By Okwuaku A. I. Okwuaku 08036627764 (text only)
Whether he vies for the governorship seat in Imo state or makes real his ambition to stand in the elections as a presidential candidate of the rampaging opposition APC party, Gov. Rochas Anayo Okorocha, the left wing charismatic politician who swept to power in 2011’s tightly contested election, is sure to make a game changer come 2015. For all intent and purposes, Okorocha on APC car at the presidential elections is the party’s most potential bargaining chip in its attempt to unseat president Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling PDP or cut a considerable chuck of the votes at the polls, and the president and his party being fully aware of this fact are not leaving anything to chances. Hence, as the 2015 elections approach with lightning speed, close watchers are sure to be fed with interesting scenes of the game and the men who will play it.
Aside his traditional wide hold in the Northern part of the country where he grew up as a teenager, completed all stages of his primary-tertiary education, and flourished in business, Okorocha’s image as a philanthropist through the Rochas Foundation Schools gives him a remarkable wide spread in the Southern, Western and Eastern arms of the polity. In the Nigerian political landscape, the name Owelle Anayo Rochas has also become as symbolic as Owelle Nnamdi Azikiw- Zik. Aside his success in business and mercantile diplomacy, his rise in politics has followed a steady and progressive trajectory in a way that forms a pointer, and the opposition is not leaving any stone unturned in this regard. In the Imo political scene the governor has strategically migrated from the position of a flank player before his emergence in 2011 to a mainstream powerbroker after his coming to power in a revolutionary election.
Whether one accepts it or not, Gov Okorocha’s dramatic grip of the polity during the electioneering campaign window in the 2011 elections that brought him to power after defeating the then incumbent Gov. Ikedi Ohakim in a tightly contested election is a raw taste of Okorocha’s political charismatism and symbolism, and opposition political elites are startled to a state of paralysis. They fear that now, more empowered than he was in 2011, with all the state apparatuses, the governor is sure to have greater and more shocking surprises for his opponents. But what unsettles the opposition most is the governor’s seamless and strategic radical attempts at emasculating the old political blocks that ran things in the past, reshaping the political landscape, and steering the ship of governance in a way that helps him to deliver exactly what he promised the electorates in 2011. Of course, immediately after the elections, the governor was out to tame the old political establishments, end the Ghana-Must-Go and Banana Republic politics, and restructure the system in a way that would allow him deliver on his promised transformation agenda. Backed by his then Chief of Staff, now his deputy, Prince Eze Madumere, the governor sent old politicians parking and drafted younger politicians to drive his administrative vision and agenda tagged “Imo Must Be Better”, while the older politicians were forced to retire to advisory status, but not without strong resistance. As Nigerians approach the threshold of the 2015 elections, Governor Okorocha’s much speculated move to Aso Villa is sure to unsettle opposition stakeholders and the presidency.
In Imo state, the game is a clean cut one between the rookies and the old folks. And as the heat period for electioneering campaign approaches for the 2015 elections, there are genuine reasons to say that Imo state remains a spot to watch. The governor, a charismatic leftwing politician who came to power at the 2011 elections on a huge popular mandates, is facing stiff opposition from the political elites who feel they played a part in bringing him to power but now starved of fund or schemed out of the polity for younger politicians. With his massive projects dotting every corner of the state, it is will be an obvious perfidy to deny that the governor is working. But his critics insist that his attempt at ending “Banana Republic and Ghana Must Go Politics” is in bad taste. However, the governor insists that corrupt politicians must sit back and watch as he rescues the state from the grip of greedy PDP godfathers who looted the state to bankruptcy during PDP’s 12 years in power, and he is counting on his excellent performance as the best bet for his party’s 2015 comeback bid to the Douglas House no matter who flies the party’s flag. From road construction to massive infrastructural development, health, education and security, job creation and youth empowerment, the governor’s performance has been symbolic and incredible.
