OUR DEAL WITH JONATHAN - CHIME
Ahead of the April 16 gubernatorial election, Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State says he is sure he would cruise to victory. Chime who expressed this optimism at the weekend in an exclusive interview with Daily Sun in the Enugu Government House said that his conviction stemmed from the overwhelming support he received from the people of state during his campaign tour of the 17 councils of the state that ended on March 18.
On the level of the presidential poll, Chime also justified the unalloyed support which he said he and his colleagues from the South-East giving President Goodluck Jonathan.
According to him, given the present circumstances, it is in the Jonathan presidency that South-East interest can best be served.
The governor who literally went through fire after an intense battle with the erstwhile Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chairman, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo over who controls the party machinery in the state said, having gone round the state and seen the support the people have for him, he can now conveniently go to sleep.
Asked whether the Nsukka zone where Dr Nwodo comes from would not spring a surprise against him during the polls, Chime declared that the zone is his safest area, adding that if he challenges Nwodo to organize a rally simultaneously within his Ukehe hometown; only members of the ex-national chairman family would attend his own rally.
Chime also revealed how he has been able to etch his name in the minds of the people, saying that it was by sheer dint of purposeful leadership and sincerity to serve the people.
He said he had been able in the last three and half years to re-engineer the state by utilising the meagre resources accruing to the state in critical areas, promising that when he returns in May, he would entrench a sustainable system that would continue to move the state higher even after he might have quit the stage.
He also took a swipe at his predecessor, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, saying that the famed Ebeano exponent has failed in the upper legislature chamber where he is currently representing the people of Enugu East. He, therefore, urged the people to vote for the PDP candidate in the April election to replace Nnamani.
What experience did you get from your campaign tours and what was your central message to the people?
This is the first time and maybe the only time when we will be seeking re-election as a governor. I would say that I have never seen a thing like that. It was a very good experience, good experience in the sense that everywhere we went to, we were being thanked for services rendered and the things we provided for the people.
Honestly, the people were thankful and grateful for what we have done and you will see the sincerity when they say they endorse, when they say they support you, they wish you well to continue in office. The support during the tour was quite tremendous in all the local government areas, from all the organised groups, traditional rulers, town unions, youths organisations, women groups, religious organisations and all sort of groups. It was the same story all over. It was a good thing now that we have gone round to have the true picture of how acceptable we are in the state.
Then the message we took to the people certainly was that of continuity because when we came in, in 2007, we had this document, the Four-Point Agenda, which spelt out our programmes as a government, that document is still there and still guiding us. So, all we told them was that we are still executing the programmes. But actually, we developed the Four-point Agenda before we came into power and when we came in one of the first things we did was to form a committee that we called, Visit Every Community (VEC) project, and we sent members of the committee to visit every community in the state with a view to documenting their real needs.
So, we had direct contact with the people of the state. In fact, some of the communities told the committee members that it was the first time they were seeing the government in any form, so to speak. So, apart from the Four-point Agenda, we have the real needs of our people properly documented and, of course, we found a way of marrying it with our programme. And this is just a period of executing this programme, we are no longer looking for what to do, this is not the time to keep on promising heaven on earth, we are now realistic, we know what our resources are; so, this is the time to continue to provide our people with their basic needs.
The Four-point Agenda is even meant to outlive this administration, it is all encompassing. You know we just started from the scratch; there was just nothing in the state when we came in, all we had was that geographical entity called Enugu State. So, the Four-point Agenda could be said to be development based, it made provision for all sort of things, it was a blue-print to guide us and to put us in check, so that we don't start dreaming of being reckless with money. I am not trying to veer off the question, but I want to say this, one candidate who says he wants to be governor of Enugu State recently told his people that once he is elected governor, he would build an airport in Nsukka. Even as prepared as we are today we can never be driven into such a frivolity. An airport cannot be qualified as a basic need of an Enugu State man.
We just got the Enugu airport upgraded to an international status. What we are trying to do is to link up all the zones, all the villages, to Enugu urban. There is a new road we are building to Nsukka now where the young man was proposing to build a new airport. With the new road we are building, from Enugu to Nsukka will be less than 30 minutes, so why would I want to go and build an airport in Nsukka when the people there have access to the Enugu international airport in less than 30 minutes? When you want to be governor and you are not prepared for it, such crazy ideas come into your head, you want to build white elephant projects; I am not interested in such things.
