Conduct a Google search comprising the names of Hope Uzodinma and Rochas Okorocha – the current and former governors of Imo State – and you should be forgiven for being sceptical about the state of governance in the south-east state.
Mud-slinging, accusations and counter-accusations have dominated the headlines in Imo State since the commencement of Uzodinma’s tenure with Okorocha allegedly refusing to acquiesce to court order regarding the confiscation of properties belonging to the state government.
Reasons for the ‘war’ between the two strongmen of Imo politics
In 2020, Uzodinma embarked on a series of demolition exercise of projects constructed by Okorocha which further inflamed the already-divided All Progressives Congress in the state.
Okorocha, who currently sits in the Senate, had repeatedly accused the current Governor of demolishing his legacy projects.
However, Uzodinma insisted he was on a rescue mission to beautify Owerri, the State capital.
Senator Okorocha’s Special Adviser on Media, Sam Onwuemeodo, in a statement 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.”
Okorocha also lamented that Uzodinma had demolished a tunnel constructed from 2011 to 2019, stressing: “Before the demolition of the roundabout, Governor Uzodinma had demolished another Okorocha project, the Akanu lbiam Tunnel.”
He explained that the project was built on the House of Assembly-Port Harcourt Road junction, insisting that he built the tunnel to save lives, because before the construction of the tunnel, people died regularly on that spot.
However, Uzodimma insisted that the projects were being demolished to ease transportation and beautify the state, especially its Capital City.
The recent demolition of Okorocha’s tunnel in 2020, came in the wake of a report issued by the Imo State University visitation panel which further exposed the silent war between the two political leaders.
While Okorocha, through his media aide, Sam 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 are evidence of a governor that is focused and detached from distraction.
According to Oguwike, “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.”
The recent installment in the cold war happened on Sunday, February 21, 2021 with the detention of Okorocha by police operatives on the order of the Imo State Government.
The police revealed it took Okorocha into custody to explain why he led the violent entry into a sealed government property – the Royal Palm Estate along Akachi road in Owerri. The foregoing was disclosed by the Imo State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Orlando Ikeokwu.
Ikeokwu told newsmen that the police moved to Akachi road when they received a distress call that the Royal Palm Estate sealed by the government had been violently opened by men led Okorocha.
“The command received a distress call regarding what we termed to be an unrest at Royal Spring Palm estate…Operatives moved to the place. We discovered Okorocha led some persons to the place hitherto sealed by the Imo government. The command calmed the situation and invited Okorocha to come and explain why he led the violent breaking into the estate that led to damages.”
The Imo State government had announced the recovery of the Royal Palm Estate along Akachi road in Owerri, the capital some days earlier.
According to a statement issued by the Imo Government, this was in compliance with the directive of the Imo state gazette on the report of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry on the recovery of Lands and other related matters.
Accordingly, this was a result of the recommendation of the commission on illegal lands and structures; acquired by the administrations between 2006 – 2019.
A statement issued by the office of Governor Uzodinma noted that the recovery exercise would continue unhindered.
“The present administration is therefore not resting on its oars in recovering all the stolen properties of the state; especially those carted away by the previous administration and in line with the 3R mantra initiative of Gov. Hope Uzodimma. The state must continue to work in line with the relevant laws and
recommendations of government agencies and commissions; no matter whose ox is gored.’’
While the opposition whips up sentiment against the administration, the Uzodinma administration continues to confront governance challenges, including delivering on his mandate and redeeming the image of the party from the hangover of the troublesome tenure of Okorocha.
Setting the record straight
Politics apart, the current administration in Imo State is grappling with the challenge of winning back public confidence in government and public policies.
It is generally believed that Okorocha, who rode on the crest of public goodwill to deny former governor Ikedi Ohakim of a second term started very well, but derailed along the way by personalizing political power.
Critics believe that before his sack, Ihedioha tried to lay the foundation for good governance and that his successor, Uzodinma, has continued the trajectory, particularly in the areas of fiscal prudence and qualitative infrastructure development.
It was the attempt to maintain probity in project conception, funding and implementation that led to allegations that Uzodinma is waging a silent battle against the eight years of previous APC administration of Okorocha.
One development that threw open the silent battle between the new APC administration and the former was the findings of the Imo State University Visitation Panel, headed by the former Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo.
Although Ihedioha instituted the panel, while submitting its findings, thirteen months after it was set up, the committee likened the rot in IMSU to what happened in the state within the period 2011 through 2019.
Nebo, who was also a Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, while submitting the executive summary of the panel´s report, highlighted a lot of shortcomings including, age falsification, need for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) compliant staff, particularly principal officers, digitization of the university, merit-based succession plan and shortfalls in school fees paid by students, forensic audit, mismanagement of the Bursary department leading to massive leakage of internally generated revenue and lack of knowledge of student population as well as bloated salaries for some workers.
Indeed, the visitation panel was short of describing the institution as a citadel of corruption.
Feeling that the scam of his fangled free education programme had been unmasked, Okorocha, through his publicist, Sam Onwuemedo, accused Prof. Nebo of doing a hatchet job on behalf of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Instead of responding to the weighty findings of the panel, Onwuemedo said: “In the voluminous report, the Panel made a disturbing and very dangerous recommendation. The Panel recommended for the abolition of the free education programme introduced by Okorocha soon after he was sworn-in, in 2011 as governor. Prof Nebo described the Programme as a “Scam” and even went ahead to recommend School fees for IMSU and by implication, other State-owned tertiary Institutions in the State.
“One may not also be totally wrong to contend that this academic guru or giant, called Prof. Chinedu Ositadinma Nebo was, to a reasonable extent, a creation of the PDP. He “smells” PDP. In 2004, the PDP government appointed him the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The moment he ended his tenure as VC, the PDP government under Dr. Goodluck Jonathan appointed him a Director in the Niger Delta Power Holden Company Limited, Operators of the National Integrated Power Projects, (NIPP).
“Prof. Nebo is one of the PDP fans. You know them by their actions and utterances. If the academic guru were to be an APC fan, he would not have imagined telling Uzodinma to say bye-bye to free education.”
For the future of the citizenry, these two politicians must rein in their egos and find a way to work together in order to ensure Imo State becomes the envy of other states in the country but one can only wish.
While it may be trite to appeal to common sense, it is, however, doubtful if the major gladiators would sheath their swords anytime soon. The reasons are not far fetched.
In the main, keen watchers of Nigeria’s political space believe that the pushing and shoving may get even more vicious as battle for control of Imo State APC structure heightens ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Though Okorocha has not formally announced his departure from the ruling All Progressives Congress party, it is evident in his recent pronouncements that he would rather stay back and muddle the waters sufficiently before before pulling out, if that remains an objective. Yet, his plans to have his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, rule the State is no hidden secret.
And, for the incumbent governor, his fight back must be seen against the backdrop of truncating any future plans that would stall a second term in office.
By Mayowa Oladeji…
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