Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Chief Ikedi Ohakim is the former governor of Imo State; he served one term between 2007 and 2011. He came into office on the platform of the PPA, but later decamped to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where he was until last year when he again decamped to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a platform he had hoped to prosecute his governorship ambition this year. But he stayed in the party for a short while as he switched over to the Accord Party, where he clinched the ticket to contest the governorship election in the state.
As the election inches close, Chief Ohakim believes that with his performance when he held swayed as governor, Imo residents will again massively vote for him. Ohakim, in this interview contended that some of his opponents are not in the race to serve the state, but to feather their nest.
Some people in your state have accused you of being desperate to return to the Government House, which you left in 2011. Others feel that having governed the state for nearly 10 years ago your ambition should not have been for the same position . Are you desperate to return as governor?
It is neither a matter of desperation nor personal ambition. Yes, I quite appreciate the fact that what some people are spending billions to become is what I became more than 10 years ago and I thank God Almighty for that. But the same God does not subscribe to the type of misery imolites have been subjected to since after the grand conspiracy that rubbished the mandate the people gave me on April 26, 2011. More than ever before, well-meaning citizens of the state believe that I am in the best stead to reverse the ugly trend and put the state back to the path of economic prosperity, social justice and political sanity. Their reason, which is quite simple to understand, is that only a fellow who knows what was where before May 2011 can be in the best position to know where to start. That has been the argument of all those who have mounted pressure on me to run. And I cannot shy away from that. Yes some people would say its desperation, but I am ready to be called anything if that would make it possible for me to lend my experience in the collective quest by Ndi-Imo to reinvent their state. We cannot go from frying pan to fire. Where Imo is today requires experience. For example, look at the Civil Service in the state which has been completely destroyed. It requires a governor who knows how the
civil service was before now to return it to the norm. I am the only former governor who can do that since I am the only one that is still constitutionally permitted do another four years. And if we do not restore the civil service in the state, we should forget about reviving the state economy. You need a robust, well equipped and highly motivated bureaucracy to achieve economic development. I am just giving you one example.
What choice do you think the electorate will make that will not augur well for Imo?
I would have been more comfortable making a fair assessment of the situation on ground, if I am not contesting election. Politics apart, one should be given the benefit of doubt that leadership comes with responsibility, sensitivity and caution in holding opinion. The choice of who leads Imo State lies with the electorate, the people who are the mandate givers. Having said that it is important to underscore the fact that given the poverty level in the country, Imo State inclusive, what influences voter attitude and preferences is money and the war chest at the disposal of contestants unfortunately. Politicians, especially the ones that have nothing to offer on the governance table, deploy money viciously and scandalously to induce voters and manipulate the process to advantage. The implication, half-baked and ill-prepared persons access power to the detriment of the people and the system. Absence of adequate political education that would have opened the eyes and mind of the voters to the reality of the relationship between governance failure and the quality of leaders that emerge from flawed elections compound the problem. Imo State people have paid dearly for wrong choices in elections leading to the inertia we experience and everyone has one ugly tale or the other to tell. But the big question is, have we learnt our lessons and how prepared are we to take the advantage of the window of opportunity offered by the 2019 election to reshape the future by electing experienced hands to steer the ship of the state. Political leadership demands rare gravitas and qualities. It is a calling reserved for individuals with certain basic virtues. Perceived success in running one’s private enterprise with minimal corporate challenge or assumed legislative competence cannot be a sine qua non to the imperatives of being a governor. These clarifications are important for us to be properly guided in making choices. Circumspection, critical examination and analysis of individual strengths and weaknesses of the contestants, are material in determining how early and fast the state can come out of the woods.
