When successful candidates in the just-concluded 2019 National Assembly elections gather at the International Conference Centre, Abuja today, Thursday, March 14 to collect their certificates of return from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), one man who would have wished to be there is Rochas Okorocha, the outgoing governor of Imo State. But barring any last-minute change of mind by the electoral umpire, Okorocha will not be among the recipients.
INEC published the list of newly-elected federal lawmakers on its website ahead of the presentation of the certificates of return, but Okorocha’s name was not on the list of elected senators.
In the slot for the three Imo Senatorial districts, only Senator-elect Onyewuchi Ezenwa Francis (Imo East), who won on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was listed. Imo North’s slot was empty except for a “Supplementary” remark. For Imo West Senatorial district, whose seat Governor Okorocha contested, it was blank except for an INEC remark, “Declaration made under duress.”
Okorocha had contested the Imo West Senatorial seat on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He was declared winner by the returning officer for the Senatorial district, Innocent Ibeawuchi, who later said that he was made to announce Okorocha as winner “under duress”.
The political atmosphere in Imo State has never been as electrified as it was recently. Ahead of last weekend’s gubernatorial elections, the most typical discussion amongst groups in Imo State was the question of who wins the race. Interestingly, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Emeka Ihedioha, was on Monday declared winner of the governorship election in the state.
Ihedioha polled 273,404 to defeat candidate of the Action Alliance (AA), Uche Nwosu, Governor Rochas Okorocha’s son-in-law who polled a total of 190,364. The candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Ifeanyi Ararume, came third with 114,676, while Hope Uzodinma of the APC polled 96,458.
Uzodinma would have had it easy. He would have flown on the wings of President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the presidential election. However, the crisis within the APC in the state, caused by Okorocha’s ambition to choose his replacement became the party’s Achilles heel. The race was to be a straight one between candidates of the APC and the PDP, but the controversy that trailed Uzodinma’s emergence disrupted that design.
The decision of Okorocha to oppose his party for the governorship election after wielding massive support for President Buhari in the presidential polls became the wild storm that threatened his political career.
The cunning politician who successfully slotted in the ‘iberiberism’ slogan into the Nigerian political lexicon is now in for an unwelcoming political future. He is currently stuck in murky waters of politics, a situation worsened by his suspension and recommendation for expulsion from the ruling APC.
How it all started
Nwosu had won a controversial governorship primary organised by his father-in-law Okorocha and other stakeholders, but a presidential panel conducted a separate primary which produced Uzodinma as the candidate.
Since then, the Imo State APC’s house of hullabaloo has not found peace. The dispute set the outgoing Governor Okorocha against the national leadership of the party, represented by Adams Oshiomhole, the party chairman. It also saw several breakaways and realignments of major actors within the Imo APC fold.
Okorocha had after the primaries asked Nwosu to contest the governorship seat under the AA, a party he (Okorocha) formed in 2005, while he (Okorocha) contested the Imo West Senate seat under APC. Though Okorocha was declared “winner” of the senatorial seat “under duress”, the governor’s victory was short-lived by the crisis that followed – as evidenced in the INEC decisions.
Okorocha should have been smarter to read the handwriting on the wall regarding his unwelcoming political future when INEC said it will not issue certificate of return to any candidate declared winner of an election under duress.
There were widespread intimidation and harassment of the commission’s staff during the last presidential and national assembly elections.
“The commission will not tolerate the act of holding our officials hostage and forcing them to declare winners under duress. Where such occurs, the commission will not reward bad behaviour by issuing them certificates of return,” Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, told participants at an inter-agency consultative committee on election security held in Abuja.
Okorocha, who through his Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, reacted to the governor’s suspension notice from the APC, alleged that APC National Chairman Oshiomhole was determined right from the outset to destroy the party in the South-East.
The governor had accused Oshiomhole of having a hand in “all the crisis in the South-East states” arising from what he described as the fraudulent manner the national chairman conducted the party primaries.
“And when the APC members across the nation are still celebrating the success of the party in the presidential and National Assembly elections, Oshiomhole in his wisdom or lack of it, felt that the best action in the circumstance is to suspend two governors who did well in the election, even when he played safe in 2015 and 2019 in Edo State without any known pressure.
“Again, Oshiomhole coming up with the purported expulsion this time was only acting out of the fear that God in his infinite mercy could give Governor Okorocha a role to play in the Senate, in the overall interest of the nation.
“Men like him hardly sleep with their two eyes closed. They always sleep with their eyes open because they have murdered sleep with their actions and inactions. And unfortunately for him, the purported expulsion can’t stand because the law has taken care of it even long before now,” Okorocha said.