Rochas Okorocha: Nigeria Needs Outside the Box Thinker
With curious confidence and quick wit, a former Imo State governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha, has sent some innocuous warning to his co-contestants for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that, as an old hand, attempts to take him for granted in the equation could be counterproductive. Proudly reeling off his record, both in his days as governor and in personal capacity through his foundation, Okorocha is of the view that if the election is about performance record, name recognition, capacity and Nigerianness of each aspirant, then, it’s game over. In this second in a series presidential interview with THISDAY, Okorocha shares his ideas on how to fix Nigeria and stop the cycle of pushing over the existential problems. Excerpts:
First off, are you really serious about your bid for the presidency, or you just want to crowd the space?
Well, I’m running for the office of the president because of my passion and vision to make this country great. If that is what is meant by being serious, then, I’m serious. My seriousness is deeply rooted in my passion and the position I think I possess to change the narratives in this country called Nigeria.
It is born out of the fact that I’m sick and tired of the same old story of a nation that seems not to be making any headway. So simply put, if that’s what’s meant by serious, I’m serious. But if that seriousness means jumping in front of the television or insulting people or doing anything like that, then, I’m not part of that seriousness. My seriousness is more of my passion and vision.
Many think that your aspiration is unattainable no matter how hard you beat it, or beat the road. How really serious are you?
Why does somebody think it’s unattainable? Why? I don’t understand, unless you tell me why. But I don’t think any Nigerian today would say it’s unattainable. If you look at the mood of the nation and the aspirants, then, you know I’m the best man for the job right now.
We’re not talking about a normal nation; we are talking about an abnormal nation. So we need an outside-the-box thinker to change the narratives, because the situation and the mood of the nation now require a unifier. Someone who possesses the credentials, or qualities and capacity to unite this country.
Rochas stands atop on this agenda. If bringing Nigerians together is anything to write home about in this very dispensation, then, I qualify. If you are talking about somebody, who can change the narrative of our economy, I qualify, and if you should tell me about somebody, who has a compassionate heart for the downtrodden, who really cares, then I qualify.
These are the three things I think Nigeria is asking for right now. Nigerians are not asking for empty promises or lecture series to say, “I will, I will”, but someone with a track record and antecedents and if that’s the thing, then I am the most qualified.
Apart from you just declaring, you’ve not been seen like other serious aspirants going round consulting and meeting people?
No, I have contested for president not second or third, but this will be the fourth time. So we understand the terrain and Rochas Okorocha is not a new name in Nigerian politics.
But of course, there are new entrants in the contest. I think apart from myself and Atiku Abubakar, every other person is just a newcomer to the whole thing. So, they need some level of noise-making or showing of presence for people to understand that you’re in the game.
Tinubu is a first-timer. He hasn’t run before.
But he has a national presence..
That’s a different thing when you say you want to be a president. People must assess you and if you look at the backlashes and all that is happening, you don’t see that happening with me, because I’ve been tried and tested. What would you say, that I have not cleared the air before? So they need to do what they are doing to get that kind of relevance.
I have declared and I’m making my quiet consultation. If you recall, Rochas had the most colourful election campaign in 2002, preceding the 2003 election and if you remember, with long cars and all. Those are becoming old-fashioned. We’re looking at issues more. And I think this election in 2023 should be issue-driven, not by the noise-making or propaganda.
You said something about those who have track records. Let’s interrogate your track record. Your tenure in Imo was very controversial and you are presumably basing your track record on it?
When you are talking about track records, I’ll give you a few points. I say to Nigerians today that we have a major problem of 14.5 million out-of-school children, we need to put those children back to school.
There’s no other person qualified to speak on free education or putting the students back to school than Rochas Okorocha. Why? The Rochas Foundation has colleges built across the length and breadth of this nation in every geopolitical zone. From Sokoto to Zaria, to Kano to Bauchi, to Jos to Adamawa, Oyo, Imo, Enugu, Cross River and of course, the African schools that brought children from all African countries totalling over 25,000 children since inception.
Now, if I have done that, then if I say I want to take 14.5 million out-of-school children and put them to school, believe me, it will be done. That’s what I mean by track record. If I said to you that I will unite this country, believe me, because passion and love saw me take off from Imo, 1000 kilometres away from Kano, travelling there to put up my assets and wealth to educate the poor of that area.