Our problems cannot be solved by learners. Understanding the basic tools and strategies to deploy can be cumbersome for any beginner no matter the grandstanding. Without sounding as if one is in self-praise, the challenges on ground requires an experienced hand and one that knows the road. The period I was out of office offered me good opportunity to reflect and honestly, great lessons were learnt in areas of relationship management, communicating government programmes and policies, including, of course, project execution and the unexplored green fields. Even my worst critics are sincere enough in accepting that our government cannot be faulted on vision, desire to serve selflessly, driving governance transparently in line with international best practices, being accountable and addressing critical infrastructural needs within available resources. Government policies and programmes under my watch, were defined by the need to open up and diversify the economy, create the right investment climate, empower private businesses to be competitive and strong enough to create job opportunities, strengthen our education system, provide for the welfare of the people through access to clean potable water, healthcare and other public utilities supportive to quality life. With the establishment of the Imo State Investment Promotion Agency (ISIPA), we set up the institutional framework to drive massive industrialization partnering with private sector investors from within and outside the state to usher in an industrial revolution across the state.
These were initiatives that could have made Imo State, the destination of choice for investors in search of a friendly investment environment supported by sufficient human capital and access to raw materials needed for production. The time lines for the take off of these programmes were properly worked out with takeoff time, put at the first quarters of our second term. When I close my eyes and picture what Imo State would have been turned into if the conspiracies of 2011 did not kill a dream, I see the hand of God who in His wisdom, wanted us to learn some good lessons before moving forward.
Destiny can only be delayed, but not erased.
Prior to the primary elections, you swore to an Affidavit, listing what you will accomplish for the state if elected and asking the people to send you to jail if you fail. Do you still stick to that?
Of course, I do. Not to stick to that will be sending myself to jail because that will be perjury. More than ever before, I remain committed to every word in that document.
It seems all of you are saying the same thing. For example, Senator Araraume has promised to recover Imo and that everybody will benefit from his administration because he says government is like a big cow, which, when slaughtered, will provide enough meat for everybody.
It would be uncharitable to equate the well thought out covenant with the good people of Imo State with empty sloganeering. In the first, who is Araraume recovering the state from? Was he not part of the mortgaging? He was party of the perfidy that brought in the Okorocha administration in 2011. In 2015, he became more entrenched in the subterfuge by backing Okorocha to win again even when the people had thrown him out at the first balloting. So, what are they talking about? Imo people are no fools. And how can a governorship candidate liken governance with the sharing of meat. That shows that the mentality is that of sharing, not that of creating wealth for the people, not how to make the state more productive. They are already talking about how to share. I leave that for the highly discerning people of the state to interpret for themselves. This is all I can say on this for now.
Do you believe that the people were taken in by the Affidavit? You think they didn’t see it as a gimmick?
Imolites are knowledgeable and sophisticated and can readily discern between sincerity and dishonesty. This is the first time they have seen a governorship candidate who says to them, prosecute me if I don’t do so, so and so thing. You can’t have a better deal from anybody who is asking for your vote. Remember that the cardinal point in the Affidavit is that I will immediately address the issues of economic revival, loot recovery, reconciliation, returning the state back to the hands of God, and to re-erect all good governance structures that were dismantled by the outgoing administration.
If you go out there, these are the things on the lip of every knowledgeable Imolite. Apart from the Affidavit, we have enunciated a four-point agenda namely, Reconstruction, Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Recovery, what we refer to as the Four “Rs”. There can be no doubt that there is a buy-in by the people who have shown so much nostalgia over the things we did when we had their mandate between May 2007 and May 2011. This highly discerning people have not forgotten that we embarked on world-class programmes that were capable of completely transforming the state economically and socially. They have not forgotten our Clean and Green programme that was highly rated and which pushed Owerri to the position as the cleanest state capital in the country. They can only sigh when they compare that with the situation today when heaps of refuse dot all over the state capital. Imolites have not forgotten that we had the Imo Roads Maintenance Agency (IROMA) that had equipment worth over N12 billion with which we tackled the scourge of lack of road maintenance culture in governance. They have not forgotten that by the time we left office in May 2011, there were 1,953 functional water schemes in the state. Today, there is no single water tap running even in Owerri, the state capital. They have not forgotten that I handed over N26.6 billion cash to my successor. I can go on and on.
Why did you settle for Accord when you left APGA ?
