OCHEREOME NNANNA had this chat with Governor Anayo Rochas Okorocha of Imo State at the Protocol Lounge of the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, just before he jetted out to Abuja for an urgent meeting called by President Muhammadu Buhari, last Sunday.
IT seems that in spite of your well-meaning efforts you draw a lot of controversies in most of the things you do. Can you explain why it is so?
I don’t understand what you mean by controversy. Maybe you will explain. I don’t think there is anything controversial in what I do. It is just that many people don’t understand. There is a complete misrepresentation of facts, and no one seems to understand the depth of my actions and pronouncements. So, they misplace facts. By any standards I will not make a careless statement or take any action that is not proper. I think I am smart enough to know what is good or what is wrong or improper. When some of the things I do are not understood by many, it becomes an issue. Is Rochas a failure in any aspect of life? My business life, my political life, my family life?
You were one of the politicians who came into office with a lot of goodwill because of Rochas Foundation Schools. A lot of people felt that becoming the governor of Imo State was a fitting reward for your efforts. But somehow, some of the things you did turned the picture the other way up. Like when you went to the US, you took a picture with former President Obama and came back to put up a billboard here. Many people were flabbergasted and found it a little bit funny.
When I came into government, I came with my promises. I have delivered on all my promises. All! It is just one area, which I am trying to tackle. My administration has impacted on Imo State much more than any other administration, be it military or civilian. This administration has built more infrastructure than all the other administrations put together. I want to be challenged by any living soul that what I am saying is not right. I have built more schools than all the other administrations put together. I have built more roads, more hospitals. When I came into government, all I saw was eleven rickety hospitals. Today I have built twenty seven hospitals. I have developed the city of Owerri, I have developed the city of Orlu and I have developed the city of Okigwe. I have introduced free education from primary to the university which no government in the history of Nigeria has done. So, why can’t people see these? People leave the substance and pursue shadows.
I went to the White House in the US and took a picture with President Obama and the picture was all over the internet. That picture was taken after Mr President allowed me to address Obama and I did. When the picture went viral, of course we have supporters. People thought that it was something good and they wanted to welcome me with it, to let me know that the social media is working for them.
Actually it wasn’t you that put it up?
No. Why should I? I have never put up any billboard here in Owerri for myself. But people always build billboards of me, some good, some also bad. But why do people use these things to make it sound like government has become a joke? You leave the issues of governance and you are talking about the frivolities of billboards. And they have not seen some billboards that address me as “OKOROAWUSA, a Northerner, a non-Igbo man”.
Did you allow the bad ones to stay?
Of course! I exhibit political tolerance more than anybody. When I say these, I want people to challenge me on issues; not things that make them busy. It doesn’t make sense.
Maybe you should address this Okoroawusa issue. Some people say you are a son of the late Gbong Gwom of Jos, Fom Bot. So, you are a prince of the Jos ruling house (LAUGHTER). If you are, how did you come to be a governor here?
I think I am one of the most misunderstood Nigerians nowadays. It makes me laugh. I enjoy it, you know why? People do not face the real issues. You know too well where I come from. I am from this state. But I was brought up in the North. The North gave me childhood, gave me education. I was born here. My parents were Igbo. They went to the North in search of greener pasture. I was brought up there. But when I went into business it was my contact with the West that made me what I am in business. I claim, and I know, that I am a successful businessman. I cannot afford to hate the North or hate my people. Whatever they want to call me – Okoroawusa, Okoroyoruba or Okoroigbo – I don’t care because it does not affect my identity. Out of the 15,000 children I have, about 7,000 of them are Muslims. These are my children. They have become members of my family. I can’t love them and reject their religions. These are statements from my political opponents who want to portray me differently to make me look like a jester or a joker.
There is also this is issue of making your government a reflection of your family, naming government institutions after your father, mother, wife and so on, and now ending up appointing your sister as Commissioner for Happiness and (not Couples Fulfilment but…)
Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment (laughter). Let me say something, Ochereome. Everyone from Imo State is a member of my family. I see the whole of Imo State as my family. Rochas is bigger than Imo State. I am bigger than Nigeria…
No, no, no. That is not possible. No one can be bigger than a state or his country!
