Amby Uneze looks at the PDP rally in Owerri in honour of returnee members
There are three major events at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in recent years that has attracted overwhelming crowds. One was the declaration of former Governor Ikedi Ohakim for his second term bid in 2010, the second was the swearing in of incumbent Governor Rochas Okorocha as the governor of Imo State in 2011, and the third was the rally held penultimate Saturday to welcome back returning members of the Peoples Democratic Party. The rally was attended by President Goodluck Jonathan and the new national chairman of PDP, Alhaji Adamu Muazu.
The February 22 rally was the first time Jonathan would visit Imo State with such an impressive entourage, which included Vice President Namadi Sambo, Senate President David Mark, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Speaker of the House of representatives Emeka Ihedioha, members of the National Executive Committee of PDP, the partyâ€™s Board of Trustees members, PDP governors, federal executive council members, and members of the National Assembly.
It was a ceremony that brought a lot of life and celebration to Owerri, the capital city of Imo State that had been deserted by most PDP politicians since the party lost the state to All Progressives Grand Alliance in 2011. Those who had left in search of greener pastures returned in full force to welcome the returning members back to their fold.
Like Sokoto, Like Imo
However, the government of Chief Rochas Okorocha was not comfortable with the whole arrangement. It alleged that it was not officially informed of the visit of the president. The government said the PDP in the state had merely applied for the use of the Dan Anyiam Stadium for purposes that were not disclosed to the government.
It was a similar gap in the protocol of presidential visits that marred a recent visit by Jonathan to Sokoto State. Governor Aliyu Wamakko, a member of All Progressives Congress, was allegedly not informed of the presidentâ€™s visit, as PDP was said to have done their correspondences regarding the visit through the office of the deputy governor, who is a PDP member. Chief Mike Oghiadomheâ€™s sack as chief of staff to the president was believed to be in connection with this breach of protocol.
Like Wamakko, Okorocha is an APC member. A release signed by the special assistant to the governor on media, Sam Onwuemeodo, said, â€œThe attention of the Imo State government has been drawn to the scheduled visit of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to Imo State on Saturday 22nd February 2014. Part of the information is also that the president is coming to the state to receive two or three indigenes of the state that had left Peoples Democratic Party some years ago, back to the party.
â€œWhatever the reason for the presidentâ€™s scheduled visit to the state on Saturday is not the concern of the state government. Rather, the worry of the state government is that the president of the largest country in Africa and one of the largest in the world is visiting the state and nobody cared to officially inform the Executive Governor of the state, who is also by protocol, the chief security officer of the state.â€
Many frown on the growing tendency by PDP to disregard official rules of protocol for presidential visits to states governed by the opposition APC.
PDP is excited by the return of former governor of the state, Achike Udenwa, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), and others to the party. Chief Jerry Chukwueke, chairman of the partyâ€™s committee on contact and mobilisation that was inaugurated about nine months ago, said concerning the return of the politicians to PDP, â€œWe were not surprised at all because we had done this for nine months. The contact and mobilsation committee was set up nearly nine months ago. We became the engine house for preparing PDP for 2015. In fact, I had to make the necessary commitments; essentially left my business for nine months to really focus on it in Imo State, invested nearly N200 million in the project (personal funds) and ran the risk of the threats that we face every day, having to challenge the sitting governor on policies.
â€œWe took on mobilising and sensitising the PDP stalwarts in all the 27 local governments. In fact, in our first mobilisation rally, as the convoy took off we were booed and stuffs thrown at us, because all that was being said in Imo was that PDP was dead. And we cleaned it up from there and clearly as we went from local government to local government preaching the message of reconciliation, people began to appreciate us.
â€œWhat we saw on Saturday was clearly the success we dreamt of and the vision we threw out there and focus on achieving it. When you watch the grand success of the event on Saturday I feel inspired because our message was clear; we brought inspiration back to PDP. People responded because they were looking for a new and inspiring leadership that would come out in PDP in 2015.
â€œEverybody virtually is back to PDP because we worked hard to show that the brand is strong again and we are in position to win in 2015. Imo produced 1.3 million votes for President Jonathan in 2011; our target is two million votes in 2015. We will deliver strongly and regain the Government House in Owerri.â€
The president arrived at the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport that Saturday before flying by helicopter to pay a courtesy call on the chairman of the South-east Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, at his palace in Orlu. Jonathan then flew to the Dan Anyiam Stadium where the rally was held.
The rally, tagged â€œPDP Sensitisation Rally,â€ aimed at reclaiming Imo State from Okorocha and APC. The president advised all the defectors to come back to the party, as delay could cause them to lose their privileges within PDP.
He said, â€œIf you donâ€™t come back now, if you come back later then you queue behind. There is no discrimination,â€ in apparent reference to PDP members that had left the party for APC.
With the huge crowds he saw at the stadium, the president said he was confidence that the state had â€œbounced back to PDP. It has come back stronger than was the case in 1999.â€
He decried the lack of ideology among the countryâ€™s political parties, but called PDP â€œthe stabilising factor in Nigeria.â€
Speaking at the rally, the chairman of planning committee, Senator Hope Uzodimma, blamed internal crisis for PDPâ€™s lose at the 2011 governorship election in the state. He said, â€œPDP will form government again in Imo State and continue with governance at the centre.â€
Ihedioha declared, â€œToday marks the beginning of the journey towards regaining Imo State Government in 2015.â€
National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Olisa Metuh, itemised what the federal government under Jonathan had done for Imo State. According to him, they include the Owerri-Port Harcourt road, Owerri- Aba road, Owerri -Onitsha road, over 200 kilometres of roads, remodelling of Imo airport and the Federal Medical Centre as well as building a 700-room hostel at the federal university in Owerri.
Others who spoke at the rally included Akwa Ibom State Governor Godswill Akpabio, chairman of PDP Board of Trustees, ChiefTony Anenih, publisher of Champion Newspapers, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, and South-east chairman of PDP, Col. Austin Akubunde (rtd).
Okorocha, however, accused the president of spending state resources to hire crowds from across the South-east and South-south for the rally. He alleged that over N250 million was spent to â€œfly in Nigerians to Imo State only to buy a product of less than N1 million. I think they must have deceived the president. First, they did not want him to go by road to see an amazing development. They took off by helicopter because even the school where they landed â€“ the Owerri City School â€“ was built by me.â€
The governor described those that defected to PDP as â€œexpired drugs that have no political value.â€
Okorocha said, â€œAfter three years they have come again to solicit our support for 2015. So all that we are good for is to cast votes and not good enough to receive the dividends of democracy. Let me tell them that Imo people are not fools.â€
As the claims and counter-claims continue, Nigerians can only wait to see how the pendulum would swing in Imo State in 2015.