Dr Toe Ekechi, former Commissioner for Information in Governor Rochas Okorocha administration and spokesman for Imo APC Coalition, in this interview with CHRISTIAN NWOKOCHA spoke on the alleged impunity in Okorocha’s government. Excerpt:
At what point did you get involved in a fight to stop Governor Rochas Okorocha from actualising his dream of ensuring his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, succeeds him?
It is on record that I was a close ally to Rochas Okorocha. As former Chief of Staff to the Minister of Interior, Capt Ihenacho, we worked with Okorocha at the instance of the former President Goodluck Jonathan. A committee was set up to evaluate Jonathan chances of winning the presidential election in Imo State judging from the activities of the former Governor Ikedi Ohakim who was then in PDP. Ohakim showed signs of dislike against Jonathan when he was transiting from Vice President to President. As secretary of the committee, I became very close to Okorocha. When it became obvious that Ohakim could not win the 2011 governorship election, Okorocha moved to APGA and the committee supported him. I donated my house for meetings to show personal support. In 2013, Okorocha invited me to serve in his government as Commissioner for Information.
There were many initiatives in his administration that were very commendable. He got involved on populist oriented programmes and identified with the people then. I played an important role in creating positive perception and explained him to the world even at my own expense.
Why are you not happy with Okorocha?
Towards the end of his first tenure, I started seeing signs that Okorocha is no longer acting in good faith. Most of his projects did not support growth. I personally engaged him on the need to develop a blueprint or a roadmap to sustain what he did in his first tenure. He rejected my submissions and claimed to be master of all. He promised
that academic activities of Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala campus of Imo State University will take off in 2013. Nothing close to his promises, including bridges and road constructions happened in the area despite the fact that money was appropriated for these projects. His free education policy could not guarantee qualitative education. In the state’s university’s admission quota, he shortchanged Imo indigenes. He gave non-indigenes 70% against 30% for indigenes of Imo State to enable him make more money from the university. We felt it was a bad free education for the state.
The governor abandoned many projects despite the fact that money has been released for these projects. Some of us who resisted his abnormal style of administration incurred his wrath and he felt we were too inquisitive. He destroyed the markets and public properties. The governor got involved in full-scale usurpation, conversion of public properties for himself and his family. We saw a total involvement of all his family members in the acquisition of state properties. We witnessed the collapse of the local government administration, collapse of traditional institutions and the collapse of state ministries. Most of us who supported him in 2011 and 2015 did so because of expediency. Despite all these, he got involved in arm-twisting gimmicks and was not willing to allow due process in selecting who succeeds him in 2019.
Was Okorocha’s choice of his son-in-law to succeed him the issue?
Yes. We believed that his choice of his son-in-law to succeed him in 2019 was the most unfortunate decision the governor made for himself. It paints a gloomy picture of what will happen in 2019. We concluded that the risk of keeping quiet is far more than the gains of sustaining our political party. We felt that the problem, dangers and challenges were strong enough that we needed to put the state first before the party. That is why some of us decided to roundly challenge Governor Okorocha to submission.
What effort did you make to reach the governor privately?
I privately approached the governor severally and I was humiliated in those meetings. In one occasion, I sat with him for 40 minutes in the presence of Hon Uche Onyeagocha and Dr Ezekiel Izogu because he insisted they must be present while I spoke to him. I told the governor that people were watching and he was running the state aground. Whatever he was doing was already before the public and that his popularity was dropping vertically. I also reminded him that I am a journalist, public analyst and an indigene of Imo State with more ears on ground and in a position to know the thinking of the people he governs. I told him that my speaking to him at that moment was out of love and I appealed to him to make a u-turn.
I revealed to him that the powers-that-be in Abuja did not like him and whatever he represented despite their smiles. I told him that he could still walk tall if he could listen to the people. His told me that he had done a lot and got away with them and challenged me to name a more successful politician in Nigeria more than himself. I told him to his face that he was not. The highest political price in Nigeria is the office of the President. The second most successful politician is the man who helped the president to emerge. Who is the person, Okorocha asked me? I answered Buhari, Tinubu and the vice president. He said to me, ‘Thank you for your advice, I will not change.’
I flew with him in an aircraft and I told him that it had gone beyond semi-circle. When we had lunch together at the Concorde Hotel, he asked Uche Nwosu to excuse us. I told the governor again that this gap was closing against him and his chances of going out were very slim and that he could not continue to mortgage my future, supporting him. Suddenly, the Owerri local government people paid a solidarity visit to him for Uche Nwosu. The governor said, having heard from the local governments in the state, he had no other choice than to endorse his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu.
It was this public move by the governor that prompted the Imerienwe Declaration which was a rejection of leadership by impunity. I had to extricate myself from impunity, corruption and fraud of Okorocha-led government.
Would you say he is fighting to avoid ending in jail at the end of his tenure?
Every other person who worked with him, including Hon Uche Onyeagocha, wants to see him to end up in jail. The campaign to ensure he goes to jail is gaining ground. If our laws are truly our laws, if the APC government, which believes in fighting corruption remains in power, I have no doubt that Okorocha will end up in jail.
Have you sat down to think of why Okorocha cannot deem it fit to commission any of his projects? Why he cannot also tag cost to any project? Because commissioning of projects would attract the visit of the president or any other important personality. The commissioning process will start with who the contractor is; the cost of the project. There is no known contractor that handled projects in Imo State. The contractors that retire projects are not the same contractors that handled the projects. Those handling jobs have no name in civil engineering or any other professional competence to handle any project in the state. That is why he is crazy about his son-in-law succeeding him so that these records remain a secret in the next eight years.
How will Okorocha explain his acquisition of government land being the Imo Broadcasting Corporation properties at Orji in Owerri North local government for his private use and in the name of Rochas Foundation College? The entire premises, including the road leading to the state medium, has suddenly become Rochas Foundation College. How can he explain the expansion of his private home (Spibath) in the same Owerri North and the public roads he annexed during the expansion? How can Okorocha explain the ownership of Eastern Palm University? During my time as Commissioner for Information, I made a release stating that the university will be established as a corporation with Imo State government and foreign establishment. The land was acquired for that purpose. Today, the case is different? Who built Imo International Conference Centre? Who carried out all the road projects in Imo State? Who acquired the aircraft purportedly belongs to Imo State? Okorocha must answer questions on how he acquired aircraft in another man’s fleet. Should the acquisition be given a priority in a state where people are not paid salaries? There are so many skeletons in Okorocha, the wife and Uche Nwosu’s cupboards.