An exclusive interview with the Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State, Hon. Chief Damian Opara, at his office, in Owerri, the state capital, on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, with EDISON Okereke and Afam Echi.
Congratulations! Your party, the PDP, has produced the Government in power in Imo State, at least?
So far so good. How would you describe the fifty-seven days in which your party has handled the state of affairs in Imo State?
You see, it looks as if we have stayed for more than one year since we came in because of great expectations of the people. Since the Government took over -remember there was no formal handover by the past government as to know where to start…We rather inherited bad situations -everywhere -bad roads, a water-logged Imo State capital, roads that had been cut off, no local government system in place, a destroyed Civil Service system. We met a lot of mess on the ground -arrears of pensions, and the worst of it all, the debt profile of the state was too high. So when the governor started he took his time.
How did he start? He started by appointing Technical Transition Committee members that studied every Imo State affairs.
Then, before that inauguration, and again to set up a Government structure in place. It didn’t take time to form and get the State House of Assembly to give him power to dissolve the local government councils in the state.
For the first fifty-seven days in the office, the Governor of Imo State, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and his Deputy, Rt. Hon. Gerald Irona, have for the first time, set up a perfect government machinery in motion…
You come to the local government system now it’s functioning, you go to Civil Service system it’s functioning if you go to the Pension Department, you go to the appointment of key offices that you want the government to function, we’ve done something about that. You now come into governance proper, he has paid a lot of counterpart funding. He has paid counterpart funding for erosion control in Ideato… He has paid counterpart funding that has not been paid in the state for long. And these things are attracting investments to Imo State… He has returned peace to the state. Things are working. Owerri now is no longer waterlogged. You can see it for yourself -the Douglas road is cleared, the heaps of dirt have been cleared, and a lot more. Imo State has been united. All the Imo political class have been united. You see for the first time a Governor working with former governors…The appointments have a spread!
In Okigwe Zone you have the Speaker, you have the Chief of Staff, the Principle Secretary to the governor and others.
In Orlu Zone you have the Deputy Governor. In Owerri Zone you have the Governor and some other positions. There is equity now in the system.
And again, this is not a government of one man business. We’ve had our first Imo stakeholders’ meeting where Imo people were briefed on what, and how they met the state. What it is now and what the government will do in future.
And if you watch again, the local governments that have been put in place are getting their allocations direct. If come into Owerri now too many politicians are no longer there. Most of them are going to their local governments to look for jobs because the things are now being spread to the local governments.
So, in this first fifty-seven days I think the Governor has done very, very, very well…As a political party I don’t think we’ve had it so good before. All the appointments that had been done the majority of them were party members in the field.
I challenge you to check out! From the lists we’ve so far seen -from SA’s to T. C. chairmen, TC members -the majority of them: 99% of them are party members that all of us saw in the field. That’s why there is calm in the party.
And for the first fifty-seven days he has been in the office everything he has done in the office he has done it with the collaboration of the state chairman. Remember the state chairman was the Campaign Committee leader that did the campaigns…
He did so many things with him. They will not allow this place to go down. Every movement the state Governor has made he has done it with the party, and the Deputy also. That fine gentleman! He is everywhere, the team is everywhere touring places, making sure that things are done as at when due. The Deputy has made sure that the funds in ISOPADEC are no longer used to settle taunts. You know what they did before? They would pay some people and keep them in the house without doing anything…
The Deputy Governor has made it very clear if you want to be a criminal be a criminal. No more amnesty for anybody. So no hiding place for those guys that used ISOPADEC to hide as criminals …As I’m talking to you now the ISOPADEC Board and the management staff are at Oguta to re-define the way to do things. And I think that is what every good government should do within one or two months…
And the Governor of Imo State and his Deputy in connection with the party have done well. In the next days to come things will be a lot better. And it will be good for Imo people.
While you were taking you mentioned that the Government said to make sure there is a spread in the political appointments, but I understand there are still ripples here and there. Some people are talking of not being accommodated. For instance, Ikeduru has raised an issue that they’ve not fairly treated in the appointments?
