Governor Rochas Okorocha occupies a significant place in Imo State political history. He is the first governor in the state and among the rare few in Nigeria to defeat an incumbent in our democratic dispensation through the ballot box. In Nigeria, that is no easy feat. I will not rehearse the trajectory of Okorocha’s journey to his present position as the governor of Imo State. His historic emergence is a reminder to political incumbent at all levels not to take the electorate for granted. Our political culture has the potential for progress. In so far as we have free and fair elections, the idea of power belonging to the people ceases to be rhetoric but a reality at least on an electoral scale.
Okorocha’s distinction did not end with his electoral victory. Immediately the governor came to power, he rolled up his sleeves with enthusiasm and reignited hope in the state about what was possible. He appealed to the people’s psyche. He told them that the state was not poor, but had been beset by poverty of leadership. He offered to provide good leadership, which had consistently eluded the state since Sam Mbakwe. He told the people that he was going to plough back his hefty security vote to the state coffers into an unprecedented free education programme. Not only that, as part of his ‘rescue mission’ platform, Okorocha embarked on infrastructural renewal. He focused on decongesting Owerri metropolis by opening up roads and satellite towns within the capital territory while boosting other urban contenders in the state: Orlu and Okigwe with significant infrastructural face-lift. He initiated a controversial fourth tier grass-roots government with traditional rulers as arrowheads. The fourth tier, called community government, is a multi-purpose vehicle for socio-cultural mobilisation, economic development and security assurance.
Not unexpectedly, the magnitude of these commitments evoked scepticism even among well-meaning Imolites, for good reasons. First, Okorocha’s ambitions looked too good to be true. Second, some charged that the government has taken on too much and as such has become rudderless. Others took objection to the governor’s style of leadership, which they perceive as lacking respect for due process. As evidence, they point to his political battles with his erstwhile deputy, Jude Agbaso; and his unending legal battle with the recently dethroned Obi of Obinugwu, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party has consistently fuelled its right to disagree with the state of governance in Imo State at every given chance. Its attacks have not spared the free education programme in the state.
However, as we approach the 2015 general elections in Imo State, it is increasingly unpredictable that Okorocha’s records alone could propel him to a second term in office and keep the PDP away from Douglas House. Assuming that the elections will be free and fair, Okorocha has to work far harder to pull off another electoral victory in Imo State than his otherwise impressive record could have deserved. And the reasons are not far-fetched. They lie essentially in the decisions that Okorocha himself has made. They neither lie in lack of the enthusiasm of Imo people for their populist governor nor in the ability of the PDP to return to power on merit.
Okorocha’s decision to dump the All Progressives Grand Alliance under which platform he came to power may prove to be his ‘politicide’ (political suicide) or perhaps his gamble for political survival. Throughout his circumstantial sojourn in APGA, Okorocha did not seem to have got along well with not only the ever divided party leadership but also with his then counterpart in Anambra State, Peter Obi. Not only did he fall out with his fellow traveller of circumstance in APGA, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Okorocha sacked his deputy, Agbaso, under controversial circumstances. These and a few other political moves did not commend him well and may have exposed him to political vulnerability. But Okorocha’s riskiest political move of all is his decision not only to join the All Progressives Congress but also to assume some degree of visibility in the fledgling national opposition party through his chair of the progressive governors’ forum.
There is no question that the South-East has no substantial representation in the APC. Save for Imo, the rest of the South-East states are strongly PDP states or, in the case Anambra, pragmatically PDP. Not surprising, because unlike many actors in the merged parties, Okorocha did not go into the APC as part of an independent party platform other than through the cult of his own personality. The recent constitution of the party’s national executive simply confirms how much alienated the South-East is from the APC or vice versa. Even before the constitution of the APC national executive, the PDP and APGA had mounted a strategic campaign against the APC that capitalises on the paucity of South-East as a stakeholder in the party. In the process, they have often also insinuated some religious dimension to their spin. And let the truth be said, in Nigeria, all things – no holes barred – are political. There is some palpable basis for scepticism and apprehension in the South-East for the APC. Both the PDP and APGA have exploited and mapped those obvious fault lines and vacuum in the APC vis a vis the South-East to a very good and scaremongering effect. The poor performance of Chris Ngige of the APC in Anambra’s last governorship election is a demonstration of the PDP and APGA’s mutually effective strategy. Okorocha’s political survival as the governor of Imo State for a second term, therefore, will essentially depend on whether he is able to run on the cult of his own personality rather than on whatever the APC has to offer to a sceptical South-East and to Imo State in particular.
That in itself is a Herculean task. And if anyone is capable of pulling it off, that person is Okorocha himself. This writer is not unmindful, however, that the PDP is doing all things possible to regain power in Imo State. But one dares suggest that in addition to the PDP’s multitude of governorship aspirants with little charisma and conflicted interests and the party’s overall poor track record of performance in the state, it does not pose a threat to Okorocha. The PDP can only capitalise on the potential pitfalls of Okorocha’s romance with the APC as its strongest opportunity to return to Douglas House. As for APGA, increasingly, its interminable leadership crisis and the internal divisions in its Imo State chapter, especially among the two most visible governorship aspirants, diminish its prospects of constituting a threat to Okorocha. With regard to the Imo charter of equity that unofficially supports rotation of the governorship amongst the state’s three senatorial zones, Okorocha’s success in the last election is a demonstrable evidence that Imo people are pragmatic and informed electorate. It is unlikely they would sacrifice an effective incumbent for an unknown quality on the basis of geopolitical sentiments.
Okorocha would definitely have a tough time convincing Imo people and to some extent the South-East how their interests are served in the present APC hierarchy. He must be prepared to recognise that the APC would have a difficult sales prospect in Imo State. Like in Anambra, Imo people are not willing to mortgage their future to an ad hoc configuration of strange bedfellows from which they could not decipher how their interests could be served.
– Oguamanam is a law professor at the University of Ottawa, Canada.
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