My Interview with Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu (CPC Deputy Gubernatorial Aspirant) Part II
The CPC deputy gubernatorial candidate Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu answered all the questions with a wealth and command of societal systems and the need for pragmatic administrative improvements. He refused to harshly castigate the current governor of Imo Chief Ikedi Ohakim who is presently embroiled in some self-inflicted scandals. When pressed on the issue of nepotism in government he spoke about the imperative to hire qualified persons/ operatives for positions. He gave the example of President John Kennedy who hired his well-qualified sibling as the attorney general of America during his administration. However, Dr. Mezu did not articulate and/or address the need for equal playing fields where the potential applicants receive the same opportunities/advertisements irrespective of surnames (relationships), connections, accessibility, and other extemporaneous modalities/matrix.
When asked to make a pledge to the good people of Imo State about not abusing his position of power and always acting in the interest of his people, Dr. Mezu recanted his family story of integrity with warmth. His wife Dr. Rose Mezu was the first female commissioner in Imo State and was asked an interesting question by then Colonel Adisa a member of the General Mohammed Buhari junta that overthrew the Nigerian civilian administration in 1983. According to Dr. Okechukwu Mezu, Colonel Adisa asked Dr. Rose Mezu, Abe you know wan chop or you no sabi chop. This statement and her immediate exoneration from any wrongdoing, among other examples, are the testament of the Mezu's drive for the public interest and not self-aggrandizement.
Akwada: What would you say is the state of the nation of Imo State and how do you and Hon. (Barr) Emeka Nwajiuba (the gubernatorial candidate) intend to deal with the stated situations?
Dr. Mezu: The health situation in Imo State is unacceptable and unconscionable and Imo State deserves more. It very unfortunate that in the 21century the government is unable to make any intelligent statements about the state of healthcare in Imo State. For example nobody including the government knows how many people now suffer and die from various cancerous diseases, how many people suffer from heart diseases, strokes, aneurism, and other diseases of the 21century. How many children are born prematurely and in need of special care and what type of infectious diseases plague our people and the impacts of these diseases? Perhaps with the exclusion of HIV because of international interest no one can provide these data. Nobody trusts the healthcare system and the general consensus is that a visit to the hospital is the first stop on the way to the mortuary. Unfortunately, doctors are not accountable for their errors and malpractices and there is no central system to verify the credentials and performances of medical personnel. This is unacceptable and unconscionable and should not be allowed to happen. It might sound fictitious but every death in Imo or in Igbo land is blamed on the devil, some of them call it devil attack. Whether the person received appropriate and timely care is never questioned. Basic preventive care is also unavailable and many citizens are uninformed about what they need to promote good health such as good nutrition, avoiding simple hazards in the environment.
How can they avoid these hazards in the environment when the gutter in Owerri is a potty open sewage system? Sometimes people are selling fresh vegetables, tomatoes, meat, on top of the sewage, this is intolerable. Of course one should not be surprised given that the public health system is virtually non-existent in our communities and our healthcare delivery has failed because the system is ill equipped. There are no checks and balances to assure a baseline or even basic level care. The Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba and Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu administration intend to tackle these issues using the following strategies. We shall create a council of public health advisers for the state; these advisory groups will boast expertise in different fields of medicine and pubic health. We will bring Imo citizens from all parts of the world, Great Britain, the United States of America, Canada, India, Latin America, and Europe. The advisory group would provide a report replete with recommendations within six months of our administration. They would provide this report to our government on the state of health of Imo State. We intend to develop a state of the art electronic birth and death registry. We will provide training or retraining for existing healthcare staff, public health officials, doctors, nurses, paramedics, to bring them inline with the 21century. We shall partner with world class academic institutions to develop and enhance the capacity of our educational sector to provide training to public health and healthcare professionals and to provide some of the training.
In addition, we intend to reactivate the primary healthcare delivery system and integrate maternal and childcare infectious diseases, social, mental, and environmental health services into the system. We shall enhance the capacity of community healthcare centers to deliver a range of preventive and basic curative services to the people of Imo State. This would provide centennial reports of the state of health of the people of Imo State. This is the 21century so we intend to introduce technological advancements to support data collections and dissemination. In doing this we intend to develop a public health system that is sensitive to emerging and reemerging diseases by using the revitalized public health network of community health centers. My area of personal interest and that of the Emeka Nwajiuba administration is the field of education. Illiteracy is the den of progress because good education is a sure ticket to enlightenment, employment, and good quality of life. Our strategy for the education sector is as follows- we shall establish partnerships between our local universities and world-class educational institutions in different parts of the world to facilitate information exchange, capacity building, knowledge sharing and research partnership in computing, management sciences, law to mention a few. The Emeka Nwajiuba and Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu administration would establish 4year colleges just like I mentioned earlier, the university system that I articulate but was unimplemented under the Mbakwe regime. The colleges will be in each senatorial zone of the state Okigwe, Orlu, and Owerri, to serve as feeder institutions to Imo State University center of professional colleges at the state capital.
