By Collins Ughalaa
The first executive governor of Imo State, the late Sam Mbakwe, fought stiff battles to return to the office for a second term. The bulk of the opposition he faced came from some political leaders from Owerri Zone. Since that time, governors in Imo State have had very rough journeys towards a second term in office.
If we add the eight-month stint of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha at the Imo State Government House, Owerri, Governor Hope Uzodimma would be the seventh governor of Imo since the creation of the state. The political history of Imo State, since then, therefore, shows that three governors out of the six before Uzodimma completed their two terms in office. Chief Evan Enwerem, who became governor in 1992, was toppled by the military. One of the governors lost re-election, and Ihedioha was sacked by the Supreme Court as not the validly elected governor of the state. Chief Achike Udenwa, who was the third governor in line, completed his two terms in office and handed over to Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, from Isiala Mbano LGA, Okigwe Zone.
Udenwa’s re-election for a second term did not come to him on a gold platter. He fought for it more than he fought to be elected for the first term. Apart from some of his brothers from Orlu Zone who were equally interested in the Number One Citizen office, Udenwa’s toughest battle for re-election as well came from Owerri Zone and from within his People’s Democratic Party (PDP). On February 22, 2002, a socio-political group called the Movement for Popular Democracy (MPD) vowed to stop his re-election bid. The group said that Udenwa did not keep faith with the four-year mandate given him by the people.
Governor Rochas Okorocha also got a second term amid very stiff opposition. Okorocha’s first term was cantankerous, as he alienated the elite and focused on what Imo people called familiocracy. His re-election thus became a stiff battle for him. In the end, he got re-elected but reportedly claimed afterwards that he bought his mandate. Okorocha reneged on the promise to hand over to someone from either Owerri Zone or Okigwe Zone.
Despite the stiff opposition incumbent governors faced in Imo, they have always got re-election. The only time in the history of Imo State when an incumbent lost re-election was in 2011. The incumbent governor at the time had promised to hand over power to someone from Owerri Zone. He lost his re-election to Okorocha, who eventually planned to hand over to his son-in-law. The reason the incumbent lost in 2011 was not because the people did not want him to return but because some more powerful forces intervened and disrupted the will of the people. Had Uzodimma not challenged Okorocha’s decision to hand over power to his son-in-law, by now, Imo would be having a different kind of conversation.
We had advocated in the past that Owerri Zone should get their act together, play good politics and get the governorship they yearn for. With Orlu Zone having 12 local governments out of the 27 local governments in the state, it is impossible to wish away the enormous powers such numbers symbolise in political calculations. Therefore, the question is, should Owerri Zone, with nine local governments, engage Uzodimma in a stiff battle to stop his re-election in November 2023? Should Okigwe Zone, with six local governments, engage the incumbent in a stiff battle against his re-election? Or should the two zones of Owerri and Okigwe cooperate with the incumbent, extract a commitment not to hand over power to someone from Orlu Zone after his second term in 2028?
Wisdom would suggest that Owerri Zone and Okigwe Zone should cooperate with the governor and not fight him. But that is not the case. Some people in Owerri Zone who think they are entitled to produce the governor of the state are gearing up for a fight. In 2021, a report in Trumpeta newspaper said: “Following the declaration of intent by some political leaders in Owerri Zone to produce the next governor of Imo State, a socio-political group, the Owerri Zone Patriots (OZP) has advised Governor Hope Uzodimma, not to seek for a second term in 2023 and rather back Owerri Zone to produce his successor.”
Similarly, during the fourth anniversary of Egbu Declaration in November 2021, some political players in Owerri insited it was their turn to produce the governor in the November 2023 governorship election.
No matter how one views it, Governor Uzodimma is qualified to run for a second term in office. It is within his constitutional right to do so. It is also within his constitutional right to choose whom to support as his successor. Armtwisting antics will, therefore, be counter-productive. What would work is to yield to him his constitutional right for a second term, support him to achieve that and extract a commitment from him to support someone from the other zones to succeed him. This makes more sense and it is wisdom at work.
This is the reason we applaud the wisdom of some political leaders from Owerri and Okigwe zones who realised that it was better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. Rightly, they acknowledged that is it within the governor’s constitutional right to run for a second term in office. They equally acknowledged that they also have the constitutional right to support anyone else. But would supporting anyone else bring them their desired governorship? What should they do in the circumstance? They had to give in something with a provisio that the governor should not toe the line of Okorocha but should rather support someone from either of the two other zones to succeed him.
This condition was given to the governor on Thursday, January 5, 2023, during the seventh edition of the stakeholders’ meeting. Chief Henry Njoku, from Owerri North Local Government Area of Owerri Zone, Imo State, who opened the floor during his vote of thanks, passed a vote of confidence in the governor as well as moved a motion for him to run for a second term in office, with the condition that, upon the completion of his second term, he would support someone from Owerri Zone or Okigwe Zone to succeed him. The motion was seconded by Hon. Ifeanyi Agwu, from Okigwe Zone, who said that the governor would be supported for a second term in office, provided that he would agree to support someone from Okigwe or Owerri zone to succeed him. This kind of political engagement is perhaps the first in the history of Imo State, that the stakeholders would gather to extract a commitment from the incumbent governor to support him.
How did the rest of the stakeholders receive the conditional endorsement of the governor for a second term? They agreed that the governor deserved a second chance because he achieved so much within three years of his first term in office.
Of particular mention is the comment by an elder statesmen and the Chairman of the Elders Council of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, who said that the governor has achieved so much to deserve a second term in office.
He said: “I have never had a happy day like this. It’s my dream to see a prosperous Imo and Nigeria, and we are near to achieving the aim. This is the first time a governor is telling us what he has done and not what he wants to do. I have seen all the governors right from Mbakwe. I want to tell you that I haven’t seen a governor who went through such difficulties – gunmen everywhere – and still achieved such a great feat. I passed through the Federal Medical Centre and never knew it has become a teaching hospital. I have seen other good things you [the governor] have done – good roads and others. I’m proud of you.”
Governor Hope Uzodimma is yet to respond to the conditional endorsement from the stakeholders. While Imo people wait for his response, it is important to commend the people of Owerri and Okigwe Zones, who have seen the need to change tactics in their quest to produce the governor of the state, adopting a less cantankerous route to the government house. This kind of attitude promotes peace, unity, and brotherhood. With less acrimony in the political space, Imo would be better positioned to reach her true potential, and everyone would be a winner.