The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, on Friday, accompanied Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma on a courtesy call on President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja. They spoke with State House correspondents after the meeting.
What was your mission to the president?
Oshiomhole: The governor of Imo, Senator Hope Uzodinma, is not a stranger to the president; he has been part of the APC family, he has played very decisive roles when it mattered in the affairs of the party. Upon his victory which was delayed courtesy of INEC and finally retrieved by Supreme Court. So the purpose of today’s meeting is just to introduce him as the new executive governor of Imo State.
And of course, President Buhari is very excited that we have established our foothold in the heart of the south-east. And it coincides with the president’s vision of uniting the country. Now we can truly say that we not only control the centre, we have governors in each of the six geo-political zones and I believe that is good for our party and for the government.
Incidentally, Governor Hope Uzodinma brings on board a huge experience. He had a rewarding experience in the private sector, he has been in the legislature at the federal level and so he understands what the issues are. So, Imo people are free from the challenge of a learning curve as he goes straight to work and bring to bear all of those experiences that he has gathered from the private sector, national legislature. And of course, one who deeply believes that Imo ought to be better than where it is. He used the opportunity to give the president an insight into what he is already doing in the past one week and Mr President was very excited to receive it.
What should Imo people expect from you as their governor?
Hope Uzodinma: First of all, I want to thank God that at the end of the day, the mandate fully given to me by my people has been restored by the Supreme Court.
Secondly, I understand very clearly the challenges in Imo State. Even before now, only few days ago when I got to Imo, I discovered that salaries were not being paid in full. The reason being that the money coming from Abuja, the federation account, is not sufficient. What I did was to cut down the running cost and forfeit the security vote donated to the governor. I made up the money and we were able to pay salaries 100 per cent to all the civil servants. I also directed that the local government funds be sent straight to the local governments until such a time the state is ready to release 10 per cent of their IGR (Internally Generated Revenue) to the local governments, then we can begin to do the business of JAC – Joint Allocation Committee.
For 12 years, no governor visited the civil service secretariat. I was there two days ago and water had not been available to the secretariat for the past nine years. Two days after my visit, water is running there now, they have been connected back to electricity and the generators are being worked on now.
So, my mandate is about the people and my government will just be about the people and by the grace of God, I will not disappoint their expectations. I am sure they will see good governance from a man with experience, working in consultation with political stakeholders in the state. I think we can do it differently and the narrative will be acceptable to the people.
After the elections there has been political acrimony here and there. How are you going to reconcile the aggrieved so that you will have peace?
Uzodinma: On arrival at Imo State, I have visited leaders from the political class. Like you must have heard and seen, the party is properly reconciling and leaders are coming back together even across board. Twenty-seven members of the House of Assembly, 25 are now APC members, they have decamped to APC. The state chairman of the PDP in Imo State, seven members of his cabinet have decamped to APC. So APC is building and the momentum is growing by the day. So the issue of reconciliation is being given serious attention. What really happened in Imo State is not really about the political party, it is about the way the election was conducted. Because, the case I took to court was the exclusion of 388 polling units which INEC did not cancel and which INEC did not also collate. So I asked INEC why did you not include the result that you had announced at the polling unit and this question was not answered. So, I went to court. I was not quarreling with the conduct of the election, I was not quarreling with my votes that were canceled by INEC but with these ones that were not cancelled and were not collected, which INEC had the originals and refused to bring them. And we presented the original duplicates given to our party agents to court. And when they dragged and insisted that the one given to the securities should be brought for comparison, the police were issued subpoena, they brought theirs and it tallied with what we have and then the court took this decision.
At the level of the Appeal Court, it agreed with us and later changed. God knows why they changed. How we, some senior officers from INEC from the south-east… all we were asking was that members of INEC remained neutral and especially in the south-east. Some senior members of INEC in the south-east are obviously PDP card-carrying members. To the extent that once a result is not in favour of the PDP, they will go all out to upturn the result.
We had elections a few days ago, Saturday, you must have heard what happened there. But that is going to be a business for another day. But I urge all of you to join hands and let us build a very strong democracy where equity, justice and fair play will be the order of the day.
Many believe that the best governor Imo ever had was chief Sam Mbakwe. They are clamouring for a governor with the same compassion in terms of development as he. What exactly are you going to do to have a solid tenure that will impact the people?
