INEC, Oshiomhole are after me —Okorocha
Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has been having a running battle with his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in recent months. The travails got compounded when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) refused to issue him a Certificate of Return for his victory at the senatorial election during the February 23, National Assembly elections. In this interview with select newsmen in Abuja, Okorocha pointedly accused the National Chairman of the APC and the Chairman of INEC of orchestrating a dangerous political scheme against him. He insists that the forces within and outside the party cannot stop his senatorial victory. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, presents the excerpts:
How far have you gone in your bid to retrieve the Certificate of Return, which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has refused to give you?
I had written a letter to INEC informing the officials about their wrongdoings and illegal actions taken by INEC to withhold my certificate on mere allegation of [the returning declaring the result under] duress, which was unfounded and no committee was set up to investigate the matter. INEC, on its own, believed the reports by their returning officer without investigating the authenticity of such allegation. So, there was no issue of fair hearing at all on whether I committed the offence that their person alleged. What is important here is that INEC doesn’t have the power to withhold my certificate of return, having declared a result. Both the certificate of return and the declaration is just one subject matter, just that the other one is ceremonial, because result has been declared.
Looking at some of the activities that have taken place since this issue of my return certificate, it became obvious that the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu, was up to a game with the chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole and the commission is being used to frustrate my coming to the Senate. It is politically-motivated. I’ve given enough time that INEC might correct itself and do the needful by issuing a certificate of return, all to no avail. To buttress the point more, even after issuance of this letter to INEC, many things have happened within the week. For instance, INEC that made a submission to the tribunal in Owerri has gone back requesting that they want to withdraw the submission they have made. The submission they made was defending the declaration by INEC, which is normal that INEC ought to defend their declaration. But because that submission was seen to be in my favour, INEC has gone back to say they will withdraw the submission, which is also out of time. Now, they went through an affidavit by the Head of Legal Department; one Mr. Elekwa, who made the submission has now gone back to say he wants to withdraw and reliably, I was informed that he was under threat by one Festus Okoye, who has threatened to sack him from INEC if he does not withdraw. So, there is a huge threat going on now in INEC to sack the gentleman for not doing the wrong thing or being part of the script and I’m sure, for some reason, they may have forgotten to inform him to do the wrong thing because if they had informed him to do the wrong thing, he would have done that. He went there believing that he was defending INEC the normal way they should. Festus Okoye is the man being used as the hatchet man now to do this in line with the game being played by the National Chairman of APC.
Has the INEC responded to your letter?
They have not responded to my letter. They have said nothing to me. I wrote that letter in my capacity as the governor of a state who contested for the Senate and INEC cannot ignore my letter. So, I demand an explanation from INEC as to why they have withheld it.
But you went to court?
I took INEC court in a matter between me and INEC, to give me my certificate, which is the normal thing. But INEC has also now connived with other parties, the PDP and also the APGA, to be a joinder. Even today, they also said somebody else wants to join. Every day, somebody keeps joining, just to delay the matter. There is a complete high-level conspiracy to fight Rochas. But I assure them, they will fail.
But why the conspiracy?
It’s politically-motivated definitely. If not, why do this? The story started when they imposed a candidate on Imo State; when they imposed Hope Uzodinma who came two weeks to our primaries and they wanted to give him the ticket at all cost, leaving the people who founded the party, who won the primaries. One Gulak came and ran away with the result sheets. They upheld it. But men who support evil will have evil on their way one day.
You said that the National Chairman of the party is part of your travails.
Yes, he is part and parcel of the game plan.
I remember that you were one of those who supported him to emerge as the National Chairman of your party. What suddenly happened that he is now against you?
There is nothing personal between me and Adams Oshiomhole other than that he is part and parcel of this high-level conspiracy to bring down Rochas politically. This is just aimed at making sure that Rochas doesn’t have a solid foundation politically. They say if I get to the Senate, I want to run for the president and all of that; that I want to run for 2023 elections. Who told them? Have I declared? You wait until I declare and when I do declare, we now fight politically.
But what is painful is that the Oshiomhole that I literally put into this position, I never asked him to do me any favour, but all I requested is for him to do what is right, could turn around to commit this evil. It’s totally unacceptable. That the party that I formed that brought out the APC we have today will treat me in this manner is also unfortunate, because the evil I feared in the PDP has befallen me 10 times in the APC. I hate injustice and that’s what I’m seeing on a daily basis now playing out.
