Immediate past Governor of Imo State, Dr Ikedi Ohakim, on Friday, July 27, 2018, before party stalwarts of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) declared his intention to seek re election for the Imo plum job, in 2019. In this interview with select Journalists, Ohakim spoke on many issues, including his sworn affidavit on his covenant with Imo people and State. ANGELA NKWO- AKPULU was there for The AUTHORITY. Excerpts
Your Excellency, after several months of speculation, you have finally declared for a second term and the question is why are you running again?
Yes, I am running in order to help the good people of Imo State recover their State so that it can function once again in accordance with known norms; not just democratic norms but also social, economic and cultural norms. As things stand today, unfortunately, the State is a bizarre entity devoid of any form of decorum. Democratically, Imo State, which used to be the citadel of republicanism has been reduced to a mere fiefdom. There is even now the fear that it may be transformed into a monarchy. The democratic rights of the people have been completely eroded. Economically, the state is run like a private company. There is no demarcation between State funds and that of the Governor, his cronies and family members. Culturally and traditionally, the State has been turned into an enclave of abomination. We have a situation where traditional rulers are made to do match past and salute the Governor or his wife at public functions. Administratively, the State civil service has been completely destroyed. I can go on and on but suffice it to say that I believe that my experience as Governor for four years is what the state requires to return to sanity. The situation is such that this is not the time to send an inexperienced fellow to that Government House I am the only former Governor with experience and that can still be reelected into that office. Let me tell you, the matter is not as simple as that. Imo is like a vehicle whose engine has knocked. It has to be repaired by an experienced mechanic. An apprentice cannot repair it. A patient in an intensive care unit requires an experienced surgeon not a House Doctor.
This is not the first time you are seeking re election, you ran in 2014. Some pundits have said you are running simply because you are entitled to do a second term, is this true?
Well, of course, you cannot separate the two. The first signs that Governor Rochas Okorocha will mess up the StaStateame quite early. Within the first six months of his administration, the state was already bleeding financially. Politically, he came up with concepts that were unheard of and not within the democratic tenets of the country; things like Community Government, abolishing ttown Unions, dissolving democratically elected local government councils, dissolving tenured boards, dismissing ten thousand graduates from the State civil service with another eight hundred thousand people loosing their means of livelihood, amongst others. So, by 2014, it was clear to every Imolite that there was need to stop Governor Okorocha at that point. If I could offer myself as early as then, what of now when things have gone completely awry? And remember that the Imo electorate was really determined to throw Okorocha out in 2015. It was not for nothing that the election went into a second balloting and it was at that stage that the people’s efforts were sabotaged by some politicians in the State in order to feather their personal political nests. Otherwise, Okorocha was almost gone. Well, as for my wanting to do another term, yes. I am not pretending about it. I believe that my doing a second term will heal the psychological wounds inflicted on Imolites, when the mandate they gave me on April 26, 2011 was rubbished. Besides, it would also enable the innocent and hapless people of the State to heave a sigh of relief that, at last, they have been able to correct the mistake they made by allowing politicians to deceive them with lies about me. Today, one thing has become very clear to the good people of Imo state; which is that I won the 2011 governorship election on April 26, 2011 in spite of all the lies; but that the powers that be in Abuja collaborated with internal enemies of the people to rubbish that mandate. So, I am not ashamed at all to say that I am entitled to another term because it is in the overall interest of the state that I do a second term. Today, we will not be talking about another fellow from Orlu zone coming in as Governor in 2019 to do an entire fresh eight years after the zone had done sixteen years already, out of twenty years of democratic rule. You know the story. Fortunately, the leaders of Orlu zone have joined forces with other progressive elements in the state, together with the political intelligentsia to ensure that the matter of equity is resolved by insisting that no Orlu fellow should emerge as Governor in 2019 in order to prevent unintended enmity between the three zones.
Talking about equity, don’t you think Owerri people can decide to take the office directly in 2019?
No, please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Owerri Zone cannot get the governorship in 2019. Of course, Owerri zone has everything it takes to achieve that. The aspirants from the zone across the political parties are among the best. Having said that, I want to state, without any fear of contradictions, that the equity matter will continue to be a destabilizing factor in the politics of the State if my zone, Okigwe, is not allowed to complete eight years under the current dispensation and I am saying that I offer the best bargain for Owerri zone because I am the only aspirant from Okigwe zone that must compulsorily do only one term and then hand over to Owerri zone. There is nothing sacrosanct about that arrangement but at the same time, it does not require rocket science for us to solve the problem once and for all. No doubt, our people are still very much desirous of equity. They are still very conscious of the need to restore it, contrary to what the likes of Governor Okorocha say. I can tell you that the main reason why Imolites on the whole are resisting the imposition of Okorocha’s son-in-law is because it would further compound the equity issue. The aspect of being a close family relative is secondary. Imo people want equity restored in the State and I insist that my going back to do a second term is strategic to that. I can enter a formal agreement on that, I mean that I will hand over to an Owerri zone person.
