By OBINNA EZUGWU
For all its shortcomings, the 2019 general elections will be remembered for heralding the slaying of political godfathers. Much have been written about the fate of such political juggernauts as Senate President, Bukola Saraki whose dynasty was broken in Kwara, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the heavyweight who swore to deliver Akwa Ibom to his newly found political abode, the All Progressives Congress (APC), but was given bloody nose.
And of course, the ‘Oyo Constituted Authority’, Governor Abiola Ajimobi who lost his senate bid, and the state to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But in all, none is perhaps as telling as the fate of the Imo State governor, and ‘presidential hopeful,’ Owelle Rochas Okorocha.
The Imo governor has ultimately failed in his bid to install his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu as his successor. And what could be worse! He may also lose out in his quest to represent Imo West Senatorial District in the 9th Senate. But he, perhaps, should have seen it coming. Okorocha had transformed himself into an emperor of sorts, and it was an inevitability given the Imo environment, that his empire would crumble sooner than later.
“From 1999, there has never been any governor that chose his successor in Imo State. Their successors are often people they never expected would succeed them. It’s not like Lagos where one man takes all the decisions. Imo is not Lagos,” notes Chief Okey Okoroji, lawyer and chieftain of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).
The spontaneous celebrations that erupted in the state when Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, PDP, was declared winner of the governorship election held on Saturday, was reminiscence of the death of former military dictator, Sani Abacha in 1998. And perhaps, there are parallels between Abacha’s ‘tragic’ demise and Okorocha’s defeat.
Abacha’s reign was one of suppression and terror. Okorocha’s is certainly not characterised by the brute force of military dictatorship, but even history shows that the world’s worst dictators have been democratically elected leaders. For eight years, Okorocha has had Imo, one could say, in his pocket. He had, as he once boasted, retired the likes of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Senator Arthur Nzeribe, Ifeanyi Ararume, Ikedi Ohakim and the likes who mattered in Imo politics, and he was now the only man standing.
The Imo governor loomed large. He was a king who brooked no opposition, not even contrary opinion. You were either with him or you were against him. And if you were against him, Imo could easily become too hot for you. The likes of Martin Agbaso who helped him to power in 2011 learnt the hard way.
Agbaso, for the key role he played in Okorocha’s emergence in 2011, probably expected to share power with the governor, but he wasted little time in running him out of town. Even the clergy were not spared. At the funeral of late Mrs. Juliana Mbata at the St. Micheal’s Catholic Church, Ngwoma, Owerri North LGA in 2017, the Archbishop of Owerri Catholic Archdiocese, Most Rev. Anthony Valentine Obinna had admonished Imo people to get their permanent voters cards and endeavour to vote out bad leaders.
Archbishop Obinna is a hugely respected Catholic clergy in a predominantly Catholic state. But that mattered little. Thugs loyal to Okorocha charged towards him and were only prevented from attacking him. It was captured in a video that went viral.
“There were two levels of kidnapping going on in the state: one is the upper level kidnapping that is targeted at politicians who are looking to vie for offices, they can’t return home. The other is the lower level which is those who are kidnapping for ransom,” explained Okoroji, Rochas is like the devil the Bible spoke about that he came to steal and to destroy.”
But with much power came hubris. Okorocha probably reasoned that he could do whatever he wanted. He secured strategic positions in government for his family members. He had created a Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment and put his sister, Mrs. Ogechi Ololo in charge as commissioner. His wife, Nneoma, according to him, oversees the state’s amnesty programme, and, by his own words, directs the affairs of four ministries. And what was funny, he molded statues.
Okorocha had also decided on replacing Hope Uzodinma in the Senate. The deputy governor, Eze Madumere had wanted the governorship seat. But Okorocha decided he should take the Imo East senate seat, a seat currently occupied by Senator Samuel Anyanwu. Then, the Imo North senate seat occupied by his old ally, Benjamin Uwajumogu, he said should be taken by a certain Prof Nnamdi Obiaraeri.
And to cap it all, he insisted that Mr. Nwosu, his son-in-law whom he first made Commissioner of Lands, Survey and Urban Planning, and later Chief of Staff, must succeed him. It was to be his Achilles heel. Imo people felt insulted enough and rallied. There was a revolt within the government and within the Imo APC.
Madumere, the deputy governor led the revolution from the government house. Osita Izunaso, then National Organising Secretary of the APC; Senator Hope Uzodinma and Senator Uwajumogu plotted against him in the party.
Theirs proved to be a potent combination. At the APC ward congresses held on the 5th of May last year and the follow up local government congresses held on Monday May 14, they effectively dethroned the governor. And during the state congress, Uzodinma emerged governorship candidate.
But with the emergence of Adams Oshiomhole as APC chairman, Okorocha seized the opportunity to fight back. The Oshiomhole led National Working Committee (NWC) cancelled the primary and ordered a fresh one. The second primary eventually held, which the Uzodinma group boycotted, and Nwosu emerged candidate.
