Chief Tony Okocha, Chief of Staff, Government House,
Port Harcourt, an experienced and consummate politician, hails from Rumuigbo community in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Underneath his gentle mien and demeanour, runs a strand of doggedness and fearlessness, which often confound his most ardent critics and teeming admirers.
Highly cerebral, Chief Okocha is currently taking a shot at the House of Representatives to represent the Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In this interview with our Deputy Production Editor, Donatus Ebi, he spoke on the ongoing Psychiatric Road project, his House of Representatives aspiration and other sundry issues.
Sir, for several years, the people of Rumuigbo, Rumuomoi and- Rumuorosi communities, along the popular Psychiatric Road in Port Harcourt have suffered over the deplorable state of the road. We also know that you have used your good offices, as Chief of Staff to facilitate the construction of the road which is ongoing. Are you satisfied with the way the construction work is going and the performance of the company handling it?
Well, we actually contracted the construction of that road to STEMCO Nigeria Limited. Of course, every government has a Budget for the year. All of a sudden, we started witnessing very poor monthly allocations that come to the State from the Centre. And it is actually affecting projects in the State and so many other things. As I speak, if not for the magnanimity of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and his style of governance, it would be difficult to actually pay salaries. I am sure you are aware that most States can’t pay salaries. My happiness is that most of the States are PDP-controlled States. They have not been able to pay salaries for the past six months. But because of his prudence and his style of administration, we have always managed, in fact, given priority to the payment of salaries. But then, other projects have had to suffer, because a situation where you were receiving as much as’ N25 billion or N24billion monthly from the Federation Account, and it suddenly dropped to Nil billion, and you have a Wage Bill of nine point something billion naira. So, I don’t know what else you can do with Nlbillion vis-a vis the development of the State in terms of provision of basic infrastructure and amenities.
So, what is happening on that road, as we speak, is a situation where we have had to take the construction in turns. We are now doing them in installments. We have done part of it from the College of Arts and Science down to the junction of the new road leading to Rumuola. And then, another 300 meters, because of the availability of funds was approved for construction. Then, the company thought that it was cheaper for them to commence from Ikwerre Road, down to where they would detect 300 meters as was provided for. But you can be rest assured that, that road would be completed in no distant time. The only problem I can say to you is the problem of funds. If we had funds, we would have taken the whole road at a stretch. But because of the dearth of funds, and other projects competing too, we try to prioritise projects, and see what government can do. Of course, government is a continuum. At least, by the grace of God, if the government of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is not able to complete the whole stretch of the road, we believe that when ihe new government comes, of course, we expect that Dr Dakuku Adol Petersidewill take to the stage. When he comes, it will be one of his priorities.
We also know that the problem of that road now is that if it ends where it has been designated to end because of the financial constraints you have mentioned, the people living around that area are bound to suffer from floods when the rains set in. Have you envisaged this problem, Sir? Yes, we are talking. Infact, even on Thursday this week, I was at the site to see the engineers handling the road. The communities there have actually led a delegation to us, requesting that the road continues. As I speak, it will be a thing of joy and I will be one of the happiest persons, if we are able to fix the whole of that road. I am putting pressure to bear on the government and the system., I am also putting pressure to bear on the contactors, and they have assured me that the moment there is a commitment from the government of Rivers State, they will be able to continue. Otherwise, you and I know the situation there. But again, if you also see the quality of job that the company is doing, the pipes they are laying on the two ears of the road, you will know that we are thinking of an underground drain that will disembark somewhere, and not an underground drain that will end at a particular spot. By the grace of God, we believe God that the road will be completed in record time.
Sir, you know that you have less than three months to go. But you can never shy away from the fact that that area is your area. And some persons are alleging that political sentiments are attached to the construction of that road. How true is this?
That can’t be correct. It can’t be true. There can’t be any political sentiments.
What is it for? I just mentioned to you that the contractors, for whatever consideration, may be for cost or whatever, they have felt that it is more convenient for them to commence from this side to where they are actually now.
