The coming governorship election in Imo state will be both interesting and intriguing. It is bound to generate considerable interest because of the array of top politicians flying the flags of various political parties. Altogether, there are 70 candidates cleared by the independent National Electoral Commission INEC to run for the governorship election. This number is bound to generate considerable curiosity. The question in the minds of keen political watchers is why the high number of candidates and what it forebodes for the people of the state? It is also being asked what the emerging issues in Imo politics are to warrant such an unwieldy number of candidates?
Answers to some of these posers will in part, be found in the perceived performance rating of the outgoing government of Rochas Okoroacha. This is a government that came into power through popular goodwill after defeating the incumbent government of Ikedi Ohakim. He was expected to raise the bar and catalyze rapid development in the state. But soon, that government derailed. It was in this circumstance that the high number of candidates emerged promising to make the difference if given the mandate.
Even as some of the key governorship candidates have been selling their parties’ manifestoes to the Imo electorate with varying degrees of persuasion, others still remain relatively unknown. It would appear some of them are just contented with their names on the INEC list which the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Imo state, Prof. Francis Ezeonu, said is the highest in the country.
Among the top contenders are: Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha (PDP), Senator Hope Uzodinma( APC), Senator Ifeanyi Araraume (APGA), Uche Nwosu, (Action Alliance) and Ikedi Ohakim (Accord Party). Others are Humphrey Anumudu (Zenith Labor Party), Okey Eze (SDP) and Tony Nwaulu (UPP).
But of these candidates, Ihedioha, Uzodinma, Araraume, Nwosu and Ohakim stand as top contenders in terms of their personality, strength, political war chest and following. Of the five, Uzodinma is the official flag bearer of the APC but both Nwosu and Araraume enjoy serious affinity with the same party and were some months back its governorship aspirants. While Nwosu went for AA after he was denied the APC ticket in a contentious primary, Araraume left for APGA when his coalition thought it was difficult to dislodge Nwosu from the APC race.
The three are seen as members of the APC family who will return to the party after the elections. Uche Nwosu and his father-in-law are very open about this as they have not hidden their support for Buhari and their intention to return to the party if they win the election. For reasons that are obvious, Araraume has been somewhat discreet in identifying with the APC publicly.
The implication is that APC votes will be shared by the duo of Uzodinma and Nwosu as it is difficult to draw a line between the two parties. Matters are not helped by the fact that Okorocha is still gunning for the senatorial seat of Imo West through the APC platform. The seething crisis was further amplified by Buhari when he asked his party members to vote across party lines during his campaign in the state. This depicts the confusion into which APC has been thrown into in the state.
This fragmentation is bound to rub off negatively on the chances of the APC and AA to win the governorship election in the state. Araraume, an ally of APC flying the flag of APGA is not going to fare better given that he is largely seen to be doing the bidding of the APC. Moreover, he inherited the ghost of the former APGA given its contentious primaries. Most of the key and favored aspirants of APGA had since left the party.
Of the five, the two parties that are standing on their own are the PDP and Accord. Ohakim, the candidate of Accord party has governed the state before and was shown the way out by the Imo electorate. It does not appear there is anything novel he will be bringing on board. In fact, his past will turn out his greatest undoing as the Imo electorate has not forgotten the circumstances that led to his humiliating defeat in 2011.
The other key variables that will count in that election are the quality and personality of the candidates, the strength of their parties and zoning. While the Imo electorate do not see any difference between Uzodinma, Araraume and Okorocha. Nwosu is largely seen as a non starter propped up by his father-in-law.
Among the big five, Ihedioha draws more appeal and less controversy both in terms of his personality, skills and capacity for the job. He neither suffers some of the personality deficits and accusations generally levied against some of his co-contenders, nor is he facing trials in the courts as some do. Put on a scale with others, he stands as a more preferred candidate based on his personal character traits. But he also has the advantage of the organization and strength of his party. As the key opposition party in the state, PDP no doubt, enjoys large following throughout the state. This will seriously count.
But by far, the variable that will play a dominant role in the governorship election is zoning. Of the five key candidates, Uzodinma and Nwosu are both from Orlu zone which has produced Achike Udenwa as governor for eight years and Okorocha about to finish another eight years. Ihedioha is from Owerri zone while Araraume and Ohakim are from Okigwe zone. Since the return to democracy in 1999, Orlu zone has taken 16 years of that slot while Okigwe through Ohakim has taken four years. The only zone that has not had a shot at that office is Owerri. That was why the PDP zoned the office to that area.
If Okigwe zone could make a feeble claim for another four years, there is no basis for another Orlu man to aspire to that office now, except greed, scant regard to fairness and equity. There has been a charter of equity guiding the zoning arrangement. That was why Udenwa handed the baton to Ohakim. Due to the faults of the latter, his second tenure was aborted making an accidental way for another Orlu man. Having completed two terms, it was the expectation that Okorocha will respect the zoning order and hand over to Owerri. But he would have none of that.
Both Owerri and Okigwe zones are not taking kindly to this. They reason that if zoning cannot be respected in the state, they will not have the moral right to press for power rotation to the South-east at the national level. And this makes a lot of sense. However, the swing of public opinion is that it is the turn of Owerri zone now.
Jideofor writes from Ideato