Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo (CON), the first civilian governor of old Enugu State, is the pioneer national secretary of the the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He also held the position of national chairman of the party. In this interview with journalists in Enugu, he spoke on the issue of insecurity, local government administration in the country, among others. JUDE OSSAI, was there. Excerpts:
THE issue of local government administration remains controversial in the country. What is your take as regards the running of the affairs of our local government areas?
When I was a governor, the revenue allocation favoured federal, state and local governments. Less than six months into our governorship, the Federal Government, without consultation with the governors, changed the revenue allocations in favour of local governments. At that time, the Ibrahim Babangida administration made us (the governors) to believe that those who would manage local governments were people who were retiring as permanent secretaries and going back home with their wealth of experience to ensure serious development at the local government areas.
They wanted to make sure that they hadmoney to do what we had in the mind. That was the first time we had the governors’ forum and we went to see the President and we said to him: “What you are saying is right but if you come to Enugu and jump into a pothole, the thing that will come out from your mouth is Nwodo. If you go to school and there is no chalkboard to write, you will say Nwodo, and if you go to the hospitals, and there is no drug, you will also say Nwodo. So, nobody talks about local government chairmen. We are having the responsibility and you are giving the local government people the money.”
That was our first problem. The second problem we had less than six months from then was the devaluation of the currency. Our budget became nonsense. If you were going to do a project of N1 million, you were going to look for about 1.7 million to do the project. And then there was the increased in the wages of civil servants without increasing the money that was given to us and most states could not pay salaries. The former government had savings which they called “stabilization fund”, so if you made a strong case, that this was what you were getting and this was what you were spending, they would give you money from the stabilization fund, maybe to help you sort out salaries for three months and you come back to beg again. So, it was that difficult.
The point is that, at that time, no governor was even crazy enough to touch the money going to the local governments; the money went straight to them. At that time, we had a holistic plan that supervised what the local governments did, and concentrated on the ones we could do. But, the difference is that, today, the governors have access to the money meant for local governments. They don’t take it for the actual development of the local council areas but for other reasons and the people in the local government are forced to sign that the money has been used for the local areas. This is a general problem in Nigeria today. So, it is hard to get a local government in Nigeria that is doing well in primary health, primary education, and primary agriculture and so on because the fund is not there. So, it is either we don’t want the local councils and scrap them it, or we want and empower it.
Having observed consistent attacks by herdsmen in Enugu State in recent times, what is your advice to the state governor on how best to manage the situation?
One of the issues with the herdsmen is that they feel that their own man or brother is the president. It is not that the president asked them to be doing that, but the notion that “my brother is in charge, what can you do to me? is the major factor fuelling this menace. Therefore, the security agencies, that is the police, and the Army, cannot do better than the local vigilantes because the latter know the hideouts of those Herdsmen and can even help them to escape if they want. I therefore advice the governor to make sure that the local vigilantes are up and doing. If they apprehend these people and the state knows they did committed the act, it is the duty of the state government to make sure that the full arm of the law is meted on them.
There must be a point at which we are going to take the destiny and the responsibility of ourselves in our own hands for the country, as at it is now becoming more polarised. The law in this country does not allow an individual to purchase an AK47 rifle with licence but, these herdsmen carry it around without anybody questioning them; it is worrisome. I believe we need to be up and doing and if eventually we catch one of these people, we hold him down till the governor comes. Our press will make noise about it with our radio stations until the law catches up with the person and they will know that they cannot do this any more in Enugu.
I equally advise that those, who have basic knowledge of security, to draw up a plan as to how our local vigilantes can be trained on how to protect themselves so that they do not just go and get killed. They will be given basic education and training on how best to catch the perpetrators and hand them over to the police.
We learnt you to dump PDP for the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
I have since refuted the allegations. It is improper for the media to stand merely on my wife being present at a meeting that I was not present to conclude that I have joined the APC, disregarding the fact that my wife as an adult has her own political life. As one of the founding fathers of PDP, who has held the highest office in the party, I know the statutory procedure of resigning and would willingly do that if necessary.
How do you see the war against corruption?
On the anti-corruption fight, the president should ensure that those who have corruption charges are tried and if they are found guilty, they should be made to return the money or jailed and barred from holding political offices. This is what will stop Nigerians from looting public funds, and they will take the anti corruption war serious.
How about the economy? Is the administration making serious efforts to bring the needed positive change in the country?
My take on President Buhari’s economic agenda is that he should get a team of best brains on economic management to help us out of the quagmire. He should not consider religion, party loyalty or ethnicity while searching for these brains.
