Former governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, believes that the crisis-ridden Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) should not be written off yet. He argues that peace is eluding the party, because its leaders are yet to make strong commitment to politically resolving the crisis. The former governor also spoke on other issues including the need to restructure the country, state of affairs in his state and his next political move in this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU
You are very much in the news these days, are you back from your sabbatical?
Sabbatical from what?
From politics, as you announced sometime last year.
I do not agree that I am in the news always. I may have made one or two contributions recently to debates on important national issues and I feel that’s what leaders should be doing. There is so much to talk about.. . I know that some people misconstrue making regular contributions to national issues as seeking for notice. But they fail completely in the sense that it is the failure of leaders to speak out on issues at the right time that led us to where we are now. As for whether I am back from sabbatical, my answer is that, first there is no real politics going on now and second, being on sabbatical does not forbid one from making contributions to issues of national importance.
You think there is no politics going on now?
Well, in the sense that we have not started campaigning, or taking sides. What is going on now is mere grandstanding, speculations and nocturnal moves.
Before you announced your sabbatical, you were a regular commentator on the rift in your party, the Peoples Democratic Party. What’s your take on the current state of affairs?
My take is that I feel vindicated, because I kept on harping that what is needed is a political solution. I said that though we should follow the rule of law, that in the final analysis, a political solution is what will bring peace. Now, you can see that the Appeal Court upheld an earlier judgment in favour of the Ali-Modu Sherrif leadership, based on the rule of law, but that has not brought the needed peace. Each time there is a court judgment, one party wins and the other loses. The losing faction becomes aggrieved and the vicious cycle continues. That’s what we are witnessing. Whatever the Supreme Court rules, the fact is that the losing faction will become aggrieved and the center will continue not to hold.
But the efforts to find a political solution seem not to be working.
Maybe the right approach has not been applied.
So, what do you think?
I don’t think the real leaders of the PDP have taken enough interest in the matter. I don’t think those who were instrumental to the formation of the party have been sufficiently carried along. The Governor Dickson committee report is a right step in the right direction and I also acknowledge the efforts of a leader like President Jonathan, but I believe he has to do more. He is the leader of the party, no doubt, but I think he needs more support from outside.
Why don’t you return from sabbatical and contribute?
By granting you this interview, I am already making a contribution.
Are you optimistic that the matter will be resolved?
Yes, I am quite optimistic. And it is in the interest of the nation at large that the PDP should survive.
It is believed in some quarters that the APC is fueling the crisis in the PDP. What do you think?
I do not buy that. Of course, parties do not ordinarily wish each other well, but I do not see how in this context, the APC is responsible for the recalcitrance going on in the PDP. The argument is both escapist and defeatist.
Early this year, you wrote an article advising President Buhari on some issues. Do you still believe in the arguments you raised?
Yes, of course. Nothing has changed. Recall that the main thrust of that article was that the system we are currently operating has failed and that no matter how much the President tried, he will be unable to make much impact, whether in the realm of economics or politics. I said Nigerians do not hate him, as some people insinuate; but they are disgusted with the system and are no longer ready to co-operate with whoever insists that it should remain the way it is. I still stand by those arguments.
In other words, you are aligning with the arguments for a restructuring of the polity?
But how do you look at the opposition by the north to the idea of restructuring?
Well, I do not think that the north is totally against restructuring. Some of the strongest advocates of restructuring are from the north. But beyond that, I think what we should do is to allay the fears of some elements in the north; that restructuring will put the region at a disadvantage. On the contrary, I believe the north is the biggest potential beneficiary of a politically restructured Nigeria.
Can you elaborate?
The next paradigm shift is agriculture and the north holds the joker there. It has an incredibly large expanse of arable land and labour that can be gotten cheaply. If we go for large- scale agriculture, which has become a strategic imperative for our survival as a nation, the north will be playing the role the Niger Delta is currently playing. So, they have nothing to fear. The oil, which is the bone of contention, is fizzling out.
A recent letter you wrote to the governor of your state is causing a lot of ripples. Did you envisage such?
When you say ripples, I don’t know in what sense, other than that the governor and his handlers made a song and dance of a mere letter of advice, instead of addressing the issues I raised.
Their main grouse is that you made it an open letter and that you shouldn’t even have resorted to letter writing, since you have access to the governor.