We believe Nsukka zone is your biggest headache with all the big names there; now you have this problem with some of them, how safe are you in the zone?
Incidentally, if you ask me, the Nsukka zone is my safest zone. It was the Nsukka zone that first came together and endorsed me for a second tenure; that was as far back as 2009. Then we went to Igbo-Eze North precisely to organize a rally to welcome back one of our brothers, an ambassador, who was then in the ANPP, who left that party to join the PDP, and unknown to me all the traditional rulers, without an exception, from that zone had gathered. I just came to the event and the next thing I heard was please, go to that side you will see the traditional rulers.
And when I got there behold they were all there; and there and then they blessed me, prayed for me and gave me the Ofor, the traditional symbol of authority, they said they were endorsing me for a second term, that they were satisfied with the way I was going about providing for their people, they were so thankful for what we had done for them. One group I heard had been defunct for so many years also came together; embarrassed by what had happened and said: Oh, they were not consulted, but they are now also joining in endorsing me.
They came here, to the Government House. Then there was also Prof Lawrence Ocho and his group, they said they were giving me their endorsement. So, the Nsukka group, as far as I am concerned, are my biggest backers. If you go to the religious groups there, it is the same thing. If you have gone on this our local government tours, you would have observed these things yourself.
You mean that the Nwodos cannot stop you in the zone?
No, if I go to Ukehe (Nwodo's home town) to call for a rally and they also hold their own rally in Ukehe on the same day, only themselves and maybe, some of their family members will attend their own rally. That is just the truth.
When we had that misunderstanding, Ukehe, his own town, has about seven autonomous communities, all the traditional rulers in the autonomous communities came here to visit me, it was aired on TV, they disassociated themselves from what their son was doing. They said it was uncharacteristic of their people. His traditional rulers. Seven of them. You know the Speaker of the Enugu House of Assembly (Hon Eugene Odoh) is from that area, so we have other people who are more respected, who actually are with their people, so we don't have any problem in the Nsukka zone.
We read from somewhere that in the last three years you have blown over N400 billion? Where did all the money go?
It is so interesting, in fact, this accusation came from the same candidate of the PDC (People for Democratic Change). It was the same person (Dan Shere) who said that he would build an airport, that same person who said that I have blown such a staggering amount of money on roads and all that. This is my fourth year, since I came in here, I think my first year budget was about N50-something billion, I have never gone beyond N60 something billion. This is my fourth year; I have not completed it, so where will the N400 and something billion come from? And of course, the allocation we get, we pay salaries with more than half of it.
So, if he is accusing me of having blown four hundred and something billion naira on infrastructure, it shows that he is actually appreciative of the quality and extent of the work we have done. His problem now is in believing that we have been able to do these things with the meager resources we have got. In fact, he accused us of having received one grant from somewhere; but there are no such things, no infrastructural grant, nothing up till now; of course, we would have been glad to receive them. We are pursuing them now, but as I speak with you, nobody has come to our rescue yet.
The Federal Government has not given us a kobo as reimbursement for the federal roads we have done, no organization has given us any grant to assist us in what we are doing. We have been busy managing our resources well. We have all these put down for record purposes; they are open, you can go through our records. Every year we go to the House of Assembly to present our budget, so where he got his figures, I don't know.
How long will you keep on managing, many states are either pushing up their IGR or going to the bond market?
No, certainly we are pushing up; we have pushed up a lot already. By the time we came in the monthly IGR (Internally Generated Revenue) here was below N100 million, it was that ridiculous. And, of course, we pushed it up and we are not relenting, it is still going up. So, when I say manage, it doesn't mean we have folded our hands; no we are still pushing and doing everything possible. As I said, we are also looking for all those grants to access, we are looking for money everywhere. But as I speak with you here, nothing has come.
So we are working hard and hoping that some day it would come. In 2008, 2009, 2010, all those refunds and all that they shared, Enugu State got zero, the records are there. In 2008 some states got up to $1 billion, not naira, but Enugu State got zero, not just zero, we were told we are owing. These things are available, the records are there.
