George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
A former governor of Imo State, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim has recently come under severe criticism for accepting an award from the immediate past governor of the state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. In this interview, he explains why he accepted the award and his take on the newly inaugurated administration among other national issues.
You have come under severe attack for accepting an award from your successor, Rochas Okorocha, just before he left office as Imo State governor. Are you not worried about that?
I am not worried at all. To be honest with you, I am touched by the avalanche of criticisms. It is a demonstration of love from my people because if I am not loved, nobody would have been bothered. They would say, Ohakim, you can go to hell. We were over 20 persons that received the award. That mine is the only one raising dusts is understandable and I sincerely appreciate the concern our people have for me. However, my worry is that some of them are criticising me out of ignorance or inability to properly understand what I went through.
As I talk to you, the matter has generated over 7,500 comments in a particular platform on the social media. That is quite interesting. Those commenting are not in a position to understand what I went through. We have a situation where the fellow who shot the gun turned around to be the person extracting the bullets. Many people do not know the humiliation I went through in the hands of those now honouring me. At the height of it, a certain bishop told television camera men at a function to make sure they did not get a shot showing me and him together. There is this recorded tape of a Rev. Father preaching against me somewhere in Ohaji Egbema. Each time I watch that tape, I cry.
Now, the very people who said and did those things to me are recanting and I think I should be human and humble enough to appreciate what they are doing. Of course, I take full cognisance of the fact that some of my political enemies would be pissed off in seeing that public apologies are being extended to me.
What Okorocha did was to publicly acknowledge that he wronged me and is publicly asking for forgiveness. It is a statesmanlike move because not everyone can summon the courage to do what he did. It would be wrong of me to rebuff such a gesture. This is a fellow who removed my official photograph from the gallery where those of all former governors were hung; now inviting me to take me round the same gallery with my photograph there. This is a fellow who publicly accused me of stealing the people’s money, now publicly honouring me with an award. I was publicly disgraced and now I am being honoured publicly.
As far as I am concerned, Okorocha did not act entirely on his own; God spoke and acted through him to get me finally vindicated. In any case, it is not only Okorocha that God has used to vindicate me. It started with two prominent men of God, Archbishop Anthony Obinna and Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka. I have received an award from the Owerri Catholic Archdioceses for the work I did while I was governor. Father Mbaka has also publicly declared me innocent of all the lies that were told against me in 2011. He even waxed a record in which I was derided. When he discovered the truth, he waxed another record praising and exonerating me. Now, it is Rochas Okorocha. Anybody can say whatever he or she likes but as for me, I am full of praises to God.
Don’t you think that those who believe that the state has issues to settle with Okorocha would see you as taking sides with him?
When did they realise that Okorocha has issues with the state? Where were they when I was writing letters and granting interviews, trying to point at certain things he was doing but which were not in the interest of the state. The same people who are now criticising me for accepting the award are the same people that were bashing me for speaking out. They said I should allow Rochas Okorocha to run his own government, that I had done my own. Some even said I mismanaged my own opportunity. Unknown to many, I am still in court with two of Okorocha’s former aides for defamation of character. When they said I lost election in 2011, I became a laughing stock. Okorocha was telling all sorts of lies against me, did anybody defend me? They even said I was using 30 million naira to drink Champaign every day. Did anybody ask questions? Did even you in the media dig into the matter to find out the truth?
Accepting Okorocha’s award does not in any way mean that I have exonerated him of any grievances the people of the state might have against him. Ikedi Ohakim is not a law court. I decided to submit myself to the governor’s gestures in order to give the entire state the opportunity to realise that a monumental mistake was made in 2011, in the way I was treated through false accusations; and to learn the necessary lessons from that so that next time, we as a people will not make the same mistake. If I declined the award, there would have been no opportunity for Imo people to know that the same people who accused me wrongly have now recanted. Next time, Imo people will ask questions when another fellow is being castigated.
Many people still wonder why you decided to contest the last governorship election, given the type of result you posted. What actually happened?
