Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, in this interview bares his mind on his running battle with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, accusing the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Oshiomhole, of conniving with the electoral umpire to frustrate his ambition for the Upper Legislative Chamber, the Senate; among other salient national issues. Excerpts:
How far have you gone about your Certificate of Return seized by INEC?
Last week, I wrote a letter to INEC officials myself informing INEC about their wrong doings and illegal actions; withhold my certificate on mere allegations, which was never investigated. INEC on its own believed the report of its Returning Officer without verifying the authenticity of such allegation. So, there was no issue of fair hearing at all, whether I committed the offence that their person alleged.
However, what is important here is that INEC doesn’t have the power to withhold a certificate of return, having declared a result. Both the certificate of return and the declaration is just one subject matter. The other one is ceremonial because the result has been declared. It has become obvious that the INEC Chairman is up to a game with the Chairman of APC, who are bent on frustrating my senatorial ambition. I have given enough time to INEC officials to do the needful and issue me my certificate of return, all to no avail.
My case has witnessed a lot of drama. INEC that made a submission to the tribunal in Owerri has gone back to withdraw the submission it made. The submission they made was defending the declaration by INEC, which is normal. But because that submission was seen to be in my favour, INEC has gone back to say they will withdraw the submission, which is also out of time.
Furthermore, the APC National Chairman has allegedly approached the tribunal to also ask to withdraw the submission of the party. What INEC is doing is the same thing the APC is doing. So, this tells you that there is a game going on. I wonder what they will do with the certificate. If they don’t give me the certificate, who will they give it to?
But you were one of those who supported him to emerge as the National Chairman of your party. What suddenly happened that he is now against you?
There is nothing personal between me and Adams Oshiomhole, other than that Adams Oshiomhole is part and parcel of this high level conspiracy to bring down Rochas politically. This is just aimed at making sure that Rochas doesn’t have a solid foundation politically. They say if I get to the Senate, I want to run for the President and all of that; I want to run for 2023 elections. Who told them? Have I declared? You wait until I declare and when I do declare, we now fight politically.
But what is painful is that the Adams Oshiomhole that I literally put into this position, I never asked him to do me any favour, but all I requested of him is to do what is right, could turn around to commit this evil of mankind. It is totally unacceptable. That the party that I formed, that brought out the APC we have today will treat me in this manner is also unfortunate because the evil I feared in the PDP has befallen me ten times in the APC. I hate injustice and that’s what I’m seeing on a daily basis.
There are allegations of alleged anti-party activities against you. That you supported one of your principal officers to join another party to contest and even used state machinery to support him
You forgot there was a primaries. There was even a congress where the then Organizing Secretary, Osita Izunaso allegedly ran away with the ballot boxes and the Police Commissioner was later transferred? It is just a booklet that is opened page by page, on a daily basis by the authors. Gulak came and ran away with the result sheets and said election is finished. The security were there and all of these people. That’s part of the conspiracy. It’s not about anti-party.
You met with the President on this matter on two occasions. How come the party has not resolved the problem?
What I took to the President was entirely a different matter because I believe that this matter shouldn’t be a matter that Mr. President should come in. If you know President Muhammadu Buhari as a person, he is not such a person who interferes. Once he gives you a job, you do your job, he doesn’t want to interfere. At the end of it all, you make yourself good or bad. I know his style and I know his person. So, I didn’t want to belabour him with ‘talk to this’ or ‘that person’ on what is clear and right.
You are very close to the President and there is this impression that the President may be behind this?
I don’t think Mr. President is behind this. Buhari is definitely not behind this. If you know President Muhammadu Buhari in his own style, you will know that he will keep quiet and never say anything about this until they prove themselves right or wrong.
If those behind it are very close to President, can’t the President call them to order?
Remember this matter has to do with INEC and INEC is perceived to be independent and if Mr. President is going to talk to INEC, he’s interfering with the independence of INEC. Whether Mr. President speaks or not, what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong.
Do you still feel comfortable in the APC?
I am APC. I have never thought of leaving the party for now and I have no reason because I won under the platform of APC.
When you say the misfortune you feared in PDP has fallen ten times on the APC, are you still comfortable remaining and allowing the misfortune to multiply?
Where will I go to? I have to be in the APC, I formed the APC.
Are you stranded?
I am not stranded, I remain in APC and I have not indicated that I’m going to leave APC. Remember that the intention of these people is to frustrate me out of politics and out of APC so that they can have a field of play. But all I advise today is that let no institution or organization allow themselves to be used as an instrument to destroy somebody politically, who has committed no offence.
If by chance you meet Adams Oshiomhole today, what will you tell him?
We will chat as usual. What will I do to him? The last time I saw Oshiomhole was when I went to his office and he sent his SSS man to insult me in his office, before the governorship candidate of Akwa Ibom, the NDDC guy, Obong Nsima Ekere, who also reacted against the gentleman. An SSS was pushing me out as a governor from his office. So, I’ve taken enough insults from Oshiomhole and all those that are planning this evil.
You said the anti-graft agencies are on the trail of many people in your government. Are you suspecting that they are part of this conspiracy because what they said before the election, they claimed that you were taking money from government coffers for vote buying?
First and foremost, if you think right and people reason well, if you want to withdraw N17 billion in this country now, it will take you two years to get N17 billion from all the banks in Nigeria. So, these are frivolities. But anybody can say anything against you just to find a way to attack you and I’m saying that they should reason well in what they do. Nobody should be used as an instrument to fight anybody for political reasons. If not, such institutions also will lose their credibility.
