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…
One significant achievement of our administration (1999-2007) was the enthronement of excellence in the performance of government duty. I regard it as a big achievement, because before we came into office the administration of the state was haphazardly done, with mediocrity, often, taking the centre-stage. The lack of vision, and efficient and qualified personnel to execute government policies and programmes contributed remarkably to the backwardness recorded over the years. It was to avoid a recurrence of this endemic problem that we assembled the best hands to help us to drive our vision.
The number one consideration in assembling our team was passion to serve. Though other factors such as integrity, experience, charisma and pragmatism were considered, we had reasoned that it was only passion that could make these other qualities come to the fore.
There is no question whatsoever that those who served in our administration between 1999 and 2007 were men and women who were ready to make sacrifices to ensure that the goals we had set were achieved. Even though it was a very difficult thing to do, these men and women still did ordinary things extraordinarily, propelling the wheel of progress as never done before in our state.
What we did was to work out achievable plans for Abia State, and then went ahead to engage men and women with the capacity and ability to deliver. It was, therefore, easy to meet targets and keep the state on a steady path of peace, progress and development.
In assembling our team we did not place emphasis on state of origin, religion or ethnic loyalty. Our focus was simply placing square pegs in square holes to deliver quality governance to our people. It did not really matter where one came from. We were convinced that getting the best hands from wherever they existed would not only make us achieve our goals more easily, but would cement the bond of unity among the peoples of Nigeria. This reasoning was what led to the appointment of numerous non-Abia indigenes into our government.
I must confess that the decision to appoint people from different parts of the country was one of the pillars of our success and the reason we enjoyed goodwill from all over the world.
Added to this was the decision to go for the best wherever they existed. We went beyond the shores of the country to engage financial and economic experts that had worked in reputable global institutions to work with us. Among these men were Onyekwere Ogba and Moses Agoh – two financial Czars. Their wealth of experience and integrity were readily made available to us. Onyekwere Ogba and Moses Agoh served at various times as commissioners for Finance. They reengineered the operations of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and placed it on a sound footing for the challenges of the 21 Century. The template they designed for the development of Abia State, which was anchored on the principles of Probity, Transparency and Accountability (PTA), could match any other from any part of the world. Unfortunately, the administration of T.A. Orji jettisoned it in pursuit of its own personal agenda.
The anti-corruption war we waged started from the Ministry of Finance, where we blocked the leakages through which state financial resources were siphoned. The effort led to cutting of wastes and institutionalization of best practices that drove our vision. We fashioned a strategy to raise internal revenue to augment income from the federation account. Because of the way the ministry was run we saved enough money to do projects and fulfill other government contractual obligations.
Anybody that had any business to do with our government would attest to the fact that nobody was owed unnecessarily. We made sure bills were paid as due, not now that people are owed for years after successfully completing government projects. As far as I am concerned it is not morally proper to owe people unduly when provisions had been made to take care of it. The reason some governments owe is greed. If not greed what else would make a government not fulfil its contractual obligations?
But it has since been proven that incompetent administrations always give dwindling revenue from Abuja as the cause for their non-performance. I challenge whoever gives this reason to publish what the state has collected throughout his tenure as governor and the quantum of projects he had delivered to justify it. It is always very simplistic for people to make bogus claims about their financial position.
When you compare the performance of our government with the government of Chief T.A. Orji by matching it with what we collected as a government between 1999 and 2007 vis-a-vis what he collected as revenue you will be able to judge which of the two administrations outperformed the other. We leveraged on the experience of our team and their passion to serve to perform miracle in Abia State.
It is on record that our administration met a debt of N8 billion, comprising 168 million dollars, three months unpaid salaries and allowances, arrears of pensions and gratuities, and many contractual obligations. With the advice of our experts we were able to tackle these debts, and by the time we exited office in 2007, all the debts had been paid.
What those outside did not know was that we worked under very tight conditions to deliver the dividends of democracy to our people. But we made everything look easy, because we had the magic wand on how to move Abia State forward. And we achieved exactly that.
In the educational sector, we brought in capable hands. Among them were Prof. Chibuzor Ogbuagu and Prof. Mkpa Agu Mkpa. While Ogbuagu served as commissioner for Education, Mkpa was appointed the Vice Chancellor of Abia State University. It was under the tenure of Mkpa that ABSU excelled. Strikes were checked, academic schedules strictly adhered to and motivation of staff made a norm at the time, making it easier for our children to graduate on time.
Those who manned the Abia State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB) were committed and visionary. With the support of government they were able to deliver on set goals. Over 800 primary and secondary schools were renovated across the state under the supervision of the board.
It is important to state at this juncture that the first secretary to the government, Dr. Elekwachi Nwogbo, was one of the people that gave our administration the initial direction it needed. He was later replaced by Barrister C.S.L. Nwosu. Prof. Ogbuagu was appointed the Secretary to the State Government, after Nwosu, as a way of repositioning the Cabinet Office to meet the exigencies of the time. His tenure as SSG was an admixture of intellectuality and acuity – a rare mix that elevated the stature of the office and assisted in fast-tracking general administration.