What they are doing makes them to also appear to me as cowards. When you want to fight a man, you come out and take responsibility and say ‘I will fight Rochas.’ But they are hiding. If they are man enough, let them come out and say ‘Rochas, I’m going to fight you,’ let me know how they want to fight. But they will go and start holding night meetings, conspiring here and there, withholding certificates and INEC will make itself an instrument of illegality in this country. That’s unfortunate.
What fact do you have to buttress the belief that the APC chairman is involved in your travails with INEC?
Surprisingly, and again to also buttress the point, the APC National Chairman has gone to the tribunal asking to withdraw the matter, which APC had filed defending the victory of APC at the Senate. What INEC is doing is the same thing the APC is doing. So, this tells you that there is a game going on. But I wonder what they will do with the certificate. If they don’t give me the certificate, who will they give it to? Maybe they will give it to Festus Okoye, because he is from my senatorial zone. But what these gentlemen are doing is presenting INEC as a lying organisation and that is dangerous for our democracy, because as it stands right now, the image of INEC is bastardised for this singular act. They are setting a bad precedent. What that means is that tomorrow, somebody can withdraw the result of anybody because you don’t like his face or because you feel he is going to politically challenge you in the future. But, it is rather very funny to see this happening in our own time and generation. What is happening now is what happened in the primitive days, not now in this modern world. What image is INEC trying to portray to the rest of the world? INEC should just come to me and say ‘we don’t want you to go to the Senate because our leaders have said so and we must fight you.’ A man, having won the election, having been declared by INEC, now you don’t want to give him his result or maybe you give him his result sometime after they have constituted the National Assembly. Then by so doing, you are depriving the entire people of Imo West the opportunity to be represented and this whole attack is on Imo State, not anywhere else. A similar thing is taking place in Okigwe, where a candidate took the result sheet of the 2015 general election to declare himself winner and the person who declared the result ran away to Canada. As it stands now, Okigwe Senatorial zone, Imo North does not have a Senator. Imo West does not have a Senator. Only one Senator now represents the whole of Imo State because of this illegal and corruptive act coming from INEC and the party. If INEC were to have been very serious, the gentleman who used fake result sheet should have been arrested to face a criminal charge. How will INEC allow somebody to use a fake result sheet of four years ago to declare himself and the man has the audacity to go to court and INEC is leading him to go to court, all to fight Rochas? How will INEC allow a Professor of Mathematics, their Returning Officer, to announce the result of a governorship election that took place with a lot of abnormalities? Knowing too well that the person never met 25 per cent of the two-thirds of the number of local governments, they still went ahead and announced such result in this country. And a Professor of Mathematics could not differentiate what is called two-thirds? Yet, INEC was comfortable announcing such result and issuing certificate of return. But in my own case in which I have won, I’m not issued certificate of return. It’s very glaring that they are up to something. I call on INEC to, as quickly as possible, make amends and get these things out there so that we can correct its battered image right now.
Part of the problems you have with your party is because of the alleged anti-party activities that you were accused to have carried out in Imo State by asking one of your principal officers to join another party to contest the gubernatorial poll and you used your machinery to support him. Is that true?
This is just a latter development. It has been on. You forgot that there was a primary? You forgot there was even a Congress where the then Organising Secretary, Osita Izunaso, ran away with the ballot boxes and the Police Commissioner was later transferred? It’s just a booklet that is opened page by page on a daily basis. You forgot that Gulak even came and ran away with the result sheets and said election was finished. The security agents were there and all of these people. That’s part of the conspiracy. It’s not about anti-party.
You met with President Muhammadu Buhari on this matter on two occasions. How come the party has not resolved the problem?
What I took to the president was entirely a different matter, because I believe that this matter shouldn’t be a matter that Mr. President should come in. If you know President Muhammadu Buhari as a person, he is not such a person who interferes. Once he gives you a job, you do your job, he doesn’t want to interfere. At the end of it all, you make yourself good or bad. I know his style and I know his person. So, I didn’t want to belabour him with talk to this or that person on what is clear and right.
You are very close to the president and there is this impression that the president may be behind this?
I don’t think Mr. President is behind this. Buhari is definitely not behind this. If you know President Buhari’s style, you will know that he will keep quiet and never say anything about this until they prove themselves right or wrong.
If those behind it are very close to president, can’t the president call them to order?
Remember this matter has to do with INEC and INEC is perceived to be independent and if Mr. President is going to talk to INEC, he’s interfering with the independence of INEC. Whether Mr. President speaks or not, what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong.
Now that you are in court, are you prepared to allow the processes of the court to run out?
I’ve just said that these are all delay tactics. INEC at the end of it all will have to give out the certificate. I’ve advised them, the only person who is qualified to get that INEC result is Festus Okoye, the National Commissioner.
