Ohakim: Why I’m on Sabbatical from Politics

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Immediate past Governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim recently announced his temporary withdrawal from active politics. He later spoke to some Journalists in the state at his country home, Okohia, Isiala Mbano, where he gave the details. Amby Uneze presents the excerpts:

Days ago, you announced a temporary withdrawal from active partisan politics and a lot of people were taken aback. Why this decision?
I believe you have read the press statement I issued on the matter. The reasons are precisely as I stated there. The atmosphere has become such that it is now a clear distraction for those of us, who believe in law and order and life outside politics. We cannot spend all our time running from pillar to post in the name of playing politics. There is so much recalcitrance and ambivalence in our political environment and for purely selfish interests. When I left office as governor in 2011, I thought I would have time to look into other things even though I did not like the circumstances under which I left. But unknowingly, we got engrossed once more and there is no progress.

Does it not suggest you are taking this decision out of frustration?
That is out of it. I am successful in politics. Even though as I said, I did not like the circumstances in which I left office as governor, the truth is that I achieved politically what many people are still struggling to achieve today. Becoming a state governor may not be the ultimate but it is a great privilege, and I could not ask for more from God Almighty. I ran the best administration so far in the state. Go around and ask the people. Outside politics, I was successful in my career and business before I became governor. God gave me a wonderful family. I have a fantastic wife, who gives me total peace of mind. My children are among the most brilliant in the world.

May be not on a personal account but unable to see that your party does things better as you had advocated in your numerous write-ups.
Even at that, I am not the owner of PDP. I was not born a PDP member. I had belonged to two political parties before PDP came. I even won my governorship election outside the PDP. And there is still a future outside the PDP. My concern has been that PDP has come a long way and has become very mature, so I think that Nigerians should reap the benefits of its exposure, either in or out of power. But there is always an alternative.

But this can be interpreted to mean you are preparing the grounds for your exit from the PDP.
That is speculative even though it should be expected. But I do not operate that way. I could as well announce that I am leaving now. I do not need to rigmarole. If you read my statement, it is not only because of the PDP that I am taking the steps I am taking. The general polity has become unconducive for people like me to operate, at least for now. I might have done something in politics but even at less than sixty, there are things I still owe myself outside politics.
In fact, I am now beginning to believe that we are doing it the wrong way here in Nigeria, wherein after holding public office for even twelve years, people still scramble for public office to occupy as if their life depends on it. I believe that people should take their experience from politics or public office to outside politics. But there is still so much distraction even outside office. So many people need mentoring outside politics.

But you also still sought to return as governor in 2014.
That was to seek for another opportunity to complete my tenure and also the programmes I had started which would have comprehensively benefitted the good people of my state and erase clannish politics. The framers of our constitution knew what they did when they gave eight years for governors and the president. It has become a norm to do two terms of eight years. And I had a very good chance. You people were here. You saw that the people were angling for my return because of the poor performance of Governor Okorocha. But unfortunately, I was denied the ticket for reasons I would not like to go into here since you already know them.

Are you abandoning that ambition of getting another term?
Not, at all. My latest move does not in any way mean that I have abandoned that project. I am only withdrawing from partisan politics temporarily. In any case, there is no proper politicking going on now. We have close to three more years to go.

But the lead up to 2019 has already begun. Is that not why all the jostling has started even in the APC?
Who says? Nobody is God. You can jostle for ten years and still achieve nothing at the end. It is not about who stays longer making noise. Some people have spent the last twelve years wanting to be governor. They have become professional governorship aspirants. Every election they come out and at the end, they achieve nothing.

Did you carry your followers along in taking this decision?
Yes, of course. My followers respect my judgment. Mind you, I have not said we are quitting politics for good. We are only withdrawing from the current madness.

