IMMEDIATE past governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has always been in the news for both good and bad reasons. Characteristic of him, in this no-hold barrel interview with Sunday Sun in Abuja, he speaks on wide range of issues, including his stewardship as governor, IPOB, 2023 Igbo presidency, and why he spent eight years at the ‘Bush Bar’ ruling Imo State.
He also took a swipe at the incumbent governor, Emeka Ihedioha, describing him as the most unconstitutional governor, just as he argued that his in-law, Uche Nwosu, is a governor in the waiting.
What is your impression on the threat IPOB issued to Igbo political leaders?
In the first place, IPOB is not different from other similar groups from other parts of the country, but it is just the packaging and name that have always been the problem.
I don’t know what we plan to achieve by isolating ourselves from the rest of the country. And until IPOB answers the question, the leaders might not know how to handle it. When you say IPOB, are they trying to call for another sovereign nation? If they want to use this as a way of correcting certain injustices meted to the Igbo, then they should change the name to start with. When Oduduwa, Arewa or Niger Delta youths talk, they don’t call for a sovereign nation. For Igbo to become a country of their own, they have to think about the consequences. Personally, I don’t think it is good for the Igbo to become isolated from other nations and tribes in this country. Although the young men may have grievances, they should package them properly for the world to understand what they are fighting for. To be honest with you, I don’t know what IPOB is looking for till date. I don’t know what the agenda of IPOB are and where they are planning to take Ndigbo to. The leaders seem to have kept quiet for too long. As our children, we need to guild them and let them know that they cannot be talking about sovereignty within a nation. What programme do they have in the first place? What has IPOB done about the Igbo killed in South Africa? Is it not surprising that they have not done anything? I challenge all the Igbo to return from South Africa, India and other parts of the world, converge on Onitsha market and let us see what will happen. I don’t think the Igbo need IPOB at this point; it is rather a distraction that is not good for our political future. It might be the reason we are not doing well politically, yet we are adding more danger to it. They are our children; we love them and need to bring them closer. So, it is the failure of leadership in Igboland that should be blamed. We are not showing good leadership to these boys. They are children and look at how they attacked Ekweremadu, but how have the attack or threat to other political leaders solved the problem of Igbo in Nigeria? How has it corrected the problem of marginalisation of Igbo in Nigeria? They are beating up people in the name of IPOB in Owerri, Aba and other towns, but how has that solved the problem? I think IPOB is rather waging war against ourselves which should not be. I am looking forward to meeting with them anytime to address this issue and if they convince me, I will follow them and if I convince them, they should follow me. Can we have a meeting where the Igbo will meet with these IPOB, MASSOB and those other associations to find a common ground because whether they are bad, good or evil, they are our brothers, children, sons and daughters? I cannot lay claim that I don’t know them because they are Igbo and it is my duty to have a chat with them as a father. They must convince me on why I must join IPOB and where it is taking us to. I have told them to join APC because through APC, Igbo man might become president and if they have contrary view, they can look for alternative. IPOB needs to explain where they want to take Ndigbo to.
Is Igbo presidency in 2023 general elections possible?
Unfortunately, there is nothing like Igbo president, but Nigeria president. It is like asking a man who speaks Igbo language to become president, which is a Nigeria position not Igbo position. We should rather be talking of Nigerian presidency of Igbo extraction. The media should also stop using the word Igbo president because it makes other hate us because we don’t have Hausa or Yoruba presidency. When the media keep mentioning Igbo presidency and talking about IPOB and Biafra at the same time, it means that an Igbo president is actually coming to divide Nigeria. If the media want to help actualise the Igbo presidency, they must repackage it and not help make us an object of hate. Whether an Igbo man can be president of Nigeria, it is possible, but he must be an Igbo man acceptable by the Hausa, Yoruba and other ethnic groups not because he is an Igbo man. But he must be someone that has reached out to all these ethnic groups. He must be someone Nigeria must accept knowing that he will not divide the country; he will deal with an Hausa man the way he deals with an Igbo man, and provide for everybody equally. The good news is that I know that the typical Hausa man believes in equity and fairness by their practices, their religion and I can confirm as someone who spent greater part of my life in the North. So, if there is any hope of a president of Nigeria coming from Igbo, the North has a major stake in it and it might come out of their conviction of equity, justice and fairness characteristic of a typical Hausa man.
