Amby Uneze recently interacted with the former Governor of Imo State, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, who has formally declared his intention to contest for governorship on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance.
Why are you running again to govern Imo State after you held office between 2007 and 2011?
I am running in order to help Imo State function according to democratic, social, economic and cultural norms. As things stand today, the state is a bizarre entity devoid of any form of decorum. Imo state, which used to be the citadel of republicanism, has been reduced to a mere fiefdom. There is fear that it may be transformed to 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 believe that my experience as governor for four years is what the state requires to return to sanity. This is not the time to send an
inexperienced fellow to Government House.
I am the only former governor with experience that can still be elected into that office. I’m the only person that knows what was where by May 29, 2011 when I handed over. In spite of all the abuses by a few disgruntled elements, I decided to answer the call by majority of our people to once more offer myself in the service of the state.
Imo is like a vehicle whose engine is damaged. It has to be repaired by an experienced mechanic. An apprentice cannot repair it. There is no room for learners. A patient in an intensive care unit requires an experienced surgeon not a house doctor.
Some politicians have alleged that you merely wanted to do a second term as constitutionally allowed?
The first signs that Governor Rochas Okorocha will mess up the state came 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 off and not within the democratic tenets of the country; things like Community Government, abolishing town unions, dissolving democratically elected local government councils, dissolving tenured boards, dismissing 10,000 graduates from the civil service with another 800,000 people losing their means of livelihood. By 2014, it was clear to every Imolite that there was need to stop Okorocha. Things have gone completely awry now. 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. Okorocha was almost gone.
I am not pretending about my desire for another term. My second term will heal the psychological wound 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. I am not ashamed to say that I am entitled to another term because it is in the overall interest of the state.
Look at the issue of equity. Whether anybody likes it or not, I hold the key to that. If our people did not succumb to lies and I was allowed to exercise the mandate I was given in 2011, by now nobody will be talking about equity. 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. 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 would emerge as governor in 2019.
You say you have the joker to the issue of equity. Don’t you think Owerri zone people can collect it directly in 2019?
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 contradiction, 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.
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 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 that I will hand over to an Owerri Zone fellow.
You must have heard of the affidavit I swore on what I will do for the people of the state if I am re-elected as governor in part one of the affidavit. In part two, I dwelt on the matter of equity very elaborately and that power will naturally go to Owerri zone after my tenure. My aspiration offers the state the brightest opportunity to resolve the matter of equity once and for all.
Some observers believe that the people of Owerri zone are being paid in their own coin for supporting Okorocha who comes from Orlu zone in 2011, instead of supporting you to do a second term and then hand over to one of them. Do you also reason along that line?
I do not believe that Owerri zone should carry the burden of what happened in 2011 alone. Ordinarily, what these observers say might appear logical but the matter is not as simple as that. The people might have had preference for Okorocha for whatever reason but it was not that support alone that brought Okorocha to power. Okorocha’s governorship was packaged and delivered by powerful forces outside the state, The Presidency inclusive. I refer you to the wonderful book written in 2012 by my former Special Adviser on Public Enlightenment and Documentary, Ethelbert Okere. The book, ‘Democracy By Military Tank’, exposed everything. You would see how soldiers took away one Mr. Ngozi Nwoko who was the Returning Officer for Ohaji-Egbema, with the result sheets he was brining to the INEC headquarters in Owerri. They took him somewhere in Ontisha with the result sheets and detained him there; so that he was not able to submit the result from that LGA where we got over 28000 votes as against a little over three thousand by APGA. That result would have given us a clear win if it was included but those who plotted my ouster made sure it was not taken by the state returning officer. It was not Owerri people that gave orders to the soldiers to intercept the results that Nwoko was brining to the INEC headquarters in Owerri.
So, I don’t hold Owerri Zone completely responsible for what the state suffered in 2011 and still suffering. In any case, don’t forget that part of the lies they were told was that Okorocha was going to do only four years. That lie was packaged from outside the state. I don’t want the people to live forever on their mistakes. That is not the way of God’s children. What is important is the lessons we learn from our mistakes and I believe majority of the people that had their hands in that sordid episode have learned from that experience. More than four years ago, I made an open apology to all those I offended while I was governor. I asked for their forgiveness just as I have also forgiven all those who offended me.
I want to use this opportunity again to apologize to all Imolites who felt offended by my actions which might have been inadvertent. I also forgive those who offended me. There are those who think that if Ohakim re-emerges as governor, he will go after those who sabotaged his reelection in 2011. Such a thing will never happen. Vendetta is not part of me. The people who gave me mandate in 2011 have asked me to come back. The civil servants are eager to have me back because they have seen the difference between my era and what they are subjected to now.
You have just declared for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the same party that was used to dislodge you. Why APGA?
That is part of the 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. Within my own canal limitations as an ordinary mortal, since Okorocha disgraced APGA after riding on it to power, God is probably giving the party an opportunity to win the governorship election. I made my choice of APGA based on hard facts, not just on sentiments. The 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.
At what point did you discover that your former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was no longer the ideal platform?
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. 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 were exclusively entitled to the spoils of the war. That has really alienated it from the people. 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. I believe I will also have a wonderful company with the people I have come to meet in APGA.
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?
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. 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 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 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.
Can you tell us some of the things you have promise to do for Imo people in the affidavit?
I swore that my mission in my second coming will be nothing else but to address the urgent issues of economic revival, loot recovery, reconciliation and returning Imo back to the hands of God. Second, to liberate the state from rapacious and capricious mismanagement of its affairs as well as the callous and mindless misappropriation of its resources and, thirdly to put back in place all good governance structures that were deliberately and ignorantly destroyed by Governor Rochas Okorocha. Finally, to purify the system by restoring our Christian and traditional values; prepare the next generation of leaders and return our state to a more civilized brand of politics devoid of thugs, gangsters and brigandage before the end of my four-year tenure.
There is this talk out there that you may eventually dump APGA after using it to achieve your ambition, as you did to PPA and in fact as your successor, Governor Rochas Okorocha, did. Some say you may leave the party after four years to pursue a presidential ambition. 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?
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? 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 Unity Party of Nigeria (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, 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. My joining APGA was in answer to a call by the people; a call that came from a cross section of the people, youths, professionals, artisans, traders, students, and what have you; a call to come over to the party of the future of not only Ndi Igbo but the entire Nigeria.