Damian Opara is the Imo State Publicity Secretary of the ruling People’s Democratic Party. He is a media man and was the former chairman of the Correspondents Chapel of the Imo Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ). Opara is also a security expert. In this chat with our AFAM ECHI, he indicates that the return of Eke Ukwu market is in fulfilment of campaign promise of Governor EmekaIhedioha. He defends the governor’s choice of commissioners because according to him the level of decay in the state requires experienced technocrats to jump start the rebuilding process. Enjoy the chat
The governor just appointed 17 commissioners contrary to what we had in the Okorocha’s administration that had commissioners representing each of the local governments. What could explain this departure as it is likely to raise some dusts over representation?
In the past few days I have been talking about this appointment. It should be realized that the governor did not just wake up to make a list. On assumption of office he set up a Technical Transition Committee to review all aspects of the Imo economy. It was this Committee that recommended 18 commissioner positions but unfortunately one of the 18 died very close to the release date. I think under AchikeUdenwa we had 12 commissioners, and under Ohakim I think we had 16 or so but under Okorocha it began to become bogus. Okorocha used it to settle people without giving them imprest nor power to run, they just answer commissioner and he created offices when they had nothing to do in the offices. Commissioners are usually appointed to do jobs in certain very key strategic areas. Okorocha’s commissioners were 31 in numbers. We had ministry of happiness, ministry of community government and other funny things like that. Are those the ministries, you have ministry of community government and ministry of local government affairs. The number of commissioners clearly is a departure from the immediate past and shows that he meant serious business and has his focus.
There is also the accusation that not a good number of youths havenot been represented in the government and this contrasts with the Youths Must Run Policy of the federal government. Is there any reason for this too?
Anybody drawing comparison between Okorocha and Ihedioha’s government is simply being mischievous. There is just no comparison between light and darkness. If you reckon with the damages that have been done in Imo State you will know that it requires some technocrats to jump start the administration. We need matured men to start the process. We need people with sound administrative background who know their onions. After doing that we can now start to add new breeds to start to move the state forward. To fix what damage Okorocha has done we need these men.
You come from the Ohaji/Egbema/Oguta axis of the state. This is an area that is blessed with abundant natural and human resources. There you have oil and gas, very fertile soil and food products, yet the area is still under developed and its youths are mobilised for wrong actions. The area appropriately should be the envy of other areas in terms of development but we are not seeing that. Why is this so and is there any effort on ground to remedy the situation?
The effort on ground can be located in the appointments made by Ihedioha since assumption of office for the people of that area. Ohaji/Egbema has never had it so good in terms of appointment. The actual problem is that when Rochas came in he handed all our wealth to strangers. He gave Adapalm out to Roche, a company that we don’t know. He gave out the Rubber Estate and nobody knew what was happening there. The ISOPADEC that represents where the money is he took inside his pocket. The money from there instead of going into government coffers goes into Okorocha’s pocket. Ohaji was the worst hit under Okorocha. In Ohaji there is no good road, nothing. Okorocha did not do anything for the people. But with what we are seeing now, we have seen appointments into ISOPADEC board, we have seen that of Adapalm, we have seen that of Rubber and our people are there. If it is not developed going forward, then we will know that our people don’t want to do anything for themselves. So the initial challenge was that the Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta people rarely know what is in these areas because they have to administer that place with free hands.
But now that your people are in charge what should we expect?
Good. They have started well. I have learnt that ISOPADEC have planned to do a new security outfit around Awara area, new schools at Egbema, and that they are building a comprehensive police station at Agwa to scare away the militants that are used to cause mayhem in the state and all over the place. They are the volatile areas. If you don’t create strong security presence in that area, if you put anything there they will come to destroy it. So you can see that our people are now telling the governments what we need. When you put anything there without these boys being settled they would destroy everything because that is not what the community wants. But now that our own people are there, the Deputy Governor is there, we expect good changes. Now they know that something cannot happen there without security.
The same area can also be referred to as the food basket of Imo state given its rich potentials. What is the government thinking about agriculture in the area?
The Imo state governor has started very well. Yesterday he went toWatersmithPetroman Oil Coyto see what they are doing.Two days ago he went to Obitti Rubber estate to ascertain what is happening there. The other day it was Adapalm. With all these activities the Ohaji/Egbema people now know that they are part of this government and that they are going to gain from the government of EmekaIhedioha. This is just two months. And the party itself is happy with the activities in the area so far because this is the area it can receive the bulk of the votes to make it win elections. During Ohakims regime the area was the determiner in winning. With what the government is doing there the party will get stronger in the area.
