By Collins Ughalaa KSC
The period between 2016 and 2018 was a special period in the history of Imo State. It was a period that saw efforts by the sitting Governor to entrench the culture of “familiocracy” in government by pushing for his son in-law to succeed him. To achieve this succession plan, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who was Governor at the time, opened up many war fronts. He was ready to take on anyone at any time. He began the politics of retiring his fellow politicians in the state. By claiming to have retired his fellow politicians, Okorocha meant that he had forced them into political oblivion where they would no longer be relevant in the politics of the state or nation, and where they would not be able to win elections anymore, either for themselves or for their anointed candidates.
Thus in April 2018 Okorocha made a list of top politicians he had already retired, including former Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, and former governors Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim, and top Nigerian leaders and consummate philanthropists, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and Senator Arthur Nzeribe. Okorocha said the retirement was necessary to pave the way for his son in-law, Uche Nwosu, to emerge as the Governor of Imo State in 2019. Okorocha, made the claim when he hosted more than 3,000 people from Ideato North Local Government, including their chiefs and leaders, who were on a solidarity visit, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, at the Government House, Owerri. Having purportedly retired the top Imo leaders, Okorocha assured his guests that his son in-law, Uche Nwosu, would win the 2019 governorship election.
On Monday, December 7, 2020, the issue of political retirement came up for the umpteenth time. This time around it came rather as a confirmation of the political retirement declaration of 2018 and from a different quarter. “Truth is that Araraume has been retired from politics by his people of Okigwe and there is no need of blaming Governor Uzodimma for it”, said the State Government in a statement by Mr. Oguwike Nwachuku, the Chief Press Secretary and Media Adviser to Governor Hope Uzodimma, in response to Araraume’s scathing comments on the Governor as the aftermath of the Imo North senatorial bye-election that held on Saturday, December 5. The Government warned that Araraume should not link Uzodimma to his political oblivion.
The Government also accused Araraume of fanning the embers of discord in the party, saying: “While Governor Uzodimma makes concerted efforts to unite the APC, the likes of Araraume continue to fan the embers of disunity, all in an attempt to get at him. But they will continue to fail”. The Government advised Araraume to “Rather than waste his precious time fighting and distracting Governor Uzodimma, Araraume should go into introspection to find out why the Okigwe people have decided to pitch their tent with a younger Ibezim, going forward”.
Fazed with the outcome of the Imo North senatorial bye-election in which he was not declared winner, Araraume granted an interview with the Africa Independent Television (AIT) on Sunday, December 6, accusing Governor Hope Uzodimma of sabotaging the chances of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Southeast by furtively working for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), especially for the Imo North bye-election. He said the Governor had instructed members of the APC to work for the PDP during the said bye-election. INEC had declared the APC winner of the bye-election but could not issue the certificate of return to either Araraume or Chief Frank Ibezim, who on Friday, December 4 got a favourable judgement from the Court Appeal restoring him as the candidate of the APC in the election.
“Governor Uzodimma did everything to sabotage APC during the senatorial bye-election, but for my political sagacity, APC would have lost the election”, Araraume said. The former lawmaker also scathed the Governor for making alleged mockery of the November 6 judgement of the Federal High Court, adding that it was unfortunate that a man who benefited from the judgement of the Supreme Court belittled an order of a court of competent jurisdiction. Araraume called on the national leadership of the party to call Uzodimma to order. He also accused the Governor of disrespecting other leaders in the state and not developing the state.
Araraume has the penchant for talking down on his political foes and making sundry accusations against them. In 2018, while his battle with Okorocha over the governorship ticket of the APC thickened, and while Okorocha declared he had retired him from politics, Araraume accused Okorocha of destroying Imo State, adding that Okorocha’s utterances against him merely reinforced the morbid fear he harboured. He also said that Okorocha had contested 15 elections and failed.
Araraume has enjoyed an impressive political trajectory. He joined active politics in the late ‘80s and has since enjoyed the membership of the major political parties in the country, such as the NRC, ANPP, PDP, ACN, APC and APGA. He was the State Treasurer for the Liberal Convention in the old Imo State (1988 -1989). He also became a member of the National Finance Committee of the obsolete National Republican Convention (NRC), served as the Chairman of the NRC Presidential Primaries for Kwara and Delta states and as the pioneer State Chairman of the defunct All People’s Party (APP), which later changed name to the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). The ANPP became one of the parties that merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) on February 6, 2013.
He was elected Senator for Imo North in 1999 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and was re-elected in April 2003. He occupied different positions in the Senate, including serving as 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.
However, Araraume’s political trajectory has suffered severe losses since he began to engage in public political brouhaha with the powers that be, his party and colleagues. This may account for why he has shockingly been on a losing streak since 2007. In 2007, he had the opportunity of returning to the Senate for the third time. But sources said he closed that door because of a certain issue he had with then President Olusegun Obasanjo. His loyalists claim that he refused to support Obasanjo’s third term bid and instead mobilized his colleagues in the Senate to kill the dream. He rather preferred to run for the governorship election of Imo State. Despite the huge fight he put up to grab the governorship ticket of the PDP in 2007, he lost the ticket to Engr. Charles Ugwu. Not happy with the development, he headed to court and secured a victory at the Supreme Court, forcing the PDP to expel him. Araraume did not give up. He headed back to the court, quashed his expulsion and stood for the governorship election as candidate of the PDP. The PDP did not waver, leading to his losing the election to Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, who had left the PDP in the heat of the controversies in the party and picked the ticket of the newly formed Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA).
Since failing to win the 2007 governorship election in Imo State, Araraume has been on a losing streak. In 2011 he lost the governorship election to Owelle Rochas Okorocha, under the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Upon his return to the PDP, he failed to pick the party’s governorship ticket in December 2014, losing to the immediate past Governor of the State, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. In 2019, he joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) after failing to pick the governorship ticket of the APC, as Okorocha had reserved same for his son in-law. He succeeded in picking the governorship ticket of APGA in very controversial circumstances which led to the splitting of the party into different groups, but failed to win the governorship election. He returned to the APC after the governorship election in 2019 and in no time vied for the APC ticket for the Imo North senatorial bye-election. He lost the ticket to Frank Ibezim and predictably went to court, where he got a judgement of the high court which had conferred the party’s candidacy on him. He went on campaigning, but on Friday, December 4, the Court of Appeal upturned the judgement and reinstated Frank Ibezim.
One can, therefore, understand why Araraume is furious with the unfavourable outcome of the Imo North senatorial bye-election and why he is pouring venom on the Governor. But Governor Uzodimma had suggested before the party’s primary election the need to have a consensus candidate and avoid people wasting their hard earned money pursuing the party’s ticket. The move did not yield the desired result as the aspirants preferred to test their acceptance in the primary election.
Many people had said that Araraume was condescending when he declared to vie for the APC ticket for the Imo North bye-election. However, one of the sad commentaries Araraume has in his political life is that he brings crisis to whatever party he joins. Litigation has also been a notable characteristic of his political life. But having serially lost elections since 2007, and the Senate seemingly out of his reach, one wonders what Araraume could do next, whether he will vie for another political office, or whether he has been retired.