•Former Governor Ikedi Ohakim
Former Imo State Governor, Dr Ikedi Ohakim, recently declared his intention to return to the Government House in 2019. He also courted controversy when he said that Governor Rochas Okorocha was owing judges in Imo State 16 months salaries and threatened to mobilise the people and go naked to protest against the ill-treatment meted out to the judges. Though Okorocha has paid six months to the judges few days after their initial denial, Ohakim, in this interview assures Imo people of better deal in office as second-term governor. Excerpts:
In 2010, the whole state and the nation shook with the allegation that you personally beat a reverend father. That allegation is believed to have played a major role in your losing the 2011 governorship election. Eight years after, the Catholic Church gives you a performance award in recognition of your exploits in the education sector. How does it make you feel?
I thank the Catholic Church for recognising the reforms we brought to bear in education. When we brought the idea of handing the schools back to the missions so as to increase the standard of education, remove cultism from our schools, people thought it was impossible. But the most important thing is that we did it, securing the buy-in of every stakeholder: the NUT, the people themselves, and the missions. There were series of concentric meetings and there was agreement. There were night meetings, moving here and there and having meetings. People may forget, but every programme we carried out while we were in government, we never pushed them down the throat of the people. We brought them to the people, and then we got them implemented.
In a democracy, things take time. That was why it took us time to achieve that goal. We handed over schools back to the missions and the government took up the payment of salaries of the affected teachers in the 44 schools we gave back to the missions for two years. Not only taking up the payment of their salaries for the first two years, we also instituted by law a special grant to the schools to enable them go back into being the first-class schools they were known for before the military took over the schools.
Let us look at the issue of the Judges you took up recently. You had a dinner with journalists where you called on the governor of Imo State to pay the judges of the state their 16 months accumulated salary. You sounded so serious that you said you would go naked to protest, if the governor did not pay at the end of March. We have read in the newspapers that the governor has paid the judges six months. What is the situation now?
Thank you for that question. Before I came out with that threat, I considered several things. One is that I never played politics with it. The judges are in the profession that they cannot speak for themselves. It is unthinkable that the judges could not be paid their salaries for 16 months: one year and four months. It is abominable and unthinkable, and it had never happened before in the Federal Republic of Nigeria or anywhere in West Africa. Judges are the people in the Temple of Justice, and they decide our fate. They must be shielded from hunger and corruption and should not be owed the component of their salary. When I took the challenge – because as the former governor that handed over to the Okorocha government – I owe it a duty to speak for the downtrodden and the voiceless, and to tell Imo people the truth, and the challenges we have in this state. I did my homework and I have documents to show that they are being owed. I cross checked it over and over. I even interacted with some of the judges; and I knew they were dying in silence. I had no alternative than to come out with that threat. And I really meant that I could go naked on the street of Wetheral Road (Owerri) to make sure that the judges were paid. As the beginning for truth and reconciliation in this state, people must tell the truth. And when I opened the social media website for the protest, over 12,000 people registered to join. It may surprise you that our citizens from the USA and Britain demonstrated their willingness to join in the protest by registering.
I petitioned the Presidency. I sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Federation and he acknowledged letters. I sent a letter to the governor of this state, only for me to read in the newspapers the following day that I should be taken to the psychiatric hospital, because I spoke truth to power. I took it as one of the prices we must pay. I have been paying such prices. But I stood my ground and continued to arrange for the protest, and it could have been the mother of all demonstrations in the country. Fortunately, Governor Okorocha on Monday, 12 February hurriedly paid the judges, but demanded that I must know about it. They were paid six months out of the 16 months they were being owed. I thank him for that. But Imo people will now note that I am not the person to be taken to the psychiatric hospital. 10 months is still outstanding and by the end of February 11 months would be outstanding. And I want to demand that the governor must pay the judges their complete entitlement. On 12th February, a prominent retired Imo judge died. He died without adequate medi-care, and without receiving his outstanding pension and gratuity.
You could recall that in my threat to go on protest, I mentioned that the immediate past judge of the Court of Appeal died without his entitlement and proper medicare. You could also recall that when we took over in Imo State we had 30 judges and 52 magistrates. The 52 magistrates did not own any car as at 2007. The first thing we did was to buy cars for them. Judges in Imo had cars, but none of them had a car that was less than 10 years old when we arrived, and we made sure we bought new cars for them. Our survey also showed that most of them did not have generators in their homes. Judges must work at night to write judgments, and if you are creating an environment where you expect investors to come in, the dispensation of justice must be done as quickly as possible. We had interactions with the judges and bought 25KVA generators for each of the judges, and continued to supply them diesel. We increased their remuneration and those of the magistrates. In fact, we flew a judge abroad for medicare. We did everything: sent them on courses and paid. We started equipping their library. It was then that we tarred all the internal roads at the Owerri High Court. We did enough for the judiciary in our reforms. We came as a reformist government.
