By NBF News

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
He is increasingly becoming a heavyweight in Imo politics. Chief Elvis Agukwe, Commissioner for Information and the strategy, has been in the tick of political developments in the state since the inception of this republic. He was Political Adviser to former Governo Achike Udenwa and has details of how Udenwa handed over to Governor Ohakim. Having been on both sides of the divide, Agukwe is in a very good position to talk about governance of the state and, in fact, predict where the Imo political train is headed. He did this in a recent interaction with the media. Alvan Ewuzie was there. Excerpts

The Ikedi Ohakim administration's has been described by critics as not performing. What is your position on this? ?

I know that you may have also made out time to go round the state and if you are sons of the soil like I presumed, you will be able to also begin to make your own personal assessments and compare Imo with what you are seeing today and what Imo used to be some three, four years ago. On that note, I want to say that today's Imo stakeholders' forum is the last for the first tenure of Governor Ikedi Ohakim and it's also significant because this time last year, the Governor promised Imo people that the next stakeholder's meeting will be hosted in the Ahiajoku Convention Center, an arm of the new Government House complex.

There was no foundation whatsover then and today, you were there live in the biggest convention center in the whole East of the Niger that can compare with any international convention center anywhere in the world. ?The Governor spoke to Imo people like he never did before. The reason is very simple. The Governor from inception in 2007 had a manifesto 'The Man and His Vision'. He is probably the only governorship candidate then, that had a well thought out programme of what he wants to do and shortly after he was elected governor and sworn in, he did not rush to start working. He again convened what we called 'Imo Transition Committee'. He put together 165 Imo intelligentia made of men and women of proven integrity in different fields of endeavours and headed by retired Supreme Court justice, Justice Chukwudifo Oputa.

These people were given the document: 'The  Man and His Vision' which was the campaign manifesto of the governor to look into, to dissect it and turn it into a practical document that can be implemented. Or can be located somewhere and you use it as a working document. ?And after going through the document, the people came up with what is called 'The Strategic Pathway' that has guided the administration of Governor Ohakim. So all what you see Governor Ohakim implement within this first term in office are contained in the Strategic Pathway that 165 wise men came up with and produced the document and he has religiously implemented that document. And that is why as a governor, Governor Ohakim is the most litigated governor in Africa today.

Now, despite all those series of litigations and calculated attempts at distracting the governor, because the right thing that have been the order here if you are sworn in as governor you must be given some time to settle down. You settle down and begin to implement your programmes so that at the end of the day the people will be able to judge?you whether you have performed or you have not performed. ?But there was a gang up, because when some of our leaders who now assumed the position of deities found out that Governor Ohakim was not going to play ball, was not going to engage in business as usual, they now set a lot of mines on his way to make him not to perform, distracting and ensure he does not implement his programmes. But because the governor has the hindsight or the advantage of having a Strategic Pathway that contains programmes he wanted to implement, he strictly adhered to that programme and has religiously implemented what is contained in that programme. So when people are thinking, sitting down to say what do we do, from where do we start? He launched the 'Clean and Green Initiative' and if you knew Owerri before 2007 it was full of mountains of refuse all over.

There was just no order then. So the governor launched the Clean and Green Initiative, I think that was the first assignment the Senate President did and from that moment?till today, the programme was original, the programme was innovative and he has continued to sustain that Clean and Green Initiative. ?Today, the signature of Imo is Clean and Green state and recently when I attended the first Executive Council after I was appointed commissioner, the first meeting I attended saw the presentation of an award by the United Nations Agency-UN HABITAT. They came, gave the governor an award of originality and sustainability of a programme he initiated and has sustained and they said even the zeal and the manner he has sustained that programme is unbelievable and so he was given the best governor in the environmental issues because it also encompasses protection of the environment. ?The Federal Ministry of Environment has also acknowledged the efforts of the governor in restoring Owerri, to the cleanest state capital in the nation and this Clean and Green Initiative, is now coming into the people's consciousness and they are beginning to buy into it. That is the kind of creation that the governor has done. Of course, added to this, is other rebranding and reformation agenda. Today, people talk about rebranding, the former Minister of Information and Communication, Professor Dora Akunyili, actually borrowed the word 'rebranding' from here in one of her visits to the state.