All the places I mentioned, I’m not from there. So if I tell you that I have in the past, through my education or foundation united this country, believe me. I don’t think there’s any Nigerian, who can speak like I speak, being from the north or south, any politician that has criss-crossed this nation to invest in the people that are not of his tribe.
This is our point and what I mean by track record. If you say that today, a poverty-ridden nation that has qualified us as the poverty capital of the world needs a compassionate leader, someone who really cares for the poor, because you have to care to really think of them, I tell you, Rochas Okorocha qualifies much more than anyone; who can say he will do that?
This is what I mean by track record, but coming to Imo, I’ll summarise it, this time for you to understand. As the governor of Imo state, I introduced the first-ever free education from primary to secondary to university, first time in the history of Nigeria on record.
As a governor of the state, I sacrificed my security votes, totalling about N8 billion so that free education can be given to the poor. As governor of Imo State, I introduced the “Youth Must Work” programme and engaged over 25, 000 youths. That gave us what we called relative peace for eight years, that you never heard of killings and beheading of people.
As a track record, I introduced the “Community Government Council”, the 4th tier of government that brought government closer to the grassroots to allow traditional leaders and women to form a mini-government to take care of their communities such that when a roof of a school goes off, you don’t have to wait for the commissioner for education to come from Owerri, the community can fix it before it gets worse. That was vision and that’s track record.
Now, I could mention that as a governor, I built over 1000 kilometres of roads, that I built 546 primary schools and I built 13 tertiary institutions, six universities licenced by the NUC in Imo State. I built the best international cargo airport in Nigeria as described by FAAN during the inauguration by Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president.
I built 27 general hospitals and in 100 years to come, they will be functioning fully. I changed the landscape of Imo and introduced the first urban renewal programme, with the first-ever two flyovers, the first-ever two tunnels, and ushered in the biggest real estate. The value of land skyrocketed from N500,000 in 2011 to between N50 million and N200 million in 2019 before I left office.
I had one of the best state high court buildings in this country and the best police headquarters built by the Imo State government, with the standard better than any police headquarters in Nigeria, except the one in Abuja.
I am proud to say also that I built the best prison command or what is called correctional centre, because the one we had before was directly opposite the government house and posed serious danger. You know what is interesting is that, people then trusted the government, people believed the government and my empowerment programme was second to none.
There was entrepreneurship where each ward in Imo State got a trial programme on entrepreneurship by making a nobody, a millionaire. So I created 305 millionaires and guided them and they are there on record.
In all of these, I left N48.3 billion behind which has never been mentioned and without owing any bank N1, when I left office. The truth is that I wasn’t a propagandist, and I was not very good at propaganda. So most people don’t understand.
I introduced the first online commissioning, because I wanted to save funds by cutting costs of governance and you know that my state is not one of the wealthiest states. What Imo collects in 12 months, 14 months is what Rivers collects in one month and so is Delta. I was the most out-of-the-box thinker, and I created so much wealth for Imo State before I left, because I didn’t run it by just subvention and that’s what I want to bring to bear.
Interestingly, some of the roads you claimed to have built were said to have fallen apart immediately after you left office. That they were poorly done, including the dualised Orlu-Owerri road, Amara road, inland road (warehouse junction), around Emmanuel College, and the two flyovers, among others?
Let me guide you. When they start with “Rochas did nothing” and I start mentioning them, they go back to quality. When I tell them the quality is correct, they say, oh… but you have agreed that I performed, that I did an awesome job.
But now you picked some few kilometres out of over 1000 kilometres of internal roads within the city to say they’re bad. I want you to go to Imo State and see those roads. Whether it is what they’re saying, whether it is true or not. Granted that when you finish road construction, after eight years or six years, they develop some potholes.
It could be because a broken-down vehicle, spilling engine oil was parked overnight there and there’s a chemical reaction or some people had blocked the drainage and water tried to find a different way, which is common with Imo State’s erosion, or that there were construction defects naturally, which is why they make room for maintenance.
But the roads do exist and if you go to those roads, it’s the standard eight-lane roads that made sure that there was no more traffic in the state and to tell you, to shock you, to make it more succinctly clear, I built more roads than any government, more hospitals, more schools, more infrastructure than any governor in the history of that state and I’ve said this on public television and I stand to be challenged, and if anyone contradicts me, I will surrender my political ambition.
