We can say that peace has returned to Imo State, relative peace. You know, before now, we’ve had this bombardment of unknown gunmen, banditry and so on and so forth. Because it was almost alarming, like every week you will see one story or the other about daredevil attacks on police stations, human beings, etc. But the government took it as a challenge. It was a big challenge and he took it head-on. Like he would always say, through the cooperation of the President and the security agencies. The people were fazed also to confront them head-on and by the grace of God, you have been able to stop them. At least from continuing with their relentless attack and breach of security in the state. The thing was heightened when they attacked the correctional centre in Owerri and released about 1800 inmates.
These are criminals who were either in prison or awaiting trial or whatever. So they went back to society and increased the number of criminals who were prowling the streets. And so the thing became so much but the governor was determined and did not sleep. So as we talk today, Imo is relatively peaceful. Business has returned, nightlife has returned, normal activities have returned. So people can sleep now with their eyes closed and snore if they want to, but that is not to say that we will hear occasional incidents here and there, because maybe tomorrow, you will hear somebody was killed somewhere. These are normal. There’s no society that is crime free but what we’re saying is that abnormal situation where people could not barely move about their businesses out of fear, and frequently you hear about well organised attacks, all those ones have stopped. Imo is relatively peaceful. Like I said, the credit goes to the Governor’s determination, the assistance of the President of the country, and the cooperation of all the security agencies. The synergy they show helped in abating the crime to a very reasonable extent.
At the height of the unknown gunmen issue, the media heard that the government invited the military including the Air Force, and some places in Imo land which had never experienced bombs were now attacked by the Air Force. Can you react to that?
On inviting the army, I want to say that if you are in government, and the lives and property of the people are threatened… Before now, the Orsu axis, every day, people were harassed, women were raped. It was like a lawless society by people, a band of criminals who were harassing the society. And, you know, a lot of things were happening. And it was the same people who were saying that the government is looking helplessly while people are being killed. I remember what triggered all these things. It was the opposition, who planted something false, propaganda in social media that the government had given reserved land for Ruga, for Hausa people in Orlu and herdsmen were already there preparing the place. So these young men who said they’re about to protect the interest of Igbos, you know, were enraged by that and they came to Orlu, looking for a non-existent place, and in the process, virtually law and order broke down in Orlu. This was the root of what the opposition planted. And of course, it would be very irresponsible of a government to now watch helplessly and this continues to happen. The police were overwhelmed because they couldn’t really contain it because these were armed people. At that time they were targeting the police. Anywhere they saw police on the checkpoint, they shot at them, they were killing them.
The police even had to run away, left their stations. So it was becoming anarchy in that area, and the government had no choice than to do everything that was possible to bring back order and sanity and it included strengthening security which was brought in by the soldiers. Now the point is that they were brought to restore order, not to make life more miserable for the people, but the same people who triggered insecurity in the area just to make the government look helpless. And even when the government seemed to be wasting time they were saying there’s no security. The same people because they were now sad that security has been restored through applying this strengthening security precinct are the people who are now saying that he brought the army to kill them. I keep asking who are the people that these soldiers have killed like the isolated cases or accidental discharge but who are the people. They won’t tell you.
They will just say that he brought the army to kill their people but they will not tell you that the same army restored peace in the area. So it’s just you know, trying to make sure that there is nothing you do. All they want is to continue to cause confusion. And when you talk about the Air Force, saying that the air force has burnt more than during the war, we are in the social media age. I don’t know how many times, if it was that frequent, as they claimed, I can assure you that this people out of their desperation to prove their point would have been able to capture some images that they would have sent where the Air Force were bombing. I can’t remember seeing an Air Force going to bomb a place but there are one or two occasions when there was surveillance to determine where criminals were around the axis of Orsu and Ihiala in Anambra, and those areas.
There was a video about the gunshots and all that
I can tell you there was a time that there was a video that went viral that the Imo State House of Assembly was on fire. And they sent that video of a house burning actually but it was a video of a building burning in Ghana. So you can go to the internet and get false planes, with guns and whatever. What is the evidence that it was in Orlu?
