Stanley Nkwazema interacts with Professor Jude Njoku, former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Owerri and member of the Imo State executive council who aspires to become chief executive of the state.
I have a special motivation to aspire to govern Imo State. I believe that Imo State needs credible and knowledgeable leadership that you can trust-a leadership that is development oriented and equally seeks the welfare and prosperity of the people. A leadership that will restore the dignity of the people. We now live in a state that has been relatively bastardised. The people have suffered some degree of dehumanisation. We need to raise the psyche of our people again. We need to raise hope and confidence in our people. By my training and exposure; experience and maturity, I have all it takes to give that kind of leadership. I started my academic career at the Ahmadu Bello University in 1977 and in 1983, I transferred my services to the Federal University of Technology Owerri, starting from headship of a department; I am an Agric Economist by training. In 1990, I became the Dean of Student Affairs and rose to the post of Deputy Vice Chancellor Administration in 1997 and eventually became the Vice Chancellor of that university in 2000 and finished in 2005. I also had the opportunity to be appointed the Honourable Commissioner for Lands under the regime of Ikedi Ohakim.
Experiences from the North, Academia and Political terrain
Whatever I grew to be in academics was as a result of the exposure I got from the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. What I am as a technocrat and administrator also started from my time in the university. I was elected the best Vice Chancellor in Nigeria in 2004 because I ran a university where there were no crises and of course the university witnessed some unprecedented development. My serving as a commissioner exposed me to the rudiments of state administration and governance. From there I got to know how the system functions. That is what enabled me to begin to have political aspirations. As a commissioner, you have to be involved in all electioneering planning and implementation because you were expected to deliver your local government to the party. Without serving as a commissioner for four years, I probably wouldn’t have had the experience and exposure in politics.
Do you have the blessing of the Owerri people and your family?
Before I embarked on this journey, I had consultations with my family and they gave approval. I must say that initially my wife was hesitant in the sense that she was afraid that my getting involved might affect her position as Rector of Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri, a federal institution that is under an-All Progressives Congress (APC) led government and I am contesting under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I assured her that it was not going to affect her because she will be finishing this September; in fact she will finish before the primaries. When she became convinced, she started praying. I also had my declaration in my local government and they also gave their blessing. In Owerri zone where I come from, I also have their support and that of the entire Imo State.
Do you have the war chest to contest against Ihedioha, a former Deputy Speaker and Sam Anyanwu a serving senator?
There is also another man called Chukwuma Ekomaru, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in the race from Owerri zone. I think the most serious contenders with me are Ihedioha and Sam Daddy. I wouldn’t say that it would be very easy for me to defeat them because they are also heavy weights. But I also know that is possible to defeat them. I think I have one advantage over them which is that of being a technocrat and also a huge experience in leadership, management and administration as well as coming from a constituency which none of them come from because I come from the academic community, that is my primary constituency. If I am, given the ticket, the entire staff and students of Federal University of Science and Technology Owerri where I come from, will rise up to my support, the same will happen for the staff and students of Federal Polytechnic Nekede, the Imo state University, Alvan Ikoku, Imo state Polytechnic and even College of Land Resources.
I was Commissioner for Education and I have developed some friendship with the teachers in primary and secondary schools. Most of the young men and women working around here and outside the state are my products and they have promised that once I get the ticket, they will express their support because I belong to them and they belong to me. My colleagues who left the party for All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) which is already crowded are saying that if I am given the ticket they will vote for me because they went there in anger. There was this feeling that some other person had monopolised the party and they had to move away. The same is also applicable to the people in the APC; a lot of them come here to pledge that they will vote for me if I get the ticket. Another advantage is I’m the least controversial aspirant. I haven’t stepped on any toe. I am new. They have been so long that they have stepped on several toes. There is some kind of fight between the two other aspirants and the view is that if they fight too much, they might ask the two of them to step aside and then they will look for somebody else. This may be an advantage to me.
I will be the Governor of Imo and not Owerri Alone
Having looked at the infrastructural deficit in Imo state, I want to be the Governor of Imo state and not Owerri because there are three main zones that make up Imo state and they will receive almost commensurate attention. I believe that a viable and effective civil service is essential to the successful implementation of any government programme. The civil service in Imo state is basically dead. One would like to start with some kind of reform in the civil service so that we will bring it back to life and make it viable to sustain government policies. I also think that we must revive and revitalise the local government system which is also basically dead and that can be done by ensuring that you allow local government elections to take place and also allow them to be autonomous both administratively and financially because that level of governance will take care of various areas of development if properly managed and guided. If you allow the local council areas to conduct elections and produce the leadership, those councilors will in turn create some level of employment. They will look at the developmental need of the people in the local government areas. You can give them targets like constructing five kilometres of road every year. Bby the time you finish about 20 Kilometres of roads must have been constructed. For eight years, you will be able to take care of the needs of basic infrastructure, medicare and educational needs at that level. While development is taking place at the state level, it is also taking place at the local government level. On the education sector, the present government prides itself with offering free education but we do know that what they are offering is not free education because the students pay fees in other forms. I don’t intend to scrap the free education, I will improve on it.
