The next governorship election may be three years away in Imo State, nicknamed the Eastern Heartland. But, the race to succeed Governor Rochas Okorocha appears to have started. The Nation correspondent Okodili Ndidiexamines the phenomenon and the chances of the frontrunners.
There are strong indications that the race to succeed Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State when his tenure expires in 2019 may have started in earnest. The battle for the plum job started earlier than anticipated, after the governor listed the names of 11 persons as his likely successor. The aspirants are from the three senatorial zones of the state. The governor has advised the shortlisted persons to begin to sell their agenda to the people. Okorocha emphasised that their fate will be decided by the people.
The governor listed the criteria for the nominations. According to him, these include age, competence and the ability to continue with his Rescue Mission Agenda. On age, he disclosed that those above 50 years are not likely to emerge as the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2019.
However, Okorocha dismissed the idea of zoning the ticket to any of the three districts — a factor that many aspirants had hinged their hopes on to emerge as the candidate. Going by the controversial Charter of Equity signed by political leaders in the three zones of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe, it is the turn of Owerri zone, which had never produced a governor. The governor is from Orlu zone, while his predecessor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, is from the Okigwe axis.
Okorocha had indicated during his chat with reporters that the motive was to avoid the mistakes of his predecessors, which made it impossible for them to produce their successors.
From Owerri zone, he tipped Deputy Governor Eze Madumere, Hon. Uche Onyeaguocha, Chief Jerry Chukwueke and the Secretary to Government, Sir Jude Ejiogu. In Okigwe zone, the names that came up are: Senator Ifeanyi Ararume; former Speaker of House of Assembly Hon Benjamin Uwajumogu; House of Representatives member from Okigwe South Constituency Deacon Chike Okafor; and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon Acho Ihim.
Aspirants from Orlu zone are: the current Chief of Staff, Chief Uche Nwosu; the APC National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso; the Deputy Chief of Staff Operations, Kingsley Uju.
Prince Madumere is from Mbaitoli Local Government Area and he is unarguably one of the aspirants with the greatest chance of succeeding Okorocha. This is so because, apart from being the deputy governor, Madumere has a long standing cordial relationship with Okorocha. This explains the seamless working relationship between them, which is particularly remarkable, given the cat and dog relationship between Nigerian governors and their deputies.
Another factor that makes Madumere the man to beat in the race is his unrivalled sense of loyalty and humility, which has earned him the governor’s trust and the people’s admiration.
Also, the emergence of Madumere, according to major stakeholders, will guarantee a seamless transition and continuity of Okorocha’s programme.
Consequently, the governor at different fora had openly described the deputy governor as his begotten son in whom he is well pleased; a statement that has been decoded within the political circle to mean a subtle endorsement of Madumere as his likely successor.
Another selling point for the deputy governor is the fact that his zone, Owerri, is favoured by the public opinion to produce the next governor, irrespective of the fact that the governor may not to be swayed by such sentiment. The Nation’s investigations suggest that there are subterranean moves by stakeholders to ensure that only one person emerges as governorship aspirant from the zone, irrespective of the party affiliation.
But, one major challenge that may mar his chances is the growing in-fighting among Okorocha’s men. Many of them are not favourably disposed to the idea of Madumere succeeding Okorocha, because according to them, he has had more than a fair share; having served as the Chief of Staff and the deputy governor for six years so far.
This group is believed to have engaged the support of the First Lady to prevail on the governor to adopt their preferred candidate.
The Secretary to Government, Sir Jude Ejiogu, may not have openly indicated interest, but his body language speaks volume about his veiled ambition. One of his greatest strength is his growing popularity among the traditional rulers from the three zones. Past records have shown that the traditional institution, to a large extent, plays a prominent role in deciding who governs the state.
Another strong point that may work in favour of Ejiogu is his closeness to the First Lady, who openly fraternises with a group of young and upcoming politicians.
Besides, the fact that he is also from Owerri zone, like the deputy governor, puts him in the frontline of those that may likely succeed Okorocha. The grand reception held in his honour recently attracted renowned politicians from various political platforms. Their presence at the gathering, according to observers, was a sign of solidarity and a tacit endorsement of his ambition.