No, when I say “bigger”, I mean that this is not the only place I belong to. I mean I have gone beyond being an Imo man, beyond being a Nigerian. I am now an African. So, don’t put me like a small rat in a small hole. I have a bigger image than what people see. If you say I run a family government, that means I run a very big government. I have thirty commissioners. All of them are members of the same family with me. What a fantastic family! I have 27 Special Advisers and 30 Special Assistants. They are all members of my family. I have Perm Secs, all are members of my family. Without running a family government, you cannot make progress.
But if they are talking about biological relationship, that my younger sister is made a Supervisory Commissioner for Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment, I also want to explain that Ministry. But before I go into that, the young lady is my sister. She has committed no offence. My predecessor appointed his brother as Chief of Staff; same mother, same father.
There was nothing wrong with that. This young lady has been with me for the past seven years as my Deputy Chief of Staff. She does not take salary as Commissioner; she takes salary as Deputy Chief of Staff. She will supervise the new ministry until a substantive commissioner is appointed. She is a Deputy Chief of Staff (Domestic), which is even higher than a Commissioner. The young lady is qualified. Because she is the governor’s sister, she should not play a role? So, if my son wants to run for governor he cannot run because he has committed the offence of being the governor’s son? What is important is delivering the goods. She is just a supervisory Commissioner for a new ideology, new vision I bring to bear when I make pronouncements on the cardinal points of happiness, for people to fulfil their purpose in life. This is the ministry that deals directly with the ordinary people in the streets. It is the pivot upon which the missions of other ministries must revolve. The yardstick of every government is to provide happiness to the people.
I am elected governor to guarantee the happiness of the people. Even the American constitution was created for the pursuit of happiness. You are happy, Ochereome, when you wake up and see your children go to school. You are happy if there is a hospital for you to go when you are sick. If your environment is secure enough, you are happy. Who produces the policies that guarantee that actions of government produce happiness? The Ministry of Happiness is the number one ministry that every government in the world should establish before establishing any other ministry because it reflects the essence of life, the essence of government. Let me put it in a quote, power is a trust which can only be justified when used to make people happy in any given society, unquote – Owelle Rochas Okorocha…
You are quoting yourself?
Yes. Since this ministry took off, the young men from Libya who came back, the ministry has reunited them with their families. This issue of Anchor Borrowers and N Power, this ministry has taken it upon itself. If the Ochereome we know is still frustrated in his job, you have not fulfilled your purpose in life. Most people do not know how to fulfil their purposes in life. People don’t know what they must do to bring out the potentials in them. Education is not an external factor. Education is an internal factor that activates the potentials in you. Education adds nothing to you: it brings out the things in you to manifest to serve humanity. Purpose fulfilment is very important in life. Career guidance! Since we started purpose fulfilment, I gave a lecture last week on what our youths must do to succeed. Because our youths now think the only thing about fame is money. When you pass on the streets, they ask you for money. We need to talk to the youth and focus them on the right things of life, mentorship. The other day I was talking to some youths and they wept just because I told them who they are and the potentials in them. This ministry is the most key ministry, and Imo State government will continue with it. If I come back as the president of this country ,I must introduce the Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment. But people who do not understand, who are dead for lack of knowledge, took it out of context and made it a laughing matter, as if Rochas has introduced something that does not exist. Some went to research on it only to discover they have it in Dubai and other countries. Even my own type of happiness is more spiritual and in-depth than those ones. I have realised that there are so many educated illiterates in this country; analysts without ideas, historians without knowledge of the past. If you don’t understand, get the visionary to teach you. I have realised that 89 per cent of Nigerians are not happy. In fact, there should be a course in the primary, secondary and even university called Happiness…
Yes, Happiness 101. You know why? Because, sometimes, you can be rich and not happy. If it is so important, why don’t you have a ministry for it? After all, you have a school for catering; you can also have a school for happiness to teach people about the true essence of life.