But Okoye has said that since you are in court, it’s only the court that can give them order to issue the certificate to you. Is that not the right statement?
He is very funny about it, because he is like the hatchet man for the whole show. So, since he is from the Orlu zone and he is the one they are using from the INEC quarters, he is the only person who qualifies to take the certificate. They should give him the certificate, because who else can they give it to?You can’t give it to somebody who lost election.
With all of these, do you still feel comfortable about remaining in the APC?
I’m in the APC. I’ve never thought of leaving the party for now and I have no reason because I won on the platform of APC.
When you say the misfortune you feared in PDP has befallen you 10 times in the APC, are you still comfortable remaining and allowing the misfortune to multiply?
Where will I go to? I have to be in the APC. I formed the APC.
Are you stranded in the APC?
I’m not stranded. I’m in APC and I have not indicated that I’m going to leave APC. Remember that the intention of these people is to frustrate me out of politics and out of APC so that they can have a field day. But all I advise today is that let no institution or organisation allow itself to be used as an instrument to destroy somebody politically, who has committed no offence.
If by chance you meet Adams Oshiomhole today, what will you tell him?
We will chat as usual. What will I do to him? The last time I saw Oshiomhole was when I went to Oshiomhole’s office and he sent his State Security Service man to insult me in his office, before the governorship candidate of Akwa Ibom [Nsima Ekere] reacted against the gentleman. An SSS agent was pushing me out from Oshiomhole’s office as a governor. So, I’ve taken enough of insults from Oshiomhole and all those that are planning this evil.
You said the anti-graft agencies are on the trail of many people in your government. Are you suspecting that the commission is part of this conspiracy, because what it said before the election was that you were taking money from government coffers to buy votes?
First and foremost, if you think right and people reason well, if you want to withdraw N17 billion in this country now, it will take you two years to get N17 billion from all the banks in Nigeria. So, these are frivolities. But anybody can say anything against you just to find a way to attack you and I’m saying that they should apply some reasonability in what they do. Nobody should be used as an instrument to fight anybody because of some political reasons. If not, such institutions also will lose their credibility.
You are the Chairman of the APC Governors Forum and there is frightening unfolding security challenge in the country. As somebody who is a stakeholder in this government, aren’t you worried about the security situation?
It’s a cause for concern really and my heart goes to those who lost their dear ones. What is happening in Nigeria, we don’t need it. We don’t need such distraction, we don’t need such bloodshed. But what is happening is deeper than we all can tell, because at a point, we thought it was taking a religious line. It happened in Benue and we thought it was the Muslims against the Christians. It happened in Jos and Zamfara. The fight against this insurgency should be a collective responsibility and not something that government alone will do. These people are taking advantage of the disunity among all of us, on tribal basis, religious basis, political basis. So, we need to have a unified force to fight insurgency as a nation. But our nation does not know when to play politics and when to stop playing politics, because if we come together across party lines, across religious line, across ethnic groups and fight these insurgents, it will end. But to some people, it’s a plus the moment people are killed in Zamfara, because they think it will give them a political advantage. They celebrate it. This is where I don’t understand what kind of country Nigeria is. If this had been America, parties will disappear, religion will disappear, tribes will disappear and they will focus and deal with this matter. But how can you deal with a matter where you are divided? There is complete division in this country along political line, along religious line, tribal line, whatever you are. For instance, even the APC as a party; if we are going to battle now, what strength will the party use to fight? It’s so scattered because of a lot of injustices and what have you. Sometimes, they make it look like a presidential thing, but when somebody is hurt, it’s a nation that is hurt and it’s not one man. It’s not the president or the presidency. So, we must begin to find solution as a people working together. These are not spirits that are fighting us; they are traceable wherever they come from.
But why is the president finding it very difficult to fire Service Chiefs that are not living up to expectations in terms of the security situation?