Uzodinma proceeded to court however, and got judgment in his favour. Nwosu lost out in APC. But Okorocha, determined to ensure his emergence as governor, pushed him to his old political party, Action Alliance (AA) where he emerged candidate. But coming up practically against the APC and the generality of Imo people, he was fighting a lost battle.
He faced intense opposition, even from the leadership of the church. And perhaps he couldn’t simply understand why it was people’s problem that he wanted his son-in-law to succeed him.
Addressing a crowd of supporters in Owerri last year, he said that Imo people did not reason properly. And that he could not understand why his decision to back Mr. Nwosu for governor should be opposed. According to him, there was nothing wrong with it.
He gave examples of Bola Ahmed Tinubu in Lagos who was a governor and his wife still a senator. He gave the example of the Bush family in America. George Bush Snr., he said was president. His son George Bush Jnr., also became president, while another son, Jeb, was a governor who also aspired to be president. He reminded them of how Hilary Clinton almost became president after her husband, Bill, had ruled. And cited a number of governors in the North whose wives are senators or served as ministers at the same time.
“Yet,” he had said, “There were no bishops campaigning against them and nobody accused them of trying to dominate.”
After the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 23, Okorocha as APC senatorial candidate for Imo West was declared winner of the senatorial contest by the zone’s returning officer, Prof. Ibeabuchi Izuchukwu. But another drama began to play out when Ibeabuchi who announced Okorocha winner said he was doing so under duress, and that he was detained for days.
“My name is Ibeabuchi Izuchukwu Innocent, a professor at the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), the returning officer for Imo West (Orlu) senatorial zone”, Ibeabuchi said at a press conference.
“My area commander, my P.Os; the party agents here present; members of the press; ladies and gentlemen. I have been held hostage here for days so I’m trying to ease off and take my life home back to my children and for the sake of that I am calling these results under duress.”
After announcing nine out of 12 local government areas that made up the zone, Mr Ibeabuchi stopped, saying he received an urgent call from the state’s Resident Electoral Commission (REC), Francis Ezeonu, to return to Owerri and continue the process Monday morning.
But Mr Okorocha’s supporters insisted the returning officer “must complete” the announcement, “otherwise, he is not going anywhere.”
He would later yield and declared Okorocha winner of the election. He said the governor polled 97,762 votes while Mr Onyeriri returned second with 63,117 votes.
But it would be revealed subsequently that Prof Ibeabuchi had hesitated because he was convinced that the election was massively rigged in the governor’s favour.
INEC has meanwhile, declined issuing certificate of return to Okorocha. The electoral umpire’s chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu had insisted that it would not issue certificate to anyone who was declared winner under duress.
It’s proving to be double jeopardy for Okorocha. In the governorship election, Imo people determinedly ensured that every attempt he made to ensure that Nwosu won the election fell through. In the end, Ihedioha polled 273,404 votes to defeat Nwosu who had 190,364 votes; Ifeanyi Ararume, APGA candidate who polled 114,676 votes to come third, and the APC candidate, Uzodinma who came fourth with 96,458 votes.
Okorocha and Nwosu had, meanwhile, refused to accept the result. They have vowed to recover their “stolen” mandate in court.
Okorocha blames the army, the APC and those who, according to him are working against his presidential ambition, for his fate. He sees himself as a front line presidential candidate in 2023 when, according to him, it would be the turn of the South East to produce president. He therefore blames Tinubu, the former Lagos governor who is also plotting for the top job. He indirectly alleges him of being behind his predicament using his proxy in Adams Oshiomhole.
Oshiomhole’s NWC had meanwhile, suspended him and Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun for what they called anti party activities. Both governors had backed their own candidates for governorship, as opposed to the ruling party’s candidates in their respective states. While Okorocha backed Nwosu who ran under Action Alliance, Amosun backed Mr. Adekunle Akinlade of the Allied People’s Movement (APM). Both men lost the governorship.
Okorocha who often has sense of the dramatic had allegedly threatened that the Igbo would revolt if INEC delays further in issuing him his certificate of return. According to him, he won the election and there could not be any justifiable grounds to deny him his mandate. He argues that the electoral body doesn’t have the right to withhold his certificate.
He may well go to the Senate, but one thing is obvious: Okorocha has squandered his political capital and is on a slippery slope to political irrelevance. Imo people could not have craved for a better outcome.
“The instantaneous jubilation that followed the announcement of Emeka Ihedioha showed that the people actually voted for real change from the calamitous regime of Okorocha,” noted Chief Goddy Uwazurike, senior lawyer and president emeritus of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga. “Where there is real result that reflected the will of the people, it would be obvious.”
Okoroji says Imo people were out to get rid of the governor, who he said, has performed woefully, and that led to the rejection of Nwosu.
“Imo people are thoroughly disappointed, totally depressed and tired of Okorocha. Therefore, they couldn’t have been comfortable with anyone he is putting up as his successor. Not that he (Nwosu) was not qualified to be governor, but in the light of Okorocha’s poor performance as governor, people felt that he was bringing someone to cover up his atrocities.
“There was total rejection of that young man. He happens to come from Orlu where I come from, himself and Okorocha, but Orlu people just don’t want them.”