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…
When I consider the pettiness, lack of vision and the orchestrated and malicious plots to malign my person and our administration by former Governor Theodore Orji’s administration I am always shell-shocked and flabbergasted. I have continued to wonder why I would be so vilified by somebody I personally chose to succeed me with the intention of giving our people the best. This is a man who knew every sacrifice we made as a government to make Abia State a leading economy in Nigeria. Does he want to tell me he has forgotten too soon our achievements in the areas of job and wealth creation, poverty eradication and recovered oil wells? What was the situation before we assumed office in 1999?
Let me take them one after another. Recovered oil wells: the story of the effort we made to recover 43 oil wells, which had hitherto been ceded to Rivers State, will be told in a more elaborate form someday. But let me emphasize, however, that our resolve to fight for what belonged to our state was motivated by the need to do the needful to ensure social justice and equity. We had felt it was wrong to allow ignorance and timidity to continue to rule the lives of our people. The inability to recover the oil wells before the time we did was because past leaders lacked the fighting spirits and the subtle diplomacy needed to make things happen.
I wish to make this open confession: fighting for and recovering the 43 oil wells was one of the motivating factors that moved me to contest for governor. I knew quite clearly there was no way I could have facilitated the recovery of the oil wells without making it to the Government House. I knew also the enormous personal sacrifices involved. But I was undaunted.
So, as soon as I was sworn in as governor, we swung into action, using the information and facts available to us to launch an unrelenting diplomatic offensive to get back the oil wells, which were erroneously ceded to Rivers State by the Justice Nasir Mamman Boundary Adjustment Commission. This tragic administrative flaw caused Abia State untold hardship and huge revenue losses from the federation account.
Those not close to the seat of power would never know what efforts went into the recovery. Nevertheless, the favourable disposition of the Federal Government, coupled with the positive attitude of our government, made the recovery possible. I would not want to mention the difficulties we encountered and the deliberate designs by some powerful forces to thwart our efforts. The most accurate word to describe what we went through is ‘hellish’. Thank God that at the end of all the sleepless nights and diplomatic shuttles we were able to recover the lost oil wells.
Our joy knew no bounds. We thanked and glorified God for the propitious favours he bestowed on our state. I am glad that today Abia State gets what is due it from the federation account. One of the immediate fallout of the recovered oil wells was the shift in our monthly collectible revenue from the federation account. Our monthly allocation which used to be in the neighbourhood of N400 and N600 million leapt up to the one billion mark for the first time in 2006. In the same way, the revenue Abia State Government received under T.A. Orji swung between N5 billion and N7 billion monthly. Sometimes, when there was windfall, it shot up to over N10 billion. This excluded the internally-generated revenue and money from sundry sources, excluding money from SURE-P.
Special appreciation should go to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who, in his usual graciousness and candour, approved the return of the 43 oil wells to Abia State. I recall with nostalgia his fraternal disposition towards me on my release from Kuje Prison, Abuja. He had invited me to Aso Rock and asked what I would want done for me. He offered me a ministerial appointment, which I rejected and asked him to give it to Chuka Odom. All I asked of him was to approve the return of the 43 oil wells to Abia, which file was already on his table. He called his Chief of Staff to immediately write for his approval for the release of the oil wells, which was done without delay. I pray God to continue to rest his soul for he was a good man.
The question is: now that Theodore Orji government was the ultimate beneficiary of the long hours of toiling and strategizing that went into the recovery of the oil wells, why did he then underperform? At various times during his regime almost every category of workers in the Abia State Civil Service was owed over 6 months’ salary. Some were even owed about 8 months. The lecturers of the Abia State University, Uturu, suspended exams at one point to compel the state government to pay them their salary arrears. Worst hit were workers in the local government councils owed for over 8 months at some time.
One wonders with bafflement why the former governor showed apathy and insensitivity to the sufferings of the people of our state in spite of the huge allocations he collected from Abuja. Why did he show so much disdain for our people? All he was interested in was how to smuggle himself into the Senate and manipulate elections in Abia State to install his stooges in strategic elective positions. He was never interested one hoot in the peace, progress and development of Abia State. This is why he has continued to falter at the Senate.
It is unfortunate that the former governor sat atop Abia State resources, intimidating and harassing everybody, particularly those with contrary political views to his. He was hell-bent on expropriating everything Abia State owned into his personal estates, because his appetite for usurpation is very large.
I pitied the workers in our state during his reign. I pitied the pensioners, especially the senile ones among them, who had nobody else to help them. Why couldn’t he show them some mercy and release their pensions? Our administration elevated the civil service to the point of dignity and honour. We paid civil servants every 25th day of the month throughout the life of our administration. We organized seminars, workshops and training for their advancement and development. The results they produced showed marked departure from the era of waste and redundancy of Chief T. A. Orji. Gradually, the old days crept back like the thief in the night.
In terms of job creation, we carried out a survey in 1999 that showed a yawning gap in employment. Many of our able-bodied youth roamed the streets and engaged in crimes. We drafted them into the numerous skills acquisition centres we created across the state and enrolled some into the mass literacy classes. Gladly, many of them have made it in their various vocations.