Aren’t you worried about the deteriorating security situation?
It is of great concern really and my heart goes to those who have lost their dear ones. What is happening in Nigeria, we don’t need it. We don’t need such distractions. We don’t need such bloodsheds. But what is happening is deeper than we all can tell because at a point, we thought it was taking a religious tone. The fight against this insurgency should be collective responsibility and not for government alone. These people are taking advantage of the disunity amongst all us. We need to close ranks to fight insurgency and band itry. But how can you deal with a matter when you are divided.
How did you tackle kidnapping in Imo?
What I did was very simple. All the autonomous communities in Imo State, six hundred and something, of them, I called a meeting of the Ezes, the chief security officers and set up a community government council, so that after federal, state and local, I had and I still have a community government working in Imo State and each of them is charged with the responsibility to fight crime without arms. First of all, information is key. We lack adequate information on the activities of the Boko Haram and the kidnappers. If you don’t have information, you will be shooting in the dark and wasting arms, spending more money than you should.
When I set up this community government council, it changed the story in Imo State. Within a few days, I began to see results. I developed what is called the black book. In my black book, they got me names of all the criminals, while protecting the traditional rulers because it was a personal matter between me and security agencies. We even got to know about somebody who built up something in his roof where he disappears and he is a kidnapper. So, the day we led operation to go and get the gentleman, they pay loader was there, they said the man had disappeared. The man told us that even if the man disappears, we should continue and break down that house. As we did that, the man came out like a rat. That’s the power of information. But I would have spent money hiring army, police, pay allowance and overnight allowance, meanwhile the man is eating food upstairs there for one year. So, information is nor there and that is a major problem of the nation’s insecurity.
The Federal Government is blocking governors from local government accounts. What is your view, especially as chairman of APC governors forum?
How the three tiers of government operate is a constitutional issue and local government is one of these tiers of government. There is no clear cut arrangement as to how local government affairs are managed because it is still the state assemblies that make their laws and control their activities. If you look at the other side, the local governments are actually a part of the state government. If the local governments do not come together, what they will be operating will be on recurrent expenditures. Take for instance, in Imo State, and I must say this proudly that I do not know of any state where the local government has achieved the much I have achieved. Today, in my local government, they built a 200 bed hospital in each of the local governments. We built 546 primary schools in the wards because of this arrangement. We have ICT centre and we have done over 1,000 kilometers of road.
Before I became governor, I checked the local government achievements; all I saw was borehole and transformer and renovation of health centres. So, the funds of local governments cannot impact on any major project unless there is a collective arrangement. Again, I think the idea of Federal Government or NFIU, in this matter is because of the perceived corruption that takes place within the system. As it is, I think there should be better clear cut issues as to the autonomy of the local government, based on the constitutional provision.
You claim to be popular haven done a lot of projects, but why were the people celebrating when the APC stripped you of hold on the party?
It is not true. We have a population of over 5 million people and you say a hundred youths, miscreants, coming out tearing billboards and you say they celebrate. No sane person in Imo State will tell you that Rochas has not done well because the record I have set in Imo cannot be broken soon. I’ve beaten the records of those before me. This might shock you and it is subject to verification that what I have done in Imo State, if you put together what others that have governed Imo State for the past 34 years have done, it cannot be equal to what I have done. Let somebody come and say it is not true. Today, Imo State has an International Cargo Airport, the best in the country. Last week, FAAN confirmed so, the best and the biggest in the country. Recently, I collected 3 university licenses, I have built six universities all completed. Who has built it? I built six universities because I needed them, because Imo State remains the highest in the number of JAMB candidates. Since 2011, because of my free education policy, more children go to school now in Imo State. When I came, I had over 600 students in the primary schools, today, I have over close to a million students going to school and they don’t pay a dime in all the tertiary institutions. I proudly say so. In 2012 for instance the number of students looking for JAMB admission from Imo State was 143,000 in Nigeria. The second was 67,000 in Delta and we have maintained the lead for the past seven years and we can only take about 20 percent.
While embarking on these projects, are you looking at sustainability? Can a state like yours sustain six universities?
You should have asked me how does a single man in this country offer free education to over 22,000 children with 6,000 undergraduates and 4,000 graduates via the Rochas Foundation. It is not money, it is vision. Where there is no vision, the people perish, it didn’t say where there is no money. But you people put money first. If I am still the Governor of Imo State or allowed to advise whoever is there, those institutions will run hitch free because every university can fund itself in this country.
What is your own narrative of what happened on Election Day. Did your supporters kidnap the Returning Officer?
When people ask the question of what happened on the day of the election, they forget that election venue is not Sambisa forest. There are human beings in the place. You have SSS, you have the police, you have the army, you have the Navy, you have the Airforce, you have agents of the party. You have all these people there and remember that it is the collation centre, so all the security from local governments all gathered there to protect the votes. The Army has told you there was nothing like that. The police wrote in their report that there was nothing like that. SSS report said there was nothing like that. The agents of the parties, including the one of PDP, nobody has said that. The candidates never said there was one.
All the candidates of the party never said there was any duress. Only one man: the Returning Officer and he also said on BBC Pidgin English that Rochas never touched him. Why didn’t he say it when he was submitting his report to INEC?
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