Mark Uchendu, the immediate past Secretary to Imo State Government under Sen. Rochas Okorocha’s administration has said the Supreme Court judgment that ousted Chief Emeka Ihedioha has proved that the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in last year’s guber election in Imo State knew that he did not win the governorship election.
In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
We received with shock the death of your kinsman and member of your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Sen. Benjamin Uwajumogu, what can you say about the late federal lawmaker?
Late Sen. Benjamin Uwajumogu was a jolly good fellow. My relationship with him started as far back as 1989 when he was the Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the youngest state chairman of a political party in Imo State. While I contested the position of a councilor, even though we were not in the same party, but we were among younger persons in politics then. So, we did a lot together. I was one of those who encouraged him when he contested for the House of Assembly and I stood behind him until he won that election to represent Ihitte Uboma state constituency on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). When it became necessary to switch from PDP to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) so that he could become the Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly in 2011, I gave him my support. Then I was in PDP and a lot of leaders of the then ruling party were angry with him. They abandoned him, but I came out openly to support and encourage him to become the Speaker until he finished his tenure. Until he passed on, we had a cordial relationship except when our political interest clashes and we never allowed our interest exceed election period. Indeed, I received with shock the news of his death because few days to his demise, I was with him and we discussed a lot of issues concerning Okigwe zone and Ihitte Uboma LGA. We agreed on certain issues and I told him about some of the things I have done and those I intend to do for the LGA and Imo North Senatorial district. So, to wake up that morning and hear the news of his death, I was shocked. Initially, I thought it was a rumour, but when I called his line and nobody picked, I called one of his aides who confirmed that he was in coma then. Unfortunately, when I came back in the afternoon the same day, the news was everywhere that Sen. Ben Uwajumogu was dead. However, we take solace in the fact that nothing happened without God knowing about it.
The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan said the ruling party had lost one of the pillars of APC in the South-East, what will your party miss about late Uwajumogu?
Like I said earlier, he was a jolly good fellow. Ben doesn’t bear malice. If he finishes quarreling with you, he settles with you immediately. He was the kind of person that if he has one pair of shoes and you come to him and said you want it, he will give it to you and wear slippers. He was an open-minded person and accommodating. Yes, I concur with the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan that APC has lost one of its pillars with the demise of Sen. Uwajumogu; it is true. He was among the founders of APC. He was a team player and true party man who fought to birth the ruling party in 2015. He was the only two term Senator of APC from the entire South-East and going by the analysis of political pundits, if INEC had not delayed Sen. Uwajumogu’s Certificate of Return, there was chances that he would have become the Senate President. Okigwe South where Uwajumogu hailed from is the only constituency in the South-East that produced a Senator, member of House of Representatives, House of Assembly member and Minister of state for Education; all on the platform of APC. And Ben contributed in no small measure to help the party achieve this feat. He offered quality and effective representation to his constituency. So, when the Senate President said the ruling party had lost one of its pillars, he spoke the mind of the entire members of the APC including Mr. President and the National Chairman of our great party.
What is your party doing for his replacement?
Right now, the party is concerned with the burial arrangement. Meanwhile, we are looking up to Okigwe zone to take a decision on who replaces Sen. Uwajumogu. I know similar cases had happened before and the party handled it maturely. For instance, when Maurice Ibekwe died, they went to his constituency and Onuimo LGA in particular to get a replacement. But for now, the burial has just been fixed for February. So, we wait until then and whatever decision the party takes, we will abide by it. I’m sure that APC will win the election any time it is fixed if they make a right choice of candidate.
The relative peace in Imo State is interrupted as protests rock the state following the Supreme Court judgment that ousted Chief Emeka Ihedioha on technical ground; this verdict has cast a shadow on the judiciary as being biased. What is your view?
That is not true. The judgment of the Supreme Court is clear and I want to tell you that Emeka Ihedioha deep in his heart knew that he didn’t win the governorship election. On the reconciliation issue you highlighted, you will agree with me that during election; a lot of stories will fly. Politicians tend to be firing from all cylinders and after election, they begin to appreciate the reality on ground and the reality on ground is that Imo is an APC state. Whatever votes Action Alliance (AA), got, APGA and PDP got if put together were APC votes. And if you put them together, you will see that PDP did not win Imo State. It was just that we did not agree on the governorship flag bearer of APC then. So, some people have come to terms with the reality. Also, when Governor Emeka Ihedioha came with vendetta saying that everybody who served under the immediate past administration in the state must go to jail, people had to fight for their lives across party lines, we had to forgive each other and work together to deliver Imo from bad governance. Fortunately, Sen. Hope Uzodinma is now the governor of Imo State. So, having reconciled with Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu and Sen. Rochas Okorocha and others, Uzodinma’s administration will be a smooth ride. Imo will be better again since they have decided to come together and forge ahead. The next challenge before us is the rerun election in Okigwe North Federal Constituency that will be conducted in few days time. Instruction has been passed to all the LGA’s for us to close ranks and ensure we deliver Princess Miriam Onuoha, candidate of APC. As I speak with you, the people of Okigwe have resolved to queue behind her to ensure she emerges winner.
The Supreme Court judgment in Ekiti State barring governors and state Assemblies from sacking elected local government chairmen from office has resulted to forceful attempt to take over the council secretariats in Imo State by former chairmen and councilors. How do you see the development?