The present free education is restricted to institutions owned by the state government alone; it doesn’t extend to other federal institutions, I will like to augment that with the award of scholarship and bursaries so that all eligible indigenes of Imo state whether within and outside the state owned institutions can benefit from that educational scholarship and bursary programmes. That way you handle it in a more holistic manner and you are able to reach out to more indigenes of Imo state even if that means pegging the level of support to something that is reasonable to make sure it reaches several other people. In other to ensure that there is quality in the system you must make sure that the institutions are adequately staffed and funded so that students are very well taught.
Situations where you have about 300-500 students and you have only one Maths teacher and one English teacher is grossly inadequate. You also have to provide other facilities; classrooms, offices, adequate staff, workshops libraries and laboratories and also games facilities because part of human development is both mental and physical so that at the end of the day you have not only free education but qualitative education. In our state the only functional medical facility is the Federal Medical centre Owerri. All the other general hospitals are not functional. You find out that the present government built 27 structures that are supposed to be hospitals in all the local government areas but none of them is equipped, staffed or functional. We will like a situation where we will have basic, medicare, some functional general hospitals, health centres in the local government council where people can get basic medical care if they have ailments in the rural areas. We should aspire to revitalise all these. When you talk about infrastructures which are a big thing now; if you go through Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe, there are no roads. There is what they call urban renewal, but there is nothing to talk about it. The areas affected are small and translate to destruction of basic services; drainages have been destroyed and, pipes and cables excavated.
Restoring the Owerri master plan, recalling the Swiss experts
We have to restore or restructure that master plan because it has been destroyed and distorted. What one would like to do is to call back those original planners and let them review the original plan. To a large extent, that master plan can be restored or modified because if there is a distortion, there is not much you can do except to restore or restructure so that we can follow the plan systematically. What has happened is that every government that has come has abandoned that plan and decided to create its own plan thereby disrupting what was on ground. Honestly, Owerri was beautifully designed but I am afraid that it has been totally distorted particularly within the past eight years and we should be able to invite them to have another look at that plan and restore to a large extent the basics of that design since we know they are still existing. Otherwise we should be able to engage other town planners with a view to having a restructured master plan that can guide development. If you come into Owerri there is this urban renewal that is taking place; usually you don’t expand roads at the centre of the city. Road expansions usually take place on the highways, but the mistakes have been made, we will find a way amend those mistakes and of course stop further distortion of facilities occasioned by the so called urban renewal. If you go to Owerri and some urban areas of the state, there are no roads and you can’t move around. The whole place is in a total mess. In my own view let’s look at what has happened in Anambra state, almost any nook and cranny of the area has been tarred to the ones that lead to the farmstead. The road construction is such that when you get into a town, you tar the inner roads, not just the highways and I think that is what we should emulate. If I have the opportunity, I wouldn’t want a situation where after four years a place like Egbu, Naze, Orji or World Bank, still go without good roads. Those roads are very short roads and it’s a matter of commissioning contractors to do the roads, you bring in reputable ones and go into a turnkey kind of arrangement.
You bring them in and they have the money to mobilise and every month as the funds come in you release a certain amount to them as a kind of refund, but they have already taken off. You give them a plan to systematically to begin to build the roads, standard roads that will have a life span of basically about 50 years. In the US and other countries, they build roads that last about 100 years and they don’t even use this tar that we have here, they use cement as if they are decking the place and good enough that Dangote is doing a similar thing in Obajana area of Kogi state. We should be aiming at that both in the urban and in the rural areas. This is why I emphasise on autonomy to the local government areas so that while you are dealing with the roads in the urban areas, the local council deal with the rural roads. One would also like to emphasise agriculture as the main stay of our economy and the potential of generating a lot of employment. We pride ourselves with a cash crop, that is, the palm tree but for some time now it has been neglected. Ada Palm is an oil factory that processes oil palm, it used to be the cash cow of Imo State but it has gone moribund, one would revitalise it and also institute a scheme for replanting healthier and more fruit yielding varieties. It is not a hidden fact that places like Malaysia got their initial palm seeds from Imo State and now they have overtaken us and there is no reason why we should not strive to catch up or exceed them in terms of using agriculture to generate internal revenue. We should also ensure that in terms of meeting our basic food needs, this area is also blessed with the soil that yields nutritious food crops, basically cassava and grain like maize but here we practice intercropping systems, we should also venture into animal production and go into the value chain aspect so that we don’t only produce but we can process, store and market.
