After the current euphoria that has greeted his sudden emergence, Governor Hope Uzodinma will be faced with a number challenges that will test his political sagacity. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI examines some of the tasks that will confront the new governor
GOVERNOR Hope Uzodinma, who has just been sworn-in as the new helmsman in Imo State, must leave politics aside and grab the opportunity that has been given to him to make a difference in the lives of the people for him to remain relevant in their eyes in the months and years to come.
The challenges include the decayed infrastructure, particularly roads, paying the new minimum wage, the controversy over payment of pensions, generating more revenues to accelerate development and carrying critical stakeholders along.
He would also need to surmount the controversies surrounding the sacking of elected local government chairmen and councillors, as well as that of the concession of the Imo Transport Company (ITC).
This is particularly against the background of the performance of Emeka Ihedioha during his eight-month stint at the helms. Thus, Uzodinma who was elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) must raise the bar of governance to win the support of the people.
Within the short span of time he occupied the Douglas House in Owerri, the Imo State capital, Ihedioha was believed to have hit the ground running, by initiating a number of policies and implementing them convincingly.
He also verified all pensioners in four months, resumed 100 per cent payment of salaries also in four months and introduced a Single Treasury Account in three months, by reducing the state’s bank accounts from 250 to one.
Among other things, electricity was also restored to the state secretariat which had had no power for eight years under former Governor Rochas Okorocha. Ihedioha equally embarked on a massive road reconstruction programme within Owerri metropolis.
Observers say Governor Uzodinma must match his words with action to ensure that he gains the confidence and acceptability of the people.
Given the fact that he came a distant fourth in the election, behind Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA) and Ifeanyi Araraume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), some key stakeholders are yet to come to terms with his emergence as governor.
An observer who does not want to be named said: “This is because Emeka Ihedioha had already endeared himself to the people through his road rehabilitation programme of his government. In spite of all his propaganda, the state of the roads in Imo State under Okorocha was so bad and people had lost confidence in the APC.
Ihedioha saw that opening and used it to legitimize his administration within the short period he was in charge. So, to gain acceptance, Uzodinma must identify areas to focus on in governance and do the needful, by matching his words with action. It would be in the best interest of everyone if he retains some of the good policies initiated by Ihedioha.”
The National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie believes Uzodinma is already grappling with one of his major challenges, which is how to contend with a hostile House of Assembly.
His words: “Right now, he has made some political deft moves which have resulted in nine persons defecting to the APC and I do expect that more will join the bandwagon, so that he can sleep with his two eyes closed, rest assured that that arm of government will support his policies.”
Owing to the crisis that rocked the party prior to the last year’s general elections, the APC had no single member in the Imo State House of Assembly. The crisis began when a splinter group emerged known as Imo APC Coalition which took on former Governor Okorocha in a battle for the soul of the party.
The rift deepened when Uzodinma grabbed the party’s governorship ticket after Okorocha’s preferred choice and son-in-law was rejected by the NWC led by National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole. After the general election, the AA had eight members, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), six and the PDP 13 members.
But, following the emergence of Uzodinma as governor, the Deputy Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, Okey Onyekamma, who represents Mbaitoli State Constituency, resigned his position and defected to the ruling party.
The Speaker, Dr. Collins Chiji (Isiala Mbano PDP), announced the resignation of Onyekamma (Mbaitoli PDP) from his position as the Deputy Speaker during plenary on Tuesday. He also announced the defection of nine members from different parties, including the former Deputy Speaker, to the APC, citing various reasons.
Four of them were hitherto elected on the platform of the AA, two of them on the ticket of APGA, while the remaining three were elected on the PDP platform.
Okorie said Uzodinma should continue implementing the good policies of his predecessor, as far as they are for the welfare and interest of the people. He said: “Some people will be scared that the good policies of Emeka Ohedioha will be scuttled with the emergence of Uzodinma.
My advice to Uzodinma is to continue the implementation of such good policies; after all government is a continuum. He should assure them that the good policies of his predecessor will not be jettisoned, as far as they are for the welfare and the interest of the people.
“It is important for the people to be given this assurance at this early stage, so that their fears will be doused, while he would now take steps to put his own stamp on governance that will be more like his own signature on governance. He should not throw away the baby with the bath water.”