I can tell you that the decision to run in the 2019 Imo governorship election is perhaps one of the best I have ever taken in life. In fact, I consider it as my most courageous decision, because given the desperation of many contestants; I made myself extremely vulnerable to bashing by the numerous candidates. I was the only former governor in that contest and so, the only candidate that had a record on the office of the governor of Imo State. In other words, I was expecting some of the candidates to come out to say, Ohakim, go and sit down. When you were governor, you stole so, so and so amount of money; you acquired so, so and so area of land, etcetera. I had expected some of my fellow contestants to come out with proof of all the houses I was alleged to have acquired in Owerri and overseas when I was governor. But none of that happened, because those allegations were all false. Recall that I swore to a 35-paragraph affidavit in which I told Imo people that if they found out that any of the allegations against me is true, they should prosecute me. I staked my integrity at the highest level. It has never happened. Nobody could come up with anything. The 2019 governorship election in Imo State was the most rancorous. Candidates and their parties were ruthless and they would not have spared me if they had proof of any wrong doing on my part. The point I am trying to make is that my decision to run was a strategic move to defend my integrity. Forget about the figures posted against my name, that election invariably gave me a clean bill.
What’s your take about the future of Nigeria against the backdrop of heightening fears in the country?
I think the biggest worry is about the growing insecurity. You will agree with me that in spite of the rhetoric from some federal officials, we cannot claim that we have made any good progress in checking the scourge of insecurity in the country; not even in the fight against Boko Haram. We cannot, sincerely speaking, say that we are winning the war. Outside Boko Haram, the security situation has become worse. Look at what is happening on the Abuja-Kaduna road. For a journey of less than two hours, the chances that you will be kidnapped are over 50 percent. It is like that in several other parts of the country. When you add this to the level of disenchantment that currently prevails among the citizenry especially after the 2019 general elections, you will only but get worried. Look at Zamfara State. Now, look at the political situation in the state today with the recent Supreme Court ruling. When you combine that with the level of banditry in the state, you can only come to the conclusion that unless the proper steps are taken, the security situation there will get worse. If you combine banditry with political animosity, the result is total chaos.
What measures would you suggest the president takes in this second term to address the challenge?
The president has to immediately re-invent the security architecture of the country, beginning with changing the service chiefs. Tactically, no general is used to fight two wars. The security chiefs that the president has been using in the fight with Boko Haram have done their best but Nigerians believe that a new set has to come. Look at the Police, there seems to be a new lease of life in the force with the coming in of a new Inspector-General. It was a good thing that the president heeded to the clamour for a change in the leadership of the force. The coming in of a new Inspector-General has gingered confidence in the people and with what he has done so far, we are likely to get some desirable results. So, let the president do the same with the heads of the other security outfits particularly the military. Nigerians are looking forward to that.
Beyond that, I think that the president should constitute his cabinet as quickly as possible. Early constitution of a new cabinet will engender confidence in the people and clear doubts among the international community. He is facing a ligation which the rest of the international community is observing with keen interest and as such, he should start early to demonstrate that he is ready to run with the ball.
Having been there before; what advice would you give Governor Emeka Ihedioha?
First, I restate my support for him. He should look at reconciling members of the political elite. I join other well-meaning citizens of the state to appeal to those at the elections tribunal to withdraw their cases. I have personally met with some of them. Let them join hands with Ihedioha so that we can revamp the economy of the state. Imo is in dire need of investments from outside but investors, whether local of foreign, do not go where there are litigations and political uncertainty. As I have said in previous fora, I do not want the new governor to suffer the type of distraction I was faced with because I know the implications. Then, he will look at developing the human capital of the state especially by rebuilding the civil service; then, of course, the economy. He has to embark on job-creating projects, not edifices that will not be of any economic use.
There has been this war of words between your camp and that of your predecessor, Chief Achike Udenwa. Is it not high time you both draw the curtain?
There is no war. People are taking it for a war but I do not. I have the highest respect for him but unfortunately, handlers and lieutenants who have left the issues to dwell on inanities; they have refused to admit that the matter is that of a serious slip of tongue on the part of their principal. While I commend them for their loyalty to their boss, they should also understand that Imo people are no fools. By refusing to address the issues and contending themselves with the talk about who made who governor, they tend to suggest that the people are not in a position to remember what really happened. He started the fight. So, he can stop it if he wants. I merely defended myself. In any case, I have stopped talking about it. Let them wait for my forthcoming book.