Former Minister of Interior, Captain Emmanuel Ihenacho is one man that does not sit on the fence when it comes to issues of public importance. In this interview, the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 2015 governorship election in Imo State, speaks on corruption, immunity clause, regrets and ordeal in Imo state.
You contested for the governorship of Imo state in 2015 and lost. Do you have any regrets?
Of course I have a lot of regrets. We really worked very hard to try and reach the Imo State electorate; to try and convey to them the importance of their participation in the electoral process. This is because through their participation, they would elect somebody who will be the custodian of the commonwealth of Imo people. And that person will be charged with the responsibility of developing policies for education, health, social welfare, jobs, and infrastructure development. It was important that in participating in that election, we kept in mind the fact that we had to elect somebody who through the benefit of experience and exposure would be best suited for delivery of dividends of democracy. Unfortunately, I don’t think we had a good election; the organization of the election left a lot to be desired. All the so-called technological innovations that were supposed to have helped in ensuring that the people’s will was actually captured and was represented did not function.
There was the overwhelming influence of corruption, where money played a significant role in determining who emerged. So, my regret is that we had such a wonderful opportunity indeed, to try to better the lives of the Imolites through our participation in the election, but the way it was organized, we blew it in the wind. Look at what we have in Imo State today. It leaves much to be desired. We talked about free education; we said that education can never really be free, because you need resources to actually provide education for people. You have to pay teachers, buy materials, erect infrastructure. So, anybody who tells you that education is free is not telling you the truth. The best that could have been said for education is to say that it is a choice. If you have free education, the resources that you expend on it will not be available to be spent in other areas.
If you go to Imo State today, infrastructure is absolutely in dilapidation. In addition to the problems we have had with dilapidated infrastructure arising from inadequate resources to build what is required, we have programmes that one cannot really understand – destroying existing infrastructure, destroying roads, destroying gutters, destroying all kinds of things when there does not seem to be any money to repair them. So, when you go down there and see the impact these things have in the lives of the people, you marvel. When it rains, everywhere is flooded. It is horrible. We really missed the opportunity indeed to redefine ourselves, to position our people, to position our state as one that will march forward in terms of technological development, investments, and create jobs for the people, educational policies that will provide for the youth so that they will be employable when they get out of school. We are really, really in a lot of problems in Imo state. The chance we had, unfortunately we blew it.
What are the main challenges confronting Imo state today because it is always in the news mainly for all the wrong reasons.
That is true in Imo as in any other states of the federation. The potential that one has on impacting on the lives of the people whether for good or bad, starts with the quality of the person who is in charge of that state. If you have a government that really takes into account the need to carry out critical analysis of the source of our people’s problems. But if you have somebody at the helm of affairs that does not have the basic capacity to carry out this critical analysis, who from time to time, in a random way begins to knock down houses without a pre-evaluation plan on how to get money to fund the reconstruction, then there is a problem. And you knock down some of these things without due process, without checking the impact on the environment. So, the state is in a state of quandary. That is where we are. One does not understand where the priorities lie. Everything is being done at random and it is better to have a situation where the decision making of government is a collegial affair, where people from different backgrounds and professional disciplines participate. A situation that gives the impression that we are under an authoritarian leadership, and when we do not know that the dictator himself does not really know what he is doing, then confusion of the type we are seeing now continues to reign.
You are seeing dictatorship in Imo state now?
You answer that question. Do you see that we are having a proper administration there? Do you see that people are consulted? Do you see that the feelings of people are taken into account? Are people respected? Do you see peoples’ houses being damaged, broken into without anybody talking to them, without any talk of compensation? Do you see due process in any of the things that are being done? Do you see people diligently inviting environmentalists to weigh the impact of any of these things that is being done? These things are not being done. It is apparent to all and it is not good for our state.
In 2010/2011 when you were a minister, you were in the vanguard of moves to install the present government in Imo state. What went wrong?
I have no idea what went wrong. I always act in accordance with what I see at any particular time. When there was a feeling that the government that was there was not doing particularly well and that there was need to have a change, everybody supported that move for change. When that change came, I am sorry to say that it is making the person that was removed from office look like an angel. It is so sad.
What do you say to the Imo people over this disenchantment?
The truth of the matter is that within the past couple of years; a lot of things have happened that really should give Imolites the opportunity for sober reflection. Sober reflection on the roles most people played in the elections of 2015. You are aware that people were alleged to have collected money to cast their votes for some people for a plate of rice, two pieces of meat and N1, 500. They sold their franchise. We told them “don’t sell your franchise”, because when you eat that plate of rice and have N1,500, what happens to you in the next four years?. What happens to your children? What happens to their education? What happens to their job prospects? Who is speaking up for them? These are the messages we gave to them and we continue to talk about them on radio, newspapers, but unfortunately there are some cynical individuals who are only concerned about what they eat today. They have eaten it now and it is just two years, everybody is complaining.
There is this controversy over the spate of demolitions in Owerri and the refuse dumps in the major streets. What is your take on that?
The whole thing is entirely squalid. The issue of disposing of rubbish shouldn’t be a controversial one. It shouldn’t be a big issue. It should have to do with working out a programme of everybody bringing out his or her rubbish and putting it in a designated place and awaiting the time the rubbish van will pass through, and they pick it up. Look at what has happened in Owerri where a whole street, a thoroughfare is turned into a rubbish dump, the perceived potential that it implies and the absolute nonchalance of the people who are supposed to take care of the health of the people, and they are sitting down there saying it is punishment for some people for not allowing things to happen in one way or the other. It is the dumbest thing that anybody can ever imagine. If institutions were not destroyed in Imo state, and I am talking about political institutions where we have government at that level, local governments with responsibilities, it would have been the job of the local governments to clear the mess from the streets. It is their duty to see to the sanitation of Owerri urban area with well laid out logistics. We have a situation where PDP people on one hand would come to clear the rubbish, and then the PDP rubbish packers now split into two factions and begin to confront each other.
To what extent were you affected by the demolition of structures in Owerri?
My house was demolished. My driver informed me that somebody marked something on my wall. I told him it was not possible because my house is far away from the road. I made calls to those in power telling them that I had seen their marking but they should not come to my house. I never heard from them. We then went to court to try and forestall them and we got an injunction to stop anybody trespassing on my property. A few days later, the person at the top in the state led the bulldozers there, and personally supervised the destruction of my property. The painful thing was that after the destruction of my property and we left it for nearly two months waiting to see what they will do and they didn’t do anything, I then came back and recovered my house. And because the wind was eating away the foundation, we put some remedial structures at the base. The second person in command in the state led the bulldozers the second time to destroy it even though the injunction was in force and is still in force. They gouged a six foot deep trench in front of my house so that I can no longer have access to my house. I have not had access to my house for more than three months. And it didn’t matter to them that there was a family at the back of the house with three small children. They were trapped there for days. If you go there today you will see it. I left it like that because I wanted the whole world to continue to ask who did this.
What is your proposal for a better Nigeria?
I will continue to agitate for the removal of the immunity clause from the constitution. If you want to be a custodian of the peoples’ patrimony, you can‘t destroy peoples’ houses maliciously and people cannot sue you. Nigeria is a Third world country and we cannot afford the liberties that even people in first world countries don’t enjoy. You build in immunity into the constitution and allow people who had gotten to office through questionable means to have the capacity to destroy peoples’ houses and say the law does not touch them. Those in charge of governance in Imo state do not know that they have a moral responsibility over and above what is enshrined in the constitution to protect the citizens, to ensure good governance, to ensure that anything they do, they follow due process. I do not understand how anybody would want to widen the road at the expense of the houses that people live in.