How has insufficient funds affected projects execution in Enugu State?
As I said a lot depends on how you manage what you have, we reached an agreement…. Of course, when we started we made sure we didn't bite more than we could chew. We agreed with our contractors, so over time they have this kind of confidence in us, at least, they have observed that we have the willingness to pay. You don't discuss cuts with them; that is where you will have a problem; when you say give me this percentage or that.
Outside that, they will see that you are genuinely interested in giving services to your people, so when the contract comes and they win the contracts, they are willing to do those things and willing also to give you a breathing space. Some of them, we agreed to be giving them a specified amount of money every month, irrespective of whatever certificate they generate, others just take as we give to them. And, of course, we know that it is a privilege, we also take it seriously, whatever we get we make available to them and they have been quite nice to us and it made us to reduce the number of contractors to something we can manage.
Right now, we have about four or so working for us. When we came in newly as JJC(Johnny Just Come), we engaged as many contractors as we thought we could engage and behold, all the indigenous contractors without exception, all of them, failed us. Maybe they thought it was going to be business as usual. They failed us completely! So we now have about three or four major contractors working for us and we have this understanding: As money comes in, we make it available to them.
You have had so many fights with the bigwigs in Enugu State, before there was this Council of Elders, but now some of them are joining to fight you; what is it you are not doing right?
Sharing money! I am not sharing money. At least, they have complained openly, they said I am not sharing money; that is their own definition of not-carrying-people-along. I don't have money to share. As for the Council of Elders, I put it on hold because I didn't want all these opportunists to politicize it. So many of them, they were so angry, they wanted me to call for a meeting to tell these other people off, but I said no, since it has come to be politics, let's stop it and after politics, we will start it again, so I put it on hold.
All those people that came together saw an opportunity and they're exploring it. Don't worry, in the next few weeks, we will start airing the views of those people who now felt that I am bad, that I was this, I was that, when they thought the going was good, you will hear them. So, when unfortunately they saw an opportunity, they forgot the past. They forgot all the good things they were enjoying and felt that the best thing was to remove this man, take charge and squander the state's fund. They felt that was the only way they could do that, but, of course, in Enugu we always say God has a major stake in what is happening now in the state. So,
He came to our rescue. But for divine intervention, I wonder how many governors that would have survived what happened here the way it came. Even people you thought were on your side turned against you. In one of the meetings, when we came, some people were sitting on the other side, they were presented as belonging to the other group, and we were asking them, aah! Chief, what are you doing there? When did this one start? And they were just looking at me dumb-founded. When did you cross over, what is the problem?
And there were no answers. Of course, when the whole arrangement crumbled, efforts were made by these people to come back and even to disassociate themselves from what they intended to achieve. So, we are always grateful to God for what happened and for exposing certain persons and also for rescuing us from their claws because they were ready to devour us, there was no question about that.
Besides those who said you are not sharing money, there are others who say you stubborn to the point you don't take their phone calls?
If you name those making the claim, I will tell you. We are here now talking, you have seen my phones, all of them on the table, they have been ringing since you came in here, and they are permanently on silent mode. When I came in newly I almost went mad hearing the phones ring, but as much as possible, I call back when it is convenient to do so. But the question you ask yourself is: I was once so nice to these people, they were telling people how nice I was to them, but suddenly they saw this opportunity and I became one horrible monster and it now became an issue whether or not I was picking my calls, those things were never issues, we were talking on phones before; but suddenly it became an issue, that I no longer pick calls what went wrong?
Hyde Onuaguluchi cannot say that. The problem with our people is that over time we have moved from the period of hand-picking representatives to a period when we now allow the people to decide on who will represent them. I will give you an instance, we have gone through two local government elections in this state. In 2008, Hyde Onuaguluchi was, for example, very supportive of the person who eventually emerged as chairman, people supported him and he became chairman; but two years on, people felt that he wasn't performing well, and Hyde Onuaguluchi was fingered as being instrumental to what was happening and was accused of all sort of things in my presence.