Owerri has no water supply system. Everybody is living on boreholes. We had a water board along Okigwe Road but it has now been brought down and a school built there. We need to restore it. We cannot continue to run a system where there is no urban water supply. We should also venture into augmenting our power supply system. Some states are getting involved in this Independent Power projects and there is no reason why we should not get involved so that we augment what we get from the national grid because that is the basis of any form of industrialisation
Owerri Zone and the perceived imbalance.
In Owerri zone, we have basically four political blocks and Ngor Okpala is one, Mbaise with three local governments, Mbaike with two and then Uratta which is Owerri, the federal constituency is another. Ngor Okapala is the only bloc that has never produced a senator, minister, governor, deputy governor or ambassador. It is only in 2015, after 12 years that we were able to produce somebody to go to the House of Representatives so I regard Ngor Okpala as the most politically marginalised bloc in Owerri zone. If you ask me if there were some kind of zoning within the zone. The plea now is give Ngor Okpala a chance. If you go to Aboh Mbaise, even when Jonathan was the President, Mbaise had the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in the person of Emeka Ihedioha, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Minister. Even coming to Ikeduru where the late Evan Enwerem comes from, he was Governor and also Senator and became Senate President, Dr. Laz Unogu was Minister, Chuka Odom was Minister, Late Ama Iwuagwu was a Senator and now Sam Daddy Anyanwu is a Senator and also aspiring to be Governor, Obaji was a Minister. If you come to Owerri which we call Urattta, Kema Chikwe was a Minister and Ambassador to Ireland, Captain Emma Iheanacho was a Minister and Eze Ajoku was a Senator. It is Ngor Okpala that has never tasted these things and we think that on the basis of fairness, justice and equity indigenes of that bloc should be given a chance
Don’t you think your involvement will affect your life, career and family?
I have four children, two girls who came first and are all married and the last two boys who have all finished from school. One is a medical doctor and the last one is doing his masters in Canada. I am not aspiring to be governor to have money to train my children. I have a place in Owerri and in my village because you know in Igboland once you have a place in the village and in the town, I think you are okay and any other thing is extra. I have always lived in Owerri since 1983 when I joined the Federal University of Technology. I know the terrain. If you ask me. If I become Governor some of the few roads that I will do is the link road that starts from Obinze through Ihiagwa, Nekede, Naze, Egbu, Awaka, Orji flowing into Mbieri. If you do that road, it will drastically improve the flow of traffic. There is another one that starts close to the river in Ulakwo, passing through Emii, Emekeukwu, Ihite Ogada and Orji again. These are link roads that you can do to decongest the place and the master plan has provision for a road that shoots out somewhere around where they now call Akachi and pass through the former IBC, passing through Chukwuma Nwoha before getting to Orji, these are things that are in the master plan of Owerri and need to be done. Even the drainage that empties into Nworie River has been neglected and bastardised. That is why you notice heavy flooding in Owerri whenever it rains. I have been here for 30 years and I don’t intend to leave. When I was Vice Chancellor, there was a temptation to buy land in Abuja but I rejected the offer because I wasn’t interested in living in Abuja. Rather I will go back to my village. You must empathise with the people because at the end of the day you will still meet the people. Do the best while in office because one day you will come and still find the people. Yyou need to be careful what you do with them.
IN THE MIRROR:
1. Distinguished academician; started as a lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University in 1977. Transferred his services to the Federal University of Technology Owerri in 1983. He became the Vice Chancellor of the university in 2000 and finished in 2005
2. Recognised for running the best university administration in Nigeria in 2004. The institution recorded no crisis during his tenure
3. During his tenure as VC of FUTO 23 structures were started and completed, student population jumped from 10000 to 20000. His service period was known as FUTO’s golden age
4. Agric Economist by training
5. Appointed Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Planning under the regime of Ikedi Ohakim regime
6. His wife is the serving Rector of Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri
7. Campaigning on Restoration Agenda through which he intends to restore the state to its lost glory on the platform of the PDP