TRACKING>>Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, in this interview with select journalists in Abuja speaks about his travail within the APC, his struggle to get his Certificate of Return as senator-elect from the INEC, the newly approved universities for the state, among others. MUYIWA OYINLOLA was there
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 taken by INEC to withhold my certificate on mere allegation of duress, which was never founded, neither was there any committee set up to investigate the matter. INEC on their own believed the reports by their returning officer, without investigating the authenticity of such allegation. So, there was no issue of fair hearing at all on whether I committed the offence that their person alleged.
What is important here is that INEC doesn’t have the power to withhold certificate of return, having declared a result. Both the certificate of return and the declaration is just one subject matter, just that the other one is ceremonial because result has been declared.
Looking at some of the activities that have taken place since this issue of my certificate, it became obvious that the INEC chairman was up to a game with the chairman of the APC, who are being used as a people to frustrate my coming to the Senate and this is politically motivated. I’ve given enough time that INEC may correct themselves and do the needful and issue a certificate of return, all to no avail.
To buttress the point more, even after issuance of this letter to INEC, many things have happened within the week; for instance, INEC that made a submission to the tribunal in Owerri has gone back requesting that they want to withdraw the submission they have made. The submission they made was defending the declaration by INEC, which is normal that INEC ought to defend their declaration. 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.
Now, they went through an affidavit by the Head of Legal Department; one Mr. Elekwa who made the submission has now gone back to say he wants to withdraw and reliably, I was informed that he was under threat by one Festus Okoye, who has threatened to sack him from INEC if he does not withdraw. So, there is a huge threat going on now in INEC to sack the gentleman for not doing the wrong thing or being part of the script and I’m sure, for some reason, they may have forgotten to inform him to do the wrong because if they had informed him to do the wrong thing, he would have done that. He went there believing that he was defending INEC the normal way they should.
Surprisingly again to also buttress a point, the APC national chairman has gone to the tribunal again asking to withdraw the matter which the party had filed defending its victory at the Senate. What INEC is doing is the same thing the APC is doing. So, this tells you that there is a game going on to do that. But I wonder what they will do with the certificate. If they don’t give me the certificate, who will they give it to?
But what these gentlemen are doing is presenting INEC as a lying organization and that is dangerous for our democracy because as it stands right now, the image of INEC is bastardized for this singular act and they are setting a bad precedent. What that means is that tomorrow, somebody can withdraw the result of anybody because you don’t like his face or because you feel he is going to politically challenge you in the future. But is rather something very funny to see this happening in our own time and generation. What is happening now is what happened in the primitive days, not now in this modern world. What image is INEC trying to portray to the rest of the world. INEC should just come to me and say we don’t want you to go to the Senate because our leaders have said so and we must fight you.
Has the INEC responded to your letter?
They have not responded to my letter. They have said nothing to me. I wrote that letter in my capacity as the governor of a state who contested for the Senate and INEC cannot ignore my letter. So, I demand explanation from INEC as to why they have withhold it.
But you went to court.
I took INEC to court in a matter between me and INEC, to give me my certificate, which is the normal thing. But INEC has also now connived with other parties, the PDP and also the APGA, to be a joinder. Even today, they also said somebody else wants to join. Everyday, somebody keeps joining, just to delay the matter. There is complete high level conspiracy to fight Rochas. But I assure them, they will fail.
Why the conspiracy?
It’s politically motivated definitely. If not, why do this? The story started when they imposed a candidate on Imo State; when they imposed Hope Uzodinma who came two weeks to our primaries and they wanted to give him the ticket at all cost, leaving the people who founded the party, who won the primaries. One Gulak came and ran away with the result sheets. They upheld it. But men who support evil will have evil on their way one day.
You said that the National Chairman of the party is part of your travails?
Yes, he is part and parcel of the game plan.
I remember that you were one of those who supported him to emerge as the National Chairman of your party. What suddenly happened that he’s 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; 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 for him is to do what is right; could turn around to do this. How 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 10 times in the APC. I hate injustice and that’s what I’m seeing on a daily basis now playing out.
It is said that part of the problems you have with your party is the alleged anti-party activities that you carried out in Imo State by asking one of your principal officers to put up another party to contest and you used your machinery to support him.
This is just a later development. It has been on. You forgot there was a primary. You forgot there was even a congress where the then Organising Secretary, Izunaso, ran away with the ballot boxes and the Police Commissioner was later transferred? It’s just a booklet that is opened page by page on a daily basis. You forgot that Gulak even came and ran away with the result sheets and said election is finished. The security people 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. He 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.
Now that you are in court, are you prepared to allow the processes of the court to run out?
I’ve just said that these are all delay tactics. INEC at the end of it all will have to give out the certificate. I’ve advised them, the only person who qualifies to get that INEC result is Festus, the National Commissioner.
With all of these, do you still feel comfortable about remaining in the APC?
I’m APC. I’ve never thought of leaving the party for now and I have no reason because I won on the platform of the APC.
When you say the misfortune you feared in PDP has fallen you 10 times in 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’m not stranded. I’m in the APC and I have not indicated that I’m going to leave the APC. Remember that the intention of these people is to frustrate me out of politics and out of the APC so that they can have a field of play. But all I advise today is that let no institution or organisation 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 who also reacted against the gentleman. An SSS was pushing me out as a governor from his office. So, I’ve taken enough of 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 before the election, they claimed that you were taking money from government coffers to buy votes?