Not again to conclude that that is the end of the road. I told you that they had led a delegation to me to find out what the situation was and I explained to them. The responsible ones, of course, understand that it is possible for such things to happen in government. But those who are critics, I won’t even call them critics, because there is nothing bad about being critical. If you are critical for good, to achieve something that is positive, it is okay. But there are some persons, whose stock in trade is to see how to pull everybody down; for them, it is a campaign item. APC is not able to do this, they have abandoned this road. Why do you want to support them? We thank God for the maturity of the people who live there.
We take time to explain to them. We are not foreclosing the possibility of completion of that road in record time.
Sir, your own election will come up on March 28, there are some voters who are still undecided right now. There are some others saying that because of what they heard concerning that road, they may not vote for you. What assurance are you giving these people and other members of your Constituency?
Well, my Constituency is the entire Obio/ Akpor Local Government Area. And the office, I am vying for is not an Executive Office. It is purely legislative. If my understanding of who a legislator is is anything to go by, he is not a man who gives or does contracts. What he does is to see how he can by persuasion and sound argument see how he can attract one developmental project or the other, by lobbying Ministries, Parastatals and all of that. But one thing that nobody can take away from me is the fact that I have a knack for development. And I derive pleasure in seeing people happy. I am not a sadist. I hate sadism, whatever form it takes. One reason why some of us felt we should throw our hats into the rings is the fact that we think that there is a disconnect between those we elect into office and us who elect them, particularly, those whom we sent to Abuja. And what do we mean by that? The moment we are able to put our hands on the ballot and complete elections, they completely disconnect with the people who voted for them. I don’t know why it happens and why that is the case. But for me and those who think the way I think, we feel that it is a vice we must change; it is something to correct. I have told my Obio/Akpor people that once I have the opportunity to represent them, one sure thing we need to do is to open a functional Constituency Office where you have your staffers seated. And then, people call come there to raise whatever concerns they have. At the end of the day, you will also find out that you are richer for it because they will be doing your researches for you. If you have a Constituency Office, and ensure that people come and send in their memorandum or memoranda, as it were, and let us know what it is, you will find out that they help you make your researches.
Yours is to put them in the proper forms that you need to put them and present them before the House as problems that confront your people. For instance, I use myself as a case in point. And I have told my colleagues, younger people, that some of you have potentials but you can’t harness your potentials because of certain environmental circumstances. It could be that because of the kind of country you have, where you have somebody who knows somebody, before you are able to strike a kind of goal somewhere. And if you don’t have the opportunity, you don’t. I use myself as an example. When we were younger, we used to play football very well. We did not know that football is lucrative. And there was nobody to prop us. Nobody to catapult us to the stage where we could play football for commercial purposes.
But by the grace of God now, we are able to see that those things are possible. We should be able to help the younger ones to realise their potentials. What do we do? If you open your flanks, and they are able to access you, you will begin to appreciate what their difficulties and problems are.
There is every indication that if you .scale through the hurdles of election, and get to the National Assembly, you would do things differently. This is because on your billboards and posters, there is this bold inscription, Fresh Dew. Can you please give us an insight into this?
Well, you know what fresh dew is. What that means is that we need to shower our people with a lot more attention. Like I said, this master-servant relationship must disappear. And they need to have a fresh and new lease of life. That is the whole thing about Fresh Dew. The dew in the morning, you know how fresh it is, and how refreshing it is to the body. So, we intend to remove this mask around somebody who is in government. Detach and remove the mask completely so that you will be able to appreciate the problems of our people. For instance, I don’t see myself as a big man, when ‘it has to do with identifying with my people. I sit down with them and we chat together. It is when you discuss with them, that you will be able to identify and appreciate their problems. If you don’t do so, too bad. In the society where we are, if you don’t provide jobs for the younger people, they will provide jobs for themselves; and by the time they provide jobs for themselves, you won’t sleep well. So, that is the situation where we find ourselves right now. So, everything about the Fresh Dew is completely a novelty.
We intend to inject some novelty, bring things that are new, in terms of interpersonal relationships, in terms of the knack for the development of our people. My drive is how much I am able to lobby the system to attract some developmental projects to my people. It is going to be to the glory of God and for the benefit of humanity.
Sir, there are some other important political positions you are eminently qualified to occupy. Why are you gunning for a House of Representatives seat?
First and foremost, it is that I have the knack to serve and to represent my people.