Exactly what role will you as the governor play in this Happiness ideology? For instance, is the Commissioner to go to people’s houses to cheer people up, or give them pep talk (laughter)?
First of all, this ministry has told our Commissioners that their ministries are duty-bound to make the people happy. Before you take any action, ask yourself to what extent will this action make people happy? If not, it will be a waste of people’s resources. Free education has made our people happy. These widows in the villages, who had to sell their chickens and goats to pay school fees of their children, no longer have to do that, and they are happy. I have a lot of tolerance towards my political opponents. When there is no happiness, there will be a lot of hate speeches. The Federal Government’s policy against hate speeches is just like creating a ministry for happiness. With hate speeches, Boko Haram, terrorism will start; IPOB, restructuring will start; Niger Delta militancy will start. All these things are products of anger.
How does South African President, Jacob Zuma, come into the Imo people’s lives that you should build a statue with their money in his honour? You also named a very prominent road in the best part of Owerri after him. Why?
You see, Ochereome, you are (part of the) Pharisees.
I am, definitely, not a Pharisee!
These were the same questions the Pharisees asked Jesus. Now, you have just acknowledged there is one prime road. Before, you never acknowledged there was a prime road. What is wrong with Zuma coming to Imo State? When you leave here, take a picture of our cargo airport. President Zuma came here to discuss the procedure of the South African Airways coming here to take over the Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport alongside the Federal Government of Nigeria. The man said so himself when he came here. He came with the Chairman of the South African Airways.
His people have been killing our people in their country.
Since he came here, have you seen one single incident like that?
Maybe isolated cases, but it is still going on.
Tell me one instance. If it happened it would be all over the internet. When he came he said he would ensure no South African would kill a Nigerian and no Nigerian would kill a South African. Do you know why he came?
Zuma came here for three things: One, the Imo Industrial Park, which we signed an MOU on; to do a gas industrial park in Ohaji-Egbema, because all I have is gas. Two, Zuma came here for the issue of the International Cargo Airport. Three, Zuma came here because he appreciates something good. He heard about Rochas Foundation Schools. Since I established the Rochas Foundation Schools, there is no local government in Nigeria that I don’t have children, over 15,000 children. No governor, no president has heard about this school and visited it, except Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who visited recently. It’s been there for more than 15 years. Nobody, no big man, has thought it wise to come and see what we are doing. This man heard we had a school where we were providing free education, he wept and said in his life he never saw a classroom; he never went to school in his life. He spent most of his time in prison. He wept here in Owerri. He said ‘I wish I had met you earlier, my brother; I would like to partner you’. That was why we brought him.
What is wrong with all of you? None of you has visited this school. These are children of poor people, children who have nobody. Then the man came all the way from South Africa to appreciate something good and they could not see that. They could not see the industrial park; they could not see the cargo airport. All they could see was the statue, that he is facing corrupt charges. Some of those making noise cannot even be tea makers for Zuma. They are saying ‘lock him up’. In law, until the courts condemn you, you are considered to be innocent. The second person that came here, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, five children from her country whose parents died of Ebola, are schooling here. This woman took a flight to come and see the children. What happened to the big men of Nigeria? Why hasn’t anyone come? See how wicked and ungrateful are the big men of Nigeria? The Ghana President also came here. Thanks to former President Olusegun Obasanjo who also came here. One individual is making Nigeria great. They hear about Oprah Winfrey. They listen to Oprah. Oprah opened one school with 250 children and the whole world celebrated Oprah because she is an American. And here is Rochas, bringing Africa together; no elite has made any statement in affirmation. All they see is a statue of Zuma. ‘Why should he make a statue of Zuma, he spent N502 million’, they believe all that jargon. How many leaders in Africa have set up schools for the education of poor children? Zuma has done so. In that place, we have (former vice president) Ekwueme statue, why don’t they talk about it? (Former prime minister)Tafawa Balewa’s statue is there… The whole place is called Ojukwu Centre. We have more than ten people who have statues there as our highest award. They don’t know that the place is a park, a tourist park. There are so many things there: Heroes Centre, Freedom Park, Ojukwu Centre and Igbo Renaissance Centre. All these things are there and all they could see is Zuma statue and I am having a big laugh at them.