In JAMB alone, Imo came out tops for eight years. Transparency International and National Bureau of Statistics in 2018, on their own (I never knew they were doing anything) analysed the corruption index of all the state governments and federal and came to the conclusion that Imo State during my tenure was the least corrupt state.
In other words, there was literally no corruption in that state except the ones from the security agencies, that was what they said and the ease of doing business went higher. So it is not true that I didn’t perform and I still challenge every journalist today to prove me wrong.
You were fond of going to Turkey, leading trade delegations to Turkey, all in a bid to attract foreign investors. Before you left office, how many businesses or investors came as a result of those trips?
A lot. One of the major industries that kicked off out of this visit was the Zenith Paints, the former moribund Zenith Paints industry that I now converted. It was initially taken over by AMCON. We took it back.
Today, that’s where the Chinese are producing their fridges, their air conditioners. I revamped the shoe industry though I had an issue with AMCON over some claims. Now, the Imo Ada Palms kicked off during my time and produced the first palm oil during my time, the Oguta fish industry came back, etc.
You and your successor, Hope Uzodinma, have been playing a cat and mouse game, sparring publicly, as often as possible. What exactly is the issue?
You know, again the journalists are not helping out on this matter, because you make it look like it’s a fight between two people. But it’s not. One man is making the effort to fight and the other is just keeping quiet. I’m not fighting back. Have you ever heard where I fought Hope Uzodinma? Have you ever heard where I made any statement against him? Never! Because I respect that office.
It’s not about him, it’s about that office and I can’t separate him from the office now. I just came out of that office, so I can’t fight that office and I am not fighting him. If anything, I’m just defending myself, so that the world can hear my voice and know what he’s saying about me is not true.
But what is the main thing that has come up? I spoke out my mind that Hope Uzodinma is not the winner of that election and that Emeka Ihedioha did not win that election, that Nwosu, who happened to be my in-law, won that election and came first and nobody has come out to say I’m wrong. Statistics are there.
They took the power by force from here in Abuja and gave it to Ihedioha, because of the so-called son-in-law and they painted it black that my son-in-law was running, and that my wife was running to provoke the entire system. You see, I just found a young man, who I thought or think will do better than me and by divine arrangement, is my son-in-law. Uche Nwosu is the most loved young man in that state. Uche would still have won without me.
Ask anybody today. He still remains a threat. So, we won the election and they refused to give it to him and decided to give it to Emeka. Uzodinma came number four and the only way he thought he could be relevant is to banish Rochas in the mind of the people. It’s a fight for superiority. But if a man has not hurt you, why hurt him?
Imo’s case is not what I like to talk about. Sometimes, I stay away a whole year so that my impact is not felt, because anytime I step on the soil of Imo State, you see people who want to provoke the system gathering.
But Imo has become a no-go area. How do you feel about this?
If there’s a situation that eats me up, it’s that same matter. For the first time in the history of that state, we have seen people beheaded; that people are shot every day to the extent that it’s no longer reported. There’s no day that passes without some people being beheaded or shot.
My eight years in office never witnessed something close to that and again, it goes to what is called management and handling of situations. Wherever there is poverty in your house, the man should be careful because even your wife becomes your enemy.
You were alleged to have stolen so much in Imo and that it’s one of the reasons for the situation in the state today.
I told you that I left N48 billion and that I didn’t leave behind any bank loan. So, what else?
So, why are you having cases with the EFCC?
The EFCC is a body that takes every petition and must investigate. If I write a petition against you that you walked into my office and that you took N2 billion, EFCC must invite you and they must lock you up. You must make a statement, you must go on bail, that’s what it takes. It’s all false allegations.
What was the wisdom in erecting statues everywhere?
Fantastic! That’s perhaps one of my best projects and then the ministry of happiness. Imo State was in dire need of tourism and I needed to create historical tourism.
That was the beginning and I can share with you briefly. We have a place that is called cenotaph, where they do the Armed Forces Remembrance Day every January. In 2011, the cenotaph was overgrown with weeds and there was no single structure other than a concrete area with a standing unknown soldier.
And I said to myself, this man standing here every day, ( I made him a human being) protecting the people, but nobody cares about what the highest level of sacrifice he’s made. So, I said there’s the need to build a place of memories so that history will be told to children unborn. That was what brought Zuma, Awolowo, Ojukwu statues, etc.
Why honour Zuma when he had corruption allegations?
