Ripples became the portion of Imo State political climate last Thursday when an Owerri based tabloid, Trumpeta came up with a banner headline suggesting that a maverick politician of Isiala Mbano extraction, Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume, was about calling it quits with the All Progressive Congress, APC and pitching tenth with the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA.
It didn’t take seconds after the newspaper hit the newsstands that it became a subject of concern to many watchers of the politics of the state. Apart from dominating the social media, it went viral in several posts.
The report was more of an earthquake in the political scene as discordant tunes trailed the purported move of the two time Senator who represented Okigwe Zone from the ruling APC to APGA. As at the time of this commentary, no official reaction refuting the publication has come from the camp of the Senator, thereby suggesting that the exclusive news item has an element of truth.
BACKGROUND IN POLITICS
Araraume doesn’t need elaborate introduction in the politics of the state except for neophytes who lack knowledge of his exploits in the past. Before his Senate experience in 1999-2003 and 2003 to 2007, Araraume had been an outstanding political playmaker during the SDP and NRC days as well as making visible impact in the Third Republic.
At the birth of the nascent democracy in Nigeria, he was the pioneer Secretary of the then APP before picking Senate ticket of the PDP to be part of the National Assembly. At the Senate, his political sagacity was capped with the position of Southern Senators Chairman. In 2007, the fair skinned politician caused a stir when against all odds, he scaled mountainous hurdles to pick the ticket of PDP to run for governor of Imo State.
In 2011, he also attempted to become the governor under the banner of the defunct ACN as the party’s flag bearer. It was not surprising that from a helpless background arising from the manner delegates of PDP emerged in 2015, Araraume was almost coasting home with the party’s ticket before hitches that stopped his victory erupted. The rest is history.
As 2019 beckons, the Senator is reported to be at the forefront of aspirants wishing to become Rochas Okorocha’s successor. It is not hidden that he is the tormentor in chief of the Coalition group of Imo APC, otherwise known as the Allied Forces; a group of Imo APC Stakeholders, strongly opposed to the desire of the state governor pocketing the soul of the party in the state and making real his desires of imposing his Chief of Staff, who is also the son in-law, Uche Nwosu, the next chief executive of Imo.
No defection has aroused tremendous reaction in recent times like that of Araraume’s planned move to APGA.
The strongman of Imo politics earns enormous respect because he parades a formidable political structure; the Destiny Organization, which has remained vibrant and unequalled in comity of political structures in terms of mobilization in the state. Apart from retaining old reliable, new giants in the field of politics have continued to join and romance the political structure even when the Senator has not earned an elective position for over ten years.
Uncertainty has become the watchword for now as people of the state await Araraume to make a pronouncement on the reported move to APGA. Since I am not his official spokesman to either confirm or dismiss the move, this commentary is not about the planned dumping of APC, rather it tends to delve into the consequences therein should the Federal Commissioner Representing South East in one of the Federal establishment changes party platform.
While a school of thought came up with the belief that Araraume will indulge in a hara-kiri and somehow can be branded a coward if he dumps APC for the sake of Okorocha , others are of the view that it would be the best option for him in view of the cloudy developments in the Imo State chapter of the party.
The first group notes that leaving APC where he has helped to build because Okorocha is gaining upper hand is suicidal. Suffice it to note that before Araraume joined APC early 2015, Okorocha was unarguably the Alpha and Omega in the party. Most of those who today form the integral part of the opposing Coalition; Eze Madumere, Jude Ejiogu, Best Uche Mbanaso, TOE Ekechi, Alan B Onyaemechi and Kingsley Ononuju were the governor’s strong allies who fought vigorously for his second term before things turned awry. Okorocha had unchallenged control of the structures from ward to LGA and state levels until Araraume stepped into redefine the system.
The Senator rejigged the party system by making the excos feel important in contrast to their earlier relegated status. Reports have it that he placed them on allowances, gave them recognition as head of the party organs against the alleged style of the governor who was accused to have preferred to operate with his appointed SDCs, GLOs, and CGC officials, including the Nneoma Women group of the wife, Nkechi Okorocha.
