Amid deafening agitations across the country, Imo Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has cautioned against inciting and divisive statements, insisting that Nigeria’s unity should be preserved at all costs, while the resolve for its indissolubility should not be taken for granted. He spoke to State House Correspondents recently in Abuja, and SUNDAY ODE was there. Excerpts:
On the state of the nation
As you are aware, we are passing through a very difficult time in our nation and we have a lot of challenges – political, economic, social, cultural and what have you. I want to advise that this is what many great nations of the world have passed through before getting to their point of greatness and Nigeria will not be an exception. We must see this time as a trying period for Nigeria and by the grace of God we shall overcome. So this is the time to preach love, this is the time to love one another, this is the time to embrace one another, this is the time to preach peace especially in more of the things that unite us as a people and talk not at all the things that will divide us. And this calls to question the recent statement credited to Governor Ayodele Fayose over the health of Mr. President. I want to advise that Fayose’s statement should not be regarded. It’s baseless and there is no substance in that information. What he said is not right, it is uncalled for and that is simply hitting up the polity. In our culture and tradition, we do not play politics with people”s lives and anybody can be sick, anybody can be in the hospital and so making such categorical statement which is unfounded-that Mr. President is on life support is to the best of my knowledge a statement of hate. That is a cheap talk and Nigerians should not regard it. What we should do right now is to pray for Mr. President, wish him well, anybody can be sick. Even as he is sick out there many people have been sick in Nigeria, so we should not politicize this and play politics with people’s lives and try to create hate and confusion in the system. I think that has become Fasoye’s style of talk and Nigerians must never take those kind of talk serious because it’s capable of creating confusion in the system.
Moreover, the country is stable, the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo is doing a beautiful job, he’s meeting up the daily duties of Mr. President and so there is no vacuum and so there is no cause for alarm. We must at this point give every support to Mr. President and we are hoping that very soon Mr. President will come back and join us. So that statement is a call for concern. I do not know if he is speaking from the point of view of being the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum or he is speaking as a person or as a governor. I do not understand but whatever it is, people must disregard that statement. We are not in campaign any more. President Muhammadu Buhari suffered a lot when he was running for president. First his health should be left only for God to decide, it is not for man to decide his fate. President Buhari came into power under an unusual circumstance to defeat an incumbent president which is very uncommon in our checkered political history but he did so and I believe that is not the making of any man but the making of God. So I believe his health is in the hands of God and nobody should play politics with it. This is my advice to Nigerians, let us focus on major issues that concern us as a nation .On that note I appeal that everyone should disregard that statement. Mr. President will soon be back to commence daily duties.
On secession threats and unity of the country
On the issue of unity struggle in our country and different comments and different opinions, people expressing their different opinions as regards Nigeria’s unity, well, we have all agreed that Nigeria remains a united and indissoluble country. But we must never take this unity of Nigeria for granted. We are better off as a bigger nation, we are better off as one nation. We are going through problems but these problems do not mean they cannot be surmounted. I salute all Nigerians who are urging for the unity of this country than all those who request for division, we cannot afford to divide ourselves now, it will be an ill wind that will blow no good. So I suppose that the Governors’ Forum support that, the APC governors support the unity of this country. We have deliberated on it and we are all proud of ourselves, none of us has spoken otherwise asking for division of this country, so Nigeria still remains united.But one point is clear that we owe our youths, this generation and the future generation a duty of care and we must bequeath to them legacy of unity and not legacy of division. We may have made mistakes as a nation but let us begin to correct it. What is important now is that it’s not about ourselves but our children and their children’s children. So we should see Nigeria beyond this period and see Nigeria in view of 100 years to come, only then will we appreciate the effort and amount of work before us that we must do to get things right and prepare the future for our children.
On Fayose’s call on President Buhari to resign.
Well, I have just said that even the speculation he is making is wrong, it is unfounded. And if anybody is to speak about the President’s health Fayose does not have the qualifications to speak for the nation whether Mr. President should resign or stay. It is not in our culture, it is not in our tradition. We sympathize with those who go through pains of ill-health, and at that time we don’t wish them death, we wish them well. And Mr. President’s office is properly taken care of by Mr. Acting President of Nigeria until Mr. President comes back home and continues his work and finish his term. But to say he should resign is cheap talk and does not make sense in anyway.
Cost of President Buhari’s treatment abroad and calls for full disclosure of his health status.
Well, let me say to you that if there is an announcement that President Buhari today lacks money to treat himself abroad, believe me more than 20 million Nigerians will contribute for his health. So this is neither here nor there. You must understand what he represents and who he is. President Buhari naturally does not lack funds, he has never owned funds himself but people support him if the need be. He lives for the people, he does not live for himself. Buhari must be seen as a great Nigerian who has made the most sacrifice in many ramifications. You can see that from his family, you can see that from his children. He is not a man of wealth neither does he discuss it. Anytime he needs money I’m sure millions of Nigerians will contribute even if is one one kobo. So it’s neither here nor there. Talking about using national resources, he is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we must honour our President. It’s that office, not just because of him; that office belongs to all of us.
It is very funny when people try to bring down the office of the President thinking that they are bringing down Buhari. There are two different issues, there is presidency and there is the person of Buhari but when it has to do with Nigeria’s presidency it concerns all of us. And we will take it out on any nation that insults our president but we can forgive anybody that insults Muhammadu Buhari as an individual but the Presidency of Nigeria is sacred and we must protect it. That is the altar ego of the nation and we must protect it and that is what great people and great nations do. So on that note I will say that is not an issue for discussion at all.
