A Real Estate Developer and a critical stakeholder in the Imo Project High Chief Ken Ukaoha, MD/CEO Kenshad Group of Companies; a Billionaire from Nwangele Local Government Area of Imo State, has spoken extensively about the efforts the state Governor Senator Hope Odidika Uzodimma has made and is still making to see to it that Imo State is recovered from the robles of past administration in the state. He equally advised the Governor on ways he could bring about development to the state through Public Private Partnership (PPP). He spoke to BASIL EKWEKE. Excerpts:
By way of introduction can we get to know you officially?
My name is High Chief Ken Ukaoha. I am from Abba in Nwangele Local Government Area of Imo State. I am also a businessman. My company Kenshad Group is into trading and Real Estate and construction. We are based in Abuja and Lagos too.
Governor Hope Uzodimma is someone that is well known to you. Can you attest to his kind of person and his nature?
Senator Hope Uzodimma is somebody I have a lot of respect for. He is a gentle man. He is also a kindman. He is a man that your problem becomes his own problem and he is not a greedy or selfish man. He is not a man that acquires wealth for his children and great grand children. So, Senator Hope Odidika Uzodimma is a man that can spend his last money to save your live. He is a God sent man and such characters are not easy to be found. As long as I know, Senator Hope Uzodimma does not acquire properties. He is a decent man and very rich too. His money has gone into charities to help people, big and small and he is very very kind.
So, going by his character, as hinted by you, it is, therefore, not surprising how lofty his development projects in Imo State. Do you agree to that?
As a Senator of Orlu, when he was a Senator, we know how many roads he attracted from NDDC in Orlu Zone, including my own road that leads to my home, Abba, in Nwangele Local Government Area of Imo State, a major road for that matter. It was Senator Uzodimma who did it, When I went to the National Assembly, Abuja to beg him; a road of over nine kilometres. When he was the Senator of Orlu, he over performed. We are not talking of transformers and other amenities he brought in Orlu Zone, not even to his own village but to other communities and other Local Government Areas in Orlu. So, you can see the way he has tackled decayed infrastructure in Imo State. You can see his lion heart. Okigwe to Owerri Road has been there for over twenty years. I think Mbakwe was the last person who did that road. Since then, nobody has made any effort to modernize the road. You can see that it takes a lion heart to take up that challenge. You can see massive construction on Okigwe – Owerri Road and it could soon be completed. You can also see how work is seriously going on in Orlu – Owerri Road, to modernize the road.
As someone who is quite experienced within the construction industry, how do you assess the kind of projects embarked upon by Governor Uzodimma?
Well, look at the quality of roads Governor Uzodimma is doing in Owerri. If you look at the asphalt and stone base being used, you can see that these are roads built to last long. You can see the rabid aggression he has shown in doing all the major roads in Owerri, that other governors before him neglected. These things are not about down grading anyone but they are the facts and the truth. The issue is that most Imo people are used to seeing bad roads because the past governors never bothered to do good roads, they only patched and patched. This is because to pick up a road and construct it to a good standard is not easy. It is not the one they used to do in the past by patching the road and after some months, it goes bad. So, anybody that tells you that the work is slow, there is no slow work. It is better to do it well than do a shoddy job and at the end of the day, you now spend times five of the cost in order to patch it again, all amounting to colossal waste.
How do you rate Governor Uzodimma’s efforts in infrastructural development, specifically with the kind of tunnel he is constructing now to channel water from Chukwuma Nwoha to Otamiri River?
May be people don’t realize that Senator Uzodimma is also a businessman who used to have a construction company. So, he is used to construction work and it is out of experience that he initiated the channeling of that water and of course that water has caused a lot of problems in Owerri. So, it takes courage to do that particular tunnel that he is doing. If you don’t have experience, you will not be able to do it because when they tell you what is involved, you will be afraid channeling that water to Otamiri River. So, for someone who is a businessman, who had a construction company before becoming Senator, he knows that that tunnel is very important to Owerri for the survival of Owerri. So, I am not surprised because I know him as a man who is always into nice quality and you can see what they are doing there. If it is given to an inexperienced construction company, it will not be able to do such an excellent job.
You are in the construction industry and Real Estate, how do you advise the Government in terms of Estate development in the state?
