By Emmanuel Aziken
The Imo North Senate Seat on Wednesday became the only vacant seat in the Senate after all other seats were filled by winners of the December 5 bye- elections across selected senatorial constituencies.
The prospect of the seat being filled anytime soon are now looking improbable as the contest for the seat turns into an ego and political war between two of the most entrenched political forces in the state.
The All Progressives Congress, APC was remarkably declared the winner of the bye-election on December 5, 2020. However, the returning officer, Mr Hakeem Adikum, said that the APC polled a total of 36, 811 votes, while PDP came second with 31,903 votes.
He, however, failed to declare a winner upon subsisting judicial interventions on the authenticity of the APC candidate for the election.
The Imo North seat became vacant upon the surprising death of the incumbent, Senator Ben Uwajumogu in December 2019.
Choosing the APC candidate to fly the bye-election was a strong war between the camp of the governor and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume who had occupied the seat for two terms between 1999 and 2007.
Since 2007, Ararume had through various political platforms sought to be governor of the state. His closest encounter was in 2007 but had the carpet removed from under his feet after President Olusegun Obasanjo declared that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, whose ticket Ararume had easily cornered, did not have a candidate.
The surrender was what allowed Ikedi Ohakim flying the flag of the Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA to surprisingly win the election.
Ararume’s latest effort to be governor was in 2019 on the ticket of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. His resort to APGA came after Hope Uzodinma beat him to the APC ticket it allegedly using his network around Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to emerge as the APC candidate.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC had declared Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP as winner of the governorship election followed by Uche Nwosu of Action Alliance. Ararume of APGA was declared third while Uzodinma of APC was fourth.
However, the Supreme Court in its judgment in January upturned the declaration and declared Uzodinma as the winner of the election.
Ararume was quick to embrace Uzodinma after the declaration. Also quick to embrace Uzodinma was the immediate past governor, Rochas Okorocha who before then was the common object of enmity for the Imo political class.
Uzodinma and Ararume had joined with other political actors to frustrate Okorocha’s bid to foist his son-in-law, Nwosu as his successor.
However, the Supreme Court judgment changed all permutations.
A month before the Supreme Court judgment, Uwajumogu who also had fought with Uzodinma and Ararume against Okorocha surprisingly died.
His Senate seat now became an object of political contest and survival among the living. Among the first to declare interest in the seat was the late senator’s suave and politically shrewd sister, Dr. Chidinma Uwajumogu.
However, her sentiments, appeals and strong campaigns and also her high connections in Abuja did not prevail.
Meanwhile, with Uzodinma’s emergence as governor, Ararume quickly returned to the APC and also declared his interest in the seat.
Another person who showed interest in the APC ticket was Chief Mark Uchendu who served as Secretary to the State Government in the Okorocha government.
Meanwhile, Uzodinma kept quiet. As the primaries neared, aides and associates contacted by Saturday Vanguard ruled out the governor’s support for either Ararume or Uchendu.
The governor apparently was also not being moved by the sentiments for Uwajumogu’s sister, Chindinma.
A very senior aide of the governor told Saturday Vanguard:
“There is no way that Hope can support Ararume or Uchendu as that will amount to political suicide. If it is Ararume, he will just go to the Senate and team up with Okorocha and the two of them will frustrate the governor in Owerri,” the high ranking official said.
Uchendu was also ruled out given his connection to Okorocha as the Uzodinma camp believed he would sustain the relationship with the former governor in the Senate to frustrate the government in Owerri.
Along the way, Frank Ibezim, a fraternal and long-time friend and associate of Emeka Nwajiuba came into play.
Uzodinma was also believed to have read the politics in the Presidential Villa. He was able to also read the strong relationship between Nwajiuba and the inner caucus around Buhari and moved in to perhaps entrench himself.
Uzodinma was also able to plug into the historic rivalry between Nwajiuba and Ararume within Imo North. Both men had over the years sponsored rival aspirants and candidates against one another.
Though Ibezim was easily seen as a crush over for Ararume, the strong support he received from Uzodinma and Nwajiuba turned him into a strong rival for Ararume.
After the party primary on September 3, 2020, the Chairman and Secretary of the seven-member panel Senator Surajudeen Bashiru and Samuel Ogbuku respectively and two other members, Senator Jibrin Gada and Bello Kumo declared Ibezim as the winner of the primary.
Three other members of the panel, Alhaji Umar Gana, Mohammed Saba and Godfrey Ejim also conducted a different primary where they declared Ararume as the winner.
Meanwhile, Uwajumogu on her part alleged that there was no primary as she accused the two men of playing games with the people using different factions of the panel.
Ararume subsequently obtained a judgment from the Owerri High Court to uphold him as the candidate. The judgment also compelled INEC to recognize him. That was the case until election eve. On December 4, the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division upended Ararume’s candidacy and declared Ibezim as the candidate of the APC.
Contacted on the development, an Ararume associate said he had nothing to say and that he would react later in the evening.
Hours after, the Federal High Court in Abuja dismissed Ibezim as the candidate of the APC on the claim of irregularities in his credentials.
The two decisions put INEC in a bind so that even after declaring APC as the winner, the electoral commission was unable to declare who won the election.
Meanwhile, the PDP has called on INEC to declare its candidate, Emmanuel Okewulonu who came a strong second as the winner of the seat.
Sources in the two camps in the APC say that whatever judgment that comes up is bound to be ambushed as the two camps are bound to take the case up to the Supreme Court for final decision.
Meanwhile, the seat would remain empty and the people of Imo North denied representation as the ego war between the politicians fester.