Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State stirred the hornet nest when he dumped the Peoples Progressive Alliance, PPA, the platform on which he won his mandate, for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. But the governor has been using every opportunity to explain and justify the reason for his action.
As far as he is concerned, his decision was informed by ideology even as he admitted that the difference between PDP and PPA as well as other political parties is that of six and half a dozen. Ohakim who visited Vanguard, Wednesday, spoke on this contentious issue, Imo politics and his achievements so far. Excerpts:
By Dayo Benson, Political Editor, OkeyÂ Ndiribe, Dapo Akinrefon & James Ezema
WHY did you return to the PDP?
Can you tell me the difference between the different political parties in Nigeria? The answer is that there is no difference. The only thing that matters is that when we disagree we should find a way to serve our people; because we must be able to build our economy before we talk about ideology and politics. Since there is no difference between Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and PDP, nobody can talk of deceit or deceiving anybody. My venture into PPA which I registered with my house address was not based on any ideology. I also wrote the manifesto of the party with which the chairman of the Board ofÂ Trustees, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, contested election without asking anybody anything. So, that relationship, was properly discussed.
For me to contest an election to serve our people, we had to find a mechanical way to be able to interact for me to participate. It was an understanding. PPA would not have won a House of Assembly election if there was no understanding between various political parties that said it must be me.
You will also remember that I was a governorship aspirant ofÂ PDP before the problem started. I donâ€™t want to go into details but everybody knew why I pulled out and several other people pulled out because there was something that looked like commercialization of the ticket of the party.
And I captured why I pulled outÂ very well for those of you who have read The courage to challenge. On one occasion I went to a bank to do a transaction and met a candidate who was contesting the same election withdrawing a huge amount of money and they had to use vehicles to load the money. This happened some few months before the primaries.
When I got home, I called a meeting of my campaignÂ organisation and my wife and I said I am pulling out. I must go to another political party to run. And then some people discovered that this man that has been contesting elections must have something to say.
Besides, the people also realised that I was the only person that had a manifesto. Apart from this I ran for Senate in 1999 and for the governorship in 2003. When I became governor, so many things happened. In the House of Assembly, I had only one person; 99 per cent of them happened to come from a political party. In the House of Representatives, all of them come from the same political party.
Throughout my 19 tribunal cases members of the House of Assembly who belonged to a different party, followed me to court everyday until I won. After that, the leaders in the state came together, including the House of Assembly members and set up a committee. They said it is either all of us move to PPA or the governor comes to join us in PDP where all of us belong. And they looked at the pros and the cons and they presented it to me and gave it to a review committee.
By the time they looked at it and told me that it is I who will cross over to join them and not them crossing over. I asked some simple questions: â€œCanâ€™t we come together to develop Imo State rather than the House of Assembly trying to impeach me? Why donâ€™t we belong to one political party? Then for how long can I stretch my luck in that political environment, which does not apply to any otherÂ governor in Nigeria?â€ From then, we decided to take that decision. We didnâ€™t take that decision because PPA has given this man ticket and then, he has abandoned PPA.
The question that arose was who got the ticket? Who registered the ticket? Who is the owner of the ticket? What is then the essence of that ticket? It took us one year before we took the decision to be able to cross over back to PDP.
Talking about the opposition, why didnâ€™t you stay there and let this country have a critical opposition?
I want to tell you from experience that this country has no opposition. PDP has no opposition. We must have opposition in this country because democracy partly depends on the role the opposition plays, but who is the opposition and where is it? The opposition is getting poorer, older, disorganized and disoriented. And how many are they? The opposition is not even recruiting new converts; there is no succession in the opposition.
Sentiment in politics
No matter what anybody does, I want to say that you can only go to the opposition to win a seatÂ like I have done. There is no way you can go to the opposition to change government or change ideology or do anything that is meaningful in this country. These are issues we must look at critically.
There is no sentiment in politics and moreover, there is nothing in law that says that an elected governor cannot move from one party to the other. If you are elected, you are the governor of all the political parties and everybody and that is what the law and the constitution says.
And if the constitution allows me to move, why canâ€™t I move, am I static? In Philosophy, there is what you calledÂ Zeus theory; you must obey it as and move ahead. That is why I am looking for something good in orderÂ to integrate my people back intoÂ national politics.Â LetÂ my people benefit from the national largesse.
Let my peopleÂ think developmentally rather than politically and then we canÂ move from there. This is the reason why I decided to go back to PDP. Itâ€™s not that Iâ€™m going to PDP to become a political leper.
What has changed in PDP since you left?
