This submission will wax mostly technical as it draws on raw data to assess the electoral chances of the major candidates for the 2019 Imo State governorship election.
Empirical evidence suggests that the outcome of the governorship elections in Imo State since 1999 was determined by a rough mix of some six factors, comprising of – the voters and the votes that counted, Orlu hegemony versus the moral burden of zoning, candidate likability, Imo elite conspiracies or preferences, the bias of electoral institutions, and political party branding/spread. In this 2019 election, it is these same factors, either in partial combination or in isolation, that will again determine who, amongst the following, wins: Emeka Ihedioha, Ikedi Ohakim, Hope Uzodimma, Ifeanyi Ararume, and Uche Nwosu.
In 1999 and 2003, the three predominant factors that determined the governorship election were: zoning, elite preference, and some noticeable bias of the electoral institutions. So, it is interesting to note that the year 2003 (sixteen years ago) was the last time the PDP won the governorship election in Imo State. It lost it in 2007, 2011 and 2015.
Going by their antecedents and current realities, each of the five front runners enumerated above possesses a relative advantage of some or all of the foregoing six factors, albeit to varying lesser and greater degrees. What this portends is that the likely margin of votes separating one from the other is going to be narrower than any other time in history but a clear winner will still emerge at the first ballot.
Below is a summary of the ups and downs for each of the candidates:
First, Uche Nwosu hopes to tap into Rochas’ dwindling base but the best he’s expected to poll from this base is minus-plus one-third of what Rochas has polled in 2015, making further allowances for the votes that were said to have been manipulated. Uche is also hoping to leverage on the remnants of the institutional capital left to an increasingly lame-duck, politically wounded Rochas. The Orlu factor will work in the opposite for Uche just as the most obvious – being Rochas’ inlaw has become an albatross. His party – the Action Alliance has no voter base anywhere. It was a briefcase party before Uche Nwosu came into play and breathed some life into it but nothing seems to have been done to organize the party away from the double-edged sword of core APC apparatchiks that are in lock-step with Uzodimma.
Second, Hope Uzodimma, smarting from slaying Rochas, will garner part of what the Rochas/Uche Nwosu combine has lost in APC; and standing on his Sheriff/PDP remnants, he will prune away some votes from the disenchanted ranks of the Ihedioha/PDP combine. He’s counting more on candidate hype, voter/grassroots appeal, his neo-institutional leverage to Abuja and the persisting Orlu factor, but which, unbeknownst to him, is more likely to work in opposites to 1999 and 2011. Better yet, the greatest obstacles to Uzodimma are these: he is running against veteran opponents, a bitter and wealthy incumbent governor and his family, and Owerri/Okigwe zones that have come to see him as the post-boy for Orlu hegemony.
Third, Ihedioha is likely to lose significant number of votes to the old (and disaffected) PDP guards still allied to Ohakim and Hope; and to a less extent, Ararume. Recall that these three were not Candidates in the 2015 election when Ihedioha polled 320K votes. Therefore, their being Candidates in this 2019 is Ihedioha’s main Achilles Heel, but his strongest suit lies in some elite support he still enjoys and the zoning factor, even as both are seriously threatened by the legal challenges to his nomination and the credible reports that his running mate, though from Orlu zone, is maternally related to him.
Fourth, Ohakim is likely to retain a significant portion of the votes he had polled in 2011 because his appeal as an ex-governor remains somewhat strong. Even as some of his votes are vulnerable to Ararume (same zone factor), it counts for him that he has beaten Ararume twice (in 2007 and 2011). Regardless, Ohakim’s strongest points are – his gift of the glib which rouses voters, his likability, old political debts owed to him by post-Udenwa elites, some institutional connections that will protect his votes, the “one-term-only” appeal that excites some Owerri elites with ambitions on a 2023 run against a term-limited governor; and most importantly the rising notion that, by hindsight, he has turned out to be a better governor than Rochas.
Fifth, Ararume is likely to maintain just about minus-plus what he had polled in 2011. Recall also that he had run twice and lost twice, and each time with two political parties (PDP and ACN) that have more spread than the parties whose candidates had defeated him. In this 2019, his current party (APGA) is still possessed of some appeal (based on the well-worn Nkea Bu Nke Anyi), but he also has to contend with wary Imo elites and those he badly bruised in APGA on his way to the top. Better yet, a greater burden facing him is the bitter politics of grand betrayals that saw to the initial fall of Rochas in the APC congresses. So, you can say that, in addition to the other candidates, Ararume is also running against Rochas, and that’s a tall order by itself.
So, with each or most of these five Candidates seemingly running strong on popular votes and the other factors favoring them, you are looking at an electoral dead-heat never before seen in Imo State. Still, it’s expected that Ikedi Ohakim is likely to lead the pack, with Uzodimma and Ihedioha menacingly trailing behind him. But what will make the most difference for Ohakim is the projection that he, more than the rest, is best placed to easily lock-in the twenty-five percent/two-third LGA spread required in addition to winning the popular vote.