‘In Imo, There is Distrust Against the State Government’

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Ifeanyi Araraume

The Imo State All Progressives Grand Alliance governorship candidate, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume told Ogheneuvede Ohwovoriole that if he wins the election, the state will regain its lost glory

You emerged winner of the APGA governorship primary election in Imo state. What next?

Like every contest, you have winners and losers. But the most important thing is to unite the party — by talking to all those who contested the primary with you and lost. We are talking to them that APGA is one big formidable family. All of us must work together. The size of government is very large and everyone will find some accommodation. People will work from the local government level up to the national level. We have the local government that will take some people; others may be interested in doing business with government. There is a lot . The most important thing now is to unite everybody and make APGA a formidable machine to win the election in 2019. In the next week few weeks, we will be done with that. We have been doing things at our own level. The party, at the national level has also set up a national reconciliation committee headed by our vice presidential candidate, Chief Jerry Chukwueke. Our talks are yielding results. Many of them are happy. You know my running mate also aspired to be governor. He is from Owerri zone and he is now my running mate. That shows you the level of reconciliation we have done. They are all doing this because they know that APGA is a party that parades what it takes to deal with post-Rochas Okoroacha Imo and to manage the state. To manage a state, you need a lot of skills, sometimes, unusual skills. It takes just more than your qualifications. In the post-Rochas Imo, you will need to do a lot to manage the issues. You will need to bring our people together. Government has actually divided our people. We need to do a lot to prepare our people for the task ahead.

Are you not bothered about the emergence of a group in APGA, which appointed Ike Ibe as its own consensus candidate?

You don’t appoint a consensus candidate after a primary election. The party guidelines on the conduct of primary elections are clear. Even before the primary election, if you meet and appoint someone, the person still has to go through the process of election as set out by the party. The person still has to stand for a ‘’Yes’’ or ‘’No’’ vote. The Electoral panel will still come to observe and ratify it and then send the report to the party. What they have done was outside the party guideline. It is a nullity. It has no foundation in law.

Former Imo state governor Ikedi Ohakim wrote a widely published article recently, alleging that the APGA primary was for the highest bidder. How do you reconcile with some people who seem implacable with the outcome?

I won’t like to join issues with Ohakim. In any case, I am not the National Chairman of APGA. However, if the ticket was for the highest bidder, he would have been the highest bidder. He was a former governor and nobody would have bided higher than him. He was governor in Imo for four years and is still in a position to outbid others. Unfortunately, the APGA ticket was not for sale. Those who voted had seen all of us. Ohakim was given opportunity to lead Imo State for four years and the people saw him perform. The delegates to the APGA primary election were all adults, when Ohakim was governor. They saw him as governor. In any case, this is not the first primary he has gone through, since he left the Imo State Government House. The question is: how did he fare in previous primary elections he contested? Did he win those ones? There are others who have not had the opportunity. I am sure the delegates, in their wisdom, decided to try another person. I think he ought to be kind enough to support the outcome of the primaries. In any case, we hear he is now in Accord Party. I don’t believe that; but that is what is being said. Ohakim is my brother. I think that the best he should do is to support a brother who is now the candidate. He should support this cause. I have spoken with him. We know that the leadership of APGA is not corrupt. However, I think that with time, things will fall in shape. Time heals wounds. We all should work together and make sure that APGA is successful in the 2019 election in Imo State.

What do you think are the most challenging issues in the governance of Imo State?

For me, the most challenging aspect is to get our people back. There is high distrust among the people and against the state government. Our people are like a conquered people. The task is to bring them back to the level they were before and restore their confidence. It will take some time; but I am sure that our victory has begun to address that. In the issue of governance, the starting point is to create policies that will give the people hope. If you look at Imo critically, for instance, the education sector, you will find that nothing is working. The education sector has collapsed. From the primary education level up to the tertiary level, our education has collapsed. We need to get back and rebuild confidence. We need to train and retrain the teachers, boost their morale and pay them living wages. What is happening now is that when you go to our schools, you find that our teachers have become traders. They go to school, carrying buckets containing confectioneries and soft drinks for sale. Some trade in second-hand clothes. Also, the dilapidation of infrastructure is an issue. Even the schools where these kids are learning are not even good for learning.

