T0 pin-down Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State for a comprehensive interview can be an arduous task. This is because of his busy schedule that sees him always at work either in his office at the Government House or at home.But when eventually he settles down for one, Okorocha fires from all cylinders no matter how sensitive the questions are.
In this exclusive interview with Newsmen, the governor was in his best oratory element as he looked at the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, his health condition and hope for 2019, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) agitation and detention of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and his verbal war with Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State.
In all, Okorocha says that 2019 without Buhari would create a lot of confusion even as he called for the immediate release of the IPOB leader, Kanu. Excerpts:
Your Excellency, in 2015 when APC came to power, your party promised Nigerians change; two years down the line, can you honestly say that Nigerians are enjoying this change?
Well, it all depends on what you mean by change and your understanding of the promise of change. APC if you may recall came into power with a view to bringing positive change in Nigeria. And we didn’t make too many promises to Nigerians. The president was very categorical in the areas of change he wanted to make. One was corruption, another power and agriculture. He didn’t want to diversify to many areas, he was very clear as to the areas he wanted to bring about change in Nigeria. And if you are talking about those specific areas, a lot of change has taken place. The fight against corruption is at its apex since the inception of Buhari’s government. In fact, people are more conscious of corruption than they have ever been in history; both the appointed, the elected and ordinary citizens are conscious of the fact that if you do something wrong or you steal money you could be caught. So, the fight against corruption has been quite a successful one. On the issue of security, you will agree with me that the fight against Boko Haram by this administration has brought about a lot of relief to the people of the North East. So the government could easily be adjudged to have succeeded in the fight against insurgency in the North East. Now, in terms of agriculture, you will agree with me that a lot of progress has been made in that area. For instance, there are a lot of productions in the area of agriculture. Even there is lot of made-in-Nigeria rice all over the country. You have less of imported goods now in the country because there are local productions. So, if you look at this generally, if that is the change you are talking about, I think President Buhari has done well. But perhaps, what you are saying is given the recession and level of challenges we have as a people. You know that this is like clearing the mess that has been there even before this government came in. So, you will not totally say APC has failed Nigerians because they are simply fixing what went wrong. Buhari’s government came in when the oil price came to the barest minimum and oil remains our only source of income, so the economy of Nigeria went bad. What would anyone do under the circumstances other than the measures taken by President Muhammadu Buhari? Often than not, Nigerians have not been able to say specifically what area of the promise of Buhari that has not been met. Buhari didn’t say to Nigerians that he wants to change the shape of Nigeria overnight.
But the welfare of the people should be key?
Welfare of the people is key, but there is what you call a natural circumstance of challenges. Just recently there was the issue of slump in oil price, who is responsible for that? And if we have had a government that had cared in the past, they should have made a lot of savings for this kind of period. Nigeria made no savings at all when we had oil boom. So, we are paying the price for it. It is not the fault of Buhari neither is it the fault of the APC government. But that does not absolve us from taking responsibility. I have always said we must take responsibility. And so we are working towards making it better. It won’t be magical and we can see the sincere efforts being made by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. That’s the difference; that somebody has passion, is willing and making enough sacrifice to make life better for the people. I think he should be given some applause for that. To say that there has not been change is not true because in the area of security, change has come; in the area of agriculture, change has come; in the fight against corruption, change has come. So, specifically, what part of change do you expect? I can give you the answer.
But, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai recently wrote a memo to the president where he noted that your party is derailing and losing vision and momentum in terms of the change the party promised?
That’s a statement that is not specific. When you say the party is derailing, who in the party? The governors are members of the party just like him.
He is talking about the party at the federal level.
Are you talking about the chairman of the party? No, the party has an overall leader which is the president. How is the party going bad? What is the party supposed to do that it has not done? That is the question. If there is anything the party is supposed to do it hasn’t done, my colleague should have come out to say this is the particular thing. So it is a general statement. In what area is it derailing; is it in the area of mobilization, of fighting insurgency, agriculture, power or in the area of fight against corruption? He has to be specific.
Probably he was looking at the general hardship in the country?
