Saturday’s bye-election in Imo North senatorial zone will no doubt become a litmus test for the dramatis personae in the quest to control Imo State chapter of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) between the sitting governor, Hope Uzodimma and his predecessor, Rochas Okorocha.
The Imo North seat became vacant following the death of Senator Ben Uwajumogu last year. Since his death, the quest to replace him has become a topsy-turvy game among the heavy weights in the zone, including some interested parties, who want their acolytes to occupy the seat.
The Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) had first fixed the election for October 31, but it had to be changed to December 5, following the unrests that bedeviled the country.
The first sign that who occupies the seat would be a heated contest was when some members of the party rooted for Chidinma Uwajumogu, elder sister to the late occupant. Those rooting for her had argued that since Uwajumogu died without completing his tenure his sibling should be encouraged to do so. When that prospect failed, the battle was shifted to the September 3 primary election.
But before the primary election, both Okorocha and Uzodimma had been on each other’s jugular. While Okorocha had accused Uzodimma of running APC in name, working underground with the Peoples Democratic Party, Uzodimma said Okorocha was not a party man. Okorocha, who regarded this statement as an affront, having being the first APC governor and indeed won his second election under the party has decided to show Uzodimma that indeed he is the de facto leader of the party in the state.
While Okorocha left the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) on March, 2013 and joined the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) in order to contest for Governor of Imo State in the 2015 general elections, Uzodimma joined the party few weeks to the 2019 election and was very much instrumental in denying Okorocha’s preferred successor, his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu. This fact is not lost on Okorocha who would want to use the Okigwe North election, not only to stamp his authority on the party, but also to extract his own pound of flesh from Uzodimma.
Presently APC has two opposing camps. Uzodimma’s camp is led by Marcellinus Nlemigbo while Okorocha’s is led by Daniel Nwafor. The party’s primary election was bitterly fought between these two camps, with each camp bringing its own candidate.
But just before the primary election, Uzodimma convened a caucus meeting to prune the number of APC aspirants to a possible consensus candidate from the 11 candidates who were interested in the seat. But the plan backfired because most of the prominent members of the party were absent, including Okorocha and Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, who was also eyeing the seat.
So it was that at the September 3 election, Frank Ibezim, said to be an acolyte of the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, emerged the party’s candidate. Ibezim though could not be said to be Uzodimma’s choice, but his struggle for survival following the manner he emerged as the governor of Imo State gave him no choice. It’s either he dances to Abuja’s tune or get the boot.
But dissatisfied with the conduct of the election, Araraume, with the active support of Okorocha and his faction, went to court. Eventually, in a curious replay of how Uzodimma himself became governor of Imo state, Araraume, by a court ruling defied Uzodimma’s antics to clinch the party’s ticket for Saturday’s by-election.
The court ruled that Araraume and not Frank Ibezim was the rightful candidate qualified to represent APC in the by-election, thus removing the carpet off Uzodimma’s feet.
The current situation is that Uzodimma is between and betwixt. He is torn between party loyalty and selfish interest. His thinking, according to sources close to him, is that if he supports Araraume, he would be seen to be a loyal party man, but his future political ambition could be jeopardized if two political juggernauts – Okorocha and Araraume seat at the senate.
As ranking APC members, this will also catapult them to the echelon of the ruling party’s hierarchy where they may decide members’ (including Uzodimma’s) fate. For Uzodimma, this may not look too good. Again, if he decides to do anti-party by supporting any of the opposing parties; it may affect his standing on the party. Secondly a win for Araraume may stamp Okorocha’s authority on the party even as a court had confirmed that his faction led by Nwafor is the authentic executive of the party in Imo state.
In all these, the main opposition party is sitting on the fence, watching events as they unfold in APC. Emma Okewulonu, the PDP’s candidate may be the lovely bride in this epic battle. As they slug it out on Saturday, the big question remains – who will win the Imo North election? Another is between Uzodimma and Okorocha, who is the leader of the party in Imo. December 5 will decide.