By John Okafor, Owerri
The dice is cast for the epic governorship election battle in Imo State. There is, no doubt, that all eyes are on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to ensure a hitch-free and credible election on November 11th 2023
Expectations are high among the people drawn from the 27 Local government Areas in the three Senatorial districts of the Heart Land State, South East geo political zone of the Country.
All the actors and members of the 17 participating political parties are not leaving anything to chance as they have rolled out water tight measures in their preparedness and campaigns to beat the time and programmes set by INEC towards a peaceful conduct of the all important polls.
The exercise is billed to hold in 4, 720 out of 7, 758 polling units. The electoral body, INEC, had stated that the governorship contest would not hold in 38 polling Units with zero registered voters.
According to the Resident Electoral Commissioner of INEC, Mrs Sylvia Agu during a press conference in Owerri, the State Capital, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) would be deployed to various polling Units for voter accreditation and upload of results.
The REC further disclosed that 2, 318, 99 people had collected their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCS), while 101, 003 people were yet to collect their PCVs. A total of 21 000 staff are to be deployed for the smooth conduct of the election across the State.
Interestingly, 16 political parties and their Candidates are working tirelessly to wrest power from the incumbent state Governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma. From all indications, he is all out with all necessary political machinery to retain the number one seat for a second term in office under his party, the ruling All Progressives Congress.
The Omuma born politician in Oru-East Local Government area, was elected Governor in 2020 after a judgment by the Supreme Court, which to some legal experts and analysts till date, remains controversial.
Recall that the Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2020 governorship polls, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, a former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives was earlier declared winner of that contest.
The APC and its Candidate Senator Hope Uzodimma went to court and secured judgment in their favour. This was after a former Governor of the State and incumbent Senator representing Oru West Senatorial district in Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, handed over to Governor Uzodinma.
Since the past three years and nine months, Uzodimma has held sway as the Chief Steward in Imo. Within the period, he attracted many projects to boost his strong desire to want to contest he gubernatorial election in order to continue in office for another term of four years.
But, it is a fact that Uzodimma is faced with the arduous task of governing Imo State, arising from the streak of endless political horse trading and current spate of insecurity as well as other challenges in the government and governance systems of the state.
Facts have so far shown that imo State, from military era to the present democratic dispensation, has not had it too rosy in terms of development. From the period of its creation in 1976 by late Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed, several Governors had presided over the affairs of the State. But, there is little or no positive results to their kitties except for the moment Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe took over the reins of power under the Nigeria People’s Party (NPP) from 1979 to 1983) as Governor of old Imo State during the administration of late Shehu Shagari who was elected President of Nigeria on platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
Since then, greater efforts have been made to bring the state to the fore by successive governments in all sectors of economy of the State.
However, the administration of Governor Uzodimma from inception till this moment, is faced with multiplicity of problems ranging from dilapidated and abandoned infrastructure left behind by the government of ex-Governor Okorocha.
About 120 roads were in pitiable situation which compelled the government to urgent rehabilitation exercise, reconstructing and construction in order to boost transportation needs of people at the grassroots and urban areas.
More than 47 roads have so far been built in the Owerri municipal, while 62 roads have received attention in the three Senatorial Districts of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe respectively, according to available data.
Some of the abandoned or dilapidated roads have been reconstructed while Housing Estates in Owerri Capital Territory are built. In addition, the administration has constructed the 43 km Owerri – Orlu road and the dual carriage road of 66km from Owerri to Okigwe that links the three Senatorial Districts of the State.
Furthermore, the Governor had accorded befitting face-lift to most public buildings in the State with special attention to the State House of Assembly complex, the State Secretariat, Executive Council Chambers, Office of the First Lady.
The Governor has also renovated the Armoury and Auxiliary building at the Government House , Deputy Governor’s Lodge. Currently, there is ongoing construction of Mass Housing Estates in Okigwe, Owerri and Orlu towns, which has reached advanced stages through Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
The redesigned Imo State Civil Servants under a mortgage arrangement to provide soft landing for Imo State workers in addition to the creation of opportunity for them to own their own houses after retirement under a contributory pension scheme.
Remarkably, the Governor redeemed the State from being dragged in pillage status with the recovery all looted funds illegally used to acquire public properties by top officials of immediate past government and other private individuals. He also courageously deployed all known legal means means at his disposal to recover almost all those properties back to the government.
Amongst these are the Kingsley Ozurumb Mbadiwe University Ogboko built with tax payers money to the tune of N40 billion, markets constructed with pubic funds as well as the Standard Shoe Industry built by the then Sam Mbakwe administration.
Also, the industry had earlier been taken over by Access Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) for the non payment of the sum of N1.6 billion debt, a huge sum the government of Gov Hope Uzodimma paid to recover the company.
The commerce and industry sector was not left out in the drive by he administration to diversify the economic base of Imo State. This is aimed at expanding the various markets in the state. To this end, the Government constructed an Ultra-Modern Market in Owerri Capital with over 3,000 shops in it.