But I just explained to you about hardship. You see, if you are a businessman and all of a sudden, you lost 70 per cent of your capital, there will be hardship relatively. So, the question is; is there any effort being made by the APC government to change the situation of things and the answer is yes. The president is trying his best to put things right. But the question you should ask is, would it have been better under the PDP? If the PDP government had met this situation, what would they have done that we are not doing? That would have helped us to understand where the party is derailing or where the people so to say are derailing. So, I don’t think we are derailing. And if you are talking about the national party, APC, I think we are busy with governance that we tend not to have given attention to the party. The moment we give attention to the party, the party will kick off.
Very soon, the Federal Government will release another tranche of the London-Paris Club refund money. Consultants were involved in the sharing of the first tranche and got a fee of over N19 billion, which many in the country are not quite happy with, what is your view on that?
I think this issue of consultancy and Paris Club fund has been put out of context and the main fact that Nigerians will love to hear the negativity of any side of a story makes the thing more interesting. Let me give you the genesis of this consultancy issue. Before the coming of President Buhari most of the states were aware of this Paris Club fund and what is Paris Club? It is simply, when the Federal Government paid the $18 billion if you remember, the Federal Government went to the central purse of Nigeria and took it from there and paid as foreign debt when actually it was the Federal Government that paid the money and not state/local governments. So, we came to say listen, you cannot take money from the central purse, we have our local debt, pay us our money. That’s all about Paris Club. So, if you understand this, you will see that Paris Club is not necessarily a favour being done, it is a payment of debt owed to states. Before this time, most governors believed it was an impossible task to get this money back because all efforts during the past administration proved impossible.
So, most governors entered into private consultancy arrangements; some 18 per cent, some 20 per cent and some as much as 25 per cent. They deployed whatever they could to get a chunk of that money using any legal method and all that. Then when President Buhari came in, as a president that cares and being transparent, we presented this matter to him, he decided and said listen you don’t have to go through the troubles of looking for consultants or going to court, I will pay. And we now reasoned as governors, what is the point of going to pay consultants 20, 25 per cent. Why don’t we agree centrally that we just appoint a consultant to take care of this for five per cent instead of 25 per cent? So, we agreed that only five per cent will be deducted as payment to consultants because if we go back to our various states to negotiate this, it is impossible. Some will not agree. So, that was a smart way of doing that, having in mind that the moment this five per cent comes and you will know that all that has come is five per cent, it will be easier for everybody to go back and negotiate with their personal consultants. And people worked; professionals were engaged, accountants were engaged, financial analysts were all engaged. And that is this fund that has become an issue that was found in Nigeria Governors’ Forum which was meant to be given back to states. Some parts of it will be paid to the national consultants and the remaining part used to settle whatever they can negotiate with their local consultants without losing 20, 25 per cent. So the governors should be commended for this decision they have taken to cut down cost on the side of the consultants.
I came in here around 9:00a.m and since that time till now, 10:30p.m, you have been very busy and have not rested, but at the federal level, we have a president who went for 10 day vacation, but stayed for 49 days and when he came back he said he has never been that sick in the last 70 years or so. And recently, we heard too that his responsibilities as president have been scaled down. I know you must have seen Mr Prsident since he returned, so do you still believe Buhari can function effectively as president under his current health condition?
Let me say to you that when it comes to the issue of health, we must be careful how we face the issue because health is not in the hand of any man; health is in the hand of God. As we are speaking now, there are many young people, 20, 30 years who are dying. So, health and death are not something that should be dramatized because it is only God that decides on that. President Buhari has not been a man that goes to the hospital all the time, he has been a healthy man all his life, as a soldier and that gave him the impetus, the courage to run for this office. And you must understand that President Buhari wasn’t running for this office for any personal reasons; not for wealth, nor for fame, but he came to serve and save the people, to salvage the situation. So, we must look at Buhari’s presidency from the point of view of sacrifice by a man. Because when you talk about this Buhari’s presidency, I feel bad especially the day I met him at the Villa in his living room. I broke down literally. That was not for any reason but for the fact that this man is going through all he is going through for nothing for him per se and yet he is not getting the necessary support that he should be getting from people.
