Governor Rochas Okorocha’s name has featured prominently in South-east’s quest to produce Nigeria’s president in 2015 and the current crisis in his party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The Imo State governor spoke on these and other issues in this interview with some senior journalists, including Sam Egburonu
You just commissioned the Ikemba Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Centre and inaugurated the board of directors. You seem so excited about the centre. Why?
It has always been my dream to have a centre for the Igbo. The Ikemba Ojukwu Centre provides a place for our people to look into our past, our present and our future. So, the centre is basically to look into the Igbo past, Igbo present and Igbo future. There is no other person to be so honoured with such a centre than the late Ikemba Ojukwu, who actually stands for the Igbo, Igbo land and the Igbo man. Having inaugurated the centre with the calibre of people such as Ambassador George Obiozor and other notable personalities, it shows it has become a rallying point for Igbo renaissance, culture, history, technology and I believe very strongly that the Igbo have a lot to offer this country, if given the opportunity.
So, who was Ojukwu to you that you used such a centre to honour him?
Ojukwu to me represented an ideal leader, a selfless leader, a man who never thought of himself but others; a man who was only powerful outside but very weak inside, a true leader. He is an icon who became poor for the sake of the people. He abandoned wealth. So, Ojukwu to me is a great man, greater in death.
Since you joined APGA, there have been calls for regeneration in the party. What are the plans really to make the party one that can rise to the level of presenting and winning the presidential election?
APGA is a political party that is just making its mark now. So, you can call it one of the upcoming political parties. For the first time, it has governors, senators, House of Representatives members and state assemblies too. So, you can call it an upcoming party, whose roots is the strongest in the South-east. So, it is our intention that in 2015, APGA will take over the entire South-east. That would be the first step and probably some few states elsewhere. APGA is still a party that is trying to find its feet. When parties grow in that way, it becomes stronger when it gets to the apex than parties that just woke up and became large. Their downfall is just that fast too. So, APGA is growing gradually.
That means you have backtracked from the initial position of restructuring the party in a letter you wrote to the National Chairman with the Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi?
No. I believe there is need for restructuring. Like inImoState, we have restructured the party. There is always the argument of ‘we have been in this party before you came and how can you do this?’ So, restructuring is an on-going thing. It is not an automatic thing. We keep restructuring and amending things gradually. It is a gradual process.
What you are saying really is that the rancor in the party is a temporary thing?
It is very, very temporary. It is normal. Where you have two persons even in a family, disagreement is inevitable. Disagreement is part of the political system but what is important is the ability to resolve them when they do occur. And I think we are on top of it. Sometimes, it could be a matter of ego; sometimes, it could be a feeling of insecurity; sometimes, it could be for recognition. What we do is that those who need their ego to be massaged are massaged, those who feel insecure, we guarantee them their security and the party moves on. So far, so good; it is a problem we shall overcome.
But it appears the crisis has divided or separated you from theAnambraStategovernor, your fellow APGA governor?
Not at all! In fact, if anything, I am very close with theAnambraStategovernor. We speak on daily basis. He is my brother; he is my friend. I accord him the respect of being in APGA before me. For me, I am just a newcomer to the party. So, I must be careful the way I handle people in the party before me. All I do is advice; can we do it this way, can we do it that way? I am not interested in crisis, neither am I interested in any kind of conflict. So, Peter Obi is not just a friend, he is a brother. There’s no quarrel at all between us.
You just talked about taking over the South-east and a few other states in 2015. Are you saying APGA will not seek to produce the president in 2015?
Definitely, every political party has a right to produce a presidential candidate. It is one thing to produce a presidential candidate and another to produce a president. They are two different issues. Nobody can deny any party the right to present a presidential candidate but you can deny them the right to produce the president through the ballot box. I think there is nothing wrong in APGA producing a presidential candidate. In fact, any party that does not produce a presidential candidate should be de-registered. But if you are asking me how strong is APGA now to produce Nigerian president in 2015; I will tell you that the way it is structured now, it will be an uphill task for APGA to be alone and win the presidential election in 2015; unless of course the party expands within the next one year. But if APGA has to go for the presidency, then, it will have to go into an alliance with other political parties and I think that’s the best way to go if APGA is to make any headway.
As we move towards 2015, the permutations have started and some are saying either Jonathan or the North. So, it seems the South-east is out of the question. It appears as if the zone is being alienated by Nigerians.
