By Leo Sobechi, Assistant Politics Editor
Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State believes that he is in charge and that nobody should be above the law. But, while the governor and his aides insist on executing laws made by the state, a former governor and Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District in the current Senate, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, had cited cites as obnoxious and barbaric a particular law made by the State House of Assembly via an executive bill, which sought to authorize the governor to detain any individual at will. The law may have been watered down due to outcry, but its vestiges are still reverberating.
It is against that background that last Sunday’s proxy clash between Uzodimma’s aides and Okorocha’s loyalists underscore the longstanding political acrimony between the two chieftains of governing All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the ghastly power play, citizens worry that both men, who have benefited immensely from Nigeria’s democracy, hail from the same Orlu zone that have been holding sway in the governance of Imo State. Senator Okorocha was governor for eight years before his journey to the Senate. Conversely, Uzodimma, was in the Senate before his magical incursion to Douglas House.
The state government had through its commissioner for Works, locked up the premises of Royal Palm Hotel, which it said was not only illegally erected on a green belt, but was also ordered for repossession by the Judicial Panel of Inquiry it set up.
But, querying the rationale for the recourse to self-help, Okorocha contended that there was no way the report of judicial panel could adorn the garb of a court ruling. He pointed out that he was told that some police men were in the premises, and he asked around various security agencies, including the State Commission for Police and the Department of State Security (DSS) only to be told that none of them sent the officers, he decided to visit the hotel.
If that explanation answered the question as to why he went there in person, what transpired at the Royal Palm Hotel premises played up the bitterness that continues to define the battle between Uzodimma and Okorocha.
Pre-2019 guber primary animosity
TOWARDS the buildup to the 2019 general election, Okorocha, the outgoing governor, expressed dismay that some renegade members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were coming into APC after fighting him and the party during the 2015 general election.
On his part, Uzodimma, then the Senator representing Imo West in the Senate had crossed over to APC after his faction lost out in the leadership crisis. Being among the staunch allies of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, Uzodimma, who was aspiring to contest the governorship of Imo State on PDP platform, sought to swap with Okorocha, who was aspiring to contest the Imo West Senate seat.
The spat between the then outgoing governor and the Senator engulfed the entire APC structure in Imo State, because those opposed to Okorocha’s plan to impose his son-in-law as his successor queued behind Uzodimma. Although opposition to his Senatorial ambition was moot, the idea of enthroning his brother-in-law was notable, with party stakeholders touting same as evidence of the outgoing governor’s nepotism and autocracy.
With the backing of his brother governors, Okorocha nearly succeeded in having his way, but the then APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, sent a governorship primary election committee, which broke up into two factions, with one faction led by the chairman Ahmed Gulak and the other chaired by the Secretary, Hon. Henry Idahagbon.
On October 2, 2018, after Gulak had absconded from his hotel room, Idahagbon, led nine other members of the committee to announced the result of the primary. According to the result, which was collated at the APC State Secretariat in Owerri, Ugomba Uche Nwosu polled 455,655 votes, while Air Commodore Peter Gbujie (rtd), scored a total of 9,351 votes.
Although nine out of the 12-member committee denounced him, Gulak surfaced in Abuja, where he announced Uzodimma as winner of the Imo State governorship primary. The Adamawa State-born former Special Adviser to former President Godluck Jonathan on Political Matters, said Uzodinma polled 423,895 votes as against 128, 325 votes polled by the then deputy governor, Prince Eze Madumere.
Gulak also allocated 10,329 votes to Nwosu, 16, 597 to Sir George Eche, Engr. Chuks Ololo (13,645): Sir Jude Ejiogu, (12,369); Peter Gbujie, (12,329); Mr. Chima Anozie, (11,071) and Chris Nlemoha, (9,253).
The intriguing oddity in Gulak’s presentation was that few hours before returning Uzodimma as winner, he had declared that the governorship primary has been rescheduled. Perhaps, Gulak decided on the aboutface after he discovered that the Secretary, Idahagbon, had while announcing the result signed by nine members out of the 12-member committee, declared: “Early morning of October 2, the police security numbering over sixty, ordered us to leave our hotel for safety as our chairman has left for Abuja and has declared the result, when we were yet to conduct the primary.”
Not that alone, the party’s NWC was said to have suspended the Imo State governorship primary indefinitely. Although the APC acting national publicity secretary, Yekini Nabena, did not explain why the exercise was being suspended, in a statement later that Tuesday afternoon, Nabena also disclosed that the senatorial primaries in all the 36 states had been postponed until October 3, 2018.
Unfinished litigation/search for validation
ON December 16, 2019, the Supreme Court while ruling on an appeal filed by Uche Nwosu and the Action Alliance (AA) against the Court of Appeal ruling on the governorship election declared that Nwosu had no locus standi in the matter, as he was the candidate of APC.
Following a political rapprochement by Okorocha and Uzodimma after Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was sworn in as governor, Nwosu was advised to withdraw his suit to pave way for Uzodimma to claim victory on behalf of APC.
