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Imo State is distinctly divided into three zones, the Orlu zone, the Okigwe zone, and the Owerri zone. The Orlu zone which is located in Imo West is the most populous zone in Imo State, populous in landmass, in electorates, in natural and human resources, and in dynamic unity.
The Orlu Zone is also made up of 12 Local Government Areas, with approximately 130 Wards and numerous polling units. It has also the highest number of citizens occupying the central positions of leadership in the state including the apex governorship position and the zone has had a very great impact on the booming populations and most political stratifications of the Owerri Zone which is located in Imo East.
Though it can be rightly argued that the demographic demarcations of the three Senatorial Zones in the state were not equitably done, considering geographical affinity and cultural semblance, the deed has been done and irreversible perhaps. It is for this reason that Okigwe zone has only 6 LGAs and a lesser number of wards, while the Owerri zone has 9 LGAs and a high number of wards, while the Orlu zone tends to dominate in all which is why the zone has over time strategically monopolised the power rotation in the state by using the ‘carrot and stick approach’ whereby political bigwigs among them who will be known as the ‘Orlu cartel’ coerces and intimidates other zones into joining forces with them with threats of either boycotting the zoning formula and manipulating the state’s elections to their favour or making the elected Governor’s tenure very difficult for him.
Of a truth, Owerri zone has today the highest number of registered voters in the state, but if every Orlu zone’s citizens should be compelled to leave Owerri and return home to register for voting in their constituencies, Owerri zone will experience a drastic fall in its population. This is why this ‘Orlu cartel’ made up of bigwig politicians from Orlu zone who as inhabitants of Owerri land join the landowners to play their politics, and return home to play their unifying dynamic politics of the zone. This familiarity with the nitty-gritty of Owerri zone politics has made Orlu zonal politicians and elites to be versatile in the real stuff that the state needs, and these have made the zone since 1999 to be at the central and dominating part of the leadership of the State at all levels. But these are possible only with the friendly and hospitable environment of Owerri zone.
Orlu Zone has played crucial roles in the state leadership and politics, to the extent that it has virtually commandeered and dominated the state politics. As such, since the resumption of democracy in 1979 shortly after the creation of Imo State in 1976, the Okigwe Zone (Imo North) has produced Governors that ruled Imo State from October 1, 1979, to December 31, 1983 (4 years, and 3 months into the Second Tenure) under Dr. Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe of Avutu, Obowo LGA, and from May 29, 2007, to May 29, 2011 (4 years) under Chief Ikedi Godson Ohakim of Okohia, Isiala Mbano LGA, all making it 8 years and 3 months for Okigwe zone. It has also produced a Deputy Governor who stayed for 8 years (Chief Ebere Udeagu, 1999-2007).
On the other hand, Orlu zone (Imo West) has produced the renowned statesman Dr. Douglas Acholonu (1992-1993) as Deputy Governor of Imo State at the singular time Owerri Zone produced the State Governor. And thereafter, Orlu zone has produced Governors that ruled the State from May 29, 1999, to May 29, 2007 (8 years) under Chief Achike Udenwa (of Amaifeke, Orlu LGA), and from May 29, 2011 to May 29, 2019 (8 years) under Senator Owelle Rochas Anayo Ethelbert Okorocha (of Okpoko, Ideato South LGA) who currently holds a senatorial position and the current Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma who would rule from January 14, 2020 to January 14, 2024 (another 4 Years) which brings Orlu Zone’s dominance in Imo State politics to an eye-raising 20 years!
Owerri zone (Imo East) has, on the contrary, produced a Governor that ruled Imo State from January 2, 1992 to November 17, 1993 (22 months and 2 weeks) under Barr Evan Enwerem of Atta, Ikeduru LGA. Ever since then, Owerri zone has bred the best class of politicians in the State and in the Southeast region combined. But it has not been allowed in the equity charter of the State to rule Imo State.
