Posted by News Express | 13 February 2022 | 560 times
Former Governor of Imo State and Senator representing Imo West, Rochas Okorocha, talks about his presidential ambition and charges against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, among other issues
This will be your fourth shot at the presidency. What makes you think you will win this time?
This will be the fourth time that I’ll be contesting the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The first time was in 2001 when I declared to run for the 2003 election under the All Nigeria Peoples Party. I had a very colourful and beautiful outing but at that very election, President Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the candidate of the party. If you recall, there were certain disagreements, some people walked out of the convention because the governors of the North insisted that the presidency must come from the North and that was why President Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the presidential candidate for the ANPP.
Then in 2006, I declared again to run for the position of president on the platform of the PDP. At that time, I came into the PDP barely two weeks to the primary. I came second to President (Umaru Musa) Yar’adua of blessed memory. Again, the PDP had zoned the presidential ticket to the North because President Olusegun Obasanjo had finished his tenure for eight years. I didn’t contest again; I went back to Imo State to become the governor on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance because I didn’t get a ticket in the PDP and the ANPP. All the political parties won’t give a ticket. So, I picked a political party that had no single structure, no counsellor and I used that to defeat the incumbent governor who just had his first term. He was also in the PDP when President (Goodluck) Jonathan was in power.
I led the APGA to the merger in APC while President Muhammadu Buhari led the Congress for Progressive Change; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu led the Action Congress of Nigeria. In 2015, the Igbo refused to accept Buhari and for them, the name Buhari was taboo in the South-East. So, I had to do whatever I could do to make Igbo believe in the political party, and the only thing I could do was to contest for president on the platform of the All Progressives Congress with Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku, among others. That helped a whole lot to rebrand the image of the APC in the South-East. At this time also, Jonathan had finished his six years and it was agreed that power should go back to the North.
What was your major challenge then as a presidential aspirant?
What had been my challenge had always been the issue of zoning. Every time I contested election, the zoning was always not in my favour but this time, the coast looks quite clear; that is if the same sentiment will come to bear in the next political dispensation.
Do you believe you will get the ticket despite the way the party has treated you by suspending you in 2019 and now that the APC government is probing you through the EFCC?
I will tell you how the APC was formed. I am a stakeholder in the party, the same as Asiwaju and Muhammadu Buhari before he became the President. We are four individuals that formed the APC and a man cannot just abandon a house he has built. I do believe that this harassment and intimidation is political and to ensure that I do not run for the presidency in APC. Take, for instance, it was on the day of my declaration that the EFCC found it appropriate to take me to court for what they described as criminal charges. Why I believe that it is politically motivated is because I have a judgement against the same EFCC and the judgement is as a result of an appeal judgement. They said they found N5.7bn in my account which the court had found to be untrue, and they (EFCC) had announced to the whole world that I took the money.
Secondly, I have a court order stopping them from harassing me. The EFCC till today has refused to hear that court judgment and they’re holding my passport. They’ve been told to release my passport in court but they refuse to do that. I have a damage claim from them for N500m and they’ve refused to pay it, rather what they do is that for any judge that gives a judgement against them on my case, the judge is harassed. It is either they asked them to resign or change the judgement in their favour. So, it is quite strange for the EFCC to be acting as such. I’ll demand justice at the appropriate time. If you did not obey the judgement of the same court and cannot obey the law that set them up, is it until they desperately get something, even if it’s not right against me, that they will ask me to obey?
I have suffered a lot of injustice in the hands of a government I helped to form. Secondly, I had a judgement against Oshiomhole in Imo State when he dissolved the executive illegally and handed over the main structure to the Governor of Imo State against the people that were duly elected. We went to court and got a court judgement against Oshiomhole. The same party had refused to obey the court judgement which has not been upturned by any court. The Court of Appeal upheld it and they have refused to allow the executives recognised by the party and the law to assume their position. You can see that I have the right to demand justice.
Were you at any point discouraged by this experience?
All these cannot shatter my ambition to rule this country. Becoming a president, for me, is an idea whose time has come and is not within human capacity to stop it. My intentions are quite good. So, for me, the presidency is a burden and not an asset. It is a big burden which if I have my way to excuse myself, I would have, but the passion and the vision in me would not. I have two persons in me struggling for this post. My carnal person would say no but my inner person would insist that you need to make this country a greater nation.
The EFCC filed N2.9bn fraud charges against you on the day you declare for the presidency. Did you think it was a coincidence?
