OwelleRochasOkorocha has proved his political strength being the only All Progressives Congress governor-elect in the South East region. The APC also swept the seats in the state House of Assembly despite PDP’s strong presence in the state. EZUGWU OBINNA reports
Imo State governor, OwelleRochasOkorocha is obviously a man that has seen it all in politics; he has tasted both failures and successes in equal measures in his political carrier.But in the wake of his emergence as the only All Progressives Congress (APC) governor in the South East geopolitical zone, the governor looks set to consolidate on the success of his party to take over main stream politics in Igbo land.
The Imo chief executive announced his presence in the present political dispensation as soon as democracy was restored in 1999, but like a child learning to walk, his initial years in politics were characterized by intermittent periods of rise and fall.
In 1999, Okorocha competed in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primaries in Imo State but unfortunately lost to AchikeUdenwa, who would eventually emerge governor that year. This failure did not however deter him as he continued to make efforts and even so, he raised the stake of his political ambition much higher and began to eye the office of the president.
After the 1999 elections, he left the PDP for the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) from where he first made an attempt, yet unsuccessfully, to pick the party’s flag for the 2003 presidential election. GenMuhammaduBuhari emerged the party’s presidential candidate that year but even the general lost to the then incumbent President,OlusegunObasanjo of the PDP. After the election, he yet returned to the PDP and President Obasanjo appointed him as Special Adviser on Inter-Party affairs.
Okorocha in yet another bid to run for the office of president left the PDP in 2005 to form the Action Alliance (AA) on which platform he hoped to run for presidency in 2007, but yet failed and again, returned to the PDP where he would later face rivalry with IkediOhakim who had won the Imo governorship election in 2007 under the platform of Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) but also returned to the PDP fold over who would lead the party in the state.
It was in the wake of this rivalry that he joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) which was emerging as an Igbo party having won Anambra State and in the 2011 governorship election; he defeated the incumbent Ohakim and became governor of Imo State.
Although Imo had been a predominantly PDP state, a number of factors contributed to his victory over the party in 2011. Importantly, Ohakim had through his actions as governor shot himself in the leg. Many in the state had accused him of lack of performance and when he was later alleged to have slapped a catholic priest in a predominantly catholic state, he effectively dug his political grave.
Again, the deputy governorship candidate, Jude Agboso was a wise pick by Okorocha as he was a popular political figure in the state being the younger brother of the APGA governorship candidate in 2007 governorship election in the state, Chief Martin Agbaso. The deputy governor was however, unfortunately impeached in 2013 over alleged reception of N458 million bribes from a Lebanese contractor by the state House of Assembly much to the chagrin of the Agbaso family.
Chief Martin had insisted that his younger brother had nothing to do with the money and the money was eventually traced to an account in Lebanon.
Okorochaa the same time, was coming with a reputation of a philanthropist and a worthy son of Igbo land who had fought in various capacities for Igbo presidency and who was now running on a platform believed to be the Igbo platform in APGA. It was therefore easy for the people to buy his promise to rescue Imo from PDP bad governance and he won the hearts of the masses in the state which and the defeat of Ohakim at the end of an intriguing contest that had first been declared inconclusive, and election rescheduled in four local governments of the state. In total, he polled 336,859 votes to beat Ohakim who had 290,490 votes.
It was a disappointment to many well meaning Igbo when Okorocha led a faction of APGA to join the APC when the party was formed in 2013. This marked the beginning of the end of APGA as the dominant party in Imo state and Okorocha received a number of criticisms for abandoning the partyfor APC which was seen as anti-Igbo party. This contributed to the insignificant support he got from the zone when he challenged other candidates for the APC presidential flag last year. He was variously regarded as a sellout.
But while all these was going on, the governor had one important factor working for him; he had taken the state to a level where the PDP government could not with his infrastructural development and free education policy. As a result, he had consolidated on his popularity with the masses in the state.
His influence would eventually rob off on the APC during the presidential election as the party secured at total of 133,253 votes against the PDP’s winning number of 559,185 thus making Imo the only South East state where the president-elect, secured more than the 25 percent benchmark.
It was this same factor that has seen him retain his seat as governor under a party struggling for acceptance in the state and indeed the entire zone, despite the presence of a formidable opposition candidate in the person of Hon. EmekaIhedioha, who was the PDP candidate, a party that has traditionally been in charge of the state and which has a very solid structure.
However, Okorocha owes his victory this time in part, to the in-fighting within the PDP camp. Senator IfeanyiArarume who had lost out in the party’s primaries to Ihedioha eventually declared his support for Okorocha and encouraged his supporters to vote for the APC candidate. The governor had in acknowledgement of this fact in the aftermath of his victory, heaped praises on Ararume whom he admitted was instrumental to his victory at the polls.
“I want to tell you that I have seen a true man of integrity; a great son of Imo state who came out to support me and the APC in the governorship elections without asking for a kobo. All he asked for is that the interest of his supporters and Imo people be protected, that man is Senator Ararume,” Okorocha stated at a meeting of APC leaders at the Imo Government House,Owerri.
There is no doubt that the governor’s political profile is on the rise and the fact that he was able to overcome the PDP in the recently concluded elections in Imo, in both the governorship and State Assembly elections as the party won majority seats, while all APC candidates in the other South East states failed is a testimonial to his popularity. The fact that his party has majority seats in the Hose of Assembly means that he would not be under any form of threat and would therefore focus on consolidating on his position as the arrow head of APC in the South East.
Only last week, Okorocha took what has been interpreted as a smart move when he reconstituted the caretaker committees of APC in the five South Eastern states, which implies that he would now have a measure of control over the party’s leadership in the entire zone, a move observers say has effectively made him the overall leader of the APC in the zone. This has huge implications for his political growth.
Apart from having influence over the choice of ministers to be nominated from the zone, he would also, as many believe, act as a link in the zone’s affairs with Buhari. Politicians as well as private business owners in the South East, who have renewable contracts with the federal government, may now have to reach the president through him which would by implication make him a force to reckon with in this dispensation.
There are also suggestions in some quarters that he may head the South East governor’s forum and perhaps the Nigeria Governors’Forum as the odds favour him.
There is, of course, the likelihood that he would be taking another shot at the presidency after the north must have had its turn and being a popular political figure among the northerners, he stands a good chance.
As the governor will be completing his second tenure in 2019, one thing is sure; his presidential ambition is very much alive.