BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA
The November 11 governorship election in Imo State is 83 days away. The political arena has become feverish with campaigns by politicians and their followers. Accusations and counter-accusations, repulsive words and allegations against opponents have become prevalent.
Imo State is one of the three states billed to have an off-cycle gubernatorial election on November 11 this year with the incumbent governor seeking reelection.
Already, the incumbent governor and the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Hope Uzodimma, is working hard to assert his authority and the supremacy of his party in the state through re-election while bigwigs of other political parties, particularly the main opposition party, People’s Democratic Party, have intensified their efforts towards taking back power and returning to the Douglas House, even with their key members defecting to the APC.
A chieftain of the Labour Party, Ikenga Adibemma, while assessing the political climate in the state, claimed that the ongoing campaign activities are natural sign posts that the forthcoming governorship election in the state will be full of violence.
He said the only thing that could prevent violence is for the security agencies to take full charge to protect life and property of the people.
Adibemma stated, “The campaigns are full of violence. You can’t exempt any political party. They have made violence a priority in their campaigns. All we witness are attacks by party supporters against opponents, removal of opponent’s posters and intimidations of all sorts. The way campaigns are going, I am afraid of what will happen on the Election Day. We beg the security agencies to come to our rescue by taking full charge even from this campaign period.
Imo State has seen too much bloodbath. We don’t want more bloodshed at all.”
An Owerri-based journalist, Hardor Ekpe, told The Point in a telephone conversation that campaign has not fully taken off but the few that had taken place has been volatile in some Local Government Areas.
“Campaign has not yet kicked off fully but gradually gathering momentum. Well, it is more volatile in some LGAs in Orlu Zone. That of Owerri area is one of the few isolated cases like assassinations by targeting preys. But relatively, we are enjoying peace in Owerri Zone,” Ekpe said.
The quest for the soul of Imo State government house popularly referred to as Douglas House has moved from political contest to battle field.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had during the review of the general election declared the commitment to focus its attention on the off-cycle governorship election in Imo and other states.
The INEC Chairman said, “We are focusing, among other issues, on election technology, recruitment and training of ad hoc staff, the conduct of some of our regular and ad hoc officials, security issues, logistics in particular and our relationship with other service providers in general.”
Yakubu also appealed to party leaders for similar introspection on the conduct of their candidates and their supporters.
He warned against the use of thugs during elections to harass election officials, intimidate voters and disrupt processes, sometimes resulting in the destruction of election materials or even worse, adding that such must be addressed.
The electoral body acknowledged though, sadly, that there are already disturbing reports of clashes between opposing parties with claims and counter claims of innocence or culpability.
Yakubu in his reactions said, “These claims help no one. Call your supporters to order.”
The warning by INEC seems to have fallen on deaf ears in Imo State with the gory tales coming from the state.
“When you go down memory lane, you will agree with me that Imo State voters are unpredictable. They are not intimidated by any politician; they are not influenced by money. Most of the politicians who see themselves as juggernauts are alone when it comes to voting. We have severally witnessed party’s timbers and calibers lose their polling units”
Two weeks ago, unidentified gunmen razed down the house of the former member of the House of Representatives who represented the Orlu/ Orsu/ Oru East federal constituency of Imo State, Jerry Alagboso, at his hometown in the Orsu council area of the state.
The attack was said to have occurred in Orsu throwing the affected area into chaos.
One of the sources from the community, who did not want to mention his name narrated; “The windows and doors of the building were uprooted. They forced themselves into the building and looted the properties. They took away a lot of things.
“The tension in the community is high. Our people are running away and people are afraid. This is not good for our state.”
Confirming the incident, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Henry Okoye, said: “The Commissioner of Police condemned this dastardly act in totality and has ordered an intensive manhunt for the arsonist. More so, Optimal Security Operatives of the Joint task force have been deployed in Orsu to prevent similar occurrences.
“Certainly, we will apprehend the hoodlums that are involved and they will be made to face the full wrath of the law.”
Like the INEC observed, the political parties are entrenched in claims and counter claims of innocence or culpability while the political arena has gradually turned to a warfront.
