Remove term: Senator Hope Uzodinma Senator Hope Uzodinma, new Governor of Imo State

…the fairy tale story of an unusual election victory

By OBINNA EZUGWU

On Tuesday fortnight ago, Nigerias apex court, the Supreme Court validated the ‘unusual’ mandate it had given to Senator Hope Uzodinma, the All Progressive Congress (APC) governor of Imo State by dismissing the application filed by Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), asking it to set aside the January 14 judgment that declared Uzodinma governor.

In a split decision, the seven-man apex court panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Mohammed, held that the application by Mr. Ihedioha and the PDP lacked merit.

The court, decided by majority, that it lacked the jurisdiction to review its own judgment. There was, however, a dissenting opinion, Justice Chima Nweze who disagreed with his colleagues and urged the court to review the judgment as according to him, if allowed to stand, the decision would haunt the electoral system for a long time.

The initial judgment of the apex court which awarded the Uzodinma victory, recognising vote figures that exceeded the total number of accredited voters, continues to amaze Nigerians, and particularly, Imo people. In a submission that went viral last week, one of the governorship candidates for the election, Nnamdi Okere, argued that what the apex court did was to give legal validation to criminality and electoral fraud.

“What the Supreme Court has done today is to murder democracy; what they have done is to give judicial backing to injustice,” Okere, candidate of the Reform Advancement Party said.

“They have killed democracy in Nigeria. I’m ashamed of them. They have rejected the international and local condemnation that trailed their January 14 judgment. They preferred to uphold their injustice of January 14. What they have now done is to give judicial backing to illegality.

“Somebody gathered fake results and packaged in a Ghana-Must-Go and brought to you, and said it was 388 wards. In his evidence at the tribunal, they rejected 366, but you accepted all the scores. Where was my own score? I was a candidate in that election. I was a candidate of the Reform and Advancement Party, where was my own score? Hope allocated all the scores to himself and the Supreme Court accepted it and said that is democracy. What the Supreme Court has done is to give judicial pronouncement to criminality and to electoral fraud.”

His submission fairly represents the general feeling of the majority of the people in the state and beyond. But one thing is now generally certain: For the next four years at least, the former Imo West senator will remain governor of the state on account of the Supreme Court verdict.

On Thursday, BusinessHallmark stepped into the streets of the state capital, Owerri and Orlu, the new governor’s constituency to ascertain the mood of the people. To be sure, the governor now has more than a handful of supporters.

And in fact nearly all PDP members of the state assembly, including the Speaker, Hon. Collins Chiji; the Majority Leader, Hon. Chigozie Nwaneri, and six others, including Hon. Uche Ogbuagu(Ikeduru), Hon. Dominic Ezerioha ( Oru west); Hon. Chigozie Nwaneri(Oru East); Hon. Kanayo Onyemaechi (Owerri west); Hon. Kennedy Ibe (Obowo); Hon. Onyemaechi Njoku( Ihitte /Uboma) and Hon. Eddy Obinna( Aboh Mbaise), have all defected to the APC tells much about how quickly loyalty can switch in politics.

Yet, Uzodinma is a generous person who has a reputation for philanthropy. Indeed, he is generally noted for being particularly generous to his staff at different levels.

But overall, majority of the population, from available interactions, are not enamored of the governor, who apart from being in a party that particularly has bad record in the state, doesn’t come across to many as having the capacity to make much difference. This point was made more eloquently by the unfortunate incident that took place at Ohaji/Egbema area of the state last week. The governor was reportedly stoned by youths in the constituency.

Even more surprising is that, despite his reputation for philanthropy, Uzodinma was particularly unpopular in his own native Ozuh Omuma community in Oru East Local Government Area of the state where his family rules as the royal family.

Ihedioha, meanwhile, before his administration was brought to an abrupt end, had begun several road projects, while embarking on structural reforms. The projects have so far been stopped and the residents say they are now waiting to see what Uzodinma can do now that his mandate has been validated by the apex court.

“For now, he hasn’t started doing anything. I think before now he was watching to see if he could stay or not,” noted Mr. Nnaemeka Opara, a local politician in Owerri.

“But I think the judgment was all planned because he was even in Owerri on Tuesday during the Supreme Court hearing of Ihedioha’s application. He probably knew that nothing was going to change.”