First of all, I did not dump PDP, the word dump, which the media in Nigeria enjoy using, sound petty to me.
In the absence of clear-cut ideological differences amongst political parties in Nigeria, movement from one party to the other becomes seamless and inevitable. When I sought to be part of the process in PDP to seek for the party’s ticket, it was clear to me that it was a closed shop.
Because of the leadership crisis that engulfed the party and the prominent role played by some people in sustaining the leadership that received the endorsement of the Supreme Court, it was obvious that anyone considered not to be part of the process that produced the new leadership would obviously not be successful no matter the pretences to a transparent primary. The outcome of the primaries of PDP in the state and the post primaries crises that have remained unresolved till date, justify my decision to seek for space in APGA. Unfortunately, the situation in AGPA turned out worse than what I avoided in PDP. At least, PDP leadership through ‘body language’ showed the direction they were headed as to the preferred aspirant to pick the party’s ticket. APGA leadership sent the whole aspirants on a wild goose chase and ended up handing over the ticket to someone in the most undemocratic and absurd manner, without conducting primaries. In the circumstance, I had no choice than to move to Accord. A determined contestant like me would rather allow the voters, over 75 per cent of who are not card-carrying members of any political
party, to determine my fate, than succumb to the manipulative antics of some political party leaders that are ready and willing to serve the majority, the shorter part of the stick. All in all, my chances are bright. Unlike some other candidates, the people of Imo State know me, what I stand for, the burning desire to serve for altruistic reasons and my suitability to take the state out of the present troubling conundrum relying on learning curve experience, vision and capacity. I am a product of the Imo State governorship school and the teachers (the electorate) know me.
But Senator Ifeanyi Araraume has faulted your claim that the APGA ticket was sold. In fact, he said that if it were so, it would have been sold to you because as former governor, you are supposed to have more money than any of the aspirants?
Does that not show you that his idea about becoming a governor is to make more money than others? Is it not baffling that a governorship candidate would make such an assertion. Anyway, whether I had more money or not, I would not descend into that type of recklessness and desperation. Even a 10-year-old boy knows that the Imo APGA governorship ticket was purchased under the table. What they did was an attack on the collective psyche of the entire people of Imo State.
You are aware that before the primaries, APGA was held in very high esteem by the entire people of Imo State, not just APGA members. Today, Imolites hold it with disdain because of that singular act. People laugh whenever you mention APGA in Imo State today.
You again chose a woman as your running mate, what informed this?
I have always been an advocate of giving the women a robust space in the political arena. In my first coming as governor, we had a lot of women in our administration and we even went beyond the 35 per cent concession margin for women.
This time around, I believe that with the caliber of the person we are going to have as my deputy, Imo women will completely take their pride of place in the governance of the state. My running mate, Mrs. Anne Dozie, has a pedigree as an effective leader and motivator who is highly respected within the women-folk in the state on her own, quite apart from her highly reputable family background.
Would it be wrong to assume that some of the people that resist your coming back, especially among the political elite, feel that you are coming to settle scores with perceived political enemies?
It would be natural for some people to erroneously feel that way, but that is not in my character. The good news is that the majority of the political elite that joined in the conspiracies that ended my tenure abruptly eventually found out that they judged me wrongly. Less than six people that were the arrowheads of the conspiracy, manipulated by dishing out false information about me and the government for reasons other than performance. When it became clear to many that the few conspirators engaged in dangerous politics by trading on falsehood, mudslinging and bare faced blackmail, some of them regretted the roles they played in the grand deception, including open manipulations to ensure that the votes in the election never determined the outcome.
The details form part of the Imo political history that no patriotic son or daughter of Imo State would ever pray that it happens again. Why I consider the tribulations a design by God to teach lessons and strengthen me for future leadership roles is because not many would be fortunate enough to be alive and in good health to witness all the lies told about them come crashing.
I habour no hurt or ill feeling against anyone and even my worst critics would tell you that Ohakim has free spirit and incapable of looking back or even contemplate settling scores with anyone. There are no scores to be settled.