When the time came for re-election two years later and their people in Oji River swore that they will never have him back, we made every effort to get people to as much as possible accommodate the serving chairmen to go back, at least, to persuade them, but some local governments, including my own local government area, insisted on changing their chairmen. We have this general policy, if you can accommodate your chairman, allow him to serve out his tenure, but in some cases the people said no, Hyde Onuaguluchi, then we were calling stakeholders, local government by local government, he attended with his people and in my presence, to his face, young men were pointing accusing fingers, accusing him of having misled the chairman and, of course, that was how the chairman lost out.
So, when the chairman lost out, that was when the governor now became a problem. He will tell you if he wants to be honest to himself, it was his people who decided who they wanted as chairman and it happened before him. When they decided on who will be the chairman of my own local government, they brought him and introduced him to me, I didn't know him before, what is my business on who should be the chairman except, of course, somebody other people believe in and who will deliver. I said please, borrow a leaf from myself, I cannot impose even a councillor in my ward, allow your people, don't stay in Abuja or in one high office and dictate to your people, it must be so, so and so.
It is not done. If you have a candidate, you can talk to your people, we will try and prevail on them to endorse your candidate, but if for any reason they have superior argument against your candidate, they will tell us and we will tell you. And that was why when it came to the election proper it was like people returned unopposed, because everybody was involved in deciding on who will be the chairman. So, we have had two local government elections while some states have not even had one and ours were so smooth. Not one election has been reversed in any court or tribunal.
We went round the 17 local government areas for two purposes. We want to show appreciation for the opportunity given to us to serve, to thank the people for the opportunity to serve and then to identify with them and seek their support for a second term. You don't take such things for granted, even if at the end of the day I was the only candidate, I would have also gone round.
Let me tell you the challenge. The challenge to my re-election lies in electoral fraud, if you assure us that in Enugu State that every vote will count, nothing will be changed, the result we will hear will reflect the wish of the people, I can go and sleep.
The members of the Ebeano group that produced you have moved away to form a new party, are you not worried by this development?
No, it was the PDP that produced me and 98 per cent, I am not exaggerating, if not more, of the entire membership at the time are with us. So, how can two per cent change anything? Everybody, we were all elected and we went into different offices, the entire House of Assembly are with us, the National Assembly, apart Chimaroke Nnamani and KGB Oguakwa, are with us, the minister, everybody; so why should I lose sleep.
And apart from that, we have been able to bring people who had left because of Ebeano; they came back and joined us, though in the end some of them came back and thought they had seen some other opportunities and started misbehaving. If you had come to Udi yesterday (March 18) for example, when I contested in 2007, from my own local government area, we were four that ran for the governorship election.
Out of the other three, two of them spoke at the Udi rally yesterday, Dubem Onyia and Oscar Egwuonwu, these were candidates that ran against me in 2007. Now, they are fully back to support me. The other one that didn't come, Ugochukwu Agballa, once came back, identified with us, but somewhere along the line, I am not quite sure what happened, I don't even know where he is now.
But certainly he is not running; so everybody is back, so why should I lose sleep?
The remaining people in the group that are still outside, don't you think they can change things, more so now they are canvassing support from door to door?
Going from door to door was made possible because of the fact that we are the ones in government. We have provided a level playing ground, do whatever you want to do. But go and ask them their experiences, going from door to door, they have been booed several times; they have been assaulted several times by the people on their own volition.
They will ask you questions, you are here telling us not to vote for this man, you were there for eight years, you passed through this road now to come here, did you do it when you were there? So, they had faced all sorts of embarrassment campaigning from door to door. They were asked questions, when you were there, we didn't have so, so and so; now that it has been provided, you don't want us to vote for the man who provided them, why? And there will not be any answer. So, how can you as a former governor for eight years, you were not able to provide transformers to people, now that you want to go to the Senate, you now bought transformers with your money, is it not ridiculous, is it not criminal, something you couldn't provide as governor, you call it campaign, you are now buying transformers for people in your capacity as an individual, Nigeria is a lovely place.
Before now every South-easterner saw Enugu as his regional capital and home, do you see Enugu coming back to that era?
Enugu is already back and I will tell you why I said so. In May, given the latest date they gave to me, we will be commissioning the biggest shopping mall in the country in Enugu here. It is being developed by the same people that developed Shoprite in Lagos, but the one in Enugu is much bigger than the one in Lagos.