However, few months after the Supreme Court awarded victory to Uzodimma on January 14, 2020, the political understanding broke down as Uzodimma adopted same adversarial relationship with the former governor.
Matters came to a head two months ago when the Imo North Senatorial bye-election held. Okorocha aligned with Senator Ifeanyi Ararume to checkmate Uzodimma’s preferred candidate, Frank Ibezim. Ibezim’s attempt to benefit from APC’s victory at the bye-election hit the rocks as the Court of Appeal upheld his disqualification by the Federal High Court for filing dubious academic certificates.
To make matters worse, Okorocha’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, approached the Supreme Court seeking a declaration on who was the authentic APC governorship candidate for the 2019 gubernatorial poll. It would be recalled that a lawyer and former official of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Umeadi, had filed a process at the Supreme Court, praying the court to clarify its judgment of December 20, 2019 on the issue of who was the APC candidate.
The apex court is yet to look into the two issues. But, Uzodimma is being accused of not being magnanimous in victory, even as some Imo people believe that the governor has been seeking validation after the inexplicable Supreme Court judgment that made him governor on January 14, 2020.
Speaking on the crisis that led to the detention of some of his aides, Senator Okorocha lamented that Governor Uzodimma was going the wrong way.
While declaring that Imo State “today is very unsafe and unsecured,” Okorocha said tension is everywhere, adding: “Look at what is happening in Orlu, for the first time in history, after the war. See what is happening in Oguta. I think he wants to make everybody fear him. Nobody will fear him. That was why he got a law passed for him by the State House of Assembly empowering him to arrest and detain Citizens at will.
“When I heard that Policemen had taken over Royal Palm hotel, I called the Commissioner of Police to find out if his men were the ones there, he said he had not sent any Policeman to the place. I called the Deputy Commissioner of Police, he gave me the same answer. I called the State Director of Security Service (DSS), the answer was the same. I said, let me go and see the Police people at the Hotel and know where they came from, since the CP, DCP and Director SS had all denied knowledge of the presence of the Security Personnel there.
“I got there, asked the “Policemen” there who sent them, they said they came from the Government House, that they were sent by the governor. That was at the point we were, when the governor’s Special Assistant on Special Duties, Chinasa Nwaneri, Eric Uwakwe arrived with buses loaded with thugs, armed with matchetes and guns. And the same Police people from Government House aided the thugs in matcheting and shooting my aides. No trained Policemen would have behaved or acted the way they did. That is the reason I am calling that they should be investigated,
“A governor who came through the Court should show respect to matters in the Court. And should not engage in self–help against matters in Court. Since he came to office, what he has achieved so far are demolition of Somto hospital, tunnels, roundabouts and left them abandoned. Roundabouts that brought safety and beauty to our Society,
“Rather than making peace, he wants to govern by intimidation and harassment. A wise governor who has not paid his workers, his teachers, who has not paid Pensioners, ISOPADEC workers, at times he would pay some and leave some, should at least have the civility.
THERE are speculations in some quarters that the fracas in Owerri and attack on Okorocha two days Sundays ago were aimed at scuttling the agitation by Southeast to produce the APC presidential candidate in 2023.
Some protesters in Abuja, under auspices of Youth Speakers of Nigeria, noted that Okorocha’s arrest by armed policemen constitute a threat to democratic rule in the country.
According to Malam Hamza Rahama, who spoke on behalf of YSN, “Okorocha is one good material if not the best we have for 2023 after President Muhammadu Buhari and all this harassment and intimidation is because of the next election, they believe should he vie for the Presidency then he remains a threat to them.
Mohammed Ibrahim who spoke on behalf of the Arewa Youth Consultative Council (AYCC) condemned the role played by security agents in the harassment and arrest of Okorocha representing Imo west senatorial district.
“We must publicly condemn the worrisome reports of how Men of the Nigeria Police Force attached to the state government House watched as thugs attacked the former governor prior to his arrest.
“This is an indication that the Imo State government has a hidden skeleton on this issue, which must be condemned with the most strictest sense. We cannot fold our arms and watch our Security operatives being used to achieve political aims.”
The group maintained that APC couldn’t be coerced to deviate from the zoning of 2023 presidency to Southeast, stressing, “Okorocha, has paid his dues in our great party. He stood as a lone voice in South East and gave the zone a formidable face, he was the voice of the APC in the South East while the present Governor was in PDP fighting him for bringing APC to Southeast, he rose and became Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum and served the forum diligently as a true party man, his love for the APC cannot be quantified.”
“It is saddening then to leam that, a man who has fought tooth and nail for the party in Southeast is been ridiculed by his fellow party man all in the name of recovering government assets, when in the true sense, it is a journey of personal vendetta.”
MEANWHILE, the Southeast Governors’ Forum has reportedly waded into the impasse. Chairman of the forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Umahi, disclosed that parties to the dispute have agreed to a truce, assuring that leaders of the zone were capable of settling their disputes internally instead of washing their linen in the public.
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