The speculation over the party you would run on lasted for a long time. At what point did you discover that your former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was no longer tenable for you?
Truth is, it is not possible for me to completely write off the PDP in spite of the fact that I am no longer there. But if you recall, I started complaining about the party as soon as the primary elections were concluded in 2014, following what happened here in Imo, where the result of the governorship primary election was predetermined. Immediately after the general elections, I wrote several articles, memos and petitions to the leadership of the party on the unconscionable impunity within the party and in which I made suggestions on how to reinvent and reposition the party. I was not the only one who made such efforts but all that fell on deaf ears. One thing led to the other until the aborted convention in November 2016 in Port Harcourt. You know the rest of the story. Well, like every crisis, the PDP internal squabbles ran its course and ended with the Supreme Court ruling. At the national level, the party is getting itself back but unfortunately in Imo State, we had a situation where a few members felt that they were victors and as such they are exclusively entitled to the spoils of the war, so to speak, and that has really alienated it from the people. But honestly, I still have a lot of respect for some leaders of the party at the national level. Some of them are my former colleagues whose company I found quite invaluable. But, of course, no political party has a monopoly of knowledgeable and upright people, people of integrity. I believe I will also have a wonderful company with the people I have come to meet in APGA who, as I said earlier, are among the best in the country.
You have just declared for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the same party that was used to dislodge you. One begins to wonder why APGA?
That is part of the myth and mystery surrounding my current aspiration. May be providence is at work. You remember the saying that the way of man is not the way of God and that before God, the wisest man is the most foolish. But within my own canal limitations as an ordinary mortal, all I can say is that since Governor Rochas Okorocha disagraced APGA after riding on it to power, God is probably giving the party and its faithfuls an opportunity to not only retaliate by giving me ticket but also to go ahead to mobilize support for me to win the governorship election proper. But I hasten to add that I made my choice of APGA based on cold and hard facts, not just on sentiments or fatalistic basis. APGA of today is not the APGA you knew in 2011. The party is one of the best in the country, one of the most robust and cosmopolitan political platforms in the country today, with an array of personalities that are among the best in the country. It is the party for the future of Nigeria.
Tell us, what are the specific issues that you think you or any other fellow may have to contend with if elected?
First of all, Governor Okorocha has already squandered the income of the State for the next four years. So, the major challenge will be how to raise funds to revamp the economy of the State. After that, the next step will be to ensure that civil servants begin to receive their salaries regularly, all arrears of gratuities for those retired paid and pensions paid regularly.
How do you mean, Sir? You mean Governor Okorocha has spent the State’s income for four years in advance?
It is a simple arithmetic. As I speak to you now, the State is indebted to financial institutions to the tune of over N200 billion. Judgment debts are in the tune of over N150 billion. That brings the entire thing to over N350 billion. Now, compare this with the fact that the yearly income of the state is just about N45-N48 billion. In the next four years, this level of income will be inadequate to cover the debts as they stand currently. But what baffles everybody is that there is this level of indebtedness despite the fact that over N1.3 trillion has accrued to the State since the inception of this administration in 2011. I handed over N26.6 billion cash to him and that was why he went on a spending spree, constructing all forms of edifices. People were hailing him for doing physical projects (Ihe Ahuru N’anya). Today, over 90 per cent of those buildings are not in use. Today, the health care system in the state has collapsed. Instead of doing something about it, the Governor started erecting buildings in the 27 Local government areas which he calls general hospitals. More than seven years later, none has been completed. The education system has collapsed under an omnibus free education mantra. Currently, there is crisis in the State owned university over payment of school fees. There is no public water system in the state even though my administration left over 1,395 water schemes, all fully functional, across the state. In Owerri capital city, there is no single public water tap. In the last seven years, Governor Okorocha ran the state without any documents. There are no documents on contracts. It is all by verbal instructions. The administration does not make use of professionals. Appointees and civil servants are just there. He came up with a policy that confines civil servants to work only three days in a week. He claimed that they should use the other two to work in their farms. But where are the farms?
So, how will you tackle the challenges if elected?
