Hate him or like him, one thing that is inevitable is that’s Owelle Rochas Okorocha is a journalist delight. Known for his ‘My people, My people’ slogan, the former Imo State Governor and now Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District had a running battle with his party in the count down to the 2019 elections. In this interview with Tony Akowe in Abuja, he speaks on the current investigation by the EFCC, his relationship with his party, the APC and with the Emeka Ihedioha-led Imo State Government. Excerpts
THE election petition tribunal has just given its verdict affirming your election. What is your immediate reaction to this development?
What is good about the judgement is that it has gone a long way to prove my innocence and to tell the world that my victory was not under duress, which was an action intended to paint me bad in the eyes of Nigerians. The tribunal has come to affirm that the election was not under duress; that I did not use force to get the victory as the senator representing Imo West. That for me is good news.
How did you feel when it was said that you were declared winner of the Senatorial election under duress.
When my result was announced and I was declared winner of the Imo West Senatorial election, I didn’t see it as a big deal because I don’t see who can ever contest with me in Orlu where I come from because I didn’t see those guys as contestants. I thought they were people trying to be relevant. Anybody you speak with will tell you that I didn’t campaign in Orlu. I only held one campaign there one week to election. But there were some politics going on. I didn’t know that some people were hell bent not to see me in Abuja as a Senator. So, it was not just the candidates that were doing that. There were lots of underground supports for them to do what they were doing. When they came, they discovered that they have lost and woefully too because I was leading them with a very wide margin. The Returning Officer had announced the results and I was shocked after four days to hear that the Returning Officer said his child was kidnapped and that he was made to do the announcement under duress. That would mean somebody forcing you to do what you are not supposed to do. He calculated the votes from the wards for more than two hours and confirmed that everything was correct. So, where was the duress? When the court asked him where the duress came from, he could not answer it and that was when the court described him as a dramatist. That was a fabricated story which does not reflect any practical reality.
Since you handed over the state to the new governor; there has been allegations about non- performance by you. What is going on?
I have been the one on the receiving end. I have never confronted or fought the governor because that is not my style. From what has been happening, I have never thrown any punch or tried to destablise the government of Imo State since I left office because I see myself as a father and leader of that state. So, I cannot afford to be part of those who destroy what I have built. That should tell you my mind set on this issue.
What would you say about the demolition of some of the things that you were able to do as the governor of the state?
Talking about the government demolishing all that I have built, let me say that is a confirmation that I have done something. The Akachi monument which was commissioned by the Vice President is one of the best monuments in this country that formed basis for tourist attraction. But it was demolished by the government and nobody could explain why.
The current government has accused you of land grabbing …
There is nothing like land grabbing. Till today, nobody has ever said that I took his land with proof. What they are doing is peddling lies. You heard that I took away 67 government vehicles. As I speak, there is no single evidence of any vehicle of government that I took that is not my entitlement. Secondly, you must have heard that I borrowed N100 billion to build infrastructure, mortgaging the future of Imo State for the next 100 years. Those are mere allegations that do not reflect any political reality. I have shouted and even abused banks in Nigeria to speak out or forever shut up if I owe any of them. Six months after this statement, no bank has said that I owe it. I left Imo State not owing any bank a single kobo and there is nothing like 67 vehicles and there was no N100 billion ever borrowed for those massive infrastructure. Any normal person will be wondering how I was able to do all the things I did with the meagre resources that come to Imo State. So, those are mere allegations because there is nothing like land grabbing.
Recently, governors celebrated their 100 days in office. By this time eight years ago, you were also celebrating. What do you have to say about the first 100 days of Governor Ihedioha?
Eight years ago, my hair was very dark. I didn’t have this kind of grey hair. Somebody sent me my speech eight years ago. When I was 100 days in office, I had built the commissioners quarters which was abandoned; I completed the Imo Heroes Apartment; I changed the Concord Hotel to a five star hotel and I commenced the construction of Heroes Square; I made the first business deal with the Iris on Ada Palm and we made about N2.5 billion with which we started building the primary schools. I started changing the Government House within 100 days in office. When a government engages in frivolities, they will have nothing to gain in 100 days in office. But when you hit the ground running from the first day, knowing that you don’t have time and that time waits for no one, then you will have something to show for your 100 days in office. 100 days in office is period when you need to make that necessary impact and expand your vision for the people. If you cannot make impact in 100 days, you are telling the people that you don’t have anything to offer.
Are you still bitter that after eight years of service to Imo State, you were not able to install a successor?
Let me tell you that Ugwumba Uche Nwosu is my son-in-law and I am very proud of him. He aspired to run under APC not because he is my son-in-law. That is a mistake people are making. If I want somebody I can do business with, it won’t be my son- in-law because son-in-law is part of you. The respect is too much for you to do business with your son-in-law. He is not only intelligent; he went through my school. He started with me as a PA and has grown to make name for himself. As a Commissioner for Land, he helped in the urban renewal project. So, it is his work that worked him into that office and not me. I have no regret supporting him. The way I see the thing going and if the judiciary remains the same judiciary we know in Nigeria, I think he will get back his mandate because he is loved by the people.
You are currently under investigation by the EFCC. What are your takes on this investigation and the raid on your property?