A man that had not been found guilty, you cannot say that. Anybody who doesn’t like you can come up with anything. To shock you, Zuma is the only president in the world that never saw the four walls of a classroom and never had a teacher in his life. It means that he had a special drive that those who never went to school needed to learn. He couldn’t write, yet, could speak, so it was unusual to have been the president of one of the biggest countries in Africa. Such a person must be great.
He came in person to be honoured and that statue brought some of the highest revenues to Imo State. That five sitting presidents broke protocol . For a president to go to Owerri, he must first send a delegation. Same with Sirleaf Johnson. Hotels, cameramen, etc. were making money and those statues were built by Imo State University students.
You know what, Buhari was there, Osinbajo was there, Kano governor was there, but the press went on overdrive that I was building statues everywhere. Sirleaf Johnson was the first female president in Africa and was an encouragement to women.
What happened that you demolished that popular market, where the poor were eking out a living, such that a young boy died in the process?
Now, that was also one of the best projects. I did not destroy the market without providing an alternative. I built 10,000 shops, which is much more than the market, in the opposite direction, the same distance. It was like 2 kilometres to the government house and it became a crime-prone area. The market overtook the residences, then came the kidnappers and the drug dealers.
When I removed the market, I built a primary school and six-floor hospital which Prof Osinbajo came to inaugurate. But that hospital has of today been destroyed. Even the market people came to me and said they wanted to move. It was no longer safe for anybody. You couldn’t pass the place. And Somto that died didn’t die on that spot. Maybe it was a stray bullet. And I named the hospital after him and today, that place has been destroyed.
For a man who wants to be president of Nigeria, there were allegations of corruption against you, including proof of movement of funds and appropriation of state’s properties.
So not all that you read in the newspapers is correct. You know there was a press conference by the EFCC, where they said that they found government money of up to N5.9 billion in Rochas’ account and the thing went viral and then I demanded an apology and I wrote the EFCC to come and show me the money. I was prejudged.
Today, they have said it’s no longer N5.9 billion, it’s N2.9 billion and till today, apart from the time I was arrested, I have not been investigated. EFCC arrested me once and locked me up for two nights and I said I needed some documents to supply more information. Till today, I have not been investigated.
But some of your properties were revoked and siezed by the current government. What is the status of those properties?
None of my properties were revoked. And there was no single land that was taken from me and I never allocated any land to myself or to any member of my family. There was only Rochas Foundation School, which I proudly allocated and I will allocate it again as president. I allocated it to Rochas foundation, where sons and daughters of widows were being trained. That school does not pay one naira. It’s free.
Your party has failed and you are running on it?
All parties in Nigeria have failed.
Your party is in power now. It campaigned on a tripod of security, anti-corruption and the economy, all of which it has not been able to fix. Why should anybody vote for APC again?
Do you know there’s any political party in Nigeria, because political parties are based on ideology? The ideology of the APC and PDP are the same. So, don’t worry about the political parties, worry about the individuals. Start talking about men of vision in the party, not about the building, or the structure called a political party. In both APC and the PDP, there are the bad, the good and the ugly.
Now, how do you plan to get the ticket of your party, because if you look at it, since you declared, there’s been no endorsement of your ambition? How are you going to get the ticket?
I will tell you what is happening in APC. Let me speak to the future, what I think will happen from my political experience. First of all, I’m very blunt. I don’t hide. What is happening now in the politics of APC is that there is what is called a moral burden on the leadership of APC. There’s a moral burden on everybody.
The situation places a moral burden on the leadership of APC because Asiwaju will claim it’s payback time. That’s a moral burden, just like the vice president has a moral burden over Asiwaju as to whether he can really contest against his former boss.
Now, this nation has a moral burden to send this power to the south after eight years of being in the north. Another moral burden is the south-east, because you can’t imagine eight years of President Olusegun Obasanjo, eight years of Vice President Osinbajo and somebody is still contesting, when the south-east has never taken a shot?
It’s a moral burden on the South-south that two years of vice president Goodluck Jonathan and six years of his presidency, that they also want to go for it. And the South-east forms a tripod upon which this country was started.
So, even if people try to change their names, that moral burden is still there. That you’ll be having a nation minus one, that is, the South-east if they are not carried along; they will just feel they’re not part of it. So, this is a moral burden and I happen to come from that part of the nation.
That is one moral burden, that is if equity and justice will be seen to be done. I have mentioned to you, the mathematics. Most of these delegates are people that I have dealt with in the past. They know Rochas Okorocha. They know me in and out. It’s just like what’s called old firewood doesn’t take time to catch fire.