How true is the speculation that you ruled Imo State for eight years from Bush Bar?
There is nothing speculative about it because it is true. That is my peoples’ office and I opted for it because it has no wall dividing and screening me away from my people. As I sit in that office, called Bush Bar, made of thatched house, I will see everybody coming and the purpose of their visit. Even when I want to discuss contract award, I still do it there because it signifies the open government I ran.
Does it bother you that Imo governance has been reduced to fight between you and Governor Ihedioha
I have been the one on the receiving end. I have never confronted or fought the governor because that is not my style. From what has been happening, I have never thrown any punch or try to destabilise the government of Imo State since I left office because I see myself as a father and leader of that state. So, I cannot afford to be part of those who destroy what I have built. That should tell you my mindset on this issue. If you have been following the media and reading what has been happening, you will know that I have not really fought back not because I lacked the capacity, but because I am conscious of the consequences it will have on the citizens of the state. The only one that I disagree with the state government completely is when they make assertion to confuse the public that Rochas has done nothing. This is the one that creates some kind of provocation in my mind. I cannot understand why a human being should say such. I have challenged the entire government of Imo State and the entire nation to show I have performed beyond reasonable doubt and have done far better than anybody in the history of that land as governor. I have also challenged the present governor to meet up to the 25 per cent of my performance as governor. I thought that was a statement that should ginger someone to say I am going to beat his record. I have said that I have the best record and nobody can beat it.
But the impression they are trying to spread across the country is that Rochas has done nothing and I ask how can you say that somebody who build an international cargo airport adjudged one of the best in the country and linked Imo State to the rest of the world has done nothing. How can you say that somebody who built six universities licenced by NUC has done nothing. How can you say that somebody who built over 570 schools, 27 general hospitals with some of them completed 80 or 100 per cent has not performed? I built the Somto 1000 bed hospital and the mother and child hospital and you say that such a man has done nothing. I built the new Government House of Imo State, the international conference centre, the Trade and Investment Centre, Hero’s square, Freedom Square, the Eze Imo Palace which is adjudged the best in Africa. I built two stadia, Akachi road, Inland roads, dualised 100 km road from Owerri to Orlu. I embarked on urban renewal and build all the inland roads in Owerri some from two lanes to eight lanes. I built one of the best High Court complexes in the country and lots more. I introduced free education that ran uninterrupted for eight years and yet you say I have done nothing. I built two Colleges of Education, four Polytechnics, bringing the number of higher institutions to 13 within eight years. How could somebody have said that the same governor has done nothing? The Imo liaison office in Abuja here was abandoned for 17 years and it was completed by me. That is the only one that provokes me when they say Rochas has not performed. It is a lie that nobody should believe. You cannot go to Imo State, drive for five kilometres without seeing my project standing. Today, we have a trade fair complex built by my government. There are over 1000 projects to my credit. Orlu never saw a dualised road until my government came and they saw their first street lights when I became governor. Okigwe saw their first street light and dualised road during my tenure. So, how could somebody say I have done nothing and he is busy writing petitions everywhere, trying to portray me as somebody who just came into government, did nothing and squandered the people’s money? On the aspect of government demolishing all that I have built, let me say that is a confirmation that I have done something. The Akachi monument which was commissioned by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is one of the best monuments in this country that formed basis for tourist attraction. But it was demolished by the government and nobody could explain why. The beautiful water fall built by my government was also demolished. The cross decorative light that makes Owerri look as if we have surplus electricity and brings about night life was also demolished. That brought back night life in Owerri and became the best night life in the country. So, it is not true that I have done nothing because I know that I worked. May be my challenge was that I am not in the business of commissioning projects.
