In the history of Imo State, there have been no political gladiators in the mold of incumbent Governor Hope Uzodinma and his immediate predecessor, Sen. Rochas Okorocha, who have decided to turn the state into a theater of the absurd with their constant ‘roforofo’ fight.
Uzodinma had been declared Governor on January 14, 2020 by the Supreme Court of Nigeria which overturned the gubernatorial election of 2019 won by Emeka Ihedioha.
Even though the two are members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), they have become morbid enemies in the aftermath of the governorship issue which has refused to go, leaving the state with peace of the graveyard.
While Uzodinma has often accused Okorocha of not allowing him to concentrate on governance, Okorocha, on his part, has often accused Uzodinma of witch-hunting him and his family, including his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu.
Genesis of the greedy wars
While many often wonder what could be the real bone of contention between the two political foes, close watchers of events in the state have attributed the crisis to their personal and greedy ambitions to dominate the state, something both parties would not concede to the other.
Because of their inordinate ambitions, Imo State has had to pay a high price with endless crises often climaxing into open and deadly confrontations between their supporters and foot soldiers.
Uzodinma and his fraud cases
For those who do not know or may have forgotten, Hope Uzodinma is not one of the cleanest politicians Imo State has churned out as, prior to his running to the government house via the Supreme Court verdict, had had serious brushes with the EFCC.
Some of the fraud cases would read like the stuff avaricious Nigerian politicians are made of.
In 2005, a commercial bank, Spring Bank Plc, had lodged a complaint with the EFCC against Hope Uzodinma for fraudulent diversion and obtaining money under false pretense. After a thorough investigation, the anti-graft agency had found a prima facie case against Uzodinma and filed a nine-count charge against him at the High Court of Lagos State.
Consequently, a petition was filed in 2006 by Festus Keyamo who was then the EFCC prosecutor.
In 2007, Uzodinma ran afoul of the law again, when, as a majority shareholder and the Managing Director of Transurb Technical Consult Ltd, reportedly owed Bank PHB the sum of N69m.
A suit against the firm was to cause the winding up of Transurb Technical Consult. Once again, Uzodinma was able to wriggle his way out of the case, and though the company was wound down, he avoided going to prison for fraud after a plea bargain.
In 2018, Uzodinma was reportedly involved in a $12m fraud case, and was arrested following a petition written against him over an NPA contract scam for the dredging of the Cross River Channel.
His arrest was effected on the directives of the Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIPRPP), headed by Chief Okoi Obono-Obla. With Uzodinma enjoying immunity, the case has since grown cold.
The Obono-Obla panel had also dragged Uzodinma before Justice Babatunde Quadri of the Federal High Court in Abuja for alleged non-disclosure of assets when he was a Senator.
On Okorocha’s part, several allegations have been leveled against him both as a governor and even now as a Senator of the Federal Republic. While he was governor of the state, Okorocha had allegedly and forcefully, confiscated many government properties for himself, cronies and family members.
A Daniel comes to justice
A judgment by a state High Court in 2021 had ordered a final forfeiture of all the properties allegedly taken over by Okorocha in line with a White Paper on Recovery of Lands and Properties belonging to the state government.
The properties, according to the White paper, were said to be about 47 choice assets which were shared by Okorocha to family members and associates.
Some of the affected properties include the “Owerri Magistrate Quarters; Orlu Road/Cooperative Office/Girls Guide, allegedly converted to private use housing a market square; an eatery owned by Okorocha’s wife, Kilimanjaro Eatery; a public building on Plot B/2 Otamiri South Extension Layout, which was given to the Ministry of Women Affairs for establishing a skills acquisition centre for women, allegedly acquired for the benefit of his wife; the Nneoma Nkechi Okorocha’s All-In Stall located on Aba Road; Naze Residential Layout, initially part of the State Primary School Management Board but annexed to All-In Stall, Aba Road, belonging to Nkechi Okorocha.”
To be gazetted was a list of properties and monies which include the following: “N59.6 billion taken from the local government, Eastern Palm University built with Imo money, N96 billion stolen portion of Imo’s IGR for eight years, N40 billion siphoned through the unexecuted 27 general hospitals projects, Old IBC premises at Orji, Nekede, and Orji Mechanic Villages.”
Others include: “Westbrook Hotels which was built by Okorocha’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, WODDI Wellness Center owned by Okorocha’s wife, Nkechi, built on the former Imo State Secretariat Annex, a land forcefully acquired from the state by Uche Nwosu as Commissioner for Lands.
More claims made against the Okorocha dynasty include the alleged fraudulent diversion of state resources to build personal ventures like “Reach FM, owned by Uche Nwosu, the multi billion Naira Farmers Market, built by Geraldine, Okorocha’s sister, on a land belonging to the state; over twenty-five plots of state lands allegedly acquired by Uche Nwosu upon which El Freeda Foundation was built.
Also listed as fraudulent acquisitions are: “Extervia Mega Supermarket opposite Civic Center Estate owned by Ogechi Ololo, Okorocha’s sister; Municipal Plaza owned by Nkechi Okorocha, built on a land forcefully acquired from a civil servant by Uche Nwosu; Twitter Bites acquired by Geraldine Okorocha, forcefully taken from Mr. Fans; Spibat Estate, most of which land was forcefully taken from Mbieri people by Okorocha; House of Freeda Malls in Owerri, Abuja and Lagos, built by Uloma, Uche Nwosu’s wife, among many others.”
Timeline of wars
A timeline of the wars between Uzodinma and Okorocha has been characterized by a lot of mud-slinging.
Battle for Imo guber ticket (2018)
The clashes between the two date back to 2018 during the APC governorship primaries.
The struggle for the state governorship ticket pitched the two political foes in the state against each other when Okorocha, wanting to impose his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, as the party candidate to succeed him met resistance in Uzodinma.
