In this interview commemorating the 40th anniversary of the creation of Imo State, its deputy governor, Eze Madumere, said his decision to venture into the politics has begun to pay off on the back of Governor Rochas Okorocha’s rescue mission for the state. Shola Oyeyipo brings the excerpts:
When Governor Rochas Okorocha contested for the presidency, you stuck out your neck and stood by him all through. What was the conviction about?
Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha is a presidential material. He is ably qualified to lead this nation. He is detribalised. He has built bridges across the ethnic groups and is overwhelmingly acceptable to all. Beyond this, his impacts are holistic and not regional. It is his nature. He is passionate about the Nigerian project. He has also demonstrated his mettle even as the Governor of Imo State. Then, of course, Owelle Rochas Okorocha could have got it were it not for the reasons I believe is being fought today in the system by progressive minds.
Do you honestly believe Governor Okorocha has what it takes to rule a country as vast and heterogeneous as Nigeria?
The heterogeneity of Nigeria is where its strength lies. It takes patriotic and progressive minds to appreciate the beauty of this country and that its diversity remains its greatest strength. Like I said, Owelle Rochas Okorocha is appreciated by Nigerians because he is a Nigerian, who sees Nigeria from the perspective of a Nigerian. Like I said, he is detribalised and can pay any sacrifice for the unity and progress of this country.
Owelle Rochas Okorocha as you know has lived the better part of his life in Jos, where he acquired his education. It was his relationship with a Yoruba man that gave him the first financial breakthrough. So, the heterogeneous nature of our country is one factor Owelle cherishes so much. It was also because of his refusal to buy into the agenda with those with separatist agenda that led to the attack on him at the Chatham House, when he was delivering his lecture on human capital development from the Imo example.
If you know little about Rochanomics, you will appreciate his stance that exploring and exploiting our culture remains the easy way out of under-development. Where would you find your comparative advantage if not in the people’s culture? What we consume as food today constitutes the people’s culture while we have lost our staple food even some of them had gone extinct.
There is need to showcase them and sell their superior nutrients, and you will marvel at the foreign exchange this will bring into the coffers of this great nation. The sincere question is: where are those things that distinguish us from others? That is one question we cannot answer here. Owelle Rochas is making that effort through the Community Government Council (GCG).
How did your relationship with Governor Okorocha begin?
This is one relationship I have come to appreciate and value so much. You know, I have always used the relationship that existed between Dimgba Igwe of blessed memory and his brother, who has kept their dreams alive, the father of creative journalism, Mike Awoyinfa. I celebrate them because going into their history one can readily appreciate their friendship. My relationship with my principal, like I said earlier dates back to over two decades. You know what that means. It was fate or better still God that brought us together. It is not about politics. It is nothing other than God’s plan. This is an aspect of us that I will reserve for my book. By the special grace of God, you will read about it pretty soon.
You have been deputy governor for almost three years, how would you describe the journey so far?
Being a deputy governor for the past three years has been a worthwhile experience. I have been operating based on the constitutional provisions and descriptions as to how the deputy governor of a state should conduct himself and abide by the responsibilities therein. I believe that what is more important is the partnership that exists between my principal and I. It is that partnership and understanding that have given us so much harmony and peace to achieve. I enjoy the confidence of my leader and I understand him to the extent that he does not need to utter a word for me to take a decision. Again, you just be proactive to be appreciated by your boss or principal.
The Okorocha administration came into government with the ‘rescue mission’ mantra. Was the state in some kind of bondage? What kind of Imo State did your administration inherit?
When we came on board, Imo was a model state of nature, where life was at the mercy of empowered miscreants. Imo was one hell of a kingdom, where kidnappers and hooligans reigned while the people trembled. Imo people lost their freedom as no one could speak for fear of being molested, intimidated or attacked.
In terms of infrastructure, it was a tale of dilapidation as Owerri city had no escape the moment there was traffic. The rural dwellers knew nothing about governance other than radio adverts. Today, Imo is the freest state in Nigeria where its people and residents are free to criticise the government without fear of intimidation. It was in a bid to create that atmosphere of freedom that led to the construction of “Freedom Square” with a giant sculpture of a man with a broken chain symbolising emancipation.