“We have not seen anything from him so far. When Ihedioha came, he started doing so many roads in so many places, in almost every locality here. Most of the projects stopped after the court judgment that sacked him. Since then, I have not seen any sign of any project going on. But we expect that if he has something to do, he should start now that the Supreme Court has refused Ihedioha’s application. At the moment, he is making appointments.

“Generally, people are not happy with the court decision. When the court delivered the first judgment, everywhere was calm, even in Orlu where he comes from. Again, when the court struck out Ihedioha’s application, there was still calm everywhere. Nobody celebrated.”

Opara affirmed that in the lead up to the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the state, the people of his community were largely rooting for the Uche Nwosu, candidate of the Action Alliance and son-in-law to the former governor of the state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, now senator representing Imo West in the upper legislative chamber.

“The man is disliked in his place. During the election, we went to his community where his brother happens to be the traditional ruler, but surprisingly, they were not supporting him, even his brother who is the traditional ruler did not want him. The whole community said they were supporting Uche Nwosu, not Ihedioha during that time,” he said.

“We went to the traditional ruler who told us this. At the time, I didn’t even know they were related. But I believe they will reconcile now that he has become governor.”

The governor, through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Oguike Nwachukwu, however, to Hallmark that all the projects started by the previous government that are in the interest of Imo people would be continued, even as he said some of the contractors handling road projects have been asked to return to site.

Nwachukwu assured the people of the state that the administration will work for them.

“Imo people should expect good governance; they should expect prosperity. Imo should expect commitment and sincerity of purpose from their leaders. Imo should expect accountability from the current leadership. Imo should expect to be accounted among the states in the country that have focused leadership. Above all, Imo should expect peace, harmony and brotherliness,” he said.

“Senator Hope Uzodinma believes that government is a continuum. However, continuity here is relative. Those infrastructure that are in line with the vision and mission of the current administration and would add value to the lives of Imolites would definitely be continued. But projects that were conceived to rip off the people and make them look more and see less will be re-evaluated.

“As you are aware, in the spirit of continuity, the contractors handling certain roads awarded by the sacked administration were asked to return to site by the Governor. Some did, some did not and some others who had bad intentions just showed face and vanished. I hope you do not think government will tolerate such contractors who will collect mobilisation fee and use it to go and have fun while the people suffer.

Similarly, Bar. Okey Okoroji, Lagos based lawyer and a chieftain of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), told Hallmark that having known the governor for a number of years, he was confident he would do well.

Hope Uzodinma, beyond what people say about him, not necessarily based on any evidence of any fact, but based on imaginations, is a man who knows the streets, and he knows the palaces. He is an all rounder. He has evolved for a long time,” he said.

People shouldnt just become antagonistic to his government. He should be given support; its about the welfare of the people. He should be given all the support he needs to take the state forward.

Understanding Imo Politics

Uzodinma’s emergence has cemented the dominance of the Imo West Senatorial district, popularly called the Orlu Zone in the state’s politics.

Of the nearly 21 years between 1999 and 2020, Orlu has had 16 years of governorship. Achike Udenwa and Rochas Okorocha, both from the zone, did eight years each, while Ikedi Ohakim from Imo North senatorial zone, or the Okigwe Zone, did four years, and Ihedioha from Imo East, Owerri zone, seven months.

There is a sense therefore, in which the Orlu zone, with 12 of the 27 local governments in the state is seen as the internal colonisers of the state, a feeling that has been further amplified by the emergence of Uzodinma as new governor.

Ihedioha, from Mbaise, in the Oweri zone, was in a sense, an outsider to power. His people battle all manner of stereotypes, prominent of which is that they favour mostly their own people. The major apprehension many had about him prior to his emergence as governor was that he may not carry others along. He would only, it was said, favour mostly, if not only his Mbaise brothers.

This stereotype in part has continued to polarise even the Owerri zone with Owerri and Mbaise, the two main groups in the zone, not always keen to work together, evidently to their own peril. The zone has been the trailing leg of the states politics, and indeed is yet to produce a leader of national reckoning.

Chief Martin Agbaso was almost governor, he had all it took, and indeed had won the governorship seat, but was denied by the sudden suspension of collation by the INEC led Prof. Maurice Iwu. He was later very instrumental to the emergence of Okorocha in 2011, with his brother, Jude Agbaso becoming deputy governor.

The next from the zone to rise to prominence is Ihedioha. His reign is now short-lived. In informal circles, some suggest it might even be a curse.