And in ObiojAkpor Local Government Area where we come from, in my own nature, I don’t like very hot food, particularly, when it does not belong to me.
Here, we have our own political arrangement. In ObiojAkpor, we have two Constituencies; Constituency One and Constituency Two. Constituency One is made up of eight Wards, Ward 1 to Ward 8. They are predominantly in Evo Kingdom. That is what we call them. Then, we also have Ward 9 to Ward 17, shared between Apara, Akpor and Rumueme. We have two offices that we rotate.
The office of the Chairman of Council and the House of Representatives. These are offices that have ObiojAkpor spread. We have also two House of Assembly Constituencies; Constituency One and Constituency Two. But the two offices that have Obio/Akpor spread are office of the Chairman of Council and House of Representatives. What we usually do is that if one goes to Constituency One, the other one automatically comes to Constituency Two. But for 16 donkey years, nobody from Constituency One has tasted the office of the Chairman of Council, elected or appointed. Until Six months ago that we put our legs down, and pleaded with His Excellency the Governor, by telling him what is happening in the local government. That was how Dr. Lawrence Chuku was appointed the Chairman of Caretaker Committee. It has always been somebody from Constituency Two and that was the machination of Chief E.N. Wike. Of course, the issue of zoning in our local government, he is the one who destroyed it just the same thing he is trying to do at the State level. He is the one that destroyed it.
So, it has been Constituency Two, Constituency Two. And the people of Constituency One have been crashing. Of course, you know that this House of Representatives thing, because of the way a lot of people used to do it, it is like a one man show. It is like we have just found a job for Mr. A and the person has no other business with those who elected him. Of Course, it is a trend we want to change because there is life after today. I live my life for today and tomorrow, as far as I am concerned. I don’t live my life for today only. So, when we came to our party, APC, we felt that justice ought to be done and be seen to have been done.
We, therefore, felt that Constituency One should produce the Chairman of Council while Constituency Two should produce the House of Representatives.
That was how it came to our zone. Even when it came to our zone, we have three Kingdoms; Apara, Akpor and Rumueme. So, When it was zoned to Constituency Two, the people of the ‘Constituency sat down and looked at what was on the table and decided that the House of Representatives position should be zoned to Apara people while the House of Assembly position should be zoned to Akpor people. They also decided that the Deputy Chairmanship position should be zoned to Rumueme. You can see that there is harmony. It is not a thing that anybody can criss-cross. So, when it came to Apara people, Apara has eight large communities and the people sat down and decided that it should come to Rumuigbo and the lot fell on me.
Sir, right now, you people are still campaigning. What are you telling the voters out there?
Well, I want to tell voters that in strict compliance to APC ideological underpinning, Change, we don’t have a country. We have long lost a country called Nigeria. We don’t have a country. When we were studying at the university \eve\, we got to a point where we identified the 10 indices of a failed State and Nigeria today displays about eight of these indices. And the worst of it is when you see warlords begin to have territorial control of an area and they say they are in charge. I am sure you know what I mean. When the likes of people that call themselves militants tell you that you cannot enter here, where they call their territory. And they do these things officially. I recall that at some point we wanted to go to campaign at the Ogoni axis and we were told that one militant was there and boasted that we won’t enter there. One advice that we got was that we should settle him. In other words, they know that he exists and that he was in illegal possession of fireworks and fire arms. For them, he is a hero. Now, do we really have a country? The whole essence of government, if we look at Political Science or the formation of civil society, it is about protection of lives and property. The other thing that follows is the provision of basic infrastructure. Are the lives of Nigerians safe? What it means is that for the past 16years PDP has been in power, one problem they have inherited from military administrations is the issue of power outage. Whilst countries like Ghana celebrates 365 days of constant power supply, Nigeria cannot celebrate two hours. Yet, we are the Giant of Africa. Yet, we have very rich mineral resources. We are seen to be very large. Do we still have a country? We don’t have a country. What I want to tell our people is that one thing that is permanent is change. You have tried this, it is not working, why don’t you try this and see how it goes. And when a contradiction gets to a rupture stage, we are told that it will explode. We can also give an elementary and kitchen example. It is like salt.