Among other possible reasons that could be attributed to the success of Orlu zone in climbing and succeeding easily in the leadership ladder of the State, the populous nature, quality of elites, dynamic unity that ensures the achievement of one goal by the politicians and leaders of the Zone, the emergence of elitist socio-cultural groups and cartels such as OPOCA, Orluzurumee, Orlu Elders Council, and so on, unlike the calibres in other zones have distinguished themselves in excellent leadership of the zone. This has made the elitist groups made up of the Orlu Cartelks ‘the-powers-that-be’ in Imo politics and thus have compelled inevitable consultation of whoever wills to win in the State.
The above leadership data has also shown that since the return of contemporary democracy in Imo State in 1999, Orlu zone has dominated the 24 years of leadership with 20 years, which is 75% of the total stay on the seat. This domination indeed faults and utters the Orji Glass House’s charter of equity in the State which was agreed upon by the pioneer Statesmen in Imo State during that period, upon which premise Chief Achike Udenwa (the first Imo Governor from Orlu zone) emerged. Though the charter was not thwarted then as it faithfully transited to the next zone by the chart- Okigwe (with Chief Ikedi Ohakim), which lost it to an up-coming Orlu zone contestant- Owelle Rochas Okorocha in 2011. The entrance of Rochas in 2011 thwarted the equity charter, which was hoped to be corrected in 2015, but of no avail.
This equity charter is unconstitutional but a gentleman’s in-house agreement between the three senatorial zones of the State. Of a truth, Owerri zone should be accorded the backing to produce the incoming Governor of the State given the balkanisation of the equity charter and to correct it. The inability of Owerri Zone’s aspirants and candidates to clinch their parties tickets and win the gubernatorial elections in the State since 2003, remains a big issue that needs to be treated urgently by the Zone and indeed by all equity-loving Imolites.
On this backdrop, one is poised to ask: What impends Owerri zone’s aspirants from clinching the State leadership since 16 years past, which has witnessed constant massive outing of Owerri Zone politicians? Why has Orlu zone found it such a smooth sail to clinch the ticket of the apex parties and win the elections? Could it be alluded to the demographic composition of the Zone, which places it with extra advantage than others? Could it be that the politicians from Orlu zone are more unified and consistent in their political goals or that they are egoistic and thus exhibit insensitivity to the implications of thwarting the equity charter? Could it be that after being with Owerri zone as sojourning dwellers, the Orlu zone politicians return home to plot antidotes to their politics? Could it be that Owerri zone politicians lack dynamic unity and oneness of purpose and its pursuit, to the extent that Orlu zone takes advantages of the above to outwit them?
The doubts above are endless, and in all these, the Orlu zone has never gone unconstitutional in its dominating roles in Imo politics. Nonetheless, there are other remarkable features of Orlu zone in Imo politics such as: The strength, unity, and oneness of purpose of its politicians and elites. The ‘Orluzurume cartel’ has virtually replaced the almighty Owerri Federal Constituency Forum, and the Orlu Elders Council has also grown in strength to reinforce the position of the zone in Imo politics. These have strong impacts on the fewness of aspirants from Orlu zone politicians that rush to apex parties to easily grab the tickets, while the other zones that feature multiple aspirants end up in an intraparty fracas.
What happened in last year’s party primaries of the apex parties in the State tends to give proof to the last doubt. Owerri zone aspirants marshalled out in multiple numbers, perhaps lacked the dynamic unity and focus, and thus had candidates from Orlu and Okigwe zones who were fewer, grab their parties tickets- APC, APGA, AA, AP, and so on. The political tones of the forthcoming political dispensation have certainly brought this thought about the place of Orlu zone in the political dynamics of Imo State. How APC and APGA aspirants lost to those outside the Owerri zone is a big proof to this claim. The milliards of aspirants that came out all lost out to aspirants from Orlu and Okigwe zones, despite their early emergence as aspirants in the parties, and the holders of the parties’ tickets were but new entries to the parties and they were able to accomplish this feat with the help of these Orlu cartels who run the whole show.
The emergence of Senator Hope Uzodinma as the ticket bearer of the APC and the fight that later ended as duel between Gov Okorocha/Uche Nwosu of Orlu zone and Senator Hope Uzodinma of Orlu zone shows how Orlu zone holds the politics of the state. This shows the strength of Orlu zone and its place in the State’s politics which it has used to completely outsmart and dominate other zones. They have done this by careful strategisation, careful elimination of competition using bribes, blackmail, and promises and also by using outside help which can be from other politicians from other Southeastern states or those at the seat.
