…Says Igbo should queue behind Buhari
By Alvan Ewuzie and Willy Eya
GOVERNOR Rochas Okorocha of Imo State believes that the Igbo did not play the right kind of politics in last year’s general elections. He argues that they should not have put all their eggs in one basket in the 2015 poll. In this exclusive interview with Daily Sun in Owerri, the Imo State capital, he bared his mind on a number of issues including the reasons the elite in his state do not like him.
You have embarked on so many giant projects despite the downturn in the nation’s economy. Where are you getting the funds for all these and what are the prospects for sustaining these projects?
My passion to see Imo as a modern state is what is making me go into these infrastructural developments which were lacking in the past. They range from roads, schools, hospitals and indeed key infrastructural developments.
Talking about funding, Imo is not one of those states that get huge subventions. It might surprise you to know that what I get as governor in 10 months is what some states get in one month. This is to tell you how low it is.
And our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) ranges from N400 to N500 million monthly.
This is because our people have not developed the attitude of paying taxes and there is a lot of corruption in the system. They do not even see the reasons why they should pay tax because of lack of infrastructure. But when we introduced free education and embarked on various infrastructural developments, people are beginning to sympathise with the government and are seeing the benefits of paying tax.
I am not saying that our IGR has significantly improved but what has really helped us is thinking outside the box. What we do is to make sure that we reduce the cost of governance to almost zero per cent. We try to remove those bureaucratic bottlenecks that have kept projects dead. I make sure that the implementation of projects are made open and transparent. We try to get the lowest cost of projects and at the same time get a high quality.
In Imo State, our style of awarding contracts is quite different. We call for tenders and it is like a bidding process. We have introduced Tax Force system that allows us to declare an emergency on any project. So, that makes us on a daily basis enter into any of these projects because the House of Assembly has given us powers to do so.
This has helped and this has been responsible for what we have been able to do and also on cutting down on recurrent expenditure. But it has nothing to do with the salary of workers. We pay better than any state in terms of salaries. So, the secret is cutting down on cost of governance and making sure that we get value for our money. I make sure I supervise these projects almost on a daily basis. With this strategy, we get the results. But if you sit down as an executive governor, cross your legs and be enjoying the air condition and you are not always in the field, you would never get it right. You
have to practically become a carpenter, mason, electrician and all of that just to make sure that you get things right.
I can close my eyes and describe all my projects. I do not need anybody to tell me about the projects because I inspect them almost on a daily basis.
What do you think is the greatest challenge you are facing governing Imo State?
Honestly, none except what I may call the culture of recurrent rather
than capital expenditure government which is almost like a nationwide
problem. You see people who are employed on sentimental considerations by their political masters who do nothing.
All they do is collect salaries and do nothing. That pains me. There is
also the problem of over bloated salary structure. Like now, what I get in a month is about N3.4 billion and my total salary structure is over N5 billion; how do you reconcile it? These are my greatest challenges in government. It is about the recurrent versus capital expenditure. As a businessman, I work it out that if I can save the recurrent for one year, I would make Imo State an industrial zone. The industries would be employing people and paying those people that I borrowed those recurrent salaries from and paying them twice their salaries for the next 100 years.
We eat our future in this country. I cannot understand why a governor should get N5 billion and pay N4.9 billion to workers and this constitutes about three per cent of the population and there is no productivity of any sort that you see. It does not show on them or the environment they live. It does not show any where other than in consumption.
What happens is that you see joints of pepper soup, ‘Isi ewu and
Nkwobi’ all over the streets. We keep consuming the future of our children.
My problem is how can I change capital to become the recurrent. If I can get that, I would transform Imo State in less than two years and Imo State would be like China. We have money in this country but we do not know how to spend it.
But paying salary is also part of welfare and government is all about providing welfare and keeping people alive It is a wrong way of keeping people alive. For how long can we keep people alive this way and the people are not even alive.
Think about it. If this money is put into the manufacturing sector, and the workers are transferred to the productive sector, then we would be better off for it. I heard some of my colleagues say that this is a salary state, so you must pay salary. I agree with them that people must receive salary but there must also be something for the generation yet unborn. My worry is about the future generation. Something must be done and every man must be paid according to his labour.
This is what I am saying. Civil service job is not the kind of job that countries in the under developed world need. In Imo State, we do not need more than 1000 workers and 12000 teachers but here we have about 18000 teachers and over 45000 civil servants. Doing what?
Some believe that the Igbo made a mistake by not supporting the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last general election.
What is your take on that?
I think the last election is an eye opener for the Igbo people never to put their eggs in one basket. That was bad politics. The Igbo played the worst kind of politics. Even in the North where the APC is strong, you still have the PDP. In the South West, they balance it almost 50-50. But in Igbo land, we put all our eggs in one basket.
