Nigeria News

NIGERIA: Chuka Odom and the Imo Gubernatorial Race

Two key issues currently engage pundits and analysts ahead of the 2015 governorship election in Imo state, one of the states several observers (both within and outside) believe may witness another round of upheavals if the gladiators do not play to the rules. The first is the issue of zoning, which in the particular parlance of the state is known as the (Imo) Charter of Equity. Around this revolves the current debate as to which of the three senatorial zones – Okigwe, Orlu and Owerri – should produce the governor of the state in 2015. The Imo Charter of Equity is supposed to be arrangement that ensures an equitable rotation of the governorship between the three zones. This arrangement, though not entirely fool-proof, got particular impetus in the advent of the current democratic dispensation following which Orlu zone got two consecutive terms through Chief Achike Udenwa.
 
In 2007, the governorship went to Okigwe zone, still on the basis of that arrangement, through Chief Ikedi Ohakim. Unfortunately, Okigwe zone lost the opportunity of doing a second term with the loss by Ohakim at the 2011 governing election. Curiously, the fellow who carried the day was another Orlu zone indigene in the person of Chief Rochas Okorocha, the incumbent governor. The result is that since after the 2011 general election, the people of Owerri zone have remained aggrieved, insisting that the zone has been cheated out of the Charter of Equity. Here, they point out that minus the late Evan Enwerem who served for only 18 months (during the Babangida transition period), the zone has been left in the cold. It is for this reason that the people of the zone began an early agitation that the governorship seat is theirs come what may in 2015, amid contrary views, however, that the Charter (the zoning arrangement) has been overtaken by events.
On the whole, however, the odds favour Owerri zone. Despite that some strong governorship aspirants (including the incumbent governor) have emerged from the other two zones (Orlu and Okigwe), there is a general consensus of opinion that it is the turn   of Owerri zone.  This leads to the second issue in contention. Who among the leading (at least for now) aspirants from Owerri zone has what it takes to wrest power from the incumbent governor, believed to be all out to ensure that he continues in 2015 by whatever means possible. Within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, quite a good number of party chieftains, especially from Orlu and Okigwe zones, anchor their opposition to zoning on this, arguing that what matters is who can match Okorocha naira for naira and thuggery for thuggery and not where the fellow comes from.
 
Of course, Owerri people would hear nothing of that nature. Little wonder that besides a few aspirants who have openly declared intension to run from Okigwe and Orlu zones, majority of the governorship aspirants are from Owerri zone. One of the aspirants (from Owerri zone) is Chief Chuka Odom, former Minister of State for Environment, Housing and Urban Development and later for the Federal Capital Territory. To be sure, the zone also boasts of few other aspirants who are also eminently qualified to vie for the top job but Odom’s candidacy stands out for two major reasons. One is that of all the aspirants from the zone, Odom is the most exposed, not only because he is the only one amongst them that has served as Minster of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but also because he has a corporate cognate experience that puts him ahead of others, considering his vast involvement in the private sector.
Keen watchers of the Imo gubernatorial landscape point out that though a ministerial outing is not the be it and end it, Odom as Minister had the rare privilege of handling assignments that gave him an exposure that puts him in a better stead to tackle sundry issues concerning the welfare of the masses of the people.
For example, one of his key achievements as Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development was the successful formation the African Ministerial Conference on Housing And Urban Development (AMCHUD) in 2008. That forum offered him a platform to address issues of urbanization and housing in Africa. With representatives of several global organizations and delegations from over twenty African countries, Odom was elected chairman of the conference. Although the body was not sustained after he left the ministry, it goes without saying that the experience he garnered with that type and level of involvement in such a critical area will be brought to bearer if he is entrusted with a gubernatorial responsibility.
 
