The Presidential and National Assembly elections in Imo State may have come and gone but the controversy over the declaration of governor Rochas Okorocha as the winner of the Imo West senatorial election by the Returning Officer of the election, Mr Innocent Ibeabuchi still lingers.
Mr Ibeabuchi had told the world that he announced Governor Okorocha winner of the election under duress after the governor allegedly threatened to kill him if he failed to pronounce him winner within one hour. But anyone who monitored the election in Imo West would not be surprised with the disclosure by Ibeabuchi.
The area was militarized with the governor unleashing both the military and the police against his political opponents. His followers, particular those in the Action Alliance (AA) no longer hide it as they celebrate even prior to the governorship election how they are in control of both the military and the Police. They were optimistic of victory particularly with a Police Commissioner, openly supporting the governor and members of the AA.
An election that was supposed to be a walk over to the governor became a very tough feat. Tension started at the early hours of that Saturday of February 23, when suspected thugs started shooting in Ideato South, Governor Okorocha’s Local Government. The gun shots became fiercer when news filtered that the PDP senatorial candidate, Jones Onyerere and Senator Osita Izunaso were gaining upper hand in the senatorial election. With the protection of the military men with him and the police, the governor started moving round the zone so as to find a break through. Voters in the area raised the alarm to journalists that there were plans by the governor to rig the election with the military men attached to his convoy. There was a seeming resistance from voters in different polling units. AA candidates were said to be enjoying some support. Senator Hope Uzodinma and Governor Okorocha are both from Imo West. Uzodinma is from Oru East while Okorocha is from Ideato South. It was a pitiable situation seeing APC members being harassed by security agents. The election was a battle between the people of Orlu and Governor Okorocha. Vanguard learnt that the people were angry that the governor did not develop the area. As a result, they to speak through their votes. This was contrary to the expectations of the Governor. It was obviously under such situation that the governor according to Mr Ibeabuchi, stormed his office to compel him to announce result. Saturday Vanguard learnt that the Returning Officer refused to declare Okorocha winner particularly when the results of the exercise from Ohaji/Egbema/Oguta, Orlu and most Local Governments in the zone were yet to arrive. Ibeabuchi who narrated his ordeal to journalists, said the governor allegedly ordered him to declare him winner within one hour of he would be killed.
According to him, “I am the Returning Officer for the Imo West senatorial election. I have been battling for days now and I have been battling for the sake of the life of my children, so I called the results under duress. The governor came with his thugs; they broke my hand. Owelle was coming and going and gave me the order that I must call the result in the next one hour or else he would destroy my family and I. I called him and my wife has been crying that they were being threatened at home. Most of the results announced were fake, they did not emanate from the exercise but I had to announce them under duress so as to protect my life”. Governor Okorocha denied the allegation when newsmen contacted him. But women from Orlu zone stormed the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Owerri last Wednesday calling for the outright cancellation of the result. Both the APGA and PDP in the state have also condemned what they described as day light robbery and called on the INEC to cancel the election and conduct a fresh exercise.
The Chairman of Imo State Elders Forum, Dr E.J.K.Onyebuchi, who reacted to the development, described it as a shame. He said: “We thank God that Governor Okorocha has exposed himself. He said his son in-law must be governor by all means and that is why you are seeing this level of desperation. Ordinarily, as governor of the state, his senatorial election was supposed to be a walk over but you saw a situation whereby the people openly rejected him, his own people. He hijacked the soldiers and the police, of course the Police Commissioner is under his pocket. He used security agents to terrorize our people on the day of election. He knows that if not for that avalanche of security with him, people would have attacked him. We were not surprised because this is the same way and manner they planned for the governorship election. God forbid, he will rather kill all of us in Imo than allow such happen in the governorship election. Let me use this opportunity to appeal to the Inspector General of Police to give us another Commissioner of Police here. This one here dines and wines with Okorocha and they have perfected plans to use the police to rig the forthcoming governorship election. I am saying this so as to avoid bloodshed in Imo state because our people will resist any attempt to give Okorocha a third term through his in-law Uche Nwosu. From the results of the election, it was clear that nobody wanted to hear anything AA and that is why they resorted to using thuggery and threats to get result. Imo state is not Okorocha’s personal estate and Imo people, no matter how hard he tries will vote him out on the 9th of March. On that day, he will see that we all have elements of madness. Enough of Okorocha’s rubbish in Imo State”.
APC governorship candidate, Senator Uzodinma, who reacted when he visited Owerri Municipal for a rally, said, “it is a shame that a sitting governor will be running up and down just to win election in his own senatorial district. But some of us were calm and we watched him display his madness because he has the ticket of the APC which is our party. His threat against the Returning Officer is criminal and it is left for those involved to pursue justice. But I want to warn that on the day of the governorship election, I heard he told his AA people in their meeting that on that day he will be wearing AA uniform. That is nice because the election of the 9th will be APC VS other parties and if Okorocha tries what he did on February 23rd, it will be bad. I will not allow him to steal my vote because if I catch him I will treat him like a thief.