What about the land grabbing in Oguta?
The governor has made it clear that there is nothing like Ruga. The government has plans to bring some integrated farm settlements, you know, for the people which are being co-sponsored by the federal government. The people who are always looking for what to say against the government said it was Ruga. We have even gone to address the people and clear the air and they are satisfied that this thing has nothing to do with Ruga. What is this Ruga? How is it going to happen? You can’t take people’s land without defining what you are going to do with it. Of course, the people will resist and I think the people right now are satisfied that there is no plan, nothing like anybody taking their land for Ruga. So it’s false.
The governor has not attended any of the Southern Governors meetings. Out of the three or four, he sent the deputy governor. Why is that? Ishe avoiding the SGF? What is Imo’s stance on open-grazing?
First of all, the governor was not avoiding the SGF meeting at all. I don’t know what amounts to avoiding it but I know that the government is made up of the governor’s cabinet. On Saturday, the governor sent me to represent him at a function about Imo people. Can somebody now interpret it as the governor avoiding Imo people?
Well, if he is consistent.
No, what is consistent is that he has sent his deputy thrice to the SGF meeting twice. The first time he sent his deputy because he wasn’t around. The second one wasn’t around, he doesn’t have to kill himself in order to impress you. If he has serious engagement, particularly outside the state, he doesn’t have to impress anybody. I think that when the deputy governor is seated in a meeting for the governor, the communique signed by the Southern governors, Imo State was represented. If he was not at that meeting at all, then we can argue. In fact, there were cases when some states did not send anybody at all and nobody had crucified them. It is the one that we have the deputy governor sitting in for the government of Imo State. Must he be the person that goes there physically?
But if others make the sacrifice, it is expected he should do the same.
But sometimes expectations don’t match realities. He is granted the right to order his priorities. If he has something… I know that on one of those occasions, he had a meeting with Mr President where he was trying to negotiate something for the state. It was a scheduled meeting and impossible for him to cancel it. I think it would have been an issue if he didn’t send anyone at all. At any rate, the SGF is not a statutory body, so I don’t know why we should break our heads if the Governor doesn’t attend.
Their objectives and what they are pursuing is resonating with the people of the South
It is resonating with the people of the South and that is why we are always there in the meeting. We are always there. Obiano did not send anybody. Remember, this Governor initiated and hosted the South-east Governors meeting in Imo. It was there that Ebube Agu was born. So if he could take those initiatives and then it’s not convenient for him to attend the SGF meeting, even if it’s three times, you shouldn’t crucify him for that. The things you are saying resonate with the people, the South-east governors, does it make us resonate with them? South-east is part of SGF. What I’m saying is that he is on the same page with the Southern Governors, and that’s why he has made sure that at each point, Imo is highly represented by no other person than the deputy governor who stands in for Governor in his absence, so I don’t think that sends any wrong signal at all.
Then on open grazing, incidentally, Imo State already had a law on open grazing before the Southern Governors resolution. That law was in 2006. I was a member of the House who passed the law. So what the governor said was that, we already have a law on open grazing, so that is what the other states are trying to actually do. And that law says that you cannot graze your cattle in some restricted areas, private residential areas, commercial areas or some other designated areas. So we already have that law. He doesn’t always pay to play to the gallery. So if the Southern Governors now said we should do the same law that we already had in 2006 So we should abrogate that one and do another one.
Amendments can be made but those restricted places, were farmlands included?
I will answer that but What the Governor now did even before that time, was to say if there are grey areas on this law that has been made maybe like farmlands, he called a meeting with of the herders and farmers in the state and brokered an understanding and they signed an MOU that nobody will disturb the peace, that they will they will not take their cows to farmlands and the farmers will not disturb them. And it has been working perfectly well. Is the objective not to have peace? If we have achieved that through the existing law and this MOU, I think people should congratulate and emulate us. We mustn’t play to the gallery and title it anti-grazing and all that.
If elections were to be held today in Imo, will Uzodinma return as governor of the state or will Emeka Ihedioha’s believe that he will take the seat come to pass?