You think you could have defeated Okorocha if you had been given the ticket?
Definitely, I would have beaten Okorocha. Go to the streets and markets here in Imo and ask. Okorocha performed so badly in his first term and the people were fed up with him. By November 2014, he knew he was going to lose the election. Because of Okorocha’s abysmal performance, Imo people didn’t want to experiment with another untested person. Okorocha survived because PDP primary threw up a candidate that did not resonate with the people.
Today, the situation has become worse. He has ruined the state and the people. He has destroyed every governance institution he met. The civil service has been destroyed. You know of the third tier government that was dead on arrival and now the reduction of working days from five to three. The traditional Institution has been destroyed. He has destroyed the local government system. He has promised local government election four times and nothing happened. He has even destroyed homes. Right now, many married couples living in Owerri are at loggerheads because Okorocha has rendered their families homeless in pursuit of his so called road expansion project. Every place in Owerri the state capital is in shambles.

Why do you think Imo people wanted you back in 2015?
Very simple! One, they have seen that I won the 2011 election. It is no longer a secret. Even the clergy men and the politicians in the then ACN they used against me have confessed. Two, the people have seen the difference between what I did and what the current governor is doing. I can tell you, Imo people are ready to give me another mandate if they are allowed to exercise their franchise.

Governor Okorocha is fond of saying he would retire all key Imo politicians in the PDP before 2019. With this development, don’t you think he will feel he is beginning to achieve what he boasted about?
Well, you know Governor Okorocha is known for trivializing issues. He thinks everything is a joke and I believe he has demonstrated sufficiently that he is a big joker. Anyway, give it to him. He knows how to retire things. What has he not retired in Imo state? He has retired the local government system. He has retired the traditional institutions. He has now retired the civil servants in the state by asking them to work for only three days. Yes, Okorocha will retire the entire state and be the only man walking on the streets of Owerri.

Imo people now know that if you allow Okorocha he will convert the entire state to his private estate and ask everybody to go home. It is left for the people to determine whether or not that is the type of thing they want to hear from their governor. School boy and beer parlour jabs. Imo people are too sophisticated for such pedestrian talks. In any case, Okorocha does not know what it takes to nurture a political party.

He went to APGA, where he was given a ticket free. That was after he had been in and out of over four different parties including the PDP. When they founded APC, he was not even there. He was in APGA. Even in the APC he is an outsider. So, a fellow who has never been part of building a party can talk the way Okorocha talks because he doesn’t know what it means to nurture a party.

He retired APGA that gave him ticket. He killed the party before he dumped it. The very fellows that gave him ticket, you saw how he treated to them. He is doing the same with APC by running it as a one man show. I agree, Okorocha will soon retire all the politicians in the state and convert it into a social club, where he will be doing his comedy shows. Go back and read my statement. The reason I took my decision has nothing to do with how Okorocha is running Imo.

Let’s go back to your decision to withdraw from active politics. You are a strong supporter of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and you have written a lot of articles in his support. What happens to all that effort? You spoke so much about the rule of law. Do you mean you never believed in all that in the first place?
Not, at all. My recent decision does not mean that I did not believe in what I was doing. I still believe in the rule of law but you can now sympathise with me for the fact that the parties have refused to go by that. And I cannot continue with situations against my philosophy.

Back to Imo, four chairmen emerged in the state PDP after the congress last week. What is your take?
Has that not vindicated me? But why should anybody conduct a congress in the state at this time given the current situation? It is nothing but desperation that I am talking about. Anyway, now that I am taking a break, I believe I will have time to strategise on how to unite the entire political class in the state.

Don’t you think it is better to stay within and achieve the corrections you are talking about, because if others took the same step as you, who will then bell the cat?
You know, there is what we call going on sabbatical. It usually enables the fellow to do something else outside his or her core engagement, garner more experience and return with greater energy and vigour. Of course, I will still be in close liaison with other leaders but what I am saying is that I need to take a break from running up and down every day, attending meetings where nobody is ready to yield an inch. During my retreat, I shall find time to consult more closely with other leaders without taking sides.

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My latest move does not in any way mean that I have abandoned that project. I am only withdrawing from partisan politics temporarily. In any case, there is no proper politicking going on now. We have close to three more years to go…My followers respect my judgment. Mind you, I have not said we are quitting politics for good. We are only withdrawing from the current madness.