The immediate past Governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, spoke to our correspondent, CHIDI NKWOPARA, on a number of issues, including his days in office, the scores of allegations leveled against him and his aspirations. Please read on.
Could you cast your mind back on the recent fire incident in your private residence in Owerri?
I want to thank you immensely for your concern about my welfare, especially since the dastardly act of bombing the only house I have in Owerri. The press, particularly Vanguard, has been very fantastic in its
reportage. You highlighted it. You said everything that needed to be said and you made all the appeals that needed to be made. It is most regrettable that some miscreants decided to play politics with that tragedy. I thank God almighty that I am alive today to talk to you. I would have lost my first son and my wife, and I would have also died in that unfortunate incident.
What has it been like since you left office?
Since I left office, I decided to climb on to the balcony, to watch events. I decided to remain a little bit silent to be able to enrich my knowledge.
What have you to say about some of the things that were said about you?
When I left office, so many things were said about me and I believe God that events and time have proved me right. When I spoke to you on my last day in the office, I told you that after four years or even before four years, it is only then that people with futuristic view will begin to talk about our administration.
I left office with more than 1,000 petitions against me but today, I need to tell you that no single charge has been filed against me in any court of law in or outside Nigeria. So, all the fake accusations have been thrown into the waste paper basket.
While I was here, there was no political assassination. There was no political intimidation in Imo State. There was no arson in Imo State. There was peace and you will agree with me that money was circulating.
In our capital city, Owerri, I was running the street lights with 52 dedicated generators and we were running a 24-hour economy. It is also very surprising and a thing to thank God about that no section of Imo, no zone ever raised a single complaint or petition that they were marginalised. Appointments were evenly distributed in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Projects and empowerments were evenly distributed.
And the controversial 10,000 jobs?
The programme was never controversial. Some people sadly made it look so. It was a carefully planned programme of government. When we came out with the innovation of offering 10,000 jobs to our graduates, which were keenly contested, nobody offered one kobo to anybody to get that job. The media was however awash at the time that it was a fluke. And it was the propaganda of that 10,000 jobs that affected us in that election. Today, the truth is clear. No matter how you try to cover the truth, it will always manifest.
So, I want to thank you and thank God almighty that today, I am happy and healthy. I have been able to have a lot of interaction with my family, my community, my zone and my people of Imo State.
What is your message to Imo people?
I want to seize this opportunity to tell Imo people to forgive me and forgive any of my aides that fell short of any expectation. I am human. One thing that is very common to every human being is the ability to offend people or to make mistakes. I made my own mistakes as a human being.
I took certain decisions that I did not market very well. But because of the hunger in trying to develop our people, because of the hunger in trying to convert civil service environment to an economic environment, I over pushed our people.
When I removed the commercial motorcycle operators from the streets of Owerri, hell was let loose. It was the present Governor, Rochas Okorocha, that organised the Okada riders to institute an action against the state government in Enugu and asked them to march round the whole of Imo State to demonstrate against that beautiful project and decision we took. He did not care that I cushioned the effect of the ban by providing them with tricycles and trained many others in different trades.
It was the same Okorocha that gathered over 500 people to go and pass through the front of my house that was recently bombed. Imo people were shocked. Noise everywhere but I was not deterred.
I want to apologize to them and appeal to them. Today, many of them are happy. If you go to the General Hospital, you will hardly see anybody hanging his leg there. The ban on okada reduced accidents rate and crime in the state. Owerri is better for it today.
I want to also apologize to the street traders, who defied building regulations to erect shanties that we removed to clear the drainages and begin to come with our Clean and Green environment programme.
I want to appeal to those teachers that were affected by our certificate verification exercise. When we carried out this exercise, 499 teachers were fished out for parading fake certificates, fake school certificate, fake National Certificate in Education, and some of them rose to the position of principal!
We decided not to make it a media thing. We did not prosecute them because they were Imo citizens. We only asked them to resign and we employed 5,000 teachers, including science teachers to replace them. But unfortunately, those 499 teachers became the campaign directors of Governor Rochas Okorocha, and most of them worked as members of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, ad-hoc staff.
I want to apologize to them. I may have offended them one way or the other, offended their families, offended their children, but I was doing the right thing, as I thought. Maybe, if I had known, I would have left them until after my second tenure before showing them the way out of the system. But I was in a hurry to make sure there was law and order and there was no fraud in the system. I can go on and on.
There was also the accusation that you flogged a Catholic priest.