Governor Okorocha has been consistent in our belief in freedom and enthronement of the ethos of democracy. Today, people have forgotten so quick that before, once it was 5:30 pm, you would not see anybody on the street of Owerri in the rural areas. You know the first charge of any government is security of life and property. We dealt with that in collaboration with the security agencies. It was a hard nut to crack but it was a challenge too important to the survival of the state.
We wore our armour and armed ourselves with good conscience and fought that just war and came out victoriously to the glory of God. Our people have forgotten and we have to find a way to remind them. In the area of infrastructure, we embarked on total rehabilitation of the state. We have built more roads in Imo than any administration. We have touched the lives of the people at the rural areas like no other. We have elevated the status of the three major urban areas of Imo State – Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe.
Can you highlight some of these achievements?
In our bid to create a near egalitarian society, where everyone will have equal opportunity, His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha declared free education from primary to secondary and to tertiary level in state-owned schools. Our Governor embarked on massive structural renovation and building of over 305 one-storey of 12 classroom pre-cast buildings. We have created a free Imo State where peoples’ voices are not only heard but are considered a civic responsibility. We have transformed the city of Owerri with state-of-the-art facilities to encourage our hospitality and tourism sector. In the recent time, we have had harvests of best entertainment front-liners come to Imo State and these events have economic relevance because we have most of our attendees coming from the neighbouring states.
Still in the hospitality industry, Concorde Hotel that was left to rot is back beaming with people and full of activities. We have renovated Imo Blue Lake of Leisure Motel and built an International Conference Centre there. We have a world class International Convention Centre with Heroes Square that has the capacity of about 10, 000 persons.
This is just to mention few of them. In the area of roads, we constructed an average of 20 kilometers of road in every local government. Still in the area of infrastructure, the government is building two flyover motorways with a tunnel to reduce traffic and accident. I am sure that Owerri has got its alluring effect with aesthetics and fountains. You know what? People have only appreciated well re-modelled Owerri city with less interest to their economic relevance.
Last Christmas, villages were decorated with world class artistic fountains especially the huge one, which was in the Freedom Square with fountains and others artifacts. In a fortnight, I can authoritatively tell you that the hardworking youth of Imo State made nothing less than N7million in photography alone. And the most important thing is that most families in Imo State visited these sites and the children were satisfactorily entertained. This is why we feel betrayed, when people sound funny and try to deride the government.
I am also surprised that newsmen do not take notice of these developments or even do little investigation on the activities that took place in those areas. Again, we have laid a solid foundation waiting for harvest in the nearby future with the “Plant a Palm” agricultural programme. Issue of skill acquisition remains paramount in our agenda so as to drive the SMEs. This is the hindsight for setting up Imo College of Advanced Professional Studies, which also houses Film Academy. The truth is that these are just few of the visible inputs in our effort to develop Imo.
Most recently, the First Lady of Imo State, Nneoma Nkechi Okorocha has commissioned Skill Acquisition Centres, which are built in the senatorial zones of Imo State. It is a citadel of vocational studies with Computer and other technical studies. Bearing in mind that the plan of our policy for this dispensation are industrialisation and employment creation, we are making every effort to ensure that we achieve this so as to make white collar jobs less attractive and as the only choice.
Looking back, what would you wish this administration had achieved but for insufficient funds?
What we have in mind is to have a productive Imo State that would be able to cater for its populace and create a progressive state, where people meet their dreams. Of course, if we have the required funds, I am sure the whole of Nigerians would have moved here because in terms of vision and human resources, we are never in lack.
I still believe we will get there. In the area of capacity building and human resources development, Imo State would have been exporting experts to the world. In summary, we envision an Imo State that has productive base with diversified economic base, where its populace is well-equipped as entrepreneurs, who have what it takes to see opportunities and tap into the abundant resources in the state.
Governor Okorocha has been consistent in our belief in freedom and enthronement of the ethos of democracy. Today, people have forgotten so quick that before, once it was 5:30 pm, you would not see anybody on the street of Owerri in the rural areas. You know the first charge of any government is security of life and property. We dealt with that in collaboration with the security agencies. It was a hard nut to crack but it was a challenge too important to the survival of the state