Instead, some people are castigating him and talking ill of his health despite all he is going through. His family is not benefitting anything, his only son is back to school in London where he is doing his Masters programme. His wife is at home and he is trying all he could to make the country better. So, you must understand that this is the Buhari situation. I think he is strong enough and has the willing spirit to continue. But most of us have advised him that he must understand that the role he plays now, the very particular position he occupies, that if Buhari does not complete his term for any reason, then there will be some confusion politically in this country. We must pray for him to stay alive and do this work. We need him. And thank God he has a capable vice president. The idea of having a vice president or deputy governor is that when one is sick, the other one lends his support. There is no vacuum. There is no job that Buhari can do that Osibanjo is not executing. So if he has not recovered fully, common sense requires that he should take back more time to rest until he is fully recovered. Come to think of it, President Buhari is 74 years old and that is not 30 years old. So, he needs the time to recover. And I salute his courage for wanting to salvage the economic situation in this country.
Okay, if President Buhari completes his first term and probably in 2019, due to his health condition, decides not to run again, will you go back to reactive your presidential ambition because you said if Buhari is running in 2019, you will not run?
Well, I have not imagined him not running. Because I believe that President Buhari’s coming was ordained by God. And I just don’t want to question God’s authority over Buhari’s life. But bear in mind that I have run for this office of the president three times and I have never announced to Nigerians that I have cancelled my presidential ambition except that I said I will never run against President Muhammadu Buhari. So, I don’t see the reason if Buhari is strong, he would not want to complete his eight-year term in office. I don’t even want to imagine it yet, I am not thinking about it. But I wish he will complete his eight years to stabilize this country because we need a rugged and fearless man like him to build a foundation and stabilize this country upon which subsequent presidents can lay their blocks and decorate their houses.
Recently, we saw some political bigwigs in the South-east crossing over to your party; and we know that when big politicians converge on a platform, leadership tussle arises, how prepared is your party to contend with this?
I don’t know about that; leaders emerge and when you meet politicians, they all know who should be their leader naturally. And if you recall recently what I said that Ken Nnamani should be the leader of the APC in the South- east, it is simply packaging South-east for national politics. I am the highest elected person in the South-east, but I am a governor and I am the Chairman of APC Governors’ Forum, the very particular position I have occupied which is good for our people and for the South-east. But there is still a small vacuum to be filled, a vacuum of the likes of President Buhari, Tinubu and some other leaders in other zones. I cannot be governor and be such a leader, so my governorship position has limited me to operate within my peers. So, we need that personality and the person I thought should fit into that position very well, I believe, is Ken Nnamani, given the fact that Ogbonnaya Onu wouldn’t be and Ngige wouldn’t be for the mere fact that they are ministers. And men under control, under political authority cannot assume such positions because there is a limit to what they can do. But Ken Nnamani is not under anybody’s appointment. He can decide to present it the way it is on behalf of the South- east without any fear or favour, we need such person to be there. So, Ogbonnaya Onu is a man under authority. He might schedule a meeting now and the president would say I want you. He has to drop that meeting to answer his boss. So, that is why I looked around and said, who can we send to represent us and I said, Ken Nnamani should be the right person. So, there is no issue of vacuum of leadership in the South-east APC.
You mean Senator Ken Nnamani is still the APC leader in the South-east?
Undoubtedly, he is the leader of the APC in the South-east. I know that some people would share the sentiment that he has just come into the party and all that, I agree. But since he is now in the party and has agreed to work for the party, there is nothing that stops him.
I thought this decision was rescinded at the APC zonal meeting held in Enugu State recently?
No, I am not aware of that. Presented by who? I have said it, and that is what it is, it stands. He is the leader of APC in the South- east, but if you don’t want him, then who else do you want? If there is anybody better than him, then give him to me and I will accept. But if there is nobody better than him as it is now, then he should be. That is my own position on the matter. Probably, what they were saying was about the way it was presented. You know our people there is always a complaint about the way things are unless it is done the way they expected it to be. I think Ken Nnamani is good as the APC leader in the South-east as it stands.