On what the new governor should do with Okorocha’s legacy, the UPP national chairman said some of the structures can be improved upon and used for the purpose they are meant for, while the others can be sold to private investors to recoup the money expended on them and put to better use for the benefit of the people.
The chairman said: “Some of the physical structures put on ground by Rochas (Okorocha) that are not white elephant projects should be used for the purpose they were meant for or for a better purpose, because the tax payers’ money has already been expended on them.
“There are so many structures erected by Okorocha which are just like ordinary casing; on the outside it looks very beautiful, whereas no work was done inside at all. He gave them grandiose names like specialist hospitals and so on.
Some of those buildings could be used for something else. Otherwise, they could also be disposed to private investors and the money should be applied to something more regenerative for the people of Imo State.”
Southeast and APC:
As the only APC governor in the Southeast, Okorie advised Uzodinma to go for good governance, to make other states in the region to look favourably to the party in 2023. He added: “However, I know very well that come 2023 so many other factors will come to play.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is tending towards regionalism and regional sentiments will play out; emotions will rise and issues that are not strictly ideologically based will take centre stage.
I can see that already unfolding. This would be as a result of the government at the centre not showing serious concern to the issue of restructuring of the country.”
If the campaign for the March 9 governorship election is anything to go by, Uzodinma has already indicated his blueprint for the development of Imo. While unveiling his manifesto ahead of the election, he said as governor his administration would be committed to the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the state.
He said: “Today, I presented my manifesto to the good people of Imo State. I thank every person, who made an effort to join. The manifesto highlights my five-point agenda for the economic survival in our dear state.
“Under my leadership as governor, our administration shall be purpose-driven and anchored on the following three ‘Rs’ – Recovery, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation. In a democracy, power belongs to the people and not the other way round.
Government is not instituted to deride the people but to protect their fundamental rights. I pledge that we shall be responsible and accountable to the people of Imo State.”
Prior to the March 9 governorship election in Imo State, otherwise known as the Eastern Heartland, the three senatorial zones (Orlu zone, Owerri zone and Okigwe zone) insisted on producing the next governor to succeed the then incumbent Governor Okorocha.
Okorocha who is now the senator representing Orlu zone left no one in doubt that he was bent on installing his son in-law Uche Nwosu as his successor. Nwosu was then his Chief of Staff. He had earlier served under Okorocha as commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development before he was elevated.
Okorocha and Nwosu are from the same Orlu senatorial zone, a move that put the duo on a collision course with leaders from the other two senatorial districts who equally insisted on having one of their own as the next occupant of the Government House Owerri.
The resistance to Okorocha’s machination was in line with the existing rotational arrangement, otherwise known the Imo State Charter of Equity, which ensures that the exalted office is rotated among the three senatorial zones.
The former governor who tried everything within his power to actualise the Uche Nwosu governorship project eventually failed after the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC indicated its preference for Uzodimma as the party’s candidate.
Though coming fourth, Uzodinma had an ace up his sleeves. He had gone to court to challenge the election of Ihedioha and asked that they make him the duly elected governor, citing irregularities and the unlawful cancellation of his votes from several polling units that came from areas considered his stronghold.
He had vigorously argued the 213, 695 votes, which he got from 366 out of the 388 electoral wards if added to the 96,458 votes, which was declared in the election would give him 310, 153 ahead of the declared candidate, Ihedioha, who got 273,404 votes.
Even though he got a serving deputy commissioner of police to vouch for him, both the lower tribunal and the appellate court did not agree with him. He went higher to the apex court.
On the eve of the celebration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, the apex court ruled that the two courts erred in law by not returning Uzodinma as the legitimate Governor of Imo State. Thus, on two separate occasions, the judicial process had come to rescue Uzodinma’s political career.
Uzodinma started his political career during the Second Republic as the Imo State youth leader of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He was also a prominent member of the now defunct United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP).
However, he became prominent as a politician in the early 2000 as a PDP member. In 2003, he ran for governor on the ticket of Alliance for Democracy (AD), but did not win.
He returned to the PDP and in 2006, sought the ticket of the party to contest the governorship election but also lost at the primary to Araraume.
Uzodinma, who was later appointed a member of the party’s board of trustees (BoT), was first elected into the Senate in 2011. He was re-elected in 2015.