At Last, Okorocha Crosses the River
Rochas Okorocha’s 12-year battle for political power yields fruits with his election as Imo State governor
Rochas Okorocha, governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, who recently won the Imo State governorship election on April 26, has come a long way. His journey to actualise his political ambition has been rough and tortuous since his foray into the Nigerian politics in 1999 when democracy was restored in the country.
Okorocha’s quest for political power has seen him navigate around five political parties between 1999 and 2011.
His first baptism of fire was in 1999 when he contested for the governorship ticket under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and lost to Achike Udenwa, former governor of Imo State. The same year, he contested for the Orlu senatorial seat against Arthur Nzeribe and lost. He then changed his political platform. He opted for the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, and he sought to fly the party’s flag in the 2003 presidential election. Again, he lost the battle for the ANPP presidential ticket to Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state. Then he decided to form his own party. In 2005, he formed the Action Alliance, AA, in a bid to actualise his dream. He failed. When he realised that he could not actualise his ambition under the platform of AA, he dumped the party and joined the United Nigeria People’s Party, UNPP. In 2007, Okorocha returned to the PDP and contested the national chairmanship of the party and lost.
In 2010, Okorocha decided to abandon his quest for political power at the centre. Instead, he chose to vie for the governorship race in Imo State and joined APGA.
The governorship election of April 26, in Imo State was a game of intrigues and power play and this was why it could not produce a clear winner, prompting the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to declare it inconclusive. INEC then fixed a “Supplementary Election” which was held in four local government areas and one ward on May 6. The local government areas where the supplementary election held are Mbaitoli, Ngor-Okpala and Ohaji/Egbema as well as Orji ward in Owerri North. The election could not hold in Oguta due to the late arrival of voting materials. In the final result, Okorocha polled 336, 859 votes to beat Ohakim, the incumbent governor and PDP candidate had 290,496 votes Ifeanyi Araraume, governorship candidate of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, came a distant third with 107,068 votes. With his victory in the governorship election, Okorocha seems to have cleared the Augean stable that had dogged his political career.
Okorocha could, therefore, be likened to the proverbial phoenix that rose from the ashes of hopelessness to become the toast of Imo people. Most indigenes of the state believe that Okorocha won the election based on his philanthropic gestures and scholarship programmes targeted at the less privileged and indigent students in which no fewer than 5,000 people have benefited across the country. In the past two decades, Okorocha has maintained a free education programme through his Rochas Foundation College built in all the six geopolitical zones of the country. He also takes care of orphans, poor indigenes and residents of the state.
Okorocha told Newswatch that he won because his popularity and acceptability among the populace were too high to be ignored. “My popularity and acceptable margin are too high, which helped Imo people to settle for me. It is not about me. It is about the people who are saying that they are tired of seeing the face of Ohakim.”
Besides, Okorocha’s choice of APGA, seen in different quarters as Igbo party, is also instrumental to his victory. He also identified with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi and leader of APGA.
Many prominent Nigerians have expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the election and the emergence of Okorocha as governor-elect. In his congratulatory message to Okorocha, President Goodluck Jonathan said: “The people of Imo State have spoken through the ballot box; it is time to forge ahead in the task of further developing the state.” Jonathan promised the governor-elect of the federal government’s co-operation in the task ahead.
Ohakim’s defeat at the polls did not come as a surprise; it was long envisaged by political watchers. There was unprecedented grumbling among the citizenry over some unpopular government policies and some atrocities allegedly perpetrated against certain individuals by the administration. There was a general feeling that the outgoing governor did not meet their expectations. For instance, not quite long ago, a group of Mbano citizens issued a statement apologising for their mistake in bringing a “visionless and missionless” personality to rule the state. Ohakim also shot himself in the leg when he obtained a N40 billion bond from the Capital Market despite public outcry against it. His arbitrary increase of school fees in both the secondary schools and tertiary institutions did not go down well with the people.
During the campaigns, he likened himself to a specie of squirrel called ikiri in Igboland which cannot let go of anything it grabs. In order words, he will defend the governorship seat with the last drop of his blood. With his defeat at the polls, Imo people have shown Ohakim that power really belongs to the people.
The dust raised by the manhandling of a Catholic priest last year by his security details is yet to settle. Despite Ohakim’s public apology to the Owerri Catholic diocese, it appears the Catholics who constitute more than 80 percent of the population have not forgiven him. It was alleged that Ejike Mbaka an Enugu-based fiery Catholic priest, known for his prophetic utterances, vowed to throw away the Bible if Ohakim was re-elected.
He was also alleged to have stripped and flogged one Samuelson Iwuoha, an Owerri based civil rights activist on January 21, 2010, for writing petitions against his government. Iwuoha wrote petitions to the Presidency; Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and Code of Conduct Bureau exposing the governor’s alleged financial recklessness and anti-people’s policies. It was the same punishment that his security details allegedly meted to a Radio Nigeria reporter in the Government House. The way and manner agents of his government arrested the late Maximus Uba, a journalist and an unrepentant critic of his administration in Abuja, and bundled him to Owerri, is still fresh in the minds of the people. Uba was later charged to court, only to die in a motor accident.
There is also the Owerri factor. Most indigenes of the state argued that Ohakim’s influence and popularity started dwindling among Owerri people when he introduced the Environmental Transformation Commission, ENTRACO, which demolished several churches, markets, illegal structures and shanties without adequate notice. These actions rendered many youths jobless and forced others to relocate to the villages to lick their wounds.
Having emerged victorious, the big question is whether Okorocha can meet the high expectations of the people of the state? Lemmy Ogoke, chairman, Lemmy Worldwide Company Limited and an indigene of Isiala Mbano, wants Okorocha to give Imo people quality governance that has been denied them in the past four years, and ensure he fulfills his electioneering campaign promises to the people of the state.
Eugene Ukomadu, a community leader from Abor, Amaopara in Nkwerre local government area, described Okorocha as God-sent, and hoped that by God’s grace, he would do more than his predecessor. “In our local government, the outgoing government did nothing and we hope Rochas will wipe our tears by coming to our rescue. He should help us with our link roads which were abandoned,” he said.
Reported by Dike Onwuamaeze and Godfrey Azubuike