Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma, believes that the number of aspirants vying for the 2023 presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is an indication of the ruling party’s popularity. In this interview, he speaks on the party’s nomination process and efforts of his administration to curb insecurity in the state, among other issues. FELIX NWANERI reports
Efforts to bring an end to insecurity in Imo State seems not be yielding the desired results as the killings have continued. What other measures is the state government looking at to stem the tide?
Insecurity in Imo State was caused by those who want to make the state ungovernable, those who want to distract my administration, those who cannot manage their loss, those who want to distract the government in order to get away with their loots. It is no longer secret that these are the people behind insecurity not only in Imo State but the South-East.
Unfortunately, we are not free to discuss some of the security issues publicly because the security agencies are tackling them and in order not jeorpadise their efforts, we try as much as possible to refrain from discussing the issues publicly. But so far, the government of Imo State has been able to bring the security agencies and community leaders together and I will tell you that we have been able to relatively calm the situation in the state.
Some of you are aware that by 2019, Imo State was like a corpse and by 2020, the state has gone to the cemetery for burial. But when I came, I tried to exhume the corpse, cleaned it up and began to put life to it, so that it can begin to breathe again. However, those who were behind the murder and burial of the state came out and started creating this distraction.
The speed with which I started executing my action plan to the extent of simultaneously constructing quality access roads that have never been seen in Imo State for over 20 years, provision of pipe borne water, cleaning of the environment, rehabilitation of hospitals and health centres and resuscitation of industries lying comatose jolted them. What we wanted to do was to make Imo State the hub of economic activities of the South-East because we had about 23 industries lying comatose across the state.
If we had gotten them running again, by now, there will be prosperity in Imo State. That was why those who never liked the progress of Imo State could not sleep and they started hiring criminal elements from outside the state to kill innocent people. It took us some time to be able to identify the political connotation to the problem but now that we have arrested some of them and have gotten the right information and intelligence, we are poised to end security in the state
You once said that you will name those behind insecurity in Imo State; what happened that you have not being able to name them up till now?
If you had followed what transpired at the last stakeholders meeting we had in Owerri; I was supposed to name people suspected to be behind insecurity in Imo State. But before that meeting, heads of the various security agencies pleaded with me to shelve it because they are still carrying out investigation.
They said that it would be too early to do so and I explained at the stakeholders meeting that I will allow the security agencies to complete their job. The last time I contacted them, they said that they still need some time. But I will assure you that as soon they are through with their investigation, names of the perpetrators would be made public.
The process of electing the presidential candidate of your party, All Progressives Congress (APC) has commenced but some people have expressed concern over how the leadership of party will ensure a hitch-free primary election given the number of aspirants in the race. What is your take on the concern?
The issue of over 20 presidential aspirants who obtained Expression of Interest and Nomination forms for the presidential primary shows that APC still remains the popular party in Nigeria. The process starts from aspirants coming out to express their interest.
That means that the process has already started and by the time the forms are returned, other processes like screening of the aspirants and setting up of appeal committees for those who would not be satisfied with the outcome of the primary elections to seek redress will usher in the emergence of a candidate. According to the APC constitution, we have three modes of primary elections through which candidates can emerge.
They are direct primary, indirect primary and consensus. The law is very clear on that and with democracy in action, I think there is nothing wrong with the number of aspirants because the more the merrier for the party because it will make the APC more strong.
What do you make of the quest by the South-East to produce the next president and how feasible is a president of Igbo extraction in 2023?
To the best of my knowledge, what we practice in Nigeria is partisan democracy. We practice a democracy that is driven by political parties, not ethnic leanings. As long as we want every geopolitical zone to have a fair share of power, it has to be within party arrangements.
To each of the political parties, what is the utmost priority in the choice of a candidate is the capacity win election. Every political party wants to win the election, so no party will throw the desire to win election to the winds. I know that today in the South-East, we are in strong hunger to produce the next president of Nigeria but we cannot do it alone. We need the other geopolitical zones and the leadership of the party to work with us. We don’t have to pretend about this and chase the wind.
