What challenges are before Senator Hope Uzodinma who assumed power on Wednesday as the 7th civilian Governor of Imo State after the Supreme Court verdict against Emeka Ihedioha.
In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court sacked Emeka Ihedioha as the governor of Imo state replacing him with Senator Hope Uzodinma. Last Wednesday, Uzodinma was sworn-in as the Governor of Imo State with pomp at the Heros Square, Owerri, the state capital.
The road to Uzodinma’s ascendancy to Imo Government House was as bumpy as the chequered history of his political trajectory.
Born on December 12, 1958 at Omumma in Oru West Local Government Area of Imo State, Uzodinma was a successful business entrepreneur, who came into political limelight when January 9, 2011, he won the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries to contest the Imo West Senatorial District beating the incumbent Senator Ozita Izunaso.
His joy of winning the primary was however short-lived when a month later a Federal High Court gave the PDP candidacy back to the incumbent, citing as its reason that Uzodinma had not been cleared by the Orji Nwafor-Orizu-led PDP’s electoral panel.
The panel was said to be acting on a petition alleging some financial misdemeanor against Uzodinma. But while the court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to submit Izunaso’s name as the authentic candidate of the party for the election, Uzodinma won a reprieve when the appellate court ordered a stay of execution. But this was again short-lived as the appellate court in its final ruling upheld High Court judgment and declared that Uzodinma was not qualified to run and should not represent himself as a candidate.
Thus he went into the April 9, 2011 elections where he won majority of the votes. With this in his kitty, Uzodinma waited for the verdict of the apex court.
However, a month after the election, the Supreme Court changed the tide by declaring Uzodinma as the valid candidate and therefore declared him elected.
Uzodinma also tried to contest the governorship of the state. In 2002, he declared interest to run for 2003 Imo governorship and to achieve this he defected to Alliance for Democracy (AD) and failed. But a year later, he went back to PDP. He also contested the PDP primary for the 2007 election, but was unsuccessful.
Having joined the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in the 2019, Uzodinma decided to have a shot at the governorship, contending with his kinsman, Rochas Okorocha, who as the incumbent governor, was rooting for his son-in-law, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu, to succeed him.
The controversy reinforced Uzodinma’s candidacy and against all odds he emerged as APC’s flag bearer. Thus he went into that election as an underdog and true to prediction came a distant fourth.
As a child of destiny, who also believed in the sanctity of the judicial process, Uzodinma joined the duo of Ugwumba Uche Nwosu and Ifeanyi Araraume to challenge the result of that election. Though coming fourth, Uzodinma had an ace up his sleeves. He had vigorously argued the 213, 695 votes, which he got from 366 out of the 388 electoral wards if added to the 96,458 votes, which was declared in the election would give him 310, 153 ahead of the declared candidate, Emeka Ihedioha who got 273,404 votes.
Even though he got a serving deputy commissioner of police to vouch for him, both the lower tribunal and the appellate court did not agree with him. He went higher to the apex court.
And so, on the eve of the celebration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, the apex court ruled that the two courts erred in law by not returning Uzodinma as the legitimate Governor of Imo State. Thus, on two separate occasions, the judicial process had come to rescue Uzodinma’s political career.
Thus at the Heroes Square, in an event that replaced the celebration of Armed Forces Remembrance Day, instead of the usual wreath laying, Uzodinma appended his signature to the legal books in the political history of Imo State.
Now that he has actualized his ambition, Uzodinma’s tasks in governing the state are enormous. His first task would be restoring confidence in the political process following the rancour that attended his ascendancy to the office.
First of all, the controversy over the zoning arrangement in the present dispensation had not favoured any candidate from Orlu Zone occupying the office after Achike Udenwa and Rochas Okorocha, who governed the state eight years apiece. Thus Ihedioha’s emergence had come to bridge that gap. Some analysts have questioned the morality for Orlu Zone occupying the office again. They have argued that what is means now is that if Uzodinma decides to go for another term, the hope of Owerri Zone occupying the office would be far-fetched.
But a political analyst, Prof. Protus Nathan Uzorma, who welcomed Uzodinma’s declaration, said what has played out is a constitutional, rather than a moral issue.
He said, “Of course, you know my stand on this issue, but the principles of constitution are not based on morality. We have since lost out on that moral debate, which makes no sense in politics. What has happened is the will of God because Imo is in the hands of God…we have a new government with new ideology and programmes. We must embrace the new dispensation.”
Uzorma said that Uzodinma has started well by ordering a probe of his three immediate predecessors, but urged him to ensure continuity of projects, especially those that have direct and immediate bearing on the lives of the people.
Traditional Ruler of Ihim autonomous community and Chairman of Okigwe Council of Elders, His Royal Majesty, Eze Oliver Ohanwe could not agree less. While agreeing that Ihedioha has a pleasant personality, he however said that he came into Imo governance through a wrong process, stressing that the judiciary came to the rescue in making it right by replacing him with Uzodinma.
Eze Ohanwe, however, wants Uzodinma as the only APC governor in the South-East to make it as his first priority linking Imo to the centre. He said: “As the only APC state in the South-East, he should ensure that Imo becomes a cynosure of all eyes in terms of federal appointments and projects. He should also ensure continuity in the construction of roads, which Ihedioha had started.”
There are those who also believed that since both Okorocha and Ihedioha have already offered olive branches to the new administration, his first task should not have been setting up panels to probe them, but Uzorma did not agree.
According to him, “Ihedioha started it by probing Okorocha and he had said that he is not afraid to be probed whenever he leaves office. So in that regard there is nothing to be afraid of as probes could mean different things like strengthening out the books and not necessarily vindictive.”
Efforts to get aides and supporters of Ihedioha to talk were fruitless, as some of them said that they were simply devastated by the development.
One of his senior special assistants, in a reply a text message, simply said, “I am shattered. I am trying to pick up the pieces.”
With a new dawn in Imo, the people are expectant, looking forward to a new beginning and a new way of doing things. Prof Uzorma summed up the feelings of Imo people thus: “Uzodinma has just come. We should all embrace him. Political party is just the machinery through which people attain power, and so the party should not matter. What matters is the personality and the individual concerned. With Uzodinma’s inaugural speech, it is obvious that he wants to carry everybody along. His speech meant that he has ideas that could lead to success and so we must all support him.”