Furthermore, we intend to establish 2year colleges in each local government area of Imo State to serve as feeder institutions to the 4year colleges at the senatorial centers. We intend to rehabilitate the primary and secondary educational system by setting up continuing education credit system through which teachers are armed with up to date strategies and knowledge for teaching. We shall review and revise the pay structure in the primary and secondary education system and in the university level to ensure that good teaches are attracted to the profession. That they remain loyal to their calling and avoid the distraction of secondary jobs and activities in an effort to make ends meet. Of course parallel to this, we have to introduce a system of accountability across the educational sector so that pay is commensurate with performance. We should also provide mechanisms through which teachers are accountable and are forced to become accountable. If you have a responsibility, you also have to execute it honestly with accountability. We intend to provide access to modern technology in classrooms in order to foster academic learning in a modern world. We shall establish a world class library in the capital city that enhances citizens' access to various types of information and places research and new information from the rest of the world on the finger tips of the citizens of Imo State. We shall replicate on a small scale the same library and facilities in the senatorial zones.
There has to be accountability of government to the people of Imo State. It is unfortunate that citizens of Imo State have been left in the dark about the distribution of their resources. Our citizens are completely in the dark and unable to determine for themselves whether what they pay is what they get and our government would be accountable to the citizens of Imo State. We shall ensure that the operators of the local government system are accountable to the people they are suppose to represent. Also we believe in commensurate pay for any work done and we believe that local companies that provide services to government should be paid for their services including making profits to keep them viable and more importantly that the services provided are optimal. We believe and will insist that as civil servants we should all be paid for demonstrable work. There has to be a strategy for accountability at all levels for everyone on the state level, the local government level, and the community level. This means we have to develop system of accountability for all government expenditures in all parastatals. We shall provide live reports to the people of Imo State about the state of Imo State with a purpose on key areas of these plans we have articulated. We shall develop and disseminate annual or bi-annual reports on key objectives of this strategy to the good people of Imo State.
We want the good people of Imo State to give Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba and I the opportunity to serve them. I see our team as analogous to the combination in the United States of the young and vibrant President Obama and the seasoned and knowledgeable Vice-President Biden. The ticket includes the combination of youth, seasoned age and dedicated people. I have no intentions of building houses; I have more houses all over the world that I can manage. I personally have no intention of marrying another wife; I have been married for 42years with 10children. All of them are practically medical doctors or have their PhD's in various fields of endeavor. My desire and that of Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba who has consistently for the past 10years struggled to serve the people of Imo State, is to give service to the people. We are not asking for what Imo State can do for us, we are requesting for the people of Imo State to give us the opportunity to use the faculties, intelligence, opportunities the good Lord has given us to serve the good people of Imo State.
Akwada: You mentioned your friend the former governor of Imo State and how the current infrastructures were developed under his era. How would your late friend and political confidant Governor Sam Mbakwe analyze the contemporary conditions in the state?
Dr. Mezu: Well is really unfortunate, where do I start, during that regime which dates 20years, lets take the infrastructure one by one. We setup Concord Hotel Owerri but go to the hotel today it is a shadow of itself. The last time I went to the second floor I almost vomited. Take for example Imo Airport built by the good people of Imo State. The facilities there are decrepit, unacceptable, unsanitary, and unbefitting of Imo State in this 21 century. Under Sam Mbakwe we established the Aluminum industry at Ihela, where is that industry today. We established the paint industry in Mbaise, where is that industry today. We established the poultry industry in Avutu Obowu that was sending crates and crates of lorry loads of table eggs to Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, where is that infrastructure today? Under the regime of Mbakwe you could go to Nkede and buy fresh fruits, meat, and pork. Where is Ada Palm today? The secondary school system was buoyant, active, and working. The universities experience peace and progress, where are these institutions. Sometimes they are closed for a whole six months; this is unacceptable and should not be allowed to happen. Under the Mbakwe regime with little or no allocations from the federal government we had the best motorable roads in Nigeria, whether is from Owerri to Umuahia by passing through Avutu. Secondary roads with airport road, where are these roads today. In fact road development in the capital literally stopped with the end of the regime of governor Mbakwe. Electricity, water supply what do I mention or leave out, something has to be done. The people can not continue like this full of desperation, despondent, and afraid to speak out.