I have two more questions. Number one, is it true that you are planning to install your son-in-law as the next governor of Imo State?
Why are people so myopic? So, what is wrong if he interested? I am asking you, since you reason like them.
I am asking you as a journalist. It has nothing to do with my opinion.
Listen. This young man, I never knew him from Adam. I never knew his father. By happenstance, he worked with me. He found my daughter and married my daughter. So, because of that, he can no longer be a man? Assuming that he is qualified to run for even president of Nigeria he cannot run because he is Rochas’ son-in-law? To be somebody’s in-law is now an offence? I don’t understand how people reason. Another thing I hate is this issue about zoning. You take power and you zone it as if it a cake. Let him that has something upstairs, that is qualified, lead. Visionary people; irrespective of whether poor or rich. It makes me laugh when educated people in the twenty first century still talk like primitive people. If you think you can defeat him, stand up and defeat him. I have not made up my mind to support him. I have three people on my mind. When I decide I will come out and say this is the candidate I want to support. If it is Uche Nwosu, so be it. And if you think you can defeat him, okay, go and defeat him. If the people like him, that is how it will be. I don’t want this thing to become a minus for my children in future. I have very intelligent children that can help this country and help this state. You cannot say because they are my children they cannot run for election. Even my wife can run Imo State. That woman is so intelligent; she can lead this state perfectly, even better than I do.
And let me say it again, I have done more than any governor has even done for Imo State. Let them stop talking about statue. Let them stop talking about Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment. Let them talk about whether Rochas Okorocha has lived up to his promises as governor of Imo State. Which governor in the past provided over a thousand kilometres of roads? Owerri city has changed, with free education, hospitals, schools that can take about 2.5 million children, with infrastructure everywhere. A state that was coming number 35 is now among the first three. If anyone has done better than me, let him come out and say it. And I say, NONE!
From all indications, President Muhammadu Buhari will run again in 2019. He has not formally announced, but his famous body language is screaming it to high heavens. Do you think the APC has done well enough to deserve a second tenure?
Let me tell you about President Muhammadu Buhari. If you recall, I ran for president against Buhari. As a president we had issues. But the closer I get to that man the more I love him. There is nothing that makes a man great more than serving the people without counting the cost. He is among the few decent Nigerians you can still find today. You know I am a second term governor. The only ideal thing I can now do is to run for the president of this country. But for me to sheath my political sword means there is something great about him. Buhari has succeeded as a president of this country. He has united this country. There is no more that demarcation of Moslem/Christian, Igbo/Yoruba or Hausa as in the past administration when the country was polarised between Moslems and Christians…
If you look at it now, the fight against corruption which is as old as this country is receiving proper attention. Even the terrorist attack in the North East has been given its rightful place in terms of defending one’s nation. And if you look at the speed with which Nigeria came out of recession, it can only be a miracle. Look at the agricultural sector, what is happening there. It is a success, and that is the starting point of getting out of the oil mess. If Nigeria had been going like this in the past twenty years, I am sure we would have been like China now. Within three years! It is my wish and my prayer that Buhari runs for second term and that is the only man I respect politically. If not, no one could stop me from running for president in 2019. He has the support of over 95 per cent of us.
What about yourself. Are you going to rest in the Senate?
If Buhari says he will not run, I will produce my political sword and go into the field for the presidency. I have not considered running for Senate. People think that is what I should do. I still cannot comprehend the fact that after being governor for eight years, I will run for Senate. I have looked into the Senate and I have not seen myself sitting there. Unless some form of miracle happens then I might consider it. I might even prefer to become a local government chairman…
The next governor will “dissolve” as you did others.
He can only do that if I don’t do well. If I do well, he won’t.