Enugu is 25 years old as a state; what informed the quest for the creation of this state?
This is a very interesting question because it allows one to go down memory lane. As a background, I will like to say that Enugu State or old Enugu Wawa State was actually created after 30 years of struggle by the Wawa-speaking people of Igboland to herald a state of their own. What informed the struggle was simply that the Northern Igbo embraced Western education much later than the Southern Igbo. So, at the time we had the first generation of doctors, engineers, and lawyers, our Southern brothers already had their fourth generation of such people. So, they had a good headstart on and because of that, they occupied the principal positions in the government of Eastern Nigeria and Southern states when it was created and, later on, old Anambra State. So, in all of these different administrative set up, the Wawa – speaking people were always seen as wood fetchers, such that if you wanted an honest domestic staff, you either go to Nsukka, Abakaliki or Afikpo to get such a person.
Our Southern brothers did not believe that we were endowed as they were to sit on the same table with them. Well, our pioneer leaders, who had also acquired western education like late Chief C.C. Onoh, Dr Akanu Ibiam, Martin Elechi, Chief Nwodo, Chief Charles Abangwu, Chief Enechi Onyia, Mgbada, just to name a few, started to spear head the agitation that we should have equal treatment as the other people, especially as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, began to help us produce a lot more younger graduates.
We felt that our people also needed to participate in equal proportions in governance. But getting the state was not easy. One of the big problems we had was the experience of the Igbo and the issues of their abandoned properties in the Southern states of Rivers and Bayelsa in particular, where a lot of properties of the Igbo were confiscated and said to have been abandoned to the people of those areas after the Biafran War. A lot of the properties in Enugu were owned by these very people we were complaining about that were marginalising us. Since they had more rich people than our leaders, they were able to stop the creation of Enugu Wawa State for a long time because they were afraid that their properties would be declared abandoned and the people of Wawa State were going to take their properties and so on and so forth. So, a lot of misgivings delayed this very important developmental agenda that our people had.
Since that state was created, there is no doubt that there has been monumental progress in the Wawa-speaking part of the country. And by the Grace of God, General Sani Abacha, went ahead to give the people of Abakaliki; Ebonyi State,with headquarters in Abakaliki, we speak now, the people of Nsukka are agitating for Adada State. State creation in Nigeria today is the biggest catalyst for development because the state headquarters, with all the government apparatus, have to be built and there is the tendency that more money will come into the area. If you have Adada State now, they will have their own allocation every month, as well as what will become now as old Enugu State again will have their own allocation and then the local governments, and so on. So, these are indices of development in our country for today.
We believe that as long as the Igbo have five states, they are short of one governor; they are losing three senators, as well as about 7-8 members of the House of Representatives. They are losing manpower that is critical at the center as well in the states in terms the members of House of Assembly. So, that is why the South-East is still agitating for one more state to be ona par with others, so that when we vote at the National Assembly, our votes will count and not when a state like the Kano votes in the North, will cover the entire votes of the people of the South East. We think that that is not fair. So, this is the background for the creation of our state.
We were able to fish out ghost workers, do a lot of savings here and there and concentrated on things which would help us create wealth because there is no way you can spend money without creating money.
What we were getting from the Federation Account was between N62 million and N63 million every month. The wages bill of Enugu state then was N63 million. So, it means that if we just pay salaries, we will sit down and look at ourselves until the next allocation comes. But with his document, we were able to create N5 million, we were able to fix N65 million which Babangida gave us for rehabilitation of industries and we were making about N5 million after paying our contractors. The whole money was in a fixed deposit and we were making interest of about N5 million every month. Then there was this magic interest rate which the banks were giving. President Babangida again gave us N25 million for rehabilitation of Ajali water scheme and we went on to fix the money, and it was giving us interest.
What then happened?
My government actually concentrated on projects that were being financed by ADB and World Bank which we needed to pay a very little counterpart fund and the bank paid most of the bill; so we were able to do more than 95% of water projects in Enugu and Nsukka boreholes and reticulation from Ebonyi River in Abakailiki. We were able to finish the first set of rural electrification and ADB gave us money again for the second phase which we were implementing before we left.
So, the third and fourth blueprint was on road network, which was the one that was headed by somebody from Nsukka, Ben Okwor, who contested the election with me in SDP. We were not interested in your party; our interest was in your ability to deliver. Ben is an Engineer, he was a former commissioner for works and we believed he knew what we were looking for and his document answered the question on how we could connect Enugu the capital city with all the local governments in the state with all the food producing areas and with all the major markets to evacuate agricultural products from the farm and take it to the market. He produced one of the best documents I have seen.
