Okorocha, Uzodinma and the Battle for the soul of Imo APC

CHIDIEBUBE OKEOMA takes a look at the supremacy battle between a former Governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, and his successor, Hope Uzodinma, and what it portends for the All Progressives Congress in the South-East

These are not the best of times for the Imo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress. The reason is not far-fetched: What can be described as supremacy battle between one of the party’s founding fathers, Senator Rochas Okorocha, a former governor of the state, and his successor, Hope Uzodinma is adversely affecting the party’s  fortunes in the state and the entire South-East.

The genesis of the current feud between the two APC chieftains dates back to the governorship primary of the party held in March 2019.

While Okorocha did everything as incumbent governor to “install” his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, as his successor, Uzodinma enjoyed the support of the former National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, and other power brokers in his bid to become the governor of the state.

It was a divided APC that went into the governorship election which the People’s Democratic Party candidate, Emeka Ihedioha, was initially declared winner of, before the victory was upturned by a Supreme Court judgment on January 14th, 2020.

No sooner had Uzodinma assumed office on January 15th, than he started reversing what Okorocha considered his administration’s key decisions and legacy projects.

First, the new governor sacked the Local Government Area chairmen and councillors elected during the last days of the Okorocha administration in 2018.

Within a short time, the new administration also sent bulldozers to pull down the Somto Hospital at Douglas Road which was built by his predecessor. A similar fate soon befell several roundabouts and the tunnel located at Port Harcourt Road in Owerri.

Proxy wars between the supporters of the two gladiators have since given way to an all-out verbal altercation. To register his displeasure over the turn of events, Okorocha and his loyalists have avoided state-organised functions.

In a bid to consolidate power, Uzodinma relegated the Daniel Nwafor-led Imo State APC Working Committee to the background in favour of the Marcillinus Nlemigbo-led caretaker committee named by the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee.

However, Nwafor has insisted he remains the authentic party chairman. He regularly makes reference to a subsisting court judgment supporting his position.

 The Director-General of the New Media of APC, Duke Cajetan, disputes this claims.

Cajethan said, “Since the appointment of the State Caretaker Committee of the Imo State chapter of the APC, led by Prince Marcillinus Nlemigbo, the party in the state has been on the steady rise in spite of various unwarranted distractions from political marauders and detractors who are united in their inordinate quest for power at all cost, fanning the embers of imaginary discord and disunity within the party.”

According to the DG, who is also an aide to Uzodinma, the party in Imo is now more united and stronger than before.

He said plans had reached an advanced stage to ensure the smooth conduct of the party’s membership registration and revalidation exercise.“);

Okorocha’s media aide, Sam Onwuemeodo, was however of the opinion that the APC had been on the downward spiral since Uzodinma took office.

Onwuemeodo said, “The APC is no longer breathing in the state,” adding that “the APC only exists at the Government House, Owerri.”

He stressed that Okorocha formed and nurtured the party in Imo State and subsequently made it attractive in the South-East, at a time no one gave it a fighting chance.

His claims have drawn angry responses from a horde of the incumbent governor’s aides.

The Imo North Senatorial District bye-election, which held on December 5, 2020, provided another avenue for the two combatants to test their political strength.

While Uzodinma threw his weight behind Frank Ibezim, Okorocha pitched his tent with Uzodinma’s political rival, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume.

Months after the election which the Independent National Electoral Commission declared the APC the winner, neither Ararume nor Ibezim was named as duly elected. The Supreme Court is expected to make a pronouncement on who was the authentic APC candidate in the election very soon.

In the midst of all these, political pundits have expressed the opinion that Okorocha’s reported desire to succeed the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in 2023, which is at variance with Uzodinma’s own political calculations, is at the core of the feud.

As expected, the battle for control of the party structure has left the shores of Imo State and has drawn other APC stalwarts in the South-East into the scuffle.

It was not surprising that Okorocha and the Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, were conspicuously absent from the South-East zonal stakeholders meeting held at the Imo Government House, Owerri.

Uzodinma enjoys the support of the APC’s newly recruited member and Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, who is believed to be nursing his own political ambition too.

An Owerri-based public affairs analyst, Martin Ori, said the needless political feud between Okorocha and Uzodinma was hurting the party’s chances in the zone.

Ori said, “The battle between the two political giants who come from the same senatorial district is not a good one for the APC in Imo State.

Uzodinma ought to be tapping from Okorocha’s wealth of experience while Okorocha is supposed to be in Abuja speaking for Uzodinma’s administration. As they fight, the state is losing. The scarce resources of the state are being expended.

“But we had a situation where Oshiomhole would wake up from the wrong side of the bed and disband a legitimately elected executive, throwing more than 8,000 officers of the party out of the office with a single stroke of the pen.

“That wasn’t the kind of political party the founders of that party imagined. That is not democracy. Such things could only happen in a junta, and even in a junta, junta leaders are sometimes restrained by court rulings.

“When you have a political party that can ignore the decisions of a court and nothing happens, then you have the most dangerous political party you can imagine. APC is a dangerous political party.”

He claimed that the situation in the Imo State chapter of the APC was problematic because the leaders who are currently in charge of the party structure were people who were with the incumbent governor while he was a member of the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the PDP.

Ori further said, “The APC in Imo State, the South-East and even in Nigeria is in a coma. The party is on a life support machine. As soon as President Buhari leaves power at the end of his tenure, the APC will become a carcass and it will go down in history as the most deceptive, most disorganised and most autocratic political party in the history of Nigeria.”

According to him, the Chairman of the Caretaker/ Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee of the APC, Governor Mai Mala Buni, has a unique opportunity to dispel speculations in some quarters that he has been brought in by some power brokers to serve as an undertaker for the party.

He noted that the decision of the National Executive Committee to dissolve all elected party officials across the board irrespective of their constitutionally protected tenure was one decision that would hunt the party for a long time to come.

Ori argued, “A few individuals cannot sit down somewhere and override the decision of millions of party members; that is why the drafters of the party’s constitution made the national convention the highest decision-making organ.”

“The first step towards peace in Imo APC is to obey several court orders and restore Daniel Nwafor as the party’s chairman in the state. Let us return the party to its original owners and let those who came later queue up and wait for their turn,” he added.

The analyst, however, noted that Uzodinma deserved the necessary respect not only as governor but also the leader of the APC in Imo State.
He said the governor had a Herculean task of running an all-inclusive government.

Uzodinma, he explained, could not afford to play the politics of the-winner-takes-it all if indeed he was genuinely interested in building a strong and united ruling party capable of serving as a launchpad for the spread of the APC’s progressive style of politics in the region and across the country.

An Enugu State chieftain of the APC, Osita Okechukwu, is of the view that disagreements were essentially a part and parcel of politics all over the world.

He said, “Conflict and conflict resolution are essential parts of the game of politics; you have to agree to disagree sometimes. The APC as a political movement is greater than all of us as individual members.
“For us in the South-East where the party is growing, we know what is at stake. We are reaching out to our brothers across the country on the need for the South-East to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor.”

Political watchers with a bias for the APC hope that the two political heavyweights will allow the greater good of the country to overshadow whatever feeling of animosity they may have towards one another before 2023.

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