As the confrontation between Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the state of Imo and the ex-immediate governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha, goes deeper, associate publisher Sam Egburonu reports that some concerned elders and colleagues have communicated with leaders inside and outside the south- east to the peace corridor
The political leaders of the IMO state and members of Governor Emeka Ihedioha and former state governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha, are worried that their previous efforts to resolve the clash between the two political leaders have failed sadly. As a result, some of them approached senior selected Igbo elders and other influential leaders outside the south-east to help reach rival political leaders. A source close to the Palace of the State Government of Imo, when she was contacted to confirm new negotiations to guarantee a less conflictual way to resolve the misunderstanding, said Friday that, although it is true that some elders and associates of the former governor could prefer a less conflictual approach. To recover our plundered resources, I do not know of any formal meeting that took place last week where some leaders or elders specifically requested a less confrontational way to solve this problem.
According to him, on the other hand, today I can tell you that here at Imo, both our elders and our young people are obviously satisfied with the way the matter is handled.
Another worried politician, who will not want to be named, because, according to him, has worked closely with the two leaders in the past, however, during the week he told The Nation that “as much as most imolites will want Ihedioha recovering land, property and money from Okorocha would prefer a more friendly deal because the heat has become too embarrassing for Ndimo, so we are looking for a friendlier way to solve this problem, saying the current government should not recover all the funds looted and other proven resources, but we would be happy if this were possible without the two leaders necessarily fighting each other in public “.
The source, an elderly statesman, confided that some unnamed groups have listed political leaders they want to reach out to intervene in the Imo crisis. “We want to reach out to elders and leaders within and outside Imo. For some reasons, I will not give out the names of the leaders from Imo we intend to reach out to. But outside Imo, we want to talk to some selected PDP and APC leaders in the southeast like Chris Ngige, Peter Obi, Ike Ekweremadu, Orji Uzor Kalu, Ohanaeze President and all the former Senate Presidents from the zone. They are others I will not like to name. We expect that they will persuade the two leaders to resolve this matter more amicably,” he said.
But an estranged top official of former governor Okorocha’s state government, who said he is still being owed several months of salary arrears, said in a telephone chat on Thursday that “Governor Ihedioha’s aggression is understandable given that over N30b debt to officials, workers and contractors have already been ascertained. So, we can all understand why the new governor must recover stolen resources. If he fails to recover these resources, it will be very difficult for him and his government to pay up these embarrassing debts and still deliver dividends of democracy to Imo people. Perhaps more than money, I can tell you that Imo people are desperate to recover their land from Senator Okorocha. So, they have put Honourable Ihedioha under severe pressure to change the narrative. This explains why it has been difficult to persuade the governor to change tactics. Anyone who knows Okorocha knows that except Ihedioha adopts this tactics, it would be difficult for him to recover anything from the former governor,” the source said.
THE GENESIS OF THE FACEOFF
Although some observers have zeroed the origin of the current faceoff to allegations of mismanagement of state resources, levelled against Okorocha by Ihedioha’s government, some insiders claimed their rivalry could be traced beyond the last governorship election in which Ihedioha, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), defeated Okorocha’s candidate, Uche Nwosu.
Analysts who make this assertion said the two were not best of friends when Ihedioha served as the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Okorocha was the state governor then.
The first tangible faceoff between them then was during the annual ‘Iri Iji Mbaise’ in 2014, at Ihedioha’s Mbaise community. At that event, there was controversy whether or not the then governor, Okorocha, should preside over the ceremony, given that Ihedioha was the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives then. It took security men to douse the tension that would have degenerated into a major fracas.
In 2015, when Ihedioha contested against Okorocha, who was seeking for re-election then, they literarily became major political foes. It is on record that the two rivals had to face a supplementary election. Insiders said even as a the sitting governor then, Okorocha had to enter into an alliance with aggrieved members of Ihedioha’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, who had vowed to stop Ihedioha, in order to win the election. Some observers said Ihedioha was embittered by the intrigues that led to Okorocha’s re-election then. The matter was not helped by the taunting of Okorocha’s aides and associates who used every opportunity to declare that Ihedioha had been retired politically.
Given this icy relationship, no informed observer of Imo State politics was surprised that the emergence of Ihedioha as PDP’s candidate in the 2019 governorship election was to provide another opportunity to renew the old rivalry, especially when Okorocha’s support for Uche Nwosu caused a major crack in his All Progressives Congress (APC) camp.
