Although the All Progressives Congress is currently controlling Imo State, the outcome of the party’s primaries and other factors have combined to make the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, the man to beat at the March 9 gubernatorial election in the state. Olusegun Adeniyi who was in Imo for two days and followed Ihedioha’s campaign train reports
The moment the former House of Representatives Deputy Speaker and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate for Imo State, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha arrived the town hall at Umuagu Nguru after a brief stop at the Timber and Allied Market in Naze, Owerri, the whole place went electric. What followed was more a carnival than a campaign for Ihedioha and his large entourage with gun salutes and traditional dances. After the traditional rites of kola breaking were concluded, Chief Achike Udenwa, who governed Imo State between 1999 and 2007, addressed the audience on why they came. But it was obvious he was preaching to the already converted.
According to Linus Okere, an 80-year old retired Professor of English who read from a prepared statement with theatrics and gesticulations that drew intermittent applause, the elders of Ngor Okpala had for long come to the conclusion that the current government in Imo is the “most incompetent in the history of the state.” And for that reason, Okere added, the people have settled for Ihedioha based on the conviction that “he is a credible candidate, with proven integrity aside his capacity to create jobs, initiate reforms and return Imo State to the path of progress.”
Responding to the address, Ihedioha spoke on why he was seeking to be Imo governor. He lamented that virtually all the critical sectors in the state have deteriorated beyond the threshold of manageability, “simply because the present government not only lacks imagination and direction but also has a penchant for abusing due process of law with impunity.” Ihedioha also pledged to restore sanity to the state after eight years of “Iberiberism”, a non-existent English word coined by Okorocha to describe the philosophical underpinning of his government.
Aside Udenwa, other prominent Imo sons and daughters on Ihedioha’s campaign train were former deputy governor Ebere Udeagu, three former federal ministers, (Chief Charles Ugwu, Dr Kema Chikwe and Prof. Viola Onwuliri) as well as former diplomat, Chief Greg Mbadiwe and former Imo Assembly deputy speakers, Chuma Nnaji and Maxwell Duru. Others in the campaign team included popular actors, Kanayo O. Kanayo and Victor Osuagwu, former Imo State SSG, Chris Okewulonu and former FUTO Vice Chancellor, Prof. Jude Njoku aside former and serving members of the House of Representatives: Uche Onyeagocha, Henry Nwawuba, Jones Onyerieri, Jerry Alagboso, Ezenwa Onyewuchi, Eddy Mbadiwe, Obinna Onwubuariri, Rufus Omire and several others. Leading the entire team of course was the young and energetic PDP Chairman in Imo State, Chief Charles Ezekwem.
Ihedioha is having a second shot at the governorship of Imo State. Four years ago when he contested against the incumbent Governor Rochas Okorocha, the election was declared inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) returning officer, former University of Lagos Vice Chancellor, Prof Ibidapo Obe, following cases of the malpractices that led to the cancellation of results in some local governments. At that point, Okorocha of APC was leading with 385,671 votes while Ihedioha, also the PDP candidate at the time, trailed with 306,142 votes. Since the difference of 79,529 votes between the two candidates was far less than the 144,715 cancelled votes, a rerun had to be conducted. Although the election ended at the tribunal, Okorocha eventually prevailed. But the APC platform that brought Okorocha to power in 2015 is now a house divided against itself.
The current gubernatorial candidate of the party is Senator Hope Uzodinma, a former PDP member who succeeded in using his connections in Abuja to muscle out Okorocha’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu who had been anointed by the governor as his successor. Nwosu has since defected to another party where he hopes to actualize his ambition with the backing of Okorocha who is nonetheless still running for senate on the platform of APC. Other gubernatorial contenders in the state include Senator Ifeanyi Ararume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); Chief Ikedi Ohakim, a former governor, also contesting on the platform of Accord Party and Mr. Linus Okorie of the Young Progressives Party (YPP).
However, Ihedioha, who faced a fierce contest to secure the PDP gubernatorial ticket, remains the man to beat. At the PDP primaries, Ihedioha polled 1,723 votes to defeat his closest opponent, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, chairman of the senate committee on Ethics and Privileges who garnered 1,282 votes. While the confusion in the Imo State chapter of the APC is growing every day, Ihedioha is engaging the people of the state by sharing his vision on how he will govern if elected. One of his cardinal promises is to ensure full autonomy for local governments in Imo.
