Ohakim: Those Feign­ing Ig­no­rance of Re­struc­tur­ing are Liars

A for­mer gov­er­nor of Imo State, Dr Ikedi Ohakim, in an in­ter­view with Amby Uneze, took a swipe at those claim­ing not to un­der­stand what re­struc­tur­ing the coun­try means ac­cus­ing them of be­ing eco­nom­i­cal with the truth. Ex­cerpts:

THISDAY - - POLITICS - NOTE: In­ter­ested read­ers should con­tinue in the on­line edition on www.this­daylive.com

What do you think is the so­lu­tion to the lead­er­ship prob­lem in Nige­ria? The so­lu­tion is very sim­ple once we are ready to change the sys­tem. The prob­lem in Nige­ria is sys­temic and there­fore its so­lu­tion must be sys­temic. If you bring a Barack Obama here or wake up Nel­son Man­dela or Mar­garet Thatcher to gov­ern Nige­ria, they will fail be­cause the sys­tem won’t let them suc­ceed. Re­mem­ber that at a point, Pres­i­dent Buhari con­fessed that what he saw after as­sum­ing of­fice tempted him to think of run­ning away. The sys­tem we cur­rently have is struc­tured for fail­ure. It has not worked for 50 years. Each pres­i­dent or head of state would serve his own ten­ure and go and leave the highly frac­tured sys­tem be­hind.

So, the sys­tem must be re­designed to shift it from con­sump­tion ori­ented to pro­duc­tion ori­ented. What we op­er­ate cur­rently is a sys­tem of cap-in­hand in­stead of hoe-in-hand. The struc­ture was de­signed for shar­ing, not for pro­duc­ing. How did we come about 774 lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­eas? Was it not be­cause of shar­ing men­tal­ity? If the sys­tem were based on pro­duc­tion, we would not have the num­ber of lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­eas and even states we have to­day. If the sys­tem was such that peo­ple needed to go and work and then bring some­thing to the cen­tral ta­ble, no­body will ag­i­tate for states. Ini­tially, the idea was that states would take de­vel­op­ment closer to the peo­ple. But what did we end up with? We ended up with states that can­not gen­er­ate half of what they need sim­ply be­cause there is money to share in Abuja ev­ery month. It is not the fault of the state gov­ern­ments per se. It is be­cause the sys­tem al­lows it. The sys­tem al­lows for shar­ing not pro­duc­ing. But whether we like it or not, some­thing has to give. What we now have is a burst pipe but in­stead of call­ing a plumber to re­place it, we are merely scoop­ing wa­ter. But no amount of scoop­ing can solve the prob­lem. What we need is to change the pipe.

Are you talk­ing about re­struc­tur­ing? Yes, of course I was among the first set of peo­ple to start the de­bate on re­struc­tur­ing. To­day, the ar­gu­ment has be­come trite. Ev­ery­body is talk­ing about it. I re­main res­o­lute on my stand that the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ment is no longer work­ing. So, let us re­struc­ture the coun­try po­lit­i­cally. Ei­ther we re­struc­ture or we die. But hav­ing said that, I want to ask us to find out why the talk about re­struc­tur­ing has gained so much cur­rency. Why is it that peo­ple who never liked the idea be­fore sud­denly de­vel­oped so much in­ter­est on the mat­ter? My take is that if it were about un­em­ploy­ment, bad roads or inad­e­quate elec­tric­ity sup­ply alone, no­body would be talk­ing about re­struc­tur­ing. The re­struc­tur­ing is­sue gath­ered mo­men­tum ow­ing to the fact that the sep­a­ratist move­ments, across the coun­try have got­ten to a stage where it is threat­en­ing the cor­po­rate ex­is­tence of the coun­try.

But some lead­ers say they do not un­der­stand what it means? It is not true. They know what it means. They are be­ing eco­nom­i­cal with the truth. We have a sit­u­a­tion where a set of politi­cians came to­gether some time ago and wrote a party’s man­i­festo with which they can­vassed for votes, promis­ing to re­struc­ture the coun­try if voted into of­fice and with the ar­gu­ment that the present sys­tem is no longer work­ing. But less than two years later, the same peo­ple are say­ing that they do not know what re­struc­tur­ing means. So, what did they have in mind when they were promis­ing Nige­ri­ans re­struc­tur­ing? That is the height of na­tional de­ceit and I chal­lenge the lead­ers of that party to tell Nige­ri­ans what they had in mind in­stead of pre­tend­ing. We are talk­ing about build­ing a new foun­da­tion for the coun­try called Nige­ria to avoid dis­in­te­gra­tion. We are talk­ing about ren­o­vat­ing an an­cient build­ing that can no longer ac­com­mo­date its oc­cu­pants. To­day, we can group Nige­ria into two; the ad­van­taged and the dis­ad­van­taged. We must bring the two to­gether by re­struc­tur­ing the coun­try so that both sides can find ac­com­mo­da­tion to­gether. If we don’t re­struc­ture, the sep­a­ratist ag­i­ta­tions will con­tinue and even in­ten­sify. Per­son­ally, I have been talk­ing about re­struc­tur­ing since 2010 in a pa­per I pre­sented at the Lead­er­ship news­pa­per col­lo­quium. Those who say no to re­struc­tur­ing should save Nige­ri­ans the agony of con­tin­u­ing with the present sys­tem. The coun­try is go­ing down. This is not the time to pre­tend. A mas­sive flood is com­ing with a full speed and if we do not do some­thing now, it will sweep ev­ery­body away.