Of these political bigwigs in the Orlu zone, some of who have stood out due to their actions include:
Chief Achike Udenwa ruled from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007 under the PDP party mantle and he was the first Democratic Governor of the state after the military regime. Achike Udenwa’s tenure is known for setting up most elite socio-political groups in Orlu today. This was because of the strong-handedness and the dominance of Orlu zone political bigwigs in the Orji Glass House’s Equity Charter agreement which the fielding of Achike Udenwa as the first democratic Governor of the state with a lot of false promises of including other zones in his government. Achike Udenwa’s tenure saw him concentrating his effort only in Orlu, his home’s Senatorial zone, leaving other parts of the state blank thereby disregarding the gentleman’s agreement with other zones of the state and ushering in the Orlu cartel.
Owelle Rochas Okorocha:
He has dominated the political scenery in Imo state for nine years since his election as Governor in 2011. His rise to power and his dominance was all orchestrated by the Orlu cartel. Okorocha who held no significant political position was a complete newbie and a novice to political affairs. But his disposition and philanthropy coupled with his charisma amongst Imo state indigenes endeared him to the Orlu elites and garnered the support of others in the Orlu zone’s constituency. His well-planned ascension saw him pulling one of the most infamous tricks in the political history of Imo state and perhaps the whole of the Southeastern region which saw the Owerri zone being tricked out of their only chance at leadership.
With the help of the cartel, he had craftily wormed his way to a good relationship with the then ticket holder for APGA, Sir Martin Agbaoso who was also the chosen one in the upcoming gubernatorial elections given the fact that it was rightly the turn of the Owerri zone and Agbaoso was also a well-known politician in all the zones in Imo state. Rochas Okorocha managed to convince Agbaoso into selling him his gubernatorial ticket and in a deal that took many unawares, the Orlu zone had managed to kill two birds with one stone by dominating the State once more on the apex level and ridiculing the legitimacy of the Owerri zone. Okorocha also managed to push for the sack of his deputy who was coincidentally Sir Martin Agbaoso’s brother and a part of the infamous pact thus shredding all ties to the deal with Agbaoso. This strategy and the input of the Orlu cartel aided swift his cruise to a second tenure in a heavily rigged election thus denying the Owerri Zone once more.
Senator Hope Uzodinma:
The current governor of Imo state and a former Senator has also dominated the political stage in Imo state for some time. His rise to power was filled with corrupt political maneuvers and philanderings with other notorious politicians, but he had always had the backing of the Orlu cartel and some other loyal stooges from other zones. His falling out with the then governor of Imo state and some other Orlu zone elites saw him bag a painful fourth position in the 2019 state gubernatorial elections due to his lack of support.
A quick political realignment at the federal level and the reassurance of his loyalty to the Orlu cartel saw him being hoisted as the rightful governor of Imo State which led to the ousting of the incumbent Emeka Ihedioha of the Owerri zone and the ascension of Hope Uzodinma as the executive Governor of Imo state. This was also one of the numerous times where the Orlu zone had open outwitted the Owerri Zone using illicit political tricks and federal might.
Other senators and political elites from the Orlu zone like Honourable Ugonna Ozuruigbo Honourable Kingsley Uju and Honourable Edwin Iheanacho are all members of the Imo State House of Assembly who have managed to dominate the house due to backings from their zones. Other choice positions in the Imo State Government and the civil service are also been occupied by individuals who hail from the Orlu Zone regardless of political party thus giving other zones like the Owerri Zone a huge political handicap.
There is no gainsaying that the equity charter in the State has been destroyed. The trivialisation of the Imo charter of equity is an aberration of the gentleman’s justice and openness to accommodative power-shifts, which the early political fathers of the state inaugurated. It began with an Orlu zone man, was thwarted by Orlu zone, and this thwarting has been perpetuated and sustained by Orlu zone politicians and the Orlu cartel.
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