Immediate past governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, recently made public his intention to run for the office of governor, which he vacated nearly four years ago. In this interview with a group of journalists in his Burma Retreat country home in Okohia, Isiala Mbano LGA, Imo State, he spoke about his current ambition and sundry issues, concerning the state. Excerpts:
Some of the aspirants are complaining that you gave them the nod to go ahead and now you have come out to contest.
Was I in a position to ask anybody to run or not to run? If somebody came to you to tell you that he wants to run for an election, what moral authority do you have to tell him not to run? Can I even tell my son not to run? They came to me out of courtesy and courtesy requires that you encourage the fellow. Some of them came to me while I was still in court, pursuing my case. It would be rude to tell a man, who has gotten to the level of aspiring to become a governor not to aspire; I don’t think it is proper. It is possible that the situation at that point in time was such that some of them thought I would not be able to run. But politics is the most dynamic thing in human endeavour.
Having said that, I don’t think there is any problem yet. The aspirants are all my personal friends and political associates and we have one common objective, which is to make our party get back to power in Imo State. When the time comes, we all know what to do. I don’t think there is any problem.
So, why are you so determined to come back?
I want to return to put Imo back to work, to put Imo back to the path of economic prosperity. There have been calls by well meaning citizens of Imo State, who have been worried about the economic loss of abandoning the key projects we started that would have laid a solid foundation for a take-off into sustainable economic growth. If you recall, the thrust of my administration was to establish an economy for the state. That was why we went ahead to start some mega projects. But because such things take time to mature, some people did not have the necessary patience. Some of my colleagues, who got their second term after 2011 are just completing some of their key projects. Some will not even complete theirs before they leave in May next year. But some critics did not have the patience. Now, they have seen the difference. The economy of the state is in complete shambles. In my four years, Imo became a tourist destination. Nearly every seminar or conference facilitator chose Imo, as venue. And the tourism industry in the state began to experience a boom. Hotel occupancy rate rose from less than 20 per cent to over 90 per cent. Total hotel rooms rose from 2,000 in 2007 to 10,000 by the time we left. Real estate value rose to over 300 per cent by 2011; but all that has now crashed. We ran a programme that was designed to create jobs. But the administration that took over from us refused to continue from there, thereby denying Imo people of the benefits of that collective vision. By so doing, the administration set both the people and the economy several years back. And you will agree with me that nobody can complete a project better than the initiator.
In the four years we were in office, the economy of the state became very attractive to players in the private sector. At least, two airlines were doing two flights each to Imo, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Today, they reluctantly do one late afternoon flight to Abuja and Lagos. That is not good enough for a state that has a vibrant social and political elite. Since I already had in place a framework for building the economy of the state, I think it would be wrong for me to shy away from coming out since the constitution permits me to do that. And like I said, several well-meaning Imolites believe that we should return to take that vision to the next level. I know people will abuse Ikedi Ohakim for coming out again but I am prepared to take every abuse because I know I am doing the proper thing by offering my service to my people once again. No doubt, we made mistakes but we have learnt from them.
Some people may argue that you lost the 2011 election even when the people or structures you are talking about were there.
We did not lose the 2011 governorship election. We won that election on April 26 but because there was a conspiracy to stop me by all means, one thing led to another and there was a supplementary election on May 6, 2011.
I am sure you have read several accounts of what happened on April 26 when the state’s returning officer refused to admit the results from Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area, which had already been declared at the LGA level and we got over 28,000 votes, as against that of APGA, which got a little above 3,000 votes. You know what happened at the supplementary election. Our party members and supporters were chased away by soldiers, using armoured vehicles. I do not want to go into details but all I can say is that I am running to prove that if anybody thought that Ikedi Ohakim had been sent to political oblivion because of what happened in 2011, I am sorry they will be disappointed. It is not a do or die thing for me and like I said, I may be abused but my confidence in what I have set out to do for my people remains unshaken.
Finally, I believe my emergence, as candidate of the PDP, will bring down the political temperature both within the party and in the state. Without sounding immodest, I am the only fellow who will command the respect of other aspirants if I emerge. I acknowledge the fact that at this stage, some aspirants may feel that I ought not to have come out but I can assure you that at the end of the day, they will have no difficulty, working with me if I emerge. They are all working very hard and are among the best anywhere in the world but do not forget that if the court had given me justice, my tenure would have ended in 2018. Most of them are young and enterprising and the sky remains their limit. Tomorrow is better, provided we try to do the correct thing now.
If we are talking about rescuing Imo from the Okorocha ruin, we need a person, who knows what was where before he came in. I handed over to him; so I know where to start in order to return life to the state. Okorocha has told so much lies against the PDP. I am the only person who can expose such lies because I know the lies and his intention for telling such lies. It will take a brand new fellow four years to understand the nuances of governance. By then the PDP would have lost the momentum in the recovery effort.
But you have just acknowledged that the other aspirants in the PDP also possess sterling qualities.