That is one of other documents the World Bank had approved for us $45 million dollars and we were at the point of completing the conditionalities of the bank; appointing a director for highway and other requirements before we could draw down the loan, the coup came. That document has never been revisited. Otherwise, 24 years ago, all the major roads in Enugu would have been built by now. So, the point I want to underscore is that we tried to make sure we had a solid blueprint for whatever we wanted to do and we presented them to IMF and we got commitments because we went with the best brains in the state to prepare the solid documents which met the conditions of international organisations and met the conditions of the Federal Government to guarantee all the loan we needed because they saw that we had solid studies which made a lot of sense. So, that was why we emphasised the policy of meritocracy in spite of the fact that all the senatorial zones contributed in these think thank groups.
The leadership was not compromised and we got the result we wanted and as I said, these were the things that I felt I needed to correct from the 30 years we fought to create Enugu State. We made sure that those things we were complaining about, those things that were paining us did not repeat themselves in the new state. That was the state we met, that was how we tried to confront the development and the moral background that led to the fight for the creation of the state.
Do you think Enugu State has fared well after 25 years of its creation?
Yes, Enugu state in my view has moved on since its creation. I think that every government that has led the state prioritized her programmes and tried to do the best they could. And therefore, there has been steady improvement in infrastructure and in the empowerment of the people. The creation of Ebonyi state helped a lot in the development of the Wawas in so many ways. The only fault I have in our progress is as it is the order of the day in Nigeria for successive governments to believe that the government before them had nothing to offer and they abandoned projects initiated by the predecessors and then they start new projects which within their own tenure might also not be able to be completed.
So, you have all the place littered with abandoned projects. For instance, we spent a lot of time, to engage one Mr. Arthur Ugwu from Akagbeugwu or somewhere in Enugu and his team to produce 20 years’ master plan for ESUT; the main campus in Awkunano, where Jim Nowbodo, started it and the Adada campus. If you look at this two master plans, you will be shocked if there will be any University in Nigeria that will meet the quality of those drawings and of course, there will be no governor that will stay for 20 years in office at most 8 years; but I felt that any government that is coming doesn’t have to think about what to do in these campuses.
With the master plan, all you just need to as a governor is to find out what is the need of the campus at the time and deal with those ones and the University will keep growing at the end of the day. The infrastructure we are talking of in the master plan were roads, gardens, and then the buildings wherever they were supposed to be were intact. The drawing of all the buildings to my knowledge met the standard as at that time. Now, these were abandoned at the end of the day and the university was moved to Agbani, the teaching hospital was moved from Ugwu-Queens Nsukka to Parklane Hospital.
Again, we the people of Nsukka were not receiving the radio channel in Enugu, so we started a transmission station at Ugwu-Queens Nsukka to make sure that we were heard not only in Nsukka but in Kogi and beyond and in spite of all the money. We invested there, the project was almost 80% concluded and 24 years down the line, it is still abandoned. It required just the last payment to complete that project. You see the road that the governor is doing now between Opi-Nsukka, we designed that road exactly as it is being built now and it’s the same contractor that is doing that job, the R.C.C. that we gave the job. When I was removed as governor, I had paid them N6 million plus just about a week before I was removed and when I left, RCC left the site. I went to their office in Lagos to complain and they said to me that when Jim Nwobodo was governor, they were building the road from Oghe to Uzo-Uwani and Jim’s government owed them before they were removed and that they were not paid. So, Since then, it took 24 years for us to go back to that drawing board. If you drive on that road now, you feel very happy. So, this is why I am complaining that government should not feel that whatever their predecessor started is stupid, especially when it is for the good of the people and when you are going to spend more money changing the goalpost to fit your own whims and caprices. If we had given in on those master plans, I am sure that ESUT will be a different ball game than what it is today.
So, I will advice the current governor to try as much as possible to complete whatever we left undone or uncompleted. Whatever Chimaroke left uncompleted, whatever Sullivan left uncompleted that will be cheaper to complete and in the interest of the people of this state, the current governor should look at them and try and complete those projects. My condition on this is those abandoned projects that are germane to the people, please, please complete them.
What is your take on the growth of infrastructure between your time as governor and Enugu now?
