The political atmosphere in Imo State is not looking good at the moment. A few events that have occurred in recent times seriously point to the fact that all is not well with major actors in the state. It is a contest for superiority; it is a contest for pride, but, as usual, it has left the ordinary people at the receiving end.
It first started with the move by the state government to flush out members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), in Orlu and parts of Orsu local Government Areas, who in the eyes of the state government have constituted threats to the peace and development of the area.
The state government believed that ESN, recently formed by the pro-Biafra Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and domiciled in the area, are bandits who now harass and maim people at will and should immediately be dislodged in the interest of the state. A clash between police and members of the ESN that resulted in casualties had happened in the area. It was reported that the number of casualties, especially on the side of the security forces, had led to the invitation of the Nigerian military to the area by the state to root out members of IPOB and its security arm.
The operation had seen military helicopters hovering in the area and creating apprehensions among residents, with majority fleeing for safety.
Attorney general of the state, Mr. Cyprian Akolisa, had while justifying the military operations in the area last Friday, stated that “the state government got intelligence that IPOB was planning an attack against Orlu people and the government, under the pretext of looking for herders in the communities.
“The attacks on police stations and killing of policemen during #ENDSARS protests were carried out by IPOB and not by protesting youths for the sole purpose of hijacking and stealing weapons.
“They are now using those arms to destroy Orlu. They killed 10 policemen, a prominent Orlu son, Ignatius Obiezu, and one Emmanuel Okeke and collected their Hilux vehicles.”
Akolisa made it clear that there were “no Fulani herdsmen in Orlu,” insisting that the action was necessary to instill discipline and the rule of law in the state.
IPOB has, however, insisted that the state government’s action was a declaration of “war”. Its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, stated that the ESN was merely flushing out killer herdsmen who have made life unbearable for people of Orlu. He stated that they were merely combing the bushes, even as they accused the police of bias in the entire saga.
“We have no choice but to defend our ancestral land,” Mr. Powerful said in a statement. “We have complained enough, written petitions but the world turned blind eyes. The media refused to give us an audience. Nobody seems interested in our story, but like the Jews, we must look unto our God and courageously fight back like heroes. In the end Biafra will overcome.”
While the military operations had continued in Orlu Local Government Area, another dimension in the political control of the state took place on Sunday with reports of the arrest of former governor Rochas Okorocha by the police in the state capital after clashing with officials of the state government.
The Guardian gathered that Okorocha, who is the Senator representing Imo West at the National Assembly, was arrested on the order of the state government for forcibly breaking into a property the government had sealed. Okorocha had reportedly led his group to the Royal Spring Palm Hotel and Apartment sealed last Friday by Imo Sate Government, cleared the security vehicles mounted in front of the entry to guard against trespassers, destroyed the padlock that sealed the property and moved in with his supporters.
The multiple–storey building, located in the Akachi axis was said to have been built by the former governor’s wife, Nkechi. Okorocha had gone there to recover the seized estate. It was gathered that last Friday, the state’s Commissioner for lands, Enyinnaya Onuegbu, had led some government officials to seal the premises in compliance with the recommendations of a judicial panel set up by Governor Hope Uzodinma that looked into lands illegally acquired between 2006 and May 2019.
The state government had, in November last year, adopted the White Paper of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Lands and other related matters, which allegedly uncovered that land designated by the government’s master plan as a green verge but was fraudulently acquired by the former governor’s wife when Okorocha was the state’s chief executive officer between 2011 and 2019.
The face-off that ensued led to the arrest of the former governor and his 14 supporters by the police. By Monday, the police arraigned Okorocha’s supporters in court where they were granted bail in the sum of N70 million by Magistrate B.U Adike. Okorocha was not arraigned.
They were arraigned on a seven-count charge bordering on conspiracy, breach of public peace, possession of firearms, unlawful destruction of the official seal of Imo State Government at Royal Spring Palm Estate, defamatory action on social media against the governor of the state with the intent to injure the reputation of the state government and the person of the state governor, and disturbance to a lawful order.
War without End?
CONTENTIONS between the two heavyweights of the state’s All Progressives Congress (APC) did not start with the latest open confrontation. A source told The Guardian that it was not the first time the state government was getting back at Okorocha. Last year, the state government undertook the redesigning of some infrastructure built by the Okorocha government, including the renaiming of the Eastern Palm University, which he founded.
The university had been renamed K.O Mbadiwe University, apparently to please his son, Greg Mbadiwe for joining the APC. It stated that the setting up of the panel was allegedly targeted against the former governor for the various acquisitions he made while in office, adding that, “he ran the state like a personal property with his family members.”