We need to tackle these and address them immediately. Look also at our local government system. It is dead. As I speak to you, no local government in Imo State gets their allocation. None; so, you need to work on that; reassure the people and rebuild their confidence; make sure that each local government gets what is due to it and also work with it. I will ensure that each local government chairman resides within the local government. It boosts confidence of the people. What obtains today is that no one sees a local government chairman because he is never in his office. They come around once or twice in a month and disappear. They come when there is money to pay salary and that is it. Some don’t even go to office. So, how does the local government area develop when the chief executive of the council does not even live in the area even when they have official residences? Again, if you look at our traditional institution in Imo state, you will find that it has been destroyed and reduced to nothing. By the last count, we have more than 600 autonomous communities and our Ezes have been reduced to nothing. They are made to come to the stadium for match past, like students, when a dignitary visits the state. That is not done anywhere in the world. So, to restore the dignity of the traditional institution, and bring back the respect that they used to have, has to happen. But, more importantly, is the issue of good governance. There is urgent need to recover Imo and bring it back. Imo is derailed. To bring Imo back is a task that must be done; and to do that, you need a formidable team. Luckily, we have a very vibrant crop of young people who are ready to work. All you need to do is to bring them together, engage them and they will do the work. Imo used to be one of the best states in terms of education, sanitation, hospitability- the state used to be number one. But it has gone down. These are challenges that we will tackle as soon as we take over.

If you take over, what policies of the incumbent government will you uphold and which one would you drop? Secondly, how would you address the narrative of personalisation of governance in Imo?

The Gvernor of Imo state, Rochas Okorocha, may have meant well in trying to open up some roads in Imo State. There is no doubt about that. But one thing is to open up roads, it is another thing to make it meaningful. To open up a road, one important thing is to have a quality study by experts on the implications and the end point. If you open up a road, what would you achieve? That is a very critical question. You don’t do a four-lane road that empties into a single lane. It is like moving the Atlantic Ocean into River Niger. That will be chaotic. The best you can do is to have a study and know why you must open a road. You must have a reason for it and also know what that development will lead to. Will it open up a new layout and create new residential places for the people? There must be an end in sight before opening up roads. He has done quite some few like the inland roads. But again, you don’t do such projects by employing some locals to build roads using head pans and shovels, without designs. As they are being built; they are going bad. The roads are going bad in such a manner that the governor who built them is himself so surprised that he even said the rains in Imo are acidic. There are no acidic rains. It is simply the quality of construction. I believe that Imo deserves to have first class construction companies developing its infrastructure. Imo deserves quality infrastructure.

There are very many reputable and qualified construction companies that can build infrastructure in Imo. If you also look at the costs of the roads he is building, they go even higher than when done by reputable and capable constructions firms. Moreover, when you do such constructions, you get less involved. Reputable construction firms do not just construct roads, they also do construction management — such that they know when and how to divert traffic so people don’t have to suffer. That is not the case in Imo. Also, take a look at our healthcare sector. In Imo state today, every local government area has a general hospital, long before Rochas came. But what makes a hospital? It is the equipment, consumables and qualified medical personnel. But in the last eight years, it is debatable if Imo state has recruited medical doctors, not to talk of nurses. It is not about buildings that you can no longer complete but in equipping the existing hospitals, renovate and refurbish them and make them functional. We have existing general hospitals that all you need do is to renovate, refurbish and equip them and not to build new ones. Unfortunately, most of the general hospitals do not even have consumable like syringes, plasters, hand gloves etc. Even the only tertiary medical institution that we have, built by Achike Udenwa, at Orlu, is no longer functional. So, for me, instead of building 27 hospitals in the 27 local government areas that you unable to complete, you can have only three well-equipped and functional referral hospitals in the three senatorial zones and then upgrade the general hospitals also by equipping them and employ appropriate personnel for them. There are a lot of Nigerian doctors working outside Nigeria who will be willing to comeback here and work if the conditions are right.

One of the candidates you will face is the APC candidate. Some have argued that there are no difference between him and the incumbent. Do you see things from that perspective too?

Those who argue that there are no differences between the APC candidate and the incumbent, may, in a way, be right because both of them are from the same senatorial district. They are from the same Orlu Senatorial district that produced Udenwa who was there for eight years. That district has held the governorship for 16 years and the APC candidate is also coming from there. Many people in Imo State feel it is not fair on the sensibility of people from other zones. To that extent, there is no difference. But again, in terms of the issues of governance, every Imo person knows the three of us. I am the candidate of APGA. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha is candidate of PDP, and Sen. Hope Uzodimma is candidate of APC. We are not new to Imo. Imo people know us all and they know our pedigree. Imo people knew me before I became senator in 1999. They have seen me since I left the Senate. They know the business that I do and some of them even visit my businesses. They know my family and they know my village.