If you recall; in 1999, after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, it was the decision of the political leadership of Nigeria that the South-West should be allowed to produce the president in order to calm frayed nerves in the region.
Then, there were two major political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Peoples Party (APP) and both political parties worked internally to produce presidential candidates from the South-West – Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae. That means whichever party that wins the election, the president will come from the South-West.
The situation is repeating itself ahead of the 2023 general election because there is maximum sympathy for the South-East to produce the next president but what will make it work is for the two major parties to produce candidates from the zone. Let PDP produce a presidential candidate from the South-East and let the APC also produce its presidential candidate from the South-East.
Before the advent of your administration, there was a semblance of free education in Imo State. Do you have any plan of resuscitating that initiative?
When I came into office on January 15, 2020, one of my first meetings with stakeholders was with the leadership of tertiary institutions in the state. If truth must be told; there has never been anything like free education in Imo State University.
All we heard about free education was in the media but if you go to the university, you will find out that students were paying more than N100,000 and what they call other fees. What is the meaning of other fees?
As much as I am not too much in support of free education because there is no place in the world where education is free, I am aware that the national legislation on Universal Basic Education that was passed by the National Assembly makes primary and junior secondary education free with subsidy from the Federal Government and the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) takes care of that.
For tertiary education in Imo State; as far back 2018 up to now, what students of Imo State University were paying are what they still paying; nothing has changed. We have not reviewed the fees rather what we are doing is to strengthen infrastructure in the university.
So, whoever said he was doing free education only did that in the media. You can go to the university and verify this. In fact, my administration inherited a pension debt of N2 billion. Pensioners of the university were not being paid until we came in but we have reduced it to almost half a billion naira.
The Supreme Court recently delivered judgement on the disputed 17 oil wells between Imo and Rivers state in favour of the Rivers State government. What is the implication of the judgement on the economy of Imo State?
We are not in a position to comment on the issue until we see the details of the judgement. However, I will say that it is too early for people to begin to celebrate victory at the court or to begin to cry that the lost the case. I don’t know how anyone can interpret the judgement of the apex court without the full details. The oil wells in question; some of them are located in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State.
Does it mean that if the oil wells have been given to Rivers State, Oguta and Ohaji Egbema local government areas are now in Rivers State? The people of the local government areas in question are still in Imo State, while the companies operating in the areas are still paying taxes to the Imo State government. I am also aware that National Boundary Commission is almost 90 per cent done with its work of demarcating the boundary between Imo and Rivers states.
So, we are in doubt if the Supreme Court will do the job of both adjudication and boundary demarcation. I have a lot of respect for the court, so I wouldn’t want to talk more on the matter, however, by the time we get the details of the judgement; if there are areas that are not very clear, we will apply for a review of the judgement.
The governor of Rivers State said he is still open for a negotiation irrespective of the judgement. Will you accede to any arrangement that he might come up with?
The Federal High Court in Abuja looked into the case and gave a judgement that the oil wells in question should be shared between Imo and Rivers states on a ratio of 50/50, pending when the National Boundary Commission will go to the area and demarcate the boundary to identify the ones that belong to Imo and the ones that belong to Rivers.
The Rivers State government, however, appealed that judgement but while the matter is still pending at the Appeal Court, it rushed to the Supreme Court and got an ex parte motion to maintain status quo of 50/50. We are Christians and you will recall that there was a case in the Bible over a child whose motherhood was in dispute.
Among the two women, who were claiming ownership of the child, one said the child should be sliced into two for each of them to take half of the child but the real mother said the child should be allowed to live. In this case, because we are the real mother, we will not support that the child be sliced into two.
Does it not surprise you that he said that he is still ready for a 50/50 sharing formula, but that man you know, does he look like someone who would want to share his property with anybody?