EFCC has the constitutional powers to investigate and no one can stop them from carrying out their investigation. If EFCC is investigating an issue, they don’t go and start looking for what is happening with anybody until people write petition. The Imo State Government has written petitions on this matter and the EFCC is investigating. One of the allegations is that my wife built a hotel using government money and the petition says that she wants to sell the hotel immediately and that if EFCC does not confiscate it, the hotel might go. That is why they got interim forfeiture order subject to when they conclude their investigation. That is what is happening in Imo State. There has been no property traced to me because I don’t have any property anywhere; I don’t have an account anywhere outside this country. I was very careful about that because I know that the political enemies are there waiting. The EFCC are asking my wife to prove how she was able to come about that? I told them this is my wife. Rochas before being governor was bigger than Rochas the governor. I don’t know how many property I can count because I can’t even remember my property in Abuja. I have been a successful businessman before this time. But they have blindfolded people not to remember Rochas of before, Rochas that ran for presidential election three times, the Rochas Foundation that is building schools all over the country with over 2000 children. It cost me nothing less than N2 billion every year to run Rochas Foundation. They said my wife has to prove how she came about the hotel. Meanwhile, my wife had two hotels in Jos over 15 years ago. She has a hotel called Lamond Hotels. The Tropicana Shopping Complex near NNPC Tower belongs to my wife and by today’s value, that property is worth nothing less than N15 billion in the market. However, having being reported, EFCC has the responsibility to investigate and when they found out that it is not true; they will give her back her property. But one thing painful about that is that my wife would not have invested in Imo State. He would have built it in Abuja where there will be more income because I have the land. The only businesses in Imo State are the ones I just introduced. Why should my daughter build a school in Owerri that is being investigated? If you talk of building a school where people can pay, it is in Abuja here. My intention was to sell 50 percent of my property and return them to Owerri to help my people so that their economy can grow. Then the Rochas Foundation where I train poor children without parent, some of who came from the governor’s village is one of the schools under investigation. They claimed that I used government land to build Rochas Foundation Schools that provide free education to children. How has that become an offence? I have told them that if they want the Rochas Foundation School and they can run it, I am willing to give it to government. I built a PPP university in Imo State where government has shares. If you go there, about 1320 students from Rochas Foundation across the country are all there free. I thought that I was contributing my quota to the development of my fatherland. But now, it has become an offence. If you are in my wife’s shoes, how will you feel? If care is not taken, she might shut down the hotel forever and then people will lose jobs. They lie a lot, saying that I bought property in Dubai. They must have sent some agents to go all over the world searching for my property. Have I committed any offence asking my children to go and invest in my state? That is the issue about the EFCC. They are simply doing their job and until they finish their job, nobody will understand. The thing is that once EFCC is on your matter, the whole nation now sees you as a criminal. I don’t know how they can stop that. I hope there will be opportunity for you to sue your accusers after investigation and you are not guilty. So far, there are three properties under investigation: Rochas Foundation College, Owerri, East High College Owerri and Royal Palm Hotel, Owerri.
You have been distant from your party, the APC. Does that mean you believe your suspension still stands?
My party has not treated me well. APC has not treated me well. I got evil reward for my commitment to the course of APC. I brought APC to the Southeast as a governor and I also brought APGA because I came from APGA to APC. And that is literarily saying that I don’t associate with what my locals believe because I saw the light that we are better off in a national party than a local party. If you recall, I was called all sorts of names like Okoro Hausa and that I was building mosques and all that were associated with it but I kept deaf ears because I felt that I was on the right course with my people. I was instrumental to bringing Adams Oshiomhole as National Chairman of the APC and that fact he cannot deny. I took the troubles of APC in the Southeast and I was about the only candidate that the name Muhammadu Buhari became a bad story for my campaign unlike those from the north. Because anybody that became a governor from the north rode on the name Buhari but we from the Southeast, the name Buhari was a minus and I went through this and never betrayed and I stayed with Buhari and the APC but unfortunately at the end of it all, the same APC never stood by me and worked against me first by destroying my local party and imposing candidates, bringing people who fought me when I joined APC in 2015, making them champions in the party that I formed. A typical example is what the PDP and Emeka Ihedioha is doing now. APC, the party I see now can easily tell Ihedioha to come to the APC if only he can fight Rochas. That is really an unfortunate situation and it has weakened my spirit and my faith to the party APC because I thought we are family working to advance the course of this nation. The way it is going, it does not look like there will be a solution. And there seems to be silence everywhere. I don’t even know my stand about my suspension because for some time, I don’t even know what is happening in APC. But for the silence all over, it just made it as if it is normal. So, I am just waiting and thinking of what next to do but I am still a member of APC and I love the party and will support it.
Will you consider leaving the party?
I have never thought of leaving the party. I felt that time will take care of most things. But my only worry, like I said before, is that the party, APC, may disappear with the exit of President Buhari because for the moment, Buhari seems to be the strongest pillar upon which this party is built on the basis of his reputation and for the fact that the north still remains the major decider in Nigeria politics. If nothing is done to correct some injustices in our party at the national level, then my fears abound that this party might disappear with Buhari’s exit. Our party is already busy thinking about presidency in 2023 and not supporting the issue of governance which is what we have right now and the score of our party or the assessment of our party depends on what we have done with governance and what we have done with politics.
So, what do you think the party should do to give you a sense of belonging?
I really don’t know what to expect. I have not left the party. I am still a member of APC but there are certain things that go on with the party that doesn’t go down well with me; that are against some of my principles in life. I hate injustice and that is why any time I see injustice rear its ugly head, I fight naturally; not even when it concerns me. If the party says they have suspended me, even though I don’t know what I have done, what do you expect me to do? Should I force myself back to the party if I am on suspension? So, I am just folding my hands and watching the development of what is going on. The worst the party can do has been done by the grace of God; I worked hard to make Nwosu of AA the governor. If Uche Nwosu wins the governorship seat, he will go back to APC because that is his natural home.