Following a tour of some of the infrastructure projects being executed by his administration, Governor Rochas Okorocha sat down for an interview with a team of visiting journalists. Excerpts:
By Dapo Akinrefon
WILL President Muhammadu Buhari be contesting in 2019?
My name is Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha and not Muhammadu Buhari. It is only President Buhari that will say whether he is contesting or not. As far as I am concerned, President Buhari is well now; he is very strong, so, it is left for President Buhari to say whether he will run or not. He has the character to lead this country. We will wait for him to make his statement for 2019.
What informed your decision to demolish the Ekeukwu market?
Ekeukwu has been one of the oldest markets from when Owerri was a village. Where you visited is not referred to as Ekeukwu, it is only a small portion of that whole land.
Biggest problem in the city
That place was a motor park belonging to the government of Imo State. The structure in question there was a structure put up by the municipal government of Imo State. So, what government has broken down there is its property. But some people have misunderstood the whole exercise.
When I came in as governor, the first thing I told the people was the need to move Ekeukwu because it constituted the biggest problem in this city. The worst crimes in Imo State took place in Ekeukwu; you couldn’t pass Ekeukwu without having any of your property stolen on an hourly basis. Not only that, Ekeukwu produces the unhealthiest atmosphere with waste within that small enclave and it was no longer good for the city. In fact, the law that no market should be four kilometres close to Government House, was also in place. That also affected Ekeukwu.
So, everybody knew Ekeukwu was going to move. I have had over 20 town hall meetings with the people on Ekeukwu, but they never believed that any governor would have the political will to move Ekeukwu. In Ekeukwu, we had cases of kidnapping, if they kidnap anybody, it goes to Ekeukwu. Behind one of the houses, in the process of the demolition exercise, we discovered a house belonging to Professor Adiele’s uncle, there were six cells. That property is yet to be destroyed.
So, Ekeukwu constituted a major problem, the demolition was a necessity and very important, but nobody believed that any governor could move it. I have done that, and it is in the interest of the people, and I have no personal benefit from this, if I had not done it, no governor could have done it. The place is cleaned up now. The next market I am moving is the Hausa community, and the people are happy.
We have plans for the place; we want the city to breathe. Ekeukwu is not what you want to hear of. Before we moved in to clear the place, we made it clear that there should be no shoot out. I gave a clear instruction, the Commissioner of Police and Inspector General Police also gave clear instructions. What the police went there with was tear gas in case there was need to use it. Now, when the demolition commenced, we started hearing gun shots.
The cult members, engaged by some of the indigenes, thinking that was the way to fight the last battle, started shooting. But whatever it is, the fact that the boy died during that event, whatever I say here is no excuse but to mourn him and compensate the parents properly. At the heat of the event, the story was that it was government that ordered the police to shoot him.
The people started to mourn. Professors and leaders turned it to politics and went to the graveyard, with women wearing black. I felt that was over dramatization, so we kept quiet. But now, I have made a public statement that every project around there shall be called Somtochukwu project; even the name, Douglas road will be changed to Somto road. The young man deserved it outside other things we have to do. We have to do that to honour that boy because that is the greatest sacrifice anybody can make for that Ekeukwu.
What is your stand on IPOB?
On the issue of IPOB, whether we want to believe it or not, IPOB is not good for the South East, and it is not the best way for us to complain about marginalisation to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There are better ways; the IPOB way is too primitive. If IPOB must do a thing like that it should have changed the name and fought the way Ijaw youths fought, Arewa youths fought, and they would have made more impact.
For everything that comes from the Igbo man, we love to go to the extreme. Now you want to separate yourself from Nigeria, meanwhile, South-South will not go with you, Edo, Rivers will not go with you. If you cut us off here now as South east, if I need to go to Rivers State, I will go and ask for passport and visa, and we are keeping quiet to say this.
If there is a crisis now, there is no Hausa man in Igbo land who has a duplex, there is no Yoruba man who has a room and parlour or a N20 million investment in Igbo land, but Igbo have trillions of naira virtually everywhere. The same people are asking for secession. If Igbo are asked to go, what happens? They would lose their property, and all of us are keeping quiet, supporting IPOB! It was very childish, and those behind this should stop, that is my advice.
South-South has produced the president, South-West has produced a president and Vice President, the north has produced many presidents, it is hoping that one day in the next shift, by whatever arrangement, the next people that should be considered is the South-East by Nigeria’s sharing formula. So, where are we in our wisdom and the intelligence?
That is my position on IPOB; my advice is that Igbo should change their style and condemn IPOB in a manner that should be done and let us flow with the rest of Nigeria for now because we shall benefit more than anyone else.
Feeling of abandonment
Just like I said, the Igbo feeling of abandonment is also the same way the northerners feel that this is an attack on their government. Politically, we are not at an advantage; economically, Igbo are still disadvantaged.
People should do things wisely and advice the Igbo. Sometimes, some people complain about the non inclusion of Igbo in appointments. What of when Igbo were Minister of Finance, Senate Presidents, SGF? What did they do for themselves?
The hard truth is that Igbo play the worst politics, they play this politics because of sentiments protecting one of their own from the South-South, and now, the northerners have understood that they can become presidents with or without the Igbo. Before there was a feat about that. That is why we must change our style and condemn it.
We must condemn what is happening and find a way to reengineer ourselves to the system. I have never supported IPOB. Who is Nnamdi Kanu to tell Rochas to follow him to war?