By Dickson Okafor;
Member , representing Nkwerre/Nwangele/Isu Njaba Federal Constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ugonna Ozuruigbo has said that the failure of the South East to embrace the ruling party has set the zone back. The Chairman, Committee on Justice and former Deputy Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, in this interview spoke on various issues.
From 2011 when you got elected to Imo State House of Assembly till date, the state has been a political hotbed of the South-East; can you explain the role you played?
First, let me remind you that before this time, in 2007, l aspired to be a councilor, but when it was delayed, in 2009 through the help of Benjass of blessed memory, I contested for the state House of assembly. Finally, I got elected into the House of Assembly in 2011. In 2015, my people re-elected me and I became the Deputy Speaker of the 8th House. Today, I’m still a parliamentarian this time in the House of Representatives, representing my people. So, it has not been rosy politically because one peculiar thing with Imo politics is the more you do your best for the people, the more they spur you to do more. However, one funny aspect of representation in Imo is that sometimes when you have done all you could for the people and you fail to do one, they complain. So, notwithstanding it has been good and I have contributed and I will continue to contribute my quota to the development of not only my constituency but the state. What inspired me to go into politics is to touch more lives having done so in private life, hence, I assured my constituents that any entitlement that comes to me goes to them.
Be that as it may, it is important to know your role in the political quagmire that engulfed Imo State since 2011 which threw up Okorocha and APC that has made the state a focal point?
In 2011, Imolites wanted a change and that resulted to the people sending Chief Ikedi Ohakim packing and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and they welcomed Sen. Rochas Okorocha with open arm who ran on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). I won my election on the platform of PDP in 2011 and later I was carried away by the vision of Sen. Rochas Okorocha, the then governor of Imo State. When I encountered Okorocha and I saw some of his visions, I had no choice but to buy into his vision. That was the first time I heard, “let education be free” That the children of the poorest of poor can go to school. So, when I saw Okorocha’s strides, I decided to move with him into the APGA and I also followed him to APC at the formative stage. I ran election again in 2015 on the platform of APC and I won. I was called all kinds of names, Okoro Hausa, Boko Haram and by God’s grace, I won my election in 2015. If I did not represent my people very well in 2011, they won’t have re-elected me even though there was insinuation that Nwangele have occupied the position severally.
The perception of most people in Imo about Okorocha was and is still unpleasant that they see those loyal to him as enemies of Ndiimo; in your judgment, how do you describe eight years of Okorocha’s reign as governor?
First and foremost, there is no perfect human being. To me, Okorocha performed excellently well as governor of Imo State. He believes that anybody can be somebody no matter your situation. The reason Okorocha was under attack even now that he is no longer governor is because he didn’t believe in the elite. At a time, he was with the people against the wishes of the elite. Okorocha refused to share public fund, rather, used it to finance free education in Imo State. Yes, they claimed he did nothing to better Imo, but the people can testify that he opened up the state’s roads linking them to rural areas. Before 2011, the school enrollment was about 240, 000 but by the end of 2018, report had it that it rose to 900, 000. During Okorocha’s reign, you hardly find young people on streets doing nothing because they were all in school. Crime rate was zero per cent. You can imagine that even businessmen outside the state especially, building materials dealers all left their base and relocated to Owerri and other towns in the state, hence, businesses were thriving. The administration engaged in aggressive infrastructural development and created an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and people took advantage of that to build industries in the state. But like I said earlier, Okorocha has his own challenges or shortcomings.
Can you say that part of the challenges he had was trying to make his son in-law succeed him?
I was part of the people that saw what happened in Imo during the elections. The only sin of Ugwumba Uche Nwosu incidentially is that he is the son in-law of Okorocha, but under normal circumstance, Uche Nwosu as a citizen of Nigeria is qualified to aspire for any position. Yes, he is the son in-law of Rochas Okorocha, but I didn’t see it from that perspective. I’m seeing it from the perspective of grace for a son of a village catechist to suddenly become son in-law to a governor, having worked almost in all sectors of government. He was a commissioner, Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of Staff. He has occupied sensitive positions and he achieved a lot for the state government including the urban renewal which he initiated. The decision of Okorocha to handover to Nwosu was a problem to few individuals, but not a problem to majority of the people. Therefore, without sentiment, the question you must ask is, whether he is qualified? Does he have the capacity to govern Imo State? With all that happened, I think Uche Nwosu won that election. You know Nigeria factor, at the end of the day, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Governor Emeka Ihedioha the winner. The case is still in court and because all the key contestants appealed the tribunal judgment that favour Ihedioha, the chances of Nwosu to eventually emerge governor is bright. Come to think of it, he came second out of more than 70 candidates. In Orlu zone where I come from, Nwosu won in all of the four local government areas. So, the issue of being the governor’s son in-law should not have arisen because he is eminently qualified to be governor. When you look at the people we borrowed democracy from, the likes of the Bush family in the United States of America and others, this factor does not matter.