Let me take it for there. What the Governor, the Deputy and party have done in terms of appointments is unprecedented. When this government took over in the state they started appointments across the board. More and more -up till now. I have not got the official list of the commissioner nominees.
They don’t know who will come from Ikeduru for commissionership? They don’t who know who will come out there as board members? You don’t know who’ll come out there as ministers, you don’t know who’ll come out for statutory boards? So why not wait till these areas are exhausted. When the appointments are exhausted you now know that Ikeduru is not properly accommodated. But if you allow the Governor some time, I think he’ll do justice to them.
Most politicians like where the ‘food is ready’ kind of politics. They now go about saying oh! we’re part of the government in power, leadership and all that. What’s your take on these politicians coming aboard the ship of the PDP administration in the state now?
Let me tell you one thing. There is a difference between party politics and government in the making. A political party is a vehicle that conveys to a political position… You cannot say you want to build roads for only PDP members. Everything you do is for everybody. The tendencies are there that when you win election other people will come and join you…So, saying that people are coming to join to displace others is out of place. The more the merrier. Okay, if everyone joins PDP and we’re going for a second time don’t you think that will be better.
Recently, the party reportedly suspended three LG chairmen in the state, any explanation for that?
The party did not suspend any member. You should read what is in your newspaper: Daily Nigerian Horn. I read that report. I wanted to react but when I read the report it has no bearing…
But the story quotes some sources…
(Breaks in) Which sources were those?
Is there any disciplinary action taken against them?
Good. Let me tell you, in journalism which I’m part of, a scoop is different from an official statement. You can stay in the comfort of your room and announce INEC result. That does amount to INEC result until an INEC official signs the results… Nobody for now has officially been suspended from the party.
From your explanation, you said it proper for anybody to join PDP. Now from your narrative, every other party in opposition has collapsed into PDP, do you think that is in the interest of the state, if there is no opposition in the state?
What is democracy: Government of the people, by the people and for the people. At every democratic set up there must be opposition.
There is room for concensus. There is room for opposition. There is room for dissenting voices… So I’d the House of Assembly decide own position to go by concensus I think I don’t have any bother about that. It is the progress of the state, provided they are doing that with the aim of achieving or achieve what is going to give Imo State the best in governance.
The apprehension there is that it is possible there will be a repeat of where we were coming from, where the Governor pocketed the entire legislature and dictated what happened. And was calling the shots because he had them in his pocket?
What is the policy thrust of the State Government?
The Governor is taking his time. All processes are being touched. The other day he was at Orodo Industrial Layout to see what happens there. Have you seen a government that started without a single vehicle from the past government? I ask that question because Governor Ihedioha, his Deputy and others started without a single vehicle from the immediate past administration. Up till now Governor Ihedioha is still riding in his private vehicle. Where are the government vehicles?
So what’s the government doing about it, what’s the effort to recover them?
Good. That’s why they set up a Recovery Committee headed by Hon. Jasper Ndubuaku to recover government property. And I can tell you how difficult it is! All of them are criminals. They are doing everything to frustrate the recovery of the property.
Rochas was moving with over twenty cars in convoy, his Deputy in convoy, where are those cars? They have hidden those vehicles, where are they? The son-in-law was also riding in official vehicles, where are they? You can’t find one. You drive in to the the local governments you can’t find one. There are two Sport Unitility Vehicles (SUVs) – the JACK Jeep, the other Innoson Jeep, you can’t find them in any local government area in the state. They took them and ran away. So it a sorry situation for fhe new administration in the state… And remember Rochas never left a dimev the government coffers, no matter what he claims. What he left there were debt profile, bad governance, bad will, even for the public. He never left anything for us to operate with. If it were you what will you do? To the Governor and the Deputy are wonderful partners, because the party made it every clear that the only way we can win and win again is for the Governor and the Deputy to do what the people like, what the people want. Look at the Douglas Road, driving the economy. No more harassment. No more tauts, people harassing others on the road. So, gradually, the Governor is doing well. And the people are happy about him.
