Senator Ifeanyi Ararume is the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in Imo state in the 2019 elections. In this close-up and personal interview with Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu, he delves into the preparedness of the party to ride into power on the crest of the awesome performance of the party in Anambra state and his manifesto to inspire and redirect the energies of the people misdirected by the Governor Rochas Okorocha administration. Excerpts:
What next after party primary?
We have had our primaries. The parties have submitted names and like in every contest, you have winners and losers. But the most important thing is to unite the party by talking to all those who contested the primary with you at all levels. We talk to them that APGA is one big formidable family. All of us must work together. The size of government is very large and everyone has to find some accommodation somehow. People will work from the local government level up to the national level. We have the local government that will take some people, others will be interested to do business with government. There is a lot to be done. But what is most important is to unite everybody and make APGA a formidable machine to win the election in 2019. That is what we are doing. We have been doing things at our own level. The party, at the national level, has also set up a national reconciliation committee headed by our Vice-Presidential candidate, Chief Jerry Chukwueke. Beside that, we are doing a lot at out own level. I have had talks with all those who contested with me and we are still talking. Our talks are yielding results. They are happy.
On his running mate and implication for party unity
My running mate also aspired to be governor. He is from Owerri zone and his is now my running mate. That shows you the level of reconciliation we have done. Everyone is working hard on this. APGA members and, even non-APGA members, are involved with this. They are all doing this because they know that APGA is a party that parades what it takes to deal with post-Rochas Imo and to manage the state. One thing is obvious, you would need to bring our people together. Government has divided our people. We have a lot of polarization in Imo. Everyone is divided and there is need to bring the people together. Therefore, we need to do a lot to prepare our people for the task ahead.
On the fusion Of his political structure and APGA
We had our structure before the primary. That was a campaign structure put together specifically for the primary. That is done with now. The primaries are over and we have to get together as a party. The party will drive the campaign henceforth. We are bringing everyone together into the campaign. All our candidates, from the state to the national levels are all involved. We are one big APGA family and the campaign will reflect that. The campaign will carry everybody along. No one will be left out.
Problem Of consensus candidate by Co-Aspirants
You don’t appoint a consensus candidate after a primary election. What will be the platform? The party guidelines on the conduct of primary elections are there and they are clear. Even before the primary election, if you meet and appoint someone, the person still has to go through the process of election as set out by the party. The person still has to stand for a Yes or No vote. The Electoral panel will still come to observe and ratify it and then send the report to the party. So, what they have done was done out of time and outside party guideline. To my mind, what they did is outside the law and it is a nullity. It has no foundation in law, and the party guideline. It was outside party process and guideline.
Ohakim’s claims APGA ticket was for the highest bidder
I won’t like to join issues with Ohakim. In any case, I am not the National chairman of APGA. However, if the ticket were for the highest bidder, he would have bided higher. He was a former governor and nobody would have bided higher than him. He was governor in Imo for four years and is still in a position to outbid others if the ticket was for sale. Unfortunately, the APGA ticket was not for sale. Those who voted had seen all of us. Ohakim was given opportunity to lead Imo state for four years and the people saw him perform. The delegates to APGA primary election were all adults when Ohakim was governor. They saw him as governor. In any case, this is not the first primary he has gone through since he left Government House. The question is: How did he fare in previous primary elections he contested? Did he win those ones? So, this is not to join issues with Ohakim, but I want to say that he had the opportunity to govern Imo state. There are others who have not had the opportunity. I am sure the delegates, in their wisdom, decided to try some other person. I think he ought to be kind enough to support outcome of the primaries.
Any Acrimony between him and Ohakim?
Ohakim is my brother. I love him as my brother and will continue to love him as a brother. I think that the best he should do is to support a brother who is now the candidate. He should support this cause. I have spoken with him. I think that with time, things will fall in shape. We all should work together and make sure that APGA is successful in the 2019 election in Imo state.
The challenge Of governance In Imo State
The most challenging aspect of our governance is to get our people back. There is high distrust among the people and against the government. Our people are like a conquered people. The task is to bring them back to the level they were before and restore their confidence. It will take some time but I am sure that our victory will begin to address that. In the issue of governance, the starting point is to create policies that will give the people hope. So, there is urgent need to recover Imo and bring it back. Imo is derailed. To bring Imo back is a task that must be done and to do that, you need a formidable team. Luckily, we have a very vibrant crop of young people who are ready to work. All you need to do is to bring them together, engage them and they will do the work. Imo used one of the best states in terms of education, sanitation, hospitability- the state used to be number one. But it has gone down. These are challenges that we will tackle as soon as we take over.
