Towards the end of your tenure as the Speaker, you were reportedly impeached. What led to that?
I was never impeached, by the way. There was some form of rascality on the parts of the members of the House we belonged and on the part of the new government of Imo at that time under Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who won the 2011 election over Ikedi Ohakim. I was still the Speaker when he was sworn in, and, as soon as he was sworn in, he embarked on a fruitless journey of dismantling our legacies in that administration –our legacy in the legislature and our legacy in the executive. One of the measures he undertook was to rubbish my person and my achievements in the House of Assembly. So, he tried to garner the minority members in that House of Assembly –about nine or eleven of them – to sign impeachment letter against me in his house in Ogboko. Of course, majority of that House refused to be part of that intrigue, and abandoned the House and relocated with me to Abuja. He didn’t understand the futility of the voyage he embarked on, and they went ahead to pronounce that I had been impeached and that a new speaker had been elected –this was five days to the end of our tenure. So, you could see that it was a very questionable exercise. However, we didn’t take it lying low. We took up the matter at the court in the state under his administration, and we finally got justice, and State Chief Judge of the state, BA Njamanze ruled that the action was null and void and of no effect, and no impeachment took place; and there was no appeal as I speak to you. I think they were reasonable enough to understand that that judgment was flawless and was supposed to stand anywhere even at the Supreme Court. There was no impeachment. I was never impeached. I was the only Speaker in the Imo State House of Assembly between 2007 and 2011.
The federal constituency you are representing, is the most problematic in Imo State in terms of youth restiveness, and it is the only oil producing bloc in the state. Given the constant escalation of violence, do we begin to see oil as a blessing or a curse?
Well, naturally, the abundance of any economic natural resources in an area is supposed to be a blessing if well harnessed and well managed in such a way that both government and the host communities have value for that resource. The presence of crude oil in Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta local governments hasn’t been a blessing to us, and it is the same virtually everywhere in the Niger Delta where oil is being explored and exploited. It has been so because of the attitude of governments at all levels. It has been so because oil multinational companies are in partnership with government to do the business of oil, and, for them, priority is about getting the oil dollar and managing it, to the exclusion of host communities and their detriment; and they seem to forget the fact that business of oil itself goes with so much hazard and causes a lot of environmental degradation and pollution. The very worrisome hazards of oil exploration and exploitation are the fact that it has the capacity to dislocate the traditional economic source of livelihood of the people and leave them poor and hungry.
We in Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta are blessed with fertile land. The oil exploration and exploitation has eroded the soil fertility. That area is predominantly a fishing area, and the water and fishing ponds have been polluted and, therefore, aquatic life has been destroyed; farmers can’t get high yields from their farms, fishermen don’t catch enough fish any more to continue to sustain their families in school and other economic activities. To worsen the situation, even the oil companies and governments are not even engaging the people in meaningful employment. So, we have, in those areas, very capable unemployed graduates who roam the streets because they don’t have jobs, and you know that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. So, you don’t expect anything less.
Besides, it is quite provoking. They (youths from these areas) come around Abuja and other cities of Nigeria to see the level of development going on in those cities, and they know the source – oil is the mainstay of Nigerian economy, accounting for more than 80 percent of economic activities –and nothing is given to them in return. So, they come back and became aggressive. That’s the reason for militancy and all sorts of security challenges we have now in the oil producing communities of Niger Delta, and I think it is important the government realises this now and begins to show a positive attitude towards the development of those areas where the Nigerian money comes from.
Your constituency also falls within the NDDC catchments area, but the level of NNDC presence is insignificant. What are you doing to up the ante?
I must appreciate the initiate and wisdom of our former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who, on assumption of office in 1999 as a democratically elected president of Nigeria, initiated an executive bill that gave rise to the Niger Delta Development Commission. That commission was well intentioned to give a new lease of life to the oil producing communities. Unfortunately, these communities, especially of Imo State, have not been able to reap the benefits of that commission.
The reasons are many. We find ourselves in Imo as a minority group –I am talking of the local governments of Ohaji Egbema and Oguta –and we have also not been privileged to take charge of affairs. The highest we have had in Imo was the No. 3 citizen that I was between 2007 and 2011, which was basically a legislative position –I never awarded a contract of N1,000 to anybody. I never had the opportunity of directing where project must go or not. So, these NDDC positions are being influenced outside my federal constituency (Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta) that are oil producing. You find projects running into billions of naira being built in areas outside Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta; and you come to this constituency, you find only little projects like health centres, classroom blocks, water boreholes, and a kilometre road here and there. It has been quite difficult, and I pray God that we can come out of it.
Presently, one of the challenges I have is how to stop the diversion of NNDC projects to non-oil producing areas, and I am working extremely hard to ensure that we change this. If we can do this, then Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta, as well as Oru West, because they are in the same federal constituency, will be better for it. We want a situation whereby we have mega projects in Ohaji/Egbema, Oguta and Oru West being put in place by NDDC. We want to see our youths benefit from scholarship awards. We want to see mega hospitals being built and managed by NDCC in our area. We want to see the environmental challenges in our area being addressed by both NDDC, government and oil companies themselves. That has been the challenge.
