By Jethro Ibileke/Benin
Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State and his predecessor, Senator Rochas Okorocha, are on each other’s throat. These two politicians, who, ordinarily should have been working together by virtue of their being members and leaders of the same political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), are fighting dirty, over sundry matters.
The acrimony between them preceded the emergence of Uzodinma as governor of the state. It dated back to the last days of Okorocha in office as governor in the state, when the former governor attempted to impose his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, to succeed him as governor. The ensuing battle, spare-headed by the immediate past national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, forced Nwosu to switch to another political party, to actualise his aspiration.
Uzodinma, who was Oshiomhole’s anointed governorship candidate, however lost the election to the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Emeka Ihedioha. The PDP flag bearer was however removed from office, by virtue of a controversial court judgment, which declared Uzodinma as the real winner of the election.
The animosity generated by the rejection of Uzodinma as successor of Okorocha as governor, apparently fueled the speed with which Uzodinma attacked Okorocha. In fact, Uzodinma did not hide his disdain and hatred for Okorocha and his government.
No sooner he was sworn-in as governor, Uzodinma embarked on a campaign to rubbish the eight years of Okorocha as governor of the state. He did not only accuse Okorocha of diverting the state’s resources for personal use, he insisted on sustaining the probe panel set up by Emeka Ihedioha, before he was sacked by the court.
Barely a week after he was inaugurated, Uzodinma embarked on a demolition spree, of certain structures erected by Okorocha. These included about five roundabouts and the huge image of former South African President, Nelson Mandela.
Okorocha cried foul, accusing Uzodinma of demolishing his legacy projects. But Uzodinma whose bulldozers went on rampage, insisted he was on a rescue mission to beautify Owerri, the state capital.
“It has become necessary to appeal to Governor Uzodinma to stop demolishing Okorocha’s projects, which he built for lmo people and for the development and progress of the state, especially, when the incumbent governor is not building any structures and is not likely to initiate any,” Okorocha had said in a statement through his special adviser on media, Sam Onwuemeodo.
Uzodimma also approved the restoration of land allegedly acquired forcefully and illegally, by the administrations of Okorocha and others. He went further to reverse several other appointments made by his predecessor.
“The Exco decided that all public lands wrongly allocated to individuals will be revoked by government and returned to the original owners. All layouts whose nomenclature were wrongly changed will be returned to their original names.
“The permanent site of government house, which was mapped out and designated as such but was balkanized by previous administrations will be recovered and restored fully, and any structure or building erected in the permanent site will be revoked and removed to restore the permanent site to its original design.
“All other illegal structures erected anywhere within Owerri municipal and its environment that distorted the original master plan, will be regarded as an illegal structure and will be demolished to restore the old Owerri master plan. This applies to Arugo-layout, Ekwema-layout, and other such Government layouts anywhere in Imo State,” Uzodinma’s commissioner for information and strategy, Declan Emelumba, had said.
Just recently, Uzodimma and Imo State House of Assembly effected the renaming of Eastern Palm University, founded by the former governor.
Uzodimma had announced the renaming of the Eastern Palm to K. O. Mbadiwe University, shortly after the son of the late politician and ambassador, Greg Mbadiwe, decamped to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The State Assembly also repealed the law establishing the University.
But, Okorocha blew hot, describing the Chang of name for the institution as contemptuous. The former Imo governor said the university was set up based on a public-private partnership between the state and the Rochas Foundation. He accused the state government and the lawmakers of disregarding a pending court case on the matter.
Okorocha, in a statement by his media aide, Sam Onwuemeodo, accused the state government and the lawmakers of disregarding a pending court case on the matter, adding that the repeal only existed in the minds of those behind it.
“The law establishing the University prescribed the PPP arrangement. Since that was the setting, the Assembly, therefore, defaulted or had acted in contravention of the law by not getting the consent or agreement of the two parties involved, on the reported repeal. In other words, the repeal only existed in the imaginations of those behind it.
“For both the Assembly and the government to be taking one-sided decisions on the fate of the university, without reference to the main party and the court matter, has only made their actions questionable and contemptuous.
“A university is not a street one can rename or change its name at a polling unit where he had gone to revalidate his membership of APC. So, the claimed renaming of the university does not add up in reality. The purported repeal of the law establishing the university without recourse to the position of one of the parties has also made the Assembly a willing party in the matter in court. Until the court decides on the matter before it, there is nothing anybody can do about that.”
The former governor who said he established and got licences for five universities and four polytechnics while he was governor, asked Uzodinma to tell Imo people why he was not talking about those universities and polytechnics but has only been interested in the Eastern Palm University with a PPP status.
The Imo state government on Friday last week, seized the Royal Palm Estate on Akachi Road, Owerri, allegedly belonging to Nkechi, Okorocha’s wife. The government said the seizure was in compliance with the directive of the Imo state gazette on the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry on the recovery of lands and other related matters.
Enyinnaya Onuegbu, the Commissioner for Lands, who led the team that took the estate allegedly acquired by the ex-governor’s wife Friday evening, said the government had sealed up the place till further notice.
