In this interview with Amby Uneze, a former Adviser on Public Affairs to former Imo State governor, Ikedi Ohakim, Dr. Ethelbert Okere, gave an insight into the activities of the Ohakim government in view of the probe of the former governor by his successor, Chief Rochas Okorocha. Excerpts:
Of recent, there has been so much bickering between your former boss, Mr. Ikedi Ohakim and his successor, Governor Rochas Okorocha. Why the bitter rivalry?
I don’t think I would agree with your allusion to a bickering between the two. I would rather describe the situation as one in which Governor Okorocha is bent on smearing Ikedi Ohakim and bringing him to public odium.
And why is that?
Because I believe he, Governor Okorocha, believes that bringing down Ohakim is the only way he can shine.
That sounds sentimental? Ohakim is no longer in office and you think an incumbent would see him as an obstacle?
That’s the question you should be asking Governor Okorocha. Nearly two years after Governor Ohakim left office, Governor Okorocha goes on as if we are still in the campaign period. “Let me bring Ohakim down so that the people can vote for me”. How else do we explain a situation where the Governor wakes up every morning and mouths one allegation or the other against his predecessor? Each time he is disproved, he gets even more audacious and just the next morning, he makes even a graver allegation.
You really think there is no basis for all the allegations?
You are here in Imo State practicing journalism, has the Governor been able to give one evidence against all the allegations against Ohakim? What he does is to keep on changing figures. When the Governor newly assumed office, he was summoning Imo people, local government by local government. He would call one and say Ohakim took N100 billion loan. He calls another LGA and say it was N18 billion. He calls another and says it was N20 billion. By the time he got the 15th LGA, he ran into problems after telling the people that Ohakim took N26 billion loan to fund his election and was spending N150 million everyday on frivolities including N30 million per day on drinks.
We challenged him to bring the bank documents showing where Ohakim obtained the loan. We also helped him to do a simple arithmetic that showed that he was deceiving the people because earlier, he had told the people that the state got an average of N2 billion every month. So, when we multiplied N150 million by 30 days it gave N4.5 billion. And then the question was: where did Ohakim get the money he was alleged to be spending frivolously? Which means his allegation didn’t add up. That was how he stopped summoning LGA leaders to pep talks on Ohakim.
The government has set up probe panels and maybe the reports thereof will situate the allegations?
And that will be how many results on the same issue? The governor has already released the result of an earlier audit report. And three more panels are going to sit. Which of the results will Imo people rely on? As I said in my earlier statement, it amounts to taking Imo people for fools to believe that you can set up panels and before they begin to sit, you release a report already indicting the fellow you have asked them to investigate.
Are you pre-empting the panels?
Nobody can pre-empt a judicial panel of inquiry made up of eminent jurists; that is assuming that they will accept to continue with that assignment. But I can say that going by what the governor released on television the other time, then I personally have no doubt in my mind that the Governor is merely chasing shadows. I don’t know if you watched the Channels Television programme that featured some of his aides and two of the consultants through whom Governor Ohakim was accused of siphoning money. If you did not, go and ask those who did.
The Chief Executive of one of the consulting firms, Cypress Consult, which was accused of aiding and abetting the alleged embezzlement, told viewers that he is currently handling jobs totaling over N100billion for the Okorocha administration. That is, Okorocha retained him to work for his administration. Now, the big question is, at what point did Okorocha discover that Cypress is fraudulent? Mind you, the administration is over 21 months old. If Cypress is fraudulent, why did the Governor have to continue working with it to the extent of giving it new jobs worth over N100 billion? And according to the consultant, he has not been paid a kobo by the Okorocha administration.
So, you can see that the entire thing was just an afterthought aimed at smearing Ohakim. Somebody simply brought out payment vouchers, added the figures and went to town. The funniest thing is that in the report, the governor acknowledged that he was still awaiting the necessary responses from the banks concerned. Yet, he went public before those responses came. Why the stampede? In any case, I do not think there is any need to belabor the issue of probe. I believe the people are waiting and watching.
Let’s come to the issue of projects. That report claimed that the Ohakim administration did only four projects with two actually uncompleted?
Let me ask you, do you sincerely believe that anybody should waste his time to refute such a claim? You were in the state throughout the four years of Ohakim. You took part in all the project inspection tours during that period. Is it true that Ohakim did only two projects? I can recall the reactions of some of you each time we went for such inspections. Some people were even telling the governor to sack his media team, which included me, because they claimed we were not doing enough to publicise his achievements. I can only describe the allegation that Ohakim did only two projects as arrant nonsense.
