The inauguration of the 609-member National Campaign Council for the November 11 off-season Imo governorship election recently must have sent warning signals to the other political party opponents in the state that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is battle-ready for the poll.
The campaign council was a compendium and assemblage of carefully selected men and women of political pedigrees, party members, leaders, chieftains including governors, Ministers, lawmakers, technocrats, field canvassers, and coordinators.
Their terms of reference, among other things, include the responsibilities to articulate strategic election-winning programmes aimed at ensuring that the incumbent governor, Hope Uzodinma, retained his seat at the Douglas Government House in Imo.
The recent inauguration event held at the Ndubuisi Kanu Square in Owerri, the state capital, was not only a gathering of political heavyweights in the ruling party, comprising the national leadership, the National Working Committee (NWC) members, the presidency, and captains of industries but also a display of fanfare and carnival of sort.
The campaign council members were a roll-call of familiar politicians drawn from all the states in the six geopolitical zones and diaspora Nigerians, charged with the herculean mission to brainstorm, articulate, catalyse, and perfect strategies that will guarantee victory for the incumbent governor.
Although some of them stayed out of the inauguration, the numerical strength of the members of the campaign team may not come as a surprise to many but the inclusion of hitherto gladiators and political enemies, like former governor, Rochas Okorocha, his in-law, Uche Nwosu among others outside the same political wavelength with Governor Uzodinma since he assumed office through the proclamation of the Supreme Court, certainly will.
Of course, their inclusion was certainly strategic and will not only make a bold statement to other contestants but will also signpost possible electoral victory for the ruling party even before the conduct of the election.
Already, in the consideration of several political pundits and many voters in the state, Governor Uzodinma, having, scored high marks in the achievements rating index since close to four years in the saddle, deserves to be rewarded with an automatic second term ticket.
In fact, his first-term achievements were so blissful and intimidating, according to the state chapter of the ruling party, that the opposition parties could only resort to blackmail for the inability to lay hands on any tangible thing to campaign against him.
Convinced that he was already coasting to victory before the conduct of the poll, Governor Uzodimma boasted, during the inauguration ceremony, that he would win landslide even if the election is adjusted backwards. He insisted that he has no iota of doubt that the entire Imolites have solidly endorsed his second term mandate.
He said: “My great people of Imo State, just as I have always said, the movement is beyond sectional and party sentiments; rather it is a consolidation of the gains of my administration in the past years, having restored the state from its deplorable condition.
“I cannot walk through this alone, your mandate I hold for the first four years and your mandate I seek for the next four years. Together, we have recovered our dear state, rehabilitated our institutions and reconstructed our infrastructures.
“It is now time for us to usher in the next level of shared prosperity where the reforms and policies we have instituted shall play a vital role in our economic growth and stability for the benefit of all. We are ready for the election and even if the election is held tomorrow, I will win,” he boasted.
Speaking further, the governor sarcastically noted: “For those who want to take back Imo, tell them that Hope Uzodimma has already brought our Imo state back. Now it is our time to secure the gains and move ahead.”
Party’s National Chairman, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, equally applauded Governor Uzodimma for the revolutionary achievements he recorded and for constructing a campaign edifice, promising; “I, with other leaders of the party and supporters will ensure his re-election.”
However, beyond the razzmatazz, glitz, paparazzi, and pomp of the inauguration of the campaign council, away from the strategies and policy statements by the stakeholders, and outside Uzodimma’s high profile achievement ratings, the stark realities on ground seem to portend hurdles against making his pipedream a reality.
Expectedly, rival political parties and their candidates, have, as part of their campaign strategies, endlessly continued to haul tantrums at him as tactics to woo, convince and lobby the electorate as a way of brightening up their chances of winning the election.
For example, Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate, Senator Athan Achonu, only recently boasted that he is good, capable enough and convinced he will defeat Governor Uzodimma even in his Local Government Area.
He didn’t stop there as he claimed further that the Imo state electorate had rejected Uzodimma, warning that the poll would not be a stroll into the park for him despite wielding the advantageous apparatus edge of power of incumbency.
Achonu further argued that with Governor Uzodinma’s unimpressive performance in his first tenure and debt profile he plunged the state into, Imo needs a ‘madman’ like him with entrepreneurial acumen to redirect the sinking ship of the state.
Assessing the Uzodinma-led administration, Achonu said: “The only thing people say he did is road projects. But those roads are tax credits, not state money. So, where is the state money? Even at that, the road that then-president Buhari came and commissioned has collapsed.“There is no road anywhere inside Owerri. No road, no good internal roads in the entire Owerri. Just drive from IMSU through Mbaise-Owerri road, try to connect and see the state of the road that Buhari commissioned. It doesn’t exist anymore. It has been washed out.“I don’t know what he has done. He has not been able to protect lives and property. In other societies, when somebody commits a crime, you arrest and prosecute them, not to come out with a helicopter gunship to bomb them and their houses. It is not done anywhere in the world.“Even if they were accused of oil bunkering what about people mining diamonds and lithium elsewhere in the country? Look at the mine sites; they look like something we read in the Old Testament, thousands of people, yet nobody is arresting them, nobody is bombing them, and nobody is attacking them,” he quipped.
