Take it or leave it, among all the contenders for the Imo number one seat in the 2011 general elections, Ikedi Godson Ohakim of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stands the greatest chances of victory, and I say this without an iota of bias. Personally, I do not like the man, neither do I cherish his style of leadership. When Citizen Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha said in an interview that “Ohakim is ruling Imo as if he is selling drugs in an ABC bus,” I agreed with him totally because what he said was in tandem with my personal observations. In spite of that, however, I maintain that the man’s chances of winning the April 26 guber election remain very high. And this is not about credibility. If it were, Ohakim may not get a mention here. This is about reality. Why do I say this? Just come with me as we take a look at Ohakim’s co-contestants.
Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, flag-bearer, is well known in Imo and across Nigeria for his philanthropic gestures, particularly through his Rochas Foundation which has given free education to hundreds (or thousands?) of destitute children who otherwise would not have had access to secondary education. For this alone, Okorocha is a popular candidate, but he does not seem to have the corresponding structures to win an election. What he has seems to be street popularity, which does not translate into majority votes or outright electoral victory. When Jesus rode on a horse to Jerusalem, he had street popularity. Few days later, he contested an election with Barabbas, a confirmed felon, and he lost to Barabbas. The Jewish elders were on ground to tell their people who to vote for. (I know some readers are already calling me a heretic.) There may be a repeat of that scenario in Imo come Easter Tuesday. Why? Because elections are not won on the streets or on the pages of newspapers. It is about what structures you have put on ground.
Another way of looking at it is to weigh the results of the April 9 National Assembly elections in Imo. Prior to the election, I heard many people of Orlu zone expressing their unalloyed support for Chief Achike Uzoma Udenwa, erstwhile governor of the state who contested the Orlu senatorial seat under the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. Part of the reasons they gave for this massive support was that since Udenwa was key to the demand for the creation of Orlu (or Njaba) State, he would quickly realise that dream as soon as he got to the senate. At the polls, however, the PDP floored the ACN. On the whole, the ACN in Imo failed to clinch any seat in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. As Imo governor, Udenwa did well for Orlu zone, and the people love him for that. So, if all that support and love did not give Udenwa victory at the NASS polls, in the same way, the love and support of Imo people may not give Okorocha victory at the guber polls. The unfortunate thing is that most of the people who voice this support are not the real voters. The real voters are the papas and mamas in the rural villages who have to be tutored by their sons and daughters, beneficiaries of the Ohakim government, on who to vote for. And they follow these directions religiously. If you say the PDP in Imo rigged the NASS elections, what makes you think they won’t rig the guber?
Senator Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, whom many, even Ohakim himself, thought was a major opposition force, has proved to be nothing but a barking dog without a bite. Now he has lost even the bark. His campaign is very poor. The man lacks the funds to prosecute an election. It would be remembered that Araraume represented his Okigwe Senatorial Zone at the Senate from 1999 to 2007. He left the senate in 2007 and joined the race for the Imo governorship seat under the PDP. The electoral process in Imo then was marred by irregularities, which included the internal PDP crisis. However, an election held, followed by a repeat election, and Ikedi Ohakim, then of Orji Uzor Kalu’s hastily concocted Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, was declared winner. The ex-Senator headed to court and spent over three years there. At the end, he lost all round: the governorship seat, sympathy, finances, etc. Now that it is time to campaign for votes, he lacks the finances to move forward. He and his ACN are down and out in Imo State.
Then talk of Ikedi Ohakim, the incumbent, many points count for him, (Here again, I reiterate that this is not about credibility.) even if those points reflect the injustice in the system: power of incumbency, grassroots structure, money. On the issue of incumbency, I will again quote elaborately from Steve Osuji’s masterpiece, “Democracy for incumbents”, which adequately captures what I mean. He said: “The incumbent deploys everything at his disposal to beat down any opposition. Then again, does he have things at his disposal? He actually has the world under his feet. The party structure and machinery across board are not only on the incumbent's payroll, they are at his mercy. The state’s treasury is in his keep; the state security apparati are his to deploy. So are the numerous appointees, the civil servants, the network of vigilante groups, name them. In like manner, the judiciary and legislature are within the incumbent’s purview, if not beck and call.... The monstrous muscle of the incumbent is seen flexed in its majesty during interparty electioneering campaign.... How on earth could any contestant begin to match the incumbent in any election, especially in the developing (?) world like Nigeria?.... In this part of the world, the incumbent would win an election one million times if he organised it.” What more do I need to say?