According to Uzodimma, the building of the market has become essential given the population explosion in the State and the attendant challenges being faced in the Commercial sector hence providing a buffer for traders and other business communities.
He said the market would also serve as a mini terminal for small and medium scale Industries to market their products and equally create an economy of scale for allied Industries to enjoy a healthy interface for optimal productivity and Revenue generation for the state.
In a move to further boost the economic viability of South East zone, the Governor recently flagged off the construction of sea port in Oguta with link to other water ways.
The project described as Hydrography Project involved the dredging of the Oguta Lake through Urashi River to the Atlantic Ocean is to ease transportation of goods to the hinterlands. According to the State government, “This Blue Sea Economy is an answer to the problems being faced by Eastern businesses and their operators hence saving them from the chaotic experiences of the past.
It is made possible by the State government in conjunction with the Federal government through the National Inland Water Ways Authority !NIWA) headed by Chief George Mughalu. The gigantic project is up and running. It is the projected to be future economic life wire of the State, according to Governor Uzodimma who assured that necessary Environmental Impact Assessment had been completed for the take off of the project.
Worthy of mention, is the health sector with adequate improvement of the care delivery after years the sector had been left in deplorable condition by successive administrations. Most worrisome was that the hospitals were faced with non availability of drugs and other key medical facilities.
Peeved by the dilapidating
hospitals facilities and moribund health facilities, amid rising level of deaths, the administration embarked on the renovation and equipment of 305 Primary Health Care facilities with ambulance and Mobile Clinics.
The Government also provided drugs and other medications to reduce pre-natal and post – natal mortality rates in the State. The Government through the Ministry of Health embarked on several medical missions through the Ministry of Health and in conjunction with International Health Organisations as well as payment of counterpart fundings.
The Sports sector received necessary attention with provision of improved facilities at the Dan Anyiam Sports complex which houses the Grasshoppers Handball stadium. There is also organized Local and Community tournaments to help discover talents while youths were given skill trainings to keep them off the streets and lots more to the credit of the state government.
The State government had also secures the blockage of financial leakages of government revenue. This was made possible by introducing the Treasury Single Account policy which led to increased Revenue profile of the state to up to N5 billion. Also, the state’s monthly allocation has been raised to 75 percent of the annual appropriations for Capital expenditure.
Uzodimma has successfully taken positive steps to salvage the State of infrastructure with the mobilization of men, funds and material resources.
Upset and concerns of voters
Ad various parties and the electorate prepare for the governorship poll on Saturday next week, there are growing concerns over the spate of insecurity that has continued to ravage all sections of the State.
The worrisome State of insecurity in Imo State, is a consequence of what is taking place across the entire geo political zone, including States of Anambra, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi. At the centre of the crisis is the continued detention of leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu who is currently in the facility of the Department of State Service (DSS).
The group and its militant arm, Eastern Security Network (ESN) have risen in strong defence and agitation for Biafra Republic. This follows years of marginalization against the Igbo by successive governments at the center despite the outcry by leaders and people of the South East region.
The situation assumed violent dimension with bloody clashes with the government sponsored Ebubeagu Vigilante Security outfit.
The federal government had also deployed troops of the Joint Taskforce to deal with the problem that has resulted to deaths and mysterious disappearance of over 5,000 youths, middle aged and elderly including destruction and burning down of both public and private properties worth several billions of naira across the state.
Today, life and living in most villages and Communities in Imo State have become threatened because of obvious arms struggle by different groups masquerading under the guise of unknown gunmen. Sadly, Communities and towns in some Local government Areas such as Orlu, Orsu, Mbaitolu, Oru East and Oru West; Nwangele, Mbano, Owerri, and others have been deserted with death figures at outrageous level.
Youths have fled their homes while social and economic activities are at low ebb. Worst still, lives have continued to be threatened; children have suddenly been turned into orphans and women are left in endless tears as they are helplessly turned widows with the power of guns that sent their bread winners to their early graves.
It is obvious that the challenge of insecurity in the South East has negatively affected socio-economic and political development of Imo State. Capital flight has risen tremendously with investors exploring safer opportunities in other States as activities of miscreants under the guise of freedom fighting and obvious resistances continue to decimate chances of the state. Worrisome still is that non state actors have taken up arms against the innocent law abiding citizens of the state.
Despites these challenges, Governor Uzodimma’s administration in conjunction with the Federal government has injected fresh impetus in crime fighting which has indeed recorded commendable results.
Understandably, no society is absolutely crime free. Most kingpins behind the contempt against human lives and properties are gradually being brought to book through the instrumentality of the South East Joint Task Force on Security. Interestingly, Governors of states in the geopolitical zone under the umbrella of South East Governors Forum with Uzodimma as it’s Chairman, have continued to interface towards nipping in the bud the troubling challenges.
There hasn’t been weeks and months of renewed airstrikes In major security flash points areas of the State. Most of the airstrikes, according to security sources is yielding positive results.
Besides, the arrest of a significant number of the hoodlums and recovery of arms are pointers that it’s no longer at ease.
Some repentant armed militia who turned in their guns were granted amnesty and provided with gainful employment in a bid to encourage others still in the bushes and forests to abandon their bloody trades.
