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…
Last week I named some members of the team I worked with between 1999 and 2007 to move Abia State to the next level of development. Though the list was not comprehensive I have deemed it proper to list more names as a part of the conclusion of the 13-week series on our achievements as a government. Among them were Dr. Chris Akomas (a one-time Senior Special Assistant on Education and later Commissioner for Lands and Survey, then deputy to former governor T.A. Orji); High Chief Johnny Ukpabi (Commissioner for Agriculture), Donatus Okorie (Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs) and Dr. Sam Ahiwe (Health). These men brought their wealth of experience and dexterity to bear on the performance of their duties.
Let me, however, quickly apologise to any person that worked with us and whose name did not appear in this series. It was not deliberate.
As indicated in the preceding paragraph this is the concluding part of the series started 12 weeks ago intended to put a lie to some of the fabrications by the Abia State Government and its cohorts to paint our administration black and hoodwink unsuspecting members of the public. One remarkable fact that emerged during the series was the bogus claims by the same government to projects it neither started nor completed. Many of the projects the government had been laying claim to were actually projects started and completed by our government between 1999 and 2007.
To demonstrate how desperate the former governor has become he has had the effrontery to even advertise some of these projects in the media. Until the latest expose, gullible members of the public hard believed some of the false stories coming from the stable of that government.
I must state here that the response we have received since the series began had been heart-warming. My email box is daily inundated with inquiries from readers eager to know more about what we did between 1999 and 2007.
Another revelation of the series was that the former governor of Abia State Theodore Orji ran a lacklustre administration which had nothing tangible to showcase as its achievements. Despite the huge financial resources that accrued to the state between 2007 and date the administration of former Governor Orji performed below average. Even the visit to the state by a team of media men and bloggers on the invitation of the governor did not reveal anything different from the rot and docility that had been the lot of the administration since it came into office in 2007. According to the report of the team the government of former Governor Orji has been evasive about how much it had expended on a few projects the team inspected which, in its assessment, comprised mainly white elephants. The team was left in the lurch about the costs of the projects, because it was the style of the former governor not to reveal anything as a way of hiding the embarrassing corruption that dogged his government.
So, where has all the money gone? Why did the government of former Governor Orji spend the 8 years in it was in power chasing shadow, instead of working for the people? All he was interested in were personal interests: perpetuating himself in power and building fiefdoms all over the place. Who is not aware of the naked rape of democracy in Abia State during his reign? His desperation to cling to power even when he was aware that Abians no longer want him was nauseating. He did not have any regard for legality or constitutionality in any matter that involved his personal affairs. The PDP in Abia State was made the personal property of the former governor, while sidelining other major stakeholders.
It is therefore, preposterous that such incivilities and illegalities could occur under the close watch of our leaders. Why should one man’s interest override the public interest? That was the position in Abia State, where money was the paramount consideration in matters of election during the reign of T.A. Orji.
The situation of things in Abia State during the tenure of T.A. Orji reached a worrisome level, such that if nothing was done fast the former governor could have landed the state in troubled waters.
As a major stakeholder, I have continued to play placating and stabilizing role to ensure the overall interest of our people is protected. As things stand now, it does not really matter which side of the divide one stands. What is central to me and, I believe, other stakeholders are the peace, development and growth of Abia State.
It is painful that Abia State, which we laboured relentlessly as a government to develop, was left in the lurch by former Governor Orji, while other states made giant strides. Believe it or leave it, there was no government before or after us that worked for the development of Abia State as we did. The records are there for all to see. What the government of in Abia State under T.A. Orji relished was falsehood and fanfare, while the people suffered in the midst of plenty for no justifiable reason.
The only sign of development in Abia State under his regime could be seen only in the projects we executed, some of which the government of former Governor Orji laid claim to. Apart from some white elephants, as the report of the media team to the state stated, the government did nothing tangibly verifiable between 2007 and 2015 to justify the nearly 1 trillion naira it received from different revenue sources available to it. For our administration, we achieved all we did with the N178 billion we received in 8 years.
Many times during his reign, pensioners in Abia State took to the streets protesting the non-payment of their pensions. It was a pitiable sight to behold as old men and women, wearied by debilitating hunger and poverty, groaned in pain and penury as they marched through the streets of Umuahia. Yet the government did not do anything to ameliorate their condition or give them hope.
The situation got worse as the day broke. Not only pensioners, other workers such as university lecturers were on work-to-rule for non-payment of their salaries. Some categories of workers were owed up to 8 months’ salaries. What reason did the government have for owing workers when it received revenue from the federation account and collected huge money from taxes and levies? The only answer to this question is that the state government under T.A. was neck-deep in corruption. Otherwise, the state made sufficient money to take care of its workers and do quality projects for the good of the people.
I recall with happiness that in my days as governor we made it a point of duty to pay salaries every 25th of the month throughout the duration of our government. We also paid pensions and gratuities with available resources. Any government that fails to pay the pensions of retired civil servants, for no justifiable cause, is evil.
