VOTERS return to the polling booths Saturday for the governorship and Houses of Assembly elections. In the South East, the governorship elections will be held in four (Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo) of the five states in the zone. Of the four states, the incumbents in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) states of Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu are seeking re-election. In Imo, the only All Progressive Congress (APC) state, voters have 65 contenders to choose from to elect who succeeds Rochas Okorocha. Along party lines, the PDP, hold sway in Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, while the APC controls Imo.
Enugu is touted as a one party state and it is unimaginable that an incumbent PDP governor can lose an election. The ever ruling PDP has kept other parties at bay since 1999 while an airtight zoning arrangement ensures that there is a seamless rotation of power among Enugu North, Enugu East and Enugu West, senatorial zones.
Ahead of the election, there was a hint of an impending contest when Senator Ayogu Eze dumped PDP for APC to join the governorship race. Eze, like the incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, is from Enugu North.
Despite being in and out of the courts as questions were raised about his candidacy amidst subterranean efforts to ensure that he does not run the election, Eze has held on the challenge to convince Enugu voters to pick him over Ugwuanyi. But even if If Nsukka voters opt for Eze, other zones might decide to stay with Ugwuanyi, whose tenure will end in 2023, rather than bring in a new Nsukka man, who might want to elongate his tenure. According to reports, Eze didn’t manage to reach a consensus with other stakeholders on the issue.
The APC hasn’t found its feet in the state yet as shown in the presidential polls, where the president earned 54,000 votes and the party didn’t win a single seat in the National Assembly, and Enugu might just be all set to maintain the status quo. So, this might just be a PDP victory.
The incumbent Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is up and against the same faces he contested with in 2015: Uche Ogah of the APC and Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Both men gave Ikpeazu a run for his money in the last election. Otti will believe that he was rigged out by the ruling PDP in 2015 after his impressive showing in the polls. Ogah, who took Ikpeazu to court was granted victory in the Appeal Court in Abuja, which ruled that he should be sworn in immediately. He was on his way to Umuahia for the swearing in, before Ikpeazu gathered his wits and stopped the process with another court order. A later Supreme Court ruling reinstated him. The election will be too close to call.
Since Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi ousted his former boss and governor of Ebonyi, Martin Elechi, he has singlemindedly put aside any form of opposition in the state. The opposition has cried literally of the lack of political space to breath. The APC governorship candidate Senator Sonny Ogbuorji, the face of opposition in the state, has been complaining of the antics of PDP and Umahi. But Umahi, has performed well in the state and the voters will reciprocate the goodwill. In spite of that, there are no indications that Umahi is taking anything for granted. If APC has a chance to taking over any state in the South East, it is unlikely to be Ebonyi; the state is not ready yet for APC.
One thing that will resonate in the minds of the voters in Imo is the injunction of President Muhammadu Buhari that they should vote for candidates of their choice. This statement has implications. In the main, APC will be the winner if any candidate beside Ihedioha and Ohakim wins the Imo election. Reason? They – Uzodinma, Nwosu, Araraume – are proxies of APC. Also, it could mean that the national APC has no interest in the outcome of the election.
Voters in Imo have 65 candidates to choose from. But five are unarguably the front runners. They are Emeka Ihedioha (PDP) Senator Hope Uzodinma (APC), former governor, Ikedi Ohakim (Accord Party, AP) Senator Ifeanyi Araraume (APGA) and Uche Nwosu (Action Alliance, AA).
Nwosu is the son-in-law and Chief of Staff to the incumbent governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha and that counts a lot for him. He will enjoy the support of an incumbent. When he failed to pick the APC ticket, his benefactor thereafter chaperoned him to AA to pick the governorship ticket.
Ihedioha, a former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, lost his bid in 2015 to oust Okorocha; maybe he has learnt his lessons. The major contender from Imo East senatorial district, Ihedioha was a former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Ohakim, one term governor, who lost his re-election bid to Okorocha in 2011 joined Accord Party after he was muscled out of APGA primaries.
The APC candidate, Uzodinma, who like Nwosu and the incumbent governor is from Imo West, has one big problem: Even as the candidate of the ruling party in the state, he does not have the support of the governor. Expectedly, he will split the votes from Orlu zone with Nwosu.
Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of APGA is perhaps the most war wearied in the race. He has been running for the governorship since 2006. Like Ohakim, he is from Imo North Senatorial district.
Opposition, desperation politics
Part of the outcome of the presidential and National Assembly election was the display of desperation of the incumbent governor. If he displays the same desperation and bravado in Saturday’s election, then his son-in-law will be governor.
During the presidential election, for example, there were allegations that the governor held the Returning Officer, Prof Innocent Ibeawuchi, hostage as he tried to coerce him to declare him winner of the senatorial election in Imo West.
The professor reportedly said that he was “compelled to announce the result which was inconclusive. I was held hostage by agents working for him. I was manhandled and I thank God I came back alive,” after he was freed on Monday, February 25.
The State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Francis Ezeonu, had bemoaned the turmoil during the presidential polls where INEC battled thugs for INEC materials and ad hoc staff were harassed and intimidated to declare results under duress.
His fear is that, “We may come to a stage where no person will be willing to officiate during elections.”