Abdulkareem Baba Aminu & Amina Alhassan .
Born Rochas Anayo Ethelbert Okorocha in September 22, 1962, from Ogboko Ideato South Local Government Area, the Imo State Governor was a businessman and philanthropist before venturing into politics. He achieved gubernatorial victory under the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He also holds a Masters degree in Law and is married, with three daughters and three sons. Weekly Trust recently interviewed him on a wide spectrum of issues. Herewith, are excerpts:
In the past twelve years you have changed political parties like eight times. Does that mean we’ll see you ditching APGA anytime soon?
I have no intention to change party for now. When you say I have ditched different parties, I would not say that is quite right because this whole thing is about vision. The political party is only a vehicle with which people use to attain their political ambition. The most important thing is the vision that you have for the people.
I was a founding member of the PDP but in a situation where they would not give me the ticket to achieve my vision for the people, I had no other alternative than to go to a party where my political dreams for the people will be achieved. I moved to APGA, which to me is not really a political party for our people, but more like a culture. It is an organization that represents the interests of the people.
Speaking of the PDP, there were speculations that you were at a time a mole for Obasanjo, to distort the game-plan of that and other parties...
Does Obasanjo really have a friend? I do not think he has any friends and so when those cheap speculations of him planting people to do things are bandied about, it baffles me. He could not have done that, at least not with me.
The elections have come and gone and obviously marred by a polarized population. What efforts have you put in place to re unite the people of Imo state?
I believe that what is important is the state itself. The interest I have to protect is more of the interest of the common man because that is the yardstick in which we can measure the success of any given government at any time. Most people will like to go into witch-hunting their predecessors, but that is not my type of game. That is not what I was elected for. But again that does not mean I will not look for where every naira of Imo State had gone and whether it was able to achieve the purpose of which it was meant.
In doing so, many might look at it as fighting but it is not. In fact, my concern is that contractors who collected these monies and never did the job should be held responsible. I am not concerned about who approved or gave the job.
You reportedly dissolved the council of traditional rulers in your state. Why?
The traditional institution is and remains the mirror of a state and such an institution is supposed to maintain a certain level of responsibility. Before my coming in as the governor, you will notice that the traditional institution was getting over-politicized and generally began to lose focus. Some of them became fully involved in politics as it got to a stage that we could not differentiate a traditional ruler from a politician, which was not healthy for our society.
What I’m doing is trying to reorganize the place to give it its dignity and the decisions we took is in line with the people of the state. The confidence of the traditional institution is going to be restored in the hearts of the people of Imo State.
What is your stand on the issue of the new minimum wage?
We will pay, definitely. If it is a law, it is a law and we cannot say otherwise, so we must pay. What people should understand is that the law says N18,000 minimum and I think that is fair enough. How can you pay someone N10,000 or N15,000 in Nigeria today? What you are telling the person indirectly is to go and steal. Even the N18,000 is little but it will at least go a long way.
What the state governors are saying is that the Federal Government can afford to pay but the states cannot because the Federal government has 52% of the entire revenue-sharing formula. So if you put together the total civil servants in states and compare it with those at federal level, it is a very large difference. So the Federal Government can pay while the states will need to generate more revenue to be able to pay the minimum wage. The Federal Government has smaller responsibilities while the states have bigger ones. So, we are calling for restructuring of the revenue-sharing formula.
You have introduced free education from primary to secondary school in your state. How feasible do you think this will turn out to be?
Many people have confronted me on this issue of free education. But let me ask one question, what legacy can we leave for the upcoming generation? Is it to build mansions or to buy posh cars for them or what? Education is an emotional issue for me. I would have not have gone to school and become a governor today if I did not go on the streets of Barkin Ladi in Plateau State, selling oranges and groundnuts before being able to go for classes. So I know firsthand the pains of poor people when they are not able to send their children to school.
People have come to me to argue how Imo State can achieve this with 1.9 wage bill and 2.3 subventions amidst the debt profile of the state. And I say to them if that is all we will achieve in the state, so be it and that is my stand.
What I’m simply doing is cutting down on a lot of things, as there is a lot of waste in government. When you go to most government houses, you hear of champagne allowance, travel allowance, lodge maintenance allowance and all sorts of allowances which run into millions of naira. Why all this extravagance when there is a child out there who is not going to school? So if we can make such sacrifices then we can allow the poor people to go to school. My kids are making the sacrifice as they are in public schools in Nigeria and my wife is not a high-profile woman.
The over 13,000 staff I have at the secretariat are being redeployed back to the states because I do not know what they sit in the state doing, writing files, selling groundnuts and biscuits at the secretariat. But all that has stopped now.
It has been in the press that you are short-tempered, how true is this?
I think if there is anybody who has a large heart, it would be me. It is not true that I am short-tempered. I mean, if you ask those who have worked with me they will tell you that the largest of my heart extends even beyond elasticity. I do not keep malice and I am not someone who would keep enemies.
Do you read a lot?
No, unfortunately. I’m not one who reads a lot because for me I feel reading someone else’s idea gets your idea polluted. I particularly don’t like self-help books. So when I see people applying alien economics theories in Nigeria, it baffles me.
You speak flawless Hausa. How come?
I will always say I am a Northerner and I’m very proud of it. The East gave birth to me, the North gave me life and the West empowered me financially. The North gave me life and made me who I am today and there is no reason why I should forget that. They are everything to me.