I will start by renegotiating the debts so that we can have funds to begin the process of reinvigorating the State economy. Reviving the civil service will be a priority because it is vital for the sustenance of the economy. We have a situation where those who served the state meritoriously and retired are left to wallow in abject poverty. This includes people who served at the highest cadre of the civil service, Permanent Secretaries, Directors-General, amongst others. As I talk to you now, the various categories of retired civil and public servants are owed arrears of pensions ranging from two to eight years. Retired permanent secretaries are owed almost three years of arrears; retired primary school teachers are owed close to four years. Perhaps the most pathetic is the case of retirees of the Alvan Ikoku College of Education. In the last seven years no retiree in the institution has been paid his or her entitlements. This administration maybe hiding under the excuse that the college is now a federal institution but they served the state before it was taken over by the federal government during my tenure. So, clearing these arrears will definitely be a priority because apart from saving lives, it will help in reinvigorating the economy of the state. Of course, we will return to our various job-creating programmes. Very soon, I will roll out my economic Blue Print for Imo people to make inputs into.
Your Excellency, many observers are worried that there are too many governorship aspirants especially in APGA where you just berthed.
There is nothing like too many aspirants; especially in a State like Imo where you have several people who have proven records of success in various fields of endeavor. I can tell you that I am impressed with the quality of people who have come out to vie for the office of the Governor of Imo state, in order to help salvage it. We have a common objective and challenge and I believe that with the exception of Okorocha’s son-in-law, any of the aspirants can be Governor. But having said that, I also believe that the problem we have at hand requires an experienced former Governor like me, if we are to reap the maximum benefits from this collective struggle. I have heard some people ask what experience did Ohakim have before he became Governor in 2007, but the situation we are confronted with today is quite different from what obtained in 2007. We are talking about a situation today where the State has been completely ran down in every aspect you can think of, be it economy, politics, culture, health, sports, education the civil service and what have you.
Your Excellency, Nigerians are surprised that you swore to a court affidavit on what you will do for the people of Imo state if elected. It is the first time any Nigerian politician is doing such a thing and so it marks a new vista in Nigeria politics. What informed that? Why swear to an affidavit?
Nigerians have been deceived enough. Politicians keep making promises without caring to fulfill them. Most of the promises are so bizarre that even a child would know that they cannot be kept. Yet, you keep on hearing, I will do this, I will do that. Political parties write verbose manifestos but as soon as they win, those they fielded for the elections begin to do something different. What we are saying here is that the time has come for the people to have something they can legally hold on to with which they can use to jail those who deceive them. The affidavit I swore to can send me to jail either because of what I claimed I did not do in the past or what I will do in the future. I said I did not steal public money; I did not allocate land to myself or members of my family; that I still live in the three-bedroom bungalow I built in 1992 and that I own no other house in the whole of Imo State except my village house which I built in 1986 etc, and I want anybody to prove me wrong. I then went ahead to detail the things I will do if elected and if I fail, the people have the affidavit to prosecute me. Some of my critics or opponents say it is out of desperation but it is not just about me. I am ready to be called names if only what I can achieve at the end of the day is to make it possible for Nigerians to become conscious of the fact that they can legally and legitimately demand accountability from those they elect into public offices; that it is possible to end the era of empty promises and deceit.
Sir, there is this fear that you may eventually dump APGA after using it to achieve your ambition, as you did to PPA and in fact as your successor, Okorocha did. How do you respond to this?
My ultimate goal in joining APGA is not just for election but to galvanize the Igbo nation, in collaboration with other leaders of the party, using it as a vehicle. It is high time the Igbo became one political family and that can be only possible if we have a political party through which we relate to our fellow compatriots across the country. There is no way I can leave APGA after winning my election because I have a long term vision about the party and our people, the Igbo. And that has been adequately captured in my affidavit.
Don’t you think that you might be accused of portraying the party as an Igbo party whereas it is supposed to be a national party?
Let me ask you this question; do you think it is possible for an APGA governorship candidate to win in Oyo, Ogun, Ondo or what have you in the 2019 general election that is just around the corner? Keep your answer because you know what it is. Let’s be realistic, every politics is local. Today, Ndigbo have developed this incredible affinity for APGA and if you must lead them, you have to find out what they want. Our people say that they want to build APGA as the platform for further engagement with the rest of Nigeria. That does not make it an Igbo party because in the course of that engagement, Nigerians from other parts of the country will be members and leaders of the party. What is happening today is just like what happened in the second republic when the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) controlled the entire Igbo land, but at the same time provided the platform with which a nationalist like the late Solomon Lar twice contested and won the governorship election in Plateau state. If the second republic had not been aborted, perhaps the NPP would have made further inroads in other parts of the country. The UPN was in control of the core Yoruba States, but it also had the old Bendel state that was made up of diverse ethnic groups including even the Igbo. Politics, as the living legend, Senator Arthur Nzeribe, would say, is like Mathematics where, to solve any equation, you have to start from the known to the unknown. The known today is that Ndigbo want to nurture APGA and there is nothing wrong with that. So in summary, my joining APGA was in answer to a call by the people; a call that came from across a section of the people.