That will have been too much of a coincidence because normally if there are such criminal charges, they will serve you. Till today, I have not been served. I only heard and read about it in the newspapers, television and social media that I have been charged to court for criminal activities. I think the EFCC has not been fair to me. This is not the first time that they will embarrass and harass me. They have done this several times. First, it was my arrest against the court order which said I should not be arrested because at that point, both Imo State Government and the EFCC were investigating me on the same matter. Let one person investigate me. While the Imo State Government set up a panel, the EFCC was investigating me on the same matter. They were busy tearing the property of my wife apart and struggling over who takes over the property without any proven case. But what the issue is now is that the EFCC sometimes ago announced to the whole world that they discovered N5.9bn from me and there is nothing like that, and till today, EFCC has not apologised for that and for this reason, I went to court and the court said: “no, you prejudged this gentleman.”
You cannot prove anywhere that you found him guilty and for that reason, stop harassing him. The court prohibited the EFCC from further interrogating me and taking any action on this same matter. That was the judgement I had. They went back to this same court asking it to change their judgement. The court has not changed their judgement before they went to charge me again for N2.9bn (fraud) and it’s rather unfortunate in this country. I hope justice shall prevail. If the EFCC believe in the court and they are set up by the law of the land, they should also obey the court. Till today, they are holding my passport; they blocked my account and arrested me at home. Now, they are charging me again when the court has suspended all allegations against me. So, I’m waiting to see how it goes. I believe it is political, if it is not, why did it come on the same day I officially declared to contest for the presidency of the country?
You are one of those who do not reckon with the zoning of the presidency. Do you think a person from the South- East can become President without zoning?
It is possible if there is no political manipulation. Without zoning, I will still win the presidential election. They would do everything to stop me but they can’t. This is because of the purity of my heart, my intentions and the vision I have for this nation. I take pride in this; if it is about political connections, I do not have, I do not go for midnight political meetings but I believe in the people; the suffering masses of Nigeria and the leaders who really believe in me to support my candidature.
The APC has never won any presidential election in the South-East. Do you think the party would be right to give its ticket to an Igbo man with the way the party has been consistently rejected in the zone?
The APC has won several elections in the South-East. Don’t forget I was a governor on the platform of the APC and I won an election there. If you look at it, the APGA had only one, the PDP had three and I had one. I kept that flag flying and the APC has total control in the state. We’ve won several elections. This time round, it is not about a party but it is about the individual. Nigerians are tired of parties, they want individuals. Party is only a platform for you to run or have a structure but Nigerians are looking for who can unite them, who will not separate them, who can strengthen this country. They are looking for somebody who has a passionate heart and that can listen to their problem and someone who can create wealth, someone who can manage their resources and funds well. They are looking for somebody who can paddle the canoe of the country. These are the qualities I have.
The South-East has witnessed a rise in secessionist agitations and some IPOB members call you Okoro Hausa. Do you think your people will support your ambition?
Let me tell you a bit about IPOB. It is an agitation group of mainly young men who believe sincerely that they have been marginalised and suffering untold hardship and that this country hates Igbo. That is their understanding and that the Biafra war has not been forgotten and that this agitation is for them to have their own nation. But when I was there as governor, I was there as governor for eight years, I was able to manage these young men, assuage their feelings and get them to see reasons that they are better off to be part of this bigger nation than to be a smaller nation. But the agitation of IPOB skyrocketed in the government of the day.
The matter is still not well handled because whatever you call it, then it is exactly what it will answer because if they are called terrorists, which I do not believe they are, they will begin to behave like terrorists. But if you call them your sons and your children, they will behave like one. You can discuss with them and make them see reasons. Now, they are regarded as terrorists but the blame should go to the governor of the day. He misrepresented the fact. They’ve not let the Federal Government understand the true situation; they’ve invited the military and this escalated the whole situation. If I were a governor then, you won’t hear a single noise being made by IPOB.
It is not late to put things in order, so also is the situation all over the country, where you have this kind of agitation. But the truth is, are South-East people marginalised? Yes, they are. Is the agitation right? Yes, it is but the platform is wrong. You cannot be demanding an independent nation in a nation but agitation is allowed; it depends on how it is handled. The governor of Imo State has not handled this properly. That is why Imo State seems to be the centre of the agitation. I was called Okoro Hausa; these young men insulted the hell out of me. As a governor, there was a day, I had to park when the convoy of more than 100 buses was passing by and when they saw that I was not engaging them, they started chanting, “Our governor, our governor.” If we see them as our children, half of the matter is solved.
