Nigeria: Imo Governorship - It's Three-Horse Race As Uzodinma Battles 17 Others

10 November 2023

Mr Uzodinma, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election, will conclude his first term in January 2024.

Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State is set to battle 17 other candidates in the 11 November governorship election in the state in a bid to retain his position as the number one citizen of the state.

Mr Uzodinma, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election, will conclude his first term in January 2024.

He was sworn in as governor in January 2020 after the Supreme Court nullified the election of the then-sitting governor, Emeka Ihedioha, and declared Mr Uzodinma as the governor of the state.

Mr Ihedioha had been declared winner of the 9 March 2019 governorship election in the state under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

He had served as governor for about eight months, between May 2019 and January 2020, before he was sacked by the Supreme Court.

This development pushed Imo into the list of states holding off-cycle elections in Nigeria.

Disregard for zoning

Some analysts say there had been an unwritten code in Imo State which provided for power rotation among the three political blocs in the state.

The blocs which also represent the three senatorial districts in the state include Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe Zones.

Owerri Zone with nine LGAs covers Imo East District; Okigwe Zone which has six LGAs covers Imo North District while Orlu Zone with 12 LGAs covers Imo West District.

However, the code was truncated when Rochas Okorocha emerged as governor of the state in 2011 under the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and exited office in 2019 after his second tenure.

Mr Okorocha, who defeated the sitting governor from Okigwe Zone to emerge governor, hails from Ogboko, a community in Ideato South Council Area in Orlu Zone.

His emergence disrupted the alleged zoning arrangement in the state which had favoured the candidate from Okigwe Zone to continue being governor to complete the zoning cycle.

Alternatively, the Owerri Zone would have been favoured to take their shot at the governorship to keep the zoning arrangement alive given that the previous governor hails from Orlu Zone.

For clarity, the first civilian governor of the state, Achike Udenwa, hails from Amaiefeke in Orlu Local Government Area of the state within Orlu Zone.

Mr Udenwa, who governed from 1999 to 2007, was succeeded by Ikedi Ohakim, from Okohia in Isiala Mbano LGA of the state in Okigwe Zone.

Mr Ohakim governed the state from 2007 to 2011 before handing over to Mr Okorocha.

Emeka Ihedioha took over from Mr Okorocha after winning the 9 March 2019 governorship in the state but was sacked from office by the Supreme Court on 14 January 2020.

Mr Ihedioha hails from Mbutu Community in Abor Mbaise LGA within Owerri Zone.

The Supreme Court consequently declared Mr Uzodinma as the validly elected governor of the state.

The governor, who has served for nearly four years in office, hails from Omuma, a community in Oru East LGA within Orlu Zone.

This means that Orlu Zone has served as governor of the state for nearly 20 years since 1999. A victory for Mr Uzodinma, on Saturday, will take the figure to 24 years.

However, Okigwe Zone served for four years while Owerri Zone served as governor for about seven months.

Voting strength

Observers say the superior voting strength being enjoyed by Orlu Zone may have accounted for their dominance in Imo State over the years.

The zone has the highest number of local government areas in the state (12) and often emerged as the zone with the highest number of Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) collected.

But checks by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Owerri Zone has overtaken Orlu Zone in voting strength ahead of Saturday's poll.

Owerri Zone with nine LGAs emerged as the zone with the highest number of PVCs collected for the 2023 governorship poll in the state, according to data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The data showed that a total of 1, 032, 405 voters collected their PVCs in Owerri Zone ahead of the election while Orlu Zone with 12 LGAs came second with a total of 890,702 voters picking their PVCs in the zone.

Okigwe Zone is third with 395,812 voters collecting their PVCs in the area.

Key contenders

Of the 18 candidates taking part in the exercise, only three are considered major contenders.

They are the sitting governor of the state, Mr Uzodinma of the APC, former National Secretary of the PDP, Samuel Anyanwu, and an entrepreneur, Athan Achonu of the Labour Party (LP).

The election is therefore a three-horse race.

A common feature among the three candidates is that the trio had served as senators in the past, although Mr Achonu was removed about four months after being inaugurated as senator in 2015.

The candidates' chances


Mr Uzodinma will hope to leverage his power of incumbency to ward off threats posed by his opponents. He also has the financial strength to mobilise support for his victory.As a sitting governor, he is believed to be in control of political structures in the 27 local government areas of the state which could be used to his advantage in mobilising support for his reelection bid.

Also, Mr Uzodinma's female deputy, Chinyere Ekomaro, may help him garner women's votes. Women account for over 50 per cent of the total eligible voters in the state.

Mrs Ekomaro hails from Umunoha, a community in Mbaitoli, which is the local government area in the state with the highest number of PVCs (152,371) collected ahead of Saturday's poll.

The deputy governorship candidate is married to a man from Ikeduru Local Government Area, where Mr Anyanwu, the PDP candidate, also hails from.