First, I did not make it an open letter. I merely made copies available to some leaders in the state and beyond, owing to the nature of the issues I discussed. If I wanted to make it an open letter, I would have taken newspaper advertorials to publish the letter. The newspapers might have naturally stumbled on the letter and decided to publish it as part of public service. In any case, why the fuss on whether it was an open or closed letter? To say that I have access to the governor is to be economical with the truth. I do not crave to have access to Governor Okorocha, but he is an incredibly hostile fellow. This is a fellow who has remained bitter six years after an election in which he was declared winner even though he did not win. Go and ask Governor Okorocha whether he has ever invited me to any government function. I am not the only person. The latest example was during the visit of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to Imo State to address some issues concerning the Niger Delta.
The state governor did not deem it fit to invite any of those representing the oil producing areas in the National Assembly. You may recall that the people of the oil- producing area in the state protested against the non invitation of their representatives to the meetings with the vice president. That’s just an example. The talk about having access to Governor Okorocha is bunkum. In any case, the governor, as I said in the letter, is fond of attacking me publicly. So, why would I now start running after him, when he seizes every opportunity to denigrate and insult me openly. Governor Okorocha would not address any public gathering without mentioning how I failed. In the incident that partly led to my latest letter, he just took the microphone and started abusing me. When I read the report in the newspapers, I made inquiries to ascertain the circumstances under which he poured such invectives on me. I discovered it was just from the blues. He was talking about his road projects and just from nowhere, he veered off to me. Nobody asked him any question about Ikedi Ohakim. There is a gallery at the Government House where the photographs of past governors are displayed. Up till now, mine is conspicuously missing. And you would ask, why? That’s the person they say I have access to.
Maybe he was taking that opportunity to respond to earlier comments by you either through a letter or verbally.
But he had responded to my earlier letter when he spent over N20 million on newspaper advertorials to tabulate his achievements and mine and scored me zero on all points, while scoring himself 100 per cent. Other well- meaning citizens of the state told him to respond to the issues I raised and not the comparison. Incidentally, some of the issues I raised in my previous letter are still haunting his administration.
In which areas?
In my letter last August, I pointed at the danger of destroying people’s property and homes without consultation under any guise. Recently, a Federal High Court in Owerri issued a warrant of arrest on six top functionaries of his administration, including two commissioners, for failing to appear before it over a case between the government and a prominent citizen of the state whose property was destroyed by agents of government. I also made reference to the shoddy jobs on some of the civil construction works going on in the state. And recently, the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria raised the alarm over the safety of the two flyovers that are currently being completed by the administration. The flyovers were started by our administration, but Governor Okorocha threw away all the safety valves in the original design. Even non- professionals see that the profile of the bridge is not in alignment with the plan and profile of the dualised road design. Go there and see for yourself. The fact that somebody is uncomfortable that I make my observations public means that what I am stating are the facts. I am not impressed by the talk about making my observations privately, because Governor Okorocha does not listen to advice. Go and ask the people working with him. In fact, my next observations may be on live television.
If the governor invites you to a meeting, will you honour it?
That’s hypothetical and I do not think that it has gotten to that. The governor does not need to invite me to be able to purge himself of some of his excesses, which are in public domain. He does not need to invite me to be able to know that he cannot threaten any citizen of the state with banishment. He does not need to hold a meeting with me to be able to respect the rule of law and court judgments. As I said in my letter, governance is like boxing. They have similar codes of conduct. You don’t punch your opponent after the whistle is blown. But His Excellency, Governor Rochas Okorocha, is fond of punching his opponents after the match. He keeps on insulting his predecessors. For example, the high point of his response to my latest letter is to repeat the thrash that his achievements surpass those of all past governors of the state put together. That is infantile. It is the type of thing student unionists say to each other.
Next, he will remind me that I flogged a Catholic priest; and each time he says it, the people laugh at him, because they know he is living in the past. The elections took place six years ago, but Okorocha behaves as if we are just going into one. All those who cooked up the issue of Reverend Father have all told the world that it is not true. For Governor Okorocha to always allude to that in response to my observations over his ineptitude and misgovernance shows that his thinking horizon has not gone beyond 2011. In Imo State, it is lies, lies and all lies. He lied several times that he would conduct local government elections. He lies with payment of salaries and pensions. The people of Imo are waiting for the next lie to mature, which is the delivery of five new aircrafts for his Imo Airline project before the end of April 2017. April will soon end and it will bring the number of lies and unfulfilled promises to 183. We are documenting everything
But we understand that the Airline project is part of efforts to create jobs especially for the youths.
