• Deceased wife, elder sister join race
The jostle for the replacement of the senatorial seat hitherto occupied by the late Benjamin Uwajumogu, who on December 18, 2019 because of death, ceased to be a senator, has earnestly begun. He represented Imo North Senatorial District (Okigwe zone) under All Progressives Congress (APC). He was Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly between 2011 through 2015. He was elected first in 2017 before his re-election in 2019.
During a session for the Senate in honour of the fallen chairman, Senate Committee on Labour and Employment, Senators had decried the high rate at which his position was being jostle for by some politicians from the zone even while his body was still lying in the morgue. As at the time of filing this report, sources said no fewer than 10 persons from the zone were said to have developed interest. But there is strong agitation that the seat should be occupied by someone from either Onuimo or Okigwe, since no person from the area had taken a shot at it.
The deceased had taken the seat away from Ehime Mbano’s Athan Achonu, who briefly occupied it for months before the court nullified it, ordering for a re-run. In the process, Uwajumogu, who had challenged Achonu, and defeated him, served out the term and won in the second term. Uwajumogu had gone to his toilet/bathroom at his home in Abuja, when he reportedly fell down and died.
Soon after that, lots of politicians, notably influential ones, began to show interest overtly or covertly to fill the vacant seat created by the deceased at the red chamber of the National Assembly. This is even as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is yet to announce a timetable for a by-election. The Imo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Prof. Francis Ezeonu, said anytime such order is given from the headquarters, it would be communicated to all parties.
Those nursing political ambition to occupy the position include the deceased’s wife, Aileen and elder sister, Chidinma Uwajumogu, a former Imo State Governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, a former two-term senator who represented the zone, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume (1999-2007), and Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, among others. The worrisome aspect is the alleged squabble between Aileen and Chidinma, the deceased wife and sister for the seat. Many Imo personalities are also worried.
Those alleged to be seeking for the seat have not countered it. The deceased’s remains were interred penultimate Friday, February 21 amidst the jostling for those jostling for his position.
Among prominent Nigerians at the funeral were the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, his deputy, Ovie Omo-Agege, and more than 30 serving and former Senators such as former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekwerenmadu, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Andy Uba, Uche Ekwunife, Ezenwa Onyewuchi, Mao Ohuabunwa, and Osita Izunaso. Some members of the House of Representatives and other politicians were present.
Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, his deputy, Prof. Placid Njoku, Secretary to the State Government, Cosmas Iwu and the Chief of Staff, the Imo Government House, Nnamdi Anyaehe among other state government officials, a former deputy governor of Imo State, Dr. Douglas Acholonu, Imo State Speaker, Dr. Chiji Collins were also there.
As a mark of recognition for his invaluable contributions to the growth of the state and Nigeria, the Imo State governor, Uzodinma also of All Progressives Congress (APC), renamed the state-owned Ihitteuboma College of Education, located in Ihitteuboma Local Government Area, where late Uwajimogu hailed to immortalise him as Benjamin Uwajimogu College of Education, Ihitteuboma. The gesture has already attracted varied interpretations from the opposition camp.
The monarchs in about 140 autonomous communities in the zone, known as OKigwe Zone Traditional Rulers’ Council, held an emergency meeting at Wisdom Palace of the traditional ruler of Ihim autonomous community, Eze Oliver Ohanwe (Obi gburu gburu) and dissociated themselves from a video alleging that the monarchs accepted to endorse or begged any person to replace the late senator, describing the video as “Undo politics, misleading and cheap blackmail against the revered institution.”
They said: “We have therefore vehemently disassociated ourselves from any such purported endorsement of any aspirant for the vacant senatorial seat and stated that at no time did any traditional ruler of Okigwe extraction went and ‘begged’ any of it’s sons or daughters to come out and contest as we are still mourning and the Federal Government is yet to declare the seat vacant.”
The royal fathers also promised that they would not use their position as custodians of culture and traditional heritage to bring shame and dishonour bearing in mind that they were mindful of an array of qualified persons in the zone. The statement concluded: “What concerns Okigwe people now is brotherly love, unity and peace that will help in choosing patriotic and disciplined person to represent them in the Red Chambers when the time comes”.
