Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma. Image: Facebook
The tussle between the main Opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Imo State took a 360-degree turn when the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Election Tribunal and the Appeal Court and confirmed Senator Hope Uzodinma of the APC as the legitimately elected governor of Imo State on 3 March 2020. In an attempt to get an earlier verdict repealed, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and his team of lawyers from the PDP camp had requested the apex court to review the case in the light of new evidences of mass discrepancies during the elections. But among its 7-man panel of jurists, six members stood their grounds while one insisted that the Supreme Court erred and should reverse its earlier decision.
Many observers had hoped that the Supreme Court was at least going to call for a re-run of the elections. But the eminent jurists stuck to their guns and insisted that Senator Uzodinma remained the governor because they could not possibly afford to lose face by swallowing the saliva they had earlier spat out. They probably relied on the often quoted dictum of the erudite Supreme Court jurist, Chuwudifu Oputa, who said the Supreme Court is not supreme because it was infallible, but it was infallible because it is Supreme.
The Imo gubernatorial case immediately raised very important political questions which the judiciary in Nigeria must be careful to consider in future electoral judgments. Was it constitutionally lawful for the court to impose a leader on the voting masses by virtue of legal technicalities? In the case of Uzodinma versus Ihedioha, for example, none of the two candidates secured the mandatory spread of votes across two-thirds of the local government areas of the state. Therefore, for any of them to be declared the winner, based on legal technicalities, clearly ran against the provisions of the constitution.
The unwillingness of the apex court to consider the fact that the number of votes accredited to the incumbent governor was far in excess of the total accredited number of voters was another glaring case of complacency. There were other arguments for and against the justification of the verdict. But at the end of the day, the Supreme Court had its way and declared Senator Uzodinma as winner.
It is important, at this juncture, to appreciate the fact that both Senator Hope Uzodinma and Hon. Emeka Ihedioha are sons of Imo land. So, since Uzodinma has been recognized by the highest court in the land over and above Ihedioha as the incumbent governor of the state, any further agitations against his continuation as governor would not only be a distraction of his focus on fulfilling his electoral promises, it would be a draw-back on the development of the very state everyone claims to love. So, the best bet would be for the people of Imo State to stop every form of agitation, rally round Uzodinma and his APC government, and help them deliver on their electoral promises.
When Senator Uzodinma unveiled his campaign manifesto to the good people of Imo State on 14 January 2019, he promised to focus on infrastructural development and to turn around the public image of the people of Imo State if elected into office. The event, still very clear in the memory of many Imo people and their well wishers had attracted dignitaries from across the state, which included traditional rulers, civil servants, market men and women, and the clergy. Party faithful and supporters were there also to chant accolades to the APC governorship candidate.
He had promised then, that his 5-point blueprint for the economic revival of the state would be consummated in a purpose-driven government, anchored on a tripod vision of economic recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation. In a nutshell, Senator Uzodinma promised to overhaul the structure of the civil service and cognate institutions to ensure a merit-based system. He promised to pay salaries promptly, especially those of civil servants and pensioners, to ensure greater productivity.
This is very important considering the fact that when civil servants are not paid as at and when due, there is a tendency for them to resort to corrupt practices to be able to provide food for their families and to pay their house rents and other bills like electricity bills. In the process, they unwittingly create the opportunity for their superior officers to cart away huge sums of public funds into private bank accounts because everyone is practically corrupt, leaving no one to blow the whistle when the big shots mismanage public funds.
Senator Uzodinma spoke on his desire to enhance education in the state. He would turn Imo State into a knowledge-driven economy and accelerate manpower development through a highly functional and qualitative educational system that would focus on science and technology. He would also establish or more like improve on the scope and spread of skills acquisition and vocational centres in the state. More importantly, he would establish job centres to enhance job search and placements for the myriads of school leavers in the state, desperately in need of jobs. This would also be important in warding off Imo youths from the temptation of involving in criminal activities.
But, somehow, Senator Uzodinma did not mention anything about child poverty in the state, which is also a worrying recurrent decimal indexing the real development of the state. In many communities in the state today, in villages and towns and even in the cities of Okigwe, Orlu and Owerri, so many young Imo children, some as young as eight years, can be seen hawking commodities like akara, banana, oranges, pure water and similar commodities on the roads and streets, even during school hours when they should be in school. In such a way, they are shamelessly exposed to hazards that include motor accidents, rape and even kidnapping. Imo children deserve a lot better treatment from their government. And Imo people hope that their children’s hope in Governor Hope Uzodinma to turn their fortunes around for the better would not remain an empty dream through the tenure of the governor.
