Written by ThisDay
Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State turned 50 in September, but he decided to mark his birthday along the 10th anniversary of the Rochas Foundation last week. On the sidelines of the activities marking the anniversaries, the All Progressives Grand Alliance governor spoke with Chuks Okocha on developments in his state and the country. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to mark your birthday and the 10th anniversary of Rochas Foundation together?
I want you to understand this from my pedigree. I have over 6, 000 students who will be graduating after their successful completion of their secondary education. Education is one of the major industries in the state. The graduands are my children. So as a mark of honour, it was decided to mark my birthday and the 10th anniversary of the foundation together. The schools are located in Kano, Jos, Ibadan and Owerri.
What is the idea behind your decision to forgo your statutory security votes?
Imo State has a security vote of less than N4 billion. It is the sacrifice I have to make to my people for the purpose of good governance for the benefit of good education and to create employment in the state. Of what value is the security vote when there are several challenges facing the state? Of what value are the security votes, when the schools are in bad shape? Today, we are building new blocks of classrooms in the 325 wards of the state. All are from the security votes. This is the sacrifice I have to make by forfeiting my security votes.
My decision to use the security votes for other things has not affected the security of the state. Imo State has made several donations in terms of vehicles, logistic support and other communication gadgets to the police and other security agencies.
What is the state of agriculture under your administration?
When I came as governor, I changed the name of the palm plantation from Ada Palm to Imo Palm. Today, the Imo Palm has generated for the state no less than N3.2 billion. This was a farm that was running almost at a loss. Today also the poultry in Avutu has been made productive. Both the Imo palm and Avutu poultry are employing more than 4, 000 indigenes of the state. Most of them are graduates.
Imo State is rich, and when I say that people wonder. But my Bible told me that my people perish for lack of vision. We are rich because we have the vision and that is what is driving the state. We were able to turn both the Imo palms and the Avutu poultry around with the help of our foreign partners.
What is your vision for the South-east, especially, ahead of 2015?
APGA is the political party of the Igbos and it is my mission that by 2015 the party would be in charge of affairs in the zone. This will give the Igbos a sense of identity and sense of collective bargaining. APGA is not part of the PDP. What we said in 2011 was that the party will not field a presidential candidate and that we will support President Goodluck Jonathan.
But in the new dispensation, it is expected that APGA, as the party of the Igbos, will have a domineering influence in the South-east and this will help our sense of identity and collective interest. This is my mission as the governor of the heartland of the South-east zone.
Would you return to PDP?
Even if I contested the 2011 governorship election on the platform of the PDP, I would have failed the election. I paid the first rent for the PDP to take off as a political party. Solomon Lar, the former national chairman of the PDP, and even Professor Jerry Gana can attest to this, but the PDP has not been fair to me. I won the governorship ticket in 1999, I was denied the ticket, I won the Orlu senatorial ticket, I was again denied the ticket, I wanted to be national chairman because I have the national acceptance, and I was again denied the ticket. I came second in the presidential primary election, when late President Umaru Yar’Adua was elected the presidential candidate of the party, yet there was nothing to write home about it. For me, there is no light in the tunnel for the PDP, unless the party becomes born-again.
How would you explain the controversy surrounding the Oguta State constituency seat?
The INEC chairman said that he consulted from judges, both serving and retired, and Senior Advocates of Nigeria and it was agreed that there should be a supplementary election and some local government elections were cancelled. With the cancellation of some local governments election, how come that INEC came to the conclusion that election will be conducted in only four local governments. This was what made all the political parties to boycott the election. There are still lots of explanations on the side of INEC on how it reached the conclusion to conduct the bye-election in only four wards, instead of all the local government.
Can you throw light on the local government chairmen’s tenure saga?
The state House of Assembly has said their tenure expired on the 8th of August. So, if their tenure expired on the 8th of August, you cannot go into another person’s tenure. It is a law gazetted. But you can see now, they are using all kinds of media campaign, trying to portray the governor as somebody who is not obeying court order. I have gone beyond obeying court order to stupidity. One, I have an appeal in the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, that is still pending. It is supposed to be heard in the month of September. These violent people went in against the court proceedings and implemented their judgement at the Court of Appeal level. I said, okay, hold your judgement, let us go with you. Now, I also offered them an olive branch and said, how can we also work together before the election is conducted, just for peace to reign.
But you were accused of abridging the tenure of the council chairmen.
I cannot grant them tenure elongation; it is not within my powers. I suggested that we should work out a way, whether it is through a sole-administrator system or a transition committee system, where they are allowed to continue before the election takes place. My idea was to conduct election as quickly as possible. But to my greatest surprise again, this gentleman’s agreement that we had arrived at was abandoned. These men went to court and brought an ex parte injunction stopping the government from dissolving them on the 8th of August when the law that brought them into office talked about two years. I don’t have the power to dissolve or not, the law has dissolved them.
What is the philosophy behind the fourth tier government introduced by your administration?
The states are the federating units. The essence of what we are doing is to ensure that the communities are involved in the day-to-day affairs of the people. If you embezzle money at the local government level, nobody cares, but when you take a goat that belongs to the community, they will ensure that you account for it with the public odium. Community Government Council is what has been in the tradition of our people. It is called Town Union. What we are having is a modified town union of government which is in line with the culture of our people. We believe in it and we seem to do better with it. It is the government of the people by the people and for the people, not interfered with by INEC or police or security agencies. These people come out to choose the leader they want and it is already an established system. We are only modifying this for purposes of promoting agricultural practices and to ensure security and also bring back our culture into full fledge, especially speaking of the Igbo language.
How would you describe your relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan?
Cordial, more than cordial. I knew him before he became the president. In fact, our relationship started when he was the deputy governor of Bayelsa State. Source: ThisDay