Addressing Education In Imo state
If you look at Imo critically, for instance, the education sector, you will find that nothing works. The education sector has collapsed. From the primary education level up to the tertiary level, our education has collapsed. We need to get back and rebuild confidence. We need to train and retrain the teachers, boost their morale and pay them. What is happening now is that our teachers have become traders. They go to school carrying buckets containing confectioneries and soft drinks for sale. Some trade in second hand clothes. Also, the dilapidation of infrastructure is an issue. Even the schools where these kids learn, are not even good for learning. We need to tackle these and address them immediately.
The healthcare sector
In Imo state today, every local government area has a general hospital, long before Rochas came. But what makes a hospital? It is the equipment, consumables and qualified medical personnel. But in the last eight years, it is debatable if Imo state has recruited medical doctors, not to talk of nurses. It is not about buildings that you can no longer complete but in equipping the existing hospitals, renovate and refurbish them and make them functional. We have existing general hospitals that all you need do is to renovate, refurbish and equip them. Not to build new ones. Unfortunately, most of the general hospitals do not even have consumable like syringes, drugs, hand gloves etc. Even the only tertiary medical institution that we have, built by Achike Udenwa, at Orlu, is no longer functional. So, for me, instead of building 27 hospitals in the 27 local government areas that you are unable to complete, you can have only three well-equipped and functional referral hospitals in the three senatorial zones and then upgrade the general hospitals also by equipping them and employ appropriate personnel for them. There are a lot of Nigerian doctors working outside nigeria who will be willing to come back here and work if the conditions are right. Once you do that, they will come.
Thought On Local Governments In Imo
Our local government system is dead. As I speak to you, no local government in Imo state gets its allocation. None. So, you need to work on that, reassure the people and rebuild their confidence. Make sure that each local government gets what is due to it and also work with it. I will ensure that each local government chairman resides within his respective local government areas. It boosts confidence of the people. What obtains today is that no one sees a local government chairman because he is never in his office. They come around once or twice in a month and disappear. Some don’t even go to office. So, how does the local government area develop when the chief executive of the council does not even live in the area despite having an official residence?
Rebuilding Traditional Institution In Imo
If you look at our traditional institution in Imo state, you will find that it has been destroyed and reduced to nothing. By the last count, we have more than 600 autonomous communities and our Ezes are reduced to nothing. They are made to come to the stadium for march past like students when a dignitary visits the state. That is not done anywhere in the world. So, to restore the dignity of the traditional institution, and bring back the respect that they used to have, has to happen.
Addressing Infrastructure In Imo State
The governor of Imo state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, may have meant well in trying to open up some roads in Imo state. There is no doubt about that. But it is one thing to open up roads; it is another thing to make it meaningful. To open up a road, one important thing is to have a quality study by experts on the implications and the end points. If you open up a road, what would you achieve? That is a very critical question. You don’t do a four-lane road that empties in a single lane. It is like moving the Atlantic Ocean into River Niger. That will be chaotic. The best you can do is to have a study and know why you must open a road. You must have a reason for it and also know what that development will lead to. Will it open up a new layout and create new residential places for the people? There must be an end in sight before opening up roads. He has done quite some few like the Inland roads. But again, you don’t do such projects by employing people who use head-pans and shovels to build roads without designs; and as they are being built, they are going bad. The roads go bad in such a manner that the governor who built them is himself so surprised that he even said the rains in Imo are acidic. There are no acidic rains. It is simply the quality of construction.
Way Out On Infrastructure Development
I believe that Imo deserves to have first class construction companies developing its infrastructure. Imo deserves quality infrastructure. There are very many reputable and qualified construction companies that one could bring to build infrastructure in Imo. If you also look at the costs of the roads he is building, they go even higher than when done by reputable and capable constructions firms. Moreover, when you do such constructions, you get less involved. Reputable construction firms do not only construct roads, they also do construction management such that they know when and how to divert traffic so people don’t have to suffer. That is not the case in Imo.
You Are Difficult To Control. True?
There are things that people say and they become your strength. There are also things they say and they become weakness. I know that people always support someone they believe they will always control. But it has never worked. I believe that you support someone you can partner with. Not control. I don’t expect that any person will control me. I rather expect that we can partner and develop the state. That is the problem they think that I have. But the beauty of it is that they started thinking this way since 2007. Since then, they have had Ohakim and Rochas. And I don’t see how their control has worked. I don’t see the outcome in terms of real development. Again, if you look at all the states where there has been this control you talked about, you would wonder what the outcome has been. It did not work in Zamfara. It did not work In Kano. It did not work in Akwa Ibom. Control has not worked anywhere where you made someone a governor and believe you will control him from the outside. What I have seen work is that you see a man and you look at his pedigree, review his background and assess his progress, his strengths and his visions. That makes better sense. For me, it is not issue of control, but of partnerships for the good of Imo state.
