As the succession battle rages across the country, the South-east is becoming a zone to watch, especially with the peculiar drumbeats of war coming from Imo State where Governor Rochas Okorocha has firmly thrown his weight behind his son-in-law. Christopher Isiguzo writes
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, states in the South-east geopolitical zone are becoming politically charged as far as the governorship seats are concerned. Apart from Anambra State where there will be no governorship election in view of the conduct of same late last year and the return of incumbent Governor Willie Obiano for a second term, the other states in the zone will be going to the polls to elect new helmsmen.
At the moment, the governors of Abia, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu; Ebonyi, Mr. Dave Umahi; and Enugu, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, all of who belong to the Peoples Democratic Party, will be seeking second terms. But their counterpart in Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, is expected to hand over to a new governor following the completion of his statutory two terms.
In view of their second term dreams, the focus in the three states of Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu is, without doubt, on the incumbent governors who have, expectedly, been receiving endorsements from different groups and individuals.
Perhaps, the real battle royal will take place in Imo State, where Okorocha has thrown his hat into the ring to ensure that his son-in-law, and his present Chief of Staff, Chief Uche Nwosu, succeeds him next year. That decision has put the eastern heartland on the edge, as many people in the state see it as an affront on their collective psyche.
Before the idea of Nwosuâ€™s governorship in 2019 surfaced on the social and traditional media late last year, many observers had thought the governor was preparing his longstanding aide and Deputy Governor, Prince Eze Madumere, who hails from Mbieri in Mbaitolu Local Government Area to succeed him. It was the general belief that supporting his deputy would address the issue of zoning in the state. But Okorocha has allegedly told Madumere to go for the Owerri senatorial zone ticket, while he contests for the Orlu senate seat.
Since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999, nobody from Owerri zone, which has nine out of the 27 local government areas in the state, has governed the state. Their only time on the governorship seat was in 1992, when Chief Evan Enwerem governed for a few of months. Enwerem hailed from Ikeduru Local Government Area.
In 1999, Chief Achike Udenwa from Amaifeke in Orlu Local Government Area and Chief Ebere Udeagu from Okigwe governed the state for eight years and in 2007, handed over to Chief Ikedi Ohakim from Isiala Mbano and Mrs. Ada Okwuonu from Mbaise. The team was, however, defeated in 2011 by Okorocha from Ideato South and Jude Agbaso (deputy) from Owerri North Local Government Area. Agbaso was later impeached before the end of Okorochaâ€™s first term and was replaced by Madumere, a known ally of the governor.
The implication of the above scenario is that while Orlu Zone, with 12 local government areas, would have governed the state for 16 years by the time Okorocha completes his tenure in May next year, Okigwe has done four years, leaving Owerri zone with nothing, except the deputy governorship slot and in some cases the speakership of the House of Assembly. This situation has worsened the already charged atmosphere, as the people of Owerri zone are insisting that they can no longer remain by the side-line and watch while other zones are busy cornering what ordinarily should belong to three geopolitical cousins.
For the sake of equity, fair play, and justice, a school of thought believes that power should go to Owerri zone or in the worst-case scenario, Okigwe zone, but definitely not Orlu zone. It is for this reason that tension appears to be rising in Imo State following the endorsement of Nwosu from Nkwere in the same Orlu zone to succeed the incumbent governor. Not only are the people upset that the anointed one is more like a family member of the Okorochas, they are also uncomfortable that he still hails from Orlu zone.
That has remained the major talking point in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
Fight to the Finish
The belief in some quarters is that Madumereâ€™s determination to seek the governorship seat instead of the senate seat as proposed by his boss is a sign of rebellion against the governor. But the deputy governor has since dismissed such idea as a lie.
â€œMake no mistake to believe that I am in the race for personal vendetta, God forbid,â€ Madumere said recently. â€œI bear no grudges. At least you all know that I have served meritoriously and that by my training, I am now a seasoned administrator with exposure like no other. I have operated at the higher echelon in the private sector starting from corporate America to Nigerian private sector and then to the public sector and by the Grace of God, I have excelled in every responsibility I have been assigned to handle together with the ones I took up for myself.â€
On his part, Nwosu does not seem to be worried with the backlash trailing his endorsement by his father-in-law. â€œMost people have even replaced my name by son-in-law,â€ he was quoted as saying. â€œWhen people want to score cheap political points, they refuse to mention Uche Nwosu and stick to son-in-law. Does being a son-in-law stop me from being who I am? Does it stop me from doing what I ought to be doing? So, it has become a sin to be a governorâ€™s son-in-law.â€
Nwosu added, â€œPeople tend to forget that what the people really need is somebody that will change their lives for the better, somebody that can effect the much-needed change, somebody who can put food on their table, somebody who can bring a new innovation, and not somebody who will be making noise and shouting son-in-law. As Uche Nwosu, I have carved a niche for myself and that credit should not be lost on my opponents.â€
In the meantime, several known politicians from mainly Okigwe and Owerri senatorial districts have thrown their hats into the ring, threatening to thwart Okorochaâ€™s bid to install his protÃ©gÃ© as governor. Even though 20 out of the 27 members of the Assembly have endorsed Nwosu, opposition to his candidature has continued to mount.
The succession battle also seems to have torn the ruling APC in the state apart, with some party leaders opposed to the governor said to be fine-tuning their strategies to thwart the governorâ€™s desire. The opposition elements within the party led by Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, it was gathered, have already established a presence in all the political wards in the state. The main battle ground, according to findings, will be the forthcoming congresses of the party. It is said that the governorâ€™s camp is not leaving anything to chance, as plans are said to be underway to ensure that his own people emerge as ward, local government and state officers of the party.
Another plan that could facilitate the emergence of Nwosu as governor, many believe, is the proposed local government election. It was gathered that the state government had fine-tuned plans to install loyalists as ward councillors and council chairmen.
However, a top official of the Imo State Government told THISDAY that the choice of Nwosu as a possible successor to Okorocha was not the governorâ€™s unilateral decision.
The official, who preferred anonymity, said, â€œWe all agreed that Nwosu fits the bill. The fact that he is the governorâ€™s son-in-law does not remove the fact that he is very capable to steer the ship of the state after Okorocha. The man in question has carved a niche for himself and has over the years demonstrated his readiness to lead the state to the next level. I can assure you that in an open contest, Nwosu will floor all his opponents, including the deputy governor.â€
He added, â€œBesides, all these issues revolving around zoning arrangement donâ€™t hold water. When did Imo start respecting zoning? When Udenwa became governor, he contested and defeated those from other zones. When Ohakim ran for governorship, people from other zones ran against him. When Okorocha contested, it was also against people from other zones. Now that Uche Nwosu is contesting, some people suddenly woke up from slumber and are playing the zonal cards. It cannot fly.â€
But an APC chieftain in the state, Chief Obed Iheoma, told THISDAY that it would be an aberration for another Orlu man to govern the state in 2019 after the zone had held the position for 16 years. Iheoma advised Okorocha to reduce the building tension in the state by supporting his deputy who he said had remained loyal to the governor for about 25 years.
â€œI am really surprised that it has become almost an unwritten law that governors donâ€™t allow their deputies to succeed them,â€ he said.
At the moment, the political atmosphere in the state is charged. But that does not seem to faze Okorocha. His opponents have also dug their heels in. Only time can tell how things will pan out.