The relevance Araraume gave to APC LGA chairmen led to emergence of the powerful G16. G16, consisted of the party chairmen of the councils not under the control of Okorocha. Their resurrection from oblivion and independence is traceable to the ability of the Senator who gave them lifeline against the governor’s style of using his appointees in party and government affairs.
Also, the story of how the Coalition made a mincemeat of Okorocha during the May 2018 Congresses and their sustained ability to give the governor a run for his money in the battle for the control the soul of Imo APC cannot be chronicled without reserving a deserved space for Araraume. There is fear in the state that the quest of the Coalition to wrestle power from Okorocha in the struggle for the control of the party structure may not be realistic again if Araraume quits the party for APGA. He is seen as the backbone of the Allied Forces. The feeling is that the Senator possesses the needed talisman among the pack to cage the Governor.
Dependable sources within the Coalition group reveal that the Senator is not only behind the initial ground breaking inroads made in the war against Okorocha but also vital in the packaging of the court cases that keeping the Rescue Mission faction of the governor at bay as the decision for who is the authentic state Exco of Imo APC lies in the hands of the Judiciary. After the Federal High Court Owerri nullified the May Congresses, an Appeal Court in Port Hacourt, River State is hearing the Appeal filed by the Coalition while an Abuja High Court has ordered that the latter Exco of the party under Daniel Nwafor midwifed by the new National Chairman, Adams Oshiomole should not act in any form including organization of primaries in the state.
Majority of people in the state have expressed happiness following the report that Araraume is about to call it quits with APC and at the verge of joining APGA, if reactions available are to be counted. Those in favour are mostly Imolites who are fed up with administration of Okorocha and his APC government in the State. For the group, APC can’t fly in Imo irrespective of who gets the ticket because of the sad tales the present government have bequeathed the people. A news report in the Leadership newspaper, a national daily, best captures the mood of the people. According to a news item dated September 5, 2018 by Lisa Kpaghan in Abuja, captioned “Imo Stakeholders Urge Araraume To Quit APC”. The story reads; “A coalition of different groups – professionals, students, town unions, the clergy and others have called on a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Senator Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume, to immediately look for another platform to contest the forthcoming governorship election, saying he and his huge followers would not get justice in the on-going efforts to resolve the current crisis in Imo APC. The coalition, which met through representatives in the state capital, weekend said it was making the call because it no longer has confidence that the APC under the leadership of Adams Oshiomhole, was the credible platform through which the people of the state can bring about the type of governance they envisage come May 29 2019. In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, the participants noted that the people of the state had become “completely disenchanted” with the party as a result of the “repressive and unresponsive” style of the administration of the current Imo State governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha. The groups noted that the call on Senator Araraume to seek for another party was further informed by the fact that majority of the people of the state had long before now identified the former senator as possessing qualities that would enable him “recover and rebuild the state from the ruins it has been left in for close to eight years now”. The spokesman of the coalition, Apostle Jonas Ihejirika, noted that they were worried that even if the senator secured the ticket of the APC to run for the election, he will be most unlikely to secure the mandate of the people because the party had been “completely demarketed” in the state by the state governor. He listed some of the grievances of the people against the Okorocha Administration to include brazen impunity which manifests mostly in the governor’s “utter disdain for the rule of law, high handedness/insensitivity to the yearnings of the people, deceit and crass lack of transparency”. Apostle Ihejirika further explained that even though at some point the people of the state were gearing towards returning the APC to power in 2019, owing to the fact that that some stakeholders were making some efforts to rebrand it, he said “recent developments within the party have thwarted such efforts such that the people are now looking elsewhere”. Before now, several leaders of the APC in the Southeast geo-political zone have criticized Governor Okorocha for his style of administration, which they said had jeopardized its chances of even retaining Imo, the only state it has in the zone, let alone winning in the 2019 general elections. Specifically, Mr Osita Okechukwu, director-general of the Voice of Nigeria, has had hot exchanges with Okorocha over the former’s insistence that the governor had almost destroyed the chances of the party to get enough votes for President Muhammadu Buhari, who has indicated interest to seek re-election next year. There had been speculations that Senator Araraume had concluded plans to defect to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), but highly reliable sources revealed that although the former two-time senator had been under pressure to leave the APC, he was yet to make up his mind on which party to pitch tent with”.