Despite this intervention, leaders of the South East Governors Forum are relentlessly working collaboratively with the Igbo apex body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo led by an Elder statesman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu towards the release of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Some political analysts and his supporters had argued that the security situation in South East is attributable to continued incarceration of the group.
The calls for ceasefire is believed to be receiving due attention as it would definitely end the activities of the unknown gunmen in the South East and by extension in Imo State.
Uzodimma and labour crisis
What now poses the hard nut to crack and could spell doom for Uzodimma and his foot soldiers in their resolve to ensure a smooth victory in Saturday’s election, is the widely condemned attack and brutalization meted on the National President of the country’s workers umbrella body, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, on November 1, 2023 by agents of the State government in Owerri the State Capital.
Ajaero is currently in critical condition after he was mercilessly assaulted for his alleged role in the aborted protest against Imo State government over non payment of 42 months arrears of pension and gratuities owed workers in the State.
The Police in Imo state had arrested the NLC, Comrade Joe Ajaero and whisked him away on Wednesday to an unknown location where he was seriously brutalized. He was said to have announced the commencement of the protest at the end of the Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting held in the late hours of Tuesday, October 31, 2023, in Owerri where he was alleged to have also accused Governor of violating and neglecting workers’ welfare arising from the alleged hostile actions of the Governor towards workers in the State. The alleged negligence account for the deaths of some workers while awaiting the payments of their salaries.
He further kicked against the non-compliance of the State government with the national minimum wage even as he accused Uzodimma of allegedly refusing to implement previous agreements, especially the accord reached on January 9, 2021, including other unfair labour practices.
Currently, there is obvious anxiety about likely violent disruptions and voters apathy during the poll. Unfortunately, Governor Uzodinma and the state government have denied involvement in the incident.
But the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, had said that the Governor has no hand in Ajaero’s arrest, pointing out that, “Those accusing the State government are perennial mischief makers always crying wolf where there is none.”
Although, there are allegations and counter allegations between the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) over criticisms that the embattled President of NLC, an indigene of the State, was partisan. His action was also said to have breached the fragile peace by attempting to instigate workers against the Governor during the aborted protest.
Confusion has set the stage as accusing fingers are now pointing at the police in the state. The joint leadership of he NLC/TUC had on Friday declared Nationwide strike to commence on Wednesday next week over the matter. The various states chapters of the workers bodies have thrown their weight behind the strike.
The NLC deputy President Comrade Adeyanju Adewale and Deputy President of the TUC, Comrade Tommy Okon at a press conference on Friday made a six point demand from the Federal government, amongst which is the immediate removal of State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Barde, an Area Commander and others for their alleged complicity in the brutalization and humiliation of Ajaero and other workers.
According to the Union Leaders, “The NLC President was blind folded and whisked away by security operatives in the state before intervention from Nuhu Ribadu the National Security Adviser to President Bola Tinubu.
“He was also beaten with other workers with his phone seized and journalists also maltreated with evidence shrouded away from the public.”
“We demand an unbiased and thorough examination of the President on the physical and psychological injuries inflicted on him. And all the properties lost be restored immediately.”
Imo residents grope in darkness
Coincidentally, the State has been thrown in total darkness as workers of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) protest against the gate of NLC President in the state.
But the EEDC’s Head, of Corporate Communications, Mr Emeka Ezeh, in a statement in Enugu confirmed that the strike has resulted in a total shutdown of electricity supply to Imo State.
According to him, the loss of electricity supply in the entire Imo resulted from the industrial action by the organised labour union in the state.
He said the striking workers shut down the supply at Egbu Transmission Station, the main source of Electricity Distribution to the people of Imo State.
There is, therefore, tension across the State as to what is to come on Saturday in Imo State. The people are believed to be walking on political landmines over possible thuggery, insecurity and negative issues likely to disrupt the election exercise.
The spokesman of the Nigeria Police Command in Imo State, DSP Henry Okoye, has assures that there is no cause for alarm, before, during, and after the election.
“There is no actual figure at the moment of the actual number of Police personnel and other sister agencies to be deployed for peace, order and credible polls in Imo State”, according to him.
He revealed that the police Command would deploy adequate number of officers and men across all the polling units in the 27 Local government Areas to ensure that security of lives and property as well as peaceful and violent-free election.
Okoye in a telephone interview with our Correspondent also said, “We will deploy adequate Police personnel to ensure the election is hitch free. This will be across all the polling Units, collation centers and INEC offices in Owerri metropolis and other areas where the election will take place in order to ensure orderliness and peace throughout the exercise”.
Will the history of controversy repeat itself in Imo State or will the people go to the polls to freely cast their votes to choose who amongst the 17 Candidates of the parties who will cater for their welfare and return the state to a place of peaceful coexistence, law and order?
Will there be hope for Governor Hope Uzodimma? These and many more as they emerge, are some of the pizzles the INEC and its workers; security agents and all the stakeholders in the election are to provide answers to in Saturday’s epic and historic governorship election in the State.