Akwada: How would you assess the performance of the current Imo State Governor Chief Ikedi Ohakim within the last 4years?
Dr. Mezu: Let me put it this way, the government of Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba and his deputy, we are not out for retribution. We are not coming in government to castigate anybody. The present governor Mr. Ikedi Ohakim probably did his best but we feel we can do better. We feel that we can improve on the qualities of the facilities at the Imo State Airport. We feel that we can improve on the administration of the Concord hotel; we feel that we can improve on the facilities existing in secondary and elementary schools. We can improve on the quality and standards in our Universities and other tertiary institutions. We are not condemning anybody but are asking the people of Imo State to give us the opportunity so that we can implement the change, a change that you can see, feel, and believe in.
Akwada: From your wealth of experiences are there social justices issues that are prevalent in Imo State that you would like to address if granted the opportunity to serve the 27 local government areas of Imo State?
Dr. Mezu: Yes! Right now the local government system as presently constituted, all they do is a monthly routine of sharing the allocations from the federal government, to the extent that is allocated to them. There is no evidence anywhere of services to the people, there is no evidence of grading of roads, there is no evidence of supply of water or infrastructure, and there is no evidence of maintenance of facilities. Go to any local government office today in Imo State and you see people employed who have nothing to do and because of the over employment. There is no money left to service the greater majority of the citizens of the local government and this should not be allowed to happen. The primary responsibility of the government is to service all the people and service implies improving the standard of living, education, availability of roads, infrastructure, and supply of water, health facilities, and what have you.
Akwada: In your article titled “Nigerian Elections 2007” published on Black Academy Press, you focused on the massive irregularities of our entire voting systems. Do you think the people of Imo State are ready to demand for a credible electioneering process?
Dr. Mezu: Yes! They have been dying for it; they are ready for it and let me take this opportunity to congratulate INEC. In spite of the earlier hiccups they had with the digitalization of the registration process, I think they have succeeded in instilling some elements of credibility. It is not perfect but there is some credibility in the registration process. It is our hope and prayer that this would continue during the election and voting process.
Akwada: What measures do you think Imo state citizens can use to demand for change and demand that their votes count?
Dr. Mezu: While maybe is too late now, first of every eligible citizen of voting age should register or should have registered by now. The rigging of elections begins with the registration of voters, either people are supposedly disenfranchised; they make it difficult for them to register. Or of their own volition they decide not to register, I believe that is an antisocial behavior and should not be allowed to happen. Then the next duty of every citizen of Imo State is on that Election Day, those who are able and willing should go to vote and all political parties should ensure that their representatives are present at the polling stations. The votes should be recorded, counted, and the results released on the spot. They should also be prepared to defend their votes. I know they will define their votes this time around.
Akwada: What do you think about qualified and qualified people getting positions, contracts, and grants due to nepotism without going through the proper vetting processes?
Dr. Mezu: In every part of the world, there are certain minimum standards for all fields of endeavor before you are allowed to practice as a medical doctor. In any country, you must meet certain basic requirements. Even in the United States after you have met the national qualifications you also have to meet certain basic state requirements, not only as a doctor but also as an attorney. You must pass certain exams before you are allowed to practice. Contract work should not be different; before you are allowed to wire houses, you must have passed your exams in electrical wiring. Before you are given, a license to operate as a home improvement contractor you must pass the exam and obtain the individual state home improvement commission license. Even before you operate a small business of buying and selling, or even selling crayfish there are certain standards you have to maintain for your own protection and also for the protection of the public.
In addition to that lawyers, doctors, contractors must obtain liability insurance so that if there is any malpractice or complaint against them the victims/ supposed victim has a recourse so that they can sue or report to the regulatory agency to obtain relieve. These things do not exist in Nigeria, that is why people put up buildings and because there is faulty inspection, the building collapses, people are killed and there is no accountability or consequences. Sometimes the case does not even get to court. They have contractors' registration system existing in Imo State, but new parameters have to be setup and the law has to be strictly enforced.
Akwada: How would you and his Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba address the issue of nepotism that has been a harbinger on Nigeria as a whole and Imo State in particular.
