Imo 2015: PDP and Zoning Politics

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 Zoning and power rotation are subjects at the core of efforts by Peoples Democratic Party to retake government in Imo State, writes Amby Uneze, in Owerri

As it is common in politics, power play and intrigues are part and parcel of the game. Politicians always apply them in their efforts to get what they want. Propaganda is also a part of the game. It is applied to outwit opponents. Ahead of the 2015 general elections in Imo State, politicians, particularly in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, are doing their best to apply the basic political concepts in the game of power.

PDP lost the governorship election in the state in 2011, but ahead of 2015, it is leaving no stone unturned in the attempt to avoid the mistake that caused the loss of 2011. To this end, leaders and members of the party in the state are scheming assiduously to retake power in 2015.

But observers fear that selfish interest and overbearing zonal hegemony may still cost PDP the state in 2015
Currently, the Orlu zone seems to be the one having all the advantages. The Owerri and Okigwe zones are flexing muscles over which zone would produce the governorship candidate of the party.

People of Owerri zone feel cheated, having held the office of governors for only 18 months since the creation of the old Imo State in 1976. Okigwe zone has held power for about eight years, including the first four years that the first civilian governor of the state, the late Chief Samuel Mbakwe, held sway from 1979 to 1983. The other four years was during the administration of former Governor Ikedi Ohakim from 2007 to 2011, before the incumbent governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, was alleged to have truncated the “Charter of Equity.”

Revisiting the Charter of Equity
The people of the state, organised into the three senatorial zones of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe, were said to have agreed to rotate the governorship seat among them under a charter of equity that would ensure that no zone disadvantaged.
But as time passed, the Orlu zone was alleged to have exploited the advantage of having the highest number of local government areas (12) to scuttle the agreement.

Zoning enthusiasts believe no Orlu person ought to have ventured into the governorship race after the eight straight years of Chief Achike Udenwa. But Okorocha, from Orlu zone and his kinsmen wrested power from Ohakim, who had stayed only one term.
Although, the Charter of Equity is mostly practised by PDP, the All Progressives Grand Alliance in the state seems to be adopting the strategy.

Orlu as Mecca
As a way of persuading the Orlu leaders to accept the charter’s tenets, the zone has of late become a mecca for politicians from both Owerri and Okigwe zones.

Penultimate week, the Owerri leaders led by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu stormed the residence of one of the leaders in Orlu, Udenwa, where the PDP leaders from Orlu zone received them. At the meeting, Iwuanyanwu was said to have given the impression that their visit was in pursuit of a payback, since the former governor was a beneficiary of the charter of equity made possible by the Owerri zone.

Return of Ohakim
The drama that heralded the current bid by Ohakim to return to Government House, Owerri, may well continue into 2015. When some weeks ago his residence in Owerri was gutted by a mysterious fire, the general response was that some of his political detractors might have been behind it as a way to intimidate him out of the 2015 governorship contest. Ohakim had less than 24 hours before that fire incident told a group of political associates that he was going to join the governorship race.

Thus, the incident on its own seemed to launch the former governor’s 2015 project, though, there was skepticism in some quarters. Some people felt the fire incident might have been orchestrated with eyes on public sympathy and political capital.
Since the incident, however, Ohakim’s aspiration has been one of the most talked about in the state. Two factors are largely responsible for this. One, the Ohakim governorship project has ruffled a few feathers within the political class in Owerri zone, which is laying claim to the governorship seat in 2015, on the basis of the Imo Chapter of Equity.

Until the Ohakim issue came up, the general feeling in Owerri zone was that the other two zones, Okigwe and Orlu, had tacitly conceded to Owerri the right to produce the next governor. This impression was, obviously, behind the entry of about 15 aspirants into the race from Owerri zone alone. Although, some people from Okigwe and Orlu zones were also rumoured to nurse governorship ambitions, they were not considered enough threat to the chances of the Owerri zone.

Two things have since changed the calculations. One is Ohakim’s bid and the widely talked about plans of Senator Hope Uzodimma, from Orlu zone, to run for the governorship. But Ohakim’s bid seems to elicit more interest, pundits believe Uzodimma may drop his ambition, at least on moral grounds. Although Uzodimma is said to have some support from among his kinsmen in Orlu and even from Owerri zone, the general opinion within PDP, is that Owerri should be given the party’s governorship ticket for next year’s election.

