Although political leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari and Southeast governors have openly intervened to help resolve the lingering feud between Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State and former Governor Rochas Okorocha, The Nation learnt during the week that there is grave concern in the state as the face-off has sharply divided Imo State’s political leaders.
This is even as Okorocha’s associates swore to contest this week’s ruling of a high court, sitting in Owerri and presided over by Justice F. Njemanze which granted an application filed by Louis Alozie (SAN), seeking interim forfeiture of all properties allegedly “illegally acquired by Okorocha while in office as the state’s governor.
In a motion ex-parte brought pursuant to Section 472(1) of the Imo State Administration of Criminal Justice Law No. 2 of 2020, Louis Alozie (SAN) applied for interim forfeiture of the following properties allegedly acquired by Okorocha illegally: Eastern Palm University, Ogboko; Royal Spring Palm Hotels and Apartments; IBC staff quarters illegally acquired for the purpose of Rochas Foundation College, Owerri; Magistrate Quarters, Orlu road/Cooperative Office/Girls Guide illegally converted to private use, housing Market Square, Kilimanjaro eatery; public building plot B/2 Otamiri South Extension Layout given to the Ministry of Women Affairs for establishing a skills acquisition centre for women illegally acquired for the benefit of Nneoma Nkechi Okorocha’s All-In Stall, Aba road.
Others include Plot P5 Naze Residential Layout, initially part of Primary School Management Board but now annexed to All-In Stores, Aba Road belonging to Mrs. Nkechi Okorocha and all the properties contained from pages 226 to 272 of the Government White Paper on the recommendation of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Land Administration in Imo State from June 2006 to May 2019.
The application was, among others, based on the ground: “These public properties were converted to personal use by the 1st-3rd respondents and their cronies for which the applicants now intend to recover them in line with the White Paper by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry’s report”.
Unease in the land
Explaining the fear caused by the face off, Chief Romanus Chukudi, a retired civil servant and community leader in Orlu said: “Here in Imo State, there is tension. Everybody is worried because the war between Governor Uzodimma and former Governor Rochas Okorocha has caused a frightening division between brothers and sisters even at the grassroots level. Wherever you go to Imo, agents of these two leaders will try to find out who you support. If you don’t know whose interest they represent before responding, you may put yourself at risk. The matter is even worse amongst our political leaders, especially within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) where leaders have lined up behind the two politicians, leaving a sharply divided ruling party. Don’t forget the former governor was the father of APC here for many years. That time, all the APC leaders in the state were loyal to him. Today, a new APC governor is at the Government House and is the one fighting to bring to book Okorocha, an APC serving senator.
Understandably, many loyalists of Okorocha have shifted their allegiances to the current governor, Uzodimma but given Okorocha’s weight; you will agree with me he still has die hard loyalists. This development is dicey and has assumed a threatening dimension following the deterioration of the feud between Okorocha and Uzodimma.”
The tensed atmosphere, we learnt, is further charged by the sustained hot exchanges of words between the two political leaders either directly or through their aides, which peaked last Sunday when Okorocha was arrested and detained by security operatives at the instance of Imo State Government over ownership and use of some assets, including an Estate allegedly belonging to Okorocha’s wife.
Recounting the incident shortly after his release, when his supporters paid him a solidarity visit at his Spibat residence in Owerri, Okorocha accused Uzodimma of mobilising thugs and policemen to attack him that Sunday even as he called on the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, to arrest Uzodimma’s Special Adviser on Special Duties, Chinasa Nwaneri, and Special Assistant on Youths, Eric Uwakwe, for allegedly “leading the thugs,” who, according to him, macheted his orderly, one of his brothers-in-law and a civilian aide.
He then warned Uzodimma not to take his peaceful disposition for cowardice. As he puts it: “I never expected that a governor of a state could deploy thugs. Hope Uzodimma is going the wrong way. He may not end well as a governor.
“I restrained myself from telling my orderly and security aides from releasing live bullets because there could have been deaths. I did this because of my peaceful disposition. But, Uzodimma should not take my peaceful disposition for cowardice.”
It would be recalled that on Friday, February 19, 2021, Imo State Government recovered the Royal Palm Estate along Akachi road, alleging that it was built with state resources.
The seizure, according to the government team, led by the Commissioner for Lands, Enyinnaya Onuegbu, was in compliance with the directive of the Imo State Gazette on the report of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry on the recovery of Lands and other related matters.
But Senator Okorocha, the member, representing Imo West Senatorial District in the National Assembly, allegedly led a team of his supporters to reopen the Royal Palm Estate sealed by the state government.
The police officials that arrested Okorocha, said the former governor was accompanied by his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, and other aides to the estate, where his men allegedly broke the keys used to seal the hotel.
Many observers, including close associates of the two leaders, have described the face-off as primarily political, notwithstanding that Okorocha and Uzodimma are both leaders of APC. Their misunderstanding became public knowledge soon after Okorocha left office as governor in 2019.
Senator Okorocha’s aide, Mr. Nzewuji, in his rationalisation of the face-off said last Sunday that the feud between the Senator and the governor is all about “political vendetta and witch hunt” by Governor Uzodimma.