So, when Ihedioha eventually won the election and express determination to recover alleged looted state resources from Okorocha, everyone knew that it would be a long drawn battle. The exchange of words and allegations that preceded the handover only confirmed the fears of the associates of the former governor that Ihedioha would come after them.
However, the faceoff assumed a very concrete dimension when Ihedioha formed several committees and panels, including the Committee on Recovery of Government Property, to investigate what transpired in Imo during Okorocha’s tenure in office. For example, there was uproar when the Chairman of the Committee on Recovery of Government Property, Jasper Ndubuaku, who is also Ihedioha’s Special Adviser on Security Matters, was beaten up by youths sympathetic to Okorocha. The attack on Ndubuaku reportedly occurred when he and some of his officials attempted to enter the former governor’s private residence in search of government property, suspected to be hidden in there.
When a video clip of the assault went viral on the internet, the state government declared Senator Okorocha a wanted person in the state.
Uche Onyeaguocha, the Secretary to Imo State Government, who read the riot act ordered youths and women to apprehend Okorocha, anywhere he is seen in the state. Not long after that declaration, there were reports of some youths, who allegedly stormed the Sam Mbakwe Airport to lay ambush for Okorocha. It would be recalled that Okorocha had, according to reports also charged his supporters to resist harassment from government agents and protect their properties and businesses.
Reacting to the arrest order, Okorocha in a statement issued by his media aide, Sam Onwuemeodo, said, “The arrest order is an open invitation to anarchy or fracas in the State because Imo people will always come out to defend Okorocha. It also shows insensitivity on the side of the government in the State because such arrest order was uncalled for and Onyeaguocha has no right to issue an order of that nature.
“The order only adds to their continued disrespect for the former governor, which is a very bad precedent.”
Onwuemeodo added: “Okorocha will be in Imo whenever he deems it necessary to come, especially when he had transformed the State as governor and left it better than he met it; and had invested heavily in the State long before his governorship with his wife and children also having their businesses relocated to Owerri because they believe strongly in the State. Nigerians of goodwill should disregard the arrest order. It became void on arrival.”
The current allegations and counter allegations began shortly after Ihedioha’s emergence as the governor of the state when Okorocha said he left over N42 billion for Ihedioha’s government. Responding to the claim, ihedioha’s political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), accused Okorocha of leaving the state with a liability of N300 billion.
The state Publicity Secretary of PDP, Damian Opara, said Okorocha incurred over N100 billion debt and abandoned projects worth more than N200 billion across the state.
“We have it on good authority that Rochas abandoned projects worth more than N200 billion all over Imo.
“He abandoned the five-star hotels he was building in Okigwe and Owerri. He abandoned the 27 general hospitals he started. He abandoned the 15km rural roads he said he was going to construct.
“What is he leaving behind? He is leaving behind a debt of N100 billion for Imo state. He is leaving over 90 months’ pension arrears. He is leaving the Imo civil servants in agony. He owes them for the past four years and their 48 months salaries were not paid in full.
“He is talking of money we will get by counterpart funding. That was just a trap for the incoming administration, but we are going to overcome it,” Opara said.
Alleging that huge resources of state resources were mismanaged under Okorocha’s government and pledging to recover looted funds and property, Ihedioha said during the Ahiajoku lecture at the eve of his inauguration that he would step on toes in his style of governance. He said he had to adopt this style of governance in order to save Imo.
QUEST FOR A MORE PEACEFUL RESOLUTION
Although the two rival politicians, Ihedioha and Okorocha have continued to flex muscles, some observers said it would be necessary to tone down their confrontational utterances and actions to avoid over heating the state. Dr Vitalis Uzoma, who resides in Okigwe, told The Nation that tension is here in Imo. “It will interest you to know that Imo traditional rulers are in the forefront in the current calls for probing of past administrations in Imo.
Recently, even the former Chairman of Imo State Traditional Rulers Council, Eze Cletus Illomuanya, reportedly told some newsmen that Ndieze may embark on protest. That shows how people feel now. But knowing the full implication of political violence and disagreement, I join elders calling for a more peaceful relationship. That does not mean that the new governor should abandon the current moves to recover looted resources belonging to Imo people. He should do that without these public confrontations. The legal and administrative processes should be followed.”