Okigwe bye-election: Can Araraume make it?

By Collins Ughalaa

Ceteris paribus, voters in Okigwe Zone in Imo State will on Saturday, December 5, file out to cast their votes for their choice of who would represent them at the Red Cambers. Major contenders in the election are former Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Chief Emmanuel Okewulonu of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Politics in Okigwe Zone is characteristically not a jamboree. It is a serious business and the players accord it the measure of seriousness it deserves. We have seen this seriousness in the build-up to the Imo North bye-election, and we ask, considering all the factors playing out in the election, can Araraume make it?

Born December 16, 1958 at Isiebu Community in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State, Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume started his formal education at Saint Christopher Primary School, Umuluwe, Ajirija in Isiala Mbano. He completed his secondary education at the prestigious Dick Tiger Memorial Secondary School, Amaigbo, having previously attended Sapele Technical College, now in Delta State. He obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia, USA. He also bagged a Master of Science Degree (M.SC) in International Relations from the University of Benin, Nigeria.

Araraume’s political odyssey is well documented. He joined active politics in the late ‘80s and later served as the State Treasurer for the Liberal Convention in the old Imo State, between 1988 and 1989. He later became a member of the National Finance Committee of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC), a political party created by former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangaida. He also served as the Chairman of the NRC Presidential Primaries for Kwara and Delta states. When Nigeria was gearing for a return to democracy, Araraume also served as the pioneer State Chairman of the defunct All People’s Party (APP) which later became the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), one of the parties that merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Araraume was elected Senator for the Imo North (Okigwe Zone) at the start of the Fourth Republic in 1999 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He was re-elected into the Red Chambers in April 2003 and served in different Senate Committees. He was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power and Steel; Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism; Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); Chairman Public Hearing Committee for South-West Zone on Amendments to the 1999 Constitution; member of the National Assembly Joint Constitution Review Committee (JCRC) and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts. He was also Chairman of the Southern Senators’ Forum.

Having served two terms in the Senate, Araraume in 2007 refused to seek a return ticket to the Senate, preferring to run for the governorship election of Imo State. In very controversial circumstances he did not pick his party’s governorship ticket owing to so many factors, including federal might. In his stead, the PDP chose a business mogul and industrialist, Engr. Charles Ugwu, who is now the Imo State Chairman of the PDP. Typically, Araraume did not swallow the decision of his party. He went to court and eventually secured a victory at the Supreme Court. In response, the party expelled him and decided not to field a candidate for the governorship election. Araraume went back to the court and in the end quashed his expulsion from the party and stood for the governorship election as the authentic candidate of the PDP. Though Dr. Ikedi Ohakim of the Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) won the governorship election, Araraume, by the doggedness he displayed going into the election etched himself strongly as a fighter. This fighter-figure has stuck with him.

Araraume is one politician who does not pander to political party encumbrances. He is known for having no known political ideology as he jumps from one political party to another with much ease and has enjoyed the membership of the major political parties in the country, such as the NRC, ANPP, PDP, ACN, APC and APGA. In most cases he has enjoyed the membership of the political parties for more than once. Having failed to win the governorship election under the PDP platform in 2007, Araraume left the party in the build-up to the 2011 governorship election to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) where he became the governorship candidate of the party. He did not win the election. He left the ACN and returned to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2014 and ran for the governorship primary election and lost to Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. After the governorship election in 2015, Ararume left the PDP and joined the APC, where he had planned to run for the governorship election in 2019 but was pushed out of the party by his buddy, Senator Rochas Okorocha, who was the Governor of the state at the time. Notably, the duo have made up. Araraume left the APC and joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) on September 5, 2018, where he defied all the odds against him and emerged the governorship candidate of the party, but lost the governorship election. He moved on and returned to the APC where he is now standing as the Senatorial candidate for the December 5 Okigwe bye-election, via the judgement of the Federal High Court in Owerri in suit no. FHC/101/2020.

Araraume has kicked off his campaigns for the bye-election. But the battle is no longer intra-party squabbles alone, but the contest for the actual votes of the people. Ararauame is squaring off with a younger person, Chief Emmanuel Okewulonu. A retired senior customs officer, Chief Okewulonu comes from the Okewulonu dynasty in Obowo Local Government Area. He is also reputed for his great philanthropy, spanning over two decades. A greenhorn, Chief Okewulonu appears to have the support of the grassroots. He is also relying heavily on the formidableness of his party, the PDP.

Apart from winning the senatorial election in 1999 and winning a second term in 2003, Araraume has not won any election, despite his heavy war chest, including his intimidating contacts. On three occasions he lost the governorship election, even when most people believed he would win, and on one occasion he lost the primary election. These unsuccessful political outings seem to cast some doubt on the minds of many of the voters and his supporters on whether he can cut the cake. On the other hand, unlike Chief Okewulonu, Araraume has created political foes in his political journey, especially in his Okigwe Zone. Also, unlike Okewulonu who enjoys the support of a united PDP, Araraume’s APC is polarized.

Many people in Okigwe Zone think that Araraume’s experience at the Red Chambers would be an advantage to him if he wins. They also believe he has the capacity to bring development to the area, outside his core role of lawmaking. Whatever it is, winning the election is the first hurdle. It has been suggested that going into the bye-election, Araraume should begin to mend fences. We support this call. It is in Araraume’s interest that the APC comes up strong and united. It is also in his interest that major political players in the Zone come together and give their support. We do not think that Araraume would underplay the Governor-factor. No matter how we look at it, mending fences with his political foes is a crucial point to gain. Continued bickering in the APC is an illwind that blows no one any good.

We think that if the right things are not done, and on time, conspiracy which is a major feature of politics may play out and deny Araraume this golden opportunity. It is not enough to wrestle the ticket from the court. This happened earlier in 2007 when he got the governorship ticket of the PDP through the Supreme Court, but the party pulled the rug from under his feet.

We think it is essential to win both the war and the peace.

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