Former Governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, in this interview with Correspondent, ANGELA NKWO-AKPULU talked extensively about his return to politics, the State on Imo under the current Rochas Okorocha administration, as well as the 2019 Governorship election in the state.
In 2010 the state and the nation shook with the allegation that you personally beat a Reverend Father. That allegation is believed to have played a major role in your losing the 2011 Governorship election. Eight years after, the Catholic Church honoured you with a performance Award in recognition of your exploits in the education sector. How does it make you feel?
I thank the Catholic Church for recognizing the reforms we brought to bear in education. When we brought the idea of handing the schools back to the missions so as to increase the standard of education, remove cultism from our schools, people thought it was impossible. But the most important thing is that we did it securing the buy-in of every stakeholder, the NUT, the people themselves and the missions. There were series of concentric meetings and there was agreement. There were night meetings, moving here and there and having meetings. People may forget, but every programme we carried out while we were in government, we never pushed them down the throat of the people. We brought them to the people and then we got them implemented.
In a democracy, things take time. That was why it took us time to achieve that goal. We handed over schools back to the missions and the government took up the payment of salaries of the affected teachers in the 44 schools we gave back to the missions for two years. Not only taking up the payment of their salaries for the first two years, we also instituted by law a special grant to the schools to enable them go back into being the first class schools they were known for before the military took over the schools.
Let us look at the issue of the Judges you took up recently. You called on the Governor of Imo State to pay the Judges of the state their 16 months accumulated salary. You sounded so serious that you said you would go naked to protest if the Governor did not pay at the end of March. What is the situation now?
Thank you for that question. Before I came out with that threat, I considered several things. One is that I never played politics with it. The Judges are in the profession that they cannot speak for themselves. It is unthinkable that the Judges could not be paid their salaries for 16 months – one year and four months. It is abominable and unthinkable, and it had never happened before in the Federal Republic of Nigeria or anywhere in West Africa. Judges are the people on the Temple of Justice and they decide our fate. They must be shielded from hunger and corruption and should not be owed the component of their salary. When I took the challenge – because as the former Governor that handed over to the Okorocha government, I owe it a duty to speak for the downtrodden and the voiceless, and to tell Imo people the truth and the challenges we have in this state. I did my homework and I have documents to show that they are being owed. I cross checked it over and over. I even interacted with some of the Judges and I knew they were dying in silence. I had no alternative than to come out with that threat. And I really meant that I could go naked on the street of Wetheral Road to make sure that the Judges were paid. It may surprise you that our citizens from the USA and Britain demonstrated their willingness to join in the protest by registering.
I took it as one of the prices we must pay. I have been paying such prices, but I stood my ground and continued to arrange for the protest, and it could have been the mother of all demonstrations in the country. Fortunately, Governor Okorocha on Monday, 12 February hurriedly paid the Judges but demanded that I must know about it. They were paid 6 months out of the 16 months they were been owed. I thank him for that. But Imo people will now note that I am not the person to be taken to the psychiatric hospital. 10 months is still outstanding and by the end of February 11 months would be outstanding. And I want to demand that the Governor must pay the Judges their complete entitlement.
Again you have thrown your hat into the ring by declaring to run for Governorship in Imo State in 2019. It is causing ripples here and there as some people think that you should by now be a statesman and leave the position of the Governor for others. What assurances are you giving to the people of Imo State that you would achieve for them if you get to the government house?
Before I go into the specifics, I think that the question everyone in Imo State should be asking is, what would be the job of the next governor of Imo State in 2019? The job requires a statesman, which you have identified me as one. The job that Okorocha will leave in Imo State will require a man with the learning curve experience. It would take a man with the institutional memory. For example, in 2019 no civil servant in Imo State would remember any records. If you remember that Management Cadre in the civil service begins from level 13, those who were in government when we had Due Process in governance will be retired by 2019. Nobody would know where the records were in 2019. I know what I left. I did the handover note. I, Ikedi Ohakim, I am statesman enough and I have records to be able to know whom I would invite from here and there to bring back the civil service and law and order, to bring back Due Process and to renegotiate all the shenanigans going on in the state today.
Another thing few people are afraid of is that I harbour hate or that I am coming to loot the treasury. But if I did not loot before, I don’t think I will loot now. I left N26.6bn in interest yielding account which I handed over to Governor Okorocha. I did not loot the money. I was Governor for four years and I did not allocate any land to myself and did not confiscate anybody’s land. I did not revoke anybody’s C of O. And there will be nothing left to loot after Okorocha. If a government cannot pay salary it means that that government has gone bankrupt. In a bankrupt situation where there will be no land left, no money left but a debt overhang of N200bn. Anybody talking about Ohakim coming to loot is afraid of his shadows.
I promise Imo people that I will grow the Imo IGR beyond PAYE. I will recreate the middle class, which is the engine of growth. I will restore the participation of our state in counterpart-funded programmes, both by international agencies and the Federal Government. Today, Imo State has lost out in all counterpart-funded projects. The basic reason for the state exit is because those development programmes require Due Process, and this government says they don’t believe in Due Process. I will bring back Due Process into governance
Federal Allocation will not be our dependency to develop our state. We will bring back the middle class and private investors. We will set up industries. We had laid down the foundation and did feasibility reports. We only need to dust and revive them.
In 2010 we started the implementation of our Master plan by starting the flyover. For seven years those flyovers have not been completed. What we see today is that columns are being erected because they are collapsing. When I raised alarm over the flyovers some people thought that I was talking nonsense. We require somebody with institutional memory like me to govern Imo State. It is a sacrifice I am prepared to make. All the pressures I have been getting are from those who know what we are going through in the state
The total income of my government for four years was not more than N240Bn. Okorocha’s administration has got N1.3trl. I have all the documents. If I was opportune to have 30% of that, Imo State would have been heaven, but Okorocha got N1.3trl with a debt overhang of N200bn. It is a record, and I cannot see where we have actually deployed that money. Go to Ngor-Okpala for example, my administration linked Ngor-Okpala with their brothers in Etche Rivers State, and that road is 32 kilometers of solid road, and there is no pothole on that road today. If you go to Ogboko, we did a road in the governor’s village with a spur to his house. That road has no pothole, and somebody would be in Ogboko and ask me what I achieved.
Yes, I forgot something in government house. We have to begin to implement the Master plan – Owerri Master plan, Orlu Master plan and Okigwe Master plan. These are pending issues.
But most importantly, we will bring back Law and Order. We will bring back Due Process. We will renegotiate all the debts. All the contractors that are being owed have nothing to fear. They will be in our first line consideration. We will obey all court judgements and will return equity in government.
A governor is not a contractor. A governor is a man that maintains law and order, peace in the communities, reforms, developments, making sure that contracts are executed the way they were designed, and that no contract fails. There are over 250 cases against the government. We will sit down with those people and renegotiate. The international community and investors will believe in us, because our records will be clean