You just turned 60, what does that mean to you? What turn­ing sixty means to me is the need to show grat­i­tude to God for the gift of life? To be sixty and still en­joy a fan­tas­ti­cally good health as I do is some­thing to re­ally thank God for. Be­yond that, how­ever, I think it con­fers on me more re­spon­si­bil­ity for look­ing after the younger ones and guid­ing them so that they can also suc­ceed like me.

You mean men­tor­ing? Nat­u­rally yes. That is what is ex­pected of us but I can tell you that that can­not be taken for granted. As I said be­fore, at­tain­ing this age with all the ex­pe­ri­ence of life de­mands that I pay more at­ten­tion to the younger ones. It is not that I have not been do­ing that; what I am say­ing is that we will do more from now on­wards. Much of the prob­lem we are fac­ing to­day is as a re­sult of poor men­tor­ing. You no­tice that most peo­ple who held lead­er­ship po­si­tions aban­don the role of lead­er­ship im­me­di­ately they leave of­fice. They no longer make them­selves avail­able to the younger peo­ple. That should not be. For me, hold­ing an elec­tive or ap­pointive po­lit­i­cal of­fice is to pre­pare one for more lead­er­ship re­spon­si­bil­ity after of­fice.

What in­spires you? My source of in­spi­ra­tion is that I know what it means to suc­ceed as a young man. I be­came the pres­i­dent-gen­eral of my town union at the age of 25 and held the po­si­tion for nine years.

When I was in of­fice as gov­er­nor, my ad­min­is­tra­tion had an elec­torate pro­gramme for youth de­vel­op­ment. We cre­ated over 300,000 jobs di­rectly and in­di­rectly. We had a spe­cial pro­gramme that took in 10,000 youths di­rectly into the state civil ser­vice. And we in­vested heav­ily on sports and it paid off hand­somely. For ex­am­ple, Imo state un­der my watch won the African Hockey Cham­pi­onship. The state foot­ball club, Heart­land, emerged sec­ond run­ner up in the 2010 African Cup of Cham­pi­ons at the fi­nals played in Congo Demo­cratic Repub­lic. You asked me what in­spires me to work for the in­ter­est of the youth and I can now add that part of it is the way those young men and women were treated by the ad­min­is­tra­tion that took over from us. In or out of po­lit­i­cal of­fice, we will not re­lent un­til Imo youths get bet­ter treat­ment from their lead­ers es­pe­cially the gov­ern­ment.

Your re­sponse tends to sug­gest that you may still run for pub­lic of­fice? There are nu­mer­ous ways of work­ing for the peo­ple with­out be­ing in gov­ern­ment. In any case, a lot of peo­ple have cre­ated so many op­por­tu­ni­ties for the youth through pri­vate en­ter­prises. But given the present sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, my ideas do not pre­clude us­ing the plat­form of a pub­lic of­fice, in­clud­ing that of the gov­er­nor, to pur­sue our dream of mak­ing my state, Imo, an eco­nom­i­cally vi­brant en­tity where em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties will abound and where the stan­dard of liv­ing will be greatly en­hanced.

What was your ex­pe­ri­ence like as gov­er­nor? We ran a sound ad­min­is­tra­tion. We ran an ad­min­is­tra­tion that was an­chored on the rule of law. We con­sulted ex­ten­sively and it was not a one man show. Even though our op­po­nents used ru­mour mon­ger­ing as a de­vice to run us down and given the type of so­ci­ety we have, where peo­ple be­lieve ev­ery­thing bad about those in gov­ern­ment, we still won the gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion on April 26th 2011. But that is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter al­to­gether. To­day, I have the last laugh be­cause our peo­ple have now re­alised that they were de­ceived. They have seen the dif­fer­ence as in the prover­bial woman who mar­ried two hus­bands.

Do you have any re­grets po­lit­i­cally? My only re­gret is the un­timely death of Pres­i­dent Yar’adua be­cause he was a self­less leader. Look at the way he han­dled the Niger Delta is­sue, the amnesty pro­gramme which al­most brought the cri­sis in that re­gion to an end. If he had con­tin­ued, we would not have been talk­ing about re­struc­tur­ing to­day. He would have laid the foun­da­tion for a prag­matic re­struc­tur­ing of the coun­try. Other than that, I have no re­grets be­cause I was sin­cere in all that I did. I ren­dered self­less ser­vice and was con­cerned with lay­ing a solid foun­da­tion for the eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment of the state. I was not out to amass wealth for my­self or mem­bers of my fam­ily. The only prop­er­ties I have to­day in the whole of Imo state are the ones I ac­quired more than fif­teen years be­fore I be­came gov­er­nor; a three bed­room bun­ga­low in Ow­erri and a vil­lage house in Oko­hia, my home town. I did not ac­quire a sin­gle plot of land in Ow­erri. In­stead, a piece of land I was given by a pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion I gave to a top po­lice of­fi­cer from the state who was re­tir­ing from ser­vice and had nowhere to build his own house. I never re­voked any­body’s land ti­tle.

Ohakim...cel­e­brated 60th birth­day re­cently

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