This optimism is not misplaced. Keen observers of developments in the state are of the view that despite being the ruling party in the state in the last five-plus years, the chances of the All Progressives Congress (APC) retaining the governorship seat beyond May 2019 are very slim. Beyond the war of succession rocking the party, which pitched Governor Rochas Okorocha against his deputy, Eze Madumere, culminating in the latter’s impeachment recently, the APC has never been and may never be fully accepted by the people of the South-East. What the party is enjoying now is forced acceptance dictated by survival instinct. On top of that, the party’s performance, at the state and federal level, has been nothing but abysmal.
On its part, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state has been in coma since Ikedi Godson Ohakim, the state governor 2007-2011, being power-drunk, misused his mandate and bungled the opportunity to re-establish the party as the dominant player in the state’s politics. Imo State was nearly 100 percent PDP during the eight-year (1999-2007) rule of Achike Udenwa, until internal crisis set in over who would fly the party’s flag in the 2007 election in the state. The ensuing battle for the soul of PDP in the state, which tore the party to shreds in the following years, is well documented and the party is still reeling from the resultant self-inflicted injury.
As for the other parties, well, not many Imo citizens would consider them as being in existence in the state.
Many pundits are, therefore, of the view that God has positioned APGA for serious assignment in Imo State – to rescue the state from its present quagmire so that it can move on again.
“Two things are involved in this 2019 election: one is integrity and the other one is governance. APC lacks integrity and true governance and that is what APGA has come to offer to Imo people,” Sam Amadi, a former chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and a governorship aspirant, said in February.
Historically, APGA is said to have always been in pole position to win elections in Imo State, and some keen observers believe that the party actually won the 2007 governorship election in the state.
“It is a fact that APGA in Imo State still retains enormous support from the Imo populace. It is the party that took Rochas Okorocha to Government House in 2011. APGA nearly made Martin Agbaso governor if not that powerful forces who had denied the party of victory in the past also frustrated his victory. That tells the strength of APGA in Imo,” John Osuji, a political analyst, said in a recent article.
Rochas Okorocha, the incumbent governor of the state, won the governorship seat in 2011 on the APGA platform but, propelled by a rather nebulous ambition to run in the 2015 presidential election, defected to the then newly-formed APC in 2013.
When he came to power, Okorocha had called on Imo citizens and Ndigbo in general to join APGA, which he said was a distinct political party that the Igbo passionately believed in and followed like a religion.
“All Igbo should join APGA for us to be identified, it is our culture. Every Igbo man is APGA before any other party,” he had said.
A nubile beauty
As this optimism grows, therefore, further boosted by the quality leadership APGA has provided in Anambra State in the last 13 years, the party in Imo State has become the beautiful bride, attracting high quality aspirants to its fold.
Till date, the number of aspirants vying for APGA’s governorship ticket in the state continues to swell, a development some political observers see as signalling the high level of acceptance of the party in the state which, if properly harnessed, could translate into electoral victory for the party in 2019.
Prominent among these aspirants are Frank Nneji, chief executive officer, ABC Transport; Chidi Okoro, a former managing director/CEO of UAC Foods Limited; Okey Ezeh, CEO of Savvycorp Limited; Sam Amadi, a former chairman of NERC, and so on.
But although APGA enjoys immense goodwill of the mass of Imo people, political analysts believe that victory won’t be served the party on a platter. They say unless APGA in the state gets its acts together and ensures the emergence of the right candidate as its flag-bearer in the forthcoming 2019 governorship election in the state, it risks losing a golden opportunity that destiny has placed on its laps.
Quality of candidate matters
A prominent APGA chieftain in Imo State who does not want his name mentioned told this writer that apart from being in turmoil, the other parties in the state have been tried and they failed, and right now they don’t have the right candidates. Consequently, Imo people have turned their attention to APGA to come in and turn things around.
APGA, he said, remains the frontrunner in the 2019 Imo governorship race as it holds the hearts and minds of Imo people.
He said, however, that APGA must not be under the illusion that once it puts up any candidate, that candidate would go on to win the governorship election in the state as the people expect the party to present the right kind of candidate that they will all rally around in order to turn Imo around.
If APGA truly wants to win Imo in 2019, he said, then the party must work through its machinery to ensure that only the right candidate flies its flag. He said the electorate would vote APGA only if the party presents a candidate that is ready, prepared, understands the issues and can design solutions to those issues, adding that anything short of that would spell doom for the party.
“The candidate the party brings has to be superior in everything. He has to have a background, a track record. He has to be competent. We need to know who he is and what he has done in his life. He has to show he understands what governance means, what building means, because Imo as it is needs rebuilding,” he said.
“It does not matter whether he is from private or public sector, but he has to show track record, show that he understands the issues, not just the symptoms. He needs to understand, for instance, that we need to train more doctors instead of building more hospitals. If we have a candidate that comes in and says the usual clichéd things that the people are used to hearing, Imo people are not going to go with APGA,” he said.
In order to ensure the emergence of the right candidate, the chieftain said, the party needs to do a lot of work in feeling the pulse of the people to understand the kind of candidate they are looking to have in 2019. It must not be business as usual, he said.
“Just like Nigeria, Imo is in dire straits and the Imo electorates are starting to understand that the problem is more intricate than they think. It is no longer about tarring more roads and building more schools. The problems are so complicated that the people know that only the right candidate with very cool head, who is prepared and dedicated to serve, can solve the problems,” he said.
The chieftain warned the party against rooting for the big-man politician with bags of money and a retinue of military and police escorts, and who can donate 1,000 vehicles, saying Imo people are smarter than that.
There have been reports that some aspirants have been throwing money about and donating vehicles to the party for the campaign in order to water the ground for their emergence as the preferred candidates to clinch the APGA ticket.
“Imo people don’t want the big-man politician because they know the big-man politician cannot solve the problems. They are not looking for the typical politician anymore because those people have failed them over and over in the past 20 years. They are now looking for someone fresh, someone really new, but with the idea to turn the state around. They look at APGA and its aspirants and they see a few people among them that can design solutions and set Imo aright. I think that presents a big opportunity for APGA,” he said.
While not discountenancing the fact that the party needs money to prosecute elections, he frowned at a situation where the party leadership sees aspirants as meal tickets and milks them so much so that they dissipate energy vying for the primaries and end up broke and unable to prosecute the main election.
Why APGA must not miss Imo
The APGA chieftain called on the national leadership of the party, headed by Victor Ike Oye, to take the Imo election very seriously, warning that the party faces imminent death if it fails to win Imo next year.
“Looking at APGA, the only governor, Willie Obiano of Anambra State, is in his last term in office. He’ll be out by 2022 and there is no guarantee that APGA will win the next governorship election in Anambra. Imo is a chance for APGA to stay in control of a state and from that state it can expand into other states in the South-East and South-South and even the South-West and the North. This is a chance that APGA cannot afford to miss,” he said.