There was nothing in this world that they didn’t say I did. Yes, they said I flogged a Reverend Father. They said I flogged a journalist. Every effort I made to clear myself at the time proved abortive. But today, people know the truth. The Reverend Father said even if he saw Ohakim on the street, he wouldn’t even recognize the man. He knew the man only in the newspapers. Yet people were saying Ohakim flogged a Reverend Father but that is now a past tense. I want to thank Imo people for their understanding.
You are said to own several houses across the globe.
I have not forgotten how somebody went on air, on live television, to announce that I own six houses along Wetheral Road, Owerri, over 40 houses in Owerri, houses in America, Jamaica, South Africa, United Arab Emirate and other choice towns. Up till now, nobody has shown me any house. May be, if I had a house along Wetheral Road, I would have gone there to sleep. It must be said that since the son in-law of the Governor is the Commissioner for Land, they would have fished out the documents of the alleged houses they claimed that I own and possibly recovered them the way they have been recovering supposed government properties, so that Imo people will know the truth.
But having failed woefully to do that after about three years they made that allegation, Imo people now know who the liar is. The people now know who is a straight forward somebody.
What do you have to say about failed contracts in the state?
No single contract failed while I was the Governor. The present state administration should prove me wrong on this. There was no single road that was designed and was not supervised by engineers, both internal and external. There was no contractor that got job in Imo that did not present advance payment guarantee or performance bond. There was no contract that did not pass through the normal tender process. Check our cost of road per kilometer and compare it to what we have today. And I want you to take a look at every project that we undertook and see the economic value of that project. 10,000 graduate jobs and 10,000 empty halls, which one impacts more on the people? Imo people know. The economy was booming. Money was circulating. We carried everybody along, including the downtrodden.
We had programmes. We said we would offer education free to those who could not afford to pay, which was the policy of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. We didn’t say any child should stop school.
Go and see Isiekenesi to Osina, a 23-kilometer stretch with six bridges. That road is today the best road linking Ideato North to Ideato South local government areas with Orlu. You can also see the quality of the road from Owerri up to the Okitankwo River. It has 15 years guarantee. Some of you go to the Airport through Egbu. Our promise was that by 2015, every kitchen in Imo State will have clean water and that made us to do everything humanly possible to achieve the target.
By the time we left office, the water infrastructure in Imo was 1,950, and I can show you the water infrastructure map of the state. 1,950 water schemes with 300 trained technicians servicing and manning them. Those 300 people were sacked in one day! Today, 90 percent of the water schemes have collapsed because of lack of maintenance, lack of provision in the budget and lack of additional infrastructure.
But we are having empty halls, we are having classroom blocks that cannot pass structural stress test.
Where do you go from here?
I have come back home. I have no other place to go to. I cannot go to Owerri and sleep. I sleep in my country home, Okohia, Isiala Mbano local council area. I served my people to the best of my ability. There will be a time for me to talk. My administration tried to build for posterity. We did no build for the mob. There is a difference between building for posterity, building for economic survival, building for economic emancipation and building for the mob or building for acclamation, packaging roads where people pass and building halls with nothing in them. There is also the problem of building things that do not have economic value. Resources are wasted. People are dying of hunger. Time has come for all of us to say enough is enough. Any position my party says I should hold, I will be glad to lead the battle, so that we can recover this state. People are dying. Kwashiorkor has sadly resurfaced in the state. See how filthy Owerri is now.
What necessitated your going to the Capital Market?
I went to the Capital Market to raise fund to do most important projects our administration approved. One is the Inner Ring Road with five flyovers. The Wonder Lake project, which is Wonder Lake Resort and Conference Centre that will directly and indirectly give employment to over 2,000 citizens and the College of Engineering of Imo State University. When we left office, we had N13.2 billion in United Bank for Africa Plc, in an interest yielding account. Where is this money today? Was it applied for the purpose for which it was taken? Every effort some good citizens made to persuade Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, not to give certificate of change of purpose was defied by SEC. The certificate was given and that money was frittered away.
I left N26.8 billion in various accounts, which I handed over to my successor. Tell me the government that did that much. Tell me what they have done with the money.
I must recall, with sadness, that as soon as Okorocha was announced as governor, a non-existing office of acting governor or governor-elect issued instruction to all the banks Imo did business with. That exercise shutdown the entire governance institution in Imo. Everybody packed away and nothing happened. There was no money even to run the generator in Government House. We packed our things out of Government House and took the three-bedroom bungalow. As soon as Rochas took office, he confiscated the building, seized all our property, drove my people away from there and converted it to Lamonde Hotel.