DOUGLAS HOUSE 2015: Who will go for Owerri? – By Obinna C. Nkwo

man-question-markWhen Imo stakeholders and political leaders adopted the charter of equity, the essence was to give every zone and every section of the state a sense of belonging and a fair chance to lead and direct the affairs of the state or simply put to ensure equity in the distribution of political power in the state. Going by the spirit of the charter and the rotational time-table which started with Chief Sam Mbakwe of Okigwe zone, it goes without saying that it is now Owerri’s turn to produce the next occupant of Douglas House.

However, the state is not obliged to accept just any candidate from a senatorial zone, simply because it is their turn. Every zone must bring forth their first eleven for Imolites to choose based on the standard criteria of pedigree, antecedents, qualification, experience and general acceptability. From all indications, the good people of Owerri senatorial zone are doing just that to ensure that political power does not elude them and they don’t lose their turn in the Imo rotational system.

From the three Federal constituencies in Owerri zone, there is a moteley crowd of gubernatorial gladiators seeking the approval, support and endorsement of their zone, their political parties and the people of Imo State in general. But going by the perceptible impact they’ve made so far in their individual bids for power, one can identify four frontline contenders from Owerri zone. They are Emeka Ihedioha, from Aboh Mbaise/Ngor-Okpala, Bethel Amadi from Mbaitoli/Ikeduru and the duo of Emmanuel Iheanacho and Jerry Chukwueke from Owerri Federal Constituency.

Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, deputy speaker of the House of Representative is a third term Legislator and a long time gubernatorial aspirant. His ambition dates back to the regime of Ikedi Ohakim, to whom he was almost an heir apparent. Analysts believe that Emeka did not contest for Governorship in 2011 because he wanted his friend Ikedi Ohakim to serve out his second term and hand over to him in 2015 when it would be Owerri’s turn. But the emergence of Rochas Okorocha scuttled that arrangement. Emeka is believed to be a man with a deep pocket and has used his resources to sustain the state branch of the PDP since they lost power in 2011, he has also been of financial assistance to individual members of the state and national exco of the party whom he expects to reciprocate by supporting his ambition and quest for the governorship. Those rooting for him believe that he has the financial capacity to match Rochas Okorocha.

Ihedioha is also counting on the usual electoral solidarity of his Mbaise clan and the legendary block votes of the three local governments of Aboh, Ahiazu and Ezinihitte Mbaise.

As a deputy speaker, Ihedioha is in a position to dispense privileges by way of contracts and appointments and he has used these privileges to secure some loyalty and commitment to his ambition.

But ironically, the sharing of these privileges have become some sort of political albatross for the deputy speaker and instead of building bridges for him, has alienated him from other sections of the state who accuse him of giving out over seventy percent of the Federal board membership and chairmanship appointments to his Mbaise clan to the disadvantage of other sections of Owerri zone and Imo State. Even within Mbaise, he is also accused of giving all the appointments to his Aboh kinsmen leaving the people of Ahiazu, Ezinihitte and Ngor-Okpala with nothing. Also the distribution of NDDC projects in Imo State is said to be unduly skewed in favour of Aboh Mbaise.

The highly sensitive Imo electorate are beginning to think that an Ihedioha government is likely to be too sectional and clannish. Besides, it is argued in political circles that Mbaise has had more than their fair share of political privileges. Almost all elective and appointive positions due to Owerri zone are held by Mbaise people. The only minister from Owerri zone, Viola Onwuliri is from Mbaise, the senator representing Owerri, Chris Anyanwu is from Mbaise and Emeka the deputy speaker is also from Mbaise.

Also counting against Ihedioha is his apparently frosty relationship with the presidency because of his association and closeness with the speaker of the house and the anti Jonathan group. For a man who is seeking the PDP ticket for governorship it is not politically wise to be seen as anti the president who is the leader of the party. In terms of administrative and executive experience, not much is known of Emeka’s track record. Besides being a legislator and deputy speaker, what did he do before and how well did he do it – Imolites would like to know.

Like Ihedioha, Bethel Amadi is a 3rd term federal legislator and president of the African parliament. He is generally perceived to be a gentleman, a quiet political schemer and strategist which largely accounts for his ability to be elected to the house three times in a highly volatile constituency like Mbaike. Having spent over ten years in the federal parliament, he is also perceived to be of reasonable financial standing which is of critical importance in Imo politics. Besides, he is said to be well connected in Abuja and he hopes to leverage on those contacts and connections in his quest for Douglas House.

But what he gained in Abuja, he seems to have lost at home, as most Imolites see him largely as an Abuja politician who has lost touch with the grassroots. Outside Mbaitoli and Ikeduru, he is largely unknown by the rest of Imo State. He is also perceived to have a lack-lustre personality and is unlikely to be able to muster the political fire power that can dislodge an incumbent like Okorocha who is a known rabble rouser. But his greatest drawback is the fact that the people of Owerri zone believe that Mbaike and especially Ikeduru have taken their turn in the person of late chief Evan Enwerem who was governor during Babangida’s diarchy and who was Amadi’s kinsman from Ikeduru. Another hurdle for Amadi is the power tussle between the ageing godfather of Mbaike politics Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and his Owerri people’s Assembly (OPA) and the upcoming Charles Amadi and his Owerri zonal political leaders forum (OZOPOLF). Bethel’s political chances will depend to a large extent on how he is able to handle these contending kinsmen of his before facing the larger Imo community where he will also say what he has run before and how well he ran it.