Uzodinma will record landslides. The reason is very simple. First of all, he has restored true democracy to the state. Before he came, there was no democracy. The people did not know what was happening in the state. It was ‘familiocracy’, just a clique of a family and cronies running the state. There was no due process. The funds of the state were spent carelessly. Even a private man would not have been that reckless. There was no documentation of any type. People were awarded contracts over a bottle of beer.
It was so bad but Uzodinma has restored order, due process and sanity. Today, Imo people can say that they’re involved in the running of the government. That is why he has held over four stakeholders meetings within two years, where he consults regularly with the people. This is a statement of stewardship. So the people at any given time know exactly what the government is doing and are at the same pace with him. He recently established the Elders Consultative Forum. It will now be a standing committee made up of about 100 people, comprising everybody who is big in Imo, including Ihedioha, Rochas. They will inaugurate it soon where he will come and tell you what he is doing and you will advise him. So there is the confidence of the people as they turn to governance. So that is the number one reason why they will say this man who has taken… he just finished consulting with the 27 LGAs about two or four months ago, in addition to the stakeholder where the local governments go and they tell him their problems and he listens, and jointly agrees on the way forward.
These things were not happening before. Nobody knew what was happening. Two, he has introduced what is called the People’s Budget which makes it possible for each local government stakeholders to come and say what they want to be in the budget for the year. Like this fiscal year, we just concluded that all the stakeholders in LGs have made their input into what will be in the budget and it will be reflected. And when we finish the budget, it is published on our website, both in English and Igbo so they can access and the performance is also published.
So you can also access that on the site and know whether we are keeping to the budgetary provisions or not. So this way, the people’s confidence continues to increase every minute. They know that this is a man who is accountable, transparent and honest. And that is why he automated the physical transactions of the state. You know the thing has been digitised in such a way that every kobo spent is verifiable. That’s why he automated the payroll system. Before we came, Imo payroll system was… only God knows how it was arrived at. When we came, the number of pensioners in Imo was 23,000 people. That was the number in 1976 when Imo was created. So you ask yourself, nobody’s dying or retiring. This was the kind of system we had, very corrupt and porous system. Before we came, a lot of people were earning salary and pension at the same time. Somebody will earn three or four salaries and so on and so forth.
So, all these are now behind us because the system is automated, is transparent is honest, is accountable. So I think the people know that this man is honest. Moreover, there is evidence of work. Forget about the propaganda of the opposition. You know, there’s evidence of work on ground and the people are seeing it. And I know that when you compare the legitimate decision of Rochas Okorocha within eight years, what Uzodinma has done in two years surpasses what Rochas has done in eight years. There was no democracy under Okorocha. There was nothing, no work. He was just doing whatever he liked, doing China roads and all that. Here we have durable things that people are seeing and applauding.
On Ihedioha saying he still has his eyes on governorship, that he is going to drive Uzodinma away. I want to tell you that Ihedioha has never won an election in Imo State before, at least, governorship. He lost to Rochas in 2015 and in 2019, he had what they call negotiated victory. He never won. He had always won only in the three local governments in Mbaise. And he never won the spread. There’s a book that’s written by Willie Amadi on how the thing happened, where Tony Chukwu was begging Malami and others that they know this man doesn’t have spread but let us not have a crisis. Yeah, please help us. So that was how he was announced. It was a negotiated thing. He himself was surprised. He was asking Tiny Chukwu how he got his power, so he knows he never didn’t win the election.
In the first place, he never won an election. So somebody who didn’t win cannot be talking of winning because he didn’t win in the first place. Secondly, the point is, yes, I know his eyes remain focused on the governorship, there is no doubt. But what he is not telling Imo people is why his eyes are still there.The reason is because he wants to continue from where he stopped. In the seven months that he occupied the Government House, illegally though, what did he achieve? He had three months of transition before he was sworn in, and he set up a bogus all-encompassing committee made up of all prominent Imo people and told them that he wanted them to come up with a roadmap for development of the state so he could hit the ground running. The people submitted the report. It took him seven months. He never opened it. Kept on saying that he is planning but he was busy expanding and consolidating his estate. All that he achieved within seven months was to where he was living, he bought another land and was expanding it. He went to his village and sacked almost the entire village and wall the whole place. He wanted to build an imperial palace. That was all he did and kept telling people that because of the rains, he couldn’t do anything but the rains didn’t stop him from expanding his estate. It was the cement and block that he was using that was needed to build roads.