That is the imaginary fear of the marginalization of Ndigbo going on because we did not even vote for the man; so, we do not even have the confidence to approach the president. I do not think that anybody has approached Buhari and he said to the person that he would not do what he asked for. I told you about the international cargo airport of Imo State. He gave me the licence and we now have an international cargo airport.
I do not know what I have asked of him that he has not done for me. So, it is not true that he is against Ndigbo as people think. It is because the Igbo did not vote for him, they do not even have the confidence to approach him.
But they should come off their shell; they are Nigerians. Muhammadu Buhari owes them the duty of care as the president. He is not the president of the APC, he is the president of the federal republic of Nigeria. Whether you voted for him or not, he owes you the duty of care. And I think the Igbo should do their political arithmetic and queue behind Buhari properly.
But what do you think is the future of the APC in Igbo land?
As far as I am concerned, the future of the APC in Igbo land is very bright. What has happened is that the political ‘who is who’ in Igbo land, the masses have come to understand that they misled them in the past. There is nothing that has come out of all the political leaders. Ninety per cent of political leaders in Igbo land have done nothing for their people other than themselves and their families.
So, they are now beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel by seeing the emergence of new leaders. If you come to Imo State now, you know I have done something and you believe it and it was not like that in the past. So, if I tell them come, they would follow me because
they have seen what I have done for them. So, the whole politics of deceit is gone. You cannot be a leader when you cannot show your people the light. So, that is the new politics but people think that it is only when these old names are in a political party that that is where the Igbo are. That is not true. People are now watching out for where the light is and not where the old names are.
The issue of herdsmen, we understand that there was a little skirmish in Imo State sometimes; what is your solution to it and what do you think should be done generally?
I do not think there was any skirmish. It is a rumour. There was nothing like that. But what I have come to tell the world, Nigerians and the Igbo is to understand that a criminal is a criminal.
It does not matter whether he is a Fulani herdsman, an Hausa Boko Haram, Igbo kidnapper or South South kidnapper; a criminal is a criminal.
All of them give bad names to where they come from. So, you should separate them and deal with them as criminals. And I think the president has given an order to that effect and I am happy about that.
The kidnapping that is taking place in Kaduna, 90 per cent of them are Fulanis. They are not Igbos; those are criminals; if you say they are Fulanis, it does not mean that all the Fulanis are criminals,
And when you come here, you say Igbo kidnapper; does it mean all of us are kidnappers?
Those Igbo people that are kidnappers should be treated as criminals. If we are able to do this, then it would promote unity in this country. Let us face the issues rather than talking about the sentiments of where you come from.
It appears that the elite in Imo State have an issue with you and it appears that there is a gang up to bring you down. What is the matter?
Yes, there is a gang up. Ask yourself, how am I surviving with Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Arthur Nzeribe, Hope Uzodinma, Achike Udenwa, Kema Chikwe, Christy Anyanwu, Emeka Ihedioha and the political who is who? They are on the other side while I am on the other side. And every time, I defeat them. They have the police, they have the Army in those days. They have the instruments of power; they have the money and they had the federal government and I defeated them. They were all behind Ohakim when I defeated Ohakim.
There was no known name other than the masses, my people, my people. That tells you the divide and that tells you that the people have seen the light. My strength is that the people know I mean well. God almighty and the people are my strength. I know the elite are against me but I am not against them. Their reason for wanting political power is different for my reason. They are two different divide. I believe that the dividends of democracy should go to the people. But they believe that the dividends of democracy must be for those who are called by their political names.
I am not for that; my life is for the ordinary man and with them I will stay for all the days of my political life. And it looks like we might never go the same way because of their political beliefs.
if i had been with this group of people in PDP, I would never have introduced free education, the infrastructural development you are seeing could never have been possible. The schools, hospitals, roads, all these projects could never have been possible.
Why do you say so?
It is because we could have been busy sharing the money and plan for who gets the next power.
For me, I think about the future of the next generation and not about who gets the next political power. It might shock you that I literally spent nothing for my politics. In the first instance, I spent little or nothing to become a governor but my counterpart then spent over N14 or N15 billion.
Just like the last election, did you not see about N2 billion and even here in Imo State, do you know how much they spent? Over N20 billion came into Imo State to fight the last election and yet they lost. So, you can see that the difference is clear. I prefer to stay with the masses. Unless those people are baptized with Holy water and their whole political life changes before I can work with them but as long as they remain with the orthodox old system of oppressors, I will not be part of them.
There is this speculation that the recent change of the Secretary to the State government is in connection with the 2019 general elections. How true is that?
Why did you change the SSG?
No, it has nothing to do with the elections in 2019. My SSG was changed for balancing and strategic issues. It had nothing to do with politics.