Uzodinma: On the legacies of late Sam Mbakwe, of course, if you know Sam Mbakwe during his days, during campaigns he came out with a manifesto, he made promises and that document he followed to the letter until the democracy was truncated. Campaigning as a candidate of APC, I had my manifesto built on three Rs – Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Recovery. You will agree with me that what I have just said happened two days ago is part of the recovery. We are also trying to design an implementation plan for all those promises we made. In less than three, four days, I will bring out my implementation plan with timelines, God willing, with appropriate funding. We will follow that implementation plan judiciously and I am sure the Imo people will be better for it and I will bring prosperity to the state.
What are your key priorities?
Uzodinma: The first thing to address now is the problem of insecurity. You must have heard how the nonsense called kidnapping, armed robbery and all that have been on the increase and there is the apprehension that people are no longer safe staying in their various homes. So the thing has become so rampant that the government must stand up now and take a courageous and bold decision to ensure that every citizen must have that sense of security. If that is addressed, then we will now begin to address the infrastructural gaps. The roads are not accessible, so many roads are in bad shape. So from one point of Owerri town to another, people spend four, five hours. So these are some of the things and we will start with immediate short-term and medium-term plan. It is part of what will be contained in that our document. But when you are talking about priority areas – education, agriculture, these are priority areas. The government has no business in business, we will try to introduce PPP – Public-Private Partnership, bring private sector investors to also help in growing our economy.
We are interested in reviving our industries that have gone moribund because of lack of electricity, potable water, access road. Leaving here now, I am going to talk with Department of Petroleum Resources, we already have a gas pipeline that terminates at Owerrinta Navy Barracks, so if we get such approval we want to bring private people that will take gas to our industrial layout. So that all the industries will have that gas pipeline as their source of power supply, and that way, the cost of doing business will come down and businessmen will be encouraged. We are going to promote the economy and bring life back to our people.
The Supreme Court computation of your votes where your result outnumbered the number of those who voted. Many believe this judgement must have been given in error because of this. The ousted governor, Emeka Iheidoha, has approached the Supreme Court to review and possible reversal of the verdict. Are you concerned that the Supreme Court might act accordingly?
Uzodinma: Well, I am not concerned, reasons being that going back to the Supreme Court is based on falsehood. Because the number of accredited voters outside the excluded votes is what we are talking about. But if you are going to court, you must go to court to discuss or talk about number of accredited voters, including the excluded polling units. If you compute the number of accredited voters inclusive of the accredited voters, the figures are correct. We went to court with the issue of exclusion, we didn’t go to court with the business of election malpractices, violence and all of that. So, it is a peculiar case. My case can be likened to that of Jim Nwobodo and Onoh, and Omoboriwo and Ajasin. The position of the Supreme Court is that where an election has been announced in a polling unit, INEC is bound to collect the result and enter the result into the form EC8B. We went there with two documents, the form EC8A that was excluded and Form EC8B where result was supposed to have been entered and they saw clearly that it was left blank. So, let INEC tell us what happened. Because, if going back to Supreme Court, and of course like you know, I am a lawmaker, I participated in the amendment to the Electoral Act. Election petitions are timed, as far as I am concerned. The 60 days left for Supreme Court to look into that matter has already expired. So, going back to the Supreme Court, I don’t know what that…I am not a lawyer anyway, but with my little knowledge of lawmaking, I understand what is in the Electoral Act. So Supreme Court is not a market square that anytime you want you begin to go there.
Oshiomhole: I think there is something the media has simply refused to focus on. With all due respect, a lot of the views that people parrot are derived from what I called electronic media lawyers.
Now, is there any of us in this room that at a time Emeka Iheidioha was declared, even the returning officer could not show that he scored the constitutional requirement of at least one-quarter of the total votes cast in at least two-thirds of a local government. On that criterion alone, there is no question in the eyes of the law, Emeka ihedioha ought not to have been declared because he had those numbers only in nine local government areas, and of course you know you have about 27 local government areas, two-thirds is 15.