On the volume of the debt profile, the LP candidate said: “That is one question they have been asking me everywhere, which I know will be a very big headache for any incoming government. The money that has been borrowed is unbelievable. The huge debt profile of the state is also unbelievable.
“With the huge debt profile of the state, only a madman like me can go there because I know what I can create. For me, as a private entrepreneur, I make money from the air. I use my brain, I create businesses. I am going to do that for the state. I am going to find a way for the state to survive,” he quipped.
However, in the perception of the State’s Commissioner for Trade and Investment, Comrade Simon Ebegbulem, the election has already been won and lost, urging the opposition candidates to be ready to accept defeat and congratulate his principal.
Asked about the chances of Governor Hope winning the poll, Ebegbulem told Daily Sun in a telephone chat that; “I can boldly say that his chances of winning the election on November 11 are very bright. This is because he has done very well. If you compare the state in the past four years before he took over you will agree that there is a great difference with the Imo state of today.
“We can see them both in infrastructural development and payment of the salaries of civil servants. Unlike in the past when they were told to come to work only three times in a week, they don’t only come to work five working days but also get their salaries fully paid.
“Every stratum of the state is receiving attention to the extent that we can claim that Imo state of today is far much better than Imo of yesterday. Things are working perfectly well; infrastructural developments and businesses are springing up every day because of the conducive atmosphere Hope provided for businesses to flourish.
“Apart from being a politician, Governor Uzodinma is also a businessman. He knows how to bring in investors and make the environment conducive for them to operate.
“Of course, I know people will talk about the insecurity in the state. It is a creation of wicked politicians in the opposition party who felt that the strategy to go violent would lead to the declaration of a state of emergency in the state.
“They were disappointed that their plans did not work. They thought they were dealing with a governor who is blood tasty like them, unfortunately for them, Uzodinma is a God-sent governor who abstains from anything violent. And every day somebody is killed in Imo, he feels so pained.
“They have also come up with all kinds of calumny because their plans to ensure the declaration of a state of emergency did not work. This is why I said that our chances are very bright. We don’t actually have any opponent to contest against in the election. Imo is an APC state and will remain so after the forthcoming election. The opposition parties have collapsed completely with many of them scattered and joined the APC.
“When you talk of PDP in Imo you talk about Emeka Ihedioha, but where is him today? I believe he is also with APC in spirit. The executive and majority of the members of the PDP have all joined the APC just because of Uzodinma’s developmental strides.
“That is why we are very hopeful of victory and if you go round the 27 Local Government Areas in the state, development is going on. We are all optimistic of victory in the election,” Ebegbulem insisted.
He also defended the claims of collapsed roads, stressing that; “the allegation that the roads Uzodinma built have all collapsed must be coming from political detractors that play politics with everything. Investigate and you will find out that the allegations are coming from those Governor Uzodinma even built the roads to their areas after several years of suffering neglect.
“He built state-of-the-art roads in the state and I challenge doubters to pass through Owerri to Orlu, which can only take less than 15 minutes now, Owerri to Okigwe within 25 minutes while the one between Owerri and Umuahia is still ongoing. We have beautiful roads within the Owerri municipalities.
“Before he assumed office as governor, there were insinuations that acid rains don’t allow roads in Imo to last long, but today, people are wondering where the acid rain is. Their claims about collapsed roads are petty blackmail without any iota of truth,” the Commissioner defended.
On the allegations of plans by Governor Uzodinma to rig the election, Ebegbulem rhetorically asked: “Rig the election against which opponents? How can a government very popular and close to the people rig the election? Is it against PDP that does not exist in the state or LP that has no authentic candidate with its case still pending in the court?
“If there is no candidate to challenge Governor Hope, who is he then going to rig against? Even if they contest, there is no way they will defeat a governor who is solidly on ground. He has done well for the Imolites across the state for them to clamour for his continuation. All the 27 LGAs are eagerly waiting to vote for him. Like he said, if they shift the election backwards to tomorrow, he will defeat all of them,” he boasted.
Ebegbulem equally dismissed the speculations that the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) is related to an APC leader and the clamour for the redeployment of the State Commissioner for Police, describing them as fallacies.
“All those allegations are fallacies from the opponents already aware that they are losing. They are requesting change in virtually everything even when they know that Hope will defeat them in their own villages and families. And even if the entire security apparatus in the state is changed, they will still not win,” he declared with a tone of finality.