The moment salt loses its taste, it will no longer be qualified for anything. It cannot be sand to mould blocks. It can be nothing. It is only for it to be thrown away for children to trample on. That is what it is that the PDP has suffered.
The President came here and told us in the South-South that Rotimi Amaechi has challenged him. What was the challenge? That he had just realised that for six years, he was unable to do anything for the South-South, and that they should allow him for another four years. But we are saying that he should first and foremost be asking for the forgiveness of the people first. Let him ask for forgiveness before asking us to vote for him. Somebody who couldn’t do a thing for six years, he would now be able to do what he couldn’t do for six years. What is the guarantee? So, we have the message to give to the people and the people are buying into our philosophies. That is why the other political parties, knowing that they have no message, they resort to violence.
They resort to intimidation and all kinds of threats. Those are their stock in trade. But we are battle ready. They are trying to test the waters. Jega will go, Jega will not go. Why are they asking Jega to go? Because the man is hell bent on doing what is right. So, we are in a mess. Look at how much is the Naira. Yesterday, it was N225 to a Dollar. I don’t know how much it is today. Look at our Foreign Reserves, it is seriously depleted. There is inflation. Very soon, they will declare proper austerity measures. We don’t have a country.
The incident that happened in Okrika is still fresh in our memories. Sir, can you please use this opportunity to tell us what actually happened?
I was on ground in Okrika. You will be surprised to hear that I lost my shoes. I lost my pair of shoes. You could imagine the stupidity of a country. I followed the arguments on television and some people have attempted to water down what happened by saying that it was a problem between APC and APC. Whether it was APC internal problem or not, it is still part of the failings of the State, because it is the responsibility of the State to provide security. So, whether it is internal crisis, which of course, is far-fetched, it is not even to be contemplated. Whether it was internal fracas of the party that led to that, it still accounts for the fact that there is no security in the country. But the truth of the matter is that we had attempted a rally there before. The President’s wife ordered the destruction of the venue.
Before we got there, at about 3am, they had destroyed everything. The next other time, they said we are sorry, they could not provide security. Then.ithev suddenly told us that they were ready to provide security. Security men led us into the place. No sooner we had sat down to address our people than people started shooting sporadically, from different directions. Gunshots were raining in just like rain inside a venue filled with people. At least, you are aware that there were casualties. At least, somebody died. And I joined the governorship candidate of the APC to visit the family of the dead policeman. What we saw that day, you will weep, no matter how hard you are because we met a helpless young girl, the man’s wife. And we saw two small children. They said one was seven, the other one was five or something. They don’t even know what happened. You begin to lmagine.what happens to the future of these children.
Their father would have told them, “bve bye, when I come back” and the man didn’t return. The other one, they finished his legs, that one must be amputated.
The other one, they finished his private part, he was still a police officer. So, what is it? The whole thing about politics is, allow the man to go and say his nonsense, it is for the people to buy or refuse to buy his nonsense. Politics is about come and espouse, tell the people the policies and programmes that you will pursue if elected, as contained in your manifesto. By persuasion, convince them, they will follow you. It is not by the use of force, intimidation, violence. They had had the opportunity of going round there. Even if they want to go 10 times, they have the liberty to go. So, why are you disturbing other people? That is the country that we are. As we speak, nobody has been arrested, But just that somebody alleges that you tore a poster of a PDP member, you are arrested and it is no longer a bailable offence. I have a case here, my Ward 16 Chairman was arrested and detained for 16 donkey days for alleged destruction of poster. I say alleged, not that he was caught. He had gone to the police station to report to the DPO that he went to APC office and saw that everything there had been destroyed. He went to make an entry. They said no, there was a petition against him already. They abandoned the one that he came to make, and then, detained him for 16 days. And I got involved and was talking with the CP, until the issue was that they needed to go and beg the man whose poster was torn. It was not that they saw him. They alleged that he was the one that sent people. So, that one is no longer a bailable offence. But the people who have killed and are killing, nothing has happened to them. In ONELGA, not less than 25 of our men have been killed. So many of our people have been maimed and wounded. Not even one person is under arrest or under investigation, not even one person.
Chief Tony Okocha, Chief of Staff, Government House,