He is my son and I made him relevant in this state. I appointed him the chairman of Internally Generated Revenue, the Chief of Staff and so on within five years. If I say wait as a player, it may be for some reasons. Any time you see a coach remove a good player and put him somewhere, it might be for strategic reasons. So, it has nothing to do with politics. Even the present person who is the SSG was once my Accountant
General and when he was removed heads almost rolled as if he had committed one crime like that but there was no such thing. I am the man at the helm of affairs and I understand what I need to do at a particular time to achieve the maximum objective.
You have at various times contested to be the president of this country and many think that you still have your eye on that seat; will you take a shot at it in 2019 or is your ambition for that position over?
Let me tell you, the only reason I will not contest for presidency in 2019 is because of President Buhari.
The only reason on earth I would not contest in 2019 is because of President Muhammadu Buhari. I will support him and I believe he was called up at a time like this to clean up the mess in the society. I am not even judging Buhari in terms of achievement but to clean up the mess and lay a new foundation upon which subsequent governments of Nigeria would be built.
Anybody judging Buhari from the other side is not fair to him. For me, that is the only reason I am supporting him; that is why I am with him. I know he would lay a solid foundation for Nigeria. That is the only reason but outside President Buhari, I am back to the trenches.
Do you think the Nigerian people would be ready for you as an Igbo man?
If I am going to run for president, I am not going to run as an Igbo man. I am going to run for that position as a Nigerian. I make bold to say it that I am one of the few Nigerians that are accepted all over the nation and I am proud to say so. I am an Igbo man but I was born in the North and my empowerment and wealth came from the West. I cannot afford to be a tribalized Nigerian. I am a completely detribalized Nigerian. And I think that is the way to go. I do not see a person from Borno as a stranger or Osun as a stranger or any person from any part of Nigeria. They are my brothers and my sisters. I believe in one enclave called Nigeria and that is my mindset. So, any
time I am running for an election, I am running as a Nigerian president and I know that by the grace of God, I will be the president of Nigeria one day. I have made my mark and I have that confidence.
But with all the crises in the land, what do you think is the future of this country?
Great! History is about being made. But like I said, every leader comes at a time for a particular purpose in history. We needed somebody with a political will to strengthen this country and that is the reason for my support for President Buhari. Do not forget, I ran for the same primaries with him.
When I lost, I queued up behind him, supported him, did all the campaigns and took all the risks, humiliations and abuses from my people and he won. So, for me, the future of Nigeria is great. But you know what? We must stop ‘monkeying’ around and face the realities of the time. We must stop this plastering of this economic cracked wall every time; it can no longer help us.
We must break down this whole building and lay a solid foundation once and for all without sentiments. Jokes apart, until we do that, we will not move forward as a nation; a situation where professionalism is gone. There is no target to getting results. What drives us here is sentiments, where you come from and who you are, what religion you are and when we want to take up any political issue, people say it must be this way.
If we keep doing things the same old way, we keep getting the same old results. I do not care but we can no longer plaster this cracked wall of our economy. We must break it down and lay a solid foundation and that might need some form of radical action. And this is what Nigerians are not ready for. Nigerians are not ready for this. We just have to do it.
One of the controversial issues now on ground is the grazing bill. Many believe that if there is any state in the South east that would give consent to the bill, that it is Imo State because of your perceived relationship with people of the Northern zone. Many say you would easily provide land for herdsmen. Is that true?
But that is the only solution. There should be a specified space of land in every state of the federation that would serve as a grazing land. Such land is not only for Fulanis. It is for everybody.
There must be a school there even to teach people about grazing and how to handle animal husbandry. There is no other way. We need the cow meat; we need the people and they need us also and we can organize them but what I do not like is the idea of taking their cows into the streets and destroying people’s property. That is unacceptable but everything should be organized in this country. It is the same thing I am talking about here. You see people building shanties and you say let us organize it and they say no, we prefer to trade in the middle of the road. This must stop. It is better we organize our society.
My worry is that I visit some of these our local markets and see that there is no road in between, so if there is fire, everything goes. Everything here is based on sentiments. Excuse me, we must crack this wall of sentiments and face issues.
You were reported once as having said that you would produce your successor because you do not want what you have labored for to be wasted; are you sure what happened to most former governors who fell out with their successors would not be your fate?
I have not said I would produce my successor. The word produce is too direct; it is only God that can produce.
But what I want to do is that I want to identify those I think that are capable because having worked with them, I understand them much better than anyone would understand them. Having interacted as a governor with all of them, I am in a position to say this particular person could do it. This is because the joy of a governor who is about to leave office is to see a worthy successor.
If you are a governor about to leave and you do not see a worthy successor, it is so painful. I think that is what most governors go through. I do not want to see this beautiful Imo go down the drain again like it used to be in the past. So, what will I do? It is to say okay I have one, two, three, four, five and six, and I suggest may be this particular one could do it, what do you people think. But it must still come from the people. The Sun