Chief Ikedi Ohakim was the governor of Imo State from 2007 to 2011. He won the election on the platform of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). In this interview with Sunday Sun, the former governor speaks on the policies of his administration and what was the motivation behind them while he was the Chief Executive of the state. Excerpts:
At what point in your life did you start thinking about politics? Was it in secondary or university? At what point did you see yourself playing a role in public life?
I think it came very early and naturally, because I was following the footsteps of my father who was a community leader. It might interest you to know that at the age of 25, I became the President of Okohia Town Union, which was the first of its kind in my area. So, it has been natural. No matter what I do, I still play the role of being very close to my people and my community, being sympathetic to issues of leadership and governance. It has been natural to me.
In 1992, you were appointed a commissioner, at quite an early age. How did it happen?
Chief Evan Enwerem of blessed memory in partnership with other leaders considered me worthy, considered my contributions both at the community level and the corporate level, and decided that I would have a role to play and the first ministry that was allocated to me was Commerce and Industry, and my ministry was responsible for the first development summit of Imo State, which was printed in a book form at the end of the day. And then we were able to attract foreign investors as far back as 1992/93. But unfortunately, by November 1993, there was coup in the country and that administration was overthrown. Afterthe civilian administration was toppled by late General Sani Abacha, there were several allegations against me, including the fact that a Permanent Secretary who had worked under me testified against me, but I still went through that storm with calmness. That incident thought me a big lesson in life. And my mother had told me that every document that I signed then, that I must return a copy to her, that no one knows tomorrow. And I did obey my mother and that was what helped me. All the documents they forged against me, just to incriminate me fell like a pack of cards, because when I brought the original documents people were shocked. And even as a former governor, I placed lot of importance on keeping records and that has saved me. If you look at the situation we have in this country today, I am walking around the streets upon all the allegations leveled against me; upon all the propaganda against my administration, I have not been found guilty, because I did things the way they were supposed to be done and I followed due process to the letter. I never saw the cheque book of Imo State Government. I operated in accordance with the requirement of the system. We never awarded any contract without design; we never awarded a contract without going through tender. We never awarded any contract to contractors that were not registered. We made sure the contractors were registered, and they must provide Advance Payment Guarantee and Performance Bond. We never involved in any project that was not properly supervised. No single contract failed throughout my administration. No contractor ran away with one Naira throughout my administration. No project that we undertook that did not add value to our vision. I have not been found guilty in any court of law. I have not been to any police station all my life, reporting anybody or writing a petition. And that is my life: as simple as that. As I speak to you, I have no piece of land anywhere in Imo State other than the one my father gave to me in my village. You are also aware that the 3-bedroom bungalow I have in Owerri was the house I built in 1992/93. Apart from that house, all the allegations that I own more than half of Owerri, people have now discovered that this is mere political propaganda. And you know, allegations and propaganda have a lifespan. When they expire and you have nothing to say, you lose credibility, and the man you levelled all the allegations against will begin to rise on that crest. So, I thank God Almighty that I did the right things. Today, I wouldn’t have had anybody to defend me. But my happiness today is that there is nothing anybody has alleged against me today that has been proven.
Looking at what happened in 1992/93, a lot of people would have believed you would run away from politics, but you emerged as Governor in 2007. What actually happened?
I believe in doggedness. I believe in starting something and finishing it, because my God is a finishing God. I don’t start something and leave it half way. Like I told you, I didn’t just emerge as Governor from nowhere. I ran for the Senate in 1999 and people knew. I ran for Governor in 2003 and people knew. I also ran for governor in 2007. I don’t know what you mean by how it happened, but it just happened.I ran for an election, I ran one of the most professional elections and I had my own strategy. My being Governor was not one percent accidental; I knew what was going to happen. I laid out my plans clearly. I have never done anything in this world without planning and without doing my SWOT analysis, without looking at what could happen, without analyzing the strategies of my opponents. And then I banked on something and it worked. I had vision for my people. I had vision for the development of our state. I had vision to create an economy, vision to create employment. I had vision to take our people higher, to make sure that we operate in a clean and green environment, because cleanliness is next to godliness. And then I believe in law and order. Throughout my regime, you could not see anywhere there was thuggery. There was no political assassination in Imo throughout my tenure as Governor. Nobody’s house was burnt throughout my tenure as Governor. No opponent, and I repeat, no opponent was chased away from Imo State. I allowed the political space for everyone. I was a pure democrat and I still remain a democrat. I believe in the philosophy of my party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Our policy was purely on the people, the survival of the people, because you must survive, you must eat before you talk about other things. We must begin to create jobs for our teaming masses. And that was typically how to encapsulate our policy while in the Government House.