To sense how stiff the battle will be, the PDP is parading an array of over 20 big heads to give the governor a chase for his money, his popularity and his incumbency. APGA, the governor’s former party that brought him to power in 2011 insists the governor does not deserve a second term for dumping the party for his new APC party. But the governor has a huge support from among the common electorates, APGA has lost bulk of its supporters to the governor’s APC, and PDP is yet to regain its place as it was from 1999 to 2011. 2015 will be a historical moment in Imo state as the polity heats up.
However, the fact that nobody knows if the governor will vie for the guber seat or not makes it more interesting. There are near life speculations that the governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, will reactivate his presidential bid, while Imo electorates are mounting pressure on him to run for a second term due to his sterling scorecard. Whether he will run for president or for the guber, Okorocha, like President Jonathan, is also not leaving any stone unturned. While opposition strategists believe the governor’s exit from the guber contest will create greater opportunity for the PDP and other opposition forces to retake power in 2015, there are clear indications that the governor has groomed capable successors who may prove more problematic to the opposition than the governor would have done, and his excellent performance is seen as a leeway and strategic vantage factor for the party’s 2015 candidate.
Generally, with a considerable accuracy as deduced from the emerging signs, the 2015 general elections, specifically the ones that seek to elect the President and Commander-In Chief of The Armed Forces, and the Executive Governors of the 36 states of federal republic of Nigeria, will be very interesting to watch. Ominous signs are already emerging on the horizon that it will be highly contentious. Of course I have genuine reasons to be pessimistic; with many months to go, the number of causalities from the ensuing battle are increasing by the day. However, with appropriate discount for uncertainties, things may prove otherwise as the electorates make the final decision. Whatever the case, the 2015 elections will make an intriguing historical piece both in Imo state and elsewhere in Nigeria. But Gov. Okorocha’s candidature is sure to change how the game of power and politics will be played by the rookies at the capitol if he chooses to bid for the Aso Villa job. If opposition is what will stop Okorocha from being president or staging a comeback to Douglas House, then Goodluck Jonathan, facing even a stronger opposition, is sure to fail in his bid.
On Goodluck Jonathan’s side of the game, speaking on the battle ahead, the president and his strategists are already on full swing to secure the primaries of the PDP and move larger scale to win the general polls. As the pack moves, they are making hard, biting concessions and interesting compromises, including dramatic cabinet shake-ups aimed at taming and caging the opposition. The president and his strategists are now aware they are no longer dealing with a patchwork of opposition forces like in the last elections. Already in Kano, the All Progressive Congress (APC) party, the main opposition against the president, has just swept to victory in the local council elections. It won all the seats. Lagos, a battle ground state, is nonnegotiably in the hands of opposition APC.
With Nigeria’s two largest cities, Lagos and Kano, in the hands of the opposition, the president knows he has a fight in his hand come 2015. The president is counting on ex-Governor Mallam Shekarau against incumbent Gov. Kwamkwaso’s unyielding opposition stance, and for political convenience, the opposition ex-governor has been nominated a ministerial candidate. But remember, Alhaji Ado Bayero, the powerfully influential emir of Kano is dead, and Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, former Nigerian Central Bank Chief, who has become the president’s arch foe after being suspended for leveling allegations of high-level fraud in a way that indicted the president’s key allies, has emerged the new emir. He is expected to be more powerful and politically minded than his predecessor. According to BBC’s Tomi Oladipo, Mallam Sanusi Lamido’s frosty relationship with the president will be keenly watched ahead of next year’s presidential election. The Emir is not just influential in Kano alone; he is one of the most powerful and most influential spiritual leaders in the largely Muslim North and excerts much impact on the regions political landscape. So Kano is increasingly getting out of the president’s winning equation.