The governor had also spoken of his vision of recovering the state economy and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of core infrastructure and micro, small and medium enterprises. This is indeed a bright idea. But the governor must appreciate that the place to start from with this beautiful idea is the revamping of strategies for the supply of electricity in the state which has remained most epileptic. No small or medium size business can succeed without constant electricity. In fact, many Imo sons and daughters in the Diaspora would rush home to help in the development of the state the moment it is known that the state can boast of electricity supply 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, important trading routes between villages and urban areas need to be tarred to ensure that agricultural products are safely and quickly moved from the rural producing to the urban consuming areas. All these call for proper feasibility studies which can be easily carried out if the governor has a dependable team to work with.
In assuring the good people of Imo State that his government would be accountable to them, the governor had promised to conduct fair and credible local government elections in the state within the first 12 months of his tenure and to reconstitute the local government joint accounts allocation committee to manage and superintend local government funds. This is also a step in the right direction. For some years now, state governors have depended on the use of administrators appointed by them to run the affairs of local governments across the state. Many people had come to associate the process with the desire of the governors to also manage local government allocations from Abuja. And with their hands economically tied by the state governors, these administrators are unable to run the councils efficiently. So, now that Governor Uzodinma has promised to put the money for the running of local councils where it rightfully belongs, the people of Imo State would have to hold local government chairmen and their councillors who underperform responsible for the under-development of their rural communities if it becomes necessary.
All in all, Imo people have learnt through their experiences that when politicians come to seek their mandate, they say all kinds of things and make all kinds of promises to win their hearts and their votes. But as soon as they get the mandate, very little is done. The politicians strategize to remain in office for as long as they possibly can and thereafter they find a way to install their puppets in governance. There is no likelihood that the style would change during Uzodinma’s tenure but it would also be wrong to take him for granted. There have been instances where the stone that was rejected by builders became the cornerstone pillar of the house. No one knows yet what goodies Governor Hope Uzodinma will bring to Imo State.
Before he became a known politician during the 2000s, Uzodinma was the youth leader of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in Imo State of the Second Republic. He became prominent in Imo politics as a member of the Peoples Democratic Party. In 2003, he contested for the governorship of the state under the auspices of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) party and failed. In 2006, he came back to the PDP and sought to contest the governorship election again but lost at the primaries to Senator Ifeanyi Ararume. He was then appointed into the PDP Board of Trustees, from where he was elected into the Senate in 2011, and re-elected in 2015.
Uzodinma is a known businessman who has been involved in the oil and gas sector through his SMIEC Chemical Engineering & Construction Company Limited with which he executed many projects for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
He obtained his West African School Certificate from Mgbidi Secondary School, Orlu West in 1982 and holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a Diploma in Transport Studies. He also has an honorary doctorate degree from Imo State University.
From the look of things, there is little doubt if any, that Governor Uzodinma is an astute politician who was able to manipulate virtually all members of the Imo State House of Assembly to defect to the APC on assumption of office after Ihedioha’s nullification. He obviously knew that it would be difficult and very expensive for him to succeed as a governor who had no party member in the state House of Assembly. Members of the House would simply have arm-twisted him to get whatever they wanted for themselves and their constituencies. But by massively defecting to the ruling APC, they would now literarily take direct instructions from the governor as members of the same party. How that is going to affect development in Imo State remains to be seen.
Be that as it may, it is now time for Imo people to embrace their fortune with pride and move on with the APC government to further develop their state. It will be necessary for all Imo to key behind the governor to build trust among people from the various local government areas of the state, and by extension, the Igbo Community world-wide because the Igbo abroad cannot claim to be united when those in the country are not. And the governor cannot unite the different factions, some supporting him, some supporting Ihedioha, some supporting Uche Nwosu, some supporting Ifeanyi Ararume and so on, unless Imo people are willing to come together now for the love of their state.
Governor Uzodinma should take his time to gather a good team. That is what makes government work in the interest of the people. He should also try and tolerate dissent. That is what makes democracy work. That is what makes a government become a listening ear. That is what points the governor to the knowledge of the desires and aspirations of those he is governing. The growth of democracy in Imo State is very crucial and very critical to the political history of Nigeria. So, the PDP must remain relevant in the governance of Imo State by maintaining its position as a responsible Shadow Government which the APC in the state cannot ignore or take for granted.
Whatever the APC government can achieve in these three remaining years will definitely define their position in 2023, barring electoral malpractices. One pressing demand is to ensure that APC legislators have properly located and identifiable constituency offices in their areas of jurisdiction and that they take the concerns of their constituents seriously. Imo people must move on and realize that no government can solve all the problems of the people. They should help themselves. They should make good use of the opportunity Governor Uzodinma will be willing to offer them. Our people have a saying that the taste of the pudding is in the eating. The APC government must now settle down to get Imo people to work together with Governor Hope Uzodinma, with the hope that it shall be well at the end of a long night. This is the immediate challenge of Imo APC.