As the Imo governorship election inches closer, those words will strike a chord with the frontrunners, given the prevalent insecurity that has dogged the state in the last few years and the consensus that things must change.
The battle for the soul of Imo state is slowly gathering momentum and is expected to reach a crescendo on Saturday when all the candidates contesting in the election will test their popularity.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 17 candidates on the platforms of different political parties are seeking to govern Imo, however, only four are viewed as the major contenders for the seat.
Hope Uzodinma, the incumbent governor and flagbearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is seeking a second term, making him the candidate to beat.
Others are Samuel Anyanwu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Athan Achonu of the Labour Party (LP), and Lincoln Ogunewe of the Action Alliance (AA).
Uzodinma hails from Imo West (Orlu zone) senatorial district which has 12 LGAs while Anyanwu and Ogunewe are from Ikeduru and Ezinihitte-Mbaise LGAs, respectively — both in Imo East (Owerri zone) senatorial district which has nine LGAs. Achonu, the candidate of LP, is from Ehime-Mbano LGA in Imo North (Okigwe zone) with six LGAs.
UZODINMA’S SHOT AT REELECTION
Uzodinma is arguably the strongest contender, owing to the power of incumbency, his political influence, and his financial resources. His party’s control of the state assembly and the recent gale of defections by opposition parties’ members to the APC in Imo have also helped his cause.
Recently, seven executive members of the PDP, including Martins Ejiogu, the vice-chairman, and Ray Emeana, the secretary, moved to the APC. Meanwhile, 25 of the 27 lawmakers in the Imo assembly and two serving senators from Orlu and Okigwe belong to the APC. The party also has four of the 10 members of the house of representatives.
Uzodinma’s Orlu zone has leveraged its 12 LGAs to its advantage over the years to win the governorship of the state. Achike Udenwa, a former governor who is from the zone, spent two terms in office. A potential continuity was truncated in 2007 when an Okigwe native, Ikedi Ohakim, was elected as the governor of the state for a single tenure after which power returned to Rochas Okorocha who is also from the Orlu zone. Okorocha spent eight years in office.
For the November 11 election, Uzodinma’s running mate is a woman; Chinyere Ihuoma Ekomaro, who hails from Mbaitoli in Owerri zone, which is perhaps the largest LGA in the state. The choice of a woman as his deputy is seen as a strategic decision to garner support from the womenfolk who are key stakeholders in Imo politics.
The governor, in a recent interview, said he is upbeat about his victory.
“Imo people are not blind. They have seen my numerous achievements since coming on board. That is why they have all resolved to vote me in order that these great achievements continue,” Uzodinma said.
However, the issues of insecurity in the state and lingering discontent over his controversial declaration as governor by the supreme court in 2020 may work against him on November 11.
ANYANWU’S QUEST TO UNSEAT UZODINMA
As the PDP governorship candidate eyes the Imo governor seat, he appears to enjoy the goodwill of Owerri residents, having represented the zone at the upper chamber of the national assembly between 2015 and 2019.
His ambition is largely boosted by the short-lived tenure of Emeka Ihedioha who was the last PDP governor in the state. Ihedioha had only spent seven months in office when the supreme court overturned his election. This has created sympathy for the PDP in Imo and may count in Anyanwu’s favour.
Owerri zone residents believe it is their turn to produce the next governor following the existing Imo “charter of equity” which allows a rotational government among the three zones of the state.
However, Owerri, the birthplace of the “sacred agreement”, has not been allowed to complete a single tenure since the time of the late Evan Enwerem whose administration in 1992 was botched halfway.
Anyanwu has also endeared himself to sections of the electorate by promising an “abrupt end” to insecurity once voted into office. His campaign slogan, “Make Imo state safe again”, has taken over the airwaves and the people may see him as someone who can restore peace in the state.
He has often boasted that “I am the only man who can return Imo to its original state of calmness. I will remove insecurity, banditry, kidnapping, youth restiveness and social vices from Imo state”.
But his rift with Ihedioha, which led to the latter’s withdrawal from the party’s governorship primary, may work against the PDP candidate.
Ihedioha’s camp believes that Anyanwu contributed to his ouster by the apex court in January 2020. The cold war between the two politicians resulted in strong members of the party defecting to the ruling APC after Ihedioha’s withdrawal from the guber race.
Anyanwu therefore has an enormous task of appeasing Ihedioha and his supporters.
His running mate, Jones Onyereri, a two-time member of the house of representatives from the Orlu zone, brings an advantage to the joint ticket because of his popularity in the zone. Many in the state believe that Onyereri won the 2019 Orlu senatorial election in which Rochas Okorocha was declared winner.
WILL LP’S ACHONU SPRING A SURPRISE?
Perhaps, Athan Achonu, candidate of the Labour Party (LP), may have had a stronger chance if Peter Obi, the party’s presidential candidate, had won the February 25 election.
Achonu may not be as popular as the other candidates but his goal is to use the Obi wave to oust Uzodinma. He has been endorsed by the LP standard bearer; Julius Abure, the national chairman; Alex Otti, the governor of Abia; and other critical stakeholders.
The factional national chairman of the party, Lamidi Apapa, had conducted a parallel guber primary on April 16, which produced Joseph Ikechukwu Ukaegbu as the candidate.
Many in the state are of the impression that Achonu, a former senator who represented the Okigwe zone in the red chamber, was planted by the incumbent governor to destabilise LP – an allegation the candidate has denied many times.
Hailing from the smallest senatorial zone — Okigwe zone — which has six LGAs, Achonu’s votes may not be divided like those of Owerri where there are multiple candidates. He will only have to contend with the “featherweight” candidates from other less popular parties in the zone.
Achonu has chosen Tony Nwulu, the 2019 governorship candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and former house of representatives member for the Oshodi/Isolo-II federal constituency in Lagos, as his running mate. Nwulu is from Ezinihitte-Mbaise in Owerri zone.
… AND THERE’S AA’S LINCOLN OGUNEWE
Lincoln Ogunewe rose to political stardom after the last general election when he threw his weight behind the LP presidential candidate.
Ogunewe has been described by many as a man who has the requisite security knowledge to save Imo from further destruction by unknown gunmen. He is a retired major general in the Nigerian Army.
After losing to Achonu in the LP primary election, Ogunewe defected to the Action Alliance (AA) and secured the guber ticket. He enjoys the backing of the supporters of Uche Nwosu, a former chief of staff to Okorocha, who contested the governorship election in 2019 as the party’s candidate.
But as a greenhorn, he has the unenviable task of reaching out to the nooks and crannies of Imo state to market his “Reset Imo” project to the rural communities. Some Imo residents believe that Ogunewe, if elected governor, will reduce criminality in the state to the barest minimum given his military background.
Ogunewe is however grappling with an internal squabble as Humphrey Akuwudike claims to be the authentic candidate of the party.
Humphrey has described Ogunewe as a usurper who was displaced in the LP but “conspired” with Kenneth Udeze, the suspended national chairman of AA, to secure the party’s ticket “illegally”.