However, not leaving anything to chance despite his acclaimed popularity, Governor Uzodimma, a political strategist, looking beyond the attacks to discredit him, will not only bank on the landmark achievements he has recorded but will equally harvest from the wide cracks in the camps of the opposition party contestants.
According to political watchers, he may have perhaps already started reaping from the politically motivated allegations against almost all the opposition party candidates that have resulted in many of them struggling to remain focused and afloat.
No fewer than 17 candidates indicated readiness to slug it out with the incumbent Uzodimma. But, while very few of the contenders have been visible in the arena to boost their chances of unseating him, many others could only be described as pretenders.
Reasons given for the poor visibility of some of the opposition parties were the governor’s alleged attempts to stifle parties and stop them from having a robust campaign through the imposition of levies for displaying their banners along the streets of Owerri and its environs among others.
One such levy is the mandatory payment of N54 million before a party can display its banners. Members of the opposition political parties have condemned and described the levy as unacceptable. Currently, only a few of the 17 governorship candidates are showing their presence to battle the governor to submission.
They include Major General Lincoln Ogunewe (retd), of the Action Alliance (AA), Senator Samuel Anyanwu of the PDP, and Senator Athan Achonu of the LP.
For the foremost opposition party, the PDP candidate, Anyanwu, will continue to struggle to recover from the devastating shock of losing the state executive of the party to the ruling APC with seven of them joining the APC.
As Anyanwu battles to overcome the challenges created by the exit of members of the state exco, the former governor of the state, Ihedioha and his men also dumped him and pitched tents with different parties.
The development, according to political analysts, may have completely whittled down the chances of the PDP candidate winning the governorship election, especially in allowing his core support base to decamp.
However, if they had left the party peaceful, Anyanwu would have wriggled out of the effects, but the battle of words with them, accusing him of secret collaboration with Governor Uzodimma complicated and compounded his problems, posing a threat to his chances.
While justifying his action to jump ship, former state PDP Secretary, Ray Emeana once claimed that; “Anyanwu is not running for governorship. There is no reality. There is nothing to show. There is no activity to show that he is running for governor of Imo State.
“I ask myself if I am prepared to be in opposition for another four years with somebody who is negotiating with the governor of Imo State, Uzodimma, to hand over to him in 2027,” he claimed.
Although PDP countered the allegations, Anyanwu has not, however, recovered from it. According to the opposition party; “it is on record that the current realities on ground in the state are the massive adoption and endorsement of Anyanwu as a consensus governorship candidate in the election by market women, youth groups, motorcycle, Keke/taxi operators, socio-political groups, Christian organizations, and traditional institutions.
“Not comfortable with the wide acceptance of Anyanwu’s candidature, Uzodinma, his team, and the escaped former PDP officials are doing everything possible, not minding its legal implications, to whittle down Anyanwu’s popularity in the state,” the party claimed.
Dismissing the allegations further, the PDP explained that; “one of such game plans is exactly what Emeana peddled including others to be falsely disclosed in the nearest future. Our assurance to the Imo people is that the PDP governorship candidate will secure the state from the stranglehold of APC misrule, intimidation, harassment, and illegal arrests which have gradually destroyed the state and turned it into a battleground for non-state actors.
“Anyanwu and Jones Onyereri are out to make Imo safe again by ending killings, kidnappings, and thuggery in the state,” the opposition party insisted.
However, regardless of the intensity of the intriguing weapons deployed by the parties and their candidates to outdo each other, factors that might decide the trajectory and where the pendulum will swing to include the escalating endemic insurmountable insecurity in the state, the posture and resolution of the electoral umpire, INEC to conduct a credible and transparently acceptable poll.
The recent killing of several security personnel in the states with some political undertone comes with serious fresh concerns to the stakeholders on the challenges confronting the poll.
Head or tail, the odds however are against the opposition parties more than the ruling party. Having governed the state for over three years now, Governor Uzodimma undoubtedly has a grip on the relevant structures to aid him in coasting to victory.
“Don’t forget that Imo state gave the APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, an appreciable number of votes in the February 25 poll. Apart from that, the governor has worked with certain relevant apparatus in the state like the security agencies, and INEC staff, needed to win the election.
“And more importantly, don’t also forget that he became the state governor then through the deployment of legal instrumentality, let alone now he is in charge,” an Imo-based journalist quipped in a chat with Daily Sun.
According to certain unconfirmed security reports, some parts of the states like Osu, Njaba among others that have been inaccessible for some time now due to insecurity may not still be conducive for any electoral exercise.
But, resting the apprehensions in the possibility of the election holding in the midst of the precarious security situation in the state, Ebegbulem said: “Of course, the election will hold, and we are hoping that the security situation in the state would have been taken care of by the security agents. We are also praying that the situation would have improved before the election and that people will come out from every part of Imo state to vote for Governor Hope.”
Credit: Daily Sun