Former governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, means many things to many people – an orator, a political heavyweight and model or derogatorily a disappointment, but he is certainly a reporter’s delight.
Speaking to Saturday Sun in Abuja, he delved into several issues, particularly on the build up to the 2023 presidential election, expressing fears over the capacity of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) retaining power beyond 2023 and the justification of an Igbo presidency.
He also lamented how PDP members have not only infiltrated but also run the APC. He shredded the immediate past National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, describing him as an overpriced man and a man of injustice who allowed sentiment to becloud his sense of reasoning. ROMANUS UGWU, spoke to him in Abuja.
What is your impression about zoning in the APC for 2023 presidency?
As far as I am concerned, APC has not come up with any zoning arrangement yet. However, there is what we call natural zoning in the country. What it means is power rotating between the North and the South. It is not like a convention, but now looks more like a tradition we have practiced over the years for power to always shift between the two sections. It is good to point out that there has never been any agreement in the South or North to micro zone the power when it comes to the section. Nigeria still operates on the basis of the two sections. I am however, sure that at the appropriate time, our party, the APC will make a pronouncement on which zone will produce the 2023 presidential candidate.
But, we should not forget that the constitution of Nigeria allows everybody who is qualified to contest. Truly speaking, therefore, you cannot stop anybody from contesting regardless of where he or she comes from. However, the party will always give support wherever it thinks the presidency will come from.
Is it justifiable for the Igbo to demand for presidential ticket in 2023?
It is very justifiable for the Igbo to demand that presidential ticket be zoned to the Southeast based on the governing of this nation for many years especially under our democratic dispensation. When you look at the formation of the presidency and how it has been over the years, the South-South has given a shot at the presidency, likewise the Southwest, but the Southeast has not.
The situation is a statement of fact to be pushed on, however, the Igbo must also understand that power is not given. They have to reach out to other sections of the country and lobby to convince others that they should be allowed to produce the president. It is not just folding our hands and demanding for the ticket based on sentiment.
What will you regard as your deepest regret maybe as governor or in your current position?
Quite frankly, I cannot think of anything now. I have been bombarded with this question severally, but I cannot remember anything I have regretted in life. I tried most time to imagine what it is because for every action of mine, I take responsibility since I must have chewed and believed in it before taking that action.
The only thing I would say would have been regret is my style of governance where I get a job done before doing the paper works. The paper works, to people, should come first before getting the job, but I preferred it the other way round.
Otherwise, I would not have completed that number of projects in Imo state if I had followed that conventional way of ‘paperisation’. But, that does not mean that I don’t have my comprehensive records intact. I have them but I never allowed those bureaucratic bottlenecks that stall projects in Nigeria to hold me down.
So, if you see these people dragging me to the EFCC or elsewhere, it is not that a dime of Imo state money is missing otherwise how would I have gotten six Universities, four Polytechnics, two Colleges of Education, 30 hospitals in different parts of the state, an International Conference Centre, International Cargo Airport, best High Court, best police headquarters, best prison headquarters, free education.
They are over 2000 projects, which have not been recorded in the history of that state. Also inclusive are the urban renewal of changing the roads to several lanes. It can never be possible under the conventional approach and that is why leaders must think about the best way to govern other than those dead ideas of neo-colonialism way of thinking.
Is the current state of your party the APC of your dream?
APC has been infiltrated by what I can call the old political spirit that has messed up the entire nation. The APC we have in 2015 when we came in is not the same APC of today. The major actors then are not those we have now. This is why it looks as we have derailed as a party.
Those that came in now are those used to the old system of doing things and we thought that we are giving to Nigerians a new style of governance and new styled party. Some of the people occupying offices now are PDP members. They brought the same PDP spirit into the APC and do things the PDP way.
You cannot tell the difference between the APC and the PDP now. They seem to be the same father and mother with just different captains at the helm of affairs. I have previously said that the problem with the APC is that what is wrong has become right and what is right has become wrong.
The truth, as I said recently, is that our party is in a great danger and the only thing holding it is our collective respect for President Muhammadu Buhari and his respect for integrity. Moving APC forward depends on the performance of the party in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people of this country. We now judge a party not by name or membership but by performance and abilities to put food on the tables of the common men.
Do you have any regret working for Oshiomhole to become the National Chairman of the APC?
I don’t have any regret. My conviction then was that Oshiohmole was a vibrant gentleman who could speak out and campaign to command crowd having been a comrade. But I think other sentiments beclouded his reasoning. And he became a man of injustice. That was how he lost my respect.
I really overpriced Oshiomhole not knowing that he could come up with certain sentiments and antics. Having been a governor, what does he lack and what can people really offer him to make him behave the way he did? To say the least, Oshiomhole’s action came to me as a surprise but not regrettable because I expect nothing different from any human being.