I am not much of a protocol governor, but believe in getting things done. I am also not in the business of foundation laying. These things are there and they are facts that you cannot dispute. I stand to be challenged by anyone who says I have not done anything. To make things more interesting, the Government House I built, the Odenigbo, the guest house is what he is using. I built where the Secretary to the State Government, who is attacking me, is using. Imo State had nothing as at 2011 when I came and I made that place the most beautiful place in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the place is going down. Two years out of my eight years was horrible in terms of kidnapping and armed robbery. But two years later, I addressed the issue of insecurity and Imo became a safe haven and we enjoyed Imo State for eight years. You did not hear any funny story of insecurity because I engaged over 11,000 youths in Imo security network, Imo security watch and Imo civil guard. These were the departments I created to fight crime and it worked beautifully and yet somebody would say I did nothing. That is the one that breaks my heart. I challenge and salute any government that will beat my records in Imo State or any government that does 50 per cent of what I did in Imo State. That person must be able to keep the free education alive because one of the things I did to be able to reduce insecurity in Imo State was free education. Parents no longer sell their wrappers like my mother did to pay school fees. Imo would forever accept the fact that we have done well. I really don’t know what went wrong. I would say that maybe the government is confused or that they were not prepared for governance and so, to make themselves relevant, they have to fight Rochas. I don’t think any right thinking person would come up with the kind of things they are coming up with. I heard that they are saying I should be arrested and I don’t know on what grounds I should be arrested. A magistrate court is asking me to come to court and even before that, has already passed a judgement, saying I should come with N2 million to bail myself or I will be in prison. Can you imagine a magistrate court fighting me, a serving Senator and immediate pass governor? So, you can see that the government is either confused or something is wrong. They have no reason to fight me because before I left, I left a huge sum of money for them. I left N48.5 billion in the coffers and that should be enough to take off. But they succeeded in doing that by the way they do things. I started the Rural Access Mobility Projects. I approached French people to give us the first grant for that project, Imo State got $16 million and I awarded the contracts before leaving. I learnt that the contracts have been changed. I introduced the Imo Heath Insurance Scheme, but they are now claiming that they want to start it. There is nothing anybody will do in Imo State today that will not be either what I have done or taken from it because there is nothing to be done. Owerri is just a few hours from Abuja, but nobody wants to go there. That is what bothered me most. The good news is that with the closure of Enugu Airport now, people will now realise that I actually built the Cargo airport. I am sure that Ethiopia Airways will now be landing in Owerri. So, I do not know what performance is. But despite all I did, my offence is that I don’t share money and if sharing money means performance, then I am guilty.
Are you still bitter that after eight years of service to Imo State, you were not able to install a successor?
Let me tell you that Ugwumba Uche Nwosu is my in-law and I am very proud of him. He aspired to run under APC not because he is my in-law. That is a mistake people are making. If I want somebody I can do business with, it won’t be your in-law because in-law is part of you. The respect is too much for you to do business with your in-law. He is not only intelligent, he went through my school. He started with me as a PA and made name for himself. As a Commissioner for Land, he helped in the urban renewal project. So, it is his work that worked him into that office and not me. I have no regret supporting him. The way I see the thing going, and if the judiciary remains the same judiciary we know in Nigeria, I think he will get back his mandate because he is loved by the people. In Imo today, if Uche Nwosu stands with Emeka Ihedioha, and people of Imo asked to choose between them, Ihedioha will not have one tenth of the crowd that will follow this young man. What happened was an internal party fighting which PDP took advantage of because of imposition of Hope Uzodinma who was in PDP and came to APC two weeks to our primaries and was imposed as against the choice of the people, Uche Nwosu. That made him move to another party AA to prove his capacity, a party that just existed for two weeks and was able to defeat Ihedioha. The person that was imposed by the APC came fourth. This goes to tell that I was right. When this young man went to AA, he was able to make impact. What happened was that Uche Nwosu was leading Ihedioha with 61,000 votes after 24 local governments had been announced. Ihedioha went to three local governments and with the support of some of our leaders in Abuja started manipulating the figures and at the end of the day, got 146,000 votes from three local government areas of Mbaise. While the maximum votes of some local government were 20,000, he was getting 70,000. That was how Emeka came to overtake Uche who was leading in the polls. He forgot that he requires two third spread in the 27 local government. He needed 18 local governments to win, but he had 25 per cent in nine local governments. That is the case in court. You cannot be a governor or President unless you have five per cent spread in two third of the local governments in the state. In the case of Imo, that would be 18. There is nothing on earth to prove that Emeka had two third. When we insisted that he should not be announced because he did not have the required spread, the Returning Officer, a Professor went ahead and announced him winner and said we should go to court. If there is anybody who can be called an unconstitutional governor ever seen in Imo State, it is Emeka and the PDP government in Imo State. The constitution is clear that you must have majority of lawful votes cast as well as two third spread across the state. If you go by the calculation of total votes cast, Uche Nwosu won and has the spread, but Emeka does not have the spread, but they gave him the marks. So, I don’t regret supporting the young man. If Uche Nwosu was governor, all these breaking down of things and the insecurity in Imo State would not have continued in the same line. In the next 10 years, Owerri might be competing with Abuja or Lagos with the way I set up the foundation of Imo State.
