Chief Ikoh is the head of Mezie Obodo, a socio-political group in the South-East. In this interview, he describes the moves being made to reconcile former Abia State Governor Orji Kalu and the incumbent, Chief Theodore Orji, as a development that would uplift the state. He also calls on the National Assembly to create an additional state in the South-East. Excerpts:
By Charles Kumolu
The frosty relationship between the former Abia governor, Orji Kalu, and the incumbent, Theodore Orji, is believed not to be in the best interest of the state. What is your position on it?
I have been a very strong advocate of reconciliation between the two foremost citizens of the state. One of the traits of a good leader is the capacity to reconcile with those that offended you in the time past. We should borrow a leaf from God, whose attributes include forgiveness and reconciliation. The former governor led the people of Abia and the present is leading the people of the state. This means the former governor was at a time leading the present and the present is now leading the former. Reconciliation is the key word. There is a game being played at the state at the moment by government functionaries. The government functionaries make merchandise of every speech or move the former governor makes, they begin to run errand for Gov. Orji for their personal pockets to show their loyalty. They believe the more they attack Kalu, the closer they get to Gov. Orji, that is chidish. The governor should be wary of people making money from him from these issues. The spirit of reconciliation should pervade Abia. For the sake of unity and progress, the two foremost citizens of the state should reconcile if there is anything between them. Publicly, they have not told us there is any issue between them but from the body language and insinuation of their aides, you will know there is no love lost between them. They should sheath their swords and forget what might have happened in time past. We should have a think-tank comprising past governors of the state, past council chairmen, former ministries etc to chart the way forward for Abia. We should not be politicking; this is the time to build.
What is your assessment of the incumbent Abia governor?
I have stopped assessing Governor T.A. Orji as well as comparing him with other governors based on people’s opinions because there is confusion when you hear the complaints of Abia people against the governor bordering on non-performance and the response of the governor.
In the same vein, the governor has, at different fora in Lagos, debunked those allegations. He has told us his limitations and the reasons for his poor performance, including his resolve not to borrow money to execute projects.
However, from my perspective, I look at governance as complete business; if you want to borrow; borrow and justify it in terms of provision of quality governance. It doesn’t make sence if you don’t want to borrow to impact on the lives of people. If you have to borrow to make the people see the dividends of democracy then borrow reasonably to improve the people’s lot and when the time comes the people will pay the debt. You are not borrowing for yourself; you are borrowing for the entire state. It becomes an offence when you borrow to put into your pocket. I have refrained from joining issues with the governor on his performance for the time being. I give him another year to see what he could do before I would start pointing out issues again.
Even as you have refrained from commenting on the activities of the governor, civil servants in the state are complaining of salary arrears?
I have relations in Abia civil service who are owed three, four month salary arrears. It boils down to the focus and style of governance of the governor. I don’t see reasons after subjecting workers to clocking system, at the end of the month you don’t pay them. It is inhuman and, biblically, it is wrong as a labourer is worthy of his wages at the end of the month, If you don’t pay workers it demoralizes them, leading to reduction in productivity and loss of confidence in their employer.
Mezie Obodo is the largest socio-political group in Abia and, to an extent, in South-East. What do we expect from it in 2015?
I don’t know how long I will continue to deny the assumption that Mezie Obodo is not a political group. It is not my personal brain child. I only played a role in its formation. It is a social interest group that is trying to help and complement government efforts in the environment we are operating. It is made of people from different classes and political affiliations. People who are gainfully employed constitute members of Mezie Obodo. We do social activities not political. However, if they want me to push the frontier forward, I will say, in 2015, the group will play a role that no political organisation or structure has ever played. Our interest is that the next governor of Abia State and some other states in South East will come from the Mezie Obodo structure. By then, from a social interest group, we could assume a political position and, from any political party, we could push a candidate that will bring the dream and aspirations of Abia and other states in the South-East people to bear.
Somebody who will position Abia and make it a model for other states to copy will come on board. That is our vision and aspiration. Mezie Obodo will bring sunshine back to Abia and the people will see light and appreciate the essence of governance. In this vein, we will play a major role in 2015 in Abia and in the South-East, but, at the moment, we are not into politics, we don’t want to engage in any political activity. We have people from PDP, APGA, PPA, ACN and CPC and other political parties in Mezie Obodo. It is a rainbow organisation comprising people who share aspiration of what a community should be; how people should be helped and assisted. It is the largest social group in Abia State and, in fact, east of the Niger.
The Igbo say 2015 is their turn to produce the president. Do you share this aspiration?
Igbo’s turn to rule the country has been since yesterday, not even today, not even 2015. That is, it is long over due. We have people to occupy the position. We have the talent and we are enterprising enough to steer the ship of the nation. In 2015 when Igbo man will be in Aso Rock, that is when Nigeria will experience growth, innovation, direction and purposeful governance. It must be somebody who has the qualities and attributes of the Igbo man. It is high time we came up with platform to steer the ship of this nation to its destiny.
The National Assembly is amending the Nigeria Constitution. What are your expectations?
I expect a true constitution that will operate in its letter and spirit, devoid of ambiguity. I expect a constitution that will address the imbalance among the regions especially the creation of additional states for all the regions to have equal number of states. The South East obviously should have additional state(s) no matter how it is done. Do the right thing now matter how it is arrived at. We should at the end have a constitution that has the imprint from the people and not made by a certain class of the society.
The constitution should give full autonomy to the local government; a local government system whose finances should not be controlled by state government. A council system that would operate from the center to bring down governmental impact to the lowest rung of the society is the type of constitution that should be in place. Presently, the governors are running the councils as their private estates. To me, local government does not exist. No opposition party wins a council election just because a governor conducts the election and puts the people he wants in order to control the councils’ funds.
Former Governor Orji Kalu has come up with NjikoIgbo towards Igbo 2015 project. Do you buy into it against your own group?
It is a welcome development. The group is the coming together of the Igbo. One thing about Kalu is that he is very intelligent, hard working and visionary, and he will stop at nothing to make sure he gets what he wants. He is somebody who shares the pains and joy of people. We in Mezie Obodo will not waste time to align with such organisation that is intended to improve the lives of the people. We will join forces with him to make sure the aspiration of the people is achieved in the Nigeria Project.
Kalu has been very upbeat in political activities and that is a good signal especially in Abia State that will show those who roughshod the people in the last election that it is not going to be easy for them in 2015. The electoral fraud or heist of 2011 will never happen again .In 2015, people will vote and their vote counted. What happened in Imo State in 2011 will replicate in Abia in 2015.