Analysts argue that Mr Uzodinma's choice of Mrs Ekomaro as his running mate was meant to cut down the votes for the PDP candidate in the council area.

However, several obstacles are currently threatening Mr Uzodinma's reelection bid in the poll. The greatest of the obstacles is the insecurity in the state which has resulted in the deaths of several persons.

The APC candidate has been accused of worsening the insecurity in the state through the use of Ebubeagu, a security outfit accused of extrajudicial killings in the state.

But the governor has repeatedly denied being behind the insecurity in Imo State and instead accused opposition leaders of sponsoring the insecurity in the state to frustrate his administration.

PREMIUM TIMES had reported that some communities in the state such as Izombie and Agwa in Oguta Local Government Area have since been deserted by residents due to insecurity in the areas.

Other communities in Orlu and Orsu Local Government Areas in the state have witnessed attacks lately with dozens of residents killed in such attacks.

This newspaper gathered that some residents of the state believe Mr Uzodinma's victory could worsen the already terrible insecurity in the state.

Apart from the insecurity, Mr Uzodinma's party, APC, does not enjoy considerable followership in south-east Nigeria, including Imo, when compared to the followership of other major parties in the region.

The unpopularity of the APC among many residents of the state and region may blur the governor's chances of reelection.

Finally, the recent attack on Joe Ajaero, the national president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), allegedly by agents of the state government and the consequent withdrawal of power supply from the state in protest has left residents fuming at Mr Uzodinma.

The perceived anger against the governor among the residents may stand as a big hurdle to his reelection.

Samuel Anyanwu

Mr Anyanwu, the PDP candidate in the election, is considered a strong contender in the poll. A former PDP national secretary, the candidate is believed to have the required political networks and experience to match Mr Uzodinma's political strength.

Although the politician lost the PDP governorship primary election in 2019, some residents consider him a better alternative to wrestle power from Mr Uzodinma.

Mr Anyanwu will be looking to climb to the state's seat of power based on the goodwill of residents of Owerri Zone where he hails from and had represented in the Senate from 2015 to 2019.

Again, as a major contender for the position from Owerri Zone, the former senator may enjoy the sympathy of people who believe that the zone has been marginalised in the power-sharing formula in the state since the return of democratic rule in 1999.

There is clamour among the people of Owerri Zone that Mr Anyanwu deserves to be governor to compensate for the abrupt ouster of the former governor of the state, Mr Ihedioha, who hails from the zone.

More so, the PDP candidate's promise to tackle the insecurity in the state appears to have resonated with many residents of the state who are desperate to see the end of the insecurity in the state.

However, the PDP candidate may find himself in the crossfire of a crisis ravaging the party in the South-east and the party's waning influence in region and state by extension.

The PDP recorded three consecutive losses in the 2015, 2019 and 2023 presidential elections in Nigeria.

The Labour Party (LP)'s unprecedented dominance in the South-east during the 2023 general election was a signal that the PDP's control of the region was over.

Lastly, Mr Anyanwu's cold war with Mr Ihedioha has punctured his acceptance by some people of the state particularly residents of Owerri Zone who believe that the PDP candidate was behind the withdrawal of the former governor from the party's primary.

Athan Achonu

Mr Achonu is a successful businessman, but his participation in politics has been limited. The 64-year-old came to the limelight in 2015 when he was elected into the Nigerian Senate under the PDP platform to represent Imo North District.

But his election was voided a few months later by a Court of Appeal in Imo State which ordered a rerun won by Ben Uwajumogu of the APC.

The businessman had been inactive in politics since then until he defected to the LP and emerged as the party's governorship candidate in April.

Mr Achonu is mainly relying on the support from Obidients, supporters of LP presidential candidate Peter Obi, to unseat Mr Uzodinma.

Mr Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, scored over 70 per cent of votes in the South-east including in Imo during the 2023 elections.Although he did not win the presidential election, his involvement in the race is believed to have helped the party to pull surprise victories in the region.

In Abia State, for instance, the LP won the governorship election for the first time in 2023. The party also won some seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives during the general elections.

However, the wave of the Obidient Movement appears to have faded after Mr Obi lost the election and subsequently failed to defeat President Bola Tinubu in the election tribunal and the Supreme Court.

Mr Achonu, whose one arm had been amputated, may win the sympathy of voters because of his disability which has earned him the sobriquet of "one-armed general." The LP candidate had one of his arms amputated after sustaining a severe injury in 1970 during the bloody Nigerian civil war.

But, it is doubtful that the sympathy will be enough to garner him enough votes to battle other candidates in the election.

Given his "political silence" since 2016 and consequent lack of popularity, his victory on Saturday is unlikely.

Should he go ahead to emerge winner of the election, the former senator will become the first Nigerian amputee governor.

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