Well, I believe that the state has its own apparatus. They have Ministry of Lands, they have housing. I believe they are doing well. But if I will advise, I will say that they should look at Lagos model of developing mass housing and Real Estates because if you look at it, there is a lot of issues regarding litigations, arising from the handling of the previous government, especially with their mentality of land grabbing, that has made most developers to run away from Imo State and if you can recall, Imo now in the South East has the largest estate in the entire South East now. That’s why everybody has focused on Imo. So, I believe if they can look at Imo model and find a way of bringing Imo sons who are developing Real Estate in Lagos, it will be marvelous. We all know ourselves and we are all doing well. If you look at Ajar in Lagos, 90 percent of Real Estate developers there are Igbos. Even if you look at Ikoyi, where most of our Igbos are doing Real Estate, 90 percent are Igbos and these people are willing to be engaged and also he has to develop infrastructure too because when you give somebody 200 hectares of land to develop Real Estate, he will construct the roads therein and the Governor will take the credit. That’s what Lagos State is doing. I believe that the government has a plan and they should also look at developing high luxury estates. There are a lot of rich Igbo people who want to come back home, own a property at home and during festive periods they come around to the South East, there family can stay there. The people from Anambra and other neighbouring states, they are highly interested in Owerri.
You said in your previous interview that you will like to come home to contribute your own quota to the development of South East, particularly your own state Imo. In what way do you think that, if you are invited, you can contribute to the development of Imo State?
Well, it is not about me personally because when you look at it, if you go to Anambra, where most of my friends who are into Real Estate, are from, most of them are going back home, taking something home to establish, whether it is a factory, whether it is Real Estate, whether it is a shop. It is about the government tapping the opportunity and bringing developers, not only from Imo State but from the South East, down to Owerri and also to guarantee the confidence because the past regime destroyed almost everything; I mean Rochas regime. It is about building confidence. I won’t come to Imo if I know at the end of the day, if I invest my money, I won’t recover it and at the end of the day, I run into trouble. But if I know that if I come and invest my money, peacefully I take my money and take whatever belongs to me and leave the rest for government, I will come.
You have witnessed the barrage of criticisms heaped on the Governor this time around. What advise do you give him, so that he doesn’t get distracted from what he has been doing?
Well, people can criticize the Governor but you criticize somebody when you have the facts. You don’t just assume. You must have the facts before you criticize anybody. Whatever I see in the past, I am seeing with facts and I know I am saying the truth. If you look at the financial capacity of Imo State currently now, if you know it, you will go and thank Governor Hope Uzodimma. If you know that Imo State is poor, that the previous Okorocha government has mortgaged Imo State for 33 years; the facilities they took from different financial institutions, that Imo State will pay up to 2033, you will now appreciate the little that the Governor is getting through with this magic. It is a magic that he is doing which people don’t know because if you don’t have the finance, you can’t do anything. So, my advise to the Governor is: let him not be discouraged. As long as he knows that he is doing the right thing, he shouldn’t bother about criticisms. I know as of now that a lot of people know that the Governor is real and that he is fighting for the masses. You can see what is happening to the properties of some of these politicians who are so greedy that they packed Imo State money to build their private investments. You can see how the Governor is working towards recovering them. After all they are of the same party. If you are not an honest person, they will put you aside and move on.
You are from Orlu Zone and you have been seeing what have been happening there all this while and the way some politicians from that zone are behaving. What is your feeling about the situation?