Yes; of course, they do. But I am saying, with the highest sense of responsibility that I am better experienced than all of them in executive governance. We have among the aspirants people who have held offices in other areas and have done so well. But the two are not the same. We are talking of executive governance, which the constitution of the country puts enormous responsibilities on. The PDP is determined to continue to give Imo and Nigeria as a whole quality governance. And it has to make use of its best and in this case and in all cases experience matters. The PDP is returning to rescue Imo from the mess in which Okorocha has put it. Okorocha told lies that the PDP administration never created 10,000 jobs. That has been disproved now. Okorocha dismissed local government councils. In the last three years, there has been no local government administration in the state. I am the only one among the aspirants, who can, without hesitation, indemnify the local government executives and put effect to the judgment of the court of appeal and revive this important arm of government.
So, how do you handle the issue of zoning and Charter of Equity?
Of course, I am for zoning and for Charter of Equity. And let me seize this opportunity to correct those who say there is nothing like Charter of Equity. Of course, there is a document to that effect and I have a copy. Zoning is a political imperative at this stage of our democratic journey and I support it wholeheartedly at all levels. It is also enshrined in the PDP constitution. And happily the National Confab made up of some of the most patriotic and knowledgeable Nigerians, has recommenced zoning of political offices in the country. That is why at the national level, majority of Nigerians are requesting that President Jonathan be allowed to do another four years in order to complete the eight years the South-south geopolitical zone is entitled to. If that is not done, it will pose a problem in the future. But if we start with the South-south, then when it comes to the turn of another zone, things will move on smoothly. Apart from that, President Jonathan is doing a very good job, which he has to complete. Bringing the matter down home, that is why some of us are saying we should begin now to lay a solid foundation for the Charter of Equity by allowing Okigwe zone where I come from to do another four years to complete the eight years it is statutorily entitled to.
So, assuming that the people of Owerri zone agree to this, why must it be Ikedi Ohakim?
It must not be me. That’s not the impression I am trying to create. We are talking about leaving a legacy for the people. Everybody in the country has agreed that what happened in Imo in 2011 was an accident deliberately effected on a vehicle moving on top speed. If we have agreed to that, is it not only human that we ask about those who were in that vehicle. Where are they now and where is the vehicle? But beyond analogies, I want to tell you that our great party knows that I am probably the only person it can use to successfully counter the propaganda by Okorocha and his party that he should be allowed to continue because he will have only four more years to go and handover to a fellow from Owerri zone.
Any other candidate from Okigwe zone has the luxury of doing eight years. We have experienced it before. Okorocha promised to do four years and handover to somebody from Owerri zone; and even swore to that. But once he got there, he started demolishing those with whom he entered into that agreement. The incumbent governor himself is the only other fellow in Imo State, apart from me, that can do only four years. So, I am the only person from our party that can neutralise the advantage he has because he will definitely try to take advantage of that in wooing the support of people of Owerri zone. Yes, it must not be Ikedi Ohakim but we are talking about taking advantage of what you have to get what you want.
There are some aspirants from Okigwe Zone like you, who are against zoning because they believe that a party in opposition does not zone.
First, go and find out what such people said about zoning before now. They supported it before but have only changed because of certain emerging factors. More importantly, the postulation that a party in opposition does not zone is utter rubbish. Which theory of political science is that? Which authority are they referring to? On the contrary, you will discover that in spite of all the attempts to pretend that zoning is not important, its attraction has remained. I just reminded you that the just concluded National Conference has recommended it as an official policy at all levels. And they did not say it is not for parties in opposition. On the contrary, a party in opposition has to make use of all the technical and peculiar details in the particular polity to be able to win.
Today, the truth is that Imo people believe in zoning and any party that dismisses that does so at its own peril. What we are even saying is that the PDP should take full advantage of this belief in zoning by helping the state to lay a solid foundation for its practice under the Charter of Equity.
Of late, there have been anxieties in the state over security matters. As a former governor, do you have any suggestions?
Well, I am concerned just like every other Imo person or Nigerian and there is no doubt that the security agencies are on top of the situation. The worry is that the current administration in the state has created an environment that may lead to security problems. When you have a private army or police in the name of vigilante, you are creating room for militancy. If you move around the state today, you see all sorts of people in uniform, most of them armed, harassing the people. That is a condition for unrest if things are not properly handled. All over, there is so much unruliness because the impression was given that the people were being oppressed and today they have been liberated. But that is an indirect way of creating enmity among the people of the state. Liberated from whom? You go and build a place and call it Freedom Square. Freedom from whom? You erect a giant billboard with somebody, breaking loose from chains. Is that not telling the people that they are a bunch of cowards and timid people? You go and mount Nelson Mandela’s pictures somewhere and call it Freedom Square. Is that not laughable? Mandela was fighting for his people against white domination. So, the analogy Okorocha is creating is both laughable and depictive of Imo people as ignorant. Such things are affecting the psychology of the people. They feel talked down. They are meant to feel that they are fighting with their own brothers and sisters. That should not be. Imolites are not fighting one another. But that is what Okorocha came to inculcate in their psyche; it is not fair.