These things that I am telling you came from them that it is the biggest in the country. We have not put in a dime, if they have not seen Enugu coming back nobody will invest that kind of money in your state, you don't take such an investment to certain states except they are such of good environment, over N6 billion project, you will come in and just build it in a place you don't believe in? I will play you one presentation from Globin, two days ago they confirmed to us that they have concluded the final phase of arrangement they are making for the funding of our Monorail system; Monorail system is being built in Enugu and will be flagged off soon without the government spending a kobo.
The one in Rivers State is being sponsored by the Rivers State government because no private investor could put in such money there; Lagos State the same thing. In fact, when I was discussing with my Lagos State colleague (Babatunde Fashola), he said if I had not told him personally he wouldn't have believed that any investor will build a monorail system in any state in Nigeria with his own money, but it is happening in this state.
So, people are seeing it already and with this other prospect, of course, you know once they complete the international terminal of the Enugu airport, there will just be a boom; once they complete the international terminal Enugu will take off completely. So, we have gone beyond restoring Enugu to what it used to be, we are now moving on and contending with the interest of people who now want to come and settle here in Enugu.
We are developing new cities. I don't know whether you have heard about the Centenary City, what we used to call the Gulf and Livestyle City, so Enugu if fast developing.
If you have done this much in your first term, why do you still want to come back?
It is not complete yet, you don't enter into an aircraft, you move the aircraft and as you are gaining height, midway you say you have tried and you jump out, you will crash land; but when you start cruising you can then leave the cockpit, put it in autopilot, you can then leave the cockpit and start gisting with the passengers, but not when you are gaining height.
We are still gaining height, we are not yet fully there; we are still working, trying to perfect things. For example, we have so many roads that we have done that do not have streetlights; we have finished tarring Ziks Avenue, we have dualised Agbani road, but no streetlight yet, so we still have a lot to do and these will be delayed a bit because of the monorail project, this is because we now want to install the streetlights using their platform.
What can we say is the most important thing in your mind you would like to do in the next four years if you win?
The most important thing we would like to leave when we are leaving in the next four years is to have a very reliable and workable system. In the end you must have put a system in place that is sustainable and that will continue to move the state higher and higher. To have a system in place is very basic, it is important to us, every other thing as far as I am concerned revolves around it. We took delivery of 30 brand new buses between November and December; they are not on the road because we are yet to get a real outfit to run them.
We made a mistake when we acquired 20 Mercedes buses from ANAMCCO and we thought we had mastered everything and it was a disaster if you see them, the Coal City Shuttle. We have now acquired new 30 buses and we don't want to make the same mistakes, so we are going through due process and the real process of engaging an outfit that will efficiently run the buses, we are not in a hurry, the buses are here, the president commissioned them the other time.
Let us know what you have been able to do in the area of human capital development and training of people, last time your government had problems with the state university, ESUT?
Yes, the problem we had with the university was not peculiar to Enugu State. They chose to come under the aegis of South-east ASUU, one non-legal entity, so it was more of a regional problem, not a state problem. But eventually, they have been able to agree amongst themselves which they ought to have done much earlier, they have agreed now to do the right thing and, of course, we gave approval to it. In the end, our students are the losers, lecturers are now trying to atone for their mistakes, students are going through crash programmes, but we have always tried to develop our people.
But most importantly, we have tried to develop our people in the area of agriculture, we had sent our graduates on special training and we are funding what they are doing now. I would have gone on a visit today if not for other engagements I had to the Adarice project. I believe in the next one year everybody from the South-east will be talking about Enugu's agricultural programme.
Is it a situation of once bitten twice shy that the South-east governors are not talking about replacing the PDP chairman and what bargain did the governors have to support President Jonathan?
Well, I have been in government since 1999. I joined the Chimaroke Nnamani administration even before its inauguration. This is the first time, we of the South-east, let me be a bit particular, Enugu, we can point at something and say, this is a Federal Government project. The Federal Government is now serious with us, we go and we discuss with the president as a group, the South-eastern governors, we table our requests and he responds well to them. We have a president that is very responsive, he listens to us and he comes to our aid; so, we are very comfortable with him. From day one, we are the first to give him support.