It is notNigeriathat is alienating the South-east. It is a wrong statement. Rather, it is the south-east that is alienating itself. They have not demonstrated enough courage in pursuing this course. They are not pursuing it as business. Our people have not reached that level of politics and politics is not our main business. We are mainly businessmen. But gradually, the consciousness is coming.
Nobody can donate presidency to you because you are Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. You have to struggle for it. First, you have to be a Nigerian to be a president. Where you come from is a small part of it, but who you are is more important than the tribe you come from.
You see, we must begin to repackage ourselves so that the entire nation can buy your stories. The south-east should be able to say to Nigerians, we have a candidate and this candidate is good. That’s how to look at the politics of nowadays rather than going back to lick the old wounds of marginalization.
One year, three months on in the saddle in Imo, would you say you have hit the ground running?
My dream forImoStateis very high. Despite what people think I have done for the state within one year, I still tell you that my dream for the state is very high. People clap and speak of achievements, but I feel I should do more. I stand the risk of being asked from where I am getting the money? I was talking with my Information Commissioner just yesterday and we looked at over 75 projects, countable; that are ongoing. When I talk of 75 projects, I mean the 305 ultra modern classrooms being constructed is one project. The 27 general hospitals is one project; the Ikemba Ojukwu Centre is one project; theHeroes Squareis one project; the Government House is one project; the Odenigbo Guest House is one project; the First Lady’s office is one project. There are so many projects that if you count them by commissionable projects, it is over a thousand.
The argument against the fourth tier of government in your state is that it would create new laws at the local government levels and politicize the traditional institutions.
How? Everybody on this earth is a political animal, whether you like it or not. And there is no way you can bring development to your land without politics. So, politics and development are bed-fellows. Even before I did that, there were town unions. All I have done is to modernize town unions and call them community development centers, so that you can have a feeling of government at quick, supersonic speed. If you go to the communities today, you will see competition going on in every sector. Let me assure you that in the next 10 years, this will remain the most popular government inAfrica.
What is the true position now with the local governments and their chairmen?
The true position now is that the tenure of the local governments and their chairmen has expired- two years as provided by the law. What we are trying to handle now is the aftermath of the expiration vis-à-vis some of the funds being owed the chairmen and some councilors. There are backlog of them even with those who served before them. We have cases like that which we are trying to address. But as for their tenure, an expired tenure remains an expired tenure.
But the opposition in the state is warming up against you and they appear to be very strong?
Do you know the truth? I don’t even know if there is any opposition in this state. I can’t see them and I hardly discuss it because if you are distracted, you lose focus. What I want to do inImoStateis that in the next four years, I will say look at what I have done. I promised Imo people that I am going to beat the late Sam Mbakwe’s record. If I leave governance and go into politics now, then it means I am going back to square one.
What’s your inspiration?
What inspires me is seeing people happy. I like looking at people’s faces and seeing them thanking God for what has happened to them. I am happy when the masses are happy. I want to redefine the essence of creation, rather than power, power, power. It is the people that inspire me. It is the people that guide my movement, action and thoughts.
There is insinuation that C-21 is preparing the ground for a Rochas’ presidency in 2015. How true is this?
That’s a wrong assertion. C-21 is an attempt to bring together all Igbo who-is-who economically. If you like, the wealthy Igbo young men, to champion the cause of the Igbo, without counting costs or returns. There are Pat Chidolue,ChelseaHotel; Annie Okonkwo and many other members who are trying to help the land. Whoever the Igbo will support for presidency in 2015; the C-21 will lead it. I mean whoever, whether an Igbo man or a non Igbo.
We are also developing some business models on how we can work together. It is just not political.
When you came in less than two years ago, did you underestimate the problems on ground? What have been your challenges and your rudest shock?
Let me tell you, what I imagined was what I saw. I had a clear picture of the level of deceit. I was not shocked at all. I knew where the problem was and I went for it. I am not one of those who spend four years in power studying.
But one thing that made me laugh was how people can sit down and cook stories of what does not exist. That one, I feel, the people are mad. You know those lies that have no correlation at all. I have seen a lot in the politics ofImoState. Somebody said that civil servants are to pay 10 per cent of their salaries to us. I asked how? What happened was that one day, one civil servant gave us 10 per cent of her salary and I appreciated her. I said move her to the next level of her rank so that others can follow such a good gesture. Does that mean Okorocha is collecting 10 per cent of civil servants’ salaries?