Imo State has always presented and represented an intriguing political scenario in the political history of Nigeria especially since its creation in 1976 from the then old Eastern region. There is no point reminding how the then Sam Mbakwe emerged as an under-dog to beat top contenders to win the coveted seat of the governorship in 1979. His re-election in 1983 was even more of an anti climax as the then NPN roller coaster was inexorably geared towards extinguishing Dee Sam into political oblivion but he won yet again. That scenario set the political character and pattern of the state as subsequent elections have in one way or the other exhibited some of the tendencies of the 1979/83 saga. For instance in the third republic and against all odds Evan Enwerem emerged the governor from the then considered minority party in Igbo land, the NRC as against the political heavy weights ranged against him in the SDP. More glaring was the Achike Udenwa emergence as the governor in 1999 beating all possible permutations. That singular feat was meant to usher in a paradigm shift through a youth based socio-political revolution in Imo State instigated and championed by the Okigwe born erudite intellectual and fine politician, Senator Emeka Echeruo. The idea was to retire the old military cum civilian politicians who had till then run the state aground with generation next who were all then in PDP as against the old heavy weights in APP. But alas the goal was reached with Udenwa’s emergence but the objective to permanently put Imo on the fast track of socio economic development was truncated as the same bunch of discredited oldies then in APP found their way through the back door to PDP and hijacked the process. It should also be noted that the Orlu zone born Udenwa emerged out of the coterie of contenders from across the state due to the principled stand on persons like Senator Echeruo mentioned earlier. He had canvassed for equity as Okigwe and Owerri zones had earlier produced Mbakwe and Enwerem respectively and so it went to Orlu on a platter of gold.
With Orlu completing the zonal shot at the governorship the ruder turned once more towards Okigwe to restart the circle which led to the emergence of Ikedi Ohakim in spite all controversies and convolusions that threatened to swallow the state. That after such a thunderous uproarious rain came the calm and sunshine of the second 2007 election was also not far from the thunder and brimstone that characterised the 1983 and 2003 elections. Not done with such elections in the state, the 2011 elections emerged as the climax in that tradition as it for the first time saw the dethronement of an incumbent governor and the truncating of the rotational wheel as the beneficiary of the next slot was not from Owerri zone but from Orlu zone.
Once more, the thunderous clouds have started gathering as the state prepares for yet another election in 2015. Like in all elections since 1979 all sections of the state have contenders positioning to run for the coveted seat. Also like in all Imo elections the voice of some elders have entered the fray intent on calming frayed nerves and controlling the situation so that it does not get out of hand. Amongst these elders is Engineer Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu from Owerri zone who is hell-bent on getting an Owerri son or daughter occupying the seat? One is wondering how this feat would be achieved with the kind of cut-throat politicking and jostling of politicians amongst the Owerri who currently have in the race close to twenty contenders.
In Okigwe zone who feel a terrible angst against the other zones for denying them the consummation of their turn by truncating Ohakim’s second tenure bid four major governorship contenders have emerged. They include the last occupier of the seat Chief Ikedi Ohakim, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, Dr. Julius Kpaduwa and Barrister Ike C. Ibe. So far not much has been heard from Ohakim’s political camp apart from the general belief that he is in the race for the long haul. However there is a school of thought that knowing that since he could not retain his seat as a seating governor with all the accoutrements and powers of the state, it would be near impossible for him to regain it from the outside. Apart from few remaining acolytes in his political family called New Face of Imo, the bulk having joined the new government or gone their separate ways because of what one termed his lacklustre leadership approach, the bulk of his fellow Okigwe people see him as a failure since he practically did not during his tenure bring the much needed democracy dividend to the zone and the state at large. He is also seen as being interested in the race to stop Senator Ararume who was believed to have made his four-year tenure a horror to behold. Not done yet with multi pronged court cases against Ohakim that was a distraction within his four years, it is suspected that they struck a deal at the last minute during the 2011 supplementary elections that eventually saw to the doom of Ohakim. On this alone i.e. a payback to Ararume, most people seem to back him. One thing that would have worked in Ohakim’s interest in his bid or non bid would have been a hold on the party (PDP) political structure which he put in place. However this seem to have also escaped his clutches as most of the people he put into the party executive have joined other leaders with his loss of the governorship.
Senator Ifeanyi Ararume is definitely a no push-over in Imo and Okigwe politics. Having served as senator of the federal republic for an uninterrupted eight years he stepped up to grab the governorship position in 2007. His political antecedent can best be described as being akin to War-Lordism. He is seen as a political Warlord with an unparallel coterie of fanatically loyal followers who had stuck with him for so many years. If being overtly bombastic, extremely daring, having contacts in the highest places, indefatigable energy and an endless purse string are all that gives one the Imo governorship, Ararume would have had it ten times over albeit Imo state is full of surprises. Having tried with all his might in 2007 and 2011 each time being a front runner and still losing colossally one would thing would have sobered him to do a rethink and ask the critical question – Why Imo people keep rejecting him? There is a school of thought that a person like him cannot rule Imo state. Another questioned what he achieved in the eight years he spent undisturbed in the senate. Yet more questions as per his developmental infusion in Imo traumatised economy despite his stupendous wealth. What one hears of him are about his wealth scattered all over Nigeria with non at home even a pure water industry. There is also a dangerous emerging discuss that running for the governorship has become for him another business. It is believed that he has at each election or subsequent post election crisis emerged richer than he went in. There is therefore a high suspicion this time around that he is once more out not necessarily to win the election in spite the colossal amount of money he is believed to be throwing about but in what he could negotiate out of the entire process having realized that Imo would never want him as a governor. One of the negotiations he has up his sleeves is speculated to be the positioning of one of his sons for the federal House of Representatives slot!
