By Emeka Ejere
If the withholding of his certificate of return as a senator-elect eventually graduates to total reversal of his controversial victory at the polls, then Rochas Okorocha, the outgoing governor of Imo State may be heading to the twilight of his relevance both in the state and national politics.
It looks even more so with the unfortunate development coming on the heels of Uche Nwosu, his protégé, failing to actualise a governorship ambition that was widely seen as Okorocha’s third-term-by-proxy agenda.
Since the beginning of his governorship in 2011 and his re-election in 2015, Okorocha has made it a roller coaster ride for the state that prides itself as the Eastern Heartland. He did not waste time to announce himself as controversial and went ahead to demonstrate it.
Even before his inauguration, Okorocha ordered the freezing of all accounts belonging to the state government and in his maiden speech, after swearing-in, dissolved all the 21 elected local government areas in the state.
That was quickly followed by the appointment of Nkiru Sylvanus, a sultry Imo-born actress, as his special assistant on Lagos Affairs and comedian, Uche Ogbuagu, as his special assistant on Comedy.
Some of his activities since then made some Nigerians, including indigenes of Imo State, to describe his government as full of drama and sometimes, comedic moments.
For those who probably were still in doubt about his controversial tag, his brazen decision to erect statues for world leaders, including Jacob Zuma, the then South African president, even while he was facing several corruption allegations in his home country, provided more reasons to believe.
Okorocha had invited Zuma to Imo in October 2017 to finalise a partnership between their foundations – Rochas Okorocha Foundation and Jacob Zuma Foundation. But there was a very blurry line between whether the visit was a state and a private one as Zuma was treated to a state honour even though his mission was rather personal since it was about his foundation and Rochas’.
During the visit, Okorocha also conferred on Zuma the Imo Merit Award, which is considered as the highest award in the state, named a street after him and gave him a chieftaincy title: Ochiagha di oha mma of Igboland (The people’s warrior).
Apart from Zuma, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the immediate past president of Liberia, also had a statue of her unveiled by Okorocha during a similar visit. A chieftaincy title – Ada di oha mma – was also conferred on her by Okorocha.
But not long after that, Okorocha appointed Ogechi Ololo, his sister, as the state commissioner for Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment. The appointment, which led to mockery was widely seen as needless and a waste of public funds. It was also described as an act of nepotism, cronyism and favouritism.
Little wonder when the governor openly backed Uche Nwosu, his son-in-law, to succeed him as governor in 2019, allegations of Okorocha running a government of nepotism and cronyism were once again rife.
Unfazed, Okorocha insisted that despite stiff opposition across the state, he would support Nwosu to succeed him as governor in 2019 if he declared an interest in the governorship seat. Nwosu, who is the governor’s chief of staff, is married to Ulomma, Okorocha’s first daughter.
But Sam Onwuemeodo, the chief press secretary to the governor, tried to justify the move in a statement which quoted Okorocha as saying: “Uche Nwosu is hardworking, and never gets tired. He is a very humble young man. Not proud. Not arrogant. So, power won’t enter his head. In spite of the position he occupies, you can’t see him quarrelling with anybody or maltreating anybody.
“He does not segregate against anybody whether from Orlu or Owerri or Okigwe zone. He relates with people enviously.”
Okorocha’s push for his son-in-law to succeed him was described by some political players and analysts in the state as an insult, saying it would be like adding salt to injury. They said it would be the ultimate height of nepotism and cronyism by the Okorocha-led government in Imo State.
For instance, apart from being the governor’s chief of staff, Nwosu was formerly the state Commissioner for Lands and Housing. Ogechi, Okorocha’s sister, who was later appointed commissioner for Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment, is also the governor’s deputy chief of staff and his special adviser on Domestic Affairs.
Anthony Anwuka, the minister of state for Education, who was the state government’s nominee for the Federal Executive Council seat, is also Okorocha’s in-law. His son, Uzo, is married to Uju, the governor’s second daughter.
The governor had in July 2017, appointed Christiana, Anwukah’s wife as the president, Imo State Customary Court of Appeal.
Uche Onyeagocha, a lawyer and former member of the House of Representatives, however, alleged at the time that the situation was worse than being reported.
Onyeagocha, who was a special adviser to Okorocha on Policy and Strategy and the All Progressives Congress, APC’s senatorial candidate in the 2015 elections, said: “Whatever allegations of nepotism that are reported about him and his appointments are very true. It’s true that his son-in-law is his chief of staff; his youngest sister is his deputy chief of staff and doubles as his special adviser on Domestic Affairs. She was the one that was recently appointed commissioner for Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment. The minister of state for Education (Anthony Anwukah) is also his in-law. The son of Anwuka is married to his second daughter.
“One of his sisters, Geraldine, supplies food and drinks to the Government House from her fast food joint, while his elder sister, through her agent, collects market tolls in Imo State.”