That is not all. When he was moved to the FCT as minister of state, Chief Odom again put his creative abilities to place by inventing autonomous funding mechanism for the development of satellite towns in the FCT. Needless to say, those exposures would come handy for a gubernatorial outing, especially against the backdrop of the perennial setbacks suffered by a state like Imo in the area of housing and urban development.
The second issue is that Chuka Odom is an easy answer to the argument that his Owerri zone may not have a candidate that is strong enough to wrest power from the incumbent. Here, however, pundits point out though the conventional idea is to match cash with cash or thuggery with thuggery, the current social and political milieu, both within and outside the (Imo) state, has little or no room for that. Instead, they say, what Imo requires is not the “big masquerade” (as many tend to portray the incumbent governor) but a level headed but strong willed leader with a deep understanding of the nuances of challenges facing the state. In other words, Imolites on the whole have roundly dismissed the notion of another “strong” man as the next governor. Everywhere, the thinking is that what the state needs now is a cerebral fellow who has the ability to blend the experiences garnered from public administration with technocracy and a common flair for providing practical leadership as a Home Boy. Chief Julius Chuka Odom, many say, fits this description.
Born on October 19, 1960 in Umuahia in the present Abia state, Chuka, a native of Okwu in the Ikeduru local government area of Imo state, attended Holy Trinity Primary School Okwu and St. Michael’s Primary School, Umuahia, obtaining his First School Leaving Certificate in 1973. The second child of a family of eight children, he thereafter enrolled at the Immaculate Conception Seminary for his secondary education in 1974; after which he studied Law at the Imo State University and later at the Nigerian Law School. While at the Law school, Chuka developed interest and skills in leadership, which enabled him to develop friendship links with members of his peer group from across the country. It was during his National Youth Service at Ken Anyaegbulan & Co, Legal Practitioners in Enugu that he began to nurse ideas about a career in politics, having drawn inspiration from what he had heard and read about the founding leaders of Nigeria.
 
After his National Youth Service, he joined Tagbo Nwogu & Co., Legal Practitioners, Aba where he rose to the position of Counsel-in-Chambers. In 1990, he proceeded to set up his own Law firm, Chuka Odom & Co, Legal Practitioners with offices in the Aba and Abuja. Though he had a flourishing Law practice, Chief Odom soon discovered that he could no longer afford to stop his political career from taking a front seat in his career expansion plans. His first foray into politics was during the late General Sani Abacha’s era when he joined the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) and became the legal adviser to the Abia state chapter. At the inception of the transition period after the demise of Abacha, Chuka Odom joined the Peoples Democratic Party. After the general elections in 1999, he was appointed Deputy Chief-of-staff, Government House, Umuahia, Abia state in the administration of Governor Orji Uzor Kalu.
Again, Chief Odom’s exemplary performance distinguished him and further resulted in another appointment as the Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Planning. Another cabinet reshuffle had him moved to Special Duties. Chief Odom played a key role in the formation of the Progressives People Alliance (PPA) and following the victory of the party in the Imo state gubernatorial elections in 2007, a victory that he again played a crucial role in achieving, he was appointed the Commissioner for Works, Housing and Urban Development. This lasted for a few months before the Federal Government came calling for him.
 
As the Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Environment, Housing and Urban Development with responsibilities for Housing and Urban Development, Chief Chuka Odom drove the Land Reform effort. He initiated the first comprehensive reform of the National Housing Policy and led advocacy tours across eleven (11) states of the federation to drum up support from the state chief executives in a bid to amend the Land Use Act, an effort that has been widely acknowledged as the wake-up call for the on-going land reform. A highly cerebral administrator and technocrat, he sought at each office to recreate the system by eliminating waste while introducing progressive policy options. During the 2011 electioneering campaigns, Chuka Odom became the chairman, Association of Professional Groups for Positive Change, as part of the 2011 Jonathan/Sambo Campaign group. He also became a member of the Mobilization and Contact Committee of the Jonathan/Sambo Presidential Campaign.
 
He is a member of many professional bodies including the International Bar Association, London;  Greenwatch Africa, which is an international environmental NGO, Aba Sports Club, IBB Gulf Club; member and Legal Adviser, Aba Catholic Diocese Pastoral Council. In addition, he is chairman of Board, Hope Foundation Nigeria, and chairman Wallhouse (W.A) Ltd. Chief Chuka Odom has published several articles in journals and newspapers. Married to Chief (Mrs) Adaku Odom with whom he has eight children, Odom loves listening to classical music.
  •Nwachukwu, a political analyst, wrote from Abuja

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