By Kelechi Mejuobi
At the moment, a new wave of animosity is ravaging the relationship between two top political figures in Imo State; Hope Uzodinmma and Rochas Okorocha.
Ironically, both are notable figures with common characteristics in the field of politics. They are from Imo West senatorial zone of the state known as Orlu zone. While Uzodinmma was a two-time senator before becoming the incumbent governor, Okorocha who left the governorship position on May 29, 2019, after two tenures, succeeded Uzodinma in the Senate. Incidentally, they are of the All Progressive Congress, APC, extraction.
The bone of contention at the moment is Uzodinmma’s intention to recover state government property alleged to have been converted to personal items by Okorocha and family during his time as the number one citizen of the state.
At the moment, a High Court has given an order that will make Okorocha and family members lose to the state property worth billions of naira.
A retiring judge of the Imo State High Court sitting in Owerri , Justice Fred Njemanze dealt a devastating blow to the Okorocha family when it ordered the permanent and absolute forfeiture of the multi-million Royal Spring Palm Apartments to the Imo State Government including all other property contained in pages 226 to 272 of the Imo State Government White Paper (Gazzette) on Land Use and other Related Matters.
Even as information obtained yesterday has it that the Appeal Court declined to agree on Stay of Execution the Orlu zone Senator’s family rushed to court to apply for, counsel to Okorocha has indicated that the High Court Order on the Property forfeiture won’t stand, triggering another head on collision.
According to Okorocha’s counsel, Oba Maduabuchi (SAN) who told newsmen that the court forfeiture order was nothing but perfidy and complete shame, the matter shall be taken to logical end.
The battle to recover government property allegedly converted to personal use by Okorocha commenced moments he left office as his immediate successor, Ihedioha came into power.
Without mincing words, Ihedioha who anchored his administration on Rebuild Imo mantra, in line with his campaign promises to recover lost property belonging to the state moved against Uzodinma immediately. Several panels and commissions were set up to look into various activities of his predecessor, especially where it relates to land matters. The exit of the former Reps Deputy Speaker from Government House, Owerri, by the Supreme Court verdict didn’t stop the bid to recover the property as Uzodinma who benefitted from the apex Court judgment, in the spirit of continuity, retained the panels and allowed them to continue and finish their probes.
Some of the panels have turned in their reports as White Paper which the Uzodinma government gazzetted thereby making it a working document.
It has been observed that the state government is in tango with Okorocha and family over some of the items in question alleged to be part of the state government property.
While implementing the White Paper report of the panel, the state government seized the Multi Million naira Royal Spring Hotels, the Eastern Palm University, Ogboko, Ideato South government renamed Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe University, the Imo Broadcasting Corporation IBC Orji property converted to Rochas Foundation College and parts allocated to individuals.
Others seized and listed on pages 226 to 271 of the Imo State Government White paper on Land Recovery and properties belonging to Imo State include Owerri Magistrate Quarters, Orlu Road/Corporative Office/ Girls Guide allegedly converted to private use housing market square, Kilimanjaro Eatery.
Also listed for forfeiture are Public Building plot B/2 Otamiiri South Extension layout given to the Ministry of Women Affair for establishing a Skill acquisition centre for women allegedly acquired for the benefit of Nneoma Nkechi Okorocha’s All-In-One store on Aba road. Plot P5, Naze Residential layout, initially part of Primary School Management Board but now annexed to All-In-One store, Aba road, belonging to Nkechi Okorocha.
Okorocha had gone to court to stop the seizure of the named properties alongside over 120 court cases he instituted against Uzodinma administration, the governor claimed are meant to frustrate the implementation of the report.
According to judicial interpretations, the ruling by Justice Njemanze has vacated previous injunction Okorocha obtained which has now given the state government power to continue implementation of the White Paper report.
Adducing reasons for his decision on the matter, the judge while indicating that the state government White Paper gazette is a legal binding document, states that Okorocha failed to give concrete and verifiable reasons why the final and absolute forfeiture Order won’t be awarded against him.
It would be recalled that Justice Njemanze had on the 26th Feb 2021, given an Interim Order of forfeiture urging Okorocha to approach the court to show cause as to why a final and absolutely order of forfeiture should not be given over the properties when government first approached the court.
Monday’s court judgment has opened another vista of hostilities in the cold war between Uzodinma and Okorocha. It has never been a pleasant relationship for them since the former opted to join APC, which the latter claims to be a co-founder and stale leader in 2018.
Before the 2019 election, Uzodinma with his allies from PDP joined the APC following the Supreme Court victory of Markafi against Sheriff in the battle for PDP leadership, Okorocha and his group struggled to shrug off the incumbent from being accommodated in the broom party. It was common to observe allies of the former governor insist that Uzodinma came from the “back door” even as the former governor openly boasted that 2019 election would be retirement time for top politicians in Imo which he said the present governor was among.
Going memory lane, the 2019 APC Governorship primaries further broadened the enemity gap between the two. Attempts Okorocha made to have his son in-law pick the party’s ticket was vigorously resisted by Uzodinma, the eventual winner.
Instead of giving support to Uzodinma who had emerged as the governorship candidate of his party after the primaries he was the senatorial candidate for Orlu zone, it was not hidden that the camp of Okorocha in APC rooted for his favoured candidate, Uche Nwosu, who ran for governorship under AA party banner.
During the 2019 election, it was cross fire of verbal insults and exchange of invectives between Uzodinma’s camp and Okorocha’s loyalists. The skirmishes have continued till date despite both men sharing similar party affiliations.
What has however blossomed the war of attrition is the supremacy battle for the soul of Imo APC. While Uzodinma stands strongly behind the caretaker committee of the state chapter, under the leadership of Marcon Nlemigbo, Okorocha insists that the Dan Nwafor led Exco elected during his tenure but dissolved by the National Working Committee of Adams Oshiomole leadership of the party before the general election is the authentic state exco. This disagreement has seen Okorocha’s group being excluded from the scheme of things in Imo APC.
The no love-lost situation between the two has somehow beclouded reasons behind Uzodinma’s quest to recover government property in private hands. At major functions of government since he came on board, the incumbent has not failed to tell who cared to listen of intention to recover all property government lost to individuals in the past years.
Uzodinma has also insinuated that tackles against him coming from Okorocha’s corner may not be unconnected to his plans to recover Imo property and funds allegedly carted away by the past administration.
From observation, it is obvious that Uzodinma is not joking about the “Recovery of All Recoverable” agenda as government authorized bulldozers have already started demolishing illegal buildings built at hectares of land belonging to the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, FUTO, in Owerri-Portharcourt Road seized by some persons under guise. The new FUTO management had visited Uzodinma who promised to assist the school management recover their lands encroached by land grabbers of the past. Same promise was handed to Alvan Ikoku College Of Education, Owerri management who made a similar visit.
Already the Eastern Palm University, Okorocha claimed his Rochas Foundation owned has been recovered by Uzodinma and named KO Mbadiwe University, including the IBC Orji land. Eyes are indeed on Uzodinma to see how far he can go in the recovery of government property considering vicious challenges Okorocha is posing towards the recovery project.