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. I’m saying that they should apply some reasonability in what they do. Nobody should be used as an instrument to fight anybody because of some political reasons. If not, such institutions also will lose their credibility.
You are the Chairman of the APC Governors Forum and there are frightening unfolding security challenges in the country. As somebody who is a huge stakeholder in this government, aren’t you worried about the security situation?
It’s a causese for concern really and my heart goes to those who lost their dear ones. What is happening in Nigeria, we don’t need it. We don’t need such distraction, 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 line. It happened in Benue and we thought it was the Muslims against the Christians. It happened in Jos and Zamfara. The fight against this insurgency should be collective responsibility and not something that government alone will do. These people are taking advantage of the disunity amongst all of us, either on tribal basis, religious basis, political basis. So, we need to have a unified force to fight insurgency as a nation.
But our nation does not know when to play politics and when to stop playing politics because if we come together across party lines, across religious line, across ethnic groups and fight this insurgents, it will end. But to some people, it’s a plus the moment people are killed in Zamfara because they think it will give them a political advantage. They celebrate it. This is where I don’t understand what kind of country is Nigeria. If this had been America, parties will disappear, religion will disappear, tribes will disappear and they will focus and deal with this matter.
But how can you deal with a matter where you are divided?
There is complete division in this country along political line, along religious line, tribal line, whatever you are.
For instance, even the APC as a party, if we are going to battle now, what the strength the party will use to fight? It’s so scattered because of a lot of injustices and what have you.
Why is the President finding it very difficult to fire service chiefs that are not living up to expectations in terms of the security situation?
I just said same thing. If you fire the service chief and you bring another person, it’s the same recurring decimal. How many IGs have we fired in this country over this issue? Sometimes, it’s not that. There are certain things you have to address first. If you have a family and you have a battle that is so strong, first and foremost, you make sure you tighten up your family. I’m able fight this battle because I’m not at war with my wife or my children. It will be more devastating if you don’t have a family. So, first of all, Nigeria should be a family to fight this battle. The service chiefs are but a person. If you remove the service, what is the guarantee that the new service chief will be able to take care of the matter? So, it’s beyond that.
If you know the person of President Muhammadu Buhari, he gives you a long rope to prove yourself. I think there needs to be reorientation first in this country of a unified force to fight this battle because the battle is beyond what service chiefs alone can do. The battle is beyond what armed forces can handle. If you are not careful, the fight against insurgency will now transform itself to business.
It’s just like kidnapping. When it started in the Southeast, I will give you example of how I sorted the issue of kidnapping in Imo State. Remember my state was one of the most notorious in the Southeast. Nobody has cared to ask me, what did Rochas do to stop kidnapping. That’s how to solve a nation’s problem.
When I started fighting the insurgents, somebody that fixed something for River State government then was giving me a bill of N3.4 billion to set up gadgets, cameras to catch them. But I knew I didn’t have the money and if I signed that contract, I won’t pay salary for one year.
What I did was very simple. All the autonomous communities in Imo State, six hundred and something of them, I met the Ezes, the chief security officer and set up a community government council so that after federal, state and local, I 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 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 became 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’s 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, 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 the governors from having access to local government accounts. What is your take?
The three tiers of government is a constitutional issue and local government is also one of the tiers of government. But there is no clear cut arrangement as to how local government affairs are managed because it’s 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 know not 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 school the wards because of this arrangement. We have ICT centres and we have done over 1000 kilometres 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.
You claimed to be popular and have done a lot of projects, but why did the people of the state celebrate when the APC said you no longer have a grip of the structures?
It’s not true. We have a population of over 5 million people and you say hundred youths, miscreants coming around the way, 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 set in Imo State is yet to be beaten by anybody and I’ve beaten the records of those before me. This might shock you and it’s subject to verification that what I’ve done in Imo State, if you put together what others that have governed her for the past 34 years have done, it cannot be equal to what I have done. Let somebody come and say it’s not true.
Today, Imo State has an International Cargo Airport, the best in the country. Last week, FAAN confirmed it as such. Today, I’ve built a new police office, second biggest to the one at the national that is the IG’s office and the facilities I have there are far more than the one you have in the FCT. I’ve built the State High Court, the biggest and the best in the country today. I’ve built a prison of 3,200 capacity, the best in the country.
Only a few days ago, the Ooni of Ife said that he had been everywhere in Africa, there is no traditional headquarter that is like the one of Imo State. Our urban renewal is second to none. I’ve built more roads in Imo State than all the governors in the past put together. I’ve built over 500 schools. Recently, I collected three university licenses. I’ve built six universities all completed. Who has built it? I built six universities because I need it because Imo State remains the highest in the number of Jambites since 2011 because of my free education policy. More children go to school now in Imo State.
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’m still the governor of Imo State or guide whoever is there, those institutions will run hitch free because every university can fund itself in this country.
Are you not afraid of being probed by the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies on how you spent public funds?
I’m not afraid, but it must never be politically motivated, because for every one naira spent in Imo State, I will show you where it is and if I go by their conventional contracts, I’m sure they will owe me in my administration more than N100 billion.