By Emma Agu
If any evidence was required to confirm the political stature of Senator Hope Uzodinma, the APC governorship candidate in Imo State, the result of the Saturday, February 23, presidential election in the state, was the litmus test. Though Abubakar Atiku, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, won in the state, President Muhammadu Buhari, who flew the flag, of the All Progressive Congress, APC, can beat his chest that he garnered the 25% that contributed to his victory. That feat was achieved in spite of the fact that Atiku won in 25 of the 27 local governments in the state; the only exceptions being Ideato South and Oru East.
Those who are not familiar with the story of the APC in Imo State will be wondering why Buhari’s performance, in the state, should attract attention when, in reality, it pales into insignificance compared with the sterling performance of the President in other states. The answer lies in the crisis that engulfed the party, as a result of the insistence of the Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, that his son in-law, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu, must succeed him; a stance that led to the implosion of the party in the state and threw up Senator Hope Uzodinma as a redoubtable political gladiator. He is even seen in some quarters, as possessing messianic qualities. Since Uzodinma snatched the gubernatorial ticket, of the APC, from the grip of Okorocha, a battle for supremacy has been raging between the two. In this battle, Okorocha has maintained that his in-law, the youthful and charismatic Uche Nwosu, has greater credentials, than Senator Uzodinma, to succeed him.
But the presidential election has cast a huge doubt on that claim. Uzodinma, predictably, delivered his local government of Oru East to President Buhari, a success he recorded without losing any polling unit in his ward. On the contrary, Okorocha’s son in-law is reported to have lost his polling unit on the way to losing his ward and local government, to Alhaji Abubakar Atiku. It is also noteworthy that Uzodinma delivered his local government without the controversy over kidnapping of electoral officials and other issues that trailed the announcement of the result of Okorocha’s Ideato East Local Government.
Whereas it could be preposterous to assume that the battle for supremacy between Uzodinma and Okorocha (by proxy), has been settled, what is not in doubt is that, by this performance, Uzodinma has left the Presidency and everyone else, in no doubt that, as far as the governorship contest in Imo State is concerned, he is a greater electoral asset than Uche Nwosu. To appreciate the significance of this discussion, it is important to take our minds back to President Buhari’s campaign in Owerri, last January, at which Okorocha refused to acknowledge Uzodinma as the flag-bearer of the APC. Instead, he continued to prop up his son in-law, Uche Nwosu, the governorship candidate of another party, in Imo State. It was under that atmosphere that President Buhari, though he had earlier raised Uzodinma’s hand, took the unusual step of asking the Imo electorate to vote their conscience, not hamstrung by party, ethnic or religious biases. But with the outcome of the presidential elections emphatically substantiating the political invincibility of Senator Hope Uzodinma, perhaps the time has come to rein in on Governor Okorocha; to subjugate personal survival beneath overall party interest and throw his political machine behind Uzodinma, the official candidate of the party which membership Okorocha professes.
The situation would have been different if Uzodinma had been a political or an impostor. But that is far from the case. When it comes to electability, on the two occasions that Uzodinma won the senate seat, he defeated Okorocha’s political machine directly or indirectly. For instance, in 2011, in spite of the sentimental attachment to the Odimegwu Ojukwu-led All Grand Progressive Alliance, APGA, Uzodinma floored the APGA candidate, in Okorocha’s senatorial zone, to announce his presence on the national political scene. It could be said that Okorocha was just making his grand entry into Imo politics. But the same could not be said for 2015 when Okorocha, as Governor could not roll back the all-conquering Hope political machine, as the senator coasted home to yet another victory thereby becoming a ranking member of the Red Chamber!
In aspiring to become Governor of Imo State, Uzodinma hopes to bring to the office the legislative experience he has acquired, his network of political associates, his experience as an entrepreneur and investor and the courage that inspired him to wrest the Imo State chapter of the APC from the iron grip of Governor Okorocha. Ironically, it is the angst of a bruised ago coupled with the fear of reprisals against his family, that has driven Okorocha to implacable hatred for Uzodinma, so much so that he does not care if the APC gubernatorial baby is thrown away with the fleeting dirty water of party intrigues. This is the more important when it is realised that Uzodinma is running against some formidable opponents; opponents who, in their own rights, possess what it takes to rule the state. Among these, the APGA candidate, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and the PDP candidate, Senator Emeka Ihedioha, both stand out for recognition. Araraume is a veteran of the gubernatorial project who, as serving senator, is credited with some outstanding accomplishments. Ihedioha has an intimidating list of projects he attracted to the state and an equally impressive list of people-empowerment initiatives that confer on him, reliable electoral capital.
For Okorocha to continue to ignore these facts is not only perplexing but unfortunate. Perhaps, the way to go about it is to reassure Okorocha that Uzodinma, for all the care in the world, is not his most dreaded nemesis. Besides, it will pay him well, to imbibe one of the personal rules of General Collin Powell, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States as well as former Secretary of State of the United States which says: “Never let you ego stand with your position on an issue so that when your position falls, (as it does so often), your ego does not fall with it”. But that is precisely what Okorocha is doing. That is what is overheating the polity in Imo State. And that is what is placing the electoral fortunes of the APC in jeopardy, in the state.
What is surprising, in all these, is that Okorocha seems unwilling to, or incapable, of learning from history. When Obong Victor Attah, one time governor and undeniably, the visionary architect of the comprehensive transformation of Akwa Ibom State, attempted to foist his son in-law, on the state, as his successor in 2007, he failed woefully. That was the genesis of the rift between him and his eventual successor, Obong Godswill Akpabio. A careful reading of the political barometer in Imo State shows that Okorocha is strong-headedly headed in that direction. Yet, he still has a chance to retrace his steps and obtain some soft landing. However, in the event that he passes up the opportunity, his party may do well to mobilize all the resources at its disposal to disperse the clouds of destabilization that are ominously hanging over the state due to his desperation.
Lastly, and this point is significant, it is all too obvious that Senator Hope Uzodinma has successfully debunked the mischievous claim, before the presidential election, that he was campaigning for Atiku Abubakar. Besides, the result has unequivocally established Uzodinma’s electoral value, a fact that should convince the party of the need to throw resources into his campaign. This, to put it in proper perspective, is Hope Uzodinma’s shining moment, his continuing electoral validation and APC’s brightest chance, in the South East.