The opposition parties are crying to high heavens, accusing the ruling party of using power of incumbency to restrain them and their candidates from access to public facilities. They claimed that supporters of the APC are preventing them from pasting the posters of the opposing candidates.
This act was one of the fears raised by the INEC boss during the review when he said, “I must also acknowledge the perennial complaints from some political parties that the power of incumbency is used in some states to restrain some parties and candidates from access to public facilities for media campaigns and outdoor advertising through exorbitant fees or outright denial.
“This often leads to the mutual destruction of advertising materials such as billboards, resulting in altercation and violence involving supporters of opposing political parties.”
True to the postulation of the commission, most of the pre-election violence happening in the state have been allegedly linked to the denial or outright destruction of opposing candidates’ posters and intimidations by the supporters of the incumbent party and the security agencies.
Confirming the allegations, a social critic and political analyst, Paschal Okorogbuo said “the level of intimidation at this stage is too much. The APC loyalists do not want any strong opposition. They attack anyone supporting other parties especially the Labour Party and the PDP. The government apparatuses will label you a criminal and send the security agencies after you. What is worrying most of us is that campaign has not fully kicked off and the level of violence is getting out of hand, what will happen during the full blast of campaign and even election day?”
However, the opinion of Chukwuebuka Ojimmadueme, a politics analyst differed as he claimed that the opposition parties are only crying wolf, accusing the APC of violence only to whip up sympathy.
He said, “All the parties encourage thuggery. They are all involved in violence, the difference is that the incumbent government is intimidating the opposition parties with the police and DSS but as for violence, it’s not a one party problem. I think the governorship candidates should be made to sign a peace agreement to give us assurance that the forthcoming election will be devoid of violence, otherwise, many people will not come out that day to cast their votes. So if INEC and the security agencies can up their games and take charge that day, the turnout will be massive.”
However, while the ruling APC has unleashed every machinery to ensure victory at the polls, the Labour Party, PDP, ADC, SDP, AA, APGA and various other political parties that are fielding candidates are not relenting in spite of the whirlwind of defection that bedeviled them few months to the election.
On this, Silver Emeka, a social critic nd politics analyst argued that the forthcoming gubernatorial election in the state will spring surprises.
In an interview with The Point, he said Imo State politics vis-a-viz voting pattern is unique. He said regardless of the violence and intimidations, none of the contestants including the sitting governor are confident about what the outcome will be.
“None of the candidates or party is sure of victory. Even Governor Uzodimma is struggling to impress the people to curry their votes that is why, if you check very well, you will notice that of late he has embarked on people oriented projects.
“He has appointed members of the state electoral commission to conduct LGA elections before the November 11 polls which he promised he would do six months in office.
“When you go down memory lane, you will agree with me that Imo State voters are unpredictable. They are not intimidated by any politician; they are not influenced by money. Most of the politicians who see themselves as juggernauts are alone when it comes to voting. We have severally witnessed party’s timbers and calibers lose their polling units.
“This is exactly what I am talking about. It can still happen in November. The era when ballot boxes were snatched is over, people are not deterred, and it will not be now that INEC has eliminated ballot box snatching that the people will be scared. The only reason why people are complaining of violence is because nobody has the monopoly and if not curbed it can transcend to serious political and security issues.”
In the last three years or more, the state has been at the mercies of unknown gun men and other security challenges that have claimed many innocent lives.
Some people have abandoned their communities and relocated from the state to save their lives.
Governor Uzodimma has continually blamed the insecurity on disgruntled politicians sponsoring the criminals to distract him from serving the people of Imo State and deliver the dividends of democracy but till date, his government has not been able to name a single disgruntled politician or his allies.
A US-based Imo State indigene, Chukwudi Amaechi, angered by the situation in the entire South East condemned the style of politics the present politicians are operating.
He said, “Before now, politics was never killed and buried in Ibo land, but what is happening now is outrageous. Life does not mean anything to the politicians and their cronies. The reason is because politics has become the quickest means of getting rich. There is no standard regulation. I have been reading how violence has already taken over Imo State even before the main campaign kicks off. Then when the campaign proper begins it’s going to be dreadful. The Federal Government should move the security agencies to the state without further delay and make sure the lives of the voters, the electoral officers that will conduct the election are protected. Anything short of this will be an international disgrace.”