TheNigerianVoice Online Radio Center

LG ELECTIONS, WE'LL SET THE PACE IN FREE, FAIR, POLLS

By NBF News

Mr. Kezie Ogaziechi, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Imo State, has promised that the forthcoming council elections in the state will be credible. He told Daily Sun in an interview that 'votes would count and the election would be free and fair.'

Excerpts'
Do you think Imo State people have any reason to celebrate Governor Ikedi Ohakim's three years in office?

'Why not? The decision to make project-photo exhibition the flagship of the anniversary programme is because pictures don't lie. You saw pictures of the state we inherited; the state of roads, the environment and the level of decay placed side by side with Imo State as at date and still counting. We feel that time has come for us to provide the hard facts on the journey so far. It is not yet eureka for us But we have clearly laid bare the achievements to enable the public draw their conclusions as to what this government has achieved in the last three years.'

What if they say that these pictures do not reflect the true face of Imo State?.

'The pictures have captions denoting locations, the projects, community or town where they are etc. The photo - exhibition was mounted publicly in Owerri and in the 27 local government headquarters in the state. What else can they say? Sometimes, criticisms bring out the best in somebody. If these characters had kept quiet, may be, we would not have been challenged to opt for a photo exhibition. It could have been their word against ours. These self styled 'media tigers' may be scoring some political points with people outside Imo State but definitely not with Imo citizens that know the truth. What would any critic say? That the pictures are manipulated or that the communities where the projects are sited are not in Imo State or what?'

In what specific areas do you think that this government has done well.

'The flagship programme of this government, the Clean and Green Initiative remains a watershed in the area of environmental sanitization in Nigeria. His Excellency has received national and international awards for creatively engaging the challenges of the environment. You needed to have visited Owerri, on the eve of handover of government on May 29 , 2007, you would begin to wonder why the state did not experience an epidemic in disturbing proportions. It was just God at work. Today, the same characters that presided over the state for eight uninterrupted years, buoyed by some power hungry politicians raise fingers against Ohakim as a non- performing governor. That is simply telling.

'No one is taking them seriously though but time has come for the citizens of this state to question their sense of history and records. In the area of infrastructure, this government has done more Kilometers of roads in three years than the former government did in eight years. Whereas the few roads that were done by past governments were patronages to political god fathers, this government has done more value-adding roads based on economic consideration and social need.

'Are we even talking about the quantum of guaranteed rural access mobility through the innovative IROMA (Imo Roads maintenance Agency).? Most of the rural communities today are accessible. The success of IROMA attracted the World Bank's attention leading to the state being enlisted as the 6th (sixth) state to benefit from the World Bank - Federal Ministry of Agriculture Assisted Rural Access Mobility Project (RAMP).

'You would recall that these same morbid critics claimed that the earth moving equipment, property of IROMA, driven by the 27 local governments partnering with the state were hired. Instead of crediting the government of Ohakim for being innovative in setting up IROMA, they would rather deceive the people outside into believing that there is total inertia in the state. Their long neglected rural communities are being opened up through rural access by the IROMA equipments powered by hitherto idle Imo Youths.

The health and education sectors' infrastructure saw the state being rated highly in support initiative to those sectors across the country, you can even visit the MDGS office in Abuja and find out the performance rating of the state in driving MDG projects. These projects are sited in communities and towns in the state and somebody in the name of opposition or whatever they call themselves would tell you that nothing is happening in the state.

The worry is that some of the people criticizing the government have not visited their communities in the last three years. They only visit on the eve of elections, make some noise, try their luck and abandon the people till the next election.

'Since May 29, 2007, Ohakim has been here managing the fallout of their negative politics; restive youths who were armed, used and dumped. None of them cared to know how many of these young men have been rehabilitated. The elections are by the corner, they have started creating avenues through media war to come in and enlist more young men to deceive. It is a recurring cycle which we are determined to break. They play politics of bread and butter and take advantage of the situation of these unfortunate youths. They are restive because the government of the day is determined to give the youths jobs and make them unreachable to be deployed as the thugs in future.'

Talking about electoral reforms, how is that received in Imo State.