Dr. Mezu: What is nepotism? The mere fact that somebody from your hometown is giving a job/appointment does not make it illegal. I remember the case of John F Kennedy in the 1960's who appointed his younger brother Robert F. Kennedy attorney general. But he was qualified to be attorney general. So appointment must be based on qualifications, abilities, not on extraneous circumstances like point of origin, country of origin, and relationships that have nothing to do with integrity/ability of that individual to perform the job.
Akwada: If you are elected, do you pledge not to abuse your position, which you have, obvious summed up that it has not been the case for the last two decades, to act in the best interest of the people, with the recognition that you are answerable to the electorates?
Dr. Mezu: You see for me is not a matter of pledging. Is the few times I have had the opportunity to serve the people of Imo State; the question is what did I do with it. Let me give you the example of my wife. Governor Mbakwe wanted me in his administration because of how I made him governor. It was in my house that the convention was held, in my town Emekuku that I organized a convention that nominated him as the governor of Imo State. He appointed me but I refused to serve under his regime, he appointed my wife under his government. My wife served for 4years, the army struck, General Buhari incidentally the leader of CPC and General Idiagbon. Every single commissioner in Imo State was arrested and detained and most of them ended up in jail. All the commissioners collectively asked the tribunal to leave Dr. Mrs. Rose Mezu alone, that she was not guilty of any thing. When the tribunal investigated her, it was General Adisa at that time Colonel Adisa who was in charge. Do you know what e told my wife, he said go home “abe you know sabi chop or you no wan chop.” They sent her home because she spent her time and money looking after the disabled, the blind, lame, and social organizations of widows. She was the only commissioner that refused to accept government quarters throughout the 4years she served in government. She went to work everyday from our house and came back to our house. She refused to accept the allocations of house given to every commissioner in the government.
I was appointed the chairman of Golden Guinea breweries the money meat of Imo State at that particular time. They had five major distributors who paid 5million naira at that time which was the equivalent of almost $7.5million each and cornered the distributorship system. As chairman of Golden Guinea, I gave the management two weeks to refund that 25million naira to those distributors. I assured them that they be reappointed as major distributors but I liberalized the distribution system and reappointed 779 distributors all over the federation of Nigeria and in every local government. Instead of 5million naira, the stipulation for distributorship became 100naira and a tax clearance certificate. Hundreds of people besieged my house every morning from 4am some with bags of money but I told them to take their money. I did not need it and informed them that if they deserved it they would get a distributorship. Either widowers and widows, people from all over Imo State, some of those who are maybe reading this, they or their parents were beneficiaries of this equitable distribution system. I stood on the stadium in Owerri during the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) convention and challenged almost a hundred thousand people there for anybody to standup and accuse Dr. Mezu that I took money to do or not to do something. But I can name no less that 400- 500 hundred people here who tired to bribe me to do something for them and I said go away with your money.
As the state secretary of the NPP, I supervised the elections of 80-90% of all the honorable members, senators, federal honorable members, house of assembly members in Imo State. During the nomination process, I never took one kobo from any of the candidates. I can name many candidates I used my personal money and printing facilities to help win that election. As chairman of Imo newspapers, I was asked and this is very verifiable because some of the people are alive, by governor Mbakwe to sack the managing director of then Imo newspaper Mr. Kanu Offonry, I am giving you names so that you can verify. I said no I cannot do that, Mr. Kanu Offorny was in the National Party of Nigerian (NPN) and we were NPP. I said this is s very honest human being, very intelligent, highly qualified and if I had the money and means, I would even hire him as general manager of my own company Mezu International Limited. I did not fire him and because of that, I was removed from Imo newspaper and somebody else was brought to fire Kanu Offonry. This is just to give you an idea of the type of human being that I am and the way I operate. So this is the type of credible government with integrity and probity we intend to run because that is the way I have been all my life and I inherited it from my father who died in 1983. Mr. Clement U Mezu who is the first and possibly the only human being a Catholic who died and we erected a chapel in his memory, which was consecrated by his lordship Bishop Onebu and the heads of the congregation of clerics and the Holy Ghost fathers.
Akwada: Do you have some words for the Igbo nation in the Diaspora?
Dr. Mezu: I would say please the Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba and I would do all within our power and ability to facilitate your run back home. Do not be afraid to come back, the people need your services. They are waiting for you; together we can get Imo State moving again, we can make Imo State the greatest state in the entire world. We can bring about a change you can see, a change you can feel, and a change people will believe in.
Nnamdi F. Akwada MSW, BA is a Social Justice Activist