The president and his men are fully aware that this time around, they will face a string of powerful forces from different segments and interest blocks opposing his second term bid to Aso Villa. The interests of these forces vary so much. How to lay his fingers on what these forces exactly want from him is another intriguing part of the game and a booby trap that may sink the president’s dream if the president and his team fail to interpret this part correctly and respond appropriately. But to compound Jonthan’s woes, Imo, the state that gave the president the whole of its votes at the 2011 presidential polls, is in the hands of an opposition charismatic politician who may fly the opposition presidential ticket come 2015. The president and his men are fully aware of this fact and they are watching events in Imo closely as they do to Kano state. But in the event that Gov. Okorocha is APC’s ultimate choice for the presidency, then Imo is a complete minus for the president. The fact that the president’s trip to Imo state to personally welcome defecting politicians failed to swing the political tempo to PDP’s favour is a thing of concern to the party. For close watchers, it demonstrates how influential, symbolic and powerful the Okorocha brand has become in the polity.
Already, the opposition forces are exploiting every social fissure to gain political advantage, and the brazen abduction of over 200 school girls from the town of Chibok by Boko Haram is compounding the president’s woes ahead of the 2015 ultimate. Opposition political strategists are exploiting the ensuing wild outpour of public sentiment to demonize the president and portray his administration as lame and incapable. The president himself is making frantic efforts to communicate to the electorates and the international community that his government is not folding its arms in the face of daily security threats posed by the Boko Haram terror activities. But he may struggle to convince Nigerians that he has done much in tackling corruption and ineptitude. The opposition forces insist that President Jonathan’s government, due to corruption among his cabinet and strategic agencies, has become either paralyzed or too imbecilic to govern a complex nation of over 150 million people as terror groups leave scores dead and oil thieves stash petrodollars away. As a result, the president has been stampeded into accepting international help from nations his government has related with over the years on mutual mistrust and skepticism. The president, a southerner and the first minority president of Nigeria, insists he will defeat the Boko Haram. But as the Chibok girls abduction spur protests beyond Nigeria, some placards read” No Rescue, No Vote” and the campaign is trending high on social media with the hash tag “BringBackOurGirls”. This is a sign that the president’s political opponents are capitalizing on every opening to galvanize strong opposition against the president’s reelection bid.
From inside his ruling Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), the president is contending with discordant voices from powerful forces whom the president and his allies know certainly they can’t afford to ignore. He has just exchanged heavily worded letters with the man who in all honesty, as admitted by the president himself, made him in politics. Olusegun Obasanjo, the ex-president who pulled Jonathan from the flanks and from outside the mainstream of power to make him Nigeria’s first minority president, has parted ways with his godson. He labeled the president corrupt and accused him of destroying the ruling party and leading the country adrift. This was contained in an embarrassing open letter the president read from the tabloids like the rest of Nigerians. Obasanjo’s openly voiced support for Gov. Lamido of Jigawa is also troubling for the presidency, and now it is not a hidden secret that Obasanjo wants Lamido to replace Sambo.
At the wake of a deluge of sentiments, PDP’s strong-man-chairman, Bamanga Tukur, the president’s most avowed ally in an increasingly hostile and desperate North, was sacrificed. Although, the same witches that hunted Tukur are still in the party, and they are not hunting his successor less than they did to Tukur. The only difference is that Adamu Mu’azu, the new compromise-chairman, is of less hot blood, he has learnt some lessons with Tukur, and thirdly, as he told party supporters from Akwa-Ibom “I will stoop to conquer”. This contradicts the demeanor of Tukur who wanted to “Stand to Conquer”. Then sports minister Abdullahi, adjudged good, had to go for good because of perceived sympathy to opposition APC figures. But for the president’s allies the sacking of Stella Odua of the aviation was too compromising. She was the woman who made her boss president. With her Neighbour-To- Neighbor pet political project, Odua moved door to door across a wide spectrum of the countryside to convince reluctant electorates that Goodluck Jonathan, the son of a poor canoe-maker in the impoverished town of Otuoke, was the most credible choice at the polls. The president had wished that Odua stayed, but political convenience is a necessary goal at this point, so she had to go for good.