Others who also insist it will be a good move are of the opinion that given the popularity and infectious love Araraume commands in the state, any party he identifies with can always earn him victory in 2019. His pet political outfit, the Destiny Organization has enormous followership. Considering the rich pedigree of the Senator in the field, he is been tipped as one of those who have the capacity to stop Okorocha making his son in-law, successor in office. Many Imolites not disposed to have another experience of the Okorocha hegemony in Imo are not unmindful of the party platform the needed rescuer would be but are only interested in the personality and pedigree to match out going State governor. In various public speeches about his would be successor, Okorocha while arguing why it should be his son in-law, Nwosu, always posited that it won’t be Araraume indicating that he may be suffering from Araraume phobia. The Araraume phobia has also caught up with the governor’s cronies in his Rescue Mission formation where it has become fashionable for them to always keep the name of the Senator in their lips each time they chose to name a potential challenger.
It appears that of all aspirants seeking to become the governor of the state in 2019, the state governor and his followers are worried about Araraume’s ambition. These factors may have prompted majority of Imolites looking towards Araraume as the next saviour to liberate the state, express willingness to join him in any party of his choice for the governorship race.
Similarly, the intra party schisms rocking Imo APC culminating in threatening court cases calpable of denying the party candidates in 2019 informs the reasons why the rumoured move to APGA is gladdening the heart of people. There is widespread belief that APC may not present candidates in next year’s general election because of two court cases the end results can’t be predicted for now, until the final ruling of the judges presiding the cases. The general feeling is that instead of being caught off guard and rendered impotent in the battle to stop Okorocha if the outcome is not in favour of the Coalition, his Option B as a tactician should be dumping APC for another promising party with grassroot touch like APGA. Recall that in 2011 when the incumbent made efforts to become the number one citizen of Imo, it was APGA that provided the leeway.
CAPACITY TO SURVIVE IN ANY PARTY
The antecedents of Araraume shows that he is a political bulldozer to permeate any party and make appreciable impact. His strength showed in 2007 when he outwitted the then incumbent governor, Achike Udenwa to grab the PDP Guber ticket and part of the party structure. It was expected that Udenwa would produce a successor among the array of aspirants gunning for the position. Udenwa had served two terms but wasn’t disposed to having Araraume as successor. But the Senator showcased political adroitness to make vital in roads into the administration of Udenwa by pocketing his dependable allies. It would be rememebered that a political lord in the camp of the former governor and the then Secretary to the State Government, late Ignatius Ummuna was picked from Udenwa’s Redemption Camp political group into Destiny Organization family. The support base of the Senator grew considerably leading to the creation of “Onongono” and Abuja factions of PDP of the 2007 era. The Senator went further to pick the governorship ticket against the desire of Udenwa and cohorts in the “Onongono” group. It was the coming of then President, Olusegun Obasanjo and party national chairman, Ahmadu Ali that bought bad luck to his desire after attempt to snatch away the ticket from him was retrieved by the Supreme Court which pronounced Araraume the authentic winner of PDP primaries of 2007.
The 2015 primaries of PDP again showed Araraume’s dexterity in handling electoral successes. In the run up to the primaries, the Senator who returned to PDP had battled against the Delegate List. It was a known fact that before the exercise, the Senator who couldn’t boast of any control of the delegates surprised everyone to come close to snatching the ticket.
Reports of how Okorocha came knocking the doors of his private guest house at MCC Road and campaign office on Onitsha Road to seek his assistance in gaining second term victory are well known. Araraume’s efforts that turned the tables for Okorocha during the re-run incensed the followers of the governor to give the Senator title of a “Game Changer ” The subsequent victories APC recorded in the rerun election for Okigwe Zone and Isiala Mbano State constituency two years ago are traceable to the Politician regarded as the “Lion of Isiebu”.
As events continue to unfold, the end of the party primaries and hostilities for 2019 election will justify if Araraume’s APGA move will be right or wrong.