As governor, were you able to put your vision to work? Were you able to live your dream of the Imo State you wanted? Were you able to make it come through?
We did, but we still have an unfinished business. The critical thing in this country is that we must begin to educate our people. Policies that can rekindle the economy, policies that can create the kind of societies and economy we are looking for usually take long gestation period. If you want to build for the masses rather than build for the mob, if you want to build for the mob I can begin to build town halls. These days I have learnt that people can even award road contracts with word of mouth and people will begin to tar roads. Those are not critical things. If you want create an economy,if you want to rekindle an economy, if you want to create a system where people will be employed,you require a long period of time. You must put the governance structure in place. There are certain things that require law. I listened to a Lagos State Commissioner for Transport speaking to the media about the banning of Okada, and he talked about law in Lagos State banning Okada, and I was so happy. In Imo State, when we took the bull by the horns, when first term governors were afraid to take certain decisions, we banned Okada. There was a law banning Okada. When we launched the Clean and Green Initiative, there was law backing it. When we set up the ENTRANTCO, there was law backing it. When we set up the Imo Roads Maintenance Agency (IRROMA), there was law backing it. Everything we did was backed by legislation, and you know the process of making laws: there must be a bill to the House and there will be public hearing. For example, we set up a refinery. A refinery is not what you use your mouth and award the contract and it would begin to happen. First of all, we acquired the land from Ohaji/Egbema people, 250 hectares. We got the President of Nigeria and took our report to him. We led a delegation of Igbo leaders to him, and then the President gave us an approval to partner with NNPC and they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with us. We got the foreign investors who wanted an account of Imo State. We had to prepare a account of Imo State, from 10 years before we came in. We got it right. And there are other approvals you need to get to partner with people. These things take quite some time. There are certain approvals you would need from the National Assembly, and they have to be presented to the National Assembly and the National Assembly would have to sit and deliberate. So, anybody that thinks we did not realize our dream may be right in one and wrong in the other way. But that does not stop us from going about to do those things that would keep our people alive.
Yes. N13.3bn in an interest yielding account in UBA and I handed over to my successor to continue the Wonder Lake project for which we had employed 2,000 people. But unfortunately – is it fortunately, I don’t know – when you leave office, it is no longer your business what they do with money. The governor applied for change of purpose and SEC granted him change of purpose for that money. That is it. No one can accuse us that we did not achieve our goals.
Your opponents also accuse you of leaving uncompleted projects in the state.
I took over from someone, Chief Achike Udenwa. Achike Udenwa, for example, started the Annual Free Medical Service, where he brought medical doctors from all over the world that traversed the 19 general hospitals in the state conducting examinations and performing surgeries. I did not stop that project. I continued it and multiplied into two. He started the teaching hospital, in fact, he commissioned the teaching hospital, but I continued. He left about eight roads when I came on board, including the Amaraku/Nwangele Road and the Ugiri/IsialaMbano/ Ehime/Mbaise, and all those roads. I continued those roads. It was Udenwa that started the Concorde Road leading to the Secretariat. I completed that road. You see, it is continuity. Now, if we had continued the process of the refinery by now we would have gone half way. The Federal Government luckily was in the process and even allocated two marginal oil fields to Imo State for the partnership for the refinery. Because of that refinery, the Federal Government brought in certain projects that would help the movement for the realization of that project. We brought in a housing estate, we got Marine Police. We got Naval Base, the dredging of the Lake, building a port, plus the Wonder Lake, everything, because of that refinery. And those who invested from overseas did so because of the refinery. So, that place would have been an industrial hub, and by now, it would have created a lot of jobs. So, these are projects that require thinking, vision and project management to push.
With the projects you executed, yet you still handed over N28bn to your successor?
More than N28bn.
But what was the debt profile of the state when you left?
Well, I don’t know what you mean by debt profile. When I handed over that money, what was outstanding in the debt profile of Imo State was not more than N3bn which was a kind of bridging facility. I didn’t borrow money from any commercial bank other than bridging financing which we paid off. And again, what may surprise you is that out of the N18bn we got from the Capital Market, we had already more than N7bn. We had already refunded that over N7 billion.