As it is today, Ohakim literally owns all the structures in Imo State: the sitting 305 councillors and 27 LGA chairmen, chairmen and members of the development centres, commissioners, special advisers, senior special assistants, permanent secretaries, heads of parastatals, heads and members of committees, chairmen and members of board, just name them; he appointed them all. Down the line, many other people feed through these Ohakim appointees. These people do not want any Rochas Okorocha rocking their boat, even if he has given free education to the whole world. As such, they will fight to retain their seats, and those who feed from them will vote for Ohakim so that they will not starve. Nigerian politics, for now, is stomach-based, but that’s the subject of another discussion.
Party-wise, Imo is one hundred percent a PDP state. Do I know what I’m saying? Yes, I do. At the grassroots, for that is where state politics is played. The 305 councillorship seats and the 27 local government chairmanship seats in the state are currently occupied by the PDP, no thanks to the charade called August 7, 2010 LG elections in Imo State. That APGA won the Owerri senatorial seat and Ideato and Owerri federal constituencies at the April 9 elections has not changed this equation. Those are Abuja positions that have no much bearing on the true situation at the local level. Meanwhile, supporters of APGA in Imo State now are there for what they can get from Okorocha. Even Chris Anyanwu, the Senator-elect for Owerri zone, is one hundred percent PDP. She only joined APGA because PDP denied her return ticket. In other words, she merely stooped to conquer. At an opportune time, she would rejoin her fold. No doubt about this.
I wanted to skip this, but it also bears mentioning: the issue of federal support. The PDP is not leaving any stone unturned in its efforts to retain all the states it currently controls, and if possible ‘capture’ more. So is the president-elect, Goodluck Jonathan. His utterances during his campaign tour of the states bear eloquent testimony to this. The recent suspension of the Minister of Interior, Emmanuel Iheanacho, for instance, has been linked to allegations of anti-party activities against him. Iheanacho belongs to the Owerri federal constituency where APGA carried the day at the NASS elections. Reportedly, he is suspected to have worked against Kema Chikwe, the PDP senatorial candidate in the zone, with whom he had clashed earlier. For those who think Iheanacho’s suspension had anything to do with the crisis in the North, think again. There is a Director-General for the State Security Service, there is an Inspector General of Police, there is a National Security Adviser, and Iheanacho is none of these. So, why him?
From the foregoing, therefore, I make the following predictions concerning the elections: Orlu zone will be divided between Ohakim and Okorocha, but Ohakim will win. The contest in Okigwe zone will be between Ohakim and Araraume, but Ohakim will win. Okorocha’s votes in Okigwe may turn out to be insignificant. Contestants like Ike C. Ibe and Emeka Nwajiuba may gather few sympathy votes in Okigwe, but that’s how far they can go. The parties they represent do not exist in Imo State. In Owerri zone, there will be a severe struggle between Ohakim and Okorocha. Okorocha’s deputy, Sir Jude Agbaso, is from Owerri zone. And so is Ohakim’s deputy, Prof Viola Onwuliri. Both parties will share the votes in the zone. But there are elements within Owerri zone that are addicted to the zoning formula, which is one of the key points of Ohakim’s campaign. So, the winning edge for Ohakim in Owerri may follow the following reasoning: Orlu has ruled for 8 years, 1999-2007; Okigwe has ruled for 4 years, 2007-2011. If Okigwe is allowed to complete its 8 years via Ohakim’s second tenure, Owerri will take over in 2015, but on the other hand, if Orlu is allowed to take another 4 years, the balance will be upturned; Orlu would have ruled for 12 years, leaving Owerri with nothing, and Owerri may find it hard to get to the Douglas House in the next 16 years.
Finally, there is the power of the PDP rigging machine in Imo State. I may be wrong after all.