Are you saying that he didn’t achieve anything?
He didn’t achieve anything. He said every local government was going to have a stadium which was one of the ways he used to siphon money. Let me be honest with you. If Ihedioha had spent four years, he would have made Okorocha a saint, because the way he was going, he would have been far worse than Okorocha. Because he had no programme, the only programme we had was to expand and consolidate his imperial ambition.
What happened to that vehicle?
Now that you mentioned it. Thank you for reminding me because you can see that he was preparing to be an emperor so he went and imported a vehicle which everybody saw, costing almost N100 million or more that he would have been using. A vehicle that is better than air aircraft. It has a bedroom and a shower. It has a dining section and a coffee shop. A vehicle. And that was within seven months. Check all the things he did, they all pertained to his personal imperial ambition. That’s why he wants to come back. But unfortunately for him, like I said, he has never won the election as governor and he will never win. And he now has somebody who is a very popular person, so I don’t know how he wants to do it. So this is not wishing him because he does not have the luck. He is not going anywhere.
So where is the car?
I think the car will be sent to the archive so that people will see and know… even Queen Elizabeth did not use that kind of car. People will know the kind of person who came and stole their mandate and wanted to use it to glorify his imperial designs. In fact, we will exhibit it so that people will see and know that this is the man who still has…is it because we are not vindictive, otherwise. Apart from even being vindictive, because of the kind of society we operate. Someone like Ihedioha should not be seen talking in public because he is a disgrace, and he failed a few supporters that were walking around him.
What is the latest about Rochas Okorocha’s tussles with the state?
The problem here is that Okorocha with due respect, I have tremendous respect for him, and he is the Senator from my zone. But I think the major problem is that the man by his nature is a stranger to the law. He doesn’t understand what law means. And he has never been cut out of obeying laws or understanding that the society is governed by laws. When he was governor, he operated outside the rule of law. He even said that he doesn’t have patience for due process and the law. He forgot to understand that, when you finish your tenure, the people have a right to hold you accountable to ask you to give account of your stewardship. He forgot to understand that that is allowed within the democratic norms and the laws of the land. So it was the government of Emeka Ihedioha that set up commissions to inquire into his contracts, land use and related matters and this commission stunned him in their reports. The government brought out a White Paper and indicted him heavily. Because he’s not used to obeying the law, he is thinking it is a personal problem he has, maybe with the present governor, it’s not. It’s a matter of the simple: he has a problem with the law and the earlier he faces it, the better because nobody…this is like a Judicial Commission of Inquiry which is legitimate in a democratic setting.
And they finished their assignment, turned in their report. And the report was turned into the government, the government brought it and it was debated at Exco, Exco approved it and a White Paper was issued, another legitimate process. And when this thing started, he went to court, the court refused. When Governor Uzodinma came on board, he approached him to stop it, the governor told him that he cannot do this because he didn’t set up these inquiries, and moreover, he thinks that he is in agreement with the mood of Imo people, that he doesn’t want to play against the tide. And so when the White Paper came out, he now decided to take the law into his hands.
Property that was seized because it was flagged as a property acquired with state funds which he said belonged to his wife, he went to unseal it by force. He carried thugs to unseal it and the police stopped him. He’s like seeing himself above the law because he has always operated like that for eight years as a governor. So somehow, he still thinks he is still the governor and is lawless. And so when he gives the impression that there’s a problem, there’s no problem.
