Imo cannot remain in the bondage of family ties – Emeka Ihedioha

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Emeka Ihedioha on why Imo must be rescued
Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Rt. Hon Chukwuemeka Ihedioha is eying the keys to Douglas House, Owerri. It is his second attempt having lost to incumbent governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha in 2015. In this interview with DESMOND EKWUEME, Chief Ihedioha speaks on his mission, the problems of Imo State and governance generally especially as 2019 beckons…..

Why are you running for the governorship race again?
There is a huge vacuum, a gulf if you like between government and the people. Government is no longer in the hands of the people. The people are now mere spectators, I mean observers in a system they should be championing or leading. The people are inconsequential and treated as commoners. They have no say, no voice and no wish.

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An average Imolite is almost a stranger in his state. Government is now beyond the reach of the people. It is run like a private estate. No one cares about what the people want..
So I want to return the state, government and governance to the rightful owners -the people. Trust me, like my campaign slogan says, “My word, My bond.” Imolites must decide how they want to be governed and what they want done to them. You will agree with me that Imo State sadly is now a state of ridicule. We are now like clowns. When you mention Imo State among Nigerians from other parts of the country, they embarrass you with laughter. They burst into laughter asking you if you want to erect their statues and all that.
That is how bad things have become in the last seven years. I am committed to handing over the state to the people.

What qualities should Imo people seek from the aspirants desirous of succeeding Gov. Rochas Okorocha come 2019?
I think keywords like experience and pedigree come in very handy. Understanding what needs to be done in view of the circumstances of the state in today’s world. I think for me those are the key ingredients.
For instance, everyone is running for governorship, but how many of them really understand the task ahead? Anyone who intends to lead the state, should first understand where we are at the moment, why we are where we are, why we are not where we should be?
The person should also understand the characteristics of the state, traits peculiar to the indigenes.

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What, in your view, are the major challenges before the aspirants or better still incoming governor?
I come from a state where, unfortunately propaganda reigns supreme. Where good is painted to look bad and where we celebrate charlatans. A state where mediocrity is hailed.
In Imo, the fact that you are a star or better still an achiever is a problem to some. People tend to celebrate fraud. I believe that is where the real challenge is. Honestly, the people need to be rescued.
In 1998, I was contacted by former Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke to work as media consultant for Donald Duke, prior to his election as governor of the same state; because I have a media background and I have in time past managed a few personalities.
With my know-how, in a couple of months I was able to build a relatively unknown Donald Duke (but a man who had capacity) into a national model. Donald had capacity, but was unpopular and all it needed for me to take the job was listening to him for 5 minutes. I am a workaholic; I like those who work with me to also have such traits. I spare little effort to get any task done. I lose my cool when people are, in my own language, appear to be unserious. When people can’t set and achieve their goals. I get impatient when people around me are lousy. I can’t stand mediocrity. Not everyone regards me as being gentlemanly in disposition. Some tag me arrogant, just because they find it difficult to distinguish between being arrogant and being confident. They get uncomfortable when one exudes confidence. Some persons who can delineate between both traits dub you arrogant.

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Many see you as an Abuja politician and this was one of the campaign gimmicks used against you in 2015. What has changed between 2015 and now in this regard?
I am popular in my state; I shouldn’t lose sleep about that, because I am widely known. Advancing my case shouldn’t be difficult. However, I have suffered from so much blackmail and deliberate falsehoods.
I have experienced in the past, those at base-level wanting to throw mud at me, because they think that is about the only way they could succeed at advancing. We have the highest amount of tabloids in Imo, we have over twenty.
Newspapers set up with the motivation to blackmail. Unfortunately also, we have a ‘419’ mentality, which has done inglorious damage to the psyche of my people. The situation in Imo has reduced the average indigene to a man that talks only about money.
I was discussing with a few governors the other day and when I told them how much I spent on delegates in the last election, they were amazed and even said my claims were not true. It is shocking, but I am afraid that is the reality on ground. I am not in a bad situation, but like every progressive-minded individual, I like to better my case every day.
I don’t think anyone who is contesting as governor in the state have a better message than I do. I don’t think any of them have a better pedigree, in terms of governance, which of course is the major thing lacking in Imo state. Imolites have come to appreciate now and more that the experience I have gathered from the centre talking about Abuja specifically coupled with my pedigree will be of greater advantage to them and in advancing the course of the state.
2015 and 2019 are different political eras just as both elections will be totally different. Don’t forget that the candidates differ. It’s a different ball game.

Are you saying indirectly that the voting pattern will be different with Gov. Okorocha out of the way?
It is not about any individual. It is about what Imolites now know. The people are wiser today. They were told false stories, they were lied to and they were deceived by the propaganda machinery. But today, they have seen the light. The people have known the truth. They are very much aware of the goings in government. That is why I said, it is going to be a different ball game.