Can you stake your neck that the APC will retain power beyond 2023?
APC will retain power beyond 2023 not because of the name APC but because of the individuals that will contest the election. I am very sure that Nigerians will not vote along party affiliations but on the basis of track records of the candidates and what they can give to the nation.
If you look at it, people no longer have regards or even want to hear about the PDP and now they have extended the same attitude to the APC. Unless a new party comes up to give Nigerians hope but even at that, they are likely going to vote based in individual capacities, not party line.
What are the practical approaches to the current restiveness of the youths?
I am aware that many have apportioned blames on what should be done but I would like to talk on a more practical approach. The reality is that there is a wide communication gap between the governed and the government. What Nigeria suffered mostly in this situation is the communication gap.
The governed are reasonably aggrieved in the face of poverty, joblessness, resulting in anger taking over the centre stage because there was no proper communication to the governed. They see themselves as slaves and those in government as lords. This is what brought about the crisis we are experiencing currently and even the ones we will experience even tomorrow. Take for instance, a husband who has no money but involved the family in the decision of how that little can be shared, the family will certainly understand. Nigerians expect so much from their government and the government does not have that quantum of resources to meet up with the challenges of the moment.
What is important is bringing this rule into governance to really understand the pains that the government is going through. Again, there are lots of anger in the system from the millions of youths looking for job. President Buhari in his wisdom made a pronouncement to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. What that means is that he will take 10 million youths and their parents out of poverty every year.
He has also come up with laudable programmes like the Npower, Tradermoni, Anchor borrowers and many others but they are not properly communicated. This is why I will advocate for what is called national reconciliation for peace and unity forum or committee. What this does is that we are going to create a database for all the youths of Nigeria. It will document the data of graduates searching for jobs, comprising their names, qualification and indicating desired job of interest. For undergraduates, for instance, they can also indicate what to do for onward presentation to the government.
There is no such comprehensive database for the government to rely on. Because if the youths become aware that out of the 100 million jobless ones, 100,000 have gotten jobs, others will have hopes that they will get one day. To bridge the communication gap, there is the need to immediately create a national youth database for job creation.
I have also called on President Buhari to sack the ‘sackables’. People become too comfortable with their positions when they know it is their right. Appointment in Nigeria is becoming a right now rather than privilege to serve the people. When people know that government appointees can be changed and can be sacked, they will be forced to sit up. This idea of stay where you are is not helping matters. Those that deserve to go should be fired. In the case of SARS, those that got involved should be fired along those that associated with it. It will also help to make peace.
As a political figure in the Southeast, what is your advice to the Igbo especially with the EndSARS protests in some places taking ethnic dimension?
Let me tell my Igbo people to be cautious because they are the most misunderstood people and most misrepresented persons. Other ethnic groups can engage in a thing like this and go free but once the Igbo come in, it takes a different dimension. This is why I must call for peace in Igbo land.
Our leaders must rise and condemn some of the actions that will lead to anarchy or unnecessary protests and burning of police stations in the Southeast. The Igbo are mostly affected in any national riot because they are the only Nigerians in every part of the country. In reality, the Igbo are endangered species when it comes to the issue of crisis. I see them as peacemakers and they must toe that line of peace and continue to make peace. We must engage our youths and explain to them the implications of things of this nature when crisis erupts.
I am sad over the ugly situation we found ourselves as a nation within the past few weeks arising from the #EndSARS protests that degenerated into violence, anarchy and civil unrest with many people losing their lives and houses vandalised. Yes, I know that this is not the time to apportion blames or claim who is right or wrong because there must never be a victor or vanquished in this battle. We must give peace a chance and allow the nation that the entire Africa depends on to thrive in peace.
What started few weeks ago as a peaceful protest has escalated into losing many souls and burning properties with people living in fear. This situation is very unfortunate and highly regrettable. I want to sympathise with those that have lost loved ones due to the protests. However, I want to say that this is a wake up call by the youths of this country to the leaders. It is a pointer that we the elite have been selfish in handling the affairs of this country. There has been a track record of unfair leadership for a long time.
The social media did not also help matters in this period especially when people will post old pictures and make them look like current ones with people believing in it and acting otherwise.
If we must protect this nation, then we must be wary of the dangers social media portend. We must take some steps towards showing understanding over what has happened. However, I call on all political, religious leaders irrespective of affiliations to rise up to condemn the condemnable and call for peace in every part of the country. I also call on those beating the drums of war to desist because doing so will amount to an ill wind that blows nobody any good. The Coronavirus taught us lesson that we have to make this nation great and better because there is no other nation to run to and be treated like our own country.
I pray for peace and for the youths to show understanding. Those that genuinely protested didn’t mean evil, to watch the country degenerate into anarchy or civil unrest. We cannot afford to divide or destroy this country now not in our time.