Chief Ike C. Ibe is another recurring decimal in Imo governorship elections. This young and amiable son of a late legal luminary hails from Obowo. Considered as one of Nigeria’s youngest politician to be voted into the house of assembly in 1991 he surprised all bookmakers and emerged as the moral leader of the house of assembly where he showed exemplary courage and intelligence even at that tender age. Three months before the army struck in 1993, he emerged as a factional speaker of the house of assembly to the consternation of the then governor Enwerem but to the great admiration of the entire citizenry. In 2007 he practically emerged as the dark horse to replace the outgoing governor Udenwa in whose government he is said to have worked pro bono as Imo Trade representative in far away United States. He was seen as that government’s ideas man and intellectual, contributing in no small measure to whatever success Udenwa’s government laid claim to. What sold his name to all and sundry was a unique medical mission he started with Imo sons and daughters and their friends, who were medical personnel in the USA. For young Ike it was a political whirlwind, which however consumed him, as the then hawks in Udenwa’s government did not want a person they considered and ‘outsider’ to take over. The political fights were often petty and dirty that the young American trained lawyer could not take. He had looked forward to a politics of ideas. His political manifesto, noted one of his political supporters who joined the present government are some of the things the present government is working on though sometimes upside down. Some of the issues his opponents raised against him them was the attack that he was Udenwa’s conduit for siphoning money. Confronted with such issues he has severally told any who bordered to hear to investigate him as the then President Obasanjo did and found nothing untoward. The lack of financial resources and muscle seen in his last major political campaign confirm the fact that he has remained a simple poor fellow compared to Nigerian politicians standards. Currently, the biggest challenge he seems to have apart from the brutal death of half his family in the fatal Dana plane crash is the paucity of resources in the execution of his present governorship ambition. “If it is ideas on how to practically move Imo from point A to B, Ike C. Ibe has them in quantum,” said one of his directors. How does he hope to pass the hurdle imposed by money politics in Imo and Nigeria one may ask? His group has a ready answer based on the political history of Imo state. They point to the fact that an Mbakwe seen as the best Nigerian governor ever in our history and a brother to Ike C. Ibe (both are from Obowo) was not the wealthiest when he ran, so also Udenwa, and Ohakim who was even suspected of not having enough money to buy the then PDP nomination that he had to jump boat and joined PPA. Even the latest entrant as governor one would remember in spite the huge wealth attributable to him rather ran his election on donations from all and sundry. Maybe that is why not only Ibe is in the race but so many Imolites who cannot pay their basic bills all jostling in the belief that an Ohakim would happen to them.
Then step in Dr. Julius Kpaduwa, a medical doctor living in the United States. Like his brothers in the governorship race from Okigwe zone, this is not his first foray. Though the least known, he indicated interest tentatively in 2007 and had a baptism of fire that saw him fly back to his base in the States within a twinkle of an eye. One of his brothers from Isiala Mbano said that his brother has learnt his lesson from that first foray and is here this time around for good. Asked on why he ran away with his tail tucked between his hind legs, he replied that what ailed his brother was from the home front. A sign of the above statement was noticed at the last Okigwe elders meeting at Professor Maurice Iwu’s house when Kpaduwa exchanged heated arguments with a brother contender. Recently also a group from Isiala Mbano mimicking what the larger Okigwe group wants to do has issued a statement stating that one of their sons has been adopted as their sole governorship candidate.
The Professor Maurice Iwu’s Okigwe leaders meeting was initiated because of the angst already mentioned Okigwe has against the other zones for truncating their tenure mid way. Because of the small size of the zone (only 6 LGA), Iwu and his co-conveners believe that Okigwe cannot go it again with their house in disarray and so the need to unite all contending factions within the zone and present a united front. This seem to be succeeding so far as the people of the zone in spite of their belief that Iwu’s has a soft spot for PDP has seen him as an unbiased Igbo/Imo leader worthy to be followed. Of course in a clime like the Igbos where the ancient Igbo consensus building has been deposited inside the trash can, another Okigwe leadership forum has also emerged under the controversial Nze Ozichukwu Chukwu. However, there is almost a unanimous consensus that Ozichukwu has a personal script that is pro-Owerri zone or Owerri. So his faction is not seen in good light in the zone, an example was the general disaffection by those he invited recently at his home to meet with some select Owerri leaders.
The interesting fact however is that the Iwu group that is in the majority and has within its fold the timbers and calibres from the zone who had pledged loyalty to the group and whatever decisions it takes have set up a six man committee (one per LGA) to recommend one candidate the zone would back in the emerging war of political attrition that would convulse Imo very soon. The committee made up of erudite members has already started work. However one wonders what modalities, parameters and such would constitute their yard stick. If the major ingredient is money, of course Ohakim and Ararume will win the day but as has been shown from above, money is the least of the needed in a state like Imo. Also critical would be the issue of accepting whatever verdict that would come out. With the death of consensus and acceptance of defeat in Imo/Nigerian politics it is clearly going to be an uphill task for the committee.
But I must state the fact that for Okigwe to make any headway in this course they have chosen, her moral traditional, political, economic and religious leaders need to step in and look at the consensus option. And that consensus from our ongoing analysis should look towards the less controversial person amongst the foursome with compromises here and there as has become the norm amongst our neighbours the Yoruba. A consensus built around a Kpaduwa or Ike Ibe with the Ohakims and Ararumes throwing in their financial and political muscle would reposition Okigwe to have a clearer shot at the governorship come 2015. It is the submission of this writer that anything less would bring untold disaster to the zone not only for the now but for generations to come as the zone is already marginalized.
Dr Anthony Onwudiwe