To think that the sacking of Odua, Tukur and a few key figures among the presidency’s favourites meant that the president and his team are set to rest on their oars is to say the least, most stupefying and self-deceiving. There are justifiable signs that every political office holder, no matter how close he or she is to the president and his audacious wife, must tread carefully. The president won’t spare anyone who commits a blunder in a way that will affect his victory at the polls. In days to come more heads will roll either as victims or victims of circumstances. Gulak Ahmed, the president’s villa guy and fiery political adviser who has taken much brunt from the rampaging oppositions, has just gone. Of course, Gulak has to go for good for what political analysts see as a fatal mistake. Gulak had to go for gambling with the interest of Gov. Godswill Akpabio, the man who holds the president’s political lifeline in his South South and South East regions after him and Gov. Rotimi Amaechi turned from allies to irreconcilable foes.
From the inside, there are near-life speculations that the presidency might negotiate his less vocal vice, Namadi Sambo, away to assuage the feeling of a powerful block of the northern oligarchs who feel that Sambo does not represent core northern interest in the presidency’s decision making machinery. There is a growing feeling in the presidency that there is an urgent need of local support from the Northern leaders to tackle the embarrassing Boko Haram insurgency and bargain for a comfortable Northern support for the president. There is also the perception that there is a powerful northern conspiracy brewing against the president’s second term bid. These might force the presidency to bid Sambo goodbye for a more acceptable candidate who can cut a larger chunk of the Northern votes as the opposition APC makes baffling inroads into the North. But this might prove a tough, costly calculation on the president’s side if he accepts, but refusing it will also create a dilemma of some sort.
At the state levels, the battle is not less intriguing. But as the 2015 elections hit up the polity and elicit all kinds of maneuvering, Imo state, among similar others, is one spotlight to watch. The incumbent governor is a typical pack of charismatism and unpredictability, and opposition forces are appearing most aggressive, determined to send the governor and his new APC party packing. In the media, a dangerous warfare is on, powered by a proliferation in the growing number of fifth columnist hustling journalists and local tabloids mostly driven by hunger and lack of jobs than professionalism and passion for professional journalism. Opposing forces hire media marksmen and career blackmailers against targets of interest. Also, the dominant mindset among politicians that “securing victory at the polls by all means is a fair game” is powering a foggy atmosphere where it becomes difficult for the electorates to know exactly what and who to believe, not less the confusion on who to vote. The state governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, like the president, is making strategic moves to tighten his grip on the system and radically change the political equation to his favour. Marshal Okoroafor Anyanwu, the APC state party leader who comes from the governor’s political zone has been sacrificed to create a sense of equity and seal an equation for political convenience. His replacement, Hilary Ekeh is viewed as a grassroot politician and a thoroughbred political strategist who can give the opposition a fight for whatever scheming and maneuvering they bring on board the game. The governor, like the president has made hard choices and compromises, including damning cabinet shake-ups to tame his opponents.
Importantly, the speculation that the incumbent governor, Anayo Rochas Okorocha might be bent on his presidential ambition come 2015 is fuelling an audacious optimism among opposition political strategists, as they believe that this will create a vacuum which will allow the opposition, led by the PDP, to retake power. Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha, the man who was elected governor of Imo state after the 2011 political revolution that ousted the president’s ruling party is speculated to be eyeing the presidency come 2015, most likely under the new opposition APC party. Opposition strategists in the state are hoping to make gains from this move. At least they believe this move will see the governor leaving the gubernatorial race in the hands of a political newcomer from among the young pack that make up the hub of his political allies. The opposition believes this will give the opposition PDP another opportunity to retake the state from the governor, whose political charismatism and outstanding performance has overshadowed the polity, leaving little room for the PDP and its allies come 2015. However political analyst and insiders of Imo politics are of the strong view that the opposition dream based on the above reason is less realistic as the governor is seen to have prepared for these eventualities.