The battle for the ticket led to the decamping of Nwosu to the Action Alliance (AA), on which platform he contested the governorship election, following his inability to secure the ticket in APC.
Battle for the soul of Imo (2019)
The fight between the two gladiators spilled into 2019 when Okorocha and Uzodinma continued to engage each other in a war of words with the former accusing the governor of using the governorship election to fight for “immunity from criminal deeds.”
Okorocha had alleged that Uzodinma was “burdened by at least two criminal cases, besides standing on a wealth of unknown means, including the issuance of dud cheques and contract scams.”
In response, Uzodinma said, “Okorocha has run for many elections, including the governorship of Imo State, before 2011, and even the presidency, and lost all. But, in 2011, in particular, Imo people voted more against former Governor Ikedi Ohakim than for Okorocha, so, he merely benefitted from the anger of the people against Ohakim.
“Even at that, the election went into a bi-election, where Ohakim was finally manipulated out of the race and Okorocha became governor. Also, in 2015, Okorocha, as the incumbent governor, could not win outright on the first ballot.
“The election was concluded on a second ballot, where some aggrieved PDP members helped, again, to manipulate him into the governorship.”
Territorial warfare gets messier (2020)
The war peaked when Uzodinma, a few months after assuming office, allegedly embarked on a series of demolition exercise of projects constructed by Okorocha which further inflamed the Senator who repeatedly accused the current governor of demolishing his legacy projects.
It got so bad that Okorocha had to cry out in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Sam Onwuemeodo, who described the demolition of seven roundabouts built by his boss in Owerri, as insensitive.
“It has become necessary to appeal to Governor Uzodinma to stop demolishing Okorocha’s projects, which he built for lmo people and for the development and progress of the state, especially, when the incumbent governor is not building any structures and is not likely to initiate any,” the statement lamented.
Okorocha also lamented that Uzodinma had demolished a tunnel he had constructed during his time in office, 2011 to 2019.
“Before the demolition of the roundabout, Governor Uzodinma had demolished another Okorocha project, the Akanu lbiam Tunnel,” Onwuemeodo said.
However, Uzodimma insisted that the projects were being demolished to ease transportation and beautify the state, especially in Owerri, the state capital.
Another of their well-publicized fights was the demolition of the ‘Okorocha Tunnel’ in 2020 by Uzodinma, following a report issued by the Imo State University visitation panel which further exposed the silent war between the two political leaders.
While Okorocha, through Onwuemeodo described the report as a rehash of the PDP narrative, the Chief Press Secretary and Media Adviser to Governor Uzodinma, Nwachukwu Oguwike, said the actions of his principal were evidence of a governor that was focused and detached from distraction.
“Government is a process. We are following the due process, where there is a need for law; the House of Assembly is involved to make the necessary legislation. The governor insists on the rule of law. In the past, you witnessed executive and legislative rascality, but the governor wants to put all that behind us. Now there is a synergy among the three arms of government,” Oguwike said.
Strong-arm tactics (2021)
The year 2021 was another that saw further installments of the Uzodinma/Okorocha wars which began in February of that year, with the arrest and detention of Okorocha by police operatives on the orders of the Imo State Government.
The police, in justifying its actions, said Okorocha was arrested and detained after he led his supporters to “forcefully and violently” break and enter the Royal Palm Estate, a sealed government property.
All through the year 2021, the two had continued to engage each in subtle and sometimes, barbed but volatile war of attrition, often spilling to involve their supporters and foot soldiers.
Okorocha raises the alarm (December 2021)
In early December 2021 , Okorocha raised the alarm, alleging that Uzodinma was sponsoring unknown gunmen carrying out killings in the state with a view to implicate him, especially in the Orlu area. Though Uzodinma denied the allegations, he fired his own salvo by saying that Okorocha had been secretly recruiting and training gunmen to make the state ungovernable for him.
Uche Nwosu kidnapped(?) (2021)
The war took another dimension when Okorocha’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, was controversially arrested on December 26, 2021, by the police during an outing service for his late mother at St Peter’s Anglican Church, Eziama Obaire in Nkwerre Local Government Area of the state.
Okorocha was quick to cry out that the arrest of Nwosu, first thought to be a kidnapping, was orchestrated by Uzodinma and was actually an assassination attempt on Nwosu.
“They took him out and cocked their guns to shoot him. What saved Nwosu was social media. When they realised it has gotten to social media, they panicked and the fact that he understands Hausa also saved him.
“Unknown gunmen have been unraveled in Imo State. As it stands now, these people are under the directive of the government of Imo State led by Hope Uzodinma.
“It is obvious that the squad in the Government House is used for killing purposes or for other unholy acts. The unknown gunmen in Imo State are gradually coming out.”
Uzodinma promptly denied the claim and challenged Okorocha to provide evidence to back his allegations. The police was to later clear the air that its operatives were the ones who arrested Nwosu after he had failed to honour their invitations.
In its response, Uzodinma’s CPS challenged Okorocha to provide evidence to back his allegations, accusing him of lying to garner public sympathy.
“These are allegations, and Okorocha is notorious for lies. For eight years, he told the Imo people lies. He is soliciting attention by going to television stations. All these are hearsays. If he has evidence, he should provide the same.
“Okorocha should be saved from himself. He needs to be saved from himself. He needs some medical re-examination. Because he is muddling up issues, perhaps a psychiatric examination, it is not everyone that talks that is normal.
“It is unfortunate that Imo State ended up with such a character for eight years as governor and again elected as a Senator.”
It is uncertain when the next chapter of the Uzodinma/Okorocha battles will unfurl. However, with the next round of elections speedily approaching in 2023, and the latter declaring interest in the presidential race, the political space is sure to get charged once again.
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