Why I was a lawmaker in Imo State House of Assembly, that challenge motivated me, and caused me to begin to look inwards, especially with regards to the 13 percent oil derivation being paid by the Federal Government on monthly basis –that fund was meant for oil producing communities, because, if out of the 36 states in Nigeria and Abuja, nine states are chosen to benefit from the 13 percent oil derivation fund, those states are chosen on the strength that they are oil producing. The spirit of that part of the constitution dictates, therefore, that even the states should use that fund for the oil producing local governments. Unfortunately, it is not so, because in some states, virtually all local governments are oil producing, for instance, in Rivers State. The same applies to Bayelsa and Delta states. But it is not the same in places like Edo, Imo and Abia. In the case of Imo, we have just two out of the 27 local governments are oil producing. So, do you use 100 percent of the 13 percent derivation to develop non-oil producing areas. Between 1999 and 2007, that fund was 100 per cent being used outside the oil producing local government areas. So, I initiated in 2006 a bill that gave rise to what we have today in Imo State as the Oil Producing Area Development Commission (ISOPADEC).
That bill was passed by the magnanimity of my colleagues (the 2003-2007 set) during the tenure of Kelechi Nwagwu as the Speaker and Chuma Nnnaji as the Deputy Speaker. The then governor, Achike Udenwa, signed it into law in May just a day before he handed over to Governor Ikedi Ohakim. Fortunately, I became the next speaker, so it was easier for me to checkmate the implementation of that law, and it was a huge success during my four-year tenure. Unfortunately, when Governor Ohakin left government and Owelle Rochas Okorocha took over, the law was amended out of relevance, and, as I speak today, ISOPADEC has no capacity to deliver any form of developmental programme or project in either Ohaji Egbema or Oguta. This is not right; very unfair. I just pray that this government of Owelle Rochas Okorocha, which has two years to go, should see sense in allowing ISOPADEC to function. Even, if the government, as usual, has no interest in developing the area from the budget of the state and federal allocation which runs into billions of naira, he should be magnanimous enough to, at least, set 40 percent aside for the development of the oil producing communities of Imo State. That way, we will be able to complement what comes from NDDC. We can synergise to ensure we have good roads, good source of water supply, good health centres, scholarships to encourage our youths to go to school. Of course, we will, by so doing, be creating employments for our teaming youths. That way, militancy will reduce and insecurity in that area will reduce.
What are the chances of PDP reclaiming power in Imo State in 2019? Currently, the party is embroiled in crisis of leadership. Given the track record of Rochas Okorocha and the disaffection within PDP, do you think your party can make any headway?
What kind of record are you talking about? Record of achievements? What are the achievements of Rochas Okorocha? If you talk of roads in Owerri, for instance, the Musa Yar’ Adua Road was constructed by the Ohakim administration. In fact, the Ohakim administration developed the New Owerri the way it is. I am yet to see what he has done. Maybe you have to call me to order. I don’t want to be in a hurry to assess the administration of Owelle Rochas Okorocha. Towards the end, we should be able to do a proper appraisal. I want to believe that the administration will have time to wake up. I don’t have anything to assess him right now. I have spoken to you about my federal constituency, and, believe me, there is no presence of the state government anywhere in our local governments.
You mean for the six years he has been the governor?
There is no state presence anywhere. Ogbaku-Oguta Road was built many years ago by the Sam Mbakwe administration. Ejemekwuru-Agwa-Obokofia (Egbema) was constructed by NDDC. Even right now, the rehabilitation of that road was by NDDC. Adapalm-Egbema Road is no-go area. Before we left office in 2011, we were able to attract NDDC to dualise that road; work commenced, but it hasn’t been properly funded, so the contractor hasn’t been on site. As I talk to you, that road is almost impassable. How can I sit down and praise a government that it has done well. Done well to whom? How? I will only assess him holistically at the end of his eight years.
Talking about PDP, I can tell you that PDP is a very large family, very big political party. So, if you have a large family or a big political party, you are bound to have some misunderstanding, sometimes minor misunderstanding; sometimes major. PDP has a major disagreement, and it is working hard to come out of that problem, and it will take over governments at all levels. That’s my hope. It doesn’t matter any perceived achievement anybody thinks he is putting in place.
We have just entered 2017; against the backdrop of the underdevelopment of your federal constituency, which you hinted a while ago, what are you hoping for in 2017?
I will like the completion by NDDC of the dualisation of the road that runs from Ahoada to Oguta. I want to see a bridge across Oguta Lake; I want to see a dualised road from Oguta to Mgbidi up to Orlu. I want to see my Federal constituency properly linked up such a way that you can wake up in Egbema under two minutes, you are in Mgbidi. I want to see a road from Avuu to Egbema fully completed; I want to see in my federal constituency a road passing from Umuapu, Ohaji, into Obokofia, Egbema, and then into Agwa; I want to see a road crisscrossing from Agwa to Izombe; I want to see network of raods from Ukwuoji to Oguta Motel properly completed in such a way that we can travel anytime; I want to see a network of roads across Oru West, Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta; I want a new lease of life for my federal constituency; I want to see tension reduce in these areas; I want to see less interference by people who have no oil resources in their area in NDDC projects; I want to see that NDDC is left to develop the oil producing communities of Ohaji/Egbema, Oguta and Oru West.