The 2019 governorship election in Imo State has dominated public discourse- 18 months to the polls. This is so because of the depth of political sophistication of the Imo electorate who have become so conscious on who takes over the mantle of leadership of the State.

Since the inception of democracy in the country in 1999, Imo State has a track record of electing a dark horse as governor. The word dark horse is used to describe an unknown candidate, someone not really taken serious or given a chance to succeed in any elective contest. In 1999, little known Achike Udenwa was handpicked as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP governorship candidate who later went on to defeat the much fancied Ezekiel Izuogu of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP.

Udenwa was classified a dark horse because he was not seen as a serious aspirant considering the array of political heavyweights in the PDP at that time.  He placed a distant fourth in the PDP governorship primary but was chosen by the party leadership led by Chief Innocent Diala Nwoga ahead of front line contenders in the contest such as Rochas Okorocha, Humphrey Anumudu and Greg Mbadiwe.

The same scenario repeated  in 2007 when Udenwa after completing his tenure engaged in a fierce battle with Senator Ifeanyi Araraume for the PDP governorship ticket. Senator Araraume at that time was in pole position to take over governance of the State from Udenwa considering his political clout, strength  and acceptance at that time.

Aside Araraume, there were other big names in the governorship race such as Chief Tony Ezenna, Chief Festus Odumegwu and many others who had all the financial muscle to wrestle power from Udenwa. But it was another dark horse, the Okohia born former commissioner in the State, Ikedi Godson Ohakim of the Progressive Peoples Alliance PPA that eventually succeeded in taking over from Udenwa.  Not much was known about Ohakim then except that he was one of the core loyalists of Late Evan Enwerem when he was governor of the state.

Those factors that shaped the emergence of political dark horses and their emergence as governors in Imo State still remain prevalent as Imo people journey to the polls in 2019. Ironically, no outgoing governor of Imo State has succeeded in installing a successor! Udenwa never had Ohakim in mind as his successor and neither did  Ohakim succeed to install one he was outpaced by Rochas Okorocha of the then APGA in the 2011 elections.

The emergence of Udenwa and Ohakim as Governors of Imo Stae bear the same finger prints, same colourations. Udenwa was the consensus candidate of a cabal in the PDP who were uncomfortable with the youthful exuberance exhibited by the trio of Okorocha, Anumudu and Mbadiwe in the PDP while Ohakim was also a huge benefactor of an intractable intra party crisis that rocked the PDP at that time that made it unable for Araraume to fly the party’s governorship flag despite winning the Primary.

This scenario is gradually playing out in 2019 in the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC in the State. All those factors that threw up dark horses that later emerged governors seem to be at the front-burner. Lately in the APC, Governor Rochas  Okorocha is having a running political battle with Senator Araraume. While Okorocha wants to install a successor touted to be his son- in law and Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu, he also has to pacify majority of Imo people who appear disenchanted by some of his policies just like Ohakim who was rejected in his re- election bid in 2011 governorship polls for allegedly attacking a Catholic Priest.

There is no difference between political events of 1999, 2007. Just like Udenwa struggled to have a successor take over from him but overwhelmed by political opponents, so is Okorocha who is embarking on his biggest political battle in his political career to have his yet to be named successor on the saddle. And ironically in 2007, Senator Araraume who has become a serial governorship aspirant in the state was at the centre of the drama that foiled Udenwa’s plan to have his way.

Will the scenario be different or repeat this time in a State that is craving for responsible and responsive leadership. Perhaps an interplay of political dynamics and forces will determine.  Only time will tell.

IGWE Writes from Lagos


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