'The reforms are highly celebrated in the state and the reason are obvious. Imo State has for long been under the stranglehold of a mafia of sorts that cannot compete fairy. I am not one of those that place the blame of flawed elections only at the door steps of INEC. The appointment of Prof Atahiru Jega as the new INEC Chairman may not provide the answer to the election problems if political parties would continue to condone the kind of political engagement that denied level playing ground to all party members. Why did an Ohakim abandon PDP primaries half way to pick ticket from PPA and recorded a resounding victory. Because of the level of manipulation by some individuals that made internal party democracy impossible. Would you blame INEC when an obviously popular party fails to produce a popular candidate through intrigues? That was what happened in the state and the people expressed their anger through protest vote to distance themselves from the whole charade.

'With due respect to other political parties, it would take a very long time for other political parties to make inroad into the state because the state is preponderantly PDP and the party would only lose elections if the wrong candidate emerge as we had in the 2007 elections.

Elections would be flawless if political parties allow internal democracy, security agencies remain neutral, INEC allowed to perform its statutory role without interference and politicians avoid deployment of youths for thuggery.

'These standards are achievable if we take seriously the issue of having credible elections. But the big question is, how can we curb thuggery when many of our youths are idle and the politicians are willing to pay to enlist their services for nefarious activities. Can Jega provide an answer to that?'

What if election result are announced at the polling booths by INEC.

'All the relevant forms where result can be validly entered are not usually available at the polling booths. We experienced that in the state in the 2007 governorship elections where between the booths and the collation centre hell was let loose. Gunshots, result snatching etc which led to the cancellation of the April 14 election. You needed to be here to appreciate what happened.

That takes us to the issue of youth empowerment through job creation recently, the 10,000 job offers in the public service has been described as mere media hype. What is your take on that?

'In the last three years, this government through its programs has been creating jobs only that we felt that such should not be made media issues. Through Clean & Green Initiative, over three thousand jobs were created directly. The women and youths that drive the Clean & Green programme under ENTRACO are Imo citizens. When IROMA was launched, using the local governments as the operational hub, 27 civil engineers were employed immediately to drive the project with over 3000 others as road maintenance supervisors and casuals as support staff to deal with rural roads. These people were hitherto idle hands under the watchful eyes of these same critics over the years.

'The 10,000 jobs are vacancies existing out of the need to strengthen the public service for the challenges of driving the development initiative of this government. In the next few weeks, these young graduates would be gainfully employed to deploy their energy and learning in driving a virile public service. I think some of the critics are simply envious of Ohakim's achievements. That goes back to the noise about the ban on inaga (commercial motorcycles) in Owerri. The refrain then was that Ohakim was insensitive, yet none of their children operate motor cycle business for a living. If it is such an honourable trade that is lucrative, why are their own children not plying the trade?

'We are not worried because reform has its casualties and often times the powerful few that reap from the status quo resist changes for selfish reasons. Today, who are the proud owners of air conditioned taxis and tricycles that operate in Owerri, the same former Inaga riders. I wonder how many of them would abandon the comfort of the taxis to accept to be thugs for some conscienceless politicians. That to me explains why Ohakim should be stopped. Why should he narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots? That is the bone of contention.

Why should Ohakim make potable water available to everyone? Why should he give jobs to youths. Why must the women that follow politicians about be kept busy with jobs? These are the sins of the governor for which he must be stopped.'

The Governor has equally been accused of looting the treasury of the state dry. How do you react to this.

If the Governor is looting the treasury and still delivering on services, then he must be a miracle worker. I would rather have a Governor who is working and looting instead of one that loots and does no work. What Governor Ohakim's critics fail to realize is that most of the things they say about the government exposes their ignorance of simple arithmetic. How much is the income of the state put together both state and Local Government allocations? If these billions being bandied about are stolen, how come the state is recording more projects and programmes successes than most other states with better resource base. Governor Ohakim deserves commendation for drawing the state out of the woods. Before now, the state was simply a provincial player when commissioning a 'Mr Biggs' outlet was recorded as a great achievement of a state government.

Those grandstanding today as promoters of Alliance for Good Governance were active players in the past as mandate holders in the executive and legislative arms at the Federal and State levels. What did they bring to the table of governance; anguish, lamentation, political rofo-rofo fights, intrigues, manipulation and myopic leadership. Same characters want to be taken seriously today, by whom? Imo State people have taken from the cup of reform and can no longer fall 'mugu' to these characters. Let them have the competitive spirit of allowing governor Ohakim Serve out his terms and let history be the best judge.

What is your take on the illegal deduction of local government funds.

'Much had been said about the so called deduction of local government funds but most of the comments are based on ignorance and to some extent mischief and deliberate distortion of facts.

