A former governor of Imo State, Dr Ikedi Ohakim, in an interview with Amby Uneze, took a swipe at those claiming not to understand what restructuring the country means accusing them of being economical with the truth. Excerpts:
What do you think is the solution to the leadership problem in Nigeria?
The solution is very simple once we are ready to change the system. The problem in Nigeria is systemic and therefore its solution must be systemic. If you bring a Barack Obama here or wake up Nelson Mandela or Margaret Thatcher to govern Nigeria, they will fail because the system wonâ€™t let them succeed. Remember that at a point, President Buhari confessed that what he saw after assuming office tempted him to think of running away. The system we currently have is structured for failure. It has not worked for 50 years. Each president or head of state would serve his own tenure and go and leave the highly fractured system behind.
So, the system must be redesigned to shift it from consumption oriented to production oriented. What we operate currently is a system of cap-in-hand instead of hoe-in-hand. The structure was designed for sharing, not for producing. How did we come about 774 local government areas? Was it not because of sharing mentality? If the system were based on production, we would not have the number of local government areas and even states we have today. If the system was such that people needed to go and work and then bring something to the central table, nobody will agitate for states. Initially, the idea was that states would take development closer to the people. But what did we end up with? We ended up with states that cannot generate half of what they need simply because there is money to share in Abuja every month. It is not the fault of the state governments per se. It is because the system allows it. The system allows for sharing not producing. But whether we like it or not, something has to give. What we now have is a burst pipe but instead of calling a plumber to replace it, we are merely scooping water. But no amount of scooping can solve the problem. What we need is to change the pipe.
Are you talking about restructuring?
Yes, of course I was among the first set of people to start the debate on restructuring. Today, the argument has become trite. Everybody is talking about it. I remain resolute on my stand that the current political arrangement is no longer working. So, let us restructure the country politically. Either we restructure or we die. But having said that, I want to ask us to find out why the talk about restructuring has gained so much currency. Why is it that people who never liked the idea before suddenly developed so much interest on the matter? My take is that if it were about unemployment, bad roads or inadequate electricity supply alone, nobody would be talking about restructuring. The restructuring issue gathered momentum owing to the fact that the separatist movements, across the country have gotten to a stage where it is threatening the corporate existence of the country.
But some leaders say they do not understand what it means?
It is not true. They know what it means. They are being economical with the truth. We have a situation where a set of politicians came together some time ago and wrote a partyâ€™s manifesto with which they canvassed for votes, promising to restructure the country if voted into office and with the argument that the present system is no longer working. But less than two years later, the same people are saying that they do not know what restructuring means. So, what did they have in mind when they were promising Nigerians restructuring? That is the height of national deceit and I challenge the leaders of that party to tell Nigerians what they had in mind instead of pretending. We are talking about building a new foundation for the country called Nigeria to avoid disintegration. We are talking about renovating an ancient building that can no longer accommodate its occupants. Today, we can group Nigeria into two; the advantaged and the disadvantaged. We must bring the two together by restructuring the country so that both sides can find accommodation together. If we donâ€™t restructure, the separatist agitations will continue and even intensify. Personally, I have been talking about restructuring since 2010 in a paper I presented at the Leadership newspaper colloquium. Those who say no to restructuring should save Nigerians the agony of continuing with the present system. The country is going down. This is not the time to pretend. A massive flood is coming with a full speed and if we do not do something now, it will sweep everybody away.
You just turned 60, what does that mean to you?
What turning sixty means to me is the need to show gratitude to God for the gift of life? To be sixty and still enjoy a fantastically good health as I do is something to really thank God for. Beyond that, however, I think it confers on me more responsibility for looking after the younger ones and guiding them so that they can also succeed like me.
You mean mentoring?
Naturally yes. That is what is expected of us but I can tell you that that cannot be taken for granted. As I said before, attaining this age with all the experience of life demands that I pay more attention to the younger ones. It is not that I have not been doing that; what I am saying is that we will do more from now onwards. Much of the problem we are facing today is as a result of poor mentoring. You notice that most people who held leadership positions abandon the role of leadership immediately they leave office. They no longer make themselves available to the younger people. That should not be. For me, holding an elective or appointive political office is to prepare one for more leadership responsibility after office.