My worry as a citizen of Imo state is that Governor Okorocha is using sheer braggadocio to cover up his inability to continue with the key projects started by Ohakim and which require sophisticated thinking. As I said earlier, if Governor Ohakim’s priority was to renovate buildings, then the story would have been different. Take projects like the Wonder Lake Resort and Conference Centre and Inner Ring Roads which were among the projects for which Ohakim left behind N13.3 billion. They were abandoned because the administration lacks the capacity to continue with them.
This issue of N13.3 billion keeps on coming up. The government has acknowledged that it met only N12.5 billion and that it used it in the building of 305 classroom blocks. Is that not enough evidence that the money has been utilised?
First, let us recall that it took this administration several months to acknowledge that it met any money at all. It had to own up under the weight of evidence to the contrary. While the administration was denying the existence of N13.3 billion, it had announced that it would deploy the N3.5 billion realized from the leasing of ADAPALM for the building of school blocks in 305 INEC wards. Now, which do the Imo people believe- the earlier claim or the last one? N3.5 billion and N12.5 billion, which the administration claims it met, are not equal. This is beside the fact that the Ohakim administration left N3 billion in SUBEB account for the renovation of schools and as you know, all the renovation projects were cancelled because Governor Okorocha claimed they were being handled by PDP members.
You quarrel with the fact that the new administration used the N13.3 billion bond proceeds for other purposes. Isn’t that its prerogative, especially that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) gave its approval?
It is not a matter of prerogatives. At what point did it obtain SEC approval? The money had already been spent before SEC gave its approval. These are no secrets. You would recall that the Imo PDP raised an alarm through a widely publicised statement. Besides, for the bond to be used outside what it was originally meant for, the State House of Assembly needed to amend the bond law that was passed before the Ohakim administration went to the bond market. That was not done.
I have earlier enumerated to you the numerous federal projects that had to be relocated because the Wonder Lake project for which the bond was floated has been abandoned. The reason the Federal Government got attracted to the Wonder Lake project was because it felt that through it, opportunities would be created for our people in the Niger Delta area of the state especially the people of Oguta and Ohaji/Egbema local government area.
Let’s go back to the Governor’s call that Ohakim be arrested by EFCC. Do you think he is merely blowing hot?
If it is on the basis of the document he released on television recently, then I can say that the Governor is merely out to smear Ohakim. That document is not worth the paper it is written on. What he did was to list payment vouchers. Nobody is saying that funds were not expended during Dr. Ohakim’s tenure. Of course, there were expenditure but to list all expenditure as representing fraud is to trivialise a very serious issue. As I noted in my earlier response, the government took that document round newspaper houses but no editor accepted to publish it. Besides, that particular document is not new to the anti-corruption agencies. There have been several other petitions written by the Okorocha administration against Ohakim and I believe that the appropriate agencies are doing their job.
As an indigene of Imo State, are you happy with the turn of things?
Nobody is happy the way things are going. Governor Ohakim had a very peaceful administration. Although, he was confronted with so many challenges, including twenty nine court cases over the election that brought him into office, he remained calm and focused. There was not a single demonstration in the state against anybody. Seventy per cent of members of his cabinet were made up of those who served in the administration of his predecessor and they all served till the very end. He had a very cordial relationship with the State House of Assembly despite the differences in partisan proclivities at least initially.
Ohakim is now a private businessman. You want him to allow his integrity to be destroyed just like that? The point I am making is that Governor Okorocha rejected the olive branch offered by Ohakim by his ambition of making sure that the latter is completely rubbished. Is that fair? It may interest you to know that as I talk to you now, Chief Ohakim’s picture is not among those of former governors of the state hung in the Exco Chambers. Governor Okorocha removed it as soon as he came into office.
What does that mean?
I am aware that it is possible that they will go and hang Ohakim’s pictures after reading this interview but call one of your colleagues in Government House now, they will confirm this. He has refused to pay Ohakim and his Deputy their entitlements. Imo is the only state that refused to pay severance allowance to appointees that served in the previous administration. The point I am making is that it is left for Governor Okorocha to determine what he wants to do with the state. I believe he got all the cooperation he needed from everybody including Ohakim even as it was clear that he did not win any election.