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Recently, Gov. Okorocha endorsed his Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu as his likely successor. What do you make of this?
The Late reggae musician, Bob Marley once said, you can fool some people sometimes but, you can’t fool all the people all the time. I think Imolites should be in the best position to answer that question and, they will do justice to it come 2019.

Okorocha has said that one of his major reasons for picking Uche Nwosu is his youthfulness and many Imolites agree. How do you reconcile this with your position earlier?
It is one thing to be youthful yet another to be experienced. Working with a godfather as your principal may not guarantee you all the needed experience to take up a job as Imo governor especially as it is a known fact that you will only continue from where you stopped as stooge. Imo State needs an independent minded person. A man with loads of exposure, contacts and respect that can open doors among major political players at national level to move the state forward. It is not enough to ride on the crest if a godfather who will be deciding from his bedroom. Imo cannot no longer remain in the bondage of family ties. Imo is not a personal or private property which will be run or determined by a family or just one man. This is why I maintain that government and power must return to the people. Imolites are no slaves.

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In your opinion what is the major problem of the present government in your state?
We have a comprehensive failure of governance. An understanding of the basics of governance is lacking among leadership in the state. And when the fundamentals are lacking, you don’t expect such state to make any meaningful progress.
People may ask me, what it requires to restore the state back to its glory days. As we speak, not many people know that Imo is heavily indebted. Our debt profile is in the region of over N150 billion in realistic terms. These monies are owed to bank; now add to that the debt owed to civil servants.
Our case is worse than Osun’s. The state is in a state of consistent hemorrhage. Usually, before states get loans, it is expected that they put down some collaterals, but the problem is that we don’t produce anything in Imo. The food industries we had in Imo, for instance the ‘Ada Palms’ are all gone. None of them are functioning, let alone producing.
We have not invested any amount of money in say Agriculture, which used to be our forte. We have planted nothing new and so can’t add anything to the economy from that sector. Also in the case of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), in terms of state records, I can say we generate less than N1 billion annually. So, as collateral, they (the government) mortgage our supposed income from the Federal allocations, as well as the Local Government account.
So we are heavily burdened by the debt we have accumulated overtime. So that is the challenge and the question every would-be governor in the state should answer. If elected, how do you start running the state? How do we get out of the woods? Are you going to ask the banks to write them off? That is of course impossible. So then it becomes imperative that we have a governor who understands the peculiar challenges of the state and how to solve them.
One that has enough contacts and understands how to leverage them to salvage the situation will put an end to the hemorrhage.

People are running out of the state. It is not enough to write manifestoes. Anyone could be commissioned to do that, because any time people see individuals ready to run for office, they come to you to offer their services as consultant. They propose services ranging from economic to media consultancy, but can you really internalize what they have written?
It is not about speaking English, but can you knock on the door and it opens? Those are our challenges.
So we have a very huge responsibility and challenge, but I pray that God will see us through.
I welcome everyone who is ready to partner with us to build a healthy Nigeria, of course like you know; a healthy Imo translates into a healthy Nigeria.

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You just mentioned the debt profile of your state which is a knock to Okorocha, but his supporters say, he has done well in the area of security, roads and housing?

Perhaps you should visit Imo to speak to the people on the issues or areas you mentioned.
Let Imolites tell you the houses they have benefitted from the housing projects. Owerri, the capital should showcase the road networks as a clue to what we have in the 27 Local Government Councils. If security has been tackled we won’t have three Special Assistants on Security appointed in his last year in office and we won’t have the huge presence of the military in major areas in the state. Between Mgbidi which is the gateway town when you are coming from Onitsha and Owerri, there are over 10 checkpoints which is a reflection of the state of crime and insecurity in the state.

Let’s look at your party, the Peoples Democratic Party, critics say, the umbrella is still leaking with just a year to the election. Has your party resolved all issues that fragmented it before now?
The People’s Democratic Party is the party to beat come 2019. Show me one party that does not have issues and I will give it thumbs-up. Issues make a political party stronger. The turbulent times if our great party are over. This is a new era with a new beginning. You saw how the new national executives of the party emerged. It tells you that all hands are on deck to seal all loopholes. From local government level to states and down to the national level, PDP is one strong family. Just wait to witness the massive defection from other political parties in one swoop to PDP leading to the election.

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But we hear of talks of alignments between chieftains of your party and members of other political parties especially the APC. We also hear that a new political party may emerge. How much are you involved in this?
Alignments are part of politics. It is not out of place for people who share same ideologies to come together. However, like I said earlier, PDP will remain but a very strong whirlwind will soon blow across other parties whose members are desperately seeking ways to return under the umbrella.

Your name has been mentioned as running mate in some quarters to a top politician from the North who is eying the Presidency. Can you confirm this?
I don’t know your source but all I can tell you is that not all rumours or speculations are true. Most times, opponents fly a kite of distraction. It is often a means of propaganda to cast a dark shadow on a strong and credible candidate. However, in politics all doors are open.

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