By Chidiebere Onyemaizu
For Imo state governor, Rochas Okorocha, and his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, it was a night of the long knives.
For, on that night, the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, The Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, beat other contestants in the Imo governorship election to make history as the first governor to emerge from the Owerri zone of the state, in 26 years, after the short-lived tenure of the late Evan Enwerem. Enwerem left office in 1993 following the late General Ibrahim Abacha’s coup which sacked the then evolving third republic.
The former federal lawmaker was announced winner of the stiffly contested election and declared governor-elect by the returning officer, Professor Francis Ogbonnaya Otunta, at exactly 11.57 pm. He polled 273,404 votes to defeat his closest rival, and candidate of the Action Alliance, AA, Uche Nwosu who garnered 190,364 votes.
The PDP candidate’s margin of victory over his AA challenger stands at 83,040 votes.
Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA secured 114,676 votes to place third, while the All Progressives Congress, APC candidate, Senator Hope Uzodinma, came fourth with 96,458 votes. Former governor Ikedi Ohakim who ran on the platform of Accord Party came a distant fifth with 6,864 votes.
A total of 823,743 voters were accredited for the election out of which 714,35 votes were cast. 25,130 votes were rejected while 739,485 were valid. The number of total registered voters in Imo stands at 2,221,008.
Moments after he was announced winner, the in-coming governor took to his Twitter handle to thank Ndi Imo (Imo people), assuring that he would not fail them: “It is victory for all of us. I will not fail. My word is my bond”, he twitted.
To the people of Owerri zone, Ihedioha’s emergence is a prayer answered. The zone has been at the periphery of power in the state since the return of democracy in 1999 with Orlu and Okigwe zones, Orlu in particular, running the show.
Orlu zone via former governor Achike Udenwa (1999-2007) and the out going governor Rocha Okorocha( 2011-2019) ruled Imo for 16 years while Okigwe zone via former governor Ohakim ruled for four years (2007-2011).
Owerri had mounted strident campaign for power to rotate to it.
Ihedioha’s election came on the heels of spirited efforts by Okorocha to sway victory to Nwosu who is his Son-in law. The arrest of a collation of officer at Ohaji local government for falsification of results, the Magazine was informed was one of such efforts.
There were also allegations of massive alteration of results to shore up Nwosu’s vote tally in Ideato, Nkwere, Nwangele and other local government areas of the state.
Ihedioha’s victory brings Imo back into the PDP fold after it has been ruled by APGA and APC courtesy, Okorocha in the last eight years.Imo’s last PDP governor was Ohakim who, this time, inexplicably flew the flag of an unknown, in Imo state, Accord Party. His score of about 6,000 votes, only, has diminished his political status. Ohakim was defeated in 2011 by Okorocha, then APGA’s candidate. Okorocha would later abandon the party for the APC in 2013.
In 2015, Ihedioha made a strong bid for the Imo topmost office but was defeated by Okorocha after a supplementary election. With his victory, the South East, minus Anambra state which is controlled by a diminishing APGA, is now firmly in PDP’s kitty.
Before the election, bookermakers had predicted a straight fight between Ihedioha and Uzodinma, with a projection of victory for the latter. Analysts have however, attributed Nwosu’s strong showing in the March 9, 2019 election to an alleged brazen and massive electoral thievery organized and executed by his father inlaw on his behalf. In addition, the APC gave its candidate little or no support. The non endorsement of Uzodinma by President Muhammadu Buhari when he went to Owerri for campaign was a minus. Buhari had told the APC crowd in Imo, just as he did in Ogun state, to vote their conscience.
Meanwhile, cities and towns in Imo erupted in wild jubilation moments after Ihedioha’s victory became public knowledge. In Owerri, the state capital, drinking joints filled to brim with many of the drinkers thanking God from saving the state from what they described as Okorocha’s third term by proxy. Fireworks lined the skies in the state capital, and hundreds of youths had a field day pulling down Uche Nwosu’s intimidating posters which had dotted every street on the state capital. Some suggest that every March 11th should be celebrated in the state as “Liberation Day”.
The story was the same in the four local government areas that make up the Mbaise kingdom where the governor-elect hails from. Motorists and Okada operators could be seen honking the horns of their vehicles in celebration while free drinks flowed in bars and hotels in the ancient kingdom.
For the state, it is the beginning of a new chapter.