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…
It has been proved beyond any shred of doubt, in many instances, that our administration (1999-2007) was a huge success, while that of Theodore Ahamefule Orji was an abysmal failure. The tour of Abia State by media influencers and bloggers during his reign, which was prearranged by the former governor himself, further exposed the rot in his administration and brought to the fore the remarkable differences between both administrations. It also showed how deceitful his administration was, including the underhand deals that shaped it.
Before the expose, the government of Chief Orji had regaled itself, though pretentiously, with achievements it did not merit. It had created the erroneous impression all over the place that he had performed better than all the administrations before his. Curiously, some people swallowed this bait hook, line and sinker.
If you ask me, there was nothing exceptional in what the bloggers and media influencers reported after their visit, after all even a blind man in Abia State then could see the decay and disillusionment that signposted the era of decadence under former Governor Orji. All a doubting Thomas should have done to be convinced of the veracity of the revelations made so far was to take a trip to the state and see things for oneself. It did not really matter, which political divide one operated from or the aim one planned to accomplish, making a trip would have convinced you.
Unfortunately, what many Abians have suddenly come to realize, though belatedly, is that our administration was better in many ways than Chief Orji’s government! What we achieved in four years could not be equalled in the eight years of Chief Orji. Do a casual assessment of what you can see and you will agree with me that Abia State was worse under former Governor Orji’s aegis.
Again, from the report of the media influencers and bloggers it could easily be deduced that that there was nothing on ground to justify his eight years in the saddle, yet he makes all the noise in the world about his achievements. Which achievements? The media tourists were in unison in their opinion and rated his government 25%. You know what 25% in an examination means!
There was no sector the fact-finding media team adjudged as a success. From health to education, infrastructure to security, it was the same story of non-performance.
One then wonders what tangible thing his government had set out to achieve with the media tour. I have read a few reactions from the government-sponsored writers, and have nothing more to offer the former governor than sympathy. I sympathize with him over his dilemma and desperation. What had he expected would happen after his eight long years of subjugation and fear? Our people have held their hearts in their mouths all these years, while the former governor and his family expropriated the commonwealth of the state for their self-aggrandizement.
It would be the most stupid thing for anybody to think that the former governor would go scot-free after it all. He may pretend all is well with him now when inside he is suffering under the burden of his sins.
If he could feel the heat while still in office as governor, then what happens now he is out of it? It was this painful and regrettable path that had I tried in vain to dissuade him from towing. Instead of listening to words of wisdom he chose the path of self-destruction. He abused me and anybody else who dared tell him the truth.
The situation the former governor finds himself today was avoidable. He was a part of our administration from 1999 to 2007 and could tell (if he chose to tell the truth) that we achieved success for many reasons, which I will advance here. I will also give reasons pari-passu the former governor has failed.
The first reason for our success is God. We built our government on the fear of God and love of our people. In fact, I would not have had any reason to vie for the office of governor if I did not have a genuine conviction to serve our people. By 1999, when I assumed office as governor, I was already very comfortable. But the plight of our people turned my comfort into sadness as they daily grappled with the difficulties of life. I was moved by the bad roads, lack of potable water and quality health care, fallen standard in education, insecurity, poverty, and general disillusionment among our people to seek elective office. And so, I had to throw my hat in the ring.
With the vision we had we were able to set out on the journey with courage and conviction. We knew that it was not going to be easy, since there were not sufficient funds to tackle the myriads of problems facing us. Our trust in God propelled us; the love of the people motivated us. We leveraged the useful experience we acquired in the private sector, coupled with the unflinching support we received from the people, to turn things around.
So, love was the foundation of our success, since God is love. The atmosphere of love that pervaded Abia State at that time had never been witnessed in the history of the state. People moved about freely, had unlimited access to the seat of government, and came from different parts of the state daily to offer advice on the way forward. And we received them with open arms and implemented their advice without bias.
It was the same love that made us run an open administration. We utilized every kobo we made to work for the people. We fought corruption with all the strength and courage we could muster. It is on record that our government was the first in Nigeria to design a framework for the fight against corruption. It was the same template that former President Olusegun Obasanjo fine-tuned to come up with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). There was nothing we could have achieved if we had not wrestled and subdued the monster called corruption, which had eaten deep into the life of our state then.
It is important to mention here that for any government policy to succeed the leader must show the way. The fight against corruption was fought vigorously and transparently. There were no sacred cows. I, as the governor, made it clear that the same rules should apply to everybody serving in the administration. That was why even the civil servants keyed into the fight and made enormous sacrifices to make us succeed. I had expected the former governor to sustain the tempo of the fight. Sadly, he faltered.
Corruption has been the albatross of the present administration in the state. That was one aspect the reports of the media influencers to the state were yet to address. I find myself in quandary to understand why no government official on that media tour could tell, when asked, the cost of any of the projects inspected. During our regime we made it a point of duty to always publish quarterly reports on the financial status of government. This aided planning and mitigated undue speculations.
The administration of former Governor Orji did not succeed, because he chose the easy path of life. He did not want the hard, truthful and transparent way. Naturally, what followed was failure.