As a presidential candidate, Okorocha’s chances are getting brighter and close watchers insists he might give the polity a shocker by emerging the much waited Igbo president of the Nigerian Republic if he emerges the presidential candidate of the opposition APC party. Of course, analysts insists that based on geopolitical factors Okorocha is APC’s best bait for the Aso Villa, and the unyielding insistence of the South Easterners that they deserve a shot at the No.1 position is giving the governor a leeway and a considerable advantage in securing the party’s ticket. There is no doubt that Okorocha’s absence on the APC presidential/vice presidential card will leave Jonathan with a big political fortune in the South East, but they governor and his party are sure to secure the guber seat.
Though he is an Easterner of Igbo extraction, his identity as a Northern accepted candidate is unquestionable. Aside the fact that he grew up in the North as a teenager, he also had his education in Jos where he graduated from the University of Jos. But beyond these, Okorocha flourished in business in the North and became part and parcel of the politics and social life of that region of the country. As a philanthropist he has based his charities in both the Southern and Northern parts of the country, giving his personality a more detribalized stance in the polity. The traditional leaders of both the North and the Southern regions also reserve a lot of respect for the man generally known as “Owelle Rochas.” As governor, his approach to intertribal politics also presents him as the most suitable candidate needed in a heated polity fractured along the fault lines of tribalism and ethnicism. Of course, as governor he appointed other tribes into appointive positions.
But beyond geopolitics and the idiosyncrasies of the forces that power it, Okorocha has other factors going for him. Before being elected as governor in 2011 Okorocha was already a solid and symbolic political brand in the Nigerian politics spreading across all the regions of the country. Of course, he scrambled at late hours in 2011 to secure a party platform to realize his guber ambition after the then Governor Ikedi Ohakim allegedly relied on his incumbency to keep the rampaging Okorocha off the PDP card, but his entrance completed changed the game and he finally emerged governor with a sweeping mandate. Aside being known in the polity as a left leaning charismatic politician and a neo liberal who has the will and the requisite charisma to administer Nigeria’s complex political, social, economic landscapes, he is also widely known as a socialist and education philanthropist.
At the international level, Okorocha’s love and administrative orientation towards technical education and infrastructural development is seen by international development partners as the missing critical elements needed by Africa’s biggest economy and the largest black nation to realize its full potentials in the comity of emerging economies. His frugal approach to fiscal issues is also big bait in a country struggling with executive extravagancy and corruption in a way that keeps foreign investors at bay, inhibit foreign direct investment to a considerable extent, and critically affect GDP. Like Ukraine’s new elected Petro Proschenko, Okorocha’s mindset as a businessman makes him the best candidate to get the best from Nigeria’s commercial relations with business oriented economies like China and other such powers. And like India’s Nerandra Modi, Okorocha’s fiscal disposition will check the excesses of a petrodollar based economy like Nigeria.
As the 2015 elections approach, there is no doubt that game will be highly contentious. The rookies that will play the chase for opposing forces are keenly watched and there is no sign any party is willing to bulge. PDP and APC are deploying the best of their strategists and best of propaganda machinery. Among all, the Imo state governor, Anayo Rochas Okorocha, is both a threat and a bride at home and the center, and his candidature is sure to alter equations and change traditional political paradigms in a very radical way. Backed by his deputy and most consummate ally, Prince Eze Madumere, Okorocha is holding the polity tight in Imo state and counts on his record high performance to give his party a comeback card. At the national level, President Jonathan and his team are fully aware that Okorocha represents real threat. And with the primary elections of the APC party almost here, Okorocha’s candidacy for the presidential seat represents a great potential for his opposition APC’s victory at the polls in 2015. As all sides of the game surface, and the rookies and old folks that will play it show their faces across the spectrum, how all these will play out will be keen watched. Long Live Nigeria!
Okwuaku A. I. Okwuaku, a Media Strategist and analyst, writes from Owerri