“It is all about political vendetta and witch hunt, which is not far from the 2023 presidential election.
“Senator Okorocha is seen as the brightest star to come from this part of the country, and some people outside the region are using his brothers there to embarrass him,” Nzewuji was quoted as saying, even as he called on President Muhammadu Buhari and other political leaders in the country to intervene in the feud before it becomes out of control.
But the Chief Press Secretary/Media Adviser to the Governor of Imo State, Oguwike Nwachuku, in a statement during the week warned that “Okorocha should stop using Uzodimma’s name to seek attention.”
He said: “Former Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, has suddenly found a new pastime – use of the name of Governor Hope Uzodimma to seek attention.
No day passes without Senator Okorocha trying to use the name of Governor Uzodimma to either seek or divert attention of the public from activities linked to him, most of them reprehensible.
“Senator Okorocha’s recent ordeal, where he willfully broke the law by approaching the Royal Spring Estate belonging to his wife, to forcefully unseal it after the government had legally sealed the place, says it all about his mischievous intention to use Governor Uzodimma’s name to seek public notice.
Senator Okorocha does not do this alone, but with the People’s Democratic Party in Imo State, his newest political ally. But we are not surprised.
It is on record that Senator Okorocha recently said he is working in cohorts with the opposition to achieve his political ambition, and he has not hidden his romance with key PDP figures in Imo State to undermine the All Progressives Congress government of Governor Uzodimma.
“Those who have been reading the lips of Governor Uzodimma since he assumed office on January 15, 2020, know that he is not the type who patronizes agents of violence, regardless of the circumstances.
Unlike Senator Okorocha, Governor Uzodimma views the use of agents of violence to achieve whatever purpose as a sign of weakness.
That Governor Uzodimma enjoys the overwhelming support of Imo youths is because he cares more about their future through skill acquisition and education, as against warehousing them as cannon-fodder or dispensable lots for self-aggrandizement as the likes of Senator Okorocha are wont to do.
“Nothing can be as embarrassing and unfortunate as a former governor deliberately flouting the law and instead of facing the reality, he is busy stoking flame with inciting comments he knows are not true representation of what the APC government of Governor Uzodimma stands for.
Governor Uzodimma cherishes so much the lives and property of Imolites whose mandate he is holding and that explains his passion to ensure that security is given pride of place in Imo State.
No amount of blackmail by Senator Okorocha or collaboration with political opponents of the Imo State government will deter Governor Uzodimma from standing on the oath of office he took regarding the protection of lives and property of the citizenry.
Rather than go about seeking for unnecessary attention, hallucinating whether he has stopped being Governor of Imo State, and openly undermining the government of Governor Uzodimma, Senator Okorocha should eat the humble pie, face his case squarely with the police on Royal Spring Estate closure and where he thinks higher authorities can be of assistance, approach them with decorum and responsibly.
“If Senator Okorocha really thinks he still has some love to show to the people he governed like an Emperor for eight years, he must start by letting them know of his sincere resolve to collaborate genuinely as a Senator representing them with Governor Uzodimma for the good of Imo State,” Oguwike said.
Leaders, groups take sides
To worsen the worrisome situation in Imo, political leaders and other stakeholders, like political parties and groups, have taken sides, thus deepening the crisis.
The main opposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for example, has taken advantage of the development to take up the Hope Uzodimma-led APC government in Imo. The party condemned the clash between Okorocha’s supporters and Uzodinma’s supporters, warning them not to turn the state into ‘a theatre of war.’
Reacting to the last Sunday’s clash between the two leaders, PDP, through its Publicity Secretary, Ogubundu Nwadike, said: “The recent violence perpetrated by supporters of Senator Rochas Okorocha and Governor Hope Uzodinma 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 centre 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.”
A youth leader in Owerri, Dr. Ibe Udochuku, also told The Nation on Thursday that both Okorocha and Uzodimma’s supporters “have been campaigning discreetly against each other. There is serious confusion in Imo APC as the two leaders try to divide the people. Even Ohanaeze in the state is further divided today in Imo because of this same face-off. A faction is openly behind Okorocha, while the other is fully in support of the governor. It is an unfortunate situation because their campaign front men are even trying to divide youth groups. I am sure some youth groups have been empowered to help fight this ugly battle. Already, some youth associations have organised rallies and press conferences heating up the polity. Except something is done fast, the Uzodimma, Okorocha feud is poised to linger for a long time.”
However, during the week, a source close to one of the antagonists told The Nation that although many are still worried by the two leaders’ hard stance, the heightened tension that trailed Okorocha’s arrest during the Royal Spring Palm Hotel encounter, eased off a little, especially after the release of the former governor following the intervention of President Buhari and other top leaders both within and outside of the APC. He however said that was before this week’s high court ruling.
It would be recalled that the Chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Francis Nwaze, confirmed that Southeast governors were part of the powerful stakeholders that have so far intervened to resolve the crisis. He said “Southeast 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.”
Umahi also counseled Imo residents to conduct their businesses peacefully and in accordance with the law, warning however that “they should also shun provocative statements as we work towards restoring normalcy to the situation.”
Now that the high court has granted interim forfeiture of Okorocha’s properties, it seems the feud has entered a second stage.