“This is as a result of the recommendation of the commission that all illegal lands and structures acquired by the administrations between 2006 and 2019 should be taken over by the government,” Onuegbu said, adding that the current administration is therefore not resting on its oars in recovering all the stolen properties of the state especially those carted away by the previous administration.
Okorocha, however, dared Uzodimma’s directive, and broke the locks to recover the estate. Hell stormed the estate with his supporters, policemen, soldiers and personnel of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and ordered the unsealing of the estate.
Government officials also mobilised to the estate, leading to a confrontation that left many persons injured and cars smashed.
The face-off that ensued culminated in the arrest of the former governor with 14 of his aides, and whisked to the state police command headquarters.
The command’s spokesperson, Orlando Ikeokwu, who confirmed the arrest on Monday, said that the former governor was merely “invited for questioning” over the unsealing of the Spring Palm Estate linked to his wife, Nkechi, and has since been released.
Ikeokwu, however, warned that “if anybody is found culpable, definitely, he will be charged to court. If investigation proves that he (Okorocha) has committed an offence, he will be charged to court.”
The police, however, did not let Okorocha’s aides off the hook, as they were arraigned on Monday, before her lordship, B. U. Adikaibe of Magistrate Court 4, Owerri, on a seven-count charge bordering conspiracy, breach of public peace, possession of firearms, unlawful destruction of the official seal of the Imo State Government seal at Royal Spring Palm Estate, defamatory action on the 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.
Adikaibe, while ruling on the bail application made for the release of the defendants, granted a N5m bond bail on each of them. He also insisted that a traditional ruler in the state must stand in as a surety.
Of course, the embattled senator is not new to threats of arrested. Recall that on Thursday, 29 August, 2019, Imo State Government, under the then governor Emeka Ihedioha, ordered his arrest, over alleged assault on a government official, Mr Jasper Ndubuaku.
The incident happened barely 24 hours after traditional rulers in the state issued a stern warning to Okorocha, who was accused of harboring 20 government vehicles in his house, four speed boats, one movable crane and power generating sets, against disrupting the activities of the recovery team.
The then Secretary to State Government (SSG), Uche Onyeaguocha, gave the order after the Chairman of the Recovery of Government Properties, Jasper Ndubuaku, was allegedly assaulted at Okorocha’s residence. He
said that the state had also placed Okorocha on security watch and urged Imo citizens to arrest him and alert the government whenever they found him in the state.
The inglorious show of shame between the two top APC leaders in the state has attracted a negative criticism of opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), accusing them of turning the state into a theater of war.
Spokesperson of PDP in the state, Ogubundu Nwadike, in a statement on Monday, described the clash between the supporters of Okorocha and Uzodinma on Sunday at Royal Spring Estate, Owerri as “disgusting”, and capable of causing tension and apprehension in the state.
According to Nwadike, “The Peoples Democratic Party in Imo state strongly condemns the horrific violent and bloody gun battle which recently occurred in the State between supporters of Senator Rochas Okorocha and supporters Governor Hope Uzodimma, where they were engaged in a bizarre indiscriminate shooting over the sealing by the government, of Royal Spring Palm Estate Hotel, in the Akachi area of Owerri, the state capital.
“It is highly disgusting that the present APC government in the state has turned Imo into a terror zone and theatre of war and conflict. In recent times, Imolites have had the most tragic and excruciating experience ranging from the recent military invasion of parts of Orlu and Orsu local government areas, which caused insecurity and other forms of gruesome attacks, leading to the breakdown of peace and order, and loss of lives and properties.
“The recent violence perpetrated by supporters of Senator Rochas Okorocha and Governor Hope Uzodimma, has stirred up tension and apprehension in the state thereby toppling the atmosphere of saturated peace and tranquility.
“It is indeed, highly despicable that under the present administration, Imo State which used to be the center and cynosure of public peace and orderliness has turned into a jungle of terror where hooliganism, rascality, thuggery, and abuse of the dignity of human peace have become the order of the day. The APC Government in the state has created a Frankenstein monster that haunts the relative peace and social order in the state, Imolites are now living under fear and apprehension and can no more sleep with their two eyes closed.
“It is most disheartening that our dear state has become a laughing stock and object of mockery and caricature due to the present psychopathic leadership which is creating unnecessary tension and also mortgaging the peace of the state.”
PDP noted that from the inception of the present APC government, the state has not experienced any modicum of peace, but, rather has continued to wallow and dangle on the debris of hopelessness, mis-governance and massive developmental haemorrhage.
The opposition party cautioned the ruling party in the state to begin champing a harmonized and defined strategy for leadership excellence and good governance, rather than tormenting and unleashing terror on Imolites.
Meanwhile, the South-East Governors’ Forum has waded into the impasse between Governor Hope Uzodinma and his predecessor, Rochas Okorocha.
Chairman of the forum, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state, in a statement on Monday, signed by his special assistant on media and publicity, Francis Nwaze, said the Forum was already handling the issue and that contacts have already been made to resolve the impasse. He assured that both parties have agreed to a truce.
“South-East leaders are capable of settling their disputes internally instead of washing their linen in public.
“We sue for calm among the supporters of both leaders to ensure a timely and amicable resolution of the disagreement,” the statement read.