Because she also has been very supportive and very friendly minister that supported the administration when the late President was there, so she came here and got the word 'rebranding' and started doing something with it. ?In the area of security, we have what we called the 'New Face Vigilante Group' that has introduced a new dimension into community policing. And today, you go to the communities, all the local governments have vans and brand new vehicles, young men trained in the art of intelligence gathering and arresting. They will tell you any criminal that has come into any community and in the nights if you come you must explain who  you are. If you cannot give them a good explanation, you will not go until day break and they will surely find out who you are. So that area he has done so well. Then for the first time, he set up what is called the 'Operation Festival'. ?Operation Festival is a joint policing team because there is a difference between police and policing; police you talk about the Nigerian Police but policing involves different arms of security agencies coming together to provide security. So the policing of the state is such that the army, the Brigade Commander at Obinze, the State Security Service (SSS), the police, the civil defence, the vigilante and other arms are involved in policing in the state. And that is why despite the proliferation of violent criminal activities from the Niger Delta, you know we are surrounded here by Delta almost by sea, we have Rivers, we have also Abia. Abia also suffered terribly the menace of violent crimes from the militant activities from Rivers angle and Bayelsa. So here because of the security arrangement we put in place, those people only occasionally come in here and unleash mayhem.

They rob banks and we pursue them and when we pursue them of course, here is not?haven for them so they also escape. ?All the people that were displaced in Port Harcourt due to kidnapping activities, they all came to live in Owerri. From Aba, at a time the business community and business environment in Aba came to a stand still and many of them relocated here. Even in Onitsha, Anambra State, they also have their own share of violent crimes. They  ran to Owerri. It's only Owerri that you still have night life. I am sure the whole of Eastern Region, even in Port Harcourt, I am sure you know you can be in the club they come there and shoot in the air and chase everybody out. So here is still the only place you come and go to the club dance and go home. ?When Governor Ohakim came on board in 2007, hotel accomodation level was a little above 3,000 rooms in the whole of Owerri. But today, we have up to 12,000 rooms and people are building new hotels everyday. Before a plot of land was about N500,000, N600,000 or N1 million but today a plot of land, you are talking about N4 million or N5 million. In the New Owerri, land cost from above N20 million.?

?Governor Okahim at the stakeholders meeting in Owerri, announced that the state government will begin to arrest politicians that make wide allegations they cannot substantiate. Don't you see the governor's statement as creating more political tension in the state??

No, no. When you talk irresponsibly, already as I speak to you people are already in court now explaining. When you go to make a statement that government borrowed N100 billion and embezzled such money, it's an irresponsible statement. Because first of all, there is a law in this country that says that no state government can borrow more N50 billion and when you mentioned the word N100 billion, you are not talking about 10 naira. So you have to also come to explain how you come about that information because these are the kind of things they have loaded into the internet and people are embarrassed. And when we looked at it, we say even the internet itself, they have made it to look like a public toilet where everybody want to excrete whatever he or she wants. ?Otherwise, how can somebody say you borrowed N100 billion and you embezzled the money. There is a project here called Nwaorie River, that is a Federal Government project. A project that successive governments in Imo have attended to realize that project but it has not been possible. Today, the governor succeeded in getting the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC), to take up that project. We have four brand new bridges that are simultaneously going on now. There is one here in Nekede, there is one in Egbeada and so on and so forth. So they have done the first phase of silting the river because it was a health hazard. They are now putting the bridges in place. The final one will now be to dredge and put the water in place.

This is a Federal Government project, during his court cases, some people said the governor has taken N7 billion. He has taken N8 billion and now you begin to wonder about the veracity of such allegations. These are some of the?lies that over time, and sometimes if you don't challenge these lies they begin to take a semblance of truth. Those are some of the things we have had here. ?There was one, the former Managing Director of Nigeria Breweries, Festus Odumegwu who also came here to say the governor kidnapped his wife. Then you begin to wonder what manner of man is this, who can talk very carelessly. Festus Odumegwu went to Ojoto in Anambra State, Annie Okonkwo's mother's burial with two fathom Rolls Royce and was spreading money any how. ?We thank God today we have been vindicated, he is today facing charges.