There is this agitation among women that they have not been fairly treated in appointment even as they insist that they have capacity. They want the government to respect the United Nations 35% Affirmation Principles. How true is this?
We have women chairmen in the transition committee members of the local government. About three of them or so are women and in each of the local government transition committee we have three women as members. I come from Ohaji/Egbema local government area and we have twelve wards withthree women representing. In the Oguta LGA where the Deputy Governor comes from we have four women. In every other local government we have three women, multiply by 305 wards in the state you can now know the number of women. We have women in the category of SA, Protocol Dept and everywhere, their number is big. We have a woman in ISIEC. In every appointment we have done there are women there. So what else?And I know that if the Commissioner’s list comes up officially there will be women. We have accommodated more women put together than any government. Go and check out. If you check 3 women per ward multiplied by 305 you are getting about 900 and more.
But the complaints are in terms of key positions
Cuts in, no,what is key position? In this government there are no more key positions, every other position now is key. You know before Okorocha will sit in the comfort of his home and seize our allocation, appoint people into key positions, but in this PDP whenever the funds come it goes to the people (autonomous LGA’s). So all these people at the local government level are in key positions. For example, the LGA chairman receives allocation of 60,70 to 80m naira direct. All these women playing roles are they not in key positions? We have more women in this government than any other women anywhere going by what has happened so far. I can assure you that. Quote me. And we are going to do more especially when they are going to do local government election, which is when we can now play.
As a person that has close interactions with media, how would you assess the performance of Imo Press?
Well I must thank the Imo Press, myself as a journalist came here in 2001 from Crystal Magazine, a tabloid from the stable of President Ibrahim Babangida. I rose to be the Correspondent Chapel Chairman of Imo NUJ. From the time I came here I can tell you that the performance of Imo Press has been very very good. Since I became the Party’s Publicity Secretary in 2016, we have not had any negative report from any local media or radio. And we would transfer that goodwill to the government. I can assure that. And this government which all of us are part of will treat Journalists as truly the fourth estate of the realm. Remember the governor started by being a Press Secretary to ChubaOkadigbo, former Senate President. He is a Media man. I know he is going to allow you play your media role of checking any excesses in government.
What can you say about the complaint from transport operators within the city over harassment by government officials to pay certain levies? What is the extent of government involvement?
When the governor took off he knows the importance of those transport workers and the service they give to Imo people, he set up a transport Committee to assist them in doing their job. Owerri was so congested, roads were closed, and they park and offload everywhere. There were illegal motor parks everywhere. The past government will arrange for two or three people and say this is your motor park, be collecting tolls from people there. They use the motor parks to extort money from the people and the governor set up a task force on illegal motor parks headed by OkechukwuOpara with Obi Mbadiwe as the Chairman and Secretary of the Committee. So they went into action. For you to right the wrongs that have been there for the past four years will be very difficult. They were not chasing them.So what they are basically doing is to designate the motor parks areas where there will be park so that the tolls they will pay will be less and they did it so perfectly well. Instead of having ten, twenty motor parks everywhere they arrange them into bits and you can see the free movement of vehicle, you pick you move. And they monitor it. But you still find drivers that are very stubborn and want the status quo to remain. I do not see what they are doing wrong yet. Roads are open now, Douglas road is open, and you can now know where the vehicle will drop you. The Committee has done perfectly well. They have organized the place and they are just starting. Give them sometime Owerri will look batter as people knows where they will be dropped. Before they came in Orlu road has more than twenty motor parks. They use it to settle people like in Control Post and other places, Rochas will say you are the tout, take over the motor park and use it to help yourself and go do mayhem. It is not easy to dislodge them. Anybody that says that he is being harassed is not willing to obey the law.
What actually is the debt profile of the state because it seems there are some controversies surrounding the figure?
I can assure you that when we verify Imo State debt profile it is unprecedented. It is so high, humongous. We are talking about over 100 billion and there is no doubt about that. There is a committee set up to review the accounts of Imo State they came up with over 250 accounts. We have not even verified the debts at the local government levels, the people that are owed salaries, the debts owed pensioners, at the end of the day, and you will see that the thing is in a mess.
