Barring any last minute change, the Imo State governorship election is just less than 48 hours away, with candidates of various political parties vying for the state’s top job and making last-minute electioneering.
The electorate will on Saturday use their Permanent Voter Cards to decide if to return Governor Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress to the Government House for another four years or replace him.
While the Independent National Electoral Commission has published the final list of 17 governorship candidates participating in the elections, the most dominant contestants in the race, according to political watchers, apart from APC’s Uzodimma is Senator Athan Achonu of the Labour Party followed by Senator Samuel Anyanwu of the Peoples Democratic Party. The calculation is based on popularity, party spread, candidates’ capacity, acceptance by the citizenry, party structure, and state presence.
Other notable candidates in the Saturday’s election include Maj.-Gen. Lincoln Ogunewe of the Action Alliance, Dr Kemdi Opara of the Young Progressives Party and Chief Tony Ejiogu of the All Progressive Grand Alliance among others.
There are fears that the election in the state will witness violence given the incessant reports of attacks against opposing candidates and party members, not forgetting the brutalisation of the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress allegedly by men of the Nigerian Police Force during a protest in the state.
While the governor accused Ajaero of mixing unionism with politics, his brutalisation has painted a gloomy picture of what is to be expected on Saturday, as the NLC has threatened a massive strike and total shutdown of activities in the state in response to the attack on its president.
The NLC called for the redeployment of the state Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Barde, citing concerns of perceived support for the ruling APC government. In response, the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, on Tuesday, deployed a Deputy-Inspector General of Police, Frank Mba, as Barde’s replacement.
They also called for the arrest and prosecution of the Adviser on Special Duties to Imo State Governor, Mr. Nwaneri Chinasa, for his alleged role in the harassment and brutalisation of Ajaero in the state.
Demanding neutrality in the election, the PDP called on the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to emulate the IG and redeploy the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Sylvia Agu.
According to the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, the REC has been allegedly compromised by the ruling party. However, the call has yet to be heeded by the commission as of the time this report was filed.
Recall that a mild drama ensued on Tuesday at a stakeholders’ meeting organised by INEC in Imo when PDP’ Anyanwu and LP’s Achonu walked out of the meeting to press home their demand for the redeployment of the state REC.
To curb any potential violence in the state and allow the election to run smoothly, the IG ordered the deployment of heavy security and anti-riot equipment such as water cannons, Armoured Personnel Carriers, helmets, bulletproof vests, and tear gas canisters, while also restricting vehicular movement in the state from 12:01am to 6pm on Saturday.
The National Peace Accord that was held in Owerri, to get commitment to peace from the candidates didn’t quite turn out as planned, as Mr Uzodimma and Mr Achonu, didn’t attend the event. Anyanwu of the PDP was said to have attended, but left the premises after noticing the absence of his major opponents in the race.
The three leading candidates were represented at the event by their running mates. But the organisers of the event didn’t allow them to sign the Peace Accord, insisting that the documents would not be signed in proxy.
All Progressives Congress
The APC is the ruling party in the state and its candidate, Governor Uzodimma is seeking a second tenure in office. The governor is a strong force to contend with in the election. He’s currently the chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum and expected to use his goodwill as the sitting governor to win a re-election bid.
He’s the only candidate from the Imo West senatorial zone with the highest number of local government areas in the state. He has secured the endorsements of various traditional rulers in the state ahead of the poll.
He was also endorsed by major stakeholders in the state to complete his second tenure and abide by the Imo State charter of equity by midwifing the turn of an Owerri native after his second tenure.
His biggest criticism comes from the security sector which has been largely abysmal in his four years in office. Insecurity has been rife in the state with various armed groups displacing citizens from their homes in several parts of the state.
There are also reports of several cases of extrajudicial killing of youth in the state by security forces. This has led to desertion of certain rural areas in the state under his watch.
The activities of suspected gunmen have increased over the years despite the formation of security outfits such as Ebubeagu outfit and the efforts of security agencies. The insecurity in the state has served as a major talking point for his opponents in their electioneering.
Peoples Democratic Party
The PDP governorship candidate, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, who was the party’s National Secretary, is an experienced politician who has served as a local government chairman, house of assembly member, senator, and party official.
His biggest strength going into the election is his political party. The PDP has a strong base in the state, having produced ex-governor Emeka Ihedioha before the Supreme Court in 2020 nullified his election.
Senator Anyanwu will have to bank on the existing structures of the party in the state. However, the biggest obstacle facing his candidacy, heading into the polls, is the internal squabble rocking the PDP at both the state and national levels.
Senator Anyanwu was said to have been behind the exit of some of the party heavyweights. Mr Ihedioha’s exit from the party in Imo State led to the defection of seven members of the party’s working committee in the state, who subsequently defected to the APC and pledged loyalty to Uzodimma.
The internal squabble and the absence of a clear leader in the Imo State PDP might hamper the chances of Senator Anyanwu in the poll.
Athan Achonu, a former senator representing Imo North, has been touted by political analysts as Uzodimma’s main challenger in the election, as it is believed that the LP candidate’s popularity has caused sleepless nights for the governor.
Aided by the popularity of the presidential candidate of the LP in the 2023 general elections, Mr Peter Obi, Achonu has suffered witnessed pre-election violence in the state, with the latest being on Sunday, when he accused men of the Nigeria Police Force and some political thugs of preventing him from attending a church service on invitation in Owerri.
According to Mr Achonu, the police told him they wouldn’t allow him access to the church premises because the governor was also inside. He also claimed he was shot at. It remains to be seen what his fate will be in the poll.
Despite calls for her sacking from office, the INEC REC, Prof Sylvia Agu last Wednesday assured that the exercise would hold in all the 38 polling units, despite the rising insecurity in the state, even in troubled Local Government Areas such as Orsu, Orlu, Okigwe, and Oguta. She noted that security agents had assured the commission before, during and after the election.
Stating that 2,318,919 people had collected their PVCs and 101,003 people have yet to do so, the REC disclosed that election wouldn’t be held in 38 polling units in the state because there was zero voter registration in those polling units.