However, going by Okorocha’s criteria, Ejiogu may not get by the governor’s nod; he is far above the 50-years benchmark.
Besides, given the fact that many political leaders in Owerri zone have bought into the Madumere project, they may prevail on Ejiogu to drop his ambition in the overall interest of the zone.
Another strong contender is the Chief of Staff and the governor’s son-in-law, Chief Uche Nwosu, who is fondly called Ugwumba. The youthful politician from Okigwe zone has continued to gain acceptance in the political sphere. According to political observers, he is a rising star that may soon become a formidable political power to reckon with.
His popularity among the people, especially the youths and women groups who have benefited immensely from his generosity, appears to be his major strength. This is coupled with the fact that most politicians, especially political appointees, are indebted to him; having gotten one favour or the other from him, as the Commissioner for Lands and now Chief of Staff. So, they may support his ambition as a way of showing gratitude.
Already, his main political structure, the Ugwumba Movement, which cuts across the state, has commenced widespread consultations with major political leaders to support his governorship ambition in 2019. Most of the leaders have been wooed with huge amounts of money and promises of prime positions if he emerges governor.
Nwosu is also one of the few aspirants that have the financial muscle to challenge any contender for the position and his age is another added advantage.
However, the fact that Nwosu is the son in-law to the current governor is one of the things that may work against his ambition. Already majority of the political leaders and other powerful stakeholders are seeing the governor’s mere mentioning of his name among his likely successors as an affront and insult to the sensibility of the people.
To them, it is not only unthinkable but morally wrong for the governor to nurse the idea of handing power over to his son in-law, after governing the state for eight years.
Moreso, the fact that the zoning arrangement does not favour Okigwe zone where he comes from, coupled with the fact that a section of the elder statesmen consider him too young and fragile to govern a state as delicate like Imo.
Hon. Chike Okafor
The member representing Okigwe South Federal Constituency and former Commissioner of Finance is one of those touted to likely replace the incumbent governor, due to his growing political fortunes and cult-like followership among the young politicians in the state.
Okafor from Obowo Local Government Area in Okigwe zone, may not have voiced any intention to join the race, but it was reliably gathered that he has been picked for the job by the First Lady’s camp.
One of his strongest selling points is his seeming acceptability among the people as a result of his philanthropic dispositions, having donated many school buildings and healthcare centres to some communities.
However, one of his greatest challenges is the fact that, although he was among those named by the governor as his likely successors, he has been pencilled down as a running mate to anyone that may emerge as the candidate.
Besides, he is generally considered too inexperienced to govern the state by majority of political leaders. The banker-turned politician has been asked by critics to give an account as the former Finance Commissioner.
Senator Ifeanyi Ararume
Another politician to watch is the senator that represented Okigwe zone. Ararume is one of the frontline politicians that determine the political equation in the state. Having started his governorship ambition in 2007 and remained committed to the course till 2015, Ararume has one of the most formidable political followership and structures in the state.
The advantages he have over others are his wealth of experience and rich contacts, which are invaluable in the game of politics.
Another fact that stands him out is his role in Governor Okorocha’s re-election, which made people to think that the governor owed him a debt of gratitude. Ararume was a governorship aspirant in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and was tipped to win the primaries before it was given to former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha.
Out of anger, Ararume pulled out his supporters and directed them to vote for Okorocha to teach the PDP a lesson for manipulating the primary election against him. He vowed to use everything within his disposal to ensure that the PDP candidate failed the election. True to his threat, Ararume aided Okorocha to a resounding victory in Okigwe zone, despite the strength of the PDP in that zone.
Shortly after the elections, the bond between the governor and the senator grew in leaps and bounds and they have become political allies since then. To further cement their reported accord, Ararume defected to the APC with thousands of his followers and since his exit from the PDP, the party has been grappling with crisis.
It is believed that the governor may be favourably disposed to Ararume getting the APC ticket as a way of showing gratitude to him. However, his major challenge is his perceived inconsistency. Based on his antecedents, at each point whenever he fails to get what he wants, he had always defected and worked against the same party, only to return after he has destroyed the party. So, political observers have predicted that he will fall out with Okorocha and the APC, if he is denied the ticket in the 2019.