There is this statement you made that most people don’t understand; you said you won’t hand over to somebody who is over 50 years old in Imo. Can we know why you said that and how is it going to play out?
Well, it is a very straightforward statement; it is not ambiguous at all. When I was talking about it I was referring to people who are older than me. I came in as a governor at the age of 48 years. I have worked with my peers then in politics. All the political juggernauts then in Imo State; I know them as much as they know me. And I have raised Imo State to such an enviable standard that will not augur well if a person having so much political baggage and acrimony and anger comes up to handle the mantle of leadership. The peace we have so far enjoyed will no longer be there. So, I said so with specifics in my mind because I have seen all the gladiators and actors and I have found out that they should give way for the younger generation who have no political baggage and enemies and who can continue with this great vision to do so. But don’t forget that is my personal opinion. That doesn’t mean I have the power to stop anybody from contesting election. But as a person my personal opinion is to say, listen I will only support, I didn’t say I will not hand over. What if the person wins, I must hand over; but I said I will support somebody who is below 50 and I have a lot of people in mind because the people I have in mind are all below that age. And secondly, I just found out that my people here, politically don’t stay very far. Most of us are killing ourselves over Imo State and nobody is in the national politics. I have said once I come, those above me, we will carry all of us to Abuja to play the national politics and leave this small space for the younger ones to grow. I have laid the basic foundation and no one can do anything less. If you come to Imo State and you don’t govern well in two days, they will know. I have set a judgment table in terms of performance that anybody that comes, if you perform below, the people will shout. So, Imo is on the right position now and I want to appeal to those people to allow the younger ones to grow, allow them to grow. Quite frankly, I believe they should give the younger ones a chance. And people who are IT compliant, people who know about the recent happenings. We don’t want analogue any more, we need to move. Allow these younger ones. I have quite a number of them. When I say 50 years, I am talking about those who are older than me and they know themselves.
Even at that, PDP in the state have said you have not done much; that they are waiting for 2019 to come for you to pack and leave?
I think you are now not telling the truth, you are lying.
No the PDP people said so…
No, but it is not true. No PDP person, nobody in Imo State will say to you that I am not performing, unless the person is insane. So, I don’t believe anybody has said that, I believe you are the one lying. Because no sane person will come to Imo State and say this government has not done well. I have not done well with free education in the state that cuts across up to tertiary level? Has not done well with 27 brand new general hospitals, 200 beds each, one in each local government? I have not done well with the diagnostic centre, one of its kind in this country? Or with over 1,000 kilometers of rural roads? Or with urban renewal that gives us end-clear roads in the city with Imo looking better than it has ever been in history? Not done well with over 450 schools built raising the population to 370,000 to over 800,000 children? Or with the Imo International Conference Centre? Or with the International Cargo Airport? Or with Imo Airlines? Or with other infrastructure? Where? I don’t think any sane person will say this government has not done well. And let me put it more succinctly: what this government has done, put all the PDP governors and all their cohorts and PDP ministers and all their whole achievements together and they cannot be equal to 20, 30 per cent of what I have achieved in six years, on quote, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. And if anybody; it is a challenge, has any superior argument to what I have said, let him come back to you and grant an interview on what I ought to do which I have not done. Or what the past governors that governed this state, both military and civilian, have done better than me. We have built the first two flyovers in the state, we have built three tunnels in the state, we have changed the Concorde Hotel to a five-star hotel. We have created new roads, the Akachi road, the Ochiedike road, the first, second and third inland roads, we are dualizing the road from here to Akokwa, that is 50 kilometers. So we have not done well where? The Marine University which is under construction, the Abo-Mbaise University under construction, the Ihite-Uboma College of Education, or the Okigwe University of Engineering now going on. Or is it the payment of workers’ salary till date? Or payment of pensioners till December? So where have we not done well? Or the introduction of the Community Government Council? Or security in the state which has never been like this since the creation of Imo State? People can walk freely. Or the night life that has come back? Or putting of street lights all over the whole state? Or buying of school uniforms and other equipment for school children and paying them stipends? Or remodeling all the old schools which were left abandoned: the Akwakuma Girls, Ikenegbu Girls, Emmanuel College, Owerri City School, which was township school, or the changing of the Polytechnic or the Imo State University Teaching Hospital with so many structures we have built, or is it gully erosion that we have done. What else? Let me tell you, what I have done, proudly so, put all the former governors together, they have not done 50 per cent of what I have done and if they say no, let them come and stand with me. You have a brand new government house now built by this government. We have built probably one of the best traditional house, the Ezimo Palace. So, I don’t know which area my government is found wanting. Don’t get confused with the few people who are paid on social media to say what is not there and put wrong information. But let anybody come and say to us, this is where anybody has done better than us, I stand to be challenged.