Well, there has been a lot. Like I said, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani did a lot in terms of road , especially in Enugu East senatorial district. He touched a lot of roads in that area and also built the state university and also his own private university, the law school and all that. All these are indices of development. Sullivan Chime did an awful lot in the areas of roads in the state capital. There are few state capitals that can boast of good road infrastructure like Enugu and in the last phase of his administration, he tried to move out of the state capital; like the road going through Nike Lake Hotel to Opi, the four-corner road and other few like that.
So, he did quite a lot in road infrastructure. Governor Ugwuanyi is equally trying to do the same thing in the other important roads that have not been touched, especially the by-pass in the 9th Mile corner which is a major nightmare during Christmas and Easter and festivities. If he is able to complete that project which was started by Chimaroke, it will help a lot. And what he is doing in Abakpa is going to break the bottleneck experienced often by those going through Nike Lake to Abakpa down to Nsukka. At least the university town is being given a face lift. For almost the past 24 years, you can’t drive into Nsukka and this is where we have the first indigenous University named after the country founded by a great Nigerian, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
I think that, by-and-large in terms of rural electrification, they can do exactly what we did. You know I got ADB loan for 70 communities and we finished the electrification and we applied for another 74 communities and because of the speed we used in completing the first phase, they approved the second phase immediately. I wanted to even do it faster than the first one because what I did now in the second one was that I bought all the foreign components. I forced the contractors to give us all the foreign components and to nominate their source of supply. I made sure the bank paid the suppliers directly and the suppliers shifted everything to us and they were emptied in the Government House where we thought it would have maximum security, so that all the contractors needed to do was to put the poles and come there and take the components and fix them, so that in less than three months, we would have finished the whole business. Unfortunately, we could not complete it before the coup came and it was a different ball game when the military came in.
The point I am trying to make is that these days we have meager resources, if we are able to do a good study, the ADB and World Bank will still give you money to do things like water and electricity which I believe should be a sine-qua-none for any government to provide for the people. You know, there are so many boreholes in Enugu and Nsukka and the reticulation in Abakaliki Ebony state as I have earlier said. We completed about 95% of that project, if I get money from VAT or any other place when I was governor, I put it in what is called an x-ray account so that any certificate of completion generated in water and electricity within 24 hours I must pay the counter-part fund and once I pay the counterpart fund, the Bank pays the rest. So the contractors have no reason to waste our time.
By the time I finished, Anambra had not done one town. But we had done 95%, which is true. In this our Agric programme, I had gone to America and I was able to get a bank utility and I imported irrigation equipment. I imported the vehicle that services boreholes and all that and when the coup came, most of those things were sold in the wolf. Those equipments were the engine of Agric project and I have not even received the money from World Bank. So going back to your question, I believe that enough had been done but there still remains a lot to be done. I didn’t talk about our medical blueprint which was presented to me after the coup.
I being a medical Doctor supposed to set up something in the health sector; that is the primary health, secondary health and tertiary health with adequate responsibility to each tier of the programmes and for government together with her local level to provide the necessary infrastructure and man-power for these section and the communities seeing these as their own, protect and enhance it and make sure that they are up and running for their benefit.
In the educational sector, one of the things that I had in mind which each time I think about it I feel bad that the government that came after didn’t see that importance is that I wanted Enugu to be the hub of ICT in Nigeria. I was working for that project with Prof. Bath Nnaji, he has helped us to computerize the Nike lake Hotel, state Ministry of Finance, government house and other strategic ministries and I discussed with him and said in every local government let us equip one primary school with computer so that children of the local governments will take turns visiting that ICT center, to adapt with the functionalities of ICT at the early stage of their life and see the computer as a toy and get familiar with it.
My own vision was that with time we will have the greatest number of I.C.T. personnel in the entire Nigeria and they will be ready for a time the country will be embracing ICT. So we have worked for them across Nigeria and when you go into the internet there is no information in this world you will not find and therefore you see Enugu state indigenes having the whole information at hand and the first loyalty is for the state that gave them this opportunity; wherever they are working, anything that they find of interest to the people of this state even to their families and communities they will do it but we missed that opportunity because that is the question of thinking along with the future.
I still think as we speak now we need to do something about ICT in our state because the students are now taking exams on the Internet and a child is going to take exams on a platform he or she has never met before. He may have all the knowledge but having been confronted with a machine he has never met in his life; he will not be able to perform very well in the said exam and will end up failing the exam whereas he has the knowledge. So we need to do something about that especially for the children in the rural area. Today in abroad, there is no child who can do any programme without being computer literate. We need to prepare our children for today and for future. That is my position on that. So I continue to believe that government’s that has been in place since we left has justified the creation of Enugu state. They have done their best and a lot more is needed to be done.