You know, Orlu is a very peaceful area. I am from Orlu Zone. Once I am at home in Nwangele, I go to Orlu town every two days, either for bank transactions or whatever. Orlu had never had any problem. When Senator Uzodimma was there, you can notice that throughout his reign as a Senator for eight years, there was absolute peace in Orlu Zone. Why will another person be Senator for Orlu now and Orlu is boiling. So, you can look at it as a political game; somebody who wants to discredit someone else. That’s the way I look at it because the Senator who is now the present Governor of Imo State has been the Senator of Orlu and there was no problem. Orlu was then calm and peaceful as well as united. When you call meeting, everyone will be desirous to attend. But the Senator for Orlu now, who is now in the Senate does not know how to carry his brothers along and I believe that these crises are being fuelled. But I think the Governor has handled it maturely and I want to thank the Governor for naming one of the greatest sons of Orlu K. O. Mbadiwe as the name of a university. K. O. Mbadiwe has done great for Orlu, Imo State and Nigeria. You can see the kind of person the Governor is. He didn’t name the university in his own brother’s name or in his own personal name but he remembered that the man K. O suffered for Imo State and for Nigeria and he was remembered as an Orlu son. You can also see how he wants to fix Chief Sam Mbakwe home, who is our own greatest leader (Agbawu Dike Izu). The Governor has gone there to try to fix his house and make it a modern house. These are things he is doing for people who have sacrificed a lot for the state, not for their own personal interest and also I am appealing to Governor Uzodimma to modernize Orlu. Imo State cannot have only Owerri, where everybody goes. Orlu should be modernized. Orlu is a trading city. Orlu should be modernized and Okigwe should be modernized. Okigwe has been known for trading in cows. So, let him modernize Orlu, the same way he is handling Owerri. They should think of how to come out with master plan to modernize all these cities. Lagos has Ikeja and Lagos Island. Anambra has Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha. Orlu has the commercial strength to compete with Nnewi. They are close by to each other, even to Onitsha. We cannot have three Governors from Orlu and you are still talking of no good roads in Orlu. I praise him for developing Owerri. It is the right thing to do. He has done well for Owerri people and he is doing more and I am sure that by the time he leaves office there will be no bad road in Owerri. I am sure he will complete most of the projects he initiated.
Don’t you think that he might have in mind doing it turn by turn. Like as he is developing Owerri now, the next turn might be Orlu and the next Okigwe?
Yes, I know he is capable but also I have to appeal to him as Orlu son, to remind him that Orlu City has been there. We had two governors before him, they didn’t do any thing for Orlu. They didn’t modernize Orlu and I know as a Governor now, he will do it. That’s why I am reminding him. I am not saying that he doesn’t have the plans but I am appealing that he should look into Orlu City. That is where I come from because “asi esi na ulo amara mma pua ama.” I can’t be talking about any other place without talking of my own place too. Yes, Owerri is my state capital and Owerri is being taken care of now. So, I am appealing to him also to look at Orlu, how he can modernize Orlu to a modern city, whereby people can start to invest comfortably there. A lot of people want to build hotels, shoprites and every other thing in Orlu but the city has to be modernized like a normal city. So, I am appealing to the Governor to look into the area. I know he has plans for Orlu. I know that he is somebody who doesn’t forget where he comes from.
Now let’s look at your own Local Government Nwangele. How do you see the socio political developments in Nwangele Local Government Area?
You know, Nwangele right from time is a Local Government that nobody dictates what they do. They do things according to what they believe in and if you can recall, Nwangele is the only Local Government that endorsed Senator Hope Uzodimma as their sole candidate for Governor. So, I believe that the Senator also has done well for Nwangele, in fairness to him, by giving us the Deputy Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, in the person of Amara Chyna Iwuanyanwu and also a Commissioner, who is one of my senior brothers Nze Dr. C. C. Osuala, who is also an intellectual. He also appointed our son Hon. Dr. Batos Nwadike, the Oyi of Igbo land, his Political Adviser, just as he appointed our son Dr. Uzoma the Liaison Officer at the Imo State Liaison Office, Lagos. He is even doing more for us and this is the same way he is doing for other Local Governments, not just Nwangele. He is going round. He is doing a lot of things in different Local Governments and we in Nwangele are not left behind. I think he has done well and Nwangele people are solidly behind him. Whatever support we can give him, we will give him because as the only Local Government that endorsed him as their candidate for Governor; all the leaders endorsed him as their sole candidate during the election time. I don’t think that it is now that he is Governor that we will not support him.
You see how Governor Hope Uzodimma has tried to see that he recovers Imo properties and wealth in the hands of Rochas Okorocha. How do you look at that?