Family/Personalization Of Government In Imo State
As Imo state governor, nothing will make me compromise quality, no matter who you are. I won’t toy with that. There is nothing wrong if you work with people who are knowledgeable in areas you are not and you learn from the process. I don’t believe you need to work only with people who are from your area and your friends. It won’t work that way with me. I believe that I am going to leave Imo the best. Everyone who needs a job, and is competent and qualified to handle the job, will get it. It is not going to be friends of governor or people who knew him or his family members. As governor, I won’t make appointments based on people who come to my house to greet me. No way. I will look at people who are qualified. I will engage you if you have something to offer, something which will collectively make Imo a better place. That will be the basis of appointments. Not familiarity.
The APGA Edge
APGA in the southeast has a very wonderful reference and that is Anambra state. It is a state where APGA has been in power progressively more than 10 years. Now, compare developments in Anambra state, on all sectoral fronts -education, agriculture, security, infrastructure, governance, relationship between Church and society etc., and you see that Anambra stands out. There is no other state in the Southeast that equates to Anambra on all development indicators. That is a reference for APGA. You can’t say that of PDP and APC in the south east. Therefore, the party, on its own, stands out. If you stick to party manifesto, Imo will be a better place. There is no doubt about that.
Difference Between him, APC Candidate Hope Uzodimma and PDP candidate Emeka Ihedioha
Those who argue that there are no differences between the APC candidate and the incumbent, may, in a way, be right because both of them are from the same senatorial district. They are from the same Orlu senatorial district that produced Udenwa who was there for eight years. That district has held the governorship for 16 years and the APC candidate is also coming from there. Many people in Imo state feel it is not fair on the sensibility of people from other zones of the state. To that extent, there is no difference. But again, in terms of the issues of governance, every Imo person knows the three of us.
I am the candidate of APGA. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha is candidate of PDP and Sen. Hope Uzodimma is candidate of APC. We are not new to Imo. Imo people know us all and they know our pedigrees. Imo people knew me before I became senator in 1999. They have seen me since I left the senate. They know the business that I do and some of them even visit my businesses. They know my family and they know my village. The people know the schools that I went to. Imo people know that I went to Dick Tiger Memorial Secondary School Amaigbo. They know I schooled at Liberty University in Pittsburg, Virginia, USA. They knew me as a student at the University of Benin. I have classmates. Those who lectured me are still there. The principal of my college at Amaigbo, Chief Hillary Iwueke, passed on some three years ago. His wife is still there. So, in terms of academics, they people know me very well. They can also talk about the academic records of Emeka and those of Hope. They can also talk about the schools they attended. We have all filled INEC forms and they are now public documents. You can go have a look at them and ask any questions you want to ask. The people should know these details so they can make inform decisions. Emeka is an Anglican. I an a Catholic. Hope is a Catholic too. So, we are also known among the clergy. For me, these are things that are in the market place. They are not hidden. You can even write to INEC to make the documents available to you.
What Imo People Should Look Out For
The big question to ask every Imo person -the trader, the small and medium scale entrepreneur, the big businessman, the clergy etc., is who, among the three of us, can manage Imo well after Rochas? Who can give our people the leadership confidence that they seek? Who can look at situations dispassionately and take action; who can act in the interest of the state and not of friends and cronies? Imo people should ask themselves who among the three of us can lead Imo without looking at what benefits their family?
What It Takes To Be Governor
Being a governor is not an easy assignment. If you are empty, the office will further expose you. If you have nothing to offer, the office will expose you. Don’t forget, a governor is one who sits over life and death. What it means is that a man who sits in that office must have his head properly examined. As a legislator, you may miss sitting all year and you won’t be noticed. Sometimes, your input may not be needed for a bill to pass. But you can’t hide as a governor. To manage a state, you need a lot of skills, sometimes, unusual skills. It takes just more than your qualifications. There are usually unusual happenings and it means that in the post-Rochas Imo, you would need to do a lot to manage the issues. So, I think that experiences of the past have made Imo people wiser.
How About A Debate?
Of course, there will be debates and people will state their knowledge of the economy and governance. Issues will be raised and addressed. At the end of the day, the voters will look at the candidates, their pedigrees and background and then, look at the parties and what they represent and make their choice. And I believe that at the end of the day, they will choose Senator Ifeanyi Araraume.