Okorocha is said not to have faith or confidence in Uzodinma. He is believed to see Uzodinma as one of the “strangers” that are now reaping from the APC and may not have won elections convincingly in the state. Okorocha, as a Senator, has also tasted executive power for eight years. Uzodinma, on the hand, was a Senator and now the state governor. Though he became governor on January 15 last year through the declaration of the Supreme Court, he never got the support of Okorocha during his governorship aspirations in 2019.
Okorocha, as APC governor, had preferred and worked for his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA). He had helped Nwosu to ditch the APC for AA after APC allegedly offered its governorship ticket to Uzodinma. While justifying his non-support for Uzodinma then, despite belonging to the same party, Okorocha had insisted that Uzodinma was suffering from “self-inflicted problems” and would be too difficult to market.
In one of the press statements by his Media aide, Sam Onwuemedo, during the campaigns in 2018, Okorocha had said: “The major problem Chief Uzodinma has is self-inflicted. Imo people who are going to vote on election day know him and he has the choking problem of how to convince them to vote for him to become their governor.
“The latest story on the APC candidate is that he has been banned from travelling out over allegation of treasury looting. It was not Okorocha who slammed the travel ban on him.
“He is in court too over asset declaration issue. That has also nothing to do with Rochas. It is also not an oversight that the APC candidate has not made his profile available for people to see. Before now, Chief Uzodinma never attended any APC meeting in the state. He has never visited the governor either before or after he was handed over the ticket of the party. Chief Uzodinma went to the Senate in 2011 through the court. In 2015, he knew how his victory also came.”
Uzodinma came fourth after the election. Chief Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was declared winner in the election and it was he that Okorocha handed over to. But by January 14, 2020, the pendulum was forced to swing the way of Uzodinma, when the Supreme Court declared that Ihedioha was not validly elected and that fresh certificate of return should be issued Uzodinma who should also be sworn in immediately.
Okorocha was among the APC stalwarts that accompanied then national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole to Owerri for Uzodinma’s swearing in. In fact, he had pledged to work with the governor and called on Imo people to do so.
But those who had felt that the turn of events, especially with the presence of Okorocha at the ceremony marking the swearing in of Uzodinma as governor and other assurances of working together could mean resolution of the rift between them may misread the times going by happenings thereafter.
While it is being viewed that Uzodinma may not have forgiven Okorocha, based on the role he played during his election and other “overbearing influences” on Imo APC, Okorocha, on the other hand, is said to be incensed with the governor for allegedly refusing to appoint party members loyal to him into his government. This has continued to fuel disenchantment in APC affairs in the state.
For instance, it was gathered that despite the intervention of the National Caretaker Committee of the party that dissolved elected state executives and approved caretakers in the states, factions in the state had continued to hold different opinions with the two men leading the various groups.
Last month, Okorocha had declared that he and his followers would not recognise the APC state executive backed by Governor Uzodinma, insisting that the ongoing APC membership registration would be null and void if carried out without the duly elected state’s party officials. The state governor recognizes the state Caretaker Committee, led by Marcon Nlemigbo against Okorocha, who recognises that of Daniel Nwafor.
In December last year, both men carried their differences to the ImeObi meeting of Ohanaeze Ndigbo held in Enugu to resole issues arising from the composition of the membership of the electoral committee of the organization.
While speaking at the meeting, Okorocha had roundly condemned those who brought Prof. George Obiozor and branded him “Imo’s consensus candidate,” stressing that the people should discountenance such as it was made by a desperate few.
Uzodinma, who had openly showed support for Obiozor, while responding, insisted that he would also have a say in whoever would emerge from the state as President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The way it is, Governor Uzodinma may be having his hands full over the two unsavoury incidents – confronting IPOB and dueling with Okorocha. On one hand, he is pursuing IPOB members whom he said are creating disaffection in Orlu, which incidentally is one of the local governments that make up Okorocha’s Imo West Senatorial zone. On the other hand is Okorocha and the gale of reactions that have trailed the action of the government over both incidents.
What happens to the property in question after the court had granted bail to Okorocha’s aides? What becomes of the IPOB members being arrested by soldiers in Orlu?
Joshua Ugwu said: “I think they should embrace peace and find amicable resolution of the matter. They cannot be using thugs to threaten the unity of the state. This show of pride should be checked in the interest of the zone.”
MEANWHILE, a non–governmental organisation, International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ISPAHRI) has condemned the military invasion of Orlu council, saying the action was bereft of any logical or moral reason as it fell short of international standard of engagement with civil population.
President of the group, Comrade Osmond Ugwu, told The Guardian that the action showed that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC was highly biased in handling the problem of social conflicts in the country, even as he called for the impeachment of Governor Uzodinma for deploying the military in civil space.
Governors of the Southeast, on the other hand, have assured that they “are capable of handling the issue” and sued for calm among the supporters of both leaders to ensure a timely and amicable resolution of the disagreement.