I want to tell you that a lot has changed. PDP has put in place what is called a self-cleansing mechanism, by going everywhere to recruit good people to come into it. PDP is beginning to re-brand itself; it has a listening ear. There is no political party in Nigeria that is doing up to ten per cent of what a political party is supposed to do.
Previously, I presented 15 position papers to PDP and the chairman called me and said â€˜Ohakim, your own na too much theory ohâ€™. But now, any position paper you write, people will look at it and they will call you to a meeting to explain. Everybody is looking for change. A lot of things have changed in PDP. For me to come into PDP shows that something has changed. Look at Imo State for example, everybody is operating from the same page. We have today, the highest number of political deities; everybody in Nigeria has his own political deity.
Come to Imo State, we have former presidential candidates, former senators, multi-millionaires who ran election with me but everybody has come to ask that we collapse everything and letâ€™s work together, PDP or no PDP. And nothing says that I cannot jump out of PDP tomorrow; the law allows me to do so. Before I finish my political career, I might end up in another political party until we get to where there is ideological politics. I believe in ideology and I know that we areÂ going to metamorphose into ideological parties. So, a lot of things have changed in PDP.
Did you join the PDP based on ideology? Would you constitute yourself into an internal opposition against PDP?
There is what you call a mind-set. If you didnâ€™t have mind-set, you would have understood that the last statement I made was that I believed in ideology. If I believe in ideology, the environment must be conducive; but right now, there is no ideology and I cannot be a one man show.
If I continue to practise ideology, I will be like one man dancing in the market, while others are trading, people will look down on me. Secondly, in response to your question as to whether I will turn myselfÂ to oppose the PDP, I will say no. I will only turn myself and others that believe in me into an opposition againstÂ certain attitudes and political issues that exist within PDP. I will fight back. For example, in Imo State, very soon, we are going to conduct local government elections. In the olden days, people will write names of those they want as candidates.
I decided I wonâ€™t support anybody; those who are campaigning are campaigning for themselves and the elections will be free and fair. Thatâ€™s one of the things Iâ€™ve been soliciting for, I will show by example that elections will be free and fair. And because I am in charge of this one, I will remove my hand for people to contest elections. So, Iâ€™m not going into PDP to vote PDP, Iâ€™m going into PDP to reform PDP.
To make sure that PDP behaves well and that is why Iâ€™m there.
How hopeful are you concerning your case at the Court of Appeal? What is your relationship with Senator Ararume?
Let me start from your last question; my relationship with Ararume. He is a citizen ofÂ Imo State and Iâ€™m the governor; he is guaranteed the freedom of political space to operate.
When I won this seat, I visited Ararumeâ€™s house. I went with bishops and traditional rulers to him, not out of weakness, but out of love for everybody from the same place for the development of the state. It is only the common man that suffers the distraction, not me as the governor that suffers the distraction. The distraction will not affect me, as it will affect the common man.
Apart from him, I went to the houses of all those who contested against me and evenÂ went to the Tribunal. Before we ran for election, I was the only candidate that wrote to all other candidates and said you must play by the rules. I delivered the letter to 52 of them and they all acknowledged it.
Throughout my electioneering campaign, I discussed issues; I never discussed human beings. I presented the man and his vision; I askedÂ anybody to challenge it andÂ my programme whichÂ I presented to 154 members of the Imo elite who discussed it and came back with a trajectory;Â the plan for the development of Imo State, which we are running today.
Ararume has his constitutional right to pursue his case up to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal has given a verdict that I won and I won decisively. I have the mandate of the people. The Court of Appeal has also given judgment in Martin Agbaso versus Ikedi Ohakim that I won and won decisively; the Court of Appeal also gave judgement in other cases that I won and won decisively. As at today, I donâ€™t have any case relating to my election as the governor of Imo State. The case existing today is Agbaso versus INEC, I only said I wanted to join and know where it will lead. Agbaso is asking the court to compel INEC to conclude the election of April 14, 2007, which was suspended. He wants to be eventually declared a winner based on the April 14, 2007 election. That is a constitutional interpretation;Â it has nothing to with my election. My election was held on April 21, 2007, which Agbaso also contested; he took me to the Tribunal and Court of Appeal, I won. He went back to seek a constitutional interpretation.
So, ifÂ it is the propaganda everybody is saying, I donâ€™t want to go into details because it is subjudice. For example on April 14, 2007 elections, Ararumeâ€™s picture did not appear, so that election ab initio, was made to collapse. He was the PDP candidate andÂ his photograph was not there. Also the photograph of the DPA candidate that contestedÂ the election with us did not appear. That caused the pandemonium that morning and all the candidates gathered and asked that the election be suspended. Re-election was held on a day which INEC fixed; it was accepted by all of us and we went back into the field and started campaigning.