The Civil Service was at the heart of our overall development agenda. I regret to observe here that before we came on board, the civil service was polarized along ethnic and parochial lines and overburdened by unpaid salaries and allowances. In driving the service to attain set standards, we appointed accomplished technocrats and administrators to head it. Among those that headed the service were Chief Mark Uko Ogwo (late) and Uchenna Emezue (late). They died after they had retired from service. Their handling of the service restored its lost dignity and candour and placed it on a solid pedestal for future challenges. They also introduced new reforms that promoted efficiency in the service.
By the time we were leaving office, the Abia State Civil Service was near corruption-free, as civil servants shunned gifts and other forms of inducement from contractors and other persons to perform their official duties.
The legal team was led by the erudite Barrister, Awa Kalu (SAN), who served as the first Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. He delivered on his mandate with integrity, commitment and zeal. Later Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) took over the Ministry as the second Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. Chief Uche (SAN) served at one time as Special Adviser (Legal Matters). These men added colour and quality to our administration.
The general administration team, headed by me, included the former governor, Chief Theodore Orji (who was Principal Secretary, and later Chief of Staff); Barrister Chuka Odom (Special Adviser, and later Commissioner for Special Duties); Ozonkpu Dr. Victor Oye (Senior Special Assistant in charge of General Duties); Chief Idika Ukonu (Personal Assistant); Ms. Philomena Desmond-Ogugua (Senior Special Assistant, Foreign Investments); and Madukwe Ukaegbu (deputy chief of staff, office of the deputy governor). There were a number of special advisers and assistants, which space may not allow me to mention here but whose contributions led to the achievements we recorded.
Among the commissioners that served in our first cabinet were Emma Ibegbulam (Commerce, Industry and Technology), Dr. Ezekiel Imo (Health), Lady Victoria Akanwa (Agriculture and Natural Resources), Hon. Damian Ozurumba (Lands, Survey and Urban Development), Barrister Chibuike Nwokeukwu (Rural Development and Environment), Chief Allen Nwachukwu (Works, Housing and Transport), Hon. Arua Arunsi (Public Utilities), Mrs. Leticia Nzurum (Women Affairs and Social Welfare) and Chief Ben Etie (Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs). Etie passed away three years ago.
Our second cabinet saw some of those in the first coming back. However, there were a number of new faces and they included: Senator Emma Nwaka (Agriculture and Rural Development), Chief Lambert Nmecha now late (Works, Housing and Transport), Barrister Stanley Ojigbo (Environment, Solid Mineral and Cooperatives), Dr. John Erendu (Sports and Social Development), Prince Emeka Obasi (Information, Culture and Tourism), Elder Kalu Eke Kalu (Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs), Prince Enyinna Ubani (Petroleum) and Chief Emma Ukaku (Manpower Development).
I deem it necessary, at this juncture, to mention for posterity that Senator Emma Nwaka served as the Abia State Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) under T.A. Orji, Prince Emeka Obasi, Hon. Arua Arunsi (now member House of Representatives) who at different times worked for former Governor Orji – all served in our cabinet.
In fact, many of those that served in former Governor Orji’s administration were products of our government (1999-2007). They came into limelight for the first time in their lives under our government.
There were other men and women who served in our government, which space may not allow me to mention. But I will manage to mention such people as Barrister Uchechi Evo (Lands, Survey and Urban Development), Chief Ike Onyenweaku (Agriculture), Prof. Emma Mazi (Sports), Associate Prof. Mrs. Roseline Ndimele (Women Affairs), Dr. A.C.B. Agbazuere (Information), and Chief Ralph Egbu (Information and later Secretary to Government). Some others joined later. They included Chief Emeka Inyama (Sports) and Chief Simon Emeh.
The truth is that almost all those that served in former Governor Orji’s administration from 2007 till 2015 cut their political teeth under our government. We gave them the solid footing on which they have built their political careers. Therefore, it is preposterous when I hear what some of them spew out in the name of politics and for the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.
Politics is not all about what one can get. It is all about service to the people. It is the misconception of basic political ideals that makes some of our politicians go astray.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, we assembled the best hands to drive the development of Abia State. And they did their best, considering the peculiar circumstances in which they served. They made enormous personal sacrifices to keep the ship of state afloat. And I salute their courage and tenacity.
Mention should also be made of numerous other people who served in other capacities during our government. Among these were members of the boards of government agencies and extra-ministerial departments, and permanent secretaries and directors of ministries and agencies. These people formed a vital part of the success story of our government.
Forget the antics of media spin-doctors and hagiographers to paint our government black, we did our best for Abia State. Our attainments stand toweringly all over the state. No amount of blackmail or untruths can kill the truth. The truth remains unassailable.
I will forever be grateful to God for granting me the opportunity to contribute my little quota to the development of our state. The only thing that causes me discomfort and pain in the heart is the poor performance of the administration of former governor T.A. Orji in the state. The eight years it served, has gone down in the annals of our state as years eaten by locusts. They were eight wasted years.
It is my prayer that God will intervene and restore our pride and dignity, which former Governor Orji has mercilessly destroyed.