I just said same thing. If you fire the Service Chief and you bring another person, it’s the same recurring decimal. How many IGs have we fired in this country over this issue? Sometimes, it’s not that. There are certain things you have to address first. If you have a family and you have a battle that is so strong, first, you make sure you tighten up your family. I’m able fight this battle because I’m not at war with my wife or my children. It will be more devastating if you don’t have a family. So, first of all, Nigeria should be a family to fight this battle. The service chiefs are but individuals. If you remove the service chiefs, what is the guarantee that the new service chiefs will be able to take care of the matter? So, it’s beyond that. If you know the person of President Buhari, he gives you a long rope to pull to prove yourself. I think there needs to be reorientation first in this country on the need for a unified force to fight this battle, because the battle is beyond what service chiefs alone can do. The battle is beyond what armed forces can handle. If you are not careful, the fight against insurgency will now transform itself into a business. It’s just like kidnapping. When it started in the South-East, I will give you example of how I sorted the issue of kidnapping in Imo State. Remember my state was one of the most notorious in the South-East. Nobody has cared to ask me what I did to stop kidnapping. That’s how to solve a nation’s problem. When I started fighting the kidnappers, somebody that fixed something for River State government then was giving me a bill of N3.4 billion to set up gadgets, cameras to catch them. But I knew I didn’t have the money and if I signed that contract, I won’t pay salary for one year. What I did was very simple. All the autonomous communities in Imo State, six hundred and something of them, I met the Ezes, the chief security officers and set up a community government council so that after federal, state and local, I have a community government working in Imo State and each of them is charged with the responsibility to fight crime without arms. First of all, information is key. We lack adequate information on the activities of the Boko Haram and the kidnappers. If you don’t have information, you will be shooting in the dark and wasting arms, spending more money than you should. When I set up this community government council, it changed the story in Imo State. Within few days, I began to see results. I developed what is called the black book. In my black book, they got me names of all the criminals, while protecting the traditional rulers. It became a personal matter between me and security agencies. We even got to know about somebody who built up something in his roof where he disappears and he’s a kidnapper. So, the day we led an operation to go and get the gentleman, the pay-loader was there, they said the man had disappeared. The man told us that even if the man disappears, we should continue and break down that house. As we did that, the man came out like a rat. That’s the power of information. But I would have spent money hiring army, police, paying allowance and overnight allowance, meanwhile the man is eating food upstairs there for one year. So, information is not there and that is a major problem of the nation’s insecurity.
The Federal Government is blocking the governors from having access to Local Government accounts. What is your take?
The three tiers of government is a constitutional issue and local government is also one of the tiers of government. But there is no clear-cut arrangement as to how local government affairs are managed, because it’s still the state assemblies that make their laws and control their activities. If you look at the other side, the local governments are actually a part of the state government. If the local governments do not come together, what they will be operating will be on recurrent expenditures. Take for instance, in Imo State, and I must say this proudly that I know not of any state where the local government has achieved the much I have achieved. Today in my state, they built a 200-bed hospital in each of the local governments. We built 546 primary schools because of this arrangement. We have ICT centres and we have done over 1000 kilometres of road. Before I became governor, I checked the local governments’ achievements; all I saw were boreholes and transformers and renovation of health centres. So, the funds of local governments cannot impact on any major project unless there is a collective arrangement. Again, I think the idea of the Federal Government or the NFIU in this matter is because of the perceived corruption that takes place within the system. As it is, I think there should be a better clear-cut issue as to the autonomy of the local government, based on the constitutional provision.
You claimed to be popular and have done a lot of projects, but why were the people of the state celebrating when the APC said you no longer have a grip of the structures?
It’s not true. We have a population of over five million people and you say hundred youths, miscreants coming around, tearing billboards and you say they celebrate? No sane person in Imo State will tell you that Rochas has not done well, because the record I set in Imo State is yet to be beaten by anybody and I’ve beaten the records of those before me. This might shock you and it’s subject to verification that what I’ve done in Imo State, if you put together what others that have governed Imo State for the past 34 years have done, it cannot be equal to what I have done. Let somebody come and say it’s not true. Today, Imo State has an International Cargo Airport, the best in the country. Last week, FAAN confirmed so, that it is the best and the biggest in the country. Today, I’ve built a new police command office, it is the second biggest to the one at the nation’s capital and that is the Inspector-General of Police’s office and the facilities I have there is far more than the one you have in the FCT. I’ve built the State High Court, the biggest and the best in the country today. I’ve built a prison of 3,200 capacity, the best in the country. Only a few days ago, the Ooni Ife said that he has been everywhere in Africa, there is no traditional ruler’s headquarter that is like the one of Imo State. Our urban renewal is second to none. I’ve built more roads in Imo State than all the governors in the past put together. I’ve built over 500 and something schools. Recently, I collected three university licences. I’ve built six universities, all completed. Who has built it? I built six universities because I need them. Imo State remains the highest in the number of UTME applicants since 2011 because of my free education policy. More children go to school now in Imo State. When I came, we had over 600,000 students in the primary schools. Today, we have over a million students going to school and they don’t pay a dime in all the tertiary institutions. I proudly say so. In 2012, for instance, the number of students looking for JAMB admission from Imo State was 143,000 in Nigeria. The second was 67,000 in Delta and we have maintained the lead for the past seven years and we can only take about 20 per cent. What happens to the remaining percentage every year? I’ve built four polytechnics and two colleges of education. Who will tell you that I didn’t do all these in Imo State? What they are saying now is that I have set the standard too high for anybody and I don’t owe salaries. All these projects, I’ve not commissioned any of them. I don’t have the time to commission projects. You need to come and see one of my universities and see whether you have such anywhere. So, it’s not about performance. It’s only Imo State that you see eight lane roads.