Some people are even saying that the election was held on the same day; but the ballot papers were notÂ dropped in the same box; a box was provided separately for State House of Assembly pollÂ and another for the governorship election.Â So, we are waiting for the court.
It has nothing to do with my governorship; I have no case. There are a lot of cases here and there. Let me tell you that it has become a do-or-die affair for some peopleÂ which is very unfortunate. Nobody can go for election in Nigeria, it is either you are rigged out or your opponent has manipulated you out.
You talked about creating an economy in Imo, what have you done in that regard?
Creating an economy is a continuous process. When we came in, we defined who we are; we looked at our weaknesses, our strength and our opportunities. We looked at certain things we must do to bring our people back because 80 percent of our people have become itinerary businessmen outside. Why is it that the environment is not conducive for them to live in? When we came into government, for example, the total hotel rooms in Owerri was 2, 500 but today, the total hotel rooms is 10,000.
We attracted Imo citizens back to come and build those hotels. And as Iâ€™m talking to you, so many hotels are under construction and every weekend, you donâ€™t have space. That is creation of an economy. Like before, they would have built the hotels in Abuja. We came in and said, one, we are the security gate keeper for the entire South-East. If you look at the map of Nigeria, you will see where Imo is. Imo is central and as soon as you cross us you enter the core Niger-Delta, which is Port Harcourt and Bayelsa through the water.
The other side you have Abia,Â Â where you have Aba. You have Onitsha, Anambra, all surrounding Imo. So, we have to be security conscious in order to make the entire South-East economy viable. So, we introduced Operation Festival, our security outfit where we electronically linked the whole 305 wards and the 32 police formation and everybody has wireless communication gadget. We have 270 Operation Festival vehicles every night on the roads, policing the entire state.
Looking at the police statistics, we have the lowest crime rate in this country and that was why the President and the Federal Executive Council sent the IG and other DIGs to come and understudy the security mechanism of Imo State, with a view to applying it to the federation.
So, on that, weâ€™re creating an economy by attracting people. We also looked at our tourism and we decided that for our youths within the Niger Delta area, the critical thing is not just to throw infrastructure at them, but to make sure we create jobs for them. We packaged what we called the Imo Wonder Lake Resort and Conference Centre, which will create 15, 000 jobs. We packaged it and we went to the capital market and we raised funds. We have foreign investors and we are just coming back where we had a meeting with one of our foreign investors in this project.
On the area of manufacturing we decided to create what we called Enterprise Free Zones. We started the big one in Nekede, on the way to the polytechnic. We cleared massive acres of land, gave them road, water, police station, and we brought a bank to partner with us.
We invited artisans, we gave them generator, we also got Federal Ministry of Commerce to donate another 500 KVA generator to us, we got NDDC to donate transformers. Now, if you get to that place, youâ€™ll see how they are working. We created what we called adult and non-formal education where those who are serving them can go to school. And weâ€™re trying to replicate it in all the local governments. On infrastructure, weâ€™re opening massively all the roads. Our decision is what we called the One City State, where it will take not more than 45 minutes for anybody to move from his local government headquarters to hit the state capital.
Most states depend largely on allocation from Abuja as their major source of revenue, what are you doing to improve internally generated revenue (IGR)Â in your state?
We looked at the collapse of the financial system in the world, every state government must go to Abuja to go and raise fund. There will be a time that will end. We re-introduced Imo Children Education Fund, which is going to give us about N50 billion. The bill is now before the House of Assembly. We have now brought back the self-help culture of our people. Imo people single-handedly built their own airport. Why canâ€™t we now build our own economy?
We have 305 wards, every traditional ruler in a ward must give us five people who will write N1 million cheque that cannot bounce and donate to that fund. They will have their pictures and their names written on the primary school they are funding. So, weâ€™re being innovative about it.
And we have never owed salaries for one day. When I came in, we discovered that the salary of workers were too poor. What I did was to give 15 percent increment across board without anybody asking for it. We inherited N4.7 billion unpaid pension, we started paying every month. On MDG projects, weâ€™re doing our best. In fact, we got an award as the best performing MDG state in Nigeria.
Could you tell us something about your health programme?
When we talk about our health programme, without exaggeration, I think we have the best health programme. Imo
citizens know that two times every year, we bring in a minimum of 50 doctors from America, Britain, Australia, and they move from community to community, performing delicate surgeries, treating people and we provide free drugs. Some of them volunteer and we donâ€™t pay them.
We have introduced free medical care for everybody below five years and free medical care for everybody above 70. We donâ€™t joke with the health of our people. We do preventive medication for our people.