So when I mentioned it to them, they would understand where I’m coming from, my antecedents and what I stand for. The other point that gives me confidence is that I stand today as the only presidential aspirant from the south, whose impact has been felt in the north. And that’s where the bulk of the votes are.
A time will come when you ask, should the PDP also take their candidate from the South-east, who is that southerner that can easily win an election in the north. That’s where Rochas Okorocha will come in.
Don’t you think the South-east also has its moral burden of not pushing its own agenda or playing its game well?
No. The South-east has no moral burden. The only moral burden is to assuage the fear of the entire nation that it will keep Nigeria intact. But thank God that there’s one man, and he’s Rochas Okorocha.
That it doesn’t have the resources is not enough reason to deny them, because the South-east in the past, has gone through hell. Take, for instance, you have the President of the Republic of Nigeria now from the north-west, vice president is south-west, senate president is north-east, speaker is south-west, deputy senate president is south-south, deputy speaker is north central. So, everywhere is balanced, minus the south-east.
Chief justice is north-east, chairman of the party is north-central. In this whole arrangement, there’s no south-east. So, if you call a Nigerian meeting today, there will be no Igbo man. Come to the security architecture of this country, all of them, there’s no single south-easterner. When you give something to south-south, you have not given it to south-east even if the person bears an Igbo name, he’s from the south-south. So, giving it to the south-east is only fair and equitable.
People think that there’s something wrong with the way the South-east plays its politics. Don’t you think so?
I don’t think so. I do not think there’s something wrong with politics. It’s only in the South-east you see an APC, you see PDP, you see APGA. You go to South, it’s all PDP apart from Cross River that recently joined. So that’s good politics. The Igbo are highly misunderstood.
Ironically, some of these things are self-inflicted. In the 2019 general election, Abubakar Atiku emerged presidential candidate of the PDP and he picked a south-easterner in the person of Peter Obi as his running mate. If Atiku had emerged as president, the next in command is the vice president, the highest-ranking south easterner, but the South-east governors ganged up against the ex-governor. They worked against the interest of the party.
Those are the people you need. Those who will work against their people and work for the nation, because it means that these people are not sectional or tribalistic. You would have wanted an Igbo man to support an Igbo man and a Yoruba man to support a Yoruba. It means that they went beyond ethnicity. Those are the people that we need. In fact, you are giving them more kudos.
So, why are you complaining now?
No, I am not complaining. They should do the same.
But it has not paid off, has it?
The politics we want them to play is that of Obasanjo and Ọlu Falae. If you can do it for south-west, then, do it for the south-east.
Political parties exist principally to win elections, not to pick a candidate from a zone that hasn’t produced the president before. That’s the argument by a lot of people. I am saying this because of this south-east zoning argument.
We are talking about democracy which requires the majority winning an election. A group of people who come together to win elections. Now, what we’re talking about is equity and justice, because democracy can also operate under equity and justice. Now, my question to you is would you want to have a nation where one part is excluded? You have to have equity first.
But equity does not win elections.
Equity will win elections because all the parties, like they did for Olu Falae and Obasanjo, will give you the equity desired unless you are saying there’s no sound person in the south-east of this nation, then, that would be an unfair statement. Sometimes, the right will have to wait for the left to give everyone a sense of belonging and it’s pivotal that it will make the difference this time.
So, what would you do to convince delegates because that’s the stage everyone is at now?
Delegates are Nigerians and they also share the pain of every Nigerian today. They are looking for a leader, not a manager. They’re looking for somebody who will share their pain. Someone, who has vision and passion for this country. Somebody who has demonstrated that in the past.
I’m not going to say “I will”. I am not making political promises. That is cheap. But look at what I’ve done before, because this nation is at the stage where it is no longer looking for people who will say “I will”. I am saying “I’ve done”. And I challenge anybody, who has a better track record than Rochas Okorocha to challenge me.
Are you not worried Nigeria is in trouble today, because your party brought this shame on the nation, and then, you still want to run on the same platform?
I like that question. All have sinned and have come short of the glory of God. What you do not know is that any problem that you see Nigeria is facing today is a problem of 20 years back. The one that even this APC government is going to push to the next president will be 100 times more. The Boko Haram insurgency that Buhari is suffering now, is a type of inherited problem. That’s what is happening in the country. And that’s what people don’t understand. I’m being honest with you.
