Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State and his predecessor, Senator Rochas Okorocha, have renewed their supremacy battle over Eastern Palm University. ANAYO EZUGWU x-rays the claims and counter-claims on who owns the university
There is no doubt that Senator Rochas Okorocha’s refusal to endorse Governor Hope Uzodinma as his successor at the Douglas House Owerri as Imo State government house is majorly responsible for the supremacy battle between the duo.
Uzodinma and Okorocha are presently enmeshed in verbal war over the owner of the Eastern Palm University, Ogboko in Ideato South Local Government Area of Imo State.
While the governor said the state government is determined to recover the university on the grounds that the former governor used state funds to build the institution and yet converted it for private use, Okorocha insists that the university was founded on Public Private Partnership (PPP) and therefore does not belong to the state government.
The Uzodinma-led administration has reiterated that Okorocha wanted to deny the people of the state ownership of the university after N20 billion of public funds had been invested in the institution by the state government.
Declan Emelumba, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, said the present government moved to recover the university from Okorocha when it became obvious that the former governor wanted to fraudulently appropriate the institution to himself.
Emelumba cited documents from the National Universities Commission (NUC) which authenticated the state ownership of the university.
“From the acquisition of the 101 hectares of land where the said university is located, it was made clear that it was for the permanent site of Imo State University.
The government subsequently paid N58 million as compensation to the owners of the land. The money was paid through Moneke and Legal Practitioners of No 5 Emeka Emebo close, Idado, Lekki Peninsula, Lagos.
The approval by NUC expressly stated that Eastern Palm University is the 42nd state university in Nigeria. Nowhere was it designated as a private university.”
The commissioner recalled that the former governor had in 2012 told Imo people that he was building a permanent site for Imo State University in Ogboko and that the land was being acquired to host the permanent site, only for him to turn around to try to convert it to his private university. He further disclosed that between 2013 and 2019, state government’s funds totaling N20 billion was expended in building the university.
According to him, “these were tax payers’ money and the records are there. How can anyone with conscience claim that the people funded a private university for him?” But Okorocha has dared Governor Uzodinma to go to court if he really believes that that the university belongs to the state.
He insisted that the university is a creation of the Sam Onwuemeodo, urged the general public to disregard the claim by the state government that it had recovered the university because it had no reason to take over the institution from him.
According to him, the government’s claim was only aimed at distracting the public from the total collapse of governance in the state.
His words: “The Eastern Palm University is a creation of the law. It has a law establishing it. It is a legal entity. So, it is not a kiosk or market store one could wake up one day to claim or announce to have recovered.
The Eastern Palm University was established by the Imo State of Nigeria, Law No. 3 of 2019. And part II, No.3 (3) stated that ‘the University shall be owned on a Public- Private Partnership (PPP) basis, by the Imo State Government and the Incorporated Trustees of Rochas Foundation, hereinafter referred to as the parties.’
The agreement and Memorandum of Understanding between the concerned parties are domiciled in the relevant bodies or Institutions.”
Okorocha added that it was absurd for the state government to announce to have recovered an institution established by law through a press conference held in one of the offices in government house as well as to claim to have based the action on a white paper seen by nobody.
He reminded the governor of his assurance to release the white paper on all the recommendations of the panels set up by his government or the government before him. His words: “Instead of living up to his vow or assurance to release the white paper, he decided to play politics of vendetta with the issue.
It is also important to state that the government came up with the worrisome claim of recovering the Eastern Palm University to distract attention from the ugly developments in the state, in the past two days, in which, not less than five Imo Indigenes had been killed.”
The move to recover the university started with a court case instituted by Orluzurumee Youth Assembly, a youth platform in Orlu Zone at the Imo State High Court.
The group prayed the court to declare Eastern Palm University, a property of Imo people. Christian Okolie, chairman of the group, said the university was built with state resources and all instruments of state power and should be a property of Imo people.
According to the group, the management, control and runningof the university should be vested, whole and entire, with the government of Imo State on behalf of the people of Imo State.