The local government councils were a beneficiary of our job creation efforts. In fact, in 2007 alone, we, working in concert with the elective chairmen of these local government councils, created 13,000 jobs to fill the yawning gap in employment. This singular exercise took away from the streets many of our youths.
Why did the administration of Orji fail abysmally to create genuine employments for our people? What the former governor put in place was rather an ad hoc arrangement called, Ochendo Youth Empowerment Scheme – a self-serving scheme aimed at massaging his ego and currying favour from a massively disenchanted people. What jobs did the scheme create other than giving out ‘Tokunbo’ cars to favoured politicians and thugs to influence them to do his bidding?
If I may ask: why did the former governor fail to conduct local government elections in Abia State less than 6 months to the end of his tenure? He continued to use caretaker committee chairmen for reasons best known to him. The truth is this: he did not want to organize local government council elections because he was benefitting from the lacuna and was afraid to lose in a free and fair election.
I have written in this column about the need to fight corruption. I have also discussed the effort our administration made in fighting corruption. Because of lack of space I could not exhaust all the pertinent issues bordering on the war we wedged against corruption. It is unfortunate that some of the people former Governor Orji surrounded himself with are the same people we axed for financial mismanagement and other criminal acts during our tenure. For instance, two of his serving commissioners were indicted by a panel of inquiry and sacked.
Why did the former governor find pleasure in assembling the same questionable characters out of thousands of other qualified Abians to do his dirty jobs?
As I wrote two weeks ago in this column, no government before us worked for our people as much as we did. We gave governance the best shots we could, entrenching openness and transparency in the process. What we did in Abia State in eight years was unprecedented in the history of our state. We touched lives, raised the leadership bar and gave governance a human face. We felt the pulse and heartbeat of our people in everything we did. We did not allow the euphoria of the office get into our heads.
Yes, every government should collect taxes and levies to aid development. But should this be done recklessly and riotously? That was what obtained in Abia state during T.A. Orji’s reign. Indiscriminate taxes and levies everywhere! I heard the hues and cries of our people who groaned daily under the crushing weight of over-taxation.
The liberation of Abia State from the clutches of oppression and suppression planted by T.A. Orji is a task we have set out to accomplish. But we cannot do it alone. We need the cooperation of the people, who are the custodians of the power to choose who leads them, to achieve this. It makes no sense for somebody to complain of oppression and suppression but is unwilling to join the struggle to achieve it.
I never minced words whenever I said the government of Abia State under T.A. Orji was anti-people. It was anti-people in its policy formulation and execution. The 8 years under him was a period of chastisement for the people. There was nothing on ground to make them feel there was a government over them.
There is no way the future generations of Abians will forgive him for the incalculable harm and pain he inflicted on their psyche.
I have said it time without number that former Governor Orji is a desperado and a political misfit. His presence in Abia State has brought untold pains and penury to our people. Why was Abia State always in the news for the wrong reasons throughout the tenure of his administration? The situation was worse when visitors came to our state.
Arthur Eze was there in August 2014 and the same thing happened. He saw the way Abia was and openly lamented that the state was stinking. The story was almost twisted out of context by the same shameless operators in the Abia State Government then. It was the same situation when a PDP team came to Abia State some time in 2014 in the name of conducting a non-existent congress. Many were witnesses to the show of shame that characterized the exercise.
PDP is too big for one person to control despite its ongoing dwindling fortunes occasioned by internal crises. That was what the former governor attempted to achieve during his regime but failed abysmally. How easy did he think it was going to be for him? The mass opposition against his highhandedness should serve as an eye-opener to him that the people do not want him any longer. He may try as much as he likes to delude himself that all is well, it will not be long before the hand of destiny comes down on him.
I am glad Abia distinguished Senators tasted the political vinegar the governor had been serving his political adversaries. They were provoked to openly come out to fight. What they saw during the congress in 2014 was what I saw several years ago when I challenged the former governor to work for Abia people. His angst against me was simply that I advised him to stop borrowing money from the banks if he did not have anything concrete to do with it or serve the interest of our people. If there is any other reason let him tell the whole world.
It is a pity that the Senators waited that long before doing something to stop the excesses of the power-drunk former governor. But nothing has spoiled yet.
Let the world judge this: why should a governor that had collected over N800 billion naira, excluding internally-generated revenue, and who had nothing concrete to show for it seek election into the Senate and his son a seat in the State House of Assembly as Majority Leader? That was what the former governor waged all the wars at his time to achieve.
The people of Abia state have demonstrated their dissatisfaction with former Governor T.A. Orji’s dismal performance in various ways. Recently, the people of Ibeku – his ancestral lineage – have openly protested his reckless management of the resources of the state and the shabby way he treated them. They accuse him of doing nothing for them for the eight years he was in office as governor.
Every segment of Abia State people has a sour tale to tell about their humiliation and denigration by the former governor. They have called for his resignation from the Senate to face arrest by EFCC.
The best way to assuage the pain of the people of Abia State that suffered wanton suffering under him is for him to submit himself to the EFCC for prosecution. Otherwise the consequence of the judgement of God upon his head would be worse.