by OkeomaNews

By Collins Ughalaa KSC

Many politically exposed persons in Imo State will not hesitate to tell you how the elders of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo, especially those from Owerri Zone, prevailed on one of their sons who was presumed to have won the governorship ticket of the party in 1998, to relinquish his ticket to someone else from Orlu Zone. The subsequent beneficiary of that mandate, Chief Achike Udenwa, went on to become the governor of Imo State from 1999 to 2007. It was said that the leaders of the PDP agreed that the governorship of the state would rotate among the three zones of the state. This is how we came about zoning in Imo.

To promote peace, enhance unity, and reduce rancour in politics, zoning the governorship and other top political offices in Imo is imperative. This ideal must have been at the back of the minds of the leaders of the PDP who took the decision in 1998 to allow Orlu Zone to produce the governor of the state. The leaders took cognizance of the fact that since the creation of Imo State in 1976, Orlu Zone had not produced the governor of the state, whereas Okigwe Zone had produced Chief Sam Mbakwe as governor and Owerri Zone had also produced Chief Evan Enwerem as governor. To assuage the feelings of Orlu Zone and enhance brotherhood, therefore, those who came up with the idea of zoning in the first place must be in the list of the heroes of our democracy.

It is sad to note that the zoning arrangement in Imo, otherwise called the Imo Charter of Equity, suffered a stillbirth. The problem started in the PDP in the build-up to the 2007 governorship election. With the APP out of the way in Imo politics and APGA and PPA now in the equation, many politicians who wanted to become governor galvanized themselves under the new parties. APGA made its first impact in 2003 with the late Igbo leader. Dim Odumegwu Chukwuemeka Ojukwu as its presidential candidate. It was a party Igbo people regarded as their own. In 2007, Martin Agbaso from Emekukwu, Owerri North LGA of Owerri Zone, got the ticket of the party, which was justified by repudiating the zoning arrangement, describing it as an internal arrangement of the PDP. On the other hand, the new PPA fielded Ikedi Ohakim as their guber candidate.

The PDP, which formulated the zoning arrangement, had challenges. The party had produced Chief Charles Ugwu for the 2007 governorship election. His ticket was rigorously challenged by Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, who claimed he was cheated in the party’s primary election. He went ahead to secure victory from the Supreme Court, which nullified Ugwu’s candidacy and handed it over to Araraume. Faced with this lacuna, Olusegun Obasanjo who was President at the time, flew to Owerri and announced to a crowd of PDP faithful during a rally, that the PDP gubernatorial ticket had got a k-leg and that the party no longer had a candidate. This announcement cleared the coast for the new PPA to win the election, and Chief Ikedi Ohakim became the governor. Ohakim returned to the PDP after two years, and the PDP gave him the right of first refusal for the PDP governorship ticket for the 2011 election.

While the PDP was working out its governorship ticket, something else was going on in APGA. For some reason, Rochas Okorocha had left the ACN and joined APGA. APGA was going to give its guber ticket to Chief Martin Agbaso. Suddenly, Okorocha joined APGA and took the guber ticket. Tongues wagged why Okorocha, from Orlu Zone, should get the governorship ticket of APGA from an Owerri man whom many believed should be governor if Okigwe failed for a second term. The refrain was that there was no zoning in Imo, that if there was zoning, it was an internal arrangement of the PDP, which was repudiated by the party itself in 2007 when they denied Okigwe Zone the chance to produce a governor. Another excuse for repudiating zoning in 2011 was the claim that Okorocha was on a rescue mission in Imo and would do only one term. Okorocha did not rescue Imo and did not do one term.

Having served as governor for eight years, many people could argue that Okorocha was in a position to know the status of the zoning arrangement in Imo. He knew it had been repudiated or observed in breach. Thus, he decided to hand over the governorship of the state to his son-in-law from Orlu Zone for the 2019 governorship election. Senator Hope Uzodimma, on his part, preferred someone from Owerri Zone to succeed Okorocha, but armed with the paraphernalia of office, Okorocha was determined to force his son-in-law on Imo people as governor. This led to some conspiracy theorists coming together and forming an alliance. They knew that the Owerri Zone had been eroded by Okorocha’s kind of politics, so they approached Uzodimma to run for the governorship instead. After so much back-and-forth, Uzodimma accepted to run for governorship under the APC. Sadly, he was cheated in the governorship election. With his proof in his hands, he headed to the court, and on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, the Supreme Court declared him the authentic winner of the 2019 governorship election.

With the 2023 governorship election underway and each of the three zones producing governorship candidates for the various political parties, the issue of zoning has reared its head once more, even though the issue of zoning has become a convenient truth in Imo. It is a truth some people tell when it favours them and repudiate when it does not favour them. On this note, zoning may have become a confusing cliche observed in breach. The PDP came up with the idea and allowed Orlu to benefit for eight years, but they destroyed it in 2007 when they did not hand over power to Okigwe Zone. With the injury done to zoning in 2007, many people believed that 2011 was an opportunity to heal the wound and cement zoning as a political solution for power sharing in Imo. This did not happen as Owerri Zone rather surrendered the APGA guber ticket to Okorocha from Orlu Zone.

Collins Ughalaa, Special Adviser on Public Communications to the Governor, writes from Owerri.

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