The people know the schools that I went to. Imo people know that I went to Dick Tiger Memorial Secondary School Amaigbo. They know I school at Liberty University in Pittsburg, Virginia, USA. They knew me as a student in the University of Benin. I have classmates. Those who lectured me are still there. The principal of my college at Amaigbo, Chief Hillary Iwueke, passed on three years ago. His wife is still there. So, in terms of academics, the people know me very well. They can also talk about the academic records of Emeka and those of Hope. They can also talk about the schools they attended. We have all filled INEC forms and they are now public documents. You can have a look at them. The people should know these details so they can make inform decisions. Emeka is an Anglican. I am a Catholic. Hope is a Catholic too. So, we are also known among the clergy. For me, these are things that are in the market place. They are not hidden. You can even write to INEC to make the documents available to you. So, the big question to ask every Imo person, the trader, the small and medium scale entrepreneur, the big businessman, the clergy etc., is who, among the three of us, can manage Imo well after Rochas? Who can give our people the leadership confidence that they seek? Who can look at situations dispassionately and take action? Who can act in the interest of the state and not of friends and cronies? Imo people should ask themselves who among the three of us can lead Imo without looking at what benefits their family? Being a governor is not an easy assignment. If you are empty, the office will further expose you. If you have nothing to offer, the office will expose you. Don’t forget, a governor is one who sits over life and death. What it means is that a man who sits in that office must have his head properly examined. As a senator, you may miss sitting all year and you won’t be noticed. Sometimes, your input may not be needed for a bill to pass. But you can’t hide as a governor. I think that experiences of the past have made Imo people wiser. And of course, there will be debates where people will state their knowledge of the economy and governance. Issues will be raised and addressed.

There are some political elite in Imo State who believe that you are too independent minded and cannot be controlled. What is your take on that?

There are things that people say and they become your strength. There are also things they say and they become weakness. I know that people always support someone they believe they can control. But it has never worked. I believe that you support someone you can partner with; not control. I don’t expect that any person will control me. I rather expect that we can partner and develop the state. For instance, If I am Imo Governor, nothing will make me compromise quality, no matter who you are. I won’t toy with that. There is nothing wrong if you work with people, who are knowledgeable in certain areas. I don’t believe you need to work only with people who are from your area and your friends. It won’t work that way with me. I believe that I am going to give Imo the best. Everyone who needs a job, and is competent and qualified to handle the job, will get it. It is not going to be friends of governor or people who knew him or his family members. That is the problem they think that I have. But the beauty of it is that they started thinking this way since 2007. Since then, they have had Ohakim and Rochas. And I don’t see how their attempt to control them has worked. I don’t see the outcome in terms of real development. Again, if you look at all the states, where there has been this control you talked about, you would wonder what the outcome has been. It did not work in Zamfara State. It did not work In Kano State. It did not work in Akwa Ibom State. Control has not worked anywhere, where you made someone a governor and believe you will control him from the outside. What I have seen work is that you see a man and you look at his pedigree, review his background and assess his progress, his strengths and his visions. That makes better sense. As governor, I won’t make appointments based on people who come to my house to worship me. No way. I will look at people who are qualified. I will engage you if you have something to offer, something which will collectively make Imo a better place. That will be the basis of appointments. Not familiarity. For me, it is not issue of control, but of partnerships for the good of Imo state.

The IMO governorship contest is looking like a three-horse race with PDP, APC and APGA. How easy will it be to market APGA to the people?

APGA in the southeast has a very wonderful reference and that is Anambra State. It is a state where APGA has been in power progressively more than 10 years. Now, compare the developments in Anambra on all sectoral fronts: education, agriculture, security, infrastructure, governance, relationship between Church and society etc., and you see that Anambra stands out. There is no other state in the Southeast that equates Anambra on all development indicators. That is a reference for APGA. You can’t say that of PDP and APC in the south east. Therefore, the party, on its own, stands out. If you stick to the party manifesto, Imo will be a better place. There is no doubt about that. At the end of the day, the voters will look at the candidates, their pedigrees and background and then, look at the parties and what they represent and make their choice.