In fact, we don't even have an alternative to him. We don't have dealings with other people because this is somebody who has identified with us. But for his commitment to the South-east, do you think it would have been easy to get contractors to do the Enugu international airport runway in one year? No not by any Nigerian standard. It is not possible, but for the president's commitment, it would not have happened. The one in Port Harcourt, Rivers State took about two, three years to happen, but Enugu happened in 10 months, the airport was closed down in February and by December it was re-opened.
So, the support we the South-East governors are giving Jonathan is because the interest of our zone would be best served by a Jonathan presidency - at least, for now. I am referring to real practical things he had done for us. Of course, improvement in electricity, so many other things are happening we are very comfortable with him, I can tell you that. As governors, this is the best that we have had.
About the national chairman, you know this thing happened in the heat of our primaries, in fact, on the very last day of the primaries, the national convention.
This time is not the time to start bringing in any new idea, we are going in for an election, allow the people there now to lead us through the election; we have not given up that position and, of course, the party knows that, it is constitutional, but we just said please for now continue in an acting capacity and at the end of the election, we will agree on somebody to take over until next year when we will have our national convention and elect new officers.
So, we have not abandoned that position, but we felt and still feel that in the best interest of the party, we will continue with what we have, don't bring in any new idea; you don't when you are winning you start changing your team, it doesn't make sense. The person you are bringing, supposing he comes… who envisaged that Nwodo will do what he did? Nobody, he just came with some crazy ideas outside the party's constitution, so many phoney things, he talked about e-Registration outside the party constitution; he ought to, for example, have sought for the amendment of the constitution.
You are talking about e-Registration, you stay in Abuja and register somebody in the party when the constitution says you must go to your ward and register, he brought some phoney ideas. I would have paid dearly for his ingenious ideas, but thank God that we survived it. So, just like you said, once beaten twice shy; we don't want to take such chances again. After the election, yes and, of course, under the PDP constitution you don't elect, we appoint, so we will just agree on somebody else and endorse him as our new chairman, I don't think it is a problem.
When the time comes would you like to stick out you neck like you did in the case of Nwodo going by the experience you had?
No, the interest of our people comes first. What happened under Nwodo happened because we were going for an election, if there were no election and no primaries, it would not have happened. We took all those things that happened because we were approaching the primaries, the elections and everybody was trying to be cautious.
Under any normal circumstances I don't think any person would have tried it. In any case the period is almost gone because whoever we are putting there will only stay till next year. I am certain that after the election the zoning formula will change, I don't see the chairmanship of the party coming this way again, it will go elsewhere, but that shouldn't be a problem.
Some people are of the opinion that the PDP candidate in Enugu East will not be a match to Senator Chimaroke Nnamani in the April polls, don't you think you have a problem there?
I don't think it is a problem, why I say so is you have to have a representative properly called so before you start to talk about the quality of the representation. Chimaroke Nnamani as a senator was a total failure, he was hardly there, he was not attending sittings, so if you were an Enugu East person, would you prefer calling Obama to represent you or somebody who will come to you and gist with you, know how you feel and go to the Senate, sit down there and represent your views, that is the issue, it is not a matter of being popular.
You have to choose between a truant and somebody who will remain in the Senate to represent your interest; it is as simple as that. So, Nnamani has distinguished himself as somebody who is a truant, who will never attend sittings. In the last few weeks, even this week, the Senate passed some bills, but he has been here (Enugu) since October, he doesn't know what is happening in the Senate. So, it is a straight choice, you choose somebody who will represent you or somebody who will call himself a big man who will never be there for you, so it is not a problem.
What is your message to the people of Enugu state as we approach the April elections?
I urge them to be steadfast, I urge them not to relent, I urge them to keep their eyes on the prize, Enugu is for all of us. With the encouragement, the support and prayers we got from people; you know it was so bad that even the churches composed prayers for us, I have never seen such a thing before. People got so engrossed, so committed, they saw it as their own; so, I urge them to continue in that direction, let it not just stop with me, even after me, they should continue to make sure they see themselves as real stakeholders, they must play that major role in deciding who represents them anywhere, either as governor or legislators.
If they do that whoever goes there will always remember that and will be accountable to them. So, my word to them is that they should continue in this way, it's quite encouraging; it's good for our democracy and for us. And I will also hope that this spreads to other states, let the people be directly and personally be involved, that way we will have a better country.