It is a common parlance that a rejected stone often becomes a corner stone. This adage aptly applies to the incumbent governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Anayo Okorocha, who was elected as the sixth civilian governor of the state in 2011.
Okorocha, popularly known by his chieftaincy title, the Owelle of Igbo land, had, at various times, sought to contest several elective political offices, including gubernatorial, senatorial and even the highest political office, the presidency. He, however, he lost out in all his previous attempts.
Undaunted, the man who was apparently destined to be a leader of men, became the gubernatorial candidate of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and emerged victorious in the 2011 election. Having won the election and becoming the governor of the state since May last year, the question being asked is, how far has he gone in changing the face of governance in Imo State? Put differently, though less than a year into his administration, has Okorocha been able to demonstrate that the APGA-led government is a clear departure from its predecessor in terms delivering the dividends of democracy to the people of the state?
Okorocha was eventually able to become the governor through a reported political arrangement between him and Chief Martin Agbaso, the APGA standard-bearer in the 2007 gubernatorial election who contested the election but lost to the immediate former governor of the state, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, who won on the platform of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) but later defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As part of the arrangement, it was said Agbaso decided that he would step down for Okorocha on the agreement that Okorocha would pick Jude, his younger brother, as his running mate.
However, the people of Imo State did not initially take the Okorocha/Agbaso team serious given the large followership the PDP was enjoying in the state. This factor largely accounted for Okahim’s decision to defect from the PPA to the party, after he had won the gubernatorial election in the state. Indeed, those that matter in politics in the state were in the PDP, hoping that Ohakim’s second term victory was a foregone conclusion because of the zoning arrangement within the party fold.
The arrangement was that after Okigwe might have completed an eight-year tenure, the Owerri axis of the state would automatically take over from Ohakim and also govern for eight years before the position would rotate back to Orlu, a zone which had enjoyed a two-term tenure during the administration of Chief Achike Udenwa. While the arrangement within the PDP in the state appeared perfect, the party however miscalculated by underrating APGA, a party that eventually took everyone in the state by surprise, by defeating the ‘almighty’ PDP to emerged victorious in the 2011 gubernatorial election in the state.
When the electioneering campaign began proper in the state, APGA, through its candidate, Okorocha, began to make an appreciable impact in the politics of Imo State, even at the grass roots level. He popularity was growing in leaps and bounds among the Imolites as he took his campaign to marketplaces within Owerri, the state capital and its environs.
The three local government areas in Owerri, Owerri Municipal, Owerri North and Owerri West, did not deem it necessary to give a thought to the PDP zoning arrangement namely, that it would be their turn to produce the state governor after Okigwe zone might have completed its year-tenure, which was expected to come to an end by 2015 if Ohakim had won the election. To the surprise of the PDP and its supporters, the people of the three local government areas rather turned out in large numbers to vote massively for the APGA candidates in the elections into the House of Assembly, the Senate and the gubernatorial seat.
To some political observers in the state, Okorocha was, perhaps, greatly assisted in his electoral victory due to his establishment of secondary schools in Owerri Municipal and Ideato local government areas (he hails from the latter). The two schools run free-education programmes, personally financed by Okorocha. To the admiration of his supporters who idol-worship him, he adopted a masses-oriented campaign strategy, riding through major streets and roads in Owerri on tricycles, popularly known as Keke NAPEP.
Efforts by the PDP national leadership could not reduce the popularity of the governor among the people of the state. Twice, President Goodluck Jonathan was in Imo State to galvanise support for Ohakim and to ensure that PDP retain Imo State, but the effort was in futility. The wife of the president, Dame Patience Jonathan, was also in the state as part of the PDP campaign strategy, appealing passionately to Imolites to support Ohakim’s bid to return to Douglas House, Owerri but the people had already made up their minds on who they would cast their votes for.
Apart from the visits of the president and his wife, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was also in the state for the same purpose and on a rescue mission to stop Imo State from falling into the hands of another party namely, APGA. Obasanjo’s visit was a bit late as the majority of the people of the state had decided on where they will cast their lot. Unfortunately, the former president came on a day when all the political parties were supposed to round off their electioneering campaigns. While PDP, being the ruling party in the state, had chosen the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri, APGA decided to hold its own at the Township Primary School, Owerri which was located opposite the stadium.
All efforts made to persuade the APGA leadership to change the venue of its campaign proved abortive. The then government in power was left with no other choice than to deplore the power at its disposal to ensure that the party relocated from the Township Primary School. The government’s argument was that it took the step in order to avoid possible outbreak of violence and political clash between the supporters of the two political parties, even as tension continued to mount ahead of the gubernatorial election in the state.
Rather than dousing tension however, the government action attracted more sympathy for APGA and its candidate and an increased anger against PDP. In the process of moving to the new venue of the APGA rally, Okigwe Road, where the Rochas Okorocha Campaign Office was located, Okorocha’s supporters ran into the convoy of Governor Ohakim in which was Chief Obasanjo. The APGA supporters, as a result of their pent-up anger, allegedly threw sachet water at the governor’s convoy, not knowing that Obasanjo was among the Ohakim entourage. This naturally angered the security agencies on the entourage and, in the process, arrested 18 people who were believed to be APGA’s supporters, including the man who later became the Chief of Staff to Governor Okorocha. They were dumped in the police cell where they were until the election was won and lost. They were only breathed air of freedom when Okorocha was sworn in as governor of the state.
Indeed, it was a long walk for Okorocha, a man who had variously failed in his attempts to prove his worth as a leader with a difference. Now that he is in the saddle, he has been trying to put in place some measures that cut across all strata of life in Imo State. But then, eight months into his administration, it would be too early to rate the performance of the APGA-led government in the state.
Written by Joe Nwachukwu.