Today, we have 14.5 million out-of-school children. They are 10,11,12, 13 years. In the next five years, they ‘ll be hitting 20, then, they will be qualified to carry arms. So, today we’re talking about less than 200,000 or 500,000, Boko Haram insurgent actors everywhere.
But in the next eight or 10 years, we’ll be talking about 14 million or 10 million of them. The president at that time will have to face them if the problem is not tackled now. Every past president is celebrated; they are the favourites after they leave office. This Buhari will be celebrated. I will tell you why. If there are no changes in the situation, he will be celebrated, because people will say at least then, we still had some rice to eat.
Today, former President Jonathan has become a saint, Obasanjo has become a big saint. It’s the inherited problems causing this. They are not resolving the problems. They’re pushing them forward and that’s why I am offering myself to stop this blame cycle. So, what is wrong with the man Buhari?
Capacity! He lacks capacity.
Excuse me, no. Capacity is relative. But part of the reason we voted him was because Buhari was not corrupt. Would you say he’s corrupt now as a person?
But under his government, look at what is happening, because you can’t exonerate him from what’s happening.
In fact, would you say that Buhari has primitively accumulated wealth for himself at the expense of Nigeria?
No one can tell for now until he leaves power.
Buhari is like a gentleman struggling with a small amount of resources to solve big problems. He’s using N10,000 to solve a N1 billion problem. That is the present situation of Nigeria.
Never in the history of this country had there been a leader so aloof, lacking empathy, unconcerned. All the qualities of a good leader, he doesn’t tick any.
As you are here now, if you think you’re going to meet one problem and you have prepared your mind to solve that problem, and all of a sudden, you found 10,000. How do you survive? Where do you start from?
There were no 10,000 problems, that’s just an excuse… (Thisday interjects.)
You will be overwhelmed. If you look at the songs being sung by all the aspirants, they are not different from the ones we sang in 2015, 2019 even in 1993. I was watching one of the TV stations and someone was talking about a bag of rice. We said that 10 years ago. So, what’s the root cause of these problems. Until we solve them, we are not going anywhere.
But you can’t make all these excuses for Buhari – a man, who ran for an election in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 and you are making excuses for him?
If you say that Buhari underestimated the level of mess, you are probably not wrong.
No. What mess? He has destroyed this country…(an argument ensued)
I don’t agree with you.
In terms of security, you cannot travel by road, by air or by rail. Everyone is marooned in their small spaces.
If you were President Buhari, what would you do?
Isn’t it evident in the way he is handling security? You have bandits killing people and he’s keeping quiet.
I am aware that within this period , the president has voted over N1.5 trillion for the purchase of military equipment.
But they are stealing the money.
We are dealing with the symptoms, not the disease. If you bring a president among these aspirants, they will be worse than Buhari a hundred times.
Nigerians do not just want anybody to be packaged again. You wear Igbo clothes today, wear Yoruba clothes tomorrow and rebrand him and say, this is your president.
If you say that Buhari is incompetent, then you will say that all those that had governed Nigeria are incompetent. He’s in government now, wait for another one to come.
Before your declaration, you made attempts to see the president, and what was his reaction to your ambition, when you eventually saw him?
President Muhammadu Buhari is a general that you cannot predict his first or second action plan. The way he looks at you is the way he looks at everybody. So, you either go home confused, feeling loved, or feeling that he hasn’t endorsed you.
If you become the president of Nigeria, how would you govern this country? The man there now came with the formula 97 per cent and 5 per cent.
There’s a difference between politics and governance. Politics is just simply a vehicle for a political party to put in place governance. And once you get to a place of governance, you must separate politics from government. You are not the president of a section.
You are president of the good, the bad and the ugly. You are the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That should be a mindset. That’s my mindset. And I did that in Imo. There was a zone called Okigwe that did not cast their vote for me. They hated my election. But they got the commissioner for finance, vice chancellor and many key positions that shocked them.
They were even feeling guilty. In the next election, they gave me all their votes. So, it is about the mindset and largeness of heart.
This country desperately needs security. How will you restore it? How will you take Nigeria back from bandits, from herdsmen, from kidnappers, from rapists and all of those criminals?
And of course poverty which is their father, and their grandfather is ignorance. Insecurity is a symptom of a disease and as long as you keep treating symptoms, the disease will never go away. The population has kept growing despite shrinking wealth.