What inspires you?
My source of inspiration is that I know what it means to succeed as a young man. I became the president-general of my town union at the age of 25 and held the position for nine years.
When I was in office as governor, my administration had an electorate programme for youth development. We created over 300,000 jobs directly and indirectly. We had a special programme that took in 10,000 youths directly into the state civil service. And we invested heavily on sports and it paid off handsomely. For example, Imo state under my watch won the African Hockey Championship. The state football club, Heartland, emerged second runner up in the 2010 African Cup of Champions at the finals played in Congo Democratic Republic. You asked me what inspires me to work for the interest of the youth and I can now add that part of it is the way those young men and women were treated by the administration that took over from us. In or out of political office, we will not relent until Imo youths get better treatment from their leaders especially the government.
Your response tends to suggest that you may still run for public office?
There are numerous ways of working for the people without being in government. In any case, a lot of people have created so many opportunities for the youth through private enterprises. But given the present situation in the country, my ideas do not preclude using the platform of a public office, including that of the governor, to pursue our dream of making my state, Imo, an economically vibrant entity where employment opportunities will abound and where the standard of living will be greatly enhanced.
What was your experience like as governor?
We ran a sound administration. We ran an administration that was anchored on the rule of law. We consulted extensively and it was not a one man show. Even though our opponents used rumour mongering as a device to run us down and given the type of society we have, where people believe everything bad about those in government, we still won the governorship election on April 26th 2011. But that is a different matter altogether. Today, I have the last laugh because our people have now realised that they were deceived. They have seen the difference as in the proverbial woman who married two husbands.
Do you have any regrets politically?
My only regret is the untimely death of President Yarâ€™adua because he was a selfless leader. Look at the way he handled the Niger Delta issue, the amnesty programme which almost brought the crisis in that region to an end. If he had continued, we would not have been talking about restructuring today. He would have laid the foundation for a pragmatic restructuring of the country. Other than that, I have no regrets because I was sincere in all that I did. I rendered selfless service and was concerned with laying a solid foundation for the economic and social development of the state. I was not out to amass wealth for myself or members of my family. The only properties I have today in the whole of Imo state are the ones I acquired more than fifteen years before I became governor; a three bedroom bungalow in Owerri and a village house in Okohia, my home town. I did not acquire a single plot of land in Owerri. Instead, a piece of land I was given by a previous administration I gave to a top police officer from the state who was retiring from service and had nowhere to build his own house. I never revoked anybodyâ€™s land title.
Do you see the Supreme Court’s ruling on the leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) bringing the crisis to an end?
Technically, the Supreme Court ruling is expected to bring the crisis to an end, in the sense that it provides the leadership of the party with a handle to pursue a political solution. Judicial verdicts do not usually completely resolve political disputes but now that we are out of the court, we have to return home for brotherly reconciliation. To achieve this requires a lot of sacrifice from everybody. This is not the time to flaunt influence or connection. I hear some of our leaders talk about amnesty but that is the wrong word to use. We should not see the matter as one in which some people committed an offence for which they can now be granted pardon. That is a wrong approach. It is politically incorrect to talk about amnesty under the circumstances.
At the heat of the crisis, you announced that you were proceeding on a sabbatical from politics, a move, observers said was a ploy to abandon the party. The other day, you were at the party’s NEC meeting. Are you now back from the sabbatical?
Those who insinuated that I was abandoning the PDP were mischief makers and had a poor grasp of issues. Go back to all the articles I wrote during the period of my sabbatical and you will see that I wrote unmistakably as a PDP member; and that I kept saying that we should look for a political solution. In any case, everybody was on sabbatical. Is it because I had the courage to make my own public? Tell me, what politics went on throughout that period, even up till now. The entire PDP itself was on sabbatical but I am glad that everybody has returned. During the period I was supposed to be on sabbatical, I wrote more essays and memos on the PDP crisis and other national issues than I ever did. I consulted excessively on the matter and conferred with many leaders. But having said that, remember that I announced my sabbatical after the third re-run of the senatorial election in my zone, Okigwe. There was a brazen rape of democracy. I had never seen such a massive rigging before. Some people heaped sand at the gate of INEC office to stop the movement of officials and party agents. So, it was a sort of protest against the shenanigans.