What is the reason we have not heard anything from the government over the controversial RUGA settlement. Is the government comfortable with it?
For now the RUGA issue is a national issue
When other states are talking does it mean we have no position?
I don’t think that we need that. But the Hausa and Fulani people have been rearing their cows, going around Imo State doing their business without any problem in the communities where they do business. Should we manufacture a problem where there is none?
Are you aware of any state in the South East that has provided land for the RUGA settlement?
I can’t speak for any state. I am only concerned with Imo State and we have no lands for such.
But the other day we read that a substantial part of the Cattle herders have settled in a certain community in the Oguta axis and there are occasional security issues
I am not aware of that but if there is a herds man involved in any form of criminality the law will follow him. Have you not seen cattle men doing their business in Imo state before? If anyone is funny doing anything outside the cattle business the law will take its course.
Are you not disturbed about developments in the tribunals concerning the governor’s position in the light of the efforts of the opposition to dethrone him?
I can liken this to the Nigeria-Biafra War. Remember when the war ended some people were still throwing sand and wishing that the war has not ended. We ran a free, fair, credible, transparent election in which we beat an incumbent governor. Going to the INEC is a normal thing. I participated fully and was on ground in every aspect. Normally in this country if people don’t go to court they will not know that they have been defeated. I am advising them to sheath their swords, relax their mind and allow Imo people enjoy the government of EmekaIhedioha that has good intentions for the people. There is still time. They can still win at another time. But for this election that we did without federal government support, no army, no police, but it was the will of Imo people that EmekaIhedioha be their governor. Where was it rigged? In an election where the sitting governor had his men at the local government levels, chairmen and councillors, over bloated councillors at that, so who is going to rig it for us? The people strongly yearned for a democratic change and the change occurred. The tribunal matter is the normal thing and we are not bothered about it. I want to tell you that immediately we started the governor promised that we are going to allow local government autonomy, that we are going to conduct Council election in six months and he has started. He has charged ISIEC to issue proclamation about local government election, with a time frame to hold the election. And to show you that he has no interest in what happens there he has granted them autonomy saying use your money to develop your areas. It is now the duty of the party to ensure that the local government achieved what they are meant to do and that is a free, fair and credible election. If you are not wanted by your people you don’t contest.
Some Imo people are worried that government is not likely to sustain the free education policy of the past government?
Let me tell you and I have my children in the University. Two of my children took off at this City School and they were coming first and when I took them to where they are now they are coming 20th. At the City school there were no Mathematics teacher, one woman was teaching Maths from Primary 1-5. So what is the free education? In the University, for ten years now medical students cannot graduate. In as much as we say that there should be free education, it should be qualitative education before the free education. The governor has not said no free education and has set up a committee to review it. So let’s wait for their report. I want to mention that it is also the craving of the governor to see the state return to its winning ways when it comes first in Jamb, Waec, Neco and every competitive exam as we were doing before. When the Committee turns in its report the government will take a position.
What is your message for Imo people?
I want to tell our people to be patient with the government like it is said about appointment, and support the government in every of its program. If you want to clear Douglas Road and the people say no, you can’t clear it, they will sabotage it, if you clear in the morning in the evening they will dump refuse again. As Entraco is at work if the people don’t want them, if they clean the gutter now in the next moment they are refilling it. Let every Imolite give the governor maximum support. Imo people should support his policies and if they have any reason to disagree with any there are proper channels to direct their grievances to the government so that the government will make amends. Secondly, Imo people should be free to interact with the government at all levels. This is no longer a one man show. People should be able to go to the Council areas and ask questions about what is happening in their respective areas and what they are doing with their monies. You cannot fold your hands while people fritter resources and you are here blaming EmekaIhedioha. You are not being fare to the governor, the state and your local government. The allocation is in the public domain so you are free to confront the local government leadership on what they have done with your money pointing out the roads, markets and other things that are bad in the area which are not getting attention. The challenge is on the shoulder of all of us.
Thanks for your time