But some of the roads and many of the projects are said to be substandard …
You come there and see whether you will see any pothole in Imo State. It’s just social media you rely on for information. FAAN has confirmed that the cargo airport is best cargo airport. Is it the police headquarter that we have or the prison we have, or the high court, or the international exhibition centre that we built, or the Eze Imo Palace that we built? We have Ministry of ICT built by this government, Ministry of Sports, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Agriculture. I have well over 2,000 commissionable projects in Imo State. I don’t know what is wrong with our journalists. They should come and find out. If anybody has beaten my records, I will stop politics.
While embarking on these projects, were you looking at sustainability? Can a state like yours sustain six universities?
You should have asked me how ‘does a single man in this country offer free education to over 22,000 children with 6,000 undergraduates and 4,000 graduates via the Rochas Foundation?’ It is not money, it is vision. Where there is no vision, the people perish. It didn’t say where there is no money. But you people put money first. If I’m still the governor of Imo State or guide whoever is there, those institutions will run hitch-free, because every university can fund itself in this country.
Are you not afraid of being probed by the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies on how you spent public funds?
I’m not afraid, but it must never be politically-motivated, because for every one naira spent in Imo State, I will show you where it is and if I go by their conventional contracts, I’m sure they will owe me in my administration more than N100 billion. That’s the thing I want to explain to Nigerians. That’s the thing I want to explain to you journalists how I’m able to do this. How is it done? Believe me, there is no aspect of project in this world that Imo State does not have. If you go to my local government headquarters, I built ICT Centres. I built chapels in all the local governments. I have one of the best Government Houses built by this government. Whatever you have in Abuja is replicated in Imo Sate. Just like the Eagle Square, I have Eagle Square in Imo State. You have Yar’Adua Centre, I have Ike Nwachukwu Centre. I built four houses for the former Governors: Mbakwe, Enwerem, Udenwa and Ohakim, all built by this government furnished. I built one of the biggest parks, which is becoming the biggest tourist attraction – the Heroes Park where the statues were built. But all that people heard at that time was that Rochas was building statues. But today, every president that comes to Nigeria come to Imo State and visited that. It was only in my tenure that I hosted five sitting presidents. Nana Kufour has been there, he saw those statues. Zuma has been there; Sirleaf Johnson has been there. The current presidents of Ghana and Sierra Leone were also there. President Buhari has seen those statues and his comment was not negative. It’s an exciting place to be. But I don’t have time to reply to frivolities on the social media, because it’s cheap. All that my detractors do is just engage like 10 boys who keep answering different names and posting different things on social media and confusing the public. But you have to come around. Everybody that came to Imo State has screamed. One happened last week; a visitor came from somewhere, I won’t mention his name. After taking him round to some few places in Imo State, he started cursing people.
It won’t be good for us to close without you giving us your own narrative of what happened on Election Day. Did your supporters kidnap the Returning Officer?
When people ask the question what happened on the day of the election, they forget that election venue is not Sambisa forest. There were human beings in the place. You have SSS, you have police, you have Army, you have Navy, you have Air Force, you have agents of the party. You have all these people there and remember that it’s the collation centre, so all the security from local governments all gathered there to protect the votes. The army has told you there was nothing like that. The police wrote in their report that there was nothing like that. SSS report says there was nothing like that. The agents of the parties, including the one of the PDP, nobody has said that. The candidates never said there was a kidnap. All the candidates of the party never said there was any duress. Only one man who is the Returning Officer and he also said on BBC Pidgin English that Rochas never touched him. What happened? He said that somebody came by the window and said if you don’t do this, your life is in trouble, and people believe cock and bull stories in this country. What a country is this? What democracy are we practising? Did I go there as a spirit or I went there beating the whole army and put gun the man’s head and the police was watching, Navy was watching, SSS was watching? And no one reported. Even the INEC officials were there. How will they believe this story? Assuming what he is saying is true; INEC should set up a committee and investigate this man’s allegation. But INEC told the man to say that because the man said this after three days of having declared results. Why didn’t he say it when he was submitting his report to INEC?