Immediate past governor of Imo state, Senator Rochas Okorocha speaks on being investigated by the EFCC, the Emeka Ihedioha administration and efforts to rubbish his achievements, among other issues. BODE OLAGOKE reports.
Since you handed over the state to the new governor, there have been allegations and counter allegations about non performance by you and you have been rather silent. What is going on?
I have been the one on the receiving end. I have never confronted or fight the governor because that is not my style. I have never thrown any punch or try to destabilise the government of Imo state since I left office because I see myself as a father and leader of that state. So, I cannot afford to be part of those who destroy what I have built. That should tell you my mind set on this issue.
The only one that I disagree with the state government completely is when they make assertion and to confuse the public saying Rochas has done nothing. This is the one that creates some kind of provocation in my mind. I have challenged the entire government of Imo state to say I have performed beyond reasonable doubt and has done far better than anybody in the history of that land as governor. I have also said that it is a challenge to the present governor to say that he cannot meet up to 25 percent of my performance as governor.
I thought that was a statement that should ginger someone to say I am going to beat his record. I have said that I have the best record and nobody can beat it. But the impression they are trying to spread across the country is that Rochas has done nothing and I ask how can you say that somebody who build an international cargo airport that is adjudged one of the best in the country and linking Imo state to the rest of the world has done nothing?
How can you say that somebody who built six universities licensed by NUC has done nothing? How can you say that somebody who built over 570 schools, 27 general hospitals with some of them completed 100 percent and some 80 percent has not performed? I built the Somto 1000 bed hospital and the Mother and Child Hospital and you say that such a man has done nothing? I built the new government house of Imo state, the international conference centre, the trade and investment centre, Hero’s Square, Freedom Square, the Eze Imo Palace, which is adjudged the best in Africa. I built two stadia, Akachi road,iInland roads, dualised 100 Km road from Owerri to Orlu.
I embarked on urban renewal and build all the inland roads in Owerri some from two lanes to eight lanes. I built one of the best high court complex in the country and lots more. I introduced free education that ran uninterrupted for eight years and yet you say I have done nothing. I built two colleges of education, four polytechnics, bringing the number higher institutions to 13 within eight years. How could somebody have said that the same governor has done nothing?
The Imo liaison office in Abuja here was abandoned for 17 years and it was completed by me. That is the only one that provokes me when they say Rochas has not performed which is a lie that nobody should believe. You cannot go to Imo state, drive for 5 kilometres without seeing my project standing. Today, we have a trade fair complex built by my government. There are over 1000 projects to my credit. Orlu never saw a dualised road until my government came and they saw their first street lights when I became governor. Okigwe saw their first street light and dualised road during my tenure. So, how could somebody say I have done nothing and is busy writing petitions everywhere, trying to portray me as somebody who just came into government, did nothing and squandered the people’s money?
What would you say about the demolition of some of the things that you were able to do while governor of the state?
Talking about the government demolishing all that I have built, let me say that is a confirmation that I have done something. The Akachi monument which was commissioned by the Vice President is one of the best monuments in this country that formed basis for tourist attraction. But it was demolished by the government and nobody could explain why. The beautiful water fall built by my government was also demolished. The cross decorative light that makes Owerri looks as if we have surplus electricity and brings about night life was also demolished. That brought back night live in Owerri and became the best night life in the country.
So, it is not true that have done nothing because I know that I worked. May be my challenge was that I am not in the business of commissioning projects. I am not much of a protocol governor, but believe in getting things done. I am also not in the business of foundation laying. These things are there and they are facts that you cannot dispute. I stand to be challenged by anyone who says I have not done anything.
To make things more interesting, the government house I built, the Odenigbo, the guest house is what he is using. Where the Secretary to the Government who is attacking me is using was built by me. Imo state had nothing as at 2011 when I came and I made that place the most beautiful place in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the place is going down. Two years out of my eight years was horrible in terms of kidnapping and armed robbery. But two years later, I addressed the issue of insecurity and Imo became a safe heaven and we enjoyed Imo state for eight years. You did not hear any funny story of insecurity because I engaged over 11,000 youths in Imo security network, Imo security watch and Imo civil guard. These were the departments I created to fight crime and it worked beautifully and yet somebody would say I did nothing. That is the one that breaks my heart.
I will salute any government that will beat my records in Imo state or any government that will do 50 percent of what I did in Imo state. That person must be able to keep the free education alive because one of the things I did to be able to reduce insecurity in Imo state was free education. Parents no longer sell their wrappers to pay school fees. My mother sold her wrappers to pay my school fees.