Emmanuel Iheanacho, a master mariner came into national and state limelight when he was appointed minister of interior. He is also a major player in the down stream sector of the oil industry and reputed to be very wealthy. Going by the spirit of the charter of equity, his Owerri Federal constituency is the most favoured to get the governorship slot considering that they’ve never held the position and they are currently perceived to be marginalized and disadvantaged in the present scheme of things.

Though a card carrying member of the PDP, it is not yet clear under which platform Iheanacho intends to actualize his ambition. Rumour has it that he has been romancing with both APGA and APC to see which party will offer him their ticket. His shopping around for a political platform tends to stem from the fact that most members of the PDP hold him responsible for the failure of the party in 2011, accusing him of using his position as Minister of interior to support APGA against his own party and thus contributing to the victory of Okorocha and Chris Anyanwu and the loss of Ohakim and Kema chikwe.

Though he has ceaselessly denied this accusation of anti-party activity, the notion seems to stick to him indelibly. Apart from the state PDP, the people of Okigwe zone see him as responsible for the failure of their son Ohakim and the loss of a 2nd term for their zone and so will not give any consideration to an Iheanacho candidacy. In his own Owerri zone, the sentiment is the same. Even in his own Emekuku ward, he is said to be at war with other leaders like Ambrose Ejiogu, Kema Chikwe, and Martin Agbaso, who would not hear of an Iheanacho candidacy. So, for Iheanacho, he probably has to intensify his search for an alternative platform and then use that platform to convince the people of Imo State that he is not as unreliable as the PDP says he is.

Of the four major contenders from Owerri zone, Jerry Chukwueke, the boss of Germaine group of companies, and chairman contact, and mobilization committee of the PDP is the only one coming from a purely private sector background, having held no elective or appointed public or party office. But he is neither new nor unknown in Imo politics. He made his first incursion in Imo politics in 2007 and due to his brilliant performance, he emerged as the consensus candidate for Owerri zone under the platform of PDP, after a thorough and rigorous screening exercise. But his victory train was stopped by the zoning formula which favoured Okigwe then. He is reputed to be an astute business man and efficient manager of men and scarce resources as evidenced in the profile of his Germaine Group of Companies which has interests spanning the areas of automobile sales and services, transportation and haulage pharmaceuticals and health care, agriculture, food and entertainment and oil and gas.

Like Iheanacho, Chukwueke is from Owerri Federal constituency and in fact from the same Owerri North L.G.A. He however, seems to have the full support and endorsement of both the leaders and youth of Owerri Zone. On the 2nd of November 2013, all the thirty six traditional rulers of Owerri federal constituency unanimously conferred on him the high chieftaincy title of OHAMADIKE OWERRI which was like a replication of his 2007 consensus endorsement by the political leaders of Owerri. Also, the youth of Owerri federal constituency have published their endorsement of his ambition in almost all the local newspapers in Owerri.

Nobody knows why the PDP chose Jerry Chukwuemeka to chair their contact and mobilization committee, but everybody in the party agrees that he has done a fantastic job of reviving, revitalizing and repositioning the hitherto comatose party. As a result of the excellent performance of the Chukwueke led committee, the PDP is recording a harvest of returnees including high profile returnees like Achike Udenwa and Ifeanyi Ararume and everywhere party faithfuls see Chukwueke as the saviour of the party.

An eloquent and charismatic orator, Jerry Chukwueke has not only used his mobilization rallies to reawaken the PDP, he has also used his oratorical skills to unmask the Okorocha administration while highlighting the achievements of President Goodluck Jonathan. To all intents and purposes he has become not only the mobilizer of Imo state but the voice of the PDP and the voice of Imo state.

Also going for Jerry Chukwueke is the fact that he has a clean political slate and does not belong to either the centripetal or centrifugal forces of Imo politics. Besides, he seems to be generally acceptable across all the three senatorial zones. Apart from his home zone of Owerri, Chukwueke grew up and schooled in Orlu zone. He was a goal keeper for St. Augustines College Nkwere as well as an ex-goal keeper for Spartans football club which accounts for his popularity with the youth.

The flip slide for Chukwueke however, is that coming straight from the private sector; he is perceived as an outsider in the usual wheeling and dealing that goes on at both the national and state excos of the PDP. But this may also work to his advantage because the electorate in Imo is looking for a fresh face and a fresh voice, untainted by the politics of the past.

For now, the above are the front runners from Owerri zone. But for any of them to make Douglas, house Imo stakeholders and the political class must first make a firm commitment to the charter of equity and then every political party, at least the major ones, must produce an Owerri candidate for God and Imolites to choose.

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