Onyeagocha also alleged that Adaobi Obasi , the vice-chancellor of Imo State University, is also an aunt to the governor. He, however, added that he believed that Imo people would resist any move by Okorocha to have his son-in-law succeed him, especially as it was against an unwritten zoning arrangement in the state.
The zoning arrangement in the state seeks to rotate governorship seat among three zones- Orlu with 12 local government areas; Owerri, nine LGAs; and Okigwe, six LGAs.
But since the current democratic dispensation started in 1999, only Orlu and Okigwe zones have produced governors and political analysts in the state noted that with Okorocha from Orlu zone, it would be wrong for the state to have his son-in-law, who is from the same zone, to succeed him.
They alleged that Okorocha’s push for Nwosu to succeed him smacked of desperation to leave a trusted member of his family behind to cover up his tracks when he would be out office in 2019.
The beginning of the end
The governorship ambition of Eze Madumere, Okorocha’s deputy, who is from Owerri zone was, therefore, seen as apt by everyone but Okorocha.
The seed of a supremacy battle had been sown between Okorocha and Madumere. In the battle for the APC governorship ticket, Okorocha had told his deputy to forget his ambition and go for the senatorial seat of Imo East (Owerri zone).
But the deputy governor rejected the offer, insisting that he had made up his mind to contest for the office of governor, a plan he said was not just about him but the entire Owerri zone that had been side-lined and marginalised. The zone is yet to produce the state governor since the return of democracy in 1999.
Madumere was sacked by 19 out of the 27 members of the legislature in what was seen as part of the battle for the governorship seat of the state the coming year. But with subsequent nullification of the impeachment by a High Court sitting in Owerri, the governorship ambition of the embattled deputy governor was revived.
But what appeared to be the beginning of an apparent end for the Okorocha Empire began on April 24, 2018, when a group of the APC members got disenchanted and decided to change the narrative in the state. The group that metamorphosed into the APC Restoration Coalition was led by Theodore Ekechi, his former commissioner for Information and Strategy.
The group includes notable the APC stalwarts like Osita Izunaso, the national organising secretary; Ben Uwajumogu; Ifeanyi Araraume; Hope Uzodinma; Tony Chukwu; Uzoma Obiyor, the TETFUND chairman; Emeka Nwajiuba; Jasper Azuatalam; Imo Eze Madumere; Jude Ejiogu; Longers Anyanwu; and many others.
In their famous Imerienwe declaration, the coalition rose in stout opposition to Okorocha’s stranglehold on the party and to wrestle it from him. In a 21-day ultimatum, the group asked Okorocha to end his alleged “tyranny, intimidation and harassment” of coalition members.
Above all, the group asked Okorocha to drop his ambition of making his son-in-law his successor.
The final onslaught, however, was the party congresses. In a well mapped-out and orchestrated manoeuvre, the stakeholders, now metamorphosed as the ‘Allied Forces’ formed a formidable force, which used the party congress to take over the APC structure in Imo.
Hope Uzodinma became the party’s governorship flag-bearer, prompting the defection of Nwosu and his supporters to Action Alliance, AA, where he easily picked the ticket through the instrumentality of Okorocha, who remained in the APC, having formed a faction loyal to him.
The development saw the embattled governor playing double game, sponsoring the governorship candidate of a rival party while working against Uzodinma, the candidate of the APC, his own party.
It did not come to many as a surprise when Okorocha received suspension letters at national and state levels of the APC, with both citing gross anti-party party activities.
Marcellinus Nlemigbo, the state caretaker committee chairman of the party, had told newsmen: “A letter by the Imo State chapter of the APC signed by the chairman conveyed the suspension to the national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole. We regretted that Okorocha who is the party’s candidate for Imo West Senatorial District has vowed to undermine the APC and its electoral interest.”
The governorship election has come and gone, with Nwosu losing to Emeka Ihedioha, the PDP candidate in the state, who is now the governor-elect. Okorocha was earlier declared winner of Imo West senatorial election but had his certificate of return withheld. Innocent Ibeawuchi, the returning officer there had alleged that the declaration was made under duress.
Reacting to Okorocha’s predicament, the Allied Forces on Thursday, March 14 applauded Imo citizens for casting their votes against the wish of the governor at the governorship/House of Assembly elections in the state.
Ekechi said: “Diligently and dutifully, some of us who were close to him on the account that we worked in his administration, on numerous occasions, advised him against most of his anti-people policies and openly counselled him against the syndrome of his self-exaggerated opinion of his popularity.
“But like the stubborn tsetse fly, he could only hear the voice of his even greedier, unforgiving and more ambitious spouse and, therefore, eventually ended in the grave along with the coffin.”
Could this eventually be the lot of Okorocha? Only time will tell.