People might forget and begin to ask, what did Ohakim do? But there are silent things that a government is supposed to do: things that are not brick and mortar that are supposed to be 70 per cent or even 80 per cent of an administration. But the issue is the judges. Not only the judges, pensioners and workers are being owed, and in the hierarchy of the human being you must be entitled to eat your wages, and you must have shelter, medicare and security. These are the basic requirement of every human being and they are the things that every government should achieve. Any government that neglects these and begins to think that brick and mortar, town-halls or buildings that have nothing in them are the requirements of that society; that government has failed.
Still on the dinner we had with you, on that day you threw your hat into the ring by declaring to run for governorship in Imo State in 2019. It is causing ripples here and there, as some people think that you should by now be a statesman and leave the position of the governor for others. What assurances are you giving to the people of Imo State that you would achieve for them if you get to the Government House?
Before I go into specifics, I think that the question everyone in Imo State should be asking is: What would be the job of the next governor of Imo State in 2019? The job requires a statesman, which you have identified me as one. The job that Okorocha will leave in Imo State will require a man with the learning curve experience. It would take a man with the institutional memory. For example, in 2019 no civil servant in Imo State would remember any records. If you remember that management cadre in the civil service begins from level 13, those who were in government when we had due process in governance will be retired by 2019. Nobody would know where the records were in 2019. I know what I left. I did the hand-over note. I, Ikedi Ohakim, am statesman enough, and I have records to be able to know whom I would invite from here and there to bring back the civil service and law and order; to bring back due process and to renegotiate all the shenanigans going on in the state today.
Another thing few people are afraid of is that I harbour hate or that I am coming to loot the treasury. But if I did not loot before I don’t think I will loot now. I left N26.6 billion in interest yielding account, which I handed over to Governor Okorocha. I did not loot the money. I was governor for four years and I did not allocate any land to myself, and did not confiscate anybody’s land. I did not revoke anybody’s C of O. And there will be nothing left to loot after Okorocha. If a government cannot pay salary, it means that that government has gone bankrupt. In a bankrupt situation where there will be no land left, no money left but a debt overhang of N200 billion, including judgment debts, which is about N9 billion. Anybody talking about Ohakim coming to loot is afraid of his shadows.
I am the only person that can recover, without disrupting governance, set up a committee, go home and pick up those who had left with institutional memory. I know my signature. Anything anybody brings up and says that I signed it, I would know what I signed and what I did not sign. I will know how to recover the assets of this state, giving everybody chance. I do not harbour hate and I do not believe in vendetta. I have no scores to settle with anybody. You know I enjoy the learning curve experience, and I do not need to learn the ropes of governance any longer. It will take a new person two years, or three minimum, to begin to learn how to govern. The greatest problem we have at the national level was a situation where a government came, the confusion they met, before they could grasp the governance two years had gone.
I promise Imo people that I will grow the Imo IGR beyond PAYE. I will recreate the middle-class, which is the engine of growth. I will restore the participation of our state in counterpart-funded programmes, both by international agencies and the Federal Government. Today, Imo State has lost out in all counterpart-funded projects. The basic reason for the state exit is because those development programmes require due process, and this government says they don’t believe in due process. I will bring back due process into governance. In the area of tourism, I am going to resuscitate most of our policy programmes, and we will reform it. Tourism strives on clean environment. We will bring back the sanitary inspectors, which we had. In the area of water, we are going to quickly restore the 1,950 water schemes that have gone comatose.
When some people ask, what did Ikedi Ohakim achieve? We achieved a lot in terms of water infrastructure. There is no community we did not give water. Today, there is no water in Imo State, and water they say, is life. So, we are going to do a lot. We will change the character of the resource-base of our state. Federal Allocation will not be our dependency to develop our state. We will bring back the middle-class and private investors. We will set up industries. We had laid down the foundation and did feasibility reports. We only need to dust and revive them. We are going to come out with the government of the people by the people and for the people. Many people were young when we came in 2007. We set up a 164-member committee, which we segmented into education, agriculture, and so on. The committee was headed by late Justice Oputa, and they came out with a document, the strategic pathway of what Imo people wanted, which we dovetailed into our 14-Point Agenda, and we started the foundation of what Imo people wanted. If we had built on that, Imo State would have been ranked not more than number 5, in terms of economic growth in the whole federation. But what did we get?