On suggestions that the Presidency should involve Nnamdi Kanu in the ongoing consultations and dialogue.
On Nnamdi Kanu, you must understand the position of the thing and what has created this hullabaloo if you like, and the big noise about this whole thing. Nnamdi Kanu was a breakout of MASSOB and he broke out of the parent MASSOB agitation. So it’s agitation, agitation, agitation. Last time I said it depends on how we define this whole thing that is taken out of context. Nnamdi Kanu, a young man seeking relevance, agitating for whatever he believes in, what he stands for must be treated separately from the entire Igbo nation. The question is: Does Nnamdi Kanu have the capacity to lead Igbos to war? Or lead me and the governors to war? So I will stand now and Nnamdi Kanu will tell me stand up let’s go to war? So sometimes we over dramatize issues just to make a big deal out of it and that has been the big challenge. Like the gentleman that spoke for the Arewa youths, and these are not more than 17 young men speaking for millions of Arewa youths and it doesn’t make sense because if you ask any Arewa youth now if he is part of this he will tell you, no! We don’t have that wisdom of narrowing things to the perspective where they belong but we like to enlarge it to create the confusion that we all enjoy and the confusion if not well taken care of will consume Nigeria one day. And that is what some of us are trying to avoid. So, the issue of Nnamdi Kanu should be treated as a young man agitating and seeking for relevance, these are two different issues. And he can ride on the back of supposed Igbo marginalization which has been said is not right, and ride on that sentiments and push his agenda but that does not mean that the entire Igbos are speaking with him.
I was in Chatham House and I remembered how I was attacked by the IPOB boys when I was delivering my lecture. They walked up to me and they were shouting and I said calm down and the young man has never visited Nigeria. So it’s our duty to call our younger ones to order, but I want to assure Nigerians that the agitation is about what the people perceived, that the South East zone has been neglected overtime politically, economically, socially and all that. Their roads are impassable, you cannot pass Port Harcourt road, Enugu road, Aba road, Bayelsa road and all the roads. You can hardly see Federal Government presence in the South East, all the things you see are self-made things. Even the Onitshe bridge has been a theoretical talk, fabrications which does not represent realities. So, this is a mix up. So he speaks his own and join it to our issues and it now looks like a nationwide thing. That is not the issue. We have called for unity and have agreed that we will remain united. Very soon, some of us have taken it upon ourselves to reach out to this young men to talk to them. We must understand that our young men are frustrated, if they are as comfortable as we are they will not be able to say those things.
So, whether we like it or not, this nation must make provision for the future generation who are now IT compliant, social media compliant, who have now access to all the goodies in the world without touching it. They smell it but can’t feel it so they are asking, why. So, you can understand their frustration and so they no longer want to take the stories from us but they want to show that they are the people right now. Even in families right now, my children want to push me out of the system, when you are talking they say no, we know it better. So we must just accept the realities of times and see what we can do for the youths of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I think the ministry of youths must be given attention now to engage them productively.
On failure of the Presidency to swear-in newly appointed ministers in Buhari’s absence.
Like I said before, there is absolutely no vacuum. You have an acting president who assumes all the powers of Mr. President. So I do not know if there are reasons for why Mr. Acting President has not acted on that. But he has the full powers of the president. The Acting President can take any decision today and it will be binding on the nation because he is the Acting President, he is not the Vice President anymore. He sits in place of Mr. President and performs all the constitutional duties of Mr. President. But if he is taking his time for obvious reasons that is understandable. As Acting President you want to make sure things are in their rightful places before you take any decision but there is no vacuum. There is no approval by Acting President that was rejected by anybody. He summons meetings, calls for meetings, gives directives; he has enough powers for him to execute governmental functions.
What he will like to be remembered for?
As a good governor that impacted positively on the lives of the people. I’m in this job not for the profit of it but for the honour and glory of the job. So I want to leave a legacy. I want Imo people to miss me and they will definitely. Believe you me they have not seen such developmental works before now and they will miss it. The only problem I have is that anybody that comes after me and does not perform will be stoned. Because you cannot come to Imo State now and say you want to abolish free education from primary to university, they will not accept. I have spoilt Imo people believe me. You cannot come to Imo State and say you want to give them a single lane road when they are now used to eight lanes road in the city, they won’t accept it. You cannot come there and tell the children to go to schools that the floors are not tiled they will not accept because all the schools have been rebuilt. I have rebuilt 450 schools. You can no longer take them to those ramshackle hospitals, those shanties they called hospitals, because I have built ultramodern 27 200– bed general hospitals. You can no longer tell them those stories. All the infrastructures are there. You cannot tell them that there are criminal activities any more and that your hands are tied they will not accept it because we know where we brought Imo from, from unsafe place to a safe place right now. And you can no longer tell our workers to dress shabbily they will not, they will want to dress in their suits and tie and white shirts. So Imo has changed so believe me.
I stand to be challenged and corrected by anybody that what we have done in Imo State in this six years can be comparable to what any governor in that state living or dead has done. And whether if we put all of them together can match what we have done. Have you seen me sounding boisterous? That is the truth. But the point is I don’t make media noise, I don’t make foundation laying stones Programme, I don’t bring women to dance because I want to lay foundation project. I don’t commission projects because for me it doesn’t make sense. They say that is the only way to get the media to know what we are doing but to me it doesn’t make sense. What is the most important is that people are benefiting and people are happy. There is no area in human existence that we have not touched. I can only give credit to God almighty. There is just no area we have not touched and Owerri is now the fastest growing city outside Lagos and Abuja and I stand proud to say so. Ease of doing business is at the highest level. So it’s just passion and vision at play.
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