How do you feel about your travails with EFCC?
EFCC has the constitutional powers to investigate and no one can stop them from carrying out its investigation. If EFCC is investigating an issue, they don’t go and start looking for what is happening with anybody until people write petition. The Imo State government has written petitions on this matter and the EFCC is investigating. One of the allegations is that my wife built a hotel using government money and the petition says that she wants to sell the hotel immediately if EFCC does not confiscate it. That is why they got interim forfeiture order subject to when they conclude their investigation. That is what is happening in Imo State. There has been no property traced to me because I don’t have any property anywhere, I don’t have an account anywhere outside this country. I was very careful about that because I know that the political enemies are there waiting. The EFCC are asking my wife to prove how she was able to come about that. I told them this is my wife. Rochas before being governor was bigger than Rochas the governor. I don’t know how many property I can count because I can’t even remember my property in Abuja. I have been a successful businessman before this time. But they have blindfolded people not to remember Rochas of before, Rochas that ran for presidential election three times and the Rochas foundation that is building schools all over the country with over 2000 children. It cost me nothing less than N2 billion every year to run Rochas Foundation. They said my wife has to prove how she came about the hotel. Meanwhile, my wife had two hotels in Jos over 15 years ago. She has a hotel called Lamond Hotels. The Tropicana Shopping Complex near NNPC Tower belongs to my wife and by today’s value, that property is worth nothing less than N15 billion in the market. However, having been reported, EFCC has the responsibility to investigate and when they found out that it is not true, they will give her back her property. But one thing painful about that is that my wife would not have invested in Imo State. He would have built it in Abuja where there will be more income because I have the land. The only businesses in Imo State is the ones I just introduced. Why should my daughter build a school in Owerri that she is being investigated. If you talk of building a school where people can pay, it is in Abuja here. My intention was to sell 50 per scent of my property and return them to Owerri to help my people so that their economy can grow. Then the Rochas Foundation where I train poor children without parent, some of who came from the governor’s village is one of the schools under investigation. They claimed that I used government land to build Rochas Foundation Schools that provide free education to children. How has that become an offence. I have told them that if they want the Rochas Foundation school and they can run it, I am willing to give it to government. I built a PPP university in Imo State where government as shares. If you go there, about 1,320 students from Rochas Foundation across the country are all there free. I thought that I am contributing my quota to the development of my fatherland. But now, it has become an offence. If you are in my wife’s shoes, how will you feel? If care is not taken, she might shut down the hotel forever and then people will lose job. They lie a lot, saying that I bought property in Dubai. They must have sent some agents to go all over the world searching for my property. Have I committed any offence asking my children to go and invest in my state? That is the issue about the EFCC. They are simply doing their job and until they finish their job, nobody will understand. The thing is that once EFCC is on your matter, the whole nation now see you as a criminal. I don’t know how they can stop that. I hope that there will be opportunity for you to sue your accusers after investigation and you are not guilty. So far, there are three property under investigation, Rochas Foundation College, Owerri, East High College Owerri and Royal Palm Hotel, Owerri.