'For the avoidance of doubts, local government funds allocation in Imo State is guided by law. The JAAC law was enacted in 2000 and has been operational since then with minor amendments in 2008 on who chairs the committee. The JAAC law made by the state House of Assembly clearly spelt out statutory bodies that draw from Local Government Allocation. These statutory bodies are funded directly because they are primarily the responsibility of local governments.

'The deduction headings as spelt out by the law are, primary school teachers salaries and allowances paid directly to SUBEB. Traditional rulers, allowances paid directly to the council of Traditional Rulers Account. The pension of retired primary school teachers and local government staff paid directly to the Local Government Pension Board, Training and capacity building fund of local government staff paid directly to the Local Government Service Commission and audit logistics paid directly to the Local Government Audit Board.

'After these statutory deductions, the final cheque value is made available to the local governments. Since these statutory bodies are funded directly through the JAAC administration committee set up by law, there is no way the final cheque value would approximate to allocation from Abuja. These critics know this but they would choose to misrepresent facts because it suites their purpose and intention.

'The Imo State House of Assembly in 2000, responded appropriately to deal with a mischief that threatened the system. Teachers salaries were either not paid regularly or negotiated away. Traditional rulers were owed unpaid allowances, pensioners in the local government system were denied etc.

'These are critical interests that must be protected and the government of Ohakim do not as at date have cogent, compelling and verifiable reasons why it should call for the repeal of this law and that is why we still operate it.

'Why did these people suddenly find this law reprehensible when their patrons made and operated the law for seven clear years before the present government? That is why I read mischief in the whole issue. Would they have wished that this government side-stepped the law?

Few hours ago, there were text messages to the effect that EFCC arrested you with some principal officers of the state over dealings with local government funds. Somebody even said that he saw you being whisked away by the anti graft agents handcuffed at the airport. How come you are here?

'I heard the same rumour and literarily all the officers supposedly whisked away were at the Investment Summit venue in Concorde Hotel, Owerri at the time the rumour broke out. Initially, I thought it was one of those 'April fool' rumours.

When I remembered that we were in the month of June I could not but pity the people behind the rumour. That is desperation and misinformation taken too far. Honestly, I was not surprised because it has become a fashion anytime there is a major event in the state, these characters would start working the phone to create fear, anxiety and all, just as they feel, to embarrass the government.

'Even if I was arrested by the EFCC or whoever, would that have confirmed culpability? The anti graft agencies are created to address issues of financial crimes and whoever is invited should honour the invitation. I have not been invited. There is no reason to invite me. Any day the agency in its wisdom feels like inviting me, I would, without further push, be their guest.

'Having said that, it is equally apposite to state that it is time the system be structured in a way to protect public officers from the hands of devilish minded petitioners. The way false petitioners work away without punishment emboldens busy bodies to continue toeing this perfidious path of taking liberties on the hard earned reputation of people who offer to serve.

If the intention of filing a petition is to cure a malaise why not be patient and allow the antigraft agencies do their job? In most cases, the petitioners are faceless, the reasons political and the intentions to impugne one's integrity. This is simply abhorable and must be discouraged.

'The issue of local government funds and its allocation may be the last rumour they would fly against this government. They would be roundly disgraced at the end of the day. Perhaps, an opportunity would create itself for individuals to answer for filling false petitions against innocent public officers. Some of the individuals that were coerced into signing some of these petitions do not even know that they would be individually answerable for whatever claims they make. It's getting interesting by the day. Definitely they are holding the wrong end of the stick.'

You sound so confident, does it mean you have a joker up your sleeves.

'There is no joker except that transparency is the watchword here. When you operate within the law validly made, the law would protect you at all times. That is where I draw my courage.'

Some of the Governor's critics are of the view that he detests opposition.

'On the contrary, I would say that his greatest problem is that he over consults. His Excellency believes that criticism is welcome to the extent that the critic is bringing to the table of discussion superior arguments. When in the name of criticism you start telling lies, what brand of critic are you?'

Why is the governor arm-twisting the opposition.
'Which opposition? We have over 50 political parties in Nigeria and over 25 of the number are functional in Imo State. The irony is that those opposing the governor, finding fault with any and every program of the government are a few PDP political 'big men. Does that surprise you? That explains why the variant of supposed opposition in the state is unusual.

