22 July 2018
As the race for the governorship of Imo State in 2019 heats up, over 42 candidates have their eyes on the top prize of replacing two-term incumbent Rochas Okorocha, who has anointed his son-in-law Uche Nwosu as his successor. Two of the others in the race have other ideas and were at the Imo Community Europe Conference and Gala Nite held last night at the Newham Leisure Centre in Plaistow, East London.
Headlining the list of candidates present was former governor Ikedi Ohakim, whose bid for a second term was derailed by then challenger Rochas Okorocha in May 2011. The other governorship candidate present was former senator Athan Achonu, whose reelection bid to represent the Okigwe Zone in the Senate was ended at an election tribunal last year. Achonu claimed last night that he won the election and that at the tribunal, the judges showed him “two judgments” – one in his favour and one against him. He was allegedly asked to pay for the one in his favour, but refused. He claimed his refusal was because his impression of judges as incorruptible upholders of the law was formed in his days as a secondary school student at Government College Umuahia. Back then, he and his schoolmates were so in awe of judges that they used to tiptoe when they walked past a judge’s house for fear of disturbing such a great man. He said now judges were sadly for sale with their bogus judgments.
The corruption theme was taken to another level by Ohakim, who ruled the state for four years before losing to Okorocha. He reeled out a litany of disasters that have fallen on the state after nearly eight years of the incumbent. The state was now “dead”, it was in a “liquidity trap”. He used that term in the sense that the state could barely service its debts, couldn’t meet its obligations and there was little income flowing in from federal coffers.
The former governor also alleged that cases of kwashiorkor have been seen in two local government areas. About 800,000 people have lost their jobs under Okorocha’s watch. Okorocha’s predecessor claimed that he handed over 26.6bn naira ($73.4m) to the incoming administration in 2011.
Ohakim said “I made mistakes as a governor. I’m human. I ask for forgiveness”, to much applause. He accused his successor of selling 18 general hospitals to a “northern company” and selling “health centre equipment”. Imo State University, established by Ohakim and Imo State Polytechnic had lost accreditation for 18 courses, including law and medicine under Okorocha. The Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri was now decrepit. According to Ohakim, the state now owed 200bn naira ($500m) to banks. In terms of unpaid pensions/gratuities and contract bills, the state owed 18bn naira ($49.6m). Additionally, the expected future revenue to the state “has been consumed”.
Ohakim also alleged that the income received by Imo State since Okorocha came to office in 2011 was higher than what the state received since it was formed in 1976 to 2011. He said that despite lower income levels, he didn’t owe salaries in his one term as a governor. He added that the state has “knocked engine” and needed someone who would “hit the ground running” when he came in, someone who “knows the nuts and bolts” of governance. He called himself a “reluctant candidate”, who is only “coming out” because his people “came begging” for him to come back. He claimed that “the little time I have left I want to use it to serve Imo”.
He alleged that unlike when he was governor, money was no longer “circulating” because all the money was concentrated in “one family” – that of Okorocha. He said a priest in a rural church told him that his church used to get about 15,000 naira ($41.40) each Sunday from the collection plate, but now the take was about 2,000 naira ($5.52).
The former governor, now running under the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), told the audience that you only needed about 250,000 votes to win the governorship. He said Nigerians in the Diaspora should not pay attention to those that claim they can’t influence elections. He said each person in the audience could influence 10 people in their villages and what he was telling them was like “expo” (a leaked exam paper).
He went on to claim that Okorocha’s governance involved no record-keeping, no memos, no minutes of meetings, no documentation. Whoever came in after him, “wouldn’t know where to start”. He likened Imo State to a relative on intensive care. The serious nature of the illness meant it was beyond a general practitioner or a junior doctor, a “consultant surgeon” was required. He added: “The engine has knocked, it needs a mechanic driver”.
He gave examples of what needed to be done. This included “opening up Igboland to water” via a seaport in Oguta/Ihiala. This would mean Igbos “capturing the marine business” and will create 2m jobs in the first three years.
Ohakim explained his running under the APGA banner, which Okorocha used to get in before defecting to the All Progressives Congress (APC), as a case of telling APGA that “you spoiled this [Imo State] and you must repair it”.
Speaking earlier, Senator Achonu had said Nigeria’s problem was leadership. He said the country already had all the laws needed to set it on the right path. This seemed to be a dig at those suggesting “restructuring” was a solution. He asked members of the Imo Community in Europe whether they would elect a “fraudster” as their president and then implied that a “fraudster” was running Imo State.
Achonu said it was the job of a governor to create wealth, provide healthcare, welfare and infrastructure. None of which Okorocha has been able to deliver. State workers had gone 11 months unpaid, while it was 36 months for pensioners. By Achonu’s reckoning, the state was 120bn naira ($330m) in debt. He claimed that banks didn’t lend to the state anymore because they were not sure their debts will be repaid.
Achonu believed that “visionary leadership was needed”. He went on to claim that no Igbo governor or senator spoke out in Nigeria anymore because if they did, the federal government would “show them their corruption file”. “Every senator was afraid apart from Enyinnaya Abaribe” of Abia State. One of the guests told this reporter that it was a bit rich of Achonu to preach against corruption when he made his money from contracts to build hospitals that were never delivered under the regime of Sani Abacha.
During the brief question and answer session, Achonu also alleged that Ohakim was not a “visionary” because he spent limited funds recruiting graduates in the public sector when the money could have been invested in industry that would create jobs. This turned what was until then a “friendly match” into a tit-for-tat affair. Ohakim insisted on responding even though time was running out. He said Achonu had no experience in governance and didn’t understand what was involved, and then went into how those he recruited were teachers, local government workers and others who were being groomed to replace an ageing public service that was needed to implement government policies.
Other candidates for the governorship like Senators Hope Uzodinma and Sam Anyanwu and Frank Nneji, the owner of ABC Transport, couldn’t make the event and sent representatives. Uche Nwosu, Okorocha’s chief of staff and son-in-law neither showed up nor sent a representative.
Earlier, millionaire businessman Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu addressed the gathering, claiming that “everything is haywire” in Nigeria. “There was no security of life and property and people are fed up”. He suggested that “restructuring” was the way forward. A couple of guys in the audience muttered about how Iwuanyanwu’s construction company Hardel and Enic was awarded contracts to repair federal roads in the southeast and he “restructured” the money into his bank accounts.
Other speakers included Sympathy Nwosu, a UK-based lawyer, who said he was running for president under the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Very few took him seriously but he wasn’t lacking in confidence and condemned the “incompetent leadership” in charge of the country. There were also a handful of candidates for state and federal legislative office in attendance.
The night was marred by poor organisation. It typically didn’t start on schedule. This meant that the interactive session with the audience was cut short after written questions had been collected from attendees.
The panel took a question on “cattle ranching” in Igboland. Achonu and Ohakim were dead against it. Ohakim said there was no land available in the overpopulated southeast for such ventures and it was “practically impossible”. Achonu revealed that a bill to introduce cattle ranching in Imo State was going through the state legislature and many people were not aware of this. He asked all Imo people to resist it.