Do you believe Igbo will support your ambition?
I believe they should support my ambition. Why won’t they? I have done so much in the Igbo nation. If they cannot support a man who has trained over 12,000 children through Rochas Foundation, who else will they support? It is for their own good that I become the president because it is hard to find one of their own that is accepted all over the country. If you are only known in Igbo land, how will you win election in Kano, Sokoto among others?
UNICEF said last year that over 1,000 students were kidnapped by terrorists. As a person who has focused on giving free education to poor students, how do you intend to tackle this as President?
We must understand that the issue of out-of-school children is a time bomb waiting to explode. And it is not good news to hear that we have 14.3 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, one of the highest in the world. We must also realise that the problem of insecurity was a result of the abandonment of these children 30 years ago. Now, what that means is that in the next 30 years to come, we shall have more problems than we have now. Education must be made free so that every child can go to school irrespective of their family background. Education should be a national responsibility and not that of parents because when the nation fails to give education to every child, they contribute a huge problem to national development. Today, Nigeria is buying trillions of naira worth of military hardware and equipment to fight insurgency which we could have avoided by making sure that every child goes to school and provide them with jobs afterwards. Education should be a child’s right and not a privilege and it should be a national responsibility. For me, education must be free so that the children of the poor can also go to school as every child counts.
You said recently that you left over N40bn in the state’s treasury when you were leaving as governor. Why then did you owe workers salary and propose a four-work day for civil servants despite protests from the NLC?
It is not true that I owe workers before I left office. Workers were paid a hundred per cent before I left office. Out of the N40bn I left behind, N7bn was meant to pay pensioners and N21bn was for rural roads which were the funds attracted from the French Support Organisation and N8.6bn for Universal Basic Education Commission for the renovation of schools and some other minor funds that made a total of over N48bn. When I left office, I never owe any bank and there was no trace of N1 being owed by Imo State to any bank in Nigeria or abroad; that is what most people do not know. Before I left office, I challenged all banks in Nigeria in a press conference several times. I said never you come back after I left office and said this state owed you and then till today, nobody has come to dispute the fact.
As governor, you erected statues of world leaders which attracted negative reactions from your critics. Will you build more statues across the country if you become President?
What kick-started tourism in the state are the statues built and for the first time in history, Imo State had an address internationally. We are no more regarded as a state very close to River State or Port-Harcourt. The statues brought in five sitting presidents who flew all the way from their countries straight to Imo State without passing Abuja. That made my airport an automatic international airport by force, bringing in resources, some of them spent two days and more than that. I brought in the likes of Jacob Zuma and Nana Kufor Ado, among others. What most people do not know is that the whole place is called Hero Square; it could be likened to the Eagles Square. It has an event centre, mini stadium, Igbo resource centre, presidential guest house, and Hall of Fame, among others. All within that arena is the same place where I built houses for all former governors of the state.
The one interesting thing there is the long pedestrian bridge that joined with the statue. It tells the whole story and the essence of the statues. It is a place for children, it’s an inspiration, motivation so that children will have role models and think big about life. A pedestrian bridge is a bridge of life that we must go through. So, when I take the children there, the first thing I do is, “you are now in your good morning; early days of your life which is the primary school, secondary school before you go to the afternoon section of your life, you should ask yourself, ‘what have I done with my good morning?’ Once you get to good afternoon, you are now getting very closer to the reality of life.
Those whose statues are there are successful people who make students go and study hard. The idea of the statues actually started from the statue of the Unknown Soldier. You know that every January, they do Armed Forces remembrance. Most soldiers stand there. So, that was how the vision came out of nothing. I was passing there one day as a governor and I saw these unknown soldiers. I said I’m going to make stories out of these soldiers who are constantly carrying guns and said to be protecting the people. He cares about the people and I said to myself that’s leadership. So, I said let me build a Heroes square; then I built it.
If elected, would you erect more?
If you listen to my declaration speech, I said the story of our founding fathers all of whom are no more alive shall first form the bases of our tourist attraction. Our history is our strength in tourism, our story is our tourism. We can’t be telling the story of other countries. We must tell our stories and how do we do this? We must tell the stories from our amalgamation. Imagine when you have a statue of amalgamation, telling how we came together as a nation and all the founding fathers who struggled for our Independence and also a Hall of Fame where people who have done well are being honoured. It will be a place for people to go and study. Even children in school will like to go there. Tourism will start from there in the new Nigeria. (Sunday PUNCH)
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