By Declan Mbadiwe Emelumba
The crowd was unprecedented. If it was a popularity contest, the governorship of Imo State would have been won and lost that day. For those who mocked him, saying his candidacy did not enjoy the support of the masses, the great Thomas of the Holy Book beat them at their own game.
This was not a rented crowd. Who could have paid those big men who brought more than 1,000 vehicles to welcome home their hero? Wednesday, November 14, 2018 was a day of all days. The APC candidate in Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma returned to the State from Abuja and the people came out in their thousands to celebrate him.
The plane that brought him from Abuja touched down at Sam Mbakwe’s Cargo Airport at exactly 3pm. Ordinarily, it would have taken him 20 minutes to drive to his campaign office at Okigwe Road, Owerri. But Wednesday was different. Owerri had stood still for the man of the moment. It took two hours with two major flag-stops at Nekede junction and Emmanuel college junction for Senator Hope Uzodinma to arrive the office to finally speak to the people.
The carnival like atmosphere that seized Owerri became manifest as early as 6am as citizens abandoned their duties to await the arrival of Uzodinma. Those who could not make it to the airport lined the streets. Beholding the face of the man who subdued Governor Rochas Okorocha’s expansionist rule was enough food and water for the day. While some clutched placards with various inscriptions, others waved with their handkerchiefs. Yet others were restrained from lining the streets with their garments. Uzodinma is no Messiah. God only used him to liberate the people from modern day slavery inflicted on them by an over-ambitious emperor.
Osita Okechukwu, an Enugu State indigene and Director General of Voice of Nigeria said the day signaled the liberation of Imo people from the hands of those who held them captives since 2011. “This is your day, rejoice and make merry for Senator Uzodinma is now is your midst”, he declared.
That declaration was fitting enough for there had been wild speculations that anti-graft agencies had seized Uzodinma for imaginary crimes. Some government officials had even begun to refer to the APC candidate as a criminal when no court of competent jurisdiction had made such a pronouncement. So for Imo people, it was a day truth triumphed over wild propaganda and they had to be with Hope in flesh and blood.
Indeed, the inscription in some of the placards they carried spoke volumes of their earlier frustrations and the glimmer of Hope offered by Hope Uzodinma’s candidacy. “Our Hope is back”, “Uche Nwosu run for cover”, “Owelle, your time is up”, “We are tired of China Roads”, Rochas say men no dey, but men dey” and “Judgment day is here” rented the air as the convoy of Uzodinma snaked its way through the streets of Owerri.
What was instructive was the make-up of the mammoth crowd and the excitement that adorned their faces. The affluent and the poor were together. The old and the young exchanged messages of solidarity. Traders, artisans bonded with civil servants. Even students did not want to be left out in the historic gathering. Imo State Deputy Governor, Prince Eze Madumere led the cream of APC Chieftains to welcome the candidate. The Deputy Governor who was among those who contested the ticket spoke with his presence that the majority have accepted the candidacy of Senator Hope Uzodinma. The presence of members of the National Assembly from the State gave a legislative seal to the ticket.
But what was touching actually remained that in the midst of that dancing and drumming by the ecstatic crowd, Hope Uzodinma still saw through their pains and suffering. Although he represents so many things to Imo people, the APC candidate was also weighed down by the enormousness of the expectation and aspirations of a people who have been subjected to unimaginable dehumanization and neglect in the last seven and half years.
That was why his speech was somber and measured. He acknowledged the ill-treatment and humiliations suffered by both religious and traditional institutions in the state and offered to make amends when he assumes office next year. Uzodinma who had been described by the cheering multitude as God sent told the crowd that they will have to vote APC all the way including ensuring that President Buhari returns in 2019 for their joy to be full.
According to him, it is only when they go out to vote for him and other APC candidates in the 2019 elections that he would become the much needed instrument to reverse and recover all the years the locusts have eaten in Imo State. He assured them that once he is voted into power in 2019, salaries of workers would be paid promptly and regularly while pensioners would have their pensions at the end of every month. He also pledged to revive the local government system and restore the respect of religious and traditional rulers in the state.
Noting their specific request to see the back of impunity and familitocray in the State, Uzoinma told them that God has answered their prayers by using him as an instrument to liberate the people from the modern day Pharaoh . He vowed to ensure that the people make inputs into the governance of the state by running an inclusive government. He pledged to be open minded as well as receptive to positive ideas that would help reposition the state.
Amidst shouts of “Hope our hope”, the people celebrated the home coming of a home boy who had always stood for the masses and down- trodden. According to Chief Jeff Onwuneme who travelled from Njaba LGA to Owerri just to see the face of the APC candidate, God has fulfilled the promise He made to His people that He would never abandon them in times of their need.