At times, politicians make costly mistakes. I laugh when I hear people trying to compare Achike Udenwa, Ikedi Ohakim, and Rochas Okorcha’s regimes with what happened few weeks ago in Imo State in the third tier of government. Before now, there was no Supreme Court judgment barring governors from dissolving local administration immediately they are elected into office. In the past, there was no such judgment or decision by the Apex Court. The issue now is that the Supreme Court has ruled that no governor and House of Assembly has the right to dissolve elected local government chairmen and councilors. The judgment came following a suit filed by former Ekiti state council chairmen; the decision of the Supreme Court must be served all the 36 states in the country and Federal Capital Territory. I had expected a good politician which Governor Ihedioha my friend is, to have read the handwriting on the wall and obey the judgment of the Supreme Court by quietly reinstating the former chairmen and councilors in office. So, what they were fighting for had caused the life of a former councilor in Isu LGA. Whether you like it or not, that Supreme Court judgment must be obeyed because it cannot be appealed. And the court gave a deadline up to January 10, 2020.
Many have accused your party of trying to smuggle the Hate Speech Bill into the National Assembly; do you think we need such a law to regulate the social media?
Do you say our party? It is a National Assembly matter and not APC affair. Most political parties have members in both chambers of the National Assembly, hence it is a National Assembly matter. If the bill sails through, you cannot call it APC bill.
Is there any need for Hate Speech Bill?
There is a lot of character injury in the social media. There was a time I wrote a petition to the Inspector General of Police because the allegation was weighty. Social media has made most of our children irresponsible because they always create the ugly impression about somebody. They tend not to know the purpose of social media which is meant to disseminate information. For instance, you can be here and post what happened to any part of the world. That is what it is supposed to be, but most people use it for negative purposes. That does not mean that I’m in support of Hate Speech Bill because I have no role to play. It is a bill before the National Assembly and the federal lawmakers are supposed to know what is good for Nigerians.
Now that Ihedioha is no more the Imo governor, do you foresee Governor Hope Uzodinma continuing from where Okorocha stopped?
Yes, he has started already. Few hours ago, Governor Hope Uzodinma started fixing the structures built by Okorocha that was destroyed by Ihedioha. Even though the former, Ihedioha, is my friend, I think they started badly when they came with the idea of pursuing and intimidating everybody who served under Okorocha. To me, that was where Ihedioha got it wrong. There was no need for that, having served in the immediate past government as Secretary to the State Government. I have seen what the structure of governance is like. You don’t have to dismantle all the structures you inherited from your predecessor. What you do is to replace some and improve on others if need be. For instance, they closed the flyover at Oji road with a heap of sand for the past six months making traffic very cumbersome on that road. If there is any repair to be carried out on the flyover, it won’t take them three months to fix it. That flyover was initiated by Ikedi Ohakim, it was not started by Okorocha, rather, Okorocha completed it. Therefore, the best thing Ihedioha would have done is to fix infrastructure where there is any deficiency and not to block the whole bridge. Again, the governor got it wrong when his men pulled down street lights in Owerri and carried them away, keeping Owerri in darkness. The High Court premises that was commissioned, the governor said the place was not good yet; lawyers in states use the pavilion as venue for events and the governor allowed the place to be overgrown by weed. The Police Headquarters built by Okorocha is abandoned by the state government and these are structures that cost the state money. What stopped Ihedioha from putting these structures into use because it is our money that is being wasted? They cannot expand roads the way Okorocha did at Oji and Amakohia. I want to see a government that has guts in Imo State just like Rochas Okorocha. I’m not holding brief for him. For instance, before now, if you want to go to Assumpta from Warehouse, you spend hours, but Okorocha’s government ended the people’s suffering through construction of first, second, third, fourth and fifth Inland roads. So, you can access New Owerri through all these roads. The roads may not be Julius Berger standard, but they have already been opened. Let Ihedioha fix, maintain or reconstruct other roads Okorocha could not complete or did not do during his tenure instead of dismantling the ones the last administration did. These are some of the innovations of Okorocha and I expect the new government to construct more roads and commission them and own it. Like the one from the Secretariat near the General Hospital, it has been partially done by Okorocha. So, I expected Ihedioha to complete and commission it, name it as his own project and take the credit.
What is your take on the clamour for Igbo Presidency in 2023?
To produce President of Igbo extraction will depend on the people of South-East. I will tell you why, we take delight in running our own people down. Majority of former public officers that are in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) net are Igbos. Does it mean that only Igbo public servants stole public funds? For example, almost all the former governors from South-East are accused of diverting public funds. They include, Ikedi Ohakim, Sen. Rochas Okorocha, Sen.T. A. Orji, Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu, Sulivan Chime, Sen. Sam Egwu, Elechi, Sen. Chimaroke Nnaman are all answering corruption charges in EFCC. So, how can Igbo produce the President in 2023 when virtually all the people who have the means and capacity to contest the position are accused of stealing public funds? Who are the people to project Igbo course even the Presidency? Is not these ex-governors that are on trial for misappropriation of public funds? What they are saying and telling the international community invariably is that Igbo ex-governors and public officers are thieves and are not qualify to be President of Nigeria. That is why I’m not happy with what for Governor Ihedioha did to Okorocha in Imo State. Sen. Okorocha is one man whose goodwill has touched lives across the country. His Foundation has over 2000 children on scholarship and this date back before he became governor. He build schools across the country most of which are situated in the North and Southwestern part of the country. He may not be liked by Ndigbo, but he is loved by Nigerians. As it stands now, only Okorocha has the means and capacity to get the Presidency for Igbo. For instance, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was not liked by the Yorubas in 1999, but at the end he became the President without Yoruba votes. So, anything can happen. I believe that if the North allows the South-East to produce the next President, they will make their choice and not Igbo because we don’t have the population. And that was what happened when Obasanjo became President. He didn’t win in his ward, not even in his booth, but he became the President in 1999. So, is it left for the North to douse tension by balancing the political equation through shifting power to the South-East by giving it to an Igbo person of their choice because our choice cannot fly due to the fact that we don’t the number of votes that can make a person of our choice President, but the North can make President out of us.