I wonder if former Governor Orji ever understood who God is and the twist in fate that can be the lot of man. Nothing he did showed him as a true follower of Christ. If he were a true believer, as he openly professes, why would he bear too much grudge and refuse to reconcile with his traducers? The hallmark of every true child of God is the ability to forgive, even when it is difficult to do so. So, how does he expect God then to forgive him and help him?
For those close to our administration one trend was visible: regular interactions with vital stakeholders such as the media, traditional rulers, the people, the clergy, security agencies, etc. We took them in confidence and collaborated with them in the running of the state. Through this process we were able to receive feedbacks and reach consensus on important issues that promoted effective and smooth governance.
Unfortunately, the administration T.A. Orji thought differently. Its idea of vital stakeholders was to assemble some Abuja-based politicians from Abia State and payroll them. It is these politicians, without any tangible electoral worth, that the former governor surrounded himself with in the past eight years. As far as I am concerned they were liabilities instead of assets. If I may ask, what is their worth as individuals? Let them point to anything reasonable they have achieved in life that has had direct bearing to the welfare of the people. Many of them cannot survive without politics. That is why they are always very desperate and hanging around the former governor.
I have survived all my life without politics. For me politics is just a passion to offer selfless service to one’s people, not a thing for personal enrichment. It is the inability to really define his reason for accepting to serve in the first place that was responsible for the non-performance of his administration.
It is no hidden truth that Abuja-based Abia politicians did not find our administration easy to penetrate. They did everything humanly possible to thwart our agenda to develop Abia State, but each time their plans failed. I was not moved one bit by their antics, because I was occupied with the task of working for our people. They threatened fire and brimstone, yet they could not do anything.
Chief Orji was desperate to work with them. This accounted for some of his ill-advised actions at the beginning of his tenure, which he blamed on me. I have never been his problem, and can never be. He is the architect of his own failures.
To avoid any misconceptions, let me state that there is nothing wrong working with genuine Abuja-based Abia politicians. There are some of them that are amenable to reason. But my position is simple: I refused to compromise my integrity and the wider interest of our state and its people during my tenure as governor. I was totally accountable to God and the people that elected me. Full stop! And I do not have any apology to offer to anybody for taking such a stance.
For any leader to succeed he must be pragmatic. We ensured that all the promises we made to the people during electioneering were fulfilled. Go through my election manifesto and you would see that we made genuine promises and lived them out. What is the need promising what one would not be able to accomplish? This was another liability of the former government in Umuahia. The former governor had beautiful and tenable plans before he was sworn in. Sadly, he abandoned these plans chasing the wind. He would have succeeded if he had stuck to the original plans of pursuing life-transforming projects, which was a more difficult path. In his reasoning, he chose to settle a few politicians thinking they would save him when it mattered most.
The former governor, I am sure, forgot that he was dealing with hawks, not genuine politicians, whose major preoccupation is how to line their pockets. They told him what to do and say. In the process he burned his fingers. When the chips were down dumped him and sought refuge elsewhere.
Superintending over the affairs of Abia State was a daunting task, but the support of the people was a huge relief. They were there for us when we needed them most. They believed in us and threw their massive support behind us. I recall with nostalgia the period between 2002 and 2003 when there were plots to scuttle our administration. It was the people that stood up against it. They voted massively for us in the 2003 general elections and again in 2007 when we begged them to vote for T.A. Orji while in prison.
So, the people were our backbone. They were our livewire. But what did we have during T.A. Orji’s reign? It was the government against the people. Almost all government fiscal policies were skewed to favour the powerful and rich, while the masses groaned under the weight of over-taxation and infrastructural decay. There was nothing physical in Abia State then that was not subjected to crazy tax.
Nevertheless, there is nothing absolutely wrong in government asking the people to pay taxes. After all, it is their civic duty to do so. But everything is wrong when such policies are draconian and anti-people.
Worst still, the economy of the state, which boomed in our time, nearly collapsed under T.A. The people suffered, because the money that accrued to the state did not circulate and was not judiciously expended. Go round all the markets in the state and the reality will hit you like a thunderbolt from the blue. Traders sit all through the week without selling anything. Civil servants who were their major patrons were owed for months. Is it not when the civil servants receive their salaries that they spend it?
Nothing seemed to work in Abia State under T.A. Orji. The era of prosperity gave way to the years of yore. Was it not in our tenure that all the new generation banks opened shop in Abia State? We provided them the enablement to set up offices in our state. It was also during our administration that MTN, GLO and ECONET (now Airtel) berthed in Abia State? What of Mr. Biggs, Crunches, and other eateries that found Abia State an investment haven? These were signs of prosperity. I challenge the former governor to point to any new investment he attracted to Abia State.
Ask him of one major achievement and he would point to the Dialysis Centre in Umuahia which, according to them, is a Private Partnership Project (PPP). Who are those that form part of the PPP? We need to know. Come to think of it: How many poor Abians can afford the services of the centre? The project, to best of my knowledge, was established to serve the interest of the former governor and his associates. What an average Abian needed were water, good roads, quality education, functional healthcare system, food, electricity, and security. These were the things we focused on during our tenure that endeared us to the people and made us succeed.
Without sounding immodest: I know quite well that if we were to come back today and seek fresh mandate from the people they would offer it to us freely and generously.
Can former Governor Orji boldly make the same assertion? I doubt it.