What is the truth in people accusing you of land grabbing in the state?
There is nothing like land grabbing. Till today, nobody has ever said that I took his land with prove. What they are doing is peddling lies. You heard that I took away 67 government vehicles. As I speak, there is no single evidence of any vehicle of government that I took that is not my entitlement. Secondly, you must have heard that I borrowed N100 billion to build infrastructure, mortgaging the future of Imo State for the next 100 years. Those are mere allegations that do not reflect any political reality. I have shouted and even abused banks in Nigeria to speak out or for ever shut up if I owe any of them. Six months after this statement, no bank has said that I owe them. I left Imo State without owing any bank a single dime and there is nothing like 67 vehicles and there was no N100 billion ever borrowed for those massive infrastructure. Any normal person will be wondering how I was able to do all the things I did with the meagre resources that come to Imo State. So, those are mere allegations because there is nothing like land grabbing. I forced Owerri to open up as a city and not as a village. Those that knew Owerri in 2011 will understand that we were comfortable being a village and I used my business acumen to force it open especially as a real estate guru. I saw lots of bushes around the city and people farming inside the city. So, I gave people time to build on their land within the city or get the land revoked and be relocated to somewhere else. That did the magic and people started building. Another thing I did was to start building roads. I had to dramatize that I also believe in the city and so, I got my wife to open up a restaurant there and my daughter to open up a hotel in the city and started transferring some of my businesses from Abuja to Owerri. Till date, no governor of that state has ever invested in the state and no leader has ever opened a shop in the state. They all go to Lagos and Abuja. I am the first leader or first governor to invest there and that grew like wildfire and so property that was going for about N500,000 is now selling for between N10 million and N20 million. That is the money in Imo State today. I turned the state around and Owerri became the fastest growing city in Nigeria outside Abuja and Lagos. I have said this severally and I stand to be challenged. The number of buildings that sprang up in Imo State within eight years is more than the number of buildings in Imo State since creation. I have said this severally and you should go and find out whether I am lying or not. Where Owerri ended before was at Concord where you have the 40-40. But go to Owerri today, the place has expanded going towards Port Harcourt. Naze and Owerri have joined and there is no longer a kidnapping zone there. The forest there, I brought it down. I was told the forest is a bad forest and that nobody gets there without dying. I dared the forest and no one died. Naze and Owerri right now are one city. Owerri West has become one city. I moved the police and prison headquarters to Owerri West. So, when I said that real estate is better in Imo State than it has ever been, I am not wrong. I don’t even know how to tell the world that I have done well. I have tried abusing people and force them to go there and it is not working. But what they heard is that Rochas has done nothing. I built a seven bedroom duplex for all former governors and yet I have not done well. Throughout the history of that state, I have brought in more Presidents of nations just to force the international cargo airport to open. So, Imo is no longer a state you will ask of and they tell you that it is near Port Harcourt. Imo now has its own identity. In my eight years in office, I opened Imo to the world. So, if you don’t understand, then nobody can understand what we are going through.
What is your impression of the 100 days of Governor Ihedioha?
When I was 100 days in office, I had built the Commissioners quarters which was abandoned, I completed the Imo heroes apartment, I changed the Concord hotel to a five star hotel and I commenced the construction of Heroes Square, I made the first business deal with the Irish on Ada Palm and we made about N2.5 billion with which we started building the primary schools. I started changing the government house within 100 days in office. When a government engages in frivolities, they will have nothing to show in 100 days in office. But when you hit the ground running from the first day, knowing that you don’t have time and that time waits for no one, then you will have something to show for your 100 days in office. 100 days in office is period when you need to make that necessary impact and expand your vision for the people. If you cannot make impact in 100 days, you are telling the people that you don’t have anything to offer. It is a period that you can tell the world that you have something to offer and that you are in charge. But if you come and start telling people that you are launching an idea without showing them anything, then you must be an essay writer.
– Sept. 15, 2019 @ 15:45 GMT |