What can you say has been your biggest challenge in ruling Imo State?
None, quite frankly none. In fact, I expected more challenges than I met. I was wondering why other governors have failed in the past. I was wondering why people have not done well; they could not construct roads. All we hear are stories and people getting paid N5,000 each to clap for them. So, I don’t know. When I came in I think I came in with a business idea, so I found the whole thing easy. But what I think has been the major problem of governance for most governors, even those in authority, including the presidency, is what you call issue of due process and bureaucracy. It has killed the entire system and I don’t see any light at the dark end of the tunnel under this management that tends to tie people down and enhance corruption. They call it due process. I believe in getting the job done. For me, getting the job done is better than due process. But if the due process can enhance getting the job done, so be it. But getting the job done is my major target. But you will see people who ought to do a kilometer of road and they say they are doing bidding and what do you call it tender? And somebody will tender N100 million for a kilometer. Another person will say N500 million, another will say N250 million. Then you say the person for N100 million should do the job because that is the lowest tender. Meanwhile, you can do the job with N70 million, that’s absolutely nonsense. And so people are busy doing documentation rather doing the work. I am not here for documentation, I am interested in getting the job done. By the time you want to study about Rochasnomics, it is a different ball game altogether. I am sure you have been to Imo State now and you have seen a lot of changes.
We know the efforts you made to put Ohanaeze Ndigbo back to its feet again, but recently we have seen some of the leaders in the South-east particularly those in the APC criticizing the leadership of Ohanaeze over its stand on MASSOB and IPOB, how do you look at that?
Well, let me say to you, if you are talking about MASSOB or IPOB; first, let me talk about Ohanaeze. Yes, I felt it was a shame for the great Igbo nation not to be seen to be organized. I was concerned about that and I played a key role in bringing all factions to agree. And I dramatized it by showing them I care by building a secretariat for Ndigbo and by ensuring that when the tenure is finished, the president will give way for a new person to come in. All these I did; I supported them. But criticizing these people, Ohanaeze, Ohanaeze; Ohanaeze is working without a dime because we are not supporting them, how will they perform rather than crisis? So, that issue has been settled and I am happy we have a well organized Ohanaeze now. On the issue of Kanu and IPOB, I have a different opinion altogether and I think it has been over-dramatized and over pursued, we will just find out that it has not given us any key result. See, approach is key in life and how you look at things. I think what we must do as Igbo is to let the Federal Government see the reasons to release Kanu because keeping Kanu there is making him a hero out of nothing. He should be released. Since he made inciting statements, he has not killed, he is not found guilty, he should be released. And even what he did is not just an order or threat to government; all that he is charged with, is he guilty of it? Has he done anything wrong? So, we must let the government understand that Kanu is not worth the trouble being attached to him. It is something that we the leaders can go to the president and say, give us this boy, we will guarantee his good behaviour. Bring him out. But the approach is key. I think very soon now I will ensure that a meeting of Igbo leaders is convened.