Their grouse, Ohakim is over opening the political space and some of their hitherto political godsons are now having a say in government and politics without passing through them, simple.

'Ask them to nominate somebody for appointment, they would either position their wife, driver, sister, brother, tailor or house boy. What happens to the thousands of people that are qualified but do not have someone to speak for them in government? That is why Ohakim is the issue. This kind of arrangement denied the state the opportunity of tapping on the potentials of their best in the past. A driver you piloted to the position of a commissioner would definitely operate within the level of his learning, knowledge and exposure. Who are even the people calling the shots? Individuals who suffer from debilitating inferiority complex to the extent that they celebrate sharing breakfast within the precincts of Aso Villa. Are these the kinds of characters that would guarantee my son a future in Imo State, which would create an environment for him to grow and engage others competitively in a heterogeneous Nigeria?

'God used Ohakim to change the political configuration and vista of the state. The gains of what Ohakim has done to the politics of Imo would be acknowledged long after he has served out his terms.

'For the first time, a governor is not imposing candidates for chairmanship and councillorship elections. It is novel, it's commendable, it shows a man that has a date with history. Why wouldn't the rebellious concoct stories against him when it is obvious that his style exposes the political strangulations of the past? Poor teachers, dignified private sector operators, retired civil servants etc., are emerging as candidates in the forth coming local government elections. That is the fall out of the Ohakim revolution.

'The restiveness of the few rebellious fat cows would end up a storm in the tea cup because our people have embraced the new thinking in doing things. Even with huge distractions, the governor has performed creditably in driving development, reforms, political sanitization and education. The successes in the area of intangibles which is impacting positively ion strengthening institutions define the government's proclivity towards bequeathing legacies.'

How would the local government elections play out in Imo State.

'ISIEC, the body responsible for conducting local government elections in the state has assured everyone that votes would count and the election would be free and fair. I have no doubt that the assurances are founded. His Excellency has equally openly made it clear that the government has no interest in any particular candidate. It's a challenge to the political parties to field their best. We have never had it this good. Some people are even beginning to wonder the kind of politician Ohakim is. A man who is never led by the nose for want of building structures. Honestly, his courage and transparency would earn him tremendous followership on bi-partisan basis. He has won the hearts of many for playing his political cards on the table.'

How do we tackle false petitions made against some public office holders.

'Not all petitions are fictitious and we must note that. But a situation where false alarms are deliberately raised to stigmatize people, the system must find a way around it to discourage desperate politicians from impugning on the integrity of opponents.

'Time has come for the anti-graft agencies to insist on petitioners deposing to affidavits in court in support of their claims. The implication is that individuals can fall back on such documents to deal with clear cases of mischief long after. I am sure that most of the petitioners from Imo State would go to jail for perjury when the system allows this option.

'The anti graft officers are no daft. These are trained intelligence officers with nose for details. You don't just fly a kite and expect them to start jumping over themselves inviting and or arresting people. If you strongly believe in the veracity of your claim, provide hard facts. When you claim that a governor fleeces a state of N200 billion when the state's total income in Federal allocation and IGR hovers around same amount, you make a fool of yourself and no anti graft agent would jump up to such claim because it simply does not add up. That is the kind of petition that flies out of the State in the name of settling political differences.

'One hopes that the patriotic Imo State sons and daughters would sit back for once to evaluate the incalculable harm these people have done to the image and fortunes of the state all in the name of fighting for power.

'If you talk of bond, they criticize it. Create jobs for the youths, they condemn it. Do water projects, they complain. Energize transformers, they complain. Do roads they sneer at it. Haba! Is it when Imo people's welfare is compromised that they would keep quiet? These characters must be watched closely because there may be more to this than just being critical of government.'

Who are these opposition members and why are they fiercely opposing Ohakim.

'We have three groups within the opposition rank. The first is headed by somebody who inordinately wants power. The second by one who has been blackmailed into believing that an Ohakim if not stopped would overshadow him politically. The third, professional politicians that have no other business other than government and politics.

'The third group is propelling the first and second. Since Ohakim has refused to share money, they approach the first and second groups with proposal that would make them bring out money. Members of the third group are smiling to the bank daily because the deal is paying handsomely.

'They have enlisted some idle youngmen and hawkers that do the runs for them. Its really a flourishing business. Your pay is determined by how courageous you are in abusing the governor and the believable lies that the one can concoct. The security implication of this nefarious and unholy trade should not be lost on anyone.'