Says Uwazuruike never betrayed Nnamdi Kanu or Ndigbo National President of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie is trying to put out the fire ignited by supporters of the Indigeneous People of Biafra leader, Nnamdi Kanu and those of Biafra Independence Movement, BIM, Ralph Uwazuruike. In this interview with SaturdaySun, Okorie explains why the…
Without sounding immodest, I am proud to state there was no administration before us that fought corruption as much as we did for the eight years we held sway in Abia State. I lay claim to this feat because the evidence of our monumental war against treasury-looting, malfeasance and other forms of cankers that impeded the administration of the state in the past was unambiguous. In my inaugural address on May 29, 1999, I pledged to run an open, transparent and God-fearing administration, hinging my hope on the covenant I made before God to serve the people of Abia State with all my heart, mind and soul.
I thank God that we were able to keep to this promise despite the huge challenges that confronted us.
To drive the transformation agenda of our government was no mean task. But we knew that we could achieve the agenda only when we had given up our selfish desires and embraced altruism and openness. And so, we started by reorienting the people, beginning with the civil service – teaching them the need to imbibe the culture of discipline and self-giving.
However, the initial opposition we faced was how to make many people who had been accustomed to the culture of impunity to give up their old ways and step into the new vision we had conceptualised. Those who did not want change worked hard to sabotage our effort in this direction but failed. The reason they failed was very simple: they could not get accomplices from among the policy-makers in our government – beginning from myself, the governor, down to the directors in the ministries and government parastatals.
It was a beautiful thing to see a once-corrupt citizenry embracing God and renewing their lives in the ways of moral rectitude and candour. Punctuality soon became the soul of business in Abia State. The civil servants who used to come to work any time that suited them and used the greater part of the day doing their own businesses turned a new leaf. A special department in the Office of the Head of State was established to monitor the performance of civil servants, reappraise them and reorient them. The resultant reports showed dramatic shift in attitude and service-delivery capacity among workers.
It was a wonderful feeling to hear civil servants discuss the positive changes that had taken place in the service and expression of interest to partner with the government to move the state forward.
I wish to state at this juncture, that the performance of any administration is majorly dependent on the virility and vibrancy of its civil service. That was why we focused attention on rearming the civil servants to serve as an added impetus to our fight against systemic decay.
The Abia State Civil Service for the whole of the years we served cooperated with us wholeheartedly in driving the structural changes that we spearheaded. The most surprising thing they did was to consciously expose corruption where it existed. They brought the names of government officials involved in official corruption. Some of the names on the list would make even the most incurable pessimist quiver. We handled identified cases of corruption as swiftly as the occasions demanded without sparing anybody found culpable. By so doing, we were able to almost achieve a corruption-free state before we vacated office in 2007.
I must mention here that money saved from leakages was what we leveraged in providing the social amenities that have helped to elevate the living standards of our people. I have spent the past seven editions of this column listing the achievements of our administration from 1999 to 2007. All these achievements were made possible by the austere posture and fiscal discipline we adopted in the running of government affairs. Between 1999 and 2007 we collected only N108 billion and achieved so much, while the present administration collected over N800 billion (not including internally-generated revenue) and achieved nothing tangible.
Imagine what Abia State would have become if Theodore Orji had continued with the pace of development we put in place rather than the current wild-goose chase and shadow-boxing he engaged in throughout his tenure! My heart bleeds whenever I see the projects we built being allowed to waste, because Chief Orji did not like my face. What have these projects got to do with him not liking my face? Go to Umunnato General Hospital or the University Teaching Hospital, Aba and see how he allowed petty envy to erode his sense of reasoning.
Our administration committed huge financial resources to establish the two projects to better the lot of our people. Why did the former governor not allow both projects, which we completed and equipped before we left office, to operate? All the equipment and buildings at the sites have depreciated for lack of operability. The same situation obtains at many of the projects we completed before the expiration of our tenure.
Let me ask: what was the situation in Abia State with the fight against corruption? Was the former governor able to resist the temptation of not compromising his office for whatever reason? How far did workers and other appointed officials fare with the war against corruption? I have asked these questions because there was nothing on ground to show that the Theodore Orji administration ever performed. The administration was bogged down by corruption and bureaucratic bottlenecks in high places. If the government of Theodore Orji were not corrupt, perhaps, it should accept the challenge I threw at him over a year ago for us to bring the best auditing firms in the world to audit our two administrations to see which performed better in terms of human capacity building and fighting corruption.
The former governor is simply being afraid not to have accepted the challenge. In the alternative he has intensified his media war against me and acted in a manner inconsistent with decency and truth. An administration that had nothing to hide would have spent scarce resources working for the people instead of fighting perceived enemies in order to cover its inefficiencies and incompetence. The former governor knows deep in his heart that he failed Abia people, which was the origin of our misunderstanding. Again, the former governor is a very incorrigible person and hardly brooks meaningful criticisms. So, what he gets daily is praise-singing and sycophancy. And huge sums of money go into greasing the palms of thousands of the praise-singers who trooped to the Government House on a daily basis.
