chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers by the Appeal Court but the governor frustrated his resumption.
The governor is today seen as a man who is carrying an elephant on his head and at same time dragging a grasshopper with his toes. While contesting the APC presidential primary, he handed over the gubernatorial ticket to his son-in-law and Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Planning, Uche Nwosu, to hold in trust for him. As soon as he lost the presidential primaries, Mr. Nwosu relinquished the governorship ticket to him in absentia at a kangaroo primary poll held in Owerri, citing personal reasons.
It is also worthy of note that taps even in Owerri, the state capital dried up immediately Mr. Okorocha assumed office as governor and have never run ever since. As a result, Owerri residents have been drinking borehole water which quality is suspect. Discerning voters are likely to cast their ballot against him on this score.
His party, the APC is another sore point in his candidacy. The party is not flying in the South-east zone, Imo State inclusive. The APC is seen as more of a tribal party with Yoruba and Hausa coloration. A former commissioner in Mr. Okorocha cabinet, Obinna Duruji, had openly said, “Even our Lord Jesus will find it difficult to market APC in the South-east zone,” shortly after the governor joined the APC.
The PDP flag bearer, Emeka Ihedioha and his running mate, Chuma Nnaji, are strong contenders to the Douglas House and if they win will become the government of deputies. Mr. Ihedioha is the deputy speaker of House of Representatives and is doing his third term, while Mr. Nnaji is a former deputy speaker, Imo State House of Assembly between 2003 and 2007. He has also served as commissioner in the state.
Viewed from any angle, both are experienced politicians. They have legislative experience which in a democracy is the most important because the legislature is the hub of democracy. Mr. Nnaji is also older than Mr. Ihedioha and will provide the necessary buffer to stabilize the government. Unlike what currently obtains in the state, Mr. Ihedioha is not likely to act as an emperor because he requires the maturity of Mr. Nnaji to operate properly if their ticket sails through. Certainly, Ihedioha scored a bull’s eye in his choice of running mate.
Another factor that will play in to his favour is the zoning issue. He is from Owerri Zone which majority agree should produce the next governor of the state. Also, his Mbaise home is a large voting population. Mr. Ihedioha’s empowerment programmes for youth and women across the state will also work in his favour. For the beneficiaries of the empowerment programmes, the February 28 will be a pay-back time.
Somehow, Mr. Ihedioha’s governorship project seems not to be flying especially among the grassroots. The deputy speaker is seen not as a grassroots politician. He is not close to the ordinary people. In fact, some people say he is arrogant. Again, the process that threw him up as a candidate is likely to adversely affect him unless he mends fences before the election.
A PDP chieftain, Ifeanyi Araraume, is still laying claim to the same mandate. Mr. Araraume has insisted he won December 8 governorship primary and could do everything to frustrate Mr. Ihedioha on February 28.
The APGA candidate, Mr. Ihenacho, is also a businessman with chains of companies. He is the chief executive officer of Integrated Oil and Gas Company. He also owns a fleet of ships and recently veered into aviation. Mr. Ihenacho is believed to have a fat purse acquired from the private sector. He is promising to create jobs for Imo’s teeming unemployed youth.
His running mate, Ike Ibe, is a lawyer and former member of Imo State House of Assembly. It is reported that he rose to be speaker of the state legislature while in his mid-20’s. He was also the state’s trade representative to United States during Mr. Udenwa’s administration.
Mr. Ihenacho is from Emekuku in Oweri-North Local Government Area. His candidacy is favoured by the zoning fervor. But he is not likely to be campaigning with full confidence due to ongoing litigation against his candidacy. The APGA flag bearer was dragged to court by Okey Ezeh, who challenged his eligibility to contest the governorship race. The matter is still pending in court.
Mr. Ezeh is the candidate of another faction APGA in the state. The two factions of the party held primaries in December that produced Mr. Ihenacho and Mr. Ezeh as governorship candidates. In spite of Mr. Ihenacho’s listing as the APGA candidate by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mr. Ezeh has continued to lay claim to the party’s authentic ticket.
The dark horses in the race are Ken Ojiri of the Accord Party and Osmond Imo Ukanacho of the United Progressive Party, UPP. With the internal wrangling in the PDP and APGA, the disapproval of Mr. Okorocha, a man from Orlu Zone retaining his seat, the electorate may look at the directions of either Mr. Ojiri or Mr. Ukanacho.