He only has a problem with the law, and the earlier he faces it, the better for him. Because you cannot escape the long arm of the law. If your hands are clean, you don’t have to be afraid of anything. Because the law is also blind. It doesn’t look at anybody’s face. So if your hands are clean, if you come and go, all you need to say is that you’ve not done anything, you can examine me and you will be exonerated. So, the problem is him accepting that the society is governed by law and he is just a citizen of the country and he has to obey the law. If he does that, he won’t have any problem with anybody.. So he has no problem basically except with the law that is the issue.
People accused your governor of wanting to rig the Anambra elections. Can you explain his role in that?
An invasion will often imply that he has an army which he doesn’t have. It is amazing because the man was given an assignment by his party. He didn’t apply for the assignment. The party saw him as fit to be the chairman of the governorship campaign APC in Anambra State and being a loyal party man, who also is happy that the party has such confidence in him, he accepted the role and what he did was to go there and there is a good attitude which is to compare for APC to win. That was what he asked to do. He campaigned and made sure that he carried out a very successful campaign. And having finished with that, his job stops from the day the election was held. He is not an INEC official. He had finished his campaign and that was why he wasn’t even there during the election because he had no other role to play. He has done his work and has completed it and that’s it. The decision as to who wins or who doesn’t win was now left to Anambra people and he had no role to play there.
There is this perception that the loyalty of the governor is more with the caliphate and the north than with the Igbos. What is your reaction to that?
If you look at the history of this man, the governor of the state, Senator Uzodinma, you will find that he has been a businessman all along. He went to the Senate from that background of a businessman, so he has been an independent man. As a businessman, I didn’t know any caliphate that was his chairman. Because if he so loves them as they say, you would have heard that in his private companies he has them there, because some people in their private companies appoint all manner of people into their boards. I’m not aware of that. I don’t have any history of that. And so he came from that background and went to the Senate and came out and became governor. So what I know is that he is a man who has respect for constituted authority. He is a Christian, and he believes that anybody who is occupying the position has been given to him by God. That’s what our Christian faith tells us. He had the same respect for Obasanjo when he was there. He had the same respect for Yar’Adua when he was there, and affinity with all of them, Jonathan when he was there, and the same thing he is having with Buhari. There’s no difference. The only difference is that he is now governor which makes it even more mandatory that he should be closer to the power at the centre so he can attract things to his people. That’s what people mistake to be friends of the Caliphate.
If Obasanjo or Jonathan was a caliphate then he is a friend to the caliphate. So there is not much difference I’ve seen between his relationship with Obasanjo, Jonathan or Buhari. It’s just people trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. But I can tell you that this man really in terms of his Igboness, because that’s what they’re trying to paint, he is more Igbo than many of those who are trying to question him, because he has been a champion of an advocate of justice for Igbo people.. So he has always carried it as a priority in his public appearances, public speeches and even while he was in the Senate, and to prove my point, he’s going to present a book very soon on the Igbo question and the way forward, authored by him. So that will show you that he has always had that burning passion and desire on the Igbo question on how Igbo can get justice. So it’s not a matter of noise making, a matter of trying to make unnecessary propaganda politically because of whatever this position politically belongs. I remember, there was a time the opposition said he was going to rename him Imo State University Anna Kyari University, of course that was not true but these are what people say just to get cheap political popularity.
There was even a time they said he had created three Emirates in Imo. My governor is a nationalist, he believes in coexistence, you can’t take that away from him. He believes that live and let live. He believes that our people are living in almost virtually all parts of this country.. They are at the mercy of the laws of the land, which allows people to go to cohabit. That’s what he’s also trying to do in Imo. If you are a resident, you have the right…he feels he has an obligation to protect you just like our people who are also living outside the state also have such rights to be protected by their host. So that’s what he wants to do, show an example so that you cannot say in Imo they are treating residents from outside bad so you can’t treat Imo people bad. These are some of the things. the man who has vision, who understands and believes in the unity of this country, and believes that our problems no matter how terrible they might be, no matter how bad we might feel, that there are many many ways of approaching them and getting the same solution. So I think that I can say emphatically that Uzodinma is more Igbo than a lot of people claiming to be carrying the Igbo cause on their heads.