In 2010, we started the implementation of our master-plan by starting the flyover. For seven years, those flyovers have not been completed. What we see today is that columns are being erected, because they are collapsing. When I raised alarm over the flyovers some people thought that I was talking nonsense. I know the nitty-gritty, the nuts and bolts of Imo State. We require somebody with institutional memory like me to govern Imo State. It is a sacrifice I am prepared to make. All the pressures I have been getting are from those who know what we are going through in the state. Some few days ago, I read a press release from the government where they were telling me to list my achievements, and I laughed. It then means that something is wrong somewhere, if someone from the government says that Ohakim should list his achievements. I had a 300-page handover note, where my income and achievements were tabled. We had a brief of about 50 pages. And somebody is sitting down somewhere and asking me to list my achievements, when the documents are with him.
The total income of my government for four years was not more than N240 billion. Okorocha’s administration has got N1.3 trillion. I have all the documents. If I was opportune to have 30 per cent of that, Imo State would have been heaven. But Okorocha got N1.3 trillion with a debt overhang of N200 billion. It is a record, and I cannot see where we have actually deployed that money. Go to Ngor-Okpala, for example. My administration linked Ngor-Okpala with their brothers in Etche, Rivers State, and that road is 11 kilometres of solid road, and there is no pothole on that road today. If you go to Ogboko, we did a road in the governor’s village with a spur to his house.
That road has no pothole, and somebody would be in Ogboko and ask me what I achieved. The Governor’s Office, where he is sitting, was designed and constructed by me. And somebody would sit down in that office and ask me: what is Ohakim’s achievement? From Isiekenesi to Osina, 32 kilometres with a spur, with six bridges, constructed by NigerCat, a quoted company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Somebody would ply that road today and ask me, Ohakim, what did you achieve?
We put smiles on the faces of the people, and money was circulating. We had the middle-class, we had contractors from the 305 wards; known contractors with addresses, and they were doing the jobs. I did not do any job, I did not award a single contract to myself, and no single contract failed, like we had JPROSS. No contractor ran away with one kobo. We never paid any company without Advance Payment Guarantee or without Performance Bond. But, you can see companies that were paid money under this administration even before they were incorporated.
Yes, I forgot something in Government House. We have to begin to implement the master-plan: Owerri Master-plan, Orlu Master-plan and Okigwe Master-plan. These are pending issues. We redesigned the Orlu Master-plan and Okigwe Master-plan. The Owerri Master-plan was done by Finger Hurt and Partners. It was designed to be a twin-city, and we started the first phase of the development by moving government to the new city. And, if we had finished the Inner-Ring Road, Outer-Ring Road and the Outer-Outer Ring Road and moved the Government House to the New Owerri, anybody coming to the Government House through the airport wouldn’t need to come to the city. Anyone coming from Onitsha also would not come into the city. Anybody coming from Enugu would not enter the city. Owerri would have been decongested and become the best transport-zoned city in the whole federation, with trees and grasses planted everywhere. Go to Calabar and see, just a snippet of what a city looks like.
In terms of salary payment, workers’ salary will not be part of the negotiation. By 25th of every month, civil servants will get their salary. There will be trainings and manpower development for the workers. They are entitled to their wages. We will put the state back to rail. That is what I am coming to do. We will deploy our youths and make them the fulcrum of our development. We will make investment in agriculture, to the extent that we will implement our programmes like (Dr M I) Okpara did. Our commerce and industrialisation programme, which we had started from Owerri-west will be replicated in all the 27 local governments. And my assurance to Imo people is that we are going to create 600,000 jobs. I repeat, we are going to create 600,000 jobs. I am not saying I am going to offer, but that we are going to create. In education, we will continue with our reforms. The balance of the schools that have not been handed over to their owners will be handed over to their owners. We will bring back rural development and rural roads will be motorable again. We will banish potholes on our roads. Our maintenance structure and culture will come back. We will maintain the things we have.
But most importantly, we will bring back law and order. We will bring back due process. We will renegotiate all the debts. All the contractors that are being owed have nothing to fear. They will be in our first line consideration. We will obey all court judgments. Above all, we will also make sure we bring back equity in our governance. Luckily, I am the only person who can put my hands on the Bible and tell you that I will not do more than one term. It is practically impossible in our laws for me to go more than four years. And four years is very short, before you close your eyes and open it four years is gone.
A governor is not a contractor. A governor is a man that maintains law and order; peace in the communities, reforms, developments, making sure that contracts are executed the way they were designed, and that no contract fails. There are over 250 cases against the government. We will sit down with those people and renegotiate. And the international community and investors will believe in us, because our records are clean. I ran a government that was not corrupt, and no contract failed. In our contracts, we will make sure that local contractors are considered first. We will make sure that money circulates again, by paying contractors and civil servants and keeping to all government contractual agreements.