My fear is that it will take his successor enormous time, thinking and strategising to address the wanton destruction caused to the system. For instance, the serving governor will be expected to perform wonders. But with what resources when his predecessor never ceased borrowing money from the banks? The simple deduction is this: whoever took over from Orji would spend the first tenure cleaning the Augean Stable created by his gross incompetence and grabbing propensity.
Who will bell the cat then? This is where experience and vision come to play. Abia State needs a governor that is with enormous capacity to create new ideas. We need somebody who is selfless, God-fearing and people-oriented in his thinking and ideology. We do not need a political demagogue, a salacious and garrulous person, a sloth and grabber. It was to avoid this latter kind of person arising that has motivated me to devote my time, resources and energy to the rescue mission I embarked upon. I have never pretended that it is going to be an easy and smooth sail. But I am determined, because I am familiar with the terrain, to go the whole hog. Anybody who thinks he will intimidate me into abandoning the struggle is deluding himself.
Those who know me very well will attest to the fact that I do not fight shy when I believe in a cause. Abia State needs immediate redemption as things have continued to go out of hands under the close watch of a grossly incompetent and selfish leader pretending to be a senator. What are well-meaning Abians – at home and in the Diaspora – doing to rescue our state? Should we all sit down and watch while corruption destroys the fabric of our state? What are we going to tell the future generation that we did when the state was in dire need of redemption? T.A. Orji should be blamed for the problems confronting the state today.
I am glad that Abians are wiser now than they had ever been. The clamour from them for things to be done right in our state grows by the day. I was inundated daily with inquiries from numerous Abians about what role they would play to wrest power from the grips of the evil government of Chief Orji. Interestingly, many of the inquirers were youth below 30.
There is no doubt that the future is for this age group whom the administration of former Governor Orji constantly relegated to obscurity. From 2007 till he vacated office his administration never did anything tangible to provide jobs for the teeming population of our youth. All his government had done since 2007 was to establish a personal foundation called Theodore Orji Foundation. The major objective of the foundation according to its founders was to empower the youth of Abia State. From the activities of the foundation it was very clear that it was established to fund clandestine operations targeted at perceived enemies of the former governor while in office. Run by his eldest son, all the foundation had done so far to empower the so-called youth was to distribute second-hand vehicles with the photograph of the former governor boldly emblazoned on them to political thugs and social misfits. How many of the youth were given decent jobs? They should name them. What would N5000 do to a full-blooded youth with big dreams? Even the N5000 per beneficiary did not go round. They just handpicked the beneficiaries and handed out to them the miserable sum every month or as the occasion demanded.
What we did during our stay in government was totally different. We set up well-equipped skills acquisition centres across the state to train youth in diverse vocations. The result we achieved was amazing. The products of these centres, on graduation, were provided working tools and financial assistance to continue life from there. Expectedly, thousands of youth benefitted and are doing well today.
We also removed many youth engaged in hawking from the highways and other spots across the state. We enrolled them in mass literacy centres, where they were taught by special teachers and prepared for WASCCE. Surprisingly, many of them made it in first attempt and have since graduated from tertiary institutions. I know many of them who occupy important positions in government and private organisations and are doing well overall.
Apart from the youth we also empowered other categories of people. It is on record that it was during our tenure that many Abians built their first houses and bought their first cars. Anybody in doubt should conduct an independent and random survey to ascertain the veracity of this claim. What do we have today? Many people are hungry because they could not benefit from government: no jobs, no patronage of any sorts. The allocation from Abuja every month did not go round. It was held by a few people, leaving the majority hungry and rejected. Go to the markets and you would be shocked at the level of poverty ravaging our people. Many traders could stay the whole week without selling a pin. Many of them also died while those living were worse than those who had died. That was how bad the situation was.
What was the purpose of a government that did not serve the interest of the people or cater to the welfare of the same people? Such government should be made to pay for its sins. The government of Chief Theodore Orji only succeeded in impoverishing our people throughout the 8 years it served. And our people groaned under the weight of rejection and abandonment. All the noise you heard from the government propaganda media was nothing but gibberish. His government had nothing to offer to the suffering people of our state.
I thank God that our government came at the time it did, because the little we were able to do with the little funds available to us was what people pointed to as the presence of government in Abia State for the 8 years T.A. Orji ruled. Yet the man at the helm of the misdeeds in Abia State never thought it proper to give some credit to us. Instead of giving us credit he has continued to cast aspersion on us and do other atrocious things to destroy our reputation.
Thank God the people of our state are wiser now. They know who, between Theodore Orji and me, served them better.
Up till date the people of Abia State rain curses on him for the hardship he foisted on them and taking their welfare for granted. Generations unborn will never forgive T.A. Orji and his entire family for the legacy of underdevelopment they bequeathed to our people.
He may go about as if nothing is wrong. But one day, and I repeat: one day, nemesis will catch up with him.