Following alignment and realignment among politicians from other geo political zones as they strategise for 2023 Presidential elections, what is the relationship of the South-East politicians especially, federal lawmakers across party lines like?
In the House of Representatives, it is cordial, but I don’t know about the Senate. In the House of Representatives, we don’t know about party in the South-East caucus even though we are only four members of APC out of the 43 members from the South-East, myself, Chike Okafor, Dubem Kalu and Nkiruka Onyejiocha, the Deputy Majority Whip. Like I said, once you are elected, we don’t mind about party, rather, we work as a team.
The present APC-led administration has been described as clueless economically, citing 2020 budget as an instance which according to economists cannot be implemented up to 50 per cent because it is predicated on assumption, what is your take?
I disagree with such view. The APC administration is articulate and forthcoming with people-oriented policies such that have impacted the people. On the part of the budget, the budget is still under review by the National Assembly and because it is not passed, there is room for correction. Yes, the budget is based on taxation, but come to think of it, it is only in Nigeria we don’t take tax serious. That does not mean that I’m in support of increment of tax, what I’m saying is that government should enforce the one they have done. Being a budget of assumption should not be the problem of Nigeria, with the return to the budget circle, I assure you that things will improve because budget will be passed on time.
Many have attributed APC’s inability to gain ground in South-East to marginalization and nepotism, are you not concerned that the ruling party is finding it difficult to fly in the region?
The problem is due to the style of politics the South-Easterners play. Like I told you, in 2015 when I ran election under APC, I was called all sorts of names -Okoro Hausa, Boko Haram, and a jihadist. They say I was one of those who wanted to Islamise Nigeria. So, even if the Igbo have not accepted APC, the party has come to stay. You cannot define the kind of politics played by the people of South West; they play politics of all inclusiveness and collective interest. For instance, you have them in APC and PDP. If PDP had won the presidential election, they will still be at the centre of governance. So, why did Igbo reject a ruling party just for no tangible reason? You say we are marginalised and we are not given positions, even at that, we rather engage the party in a deal and not total rejection of the same government we will run to seek assistance. After all, we are given positions as stipulated by the constitution hence, we are given the number of ministers that are required by law. The right thing to do is not to reject the ruling party as a way to show that we are marginalise, instead we ought to explore all avenues to negotiate or dialogue with government and whereby the government refuses then you can reject the party. But in case of South-East, our people rejected APC even at the formative stage and anyone who identified with the ruling party is called all kinds of names. Let me ask you, yes things are hard in Nigeria, is it hard for only Igbo? Yoruba, Hausa, South-South and Middle Belt, we all go to the same market, use the same road and buy foreign currencies at the same rate, how come Igbo is taking it personal? President Muhammadu Buhari won election in all the 6 states in the Southwest, in most part states in South-South, North Central, North East and North West, even though he got reasonable votes in the South-East, but the amount of votes we expected from our people that would have enabled us have a say in the table where positions are shared did not come. And when it is time to reward those who worked for the party’s victory, you expect South-East to be equally rewarded? My brother, in politics anywhere in the world, it does not work that way. Let me ask you, now that Ihedioha is the governor of Imo State, did he give appointment to any APC member? And when Okorocha was in power, did he give any position to any PDP member? So, don’t let us deceive ourselves, if we must be part of the decision making in government, we must be part of the ruling party and that can only happen if we vote for the ruling party. This party was formed by coalition of opposition parties which include Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and part of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). May be you don’t know, Sen. Victor Ume was in the first meeting of the formation of APC. Okorocha was not alone in that meeting; he was in the meeting with Ume, but Ume withdrew later because he could not pocket Okorocha. I don’t know why he took such decision to withdraw. Would it be that the Igbo are shortsighted politically or they prefer politics of sentiment? This question is left for Ndigbo to answer. Meanwhile, as I speak with you, a lot of Igbo have realized that we cannot produce President of Igbo extraction without the support of people from other regions especially, the North.