Speaking last week in Oguta, where his running mate, Hon. Gerald Irona hails from, Ihedioha said his administration will be built on justice, due process and rule of law. “We shall implement the FOI Act. We shall send an executive bill to the state assembly to ensure that local government councils enjoy autonomy. We shall have a peoples’ parliament to enhance accountability and equity in the distribution of the people’s wealth” Ihedioha promised to a thunderous applause from the large crowd.
Meanwhile, not only has Ihedioha been campaigning across the state, he has also been holding strategic meetings with critical stakeholders and groups. In his session with the leadership of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Imo State who lamented being owed several months in salary and other emoluments, Ihedioha assured them that education will be a priority for him. Noting that the sector has been grounded in the state, Ihedioha said he would provide adequate tools through the planned Education Trust Fund with the welfare of teachers a priority.
Ihedioha, however, told the teachers that the challenge of the sector goes beyond just welfare as he reeled out statistics to buttress his point on how the sector had degenerated in the past few years. “For the entire 572 public secondary schools in Imo State, there are presently only eight qualified Mathematics teachers, 30 qualified English teachers, 20 qualified Physics teachers, 20 qualified Chemistry teachers and no qualified Further Math teacher” said Ihedioha who lamented “our people are no longer taught to be wealth creators, but rather for paid employment.”
If elected, Ihedioha said he would “reverse this ugly trend in Imo State so that we can effectively fit into the present global economy that is knowledge driven. We shall revive technical colleges and make them centres of excellence for critical skills like welding and fabrication, bricklaying, carpentry and joinery, electrical installation and repairs etc.” These, he argued, are critical skills that provide immediate jobs, especially self-employment. “In our manifesto, we have also laid out a careful plan to make Imo the regional ICT hub, by establishing a fully equipped and funded state-of-the-art ICT Village”, he said before leaving to have another session with the state’s pensioners.
In the build-up to the gubernatorial election that was shifted forward by a week, Ihedioha has also been receiving the endorsement of several groups within the state. For instance, retired military officers of Imo State origin have thrown their weight behind his aspiration. Under the aegis of RANAO (Retired Army, Navy and Airforce Officers Association), Imo State Chapter, the delegation identified Ihedioha as the man best suited to lead Imo State at this time. Chairman of the association, Group Captain Charles Orizu (rtd) said, “We are here to personally convey our resolve to endorse your candidature for the governorship position of our dear state. What informed this position is not farfetched, we have observed and indeed appraised other governorship candidates of other political parties and noted with satisfaction, your outstanding credentials, integrity, experience, capacities and more importantly, your depth of understanding of the challenges bedevilling our state.”
In his reaction, Ihedioha said he felt humbled by the endorsement while assuring the group that he would not fail them. That happens to be Ihedioha’s word at every campaign point, as he continues to pledge his commitment to revatilising the social sector that he believes has become a story of criminal neglect in the state. In his campaign at Aboh Mbaise where he was received with much excitement, Ihedioha highlighted the critical sectors that would take his immediate attention when elected. On health for instance, Ihedioha expressed concerns that there are no functional General Hospital at present in Imo State. “The only one, so called, is the Umuguma General hospital which has been leased to an unknown company in a deal that was considered by many as opaque and fraudulent”, he added.
Going by all according available records, according to Ihedioha, “the state hospitals management board presently has only 52 medical doctors; nine pharmacists; seven medical laboratory scientists; two X-ray technicians and 172 nurses for the 19 moribund General hospitals across a state with a population of about four million people.” To redress the situation, Ihedioha promised to enthrone due process, transparency, openness and accountability in the conduct of government business in the state. He said Okorocha should be held to account for the dismal state of the local councils and the brazen manner their statutory allocations are hijacked and mismanaged.
Speaking at a fund-raising dinner held for Ihedioha at the residence of Chief Ugwu, former minister and a past president of Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), Hon Onyeagocha, who lost the gubernatorial nomination of APGA in the state, said he had collapsed his campaign structure into that of Ihedioha. Of all the candidates seeking to be Imo governor, Onyeagocha added, Ihedioha remains the most credible. He therefore enjoined the people of Imo State not to relent until they ensure the victory of Ihedioha on March 9 so that they can dismantle Okorocha’s house of ‘Iberiberism’.