Seventeen political parties are set to battle the incumbent governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the much-anticipated November 11, 2023 governorship election.
The buildup to the contest, so far, has the trappings of past Imo governorship elections, the back and forth among political gladiators on youth unemployment, infrastructure, healthcare and overall quality of governance.
However, this governorship election appears more contentious as the zoning debate (just like the security crisis in the state) has remained at the centre in the political narrative of the contest.
The Owerri and Okigwe zones are aggrieved that the Orlu zone, where the present governor hails from, has marginalised them for too long as far as occupying the government house is concerned.
Political leaders from Owerri and Okigwe zones have accused the Orlu zone of always changing the goal post at the middle of the game on this issue.
Expectedly, this turn of event has given the ruling party All Progressives Congress (APC) and Governor Uzodimma a lot to think about.
This is evident in the lobbying and appeal to Owerri and Okigwe zones for a deal on the issue. But the aggrieved zones seem to not have bulged so far.
The major contenders against Governor Uzodimma of APC, are Senator Samuel Anyanwu, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator Attan Achonu, Labour Party, (LP), and Major General (rtd) Lincoln Ogulewe, Action Alliance (A A).
Of course, they all have security of lives and property as their campaign promise.
The reason is not far fetched, this is against the backdrop of the level of Insecurity in the state. Although expressed differently, they have promised to apply a carrot and stick approach, instead of intimidation in addressing the security challenges.
The incumbent, Hope Uzodimma is finding it difficult to grapple with this huge challenge, which other candidates are leveraging on.
Nevertheless, the debate on the need to have a power shift to another zone has remained topical.
A disregarded charter ?
Imo from inception had an existing charter of equity which was aborted by the Rochas Okorocha’s administration in 2011, which brought an abrupt end to the Dr. Ikedi Ohakim’s administration.
It is pertinent to note that Imo has not been the same since after the truncation of the first charter of equity in the state.
This charter gives room for the governorship seat to rotate among the three zones of the state, namely, Okigwe, Owerri and Orlu.
The proponents of the charter had in mind, equity, justice and fair play and the building of a system to ensure one zone does not lord it over others.
For the aggrieved, this is what is obtainable in Imo State today. They argue that the present charter of equity recently released by the Imo Elders Council, headed by Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, favours the Orlu zone. The new charter posited that Orlu should be allowed to continue in the seat of power.
This appears to have truncated the original Charter of Equity which has not gone down well with stakeholders in other zones.
For them, Orlu zone has ruled the state for over 20 years and another term for Uzodimma would mean 24 years.
However while stakeholders from the other two zones advised the framers to go back to the drawing board, the aggrieved zones are also divided between themselves on which zone should take this slot.
Rejecting the new charter, prominent stakeholders of Owerri senatorial zone alleged it was being foisted on the state by the incumbent governor.
The Owerri leaders under the umbrella of the Coalition of Owerri Zone Socio-cultural Organisations and professional bodies, in a communique, called on the people not to accept the current attempt to confine their zone to a political dustbin in the Imo project.
The communique jointly signed by Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, Sir Martin Opara, Secretary Planning Committee/President General, Olu Owerri, and eight other leaders of the zone stressed, “We stand on the Charter Of Equity which was propounded by Imo elders and founding fathers in good conscience, on the return of democracy in 1998.”
The communique highlighted that the generality of the people of Owerri zone further adopt all the positions of the maiden EGBU DECLARATION against injustice in the Imo sociopolitical landscape which has seen Owerri zone and her people, meted with the worst injustice.
“We deeply regret that successive political actors have continued to truncate this brotherly accord which recognized the tripod arrangement of Imo State and laid a foundation for power to rotate between the three sister Senatorial zones of Orlu, Owerri, and Okigwe, in the interest of peace, equity and fairness,” they said.
The leaders further urged governorship candidates from Owerri zone to unite behind a single candidate among them “for a stronger and successful outing on 11th November, 2023.”