Which youths? Is it the youths who have been so harassed and intimidated that they do not know what to do any longer? The 10,000 youths we employed during my administration, but whom he dismissed from service upon assuming office are so economically deprived that they find it difficult to come together. They got a court judgment that they should be reinstated, but the governor refused to obey the ruling. Their leader, one Dr. Ugonna Emereole, was callously murdered in broad daylight in front of his father’s house. Like I said, things have really gotten to a level where it is practically impossible for somebody like me to keep quiet over the abysmal perfidy going on in Imo State.
But reports have it that there is massive infrastructural development in the state now. The state capital, Owerri, now has eight-lane roads, for example.
That is most laughable. Where in this world do they build eight-lane carriage within the city? It is so ridiculous and makes the people of the state look backward. You don’t need such roads within a metropolis. The roads he is talking about jam the entrance to people’s homes. There are no pedestrian walkways. There are no rooms for water pipes and electric cables to be laid in future. I can assure you that the next administration may be forced to reduce the width of those roads.
Apart from roads there are several other structures like the 27 general hospitals, the Imo Cargo Airport, which is being rebuilt by the state government and several other buildings that would enhance governance. Will the next administration also reduce those ones?
The buildings you are talking about are of no economic value and more than 80 per cent of them are substandard structures and are not under use. Even if you want to count buildings as achievement, let the governor tell us how many buildings he has erected with the N982 billion revenue he has collected in six years, since he is a builder. How much of that went to the building of his Eastern Palm University in his family compound in Ogboko. What did he build with the N26.6 billion I handed over to him? Since he is a builder, on which building did he spend the N13.2 billion bond money I left behind? Even the Cargo Airport you are talking about, which year’s budget captured the N7 billion Cargo Airport project? The Eastern Palm University in his family compound is said to be a private-public sector project. Can he tell the people of Imo who the private partner or partners are? I recall that that university started as a purported plan to relocate the Imo State University to Ogboko. But when the people protested, Okorocha cunningly claimed that he had dropped the plan, but continued to build the structures. Since then, the university has been known by at least three names. It was first named Imo European University. Today, he is calling it Eastern Palm University. Mark my words; the university may end up as Rochas Okorocha American University.
As a builder that he is, Governor Okorocha has built a massive private residence in Owerri, which they call Spibat. It is covering over 60 hectares of land. It raises goose pimples, because, as far as I’m concerned, that fortress is built on the graveyard of the citizens of the state. When a large number of our people have no roof over their heads, others are sleeping under the trees, the governor acquired for himself a private residence of over 22 storey buildings. That’s obscene and an affront on the good people of Imo State. The Spibat compound is bigger than the size of the Imo State University campus in Owerri and bigger than the Aso Rock Villa, the official residence of the President of Nigeria.
You talk about the nonexistence of qualified medical personnel in the state health system. But recent reports have it that the state government has been donating hospitals to the armed forces. If the situation was that bad, would there have been such a development?
We know why Governor Okorocha is donating the people’s structures to the armed forces and police. The hospitals are meant for the people. When was it agreed that the structures should be donated to anybody? My inquiry from members of the State House of Assembly shows that they do not know about it. In any case, I have gone through the 2016/2017 budgets of the army, police and air force; they never budgeted for hospitals in Imo State. He just wants to militarize the state, believing that that will offer him any political or electoral advantage in the future. If he likes, let him also donate the 27 local government headquarters that are now overgrown with weeds to the military. In any case, the purported donation does not obliterate the fact that the hospitals are not functional and that the health system in the state has collapsed,with no single consultant in the employment of the state government.
One of the issues you raised in your letter was that of local government elections, which the governor had promised severally to hold. He has now fixed September, this year as the deadline for the election. Is that not a reassuring step?
When I wrote him last year, he hurriedly scheduled the local government elections for last September, i.e. 2016. Again, on receipt of my latest letter, he has hurriedly scheduled another one for September 2017. But I can assure you that he is doing that to escape the wrath of the people and that of the Federal Government, which has directed all the states to hold LGA elections before the end of this year. But, even at that, I’m sure that if Governor Okorocha has his way, he will avoid the election, as he has done for six years.
Every state in the South East has conducted local government elections, with the exception of Imo. Even with his latest announcement, I can assure you that the people are not impressed.