The Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, Tuesday met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja. Mr Uzodinma told journalists after the meeting that he discussed the erosion ravaging parts of his state with the president. The governor also spoke about his stance on his party, APC, zoning its 2023 presidential ticket to the Southeast. He also spoke on the APC situation in his state and his relationship with his predecessor, Rochas Okorocha.
Read excerpts of his interview with State House reporters below.
Uzodinma: I came to see Mr President, first to greet him and share some of the issues that are confronting my administration in Imo State. In specific terms the issue of erosion, the level of erosion in Imo State is alarming and I have taken time to explain to Mr President and he has assured me that the Federal Government will intervene as soon as possible.
I used the opportunity also to bring to his knowledge the development in the South East and that our people are grateful on the completion and opening of the Enugu Airport and we are also happy with the speed and the pace of work at the Second Niger Bridge and the various agric intervention programmes he brought to South East; and also use the same opportunity to ask for more because you know in this business, the more you get, you must ask for more. I am sure and I believe that Mr President is committed towards alleviating some of the problems in the South East region and Imo in particular.
Q: There is a bye election in Imo North Senatorial District and it appears that APC may not do well because of internal crisis, what is your opinion on this?
Uzodinma: If you understand my history and know where I am coming from, you will agree with me that my knowledge of party management is robust and I can assure you that issues and activities that took place before election, of course any seasoned and experienced party administrator who is in-charge like I am now will do his best to ensure that there is no faction or all those factors that would weaken the strength of the party in the state.
On the contrary, of late, I have taken time to unite the party, bring all the people in. You must have heard how 23 members of the House of Assembly left their parties and have joined APC. You must have heard how a sitting state chairman of the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) left PDP and joined the APC with his executive. You must have also heard how AA (Action of Alliance), the followers of former Governor Rochas Okorocha, have also joined back the APC. APC is the ruling party and APC is very strong not only in Imo State, it is growing from strength to strength now in the entire South East region.
Q: There has been agitation in the South East for the zone to produce the president come 2023. But former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor-Kalu, said any person can contest from anywhere and that APC hasn’t zoned it, what is your reaction?
Uzodinma: Well you know the position is not vacant now, there is a sitting president and we are practicing partisan democracy and not tribal democracy. So the emergence of presidential candidate will come on party by party basis, not tribe by tribe basis. But if there are other internal factors that will form part of the considerations for parties taking decision of course, that will be entirely the job of the leadership of those political parties and I think that is the right thing to do.
Q: What is the situation with the protesting pensioners? Have you been able to reach amicable settlement, have their grievances been resolved?
Uzodinma: Well, the issue of pension in Imo State like I did say in so many fora where I had the opportunity to speak to press men is that I met a pension system that was analogue based where the number of pensioners are not known, where those who are pensioners are not known where those who are not pensioners are receiving pension.
So I embarked on the process of automation and this is a recommendation from World Bank under their SFTAS (States’ Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability) programme.
Of course because of the automation we had some slight delay in meeting up with the regular payment of pensioners. But now that we have almost finished with the automation, there is no verified pensioner in Imo State that has not received his pension allowance since I became the governor.
And true to it, we have captured most of the biometrics of those who were not captured under the former regime. The leadership of Nigeria Union of Pensioners Imo State branch is working with us, they even have a desk in their office taking complaints and regularizing those who have not been verified to be verified before they will be paid.
But we have this experience of political opponents who hired those who are not pensioners to carry out protest and 15 or 20 of them have been remanded in prison custody, those that were caught with arms and ammunition. It is a criminal issue, they are not pensioners. Those that were caught by police that were remanded are not pensioners. Of course the matter is now in court. But I can tell you if there is anybody from Imo State who says he is pensioner, tell him to give you his new ID card because we have a new ID card with biometrics.
We have introduced Nips automation, once we have you BVN and bank details, you don’t need to go to anybody to ask for your pension. Only yesterday I received a team from the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Auditor General of the Federation who came for SFTAS inspection and they were marveled with the level of automation I have done within short period. What we are trying to do in Imo State now is e-governance so that we can make life easier for our people.
Q: What’s going on between you and former governor Rochas Okorocha?
Uzodinma: On the issue of Okorocha, the former governor, he is my brother, my very good brother in whom I am well please. I have no issue with him, the only thing is that he is now the former governor and I am now the current governor. Once we understand that, we don’t have any issue.
I don’t know of what happened before I became the governor but you know I am a parliamentarian and under the law we have National Council of Environment and Ecological Fund. It is a discretionary fund, it takes only the approval of the president for those funds to be used. If you identify ecological site that requires intervention and you write to the president through the Secretary to the Federal Government and they consider some of the projects, those projects will be awarded by the Ecological Fund office. I don’t know of money being given to governors, maybe this was before my time but what I have done is to identify the critical areas. If you go to Federal University of Technology, Owerri, towards Avu, you will see that the road is almost being cut into two and because of the population of students living across the other side, if nothing is done, you find a situation where students will not have access to their usual lectures and again the lives and property of those in those areas are also threatened.
If you recall in 1982, President Shagari visited Imo State of then and made a promise to correct Amucha erosion, that Amucha erosion has so degraded to the extent that it is now a death trap. Incidentally it is part of the area that the Imo State government is struggling now to get Julius Berger to dualize the road. I am sure that if the Federal Government intervenes and takes the erosion aspect of the road, it will be cheaper for Imo State and affordable for us to pay a contractor like Julius Berger to now concentrate on the road alone. So these are some of the things I brought to the knowledge of Mr. President and I can assure you, in his usual magnanimous manner, he is committed because he has the listening ear.
When I resumed on January, you will recall last year, Owerri people were going to market using canoe. The level of flooding in Owerri was terrible so what I did first was to review the Owerri master plan, identify the drawing of the drainage system established since 1981 and then got in touch with the company that did the job from Isreal.