This is where leadership is called for. We will go and meet President Buhari and we will kindly request for his release and that he has learnt enough lesson in the prison. Because he didn’t even spare anybody; we have to let him know he wasn’t only talking about the Federal Government and Biafra. He was castigating and insulting all the Igbo leaders. When such a person who even castigated his own is in prison, why should it be a big deal? Why don’t we look at it differently and see it as youthful exuberance rather than putting him there and he is creating a bit of tension and what should not worth it. And Nigerians love creating ethnic colourations and making things big. I have discussed with some key Federal Government authorities that they need to remove him from the prison and stop this case so that everybody will be free and IPOB will be free. But I must also have said that IPOB in their agitation, there is nothing wrong with the agitation, but the language of the agitation is different. You see, when you are talking about sovereignty, that doesn’t sound well with any sovereign nation. But they are doing the same thing that the Egbesus are doing, the Oduduwas are doing, the Niger Delta people are doing, but the language is different. I mean there is nothing wrong if you make all the noise in the world for people to recognize you, it is part of democracy.
But when you say you want to be sovereign, you want to be on your own, that’s when it becomes an issue. It creates unnecessary hatred for Ndigbo. Yet you want to be free and the Igbo are talking about Igbo presidency, how does the two work? So, these are some of the things we have to advise our children to apply wisdom in doing. But nobody wants to talk about it, everybody thinks it has become a political issue, let’s use it as an instrument to get some kind of attention. That’s not the way to do it. And the Igbo are quite unique people. What others do and get away with, people don’t excuse us with it. So, we must look inward and find a refined way of getting what we want. For instance, when people are talking about presidency, instead of them to talk about Nigerian president, they are talking about Igbo president. As if you have ever had Yoruba president or Hausa president. So, we must change our language. Our problem with IPOB and the whole agitation about Igbo presidency is the language.
Last year I went round to see some of your projects and they are quite enormous; and today, you have only two years left. What efforts are you making to ensure that you don’t have abandoned or uncompleted projects at the expiration of your tenure?
You are contradicting yourself now. You told me that the PDP said I have not done much.
Yes they said so, but this one, I saw.
That’s why I am saying that it is a lie. But let me tell you, I think that no matter what you do people will still complain. Last time I had an accusation that I borrowed N100 billion from abroad and that is from where I am doing these projects from. And I said to whoever cared to know, this government has not borrowed N1 from anywhere in the world. And anybody who says that after I have left this government must be a criminal. And I am saying so to provoke thoughts so that people can come and tell me where I have borrowed money from any bank. And let no bank ever come to anybody and say that they are being owed because nobody owes anybody in this state except for that bailout fund which everybody took and this government took. Even that is being deducted in such small amount of money monthly so we don’t even feel it. So, I don’t know which of the projects are not completed. What people call completion of projects is commissioning and I am not in the habit of commissioning projects neither am I in the habit of foundation laying. In fact, I hate the idea of when you want to start a project, you go and bring poor women from the villages to dance for you and say you are going to lay foundation. What foundation? Go on and build if you want to build. After you built you can commission if there is need for that. And sometimes you spend such huge amount of money. I don’t believe in those things because that money used will give me another project. So, I am project crazy. I love projects because that is infrastructural development, which is the way to go. And coming to answer your question, I don’t know of any of my projects that will not be completed in the next four, five months. In fact, my intention is that by January, I would have stopped further projects if my brain will allow me. That’s the truth. The international cargo airport will be completed any moment from now within this year. That’s the only thing left. The general hospitals, the one at Ikenegbu is under use. The Owerri North own has been furnished and given to Air Force. And so we have a lot of them coming up. What is left now is the bridge at Umuaka and a few roads to be tarred. Ninety per cent of the schools have been completed, 90 per cent of the hospitals have been completed. The urban renewal will be finished in the next three months and the whole Owerri City roads would have been completed. The ICC has been completed, same with the Trade and Investment Centre and the New Concorde Boulevard and the New Owerri roads. The Ihite-Uboma College of Education has been completed. Ninety per cent of my projects have all been completed. So, when they don’t know what to say, they say we won’t complete them or that he borrowed money. The one I am hearing now is COREN saying that the flyover I built has a default and that they are going to call ICPC to come and arrest people. How do you marry that language? You say you have written to the governor, no reply and for governor not to have replied, you are going to other people to arrest them. On what basis did the engineers do a bad job? People play all sorts of politics.