These are the kind of things that we have seen and when they come here they expect the governor to bring all the money and send to their houses. And the governor said no, they now go. When he said governor kidnapped his wife, they were laughing. He told the Inspector General of Police, he told the President and everybody. They said okay, if governor kidnapped your wife then tell governor to bring back your wife. On that again, Festus was asking the governor to give him N100 million to pay to the kidnappers and the governor was saying 'from where do I get such money? Even if Imo State has such money do you want me to give you the money of Imo State?' Eventually, they said he spent about N10?million and he came out to say that he paid N50 million.

Why is that Governor Ohakim's former friends have now become his political enemies. For example, Dr. Samfo Nwankwo, used to be a strong supporter of Chief Udenwa. Now what has happened that enemies have become friends and friends have become enemies? ?

When you mentioned Dr. Nwankwo who was a very close ally and served in the government of Udenwa, I also served as the Political Adviser of Udenwa's administration. I was the last political adviser before we handed over to the current government and I am not talking as somebody who was not part of it. I was in the center of all that transpired at that time and I can tell you that Dr. Nwankwo that you mentioned and myself, we all come from Orlu zone and Udenwa had the misfortune of coming face to face with Senator Arthur Nzeribe who is today our political apex leader and Nzeribe thoroughly was going to mess Udenwa up. There were a lot of scandals and frauds associated with Udenwa's government. Udenwa was interested actually in the third term. He was one of those who bought deeply into the third term project and thought it was going to succeed and did not prepare grounds for a successor. Even when eventually he asked us to recommend a successor, we moved round and recommended a successor to Udenwa and Udenwa could not take a successor because the person we recommended was not in good terms with Udenwa's wife. He didn't take our advise, in the end Udenwa lost it and when we have to rescue him, we rescued Udenwa in a group called the G13. We again raised a rescue mission to tell Udenwa this is what is going to work.

That was how within the cabinet, within the high command of his last administration, we also told him that Dr. Ohakim the present governor was going to be the man. Udenwa after making?several efforts to sabotage the arrangement, he reluctantly caved in but then no longer at his dictates. Because he was telling the whole world that over his dead body will Ararume become governor and he has to move into Otta. He practically begged Obasanjo not to allow Ararume emerge as governor. So these so called friends were actually, I don't know how you will classify them but the truth of the matter is that they found themselves in a position that there was nothing they could do. ?They were now forced to drop their positions and join what was going to emerge because it was clear that whether they liked it or not Ohakim was now going to emerge. Ohakim also has kept faith, over 75 per cent of Ohakim cabinet uptill last year was drawn by Udenwa.  His former Chief of Staff became Commissioner for Health for over three years. Everybody in that administration was nominated by Udenwa and Ohakim has carried them all. Just recently he did a cabinet change, so all that was agreed upon today as I speak to you the last promise we thought was not going to be possible was giving Orlu zone Secretary to Government .

We saw the new SSG from Orlu zone sworn into office but because these people wanted the Governor to surrender the resources of the government to them, to engage in their business as usual, the man said 'no, I am not going to do that.' Because what they wanted is for Governor Ohakim to bring the money so that they can share it.?The man said no, if he had done that he wouldn't have had anything to show today. ?Today, you can see things that are on ground that have been achieved by the governor. So every project Ohakim tries to embark on they will write petitions, they will write to EFCC, they will write to every arm of government that will receive petition. So most times it takes government time to even now clear those court cases before he embarks on any project. That is what Governor Ohakim has been going through, he has never been allowed to settle down and concentrate to work for the people of Imo. So what you now see, the only thing that has guided the governor is the Strategic Pathway that was developed by Imo people to embelish his manifesto. That is what he has implemented religiously. ?So even if he is sleeping, no matter what they are doing to him he still has something from where he is implementing his project. So the people you think are his friends as at today are only being jealous, they now turned round to bring him to his knees a