Former Governor Ikedi Ohakim has said that it is high time Imo State Government under Governor Rochas Okorocha started building the economy of the state and not town halls, a development he said meant building for the mob to gain their loud applause, and not building for the masses to leave a lasting legacy and enduring economy for them.
In an interview, Chief Ohakim said that he achieved his plans for the state while he was the Governor of the state from 2007 to 2011, pointing out that some of the projects he embarked upon, such as the Oak Refinery, the ring roads, Naval Base, Marine Police, Oguta Wonder Lake, etc, were projects that required time.
He said they were not projects someone would announce or wish and they would spring up, stressing that such projects that were critical to supporting the economy needed long gestation period.
Chief Ohakim disclosed that even though he achieved his plans for the state, “we still have an unfinished business. The critical thing in this country is that we must begin to educate our people. Policies that can rekindle the economy, policies that can create the kind of societies and economy we are looking for usually take long gestation period.
“If you want to build for the masses rather than build for the mob; if you want to build for the mob I can begin to build town halls. These days I have learnt that people can even award road contracts with mouth and I people will begin to tar roads. Those are not critical things.
“If you want to create an economy, if you want to rekindle an economy, if you want to create a system where people will be employed, you require a long period of time. You must put the governance structure in place.”
Ohakim said he “created employment and we started these key projects that would revolutionize our economy. We got foreign investors and went to the capital market. And you know what it means, the discipline required to go to the capital market. We did all that and got the money.”
Speaking on the Oak Refinery for which he has been criticized, he said: “We set up a refinery. A refinery is not what you use your mouth and award the contract and it would begin to happen. First of all, we acquired the land from Ohaji/Egbema people, 250 hecters. We got the President of Nigeria and took our report to him. We led a delegation of Igbo leaders to him, and then the President gave us an approval to partner with NNPC and they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with us.
“We got the foreign investors who wanted an account of Imo State. We had to prepare an account of Imo State, from 10 years before we came in. We got it right. And there are other approvals you need to get to partner with people.
“These things take quite some time. There are certain approvals you would need from the National Assembly, and they have to be presented to the National Assembly and the National Assembly would have to sit and deliberate. So, anybody that thinks we did not realize our dream may be right in one and wrong in the other way. But that does not stop us from going about to do those things that would keep our people alive.”
Chief Ohakim also said he left about N13.3bn out of the N18bn he sourced from the capital market in a UBA account, which he said he handed over to Okorocha.
He said: “But you know that out of the N18B we got from the capital market, not the N100bn people were talking about and going to sue us in court, we left 13.3bn in an interest yielding account in UBA which we handed over to my successor.”
He continued: “There are certain things that require law. I listened to a Lagos State Commissioner for Transport speaking to the media about the banning of okada, and he talked about law in Lagos State banning okada, and I was so happy. In Imo State, when we took the bull by the horn, when first term governors were afraid to take certain decisions, we banned okada. There was a law banning okada. When we launched the Clean and Green Initiative there was law backing it. When we set up the ENTRACVO, there was law backing it. When we set up the Imo Roads Maintenance Agency (IRROMA) there was law backing it. Everything we did, and you know the process of making laws: there must be a bill to the House and there will be public hearing.”
Ohakim also spoke on the 10,000 jobs policy of his government, saying that he embarked on that employment programme despite harsh criticism in order to build a strong economy for the state, stressing that about N450m was meant to entire the rural communities on monthly basis as a result of that singular policy.
“In 2009, because of the breaking of oil pipelines, our OPEC quarter which was 2 million barrels, we were barely making 700,000 barrels per day. But in Imo we sat down and said that our place is a rural place and we don’t have industries that are paying tax. And if we begin to lay off our people, and graduates are coming up everyday; what do we do to make sure that money circulates in the rural communities.
“Instead of laying off people we decided that we would employ. That was how we began the process of creating 10,000 graduate jobs and 30,000 non-graduate jobs. And remember that there was a rumour, even a newspaper wrote an editorial on it, that how could a state government create 10,000 graduate jobs in this condition, that it was practically impossible.
“But because we wanted the son of the poor to be able to get graduate job without knowing a commissioner, without knowing anybody, we decided that we must hire an international consultancy firm, and we brought in KPMG.
“Working with KPMG and our civil service commission, they decided that they were going to conduct examinations using the internet, and then in my wisdom I said no, that if you bring our people together in one place for the exam, there would be cataclysm. We created a center in Kaduna, a center in Lagos, four centers in Imo, a center in Abia and one in Rivers State and asked Imo people to apply. We advertised it widely.
“While this process was going on we were being flogged left, right and center, everywhere, to the extent that someone even went to court to stop the process. These guys took the examination and it was marked instantly and the process of recruitment started. It was not done in 2010. The process started in 2009. And then we gave them these graduate jobs, permanent employment.
“250 of them were moved to the judiciary, and our goal was that at the age of 30-something we would be able to produce judges from them. But the most economic advantage of that programme was that at the end of every month we would have N450m pumped into the rural communities by salaries of these graduates, so that our people could be eating.”
He also said that he created “IRROMA, to make sure that 16,000km roads would be maintained. And then we looked at the situation that people must access our state capital and the idea that you could access the capital from any community in 40 minutes.
“Before we came in, from Ogboko, the hometown of the present Governor, you would require two and half hours to get to Owerri. And you can confirm that. We got an international company, because of the erosion prone areas, to do the 32 km road, linking the Governor’s village to Isiekenesi, from Isiekenesi to Osina, with six bridges.
“When we did that we started opening up the rural areas. We made sure that every access to the capital was properly designed, the drainage properly channeled and the road properly done so that it would become a state capital. We achieved all those ones.”
By COLLINS Ughalaa