This is why I told you that it’s not about presidents, it’s about understanding the problems and our biggest problem is that Nigeria does not understand its problems. The problem of this country is wealth creation and I am coming to create wealth.
Who told you that if President Buhari has N100 trillion, he won’t employ all the boys, give us electricity? What you are seeing as a failure is something resulting from ignorance and a lack of wealth creation.
One, do you see anything standing between you and your ambition, two are there plans to build consensus in the south-east and three do you think your party can actually have a proper elective convention?
The distance between me and the villa is the party ticket. There’s hardly anyone that can beat me in a general election in this country. But the political cabal knows this.
So, if there’s any challenge, it is what I will do to convince the elite to be on my side. To convince the governors to be on my side, to convince the presidency to be on my side. But if it’s this one – the delegates – they will vote Rochas.
And the consensus?
My suggestion to the APC since there’s going to be a lot of confusion, would be first and foremost, ask every zone to give you two aspirants, assuming that the north is not presenting any candidate. Let these two persons each face the leaders of the party to address them, then reduce it to one person from each zone from the south.
At this point, Mr President will get involved and that’s when we can have a consensus. He will say these three people are okay, look at their antecedents. With this, APC will be home and dry, but if they take all these people to primaries, there will be a crisis.
There are those waiting for presidential directives and they are more than 50 – waiting in the wings from all parts of Nigeria, then, there are those that think they have the wherewithal and those who are coming purely on their vision – people like Rochas.
Are you sure there will be an APC primary election?
Yes , there will be a primary, but if they take this step, it will come near to a consensus and there will be no so much ill feeling.
Your party just released the cost of nomination forms, N100 million. Some have said it’s highly prohibitive, but the National Women Leader of your party said it was meant to weed out unserious aspirants. What is your reaction and can you afford it?
The N100 million presidential form for APC has become a thing of discourse. And from the public perspective, it is too expensive and the thinking is that a president, who has spent that kind of money will want to recoup it at all cost. The other side is saying that the primary objective is to raise funds for the party because after the primaries, most people don’t care about the party. Secondly and most importantly, the party thinks that any serious-minded person running for the presidency should be able to raise that kind of funds.
But from my own perspective, as we go on in our nascent democracy and continue to improve, monies meant to be paid by presidential aspirants will be sourced as a criterion to test your popularity. People you are coming to serve will contribute towards your election and will help control abuses. So, at a point, part of the qualifications should be that you should be able to produce 200,000 people that will give N500 each to produce N100 million paid by the people and monitored by the party and INEC.
It should actually come from the masses and when you win elections, you know you owe the masses and you must work for them. With this, when you spend your personal money, they feel they don’t owe you anything, after all, they paid you to vote for them. So, I am beginning to see an amendment across that line. That for you to have people across the country, it will show how strong you are and where your support comes from and ensure it’s not manipulated by anybody.
If we can structure it this way that I am suggesting, it will go a long way towards an African modernised democracy, which is like giving 5 million Nigerians a chance to contribute and once you can raise that, you are sure of your candidacy, because they are sure of who you are, so that the big money spenders don’t hijack it.
Can you afford it?
Definitely, I will be able to afford the N100 million for the form because I am going into this not for the profit of the job, but for the glory of the job. If my N100 million will make me get the mandate of the people, of course, I will make that sacrifice. That’s why as governor of Imo State , I did not take N1 as salary in eight years and I didn’t take any security votes. I am used to giving. I see the N100 million as money given to the society. That’s how I see it.
Some people have also said that in a way, this systematically cuts off young people who will not have that amount of money to pay for just nomination forms. That it’s anti-young people.
Money in politics in Africa has destroyed democracy. For me, I will just say to you that the day we shall get it right is the day that the public and the people you are going to lead start funding you. That will be the people’s mandate. It’s not about youth affording it because if the youth is popular, you can still get young men across the country to raise N500 million to support their own.
Future amendment to our constitution should be such that no aspirant should be made to spend N1 on election. This will cut down the cost of election and bring out the true leaders, because if the law says no aspirant should bring out N1 and INEC monitors it, EFCC does, ICPC does, no N1 from your account moves to print a poster, money politics will disappear and the real leaders will emerge.
This is a wake-up call that democracy in Africa should be reformed such that the people decide because democracy, after all, is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. So, expenditure should also be of the people, by the people and for the people and not of the contestants.