In the same vein, a former commissioner for information in the state, former aspirant for the seat in 2019, and professor of law, Nnamdi Obiaraeri, urged those who were canvasing his name for nursing the ambition when the body of Uwajomogu was in the morgue to desist.
In a statement Obiaraeri, said: “Senator Uwajumogu’s sudden and untimely death has diminished all and has challenged our humanity. Vanity upon vanity is vanity. It is therefore premature, insensitive and wicked to talk of his replacement now. Anyone harbouring such thought now is evil.
“Count me out of this kind of desperation as it is not in my character as a thoroughbred Igbo son of Okigwe extraction not to empathise over the death of a kith and kin. Senator Uwajumogu was my friend and one of his last public appearances was when he honoured me by attending my daughter’s ‘Call to Bar’ reception which held in my Abuja home in late November 2019.
“There is absolutely no need for this kind of jockeying for his replacement at this stage as I am deeply saddened by the painful loss and the humongous vacuum created by the demise of this illustrious son of Nigeria who was cut down in his prime.”
After Obiaraeri’s submission, another group known as Okigwe Patriots, in a statement signed by Dr. Fabian Ihekweme, said: “We make bold to warn any son or daughter of Okigwe aspiring to replace the late senator into the red chambers to stop henceforth from heating up the political atmosphere of Okigwe. We are mourning Ben for 21 days and we will not tolerate or allow any political desperado/s to desecrate this period of mourning in the name of politics. We will not hesitate to enlist or draft anyone who contravenes this position into the Okigwe hall of shame.”
Also lending their voices, members of Imo Awareness Coalition (IAC), in a statement signed by its president, Mr. Emmanuel Okwu, condemned the premature jostle, saying: “We do understand that nature abhors vacuum, but it is strange how some persons have shown interest in the Senate seat barely a week after he died. Were they wishing him dead? We are conscious of the fact that indeed Okigwe Senate seat needs a replacement but those interested should pause and wait for INEC to fix a date for a fresh election
“As a mark of honour for the late Senator, his kinsmen interested in the race should tarry a while. It should be a period of mourning for the people of Okigwe zone who have lost an illustrious son. This is not the time for politicking. This is the time to be sober and reflect on the demise of the Senator.”
Another pressure group from Okigwe zone, under the aegis, Elders in Council and executive members of Ezumezu Okigwe expressed its feelings in the same direction. A statement signed by the President General, Dr. Bathram Uwandu, explained: “Sen. Uwajumogu, your love deeply touched many. We still find it difficult to believe that you are gone forever. We certainly will miss you. One thing is sure. Your strength of purpose which we were told will remain in Ezumezu Okigwe.
“According to the famous writer, James Michener, “only the mountains stand forever, rivers flow forever, a man is born and he lives and he dies. Benji, as we fondly call him, was a kind, loving and courageous man, always ready to correct or rebuke misdemeanors no matter whose ox is gored.
“He is the brain behind so many success stories in Imo State & Southeast politics where all confusing matters receive appropriate attention. Senator Benji was strong and always positive to issues.
“Our brother Uwajumogu, you sought for God in your lifetime; you made Him your saviour, friend and guide. When you were alive and healthy, you walked and magnified Him and worshiped Him as the only true God. Now you have joined the triumphant Church, though your exit have created a big Vacuum in Okigwe Zone, Imo State and Southeast.
“Your hardworking as a politician, your generosity, care & love towards God and humanity are not over. Senator Benjamin continue to recite your loved songs in heaven for Ezumezu Okigwe Bye because we know you are in a much better place. Adieu our brother until we meet to part no more. May your good works pave an everlasting way for you in heaven.”
Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, Collins said: “The news of the death of my brother, senator Benjamin Uwajumogu was devastating. It came to as a rude shock. It was unexpected. It is more devastating considering that he was part of the plenary a day before his demise and made quality contributions. He played modern politics and cared more about the wellbeing and prosperity of our country. He was a detribalized Nigerian. Personally, I am pained by his passage.
“He was a man of large heart. His demise should further remind the living about the vanity of life. Imo North has lost its vibrant senator. It is my prayer that God will console his young family and the entire Uwajumogus.”