I threw a challenge to the former governor in the course of the series to invite the best five audit firms in the world to audit his government’s account and that of ours to see which between us was corrupt. Up till date he has not accepted the challenge, even when I have offered to defray 50% of the cost of the audit. What does this tell you the reader? For me, it shows how incompetent and snaky the former governor is in coming forth with the truth about what his government did from 2007 to 2015.
What former Governor Orji made Abia State become was a mule drained of all the blood in its body. Abia State was like carcass with thousands fleecing it under the close watch of the former governor. Imagine a state pilloried and pillaged for 96 long months! The state survived by sheer luck, because the former governor and his family held the state and its people hostage for the same period. Not satisfied, he wants to install his son as the Speaker of the State House of Assembly to carry on his legacy of corruption and ineptitude.
Our achievements in education have been unprecedented in the annals of our state. We left solid structures in the sector and laid a foundation on which its future would thrive. But see where the sector was under former governor Orji. Nothing worked there. It was a sorry sight when students of Abia State University, Uturu took to the streets protesting the poor infrastructure in the school and non-payment of salaries of lecturers, which stalled academic activities in the institution. For the period we stayed in government the institution never closed to business neither did any lecturer go on strike! We ensured that all issues relating to the students and their lecturers were promptly resolved.
It was the dexterity with which we ran the affairs of the sector that led to the many achievements recorded. Sadly, during the tenure of T.A. Orji, almost all the tertiary institutions in the state were a shadow of their old selves. It was either the sector was rescued or it would die. That was the true situation. Reducing school fees two months to elections as the state government under T.A. did was not a solution to the intractable problems stifling the sector.
The visit to the state by a fact-finding media team revealed the decay in the system unlike the one conducted during our tenure that scored us at least 65% in every sector. That alone points to one fact: that the difference between our two governments is clear. It was a tall order, therefore, for the former governor to think there would ever be any equation between our administrations in whatever guise. I have written in several fora that our administration between 1999 and 2007 outperformed the administration of my successor.
Unfortunately, the former governor remained adamant to the quality advice offered him. Instead he chose to do his things his own ways, which often produced negative results. Does he think he is an island? No man is either. That was why he appointed advisers and commissioners to assist him do the work. Nevertheless, the advisers and commissioners existed on paper. They did virtually nothing in the running of the government as all decisions were taken by the governor and his wife and son. This accounts for the neglect of these political appointees. It is almost impossible to find a political appointee by T.A. Orji in Abia State that could afford to donate N20,000 on any occasion. The only person that could do that was somebody very close to the triumvirate of father, son and wife.
In the contrary, our tenure in office was a period of prosperity for the whole of Abia. People were happy and enjoyed the dividends of democracy. We made the resources go round, while making conscious efforts to ensure adherence to due process. Ours was the only government that published quarterly reports on its financial dealings. By the time we left office, we had a clean slate.
Let me use this opportunity to reemphasize that throughout the 96 months I served as governor the only money I spent was the security vote duly appropriated by the State House of Assembly. And the vote was handled by Chief Theodore Orji who served as my Chief of Staff. I did not dip my hand in any government coffers, nor did I engage in any underhand deals with anybody. It was this stance that made it possible for us to successfully fight and wrestle corruption.
The legacies we bequeathed to Abia State will outlive even the present generation. In spite of the negative media against our administration by former Governor Orji and his co-travellers, the truth has remained unassailable. If he claims he has worked for Abia let him take up the challenge I made to him to bring independent assessors to assess what he has done in comparison to the huge resources he has received.
The truth is that Abia State was hemorrhaging and asphyxiating under former Governor Orji. The fear is that it will die if no immediate help comes to it. The plan of the former governor ab initio was to go to the Senate, his son to the House to become speaker, while his crony occupied Government House, Umuahia. By this arrangement, then what is left is to sing the nunc dimitis for Abia State some day.
Are we going to fold our arms and watch as our state bleed to death? This is a question that must be answered by every concerned Abian. It is either we stand up collectively and rescue Abia State or we will live to regret it.
I know the God I serve; he will never allow shame to come upon our people. As God’s Own state it will not be long before salvation comes. But the salvation will come faster if we chose the path of rectitude, courage and wisdom. We cannot continue to grope in the dark when we have the capacity to redeem our conditions.
I thank our people for standing firmly behind us. It would have been impossible to make progress without you.
I thank God Almighty for the great things he did in Abia State through us. I thank him for the protection and understanding he granted us throughout the period we served that made it possible for us to achieve great things for our people.
Things may look bleak today, due to the indiscretion of one man, but very soon light will spring up at the end of the tunnel. It is only a matter of time before the evil that has enveloped Abia State take flight to abyss.
I cover Abia State with the precious blood of Jesus and wish it well as it marches into a new era – the era of change.