Chief Rochas Okorocha
Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, spoke to Chucks Okocha on the controversy surrounding the verdict of the Court of Appeal which ordered the re-instatement of the sacked chairmen and councillors of local government areas in the state. Excerpts...
You were accused of rejecting the Court of Appeal order on the reinstatement of the 27 local government chairmen. What is the true situation of things?
It is not true that I did not obey the court order and I think that it is proper that we put the record straight. After the dissolution of the local governments, which was anchored on a court injunction that was subsisting and for which the former government went ahead and held elections against the court injunction and secondly, the corrupt practices that was evident because most of the funds, over 50 per cent of the funds, were used for that particular election by the former government and all the facts are there for all to see, I came in and I dissolved the local governments on the true basis of issues. But shortly after that, the first set of local government council chairmen went to the state High Court and the judgment was in favour of government, they went to the Court of Appeal and got a judgment. We also went to Supreme Court to appeal but surprisingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeal was implemented when there was an appeal against the judgment at the Supreme Court. This was done by the order of the Attorney-General of the Federation supported by the Inspector General of Police who supplied support for the chairmen to regain office.
This time, I was abroad but I knew that this was capable of creating a crisis in the state so I decided to say let me embrace the path of peace and directed that every transitional chairman should vacate his office for peace to reign. Then, we had informed all the council chairmen who had forced themselves back to office to come for a discussion as their governor and I called them but they turned down my invitation as the governor. Then I pleaded with them again for a second time, after they had come to Abuja, then they came back and decided to answer my call. We had hours of several meetings to arrive at a particular understanding on the basis that there should be peace. My primary concern was peace and not about who was right or wrong. That was exactly what happened but interestingly, the judgment they got from the Court of Appeal guaranteed them two-year tenure, and in their prayers, they also pleaded to be given two years to complete their two years.
So, in other words, there was no dispute about the tenure of their office and their two years ended on August 8 because they were sworn in on August 9, 2010. That was their prayers and that was the judgment they also got. But even at that, I had offered the elected council chairmen to see what ways we could resolve the crisis. I suggested that we work out a way, whether it is through a sole-administrator system or a TC (transition chairmanship) system where they will be allowed to continue before the elections take place, because my goal was to conduct elections as quickly as possible. But to my greatest surprise again, after the gentleman’s agreement that we had arrived at, these men went to court and brought an ex- parte injunction stopping the government from dissolving them on August 8 when the law that brought them into office talked about two years and was signed by the former governor, Ikedi Ohakim. Whether I have the power to dissolve or not, the law has dissolved them. So, it is not a question of whether somebody is dissolving or not but for them to have gone to court asking for an injunction means that those who are sponsoring them are waiting to foment troubles which should not exist. This is where we are in Imo State as far as the local government issues are concerned. My question is now, can I really trust the chairmen again if after having had a peaceful discussion to chart a way forward for us to move as Imolites, they breached our agreement. At a point, I addressed them as my children; I said leave my children alone. These are children of Imo State but for them to have taken this path again and are making all kinds of insinuation in the papers, for me, it is rather a shameful act at this moment.
What is the position of the state House of Assembly on this matter bearing in mind that they passed the law for two years and now the tenure of the chairmen has expired?
The House of Assembly has said that their tenure expired on August 8. So, if their tenure expired on August 8, you cannot go into another person’s tenure. It is a law that has been gazetted. But you can see now they are using all kinds of media campaigns trying to portray the governor as somebody who is not obeying court orders. I have gone beyond obeying court orders to stupidity. One, I have an appeal in the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, that is still pending; it is supposed to be heard in September. Yet, the implementer and these violent people went in against the court proceedings and implemented their judgment at the Court of Appeal level. I said, okay, hold your judgment, let us work together and now offered them an olive branch. I asked, how could we work together before the election is conducted just for peace to reign?
What is their grouse for going to court?
Their grouse for going to court is that they want tenure elongation, they want their tenure to be extended. Their prayer in the case ab initio was that they should be given their two years guaranteed which actually expired on the August 8. But they want tenure extension for one reason, that within the period they were not in office because of dissolution, they want to recover it, so they got an ex parte now stopping the governor from dissolving what has dissolved itself. It is something that requires a serious legal mind to look at whether what stands dissolved can be accepted or can be extended, or whether I have the power to extend it or dissolve it. I cannot dissolve what the law has dissolved.
Have you sought legal opinion on this matter?
Yes, every legal opinion suggested that once a tenure has expired, it has expired, it cannot be changed. But what is annoying, which I think these group of people and their sponsors are working toward is that they want to create the unusual problem and I am not going to allow them achieve that in Imo State, because Imo State is a peaceful state. I cannot deal with chairmen whose tenures have expired by law and there is nowhere it can be changed and the olive branch I offered them, they blew that also by going to court. So, you can see that these people want to create a problem and whoever is sponsoring them should desist because it will take them nowhere.
Let us talk about the community councils. By the community councils, are you creating a new level of government for chairmen?
Community government councils have been a tradition with our people; it is called the town unions. What we are implementing is a modified town union of government, which is in tandem with the culture of our people. We believe in it and we seem to do better with it. It is government of the people by the people and for the people in which INEC or police or security agencies would not interfere. These people come out to choose the leaders they want and it is already an established system. We are only modifying this for the purpose of promoting agricultural practices and to ensure security and also bring back our culture, especially among the Igbo speaking people. It is just for cultural purposes and agriculture. It is not a new local government creation and don’t forget that this existed in the past; many government had created what was called development centres. What I have just done is a modification and I called it the government at the grassroots level where the people can now participate in governance because government in Nigeria is hanging. Government in most parts of Africa is hanging because it does not get down to the grassroots. It is always hang at the federal, state and local government levels and so, you have a government where 90 per cent of the population is not participating in anyway. They are just receivers of instructions and are confused. But now, we are letting them have their own government.