Heeding the advice of their leaders, governorship candidates from the Owerri Zone Senatorial District joined the power rotation chorus saying it is undemocratic for Orlu zone which had ruled the state for 20 years to continue in office after the forthcoming election.
The candidates are PDP’s Samuel Anyanwu; Tony Ejiogu of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); Kemdi Opara of the Young Progressives Congress (YPP) and Kachi Nwoga of the Action Democratic Party (ADP).
While their stand was endorsed by their leaders, commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, said the 2023 charter of equity was the proposition of the elders council. He said the governor had no hand in its drafting.
According to him, “the elders proposed this in their wisdom and believe that this is best for the state at this critical period.”
However, stakeholders of the Imo East senatorial zone defended the 2023 Imo Charter of Equity as propagated by Imo Elders Council.
They said the current charter, if obeyed, would lower the cost of electioneering and bring back peace and quietness in Imo.
The stakeholders include the Imo state deputy governor, Placid Njoku, who said “We see it as a handshake with other political zones. Instead of us fighting ourselves we can organise ourselves by the Imo charter of equity. Let the governorship position go round so that everybody will be happy.”
Contributing, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, said, “If we follow and obey the Imo charter of equity, it will lower the cost of electioneering. To achieve this, the owerri people must show enough commitment otherwise the Okigwe zone will take it.
“Again, we must meet with the grassroots to explain to them why the charter of equity is good for us. To get it right, the Imo East and Imo North will enforce this charter of equity,” he said.
However, chairman of Imo Council of Elders, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya and vice chairman, Prince Lemmy Akakem gave a historical basis for the new charter.
In a chat with LEADERSHIP Sunday, they recounted in 1999, the Imo elite including traditional rulers, drawn from all the zones in Imo State evoked a political holy book known as the charter of equity to ensure effective rotation of power and political stability in Imo State. They said it was similar to what other South East states in Nigeria did at the time.
The traditional rulers said the 1999 charter ceded the governorship seat to Orlu Zone which made the two major political parties then, the PDP and APP, present candidates from Orlu Zone.
PDP presented Chief Achike Udenwa who defeated the APP candidate Engr Ezekiel Izuogu with 388,680 votes against 379,491 votes.
In 2003, the charter was upheld which saw Udenwa get a second term defeating Izuogu for a second time with 695,405 votes against 142,942 votes.
But the trouble started in 2007 when it was the turn of Okigwe Zone to produce a governor. They said the 1999 charter was truncated after Chief Martins Agbaso from Owerri zone contested the election. At the time PPA and PDP fielded candidates from Okigwe Zone, namely Chief Ikedi Ohakim and Senator Ifeanyi Araraume respectively.
According to them, Agbaso, the APGA candidate, after losing at the polls, challenged the outcome of the election for two years in court. They lamented that leaders from the Owerri Zone didn’t do enough to make Agbaso respect the sacredness and sanctity of the charter of equity.
They noted that when it became obvious that Owerri zone had truncated the 1999 charter by contesting and claiming victory against Okigwe Zone, the race to Douglas House became a matter of survival of the fittest.
In 2011, Rochas Okorocha an APGA candidate from Orlu, contested against the then incumbent Governor, Ikedi Ohakim from Okigwe and won.
Eze Ilomuanya said from then on, the old charter of equity was supposedly dead and buried as the political bloc with the highest number of local government areas and voting population kept winning the contest.
Justifying the 2023 charter, the traditional ruler said it took into considerations the peculiarities of present day political realities and the need to sustain economic development and political advancement of Imo State.
“Hence the unanimous decision of the Council of Elders to allow for the seamless reelection of Governor Hope Uzodimma after which in 2027, Owerri Zone candidates alone will be fielded by all political parties, especially the leading political parties,” he said.
The stakes are high as the major contenders press on with their quest to leverage on the zoning debate. As the debate over which of the charters should take precedence rages, it remains to be seen whether voters would vote along zonal lines or based on the quality of ideas, character and plans of the candidates.