Okigwe Zone
If there are hopes that Orlu leaders may arrive at a consensus to concede the governorship to Owerri, the same cannot be said of the Okigwe people. If anything, Owerri zone seems to have just realised that its biggest obstacle may be Okigwe zone, rather than Orlu zone.  The reason is that whereas the moral argument can be applied on Orlu zone, it cannot for Okigwe zone. As a matter of fact, the people of Okigwe are laying claim to the governorship seat in 2015 with the same vehemence as their Owerri zone brethren, and evoking the same moral arguments even more fervently.

Zonal Arguments
The general argument by Owerri is that with Orlu’s 12 years in the saddle, it would be morally wrong for it to aspire to remain at Douglas House. Okigwe zone, on their part, believe in the Chapter of Equity, but they are also insisting that for it to have meaning, the zone must be allowed to do another four years to bring it at par with Orlu zone. They feel that if the position goes to Owerri in 2015, it will take at least another eight years for it to get to Okigwe. For them, after the eight years, it may no longer be plausible to accuse Orlu of monopolising power, in which case the governorship race will be made open, to the disadvantage of Okigwe, which has only six local government areas, compared with Orlu’s 12 local councils and Owerri’s nine.

Last week, stakeholders in the PDP within Okigwe zone embarked on consultation and lobbying for Orlu zone’s endorsement of their governorship position. A high powered delegation of the leadership of PDP in Okigwe zone met with their counterparts in Orlu on June 29 at Uzodimma’s house in his home town. The delegation was led by the former national vice chairman of PDP for South-east, Nze Ozichukwu Chukwu.

The delegation is billed to meet with another section of Orlu political leaders at the home of Udenwa any moment from now.
Pundits are agreed that the flurry of activities within Okigwe zone began since words trickled out on the Ohakim bid. The zone believes that allowing Ohakim to return to office is what is needed to balance the political equation in the state, especially against the backdrop of the Chapter of Equity. Here, it is argued that Ohakim is the only aspirant who cannot go beyond four years if elected in 2015.
Any other fellow, whether from Okigwe, Owerri or Orlu zone, will seek the constitutional right to do two terms, which may stretch the governorship tussle among the three zones.

The Okigwe leaders tell their brethren from both Owerri and Orlu that through Ohakim, the zone (Okigwe) could complete its turn in just four years without dragging the state into another round of crisis on equity. Put differently, the leaders are of the view that since they cannot guarantee that any other candidate from Okigwe zone would agree to do only four years, they prefer to present Ohakim for a balancing act that will once and for all return sanity to the state, at least within PDP.

Many observers are of the view that the Ohakim proposal may also help to absolve Orlu zone from the accusation of wanting to monopolise power. Conceding to Ohakim is seen as the easiest way to move on since by 2019 nobody can accuse the Orlu zone again of monopolising power even if its people want to contest that year.

Okorocha Strategy
With respect to Owerri zone, analysts argue that since the incumbent governor will have only four more years to go, the tenure issue would be a campaign advantage for him and his party in Owerri zone. Okorocha and his party, All Progressives Congress, may succeed in convincing the Owerri folks that since he has just four more years, he should be allowed to continue to pave way for an Owerri man in 2019.
Imo people are not unmindful of the case between Okorocha and the Agbasos. Besides, the governor has a good followership in Owerri zone – his deputy is from there.

Many believe the only was PDP can defeat APC in the tenure debate is to give its ticket to Ohakim in 2015. This would enable the party to avoid an imminent clash between Orlu and Owerri zones, which will be detrimental to the party. Besides, Ohakim, being the immediate past governor, still has in place a statewide structure to work with. It was his administration that set up the local government structure that is still seen today as the legitimate one. The current state executive of the party was also put in place by him.

Ihedioha, Nwanne Factor
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Emeka Ihedioha also nurses a governorship ambition, which many already view as the most fervent so far. Ihedioha has done an excellent grassroots work, which continues to endear him to the people. Together with his kinsman, Senator Bright Nwanne, they have with their separate efforts tried to convince many PDP members in the state to look towards Mbaise axis in the choice of a governorship candidate in 2015. The area has enormous political strength in terms of population.

Ihedioha and Nwanne parade what pundits describe as the “most excellent credentials” that can lead PDP to victory in the state.
A lot, however, would depend on whether the various arguments and permutations in the state will make sense to the PDP national leadership.

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