“We seek, more fundamentally, an order of the court nullifying the fraudulent Section 3 (3), (4) and (5) of the Imo State Law No. 3 of 2019, which are unconstitutional, immoral and wrongful, to the extent that they confer benefits and privileges on Rochas Okorocha as a person, his Rochas Foundation, his cronies and his proxies in the ownership of Eastern Palm University,” the prayed the court.
This is not the first Uzodinma and Okorocha would be fighting over some institutions in the state. It would be recalled that the duo were at each other throat last year over the true founder of the University of Agriculture and Environmental Science, Umuagwo in Ohaji/Egbema council area of Imo State.
The governor had insisted that the university was founded by him, but his predecessor, in a counter claim, boasted that the tertiary institution is his brainchild. Okorocha claimed that he did not only get the approval and the licence for the take-off of the University, but also appointed the Vice-Chancellor for the University,
in the person of Prof. Peter Akanwa. He added that he equally constituted the Governing Council for the University, with Rev. Fr. Wence Madu as chairman and seven other members, including Eze Thomas Obiefule in April 2019. Aside the University of Agricul
ture and Environmental Sciences, Okorocha said that on May 7, 2019, he also got the licenses and approval for the takeoff of three other universities, namely, University of Creative Technology, Omuma, Isiaku in Nkwerre LGA, University of Medical Sciences, Ogboko in Ideato South LGA and University of Sciences and Technology, Umuna. But Uzodimma described his claim as a blatant lie.
He said if it were true that Okorocha founded the university, the feat would have received a wider publicity. “That is a blatant lie, and of course you know that Rochas Okorocha that everybody knows is not somebody that will found an institution of that caliber without making a noise about it if he had a hand in it, everybody knows that.
“I think he should allow the governor to do the work he has come for, he has enough problems to grapple with, for instance, the Eastern Palm University that the circumstance under which it was founded is a source of worry to everybody, including those living there. He should solve that problem rather than facing the one that is taken off on a smooth plane.”
Apart from the fight over the ownership and founding of the institutions, many political observers in the state believe that there is no love lost between them. They are of the view that the battle for the control the All Progressives Congress (APC) structures in the state and the governor’s second term bid is fuelling the disaffection between them.
There are others, who believe that the governor’s desire to become APC leader in South- East is another reason for the rift. Even the governor recently confirmed that one of the reasons for his rift with Okorocha was because the latter simply refused to see him (Uzodimma) as governor and leader of the party in the state.
The governor through Modestus Nwankpa, his Senior Special Assistant on Print Media, alleged that the ex-governor is only angry that under Uzodinma’s watch, the APC had gained ground in the South- East.
“Okorocha is a sinking man. He is an internally displaced politician. He is angry that under Governor Hope Uzodinma, the APC is gaining ground in the southeast including the defection of Governor Dave Umahi to the party I am aware that Okorocha wants to leave the APC, and his plan is to destroy the party before he joins another party. But we will not let him have his way,” he said.
The faceoff between Uzodinma and Okorocha dates back to the governorship primary of the party held on September 30, 2018.
While Okorocha did everything as incumbent governor to ensure that his sonin- law, Uche Nwosu, emerged as the APC candidate for the 2019 elections, Uzodinma enjoyed the support of the then National Chairman of the party Adams Oshiomhole and other power brokers in the state.
The party went into the governorship election a divided house, leading to the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Emeka Ihedioha, being initially declared winner of the election, before the victory was upturned by a Supreme Court judgement on January 14, 2020.
On assumption of office on January 15, 2020, the cold war between Uzodinma and Okoroacha over the APC governorship primary blossomed to a full-fledged political battle and the former fired the first salvo, when he reversed key decisions and legacy projects of his administration.
First, he sacked the local government chairmen and councilors elected during the last days of the Okorocha administration in 2018. Soon after, Uzodinma ordered bulldozers to pull down the Somto Hospital at Douglas Road, which was built by his predecessor.
A similar fate soon befell several roundabouts and the tunnel located on Port Harcourt road in Owerri built by the Okorocha administration.