You know, if you know Senator Hope , he is a man who doesn’t bear grudges at heart. I can bet you that he is a man that even when you offend him, when he sees you, he will laugh. Every human being has his own character, at least, when he is angry, even if it is to his own daughter or wife but I don’t think that Hope is a man who carries something at heart, like OK, you’ve offended me, I am going to punish you. I don’t think he has that kind of heart. Anybody that is close to him knows that even when you offend him he will forgive you. He will just laugh over it. I think, in terms of the issue between Uzodimma and the former governor Senator Rochas Okorocha, I don’t think it is anything that has to do with intrigues or being bad or whatever. I think Hope is a man that believes in doing the right thing and he doesn’t do it alone. He carries everybody along. As long as Imo people want him to recover their stolen wealth, I think that is what he is doing now. Even if it happened to be his father, he is still going to do the same thing. He is a man that doesn’t support evil. So, the thing is that he is doing the right thing and it is the right thing to do. Okorocha is from Orlu. He is also our brother but if he does what is wrong , we won’t keep our mouth shut because he is our brother. The Governor is making sure that Imo wealth, not only in Okoricha’s hands, some people are making mistake; there are other people who have Imo wealth, apart from Okorocha, going by that White Paper; the Governor is making sure that all these Imo wealth are fully recovered. I don’t know why people are talking about Okorocha Okorocha, there are people who have had land for ten years that government, not even Okorocha as a person but government of Okorocha collected their lands, which Governor Uzodimma is trying to address and give those people back their land. It’s their land. You can’t acquire a land for over ten years and somebody from nowhere revokes the property and gives it to another person because he is his friend or his brother. It is not the right thing. People should look at this not as a personal issue but something that has to do with general issue in Imo State. There is a lot of land issues in the state; somebody’s property pulled down without due process. Somebody may have a property but because you are having political differences with him, you go and pull all his properties, saying that you are doing one or two things in that area. These are the things Senator Uzodimma is handling now in order to correct those anomalies so that there will be peace and love in the state, so that development will come back and you have trust in Imo because you can’t go and buy a land, say for #20,000 to develop an estate and by the time you start doing construction there, you get paper from the government saying that your land has been revoked. Some of them are in court for about eight to 20:years now. So, this is not about Okorocha, it is about general problem of land and most of the properties in Imo State that were not acquired in the right way. So, people shouldn’t be thinking as if it is all about Okorocha. After all Hope did not set up that panel. It was Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha who set up the panel. So, it wasn’t like Uzodimma was having a personal issue with Okorocha to say oh let me nail him. No. It wasn’t so. This job has been done since by another government. So, what Uzodimma is doing is to implement it and if he doesn’t implement it, Imo people will cause him because they know the truth which are sacred, black and white facts. I think everyone should encourage him to do more; to make sure that Imo properties in the hands of some people are retrieved and the ones that people own that are given to other people are retrieved and given back to the right owners. So, I thank him for all his actions and I pray for him that God will protect him and he will succeed.
Hospitality business in Owerri, where you have a lot of hotels, have become very rampant. How do you see the development?
It is a good thing. Owerri has the biggest number of hotels, I can say, in Nigeria, even more than Lagos but the environment is becoming a kind of an eyesore that everybody wants to own a hotel. I think it is high time that government looked into their licences and may be try to limit them and make people who have money to invest in other ventures like building small scale industries. I know their existence is not helping the state develop infrastructure. For instance, where we are in this Lagos, we are in Island, if people are doing their own investment, they contribute money to make sure that their road infrastructure is taken care of. When the government doesn’t have enough fund, they will build the roads. Look at, in Owerri, somebody will come and do an investment of #1 billion, #500 million, he can bring out #50 million, even #10 million to do an interlocking road, not even an asphalt road, or concrete road, so that his business will move more better. Everybody is waiting for government to come and do nook and corner roads and the hotels are there. In Lagos, people are establishing their businesses and doing their infrastructures. The State Government should change its policy. All these hotels should do their roads. It doesn’t cost much. I think, in my own view, government should stop issuing licences for hotels and start channelling such monies to small scale industries like in Nnewi and other cities in other states. We have to be productive. We have big big hotels where all these spare parts are sold, people can produce the spare parts. People can produce a lot of things if the money they want to use to site hotels is channelled towards small scale industries.
Muhammadu Buhari GCFR
President & Commander In-chief
Federal Republic of Nigeria & the Armed forces
Aso Rock Abuja.