But I would say that may be the government is confused or that they were not prepared for governance and so, to make themselves relevant, they have to fight Rochas. I don’t think any right thinking person would come up with the kind of things they are coming up with. I hear that they are saying I should be arrested and I don’t know on what ground I should be arrested. A magistrate court is asking me to come to court and even before that, has already passed a judgement, saying I should come with N2 million to bail myself or I will be in prison.
So, you can see that the government is either confused or something is wrong. They have no reason to fight me because before I left, I left a huge sum of money for them. I left N48.5 billion in the coffers and that should be enough to take off.
I started the Rural Access Mobility Projects. I approached the French people to give us the first grant for that project and Imo state got $16 million dollars and I awarded the contracts before leaving. I learnt that the contracts are being changed. I introduced the Imo Heath Insurance Scheme, but they are now claiming that they want to start it. There will be nothing anybody will do in Imo state today that will not be either what I have done or you take from it because there is nothing to be done.
Owerri is just a few hours from Abuja, but nobody wants to go there. That is what bothers me most. The good news is that with the closure of Enugu Airport now, people will now realise that I actually built the Cargo airport because I am sure that Ethiopia Airways will now be landing in Owerri. So, I do not know what performance is. But one thing I do not do which is my offence is that I don’t share money. If sharing money means performance, then I am guilty.
Are you saying you concentrated development in the urban areas?
The first time in Imo state that local government witnessed real development was during my time. There was literally no roads in the local government was grading of roads during Christmas. I introduced the tarring of roads in the rural area and we embarked on over 1000 kilometres of roads in the rural areas.
Interestingly, when I became governor, none of the local governments had tiles on their floor. When I came in, I said that is not good for business and we rebrand the entire local governments. It was the local government that actually built those 27 hospitals while the state government built the other three. The first time that a local government will built a 200 be hospital was during my time. Each of the local government built a primary school in their ward and in each of the local government areas today, you have an ICT centre for training of all the workers.
There is no local government that you go without seeing a chapel because our people believe in God and so, we built a place of worship for them. I introduced the Imo anthem and the mid day prayer and every mid day, government is shut down and everybody goes there to worship. That changed Imo state for good. Local government also witnessed real development for the first time during my eight years in office.
You were also accused of ‘grabbing’ by the current government?
There is nothing like land grabbing. Nobody has ever said that I took his land with proof. What they are doing is peddling lies. You heard that I took away 67 government vehicles. As I speak, there is no single evidence of any vehicle of government that I took that is not my entitlement.
Secondly, you must have heard that I borrowed N100 billion to built the entire infrastructure, mortgaging the future of Imo state for the next 100 years. Those are mere allegations that do not reflect any political reality. I have shouted and even abuse banks in Nigeria to speak out or forever shut up if I owe any of them.
Six months after this statement, no bank has said that I owe them. I left Imo state no owing any bank a single kobo and there is nothing like 67 vehicles and there was no N100 billion ever borrowed for those massive infrastructures. Any normal person will be wondering how I was able to do all the things I did with the meagre resources that come to Imo state. So, those are mere allegations because there is nothing like land grabbing.
I forced Owerri to open up as a city and not as a village. Those who knew Owerri in 2011 will understand that we were comfortable being a village and I used my business acumen to force it open especially as a real estate guru. I saw a lot of bushes around the city and people farming inside the city. So, I gave people time to build on their land within the city or get the land revoked and be relocated somewhere else. That did the magic and people started building.
Another thing I did was to start building roads. I had to dramatise that I also believe in the city and so, I got my wife to open up a Restaurant there and my wife to open up a hotel in the city and started transferring some of my businesses from Abuja to Owerri. Till date, no governor of that state has ever invested in the state and no leader has ever opened a shop in the state. They all go to Lagos and Abuja. I am the first leader or first governor to invest there and that grew like wild fire and so, property that was going for about N500,000 is now selling for between N10 and N20 million. That is the money in Imo state today.
I turned the state around and Owerri became the fastest growing city in Nigeria outside Abuja and Lagos. I have said this severally and I stand to be challenged. The number of buildings that came up in Imo state within eight years is more than the number of buildings in Imo state since creation.
Where Owerri ended before was at Concord where you have the 4040. But go to Owerri today, the place has expanded going towards Port Harcourt. Naze and Owerri have joined together and there is no longer a kidnapping zone there. The forest there, I brought it down. I was told the forest is a bad forest and that nobody gets there without dying. I dared the forest and no one died. Naze and Owerri right now are one city.
Owerri West has become one city. I moved the police and prison headquarters to Owerri West. So, when I said that real estate is better in Imo state than it has ever been, I am not wrong. I don’t even know how to tell the world that I have done well. I have tried abusing people and force them to go there and it is not working.