So, as journalists, is nine two-thirds of 27 local governments? So INEC completely and irresponsibly misbehaved by using a professor who seems to be so senile that he didn’t know that nine is not 2/3. This is very serious. And because they take advantage of the fact that once they make pronouncements, even if the pronouncement is made by a lunatic in INEC, you can’t reverse it; you have to go to court. And it fits into PDP’s fixation, rig and let them go to court. They just feel that it is their birthright to continue to rig elections. So the next time you see them talking, ask them how many local governments did PDP score 1/4 of the votes in the total votes cast in how many local governments? That is not in the provision of the Electoral Act, that is in the expressed provision of the Nigerian constitution. I think all of you should read the Nigerian constitution and ask INEC to give you the results of Imo. Even their own version, even excluding that of Governor Hope Uzodinma, you will find that Emeka Ihedioha ought not to have been declared.
For me, it shows that nobody is interrogating INEC and that is why they are getting away with blue murder. And this is minus the fact that INEC has not explained why they did not collate votes that were certified and signed by the presiding officers, appointed by INEC in each of the 388 polling units. If there is something wrong with those votes, INEC is on record to have had course to cancel unit votes where they are dissatisfied. Those votes were not cancelled, they just chose to ignore them.
When I see people protesting, that is my primary constituency, to do protests, but I don’t run after mad man when he is naked and I have to join him to run because I want to make a point. That is the reason we just allowed them to do the sort of thing they were doing.
Have you also found out what happened in Sokoto? There are a lot of issues that INEC cannot defend but we have to live with the pain. Look at Rivers. For some technical reasons we were told we cannot even have candidates, and nobody asked questions. But because we are ruling party, we cannot just begin to go to the streets and begin to protests those things. You also know of another state, Zamfara, where we won governorship, Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court said our primaries were not perfect, therefore those who were not in the ballot box were declared, so we lived with that pain. If it is about mobilising people to attack, we would have mobilised out to the Supreme Court, but that will not be a responsible behaviour in a democracy. So we lived with the pain because we understand that we operate under the principle of separation of powers. So please don’t accept those half truths that PDP is parading.
I think this is important: when I saw Secondus leading that protest, I was tempted to tell him who is the real protestants? How did Wike, Emmanuel Udom and Dickson become governors? Supreme Court under the previous leadership chose to completely dismiss the use of card reader, that is what has brought a lot of mischiefs now into our electoral system. Because, whereas the law recognises the power of INEC to make bylaws and those bylaws are enforceable in court, and there are judicial pronouncements holding those bylaws. When they wanted to allow these PDP states to be returned, their elections having been nullified by elections petition tribunal, nullified by the Court of Appeal on the the basis that they did not comply with INEC guidelines, as regards to using card reader, the Supreme Court looking for an escape route for PDP, decided that the use of card reader, yes though in the INEC guidelines, is not in the law. Can everything possibly be in the law? The same court recognised the fact the power of INEC to make rules and regulations for smooth conduct of elections. We have stomached all of these because, as they say, two wrongs don’t make a right. If we choose to question on the streets of Nigeria, all of the impunity we have seen that have affected APC negatively coming from our courts, there will be no peace anywhere. But we have said that somebody must bear the price of peace, that is why we choose to keep quiet, it doesn’t mean PDP has any valid case. Ask Emeka Iheidioha how many local government areas did he score 1/4 votes, these are not classified matters.
What do you think of the national agricultural Programme and how do you intend to key in?
Uzodinma: Well, we are only coming with agriculture programme because the issue of food security is very important. Only two days ago, I directed the permanent secretary in the ministry of agriculture to come up with…because before I got into Imo State, they have already passed the budget which has their own priorities and programmes, of course most of them are not consistent with the programmes of my own political party on what I think would be better for our state. So, we are now identifying, for instance, the areas we can grow rice, areas we can farm other produce.
Don’t forget I represent a constituency that comprises Muslim and Christians, so the Muslims in Imo state are my friends and we have been working with them for the past eight years in the Senate. When I announce my cabinet you will find that some Muslims will make my cabinet. So the issue of national unity and national integration is uppermost in my mind because that is another way of ensuring that we are all safe.
Then the national policies on agriculture are being collated. There is already a technical committee in that respect. You know my deputy governor was former Vice-chancellor, University of Agriculture, Umudike, Umohia. So he is also an agriculturist. He is chairing a committee to come up with a full programme for agriculture to ensure food security for our people.
You said your priority areas will be agriculture, industries, health, education. We know the industry in Imo is education, are you going to give them qualitative or quantitative and education?
Uzodinma: Well, if you give a quantitative education it is not education. When I said I am coming to give education, I mean I am giving education as in education, which is education. So our people will be qualitatively educated; that is the target.