Did COREN actually write you?
I didn’t see any letter from COREN. And if such matter is an issue, they will request for a courtesy call. I have engineers in Imo State, they will call my attention. If there is any default, I will hold the contractor to come and fix it. But they won’t say that. These are some of the news that fly around. So, if it is true, let them come, I challenge them. They say all roads built by Rochas Okorocha are all China roads, China roads, but they have lasted for six years and we are still using China roads. And you see all these projects everywhere, but they will still say something. Even if I bring America and London roads here, they will still say something. Now the one I am facing now is COREN, I have just kept quiet. I want them to come if it is true. Or for me to see any ICPC person coming to arrest any of my engineers, or the COREN. So, I expect them to come if they have the facts. But they will go and publish something without finding out. And if you bring them now, the next thing you will hear is we are not informed, we are sorry. This is Nigeria for you. Rather than commend, and when the foundation was going on they won’t say it. And if COREN had seen that there is a problem, why didn’t they inform me the time they are doing that job and say this is not good, stop it. And they will see here now that the flyover we are building will now carry hundred tons of loads bigger than any flyover in this country. I am not talking about the Lagos flyover now both flyovers in this country. You will see it carrying the roads now and what will they say, they must say something. The news out there is that Rochas Okorocha does not pay salaries, and when you tell them to come and prove it, nobody will come. And today we have empowered 10,000 women beginning with the first batch of 3,050 women; poor women in the rural areas, giving them N100,000 each as a soft loft loan to go and start something. And next week again, we are empowering over 1,000 youths with N1million each to go and start life. I share money through free education, through physical cash, but even at this they will still talk.
Let us come to the recent war of words between you and your colleague in Anambra State, Governor Obiano. We saw two governors fighting on the pages of newspapers, what actually happened?
I don’t think it was two governors fighting, I think it was two chief press secretaries fighting. It wasn’t two governors fighting. But what we were doing was that we kept quiet to see whether any of us will say a word, you will then hear me speak. If I speak as a governor you will hear the right thing and the way it should be. But I think there was a provocation on the side of the press secretaries. I wasn’t even in the country, but I knew something was going on, but I ignored it. There was a provocation coming from a statement from the press secretary of Anambra State. So, since it was coming from press secretary to press secretary, I have no reason to come out. But if the governor had said a word, then you would have heard me address the nation on that. So, we leave it at press secretary versus press secretary war and I don’t know who has won among the two, to congratulate him.
For a very long time you have not attended the South-east Governors’ Forum meeting, but recently you showed up at its meeting in Enugu, what made you to change your mind?
No, we had two governors’ forum meetings, one in Enugu and one in Owerri here. And after that meeting, you know everyone is too busy. So, it is very difficult to get all the governors together in a meeting. And you know we are few in number. So anytime you call a meeting and two are not around, you can notice the absence so much. Even if three attended and two didn’t attend, what will the three be talking about? We are not like other zones that have six, seven of them in their forum. It’s just five and the five must agree and have a common time to meet before it will look reasonable. Even for the two we had, one governor was absent two times and it doesn’t give a good image. And we waited until everybody was together and we decided to institutionalize it and say let us now have a chairman. And that was what brought Ebonyi. Because when we were governors with Peter Obi and T.A Orji, we agreed that it should go by alphabetical order. So Abia was, Anambra has been, the next one is Ebonyi and after Ebonyi, it will be Enugu and then Imo. So, there wasn’t any disagreement among the governors. I am working well with the South- east governors and we are very friendly and we are together. But everyone seems to be too busy. Even in the APC Governors’ Forum, it is very difficult to get all my colleagues at the same time. You know leadership is not easy, governance is quite challenging. People are busy always. Talk about the challenges of office, salaries, projects and so on.
What will you like to be remembered for when you leave office as governor of Imo State?
I want to be remembered as the governor of the people; a man that came for the people and worked for the people and made the people happy. And if the people include the elite, so be it, but if it not, I have no apologies.