For me, it is painful as a governor that whatever we eat now in the South-east comes from the Northern part of the country; be it tomatoes, cabbage, onions, rice, goats, cows, groundnuts, beans. So, we produce nothing because there is complete disconnect between the rural people and the government. So the fourth tier of government is a way of connecting back rural populace to the mainstream of government and I tagged it Ohashierism and Ofusherism. What we have been practising before in Imo State was Ofusherism; it is an Igbo terminology which I used to describe the fourth tier government. Ohashierism means Ofuenye – one person preparing food for the masses. The masses will remain hungry but Ofusherism means the masses preparing food for one person. No matter how big that state is, they cannot finish it. So we are getting more people, more hands into that. It is agricultural revolution; it is like making every small village a city.
You have been in office for about two years, what has been your greatest challenge as a governor?
I don’t have any challenge because some of these things I thought of them, I saw them, I imagined them and so as they come, I solve them. I don’t call them challenges. I don’t have challenges. I am one person who has never complained about any challenge so to speak. The challenge, which I might call no challenge, is that I realise that in this country, most of our leaders are politicians and not leaders. So everything in Imo State is political. That is the challenge. People do not know when to stop politics and embrace governance. So most of the politicians in Imo State are thinking about the next election but in my own case, I am thinking about the next generation. So all my programmes are geared towards the next generation, be it free education or infrastructure development. I am thinking about the future of Imo State, I am not thinking about the next election. What they are seeing now is a radical change and I challenge anybody to come around and see what Imo State has done in one year in comparison to what has not been done for the past eight to ten years.
You talk about the development, a revolution in the state, where do you get the money from?
We have money. Imo State is one of the richest states in the Federal Republic of Nigeria; I say this because the Bible tells me that where there is no vision, my people will perish, not where there is no money. I am not bragging about money, I am talking about vision. There is adequate vision in Imo State now to transform all the material and human resources into capital. That is what I am talking about and so that is where I am getting the money from, it is vision. Somebody once said to me that it is true that what I collect in 10 months or in six months is what some states in Nigeria collect in one month. I get N3.8 billion, how do you compare me with a state that collects N18 billion, N29 billion or N25 billion from internally generated revenue and sometimes N40 billion. How can you compare my N3.8 billion with only N400 and N500 million internally generated revenue a month compared with somebody who collects N40 billion a month. So, I am not talking about money, I am talking about vision. Secondly, there is prudence in the usage of resources in Imo State. The days of sharing the money of the masses in Imo State is over. So I have blocked all the loopholes and where there were stealing and corruption, we have tied up, so that is why we can have a little to build 305 new primary schools of high standard, I mean 12 classrooms in each of the wards of the state. And all of them are one-storey buildings. I am not talking about bungalows. We are building 27 new general hospitals also. All the roads in Imo State have been opened up and under construction as I am talking to you. We have built a new Imo College of Advanced Professionals Studies. We have the new Ikemba Ojukwu Centre, we have the Hero Square and if you go to Concord Hotel, it is completely renovated; the Imo Palm Plantation is back alive; we even made a profit of N3.2 billion in just one year. If you go to Igodale, construction is going on there, we have built an International Conference Centre. If you go to the Freedom Square where there is a huge development, we are constructing to bring back the Alaba Market. These are developments that everybody can see. These have not been recorded in many years now in Imo State. So I want people to visit Imo and bring me any former governor or government that has done one tenth of whatever I have done in one year.
What about the security challenge in Imo State?
The security challenge in Imo State is under control. The issue we have is the issue of who actually is the chief security officer of the state. In most cases, we have issues of where the police play the role as the chief security officer of the state because you cannot even tell the commissioner of police or any police officer what to do in a particular criminal situations in the state without them getting clearance from the Inspector-General. So that has been the challenge, but what we did in Imo State is that we seek for the cooperation of the army, police and the SSS, we were able to come together, we developed a means and strategy, which has silenced all the kidnappers. There is no more kidnapping in Imo State. In the past three months, it has come down drastically. That is the vision. These are some of the things that need to be fixed right. If I am in charge of security in Imo State, I guarantee you that you will not see any car snatching incident.
In this instance, could it be explained as why some states are championing the creation of state police?
The creation of state police is about the best thing that will happen to this country. My question is which state is not as big as a nation in Europe or some African countries. Some nations have 2 million people yet they are recognised as countries. So we must begin to see the states as fragments of nations in Nigeria because each of them has the population and the size. There are some countries that are 500,000 in population, 700, 000 in population, so how can a state that has 5 million people or 10 million people not have its own police force.
Other than the concern about political pressure being brought to bear, there is the argument that the states may not have the financial resources to run their own state police forces.
There is need to restructure the entire revenue sharing formula and decentralise power. Devolution of power is the solution to this country’s problems and that is what I am doing in my state. The fourth tier of government is decentralisation of power. There is so much concentration of power at the state level and at the federal level. There must be devolution of power in Nigeria if we must make any sense. Tell me why are governors of a state of 5 million people, 10 million people saying they cannot take charge of the security of the state. The fear of most people is the abuse that might creep in. So my advice would be that they should limit the police to criminal cases like armed robberies, assassinations, oil bunkering, kidnapping, and all other related criminal cases. The state police should not be allowed to veer into political matters but if it is to handle the issues of armed robberies, assassinations, oil bunkering, kidnapping in the state, they will be focused. That is why every state has a vigilante group, some carrying AK47s. That is just to tell you that there is a vacuum that needs to be filled by the state police.