Recently two prominent Imo royal fathers engaged themselves in media warfare throwing muds at each with fowl languages that demean royalty. What is your view about the verbal attack?
The party itself is not part of it and would want to distance itself from it all. On the chieftaincy issues that concerns government, the government will take care of that. We don’t want to get involved so that it doesn’t look that we are fighting anybody.
But what is your personal view about the issue between the warring traditional rulers?
When two fathers are fighting are you going to look at them? All you do is just pray that sanity quickly comes back among them, they are all aged and mature, they have experience and all it takes to resolves issues among themselves.
There is jubilation in some circles that Eke ukwuOwerri market will be returning to its base. Some others are frowning that the traders already resettled should be allowed to consolidate in the respective markets they find themselves. What probably influenced the government?
Thanks for raising the issue. When we were campaigning for votes Rt Hon EmekaIhedioha had said that we are going to return the Eke Ukwu market if he wins and he made it very very clear. He told Owerri people that we are going to clear their tears. And that is exactly what the government has done. We should thank the Governor for at least fulfilling the promise he made to the people and that is what is important. For the markets that are scattered here and there in Igbo land we know the markets choose where they will stay.The market that is in an ancestral home, even if you remove it ten time in a year the people will still go there to trade. The Egbeada market is an erosion prone area and does not hold the attraction of the traders perhaps. Why locate a market in a place with such defects. For having redeemed his promise the governor has also redeemed the face of the party and of his government. If we have told people we are returning the market and renege on that it means we may not have started well and this is not good for the party.
To what extent is there party influence in the appointment of people to positions?
One thing I want to make very clear about is that PDP is a well-organized party. We as officials of the party worked so hard followed the governor to everywhere till victory became a reality. I have stated before that the appointments made by the governor is usually done in conjunction with the party and those appointed are officers of the party who may have worked at different levels for the party, even if not at the same capacity. Some may have worked harder than others. If you check it out you will see that the Chairman of the party is heading the State Football Club, the State Secretary is the chairman of the Imo Housing Corporation; theOwerrizonal Chairman is a commissioner nominee, the OkigweZonal Chairman is an Interim Committee Chairman, etc. If the governor is not working with the party how would these appointments come? There is no party that is more respectd than our party.
But what do you have to say in the case of Nick Opara-Ndudu who we gathered his nomination was stopped because he joined the party mid-stream even when he may also have worked for the party to secure its victory.
When Christ was rewarding his followers, some came in the morning, some came in the evening but he rewarded all of them according to their strength. In the case that you mentioned, I want to say that whatever is given to Owerri zone, I support it. Check the result; you will see that the party got its victory from Owerri zone. We cleared all the nine local governments area in Owerri zone, the Senate, Reps seat, House of Assembly seats, we cleared Owerri zone 100%. For the first time we have remained so united. I want to plead with the governor to work hard and do everything to keep the party together so that in the next election there will be no issues in winning. This has proved that Owerri zone is the bastion of PDP.If the governor had lost in Owerri North, Owerri-West and Municipal and win in Ikeduru he may not have become the governor today. It happened in 2015 when we lost those areas including Mbaitoli. So anybody who is saying that Opara-Ndudu or whoever does not deserve what they are asking for is being unfair to them. Let nobody criticise whoever that is being appointed.
Stepping out of Imo how would you assess Buhari’s team of ministers?
Drawing from what our political sage Arthur Nzeribe once said, ‘that you should where your levels fall’’, if your levels stop at the local government level, limit your thinking to that point. If you are thinking about the state and you are not at that level don’t forget that that there is somebody there. I can’t tell you what is happening in Abuja where I am not. I can tell you what is happening in Owerri here where I can see the councillors, other government appointees and officials and I can call them to say you are doing well or not.
But whatever Buhari does in Abuja has a way of affecting you whether or not you are interested?
Yes, I know just as he has appointed our brother Nwajiuba a minister. He is there to work for Imo state interest and not that of APC.
The SupremeCourt just gave judgement in the protracted case of who is PDP’s governorship candidate and it ended in favour of EmekaIhedioha. What is the implication of that for the party?
I was a key player in the EmekaSamdaddy issue because I was present at every level of the contest and I had told people predictably that there was no need going to court. The victory of EmekaIhedioha was very clear. Besides, before the primaries there was agreement reached on the modalities which were followed to produce the results we had. The primary election was the best because it was fair, free and credible.
Thanks for your time