In early February, the Executive Director of the US-based African Writers Endowment, Dr. Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji, returned to Nigeria only three weeks after he had departed following the celebration of the 80th birthday for his mother in January, 2020. A chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) at Lorji Ward, Aboh Mbaise, Imo State Dr. Ugorji holds a Master’s degree in Homeland Security and a doctorate degree in educational administration and leadership. In this interview, he told NIGERIAN NEWSLEADER about his observations of the young administration of Imo Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma.
What brings you back so quickly after you returned to the US following the celebration of your mother’s 80th birthday in January?
It is my country. And it is my state. I come back as often as I can. In fact, I come back to the village more often than many of our folks who reside in Abuja or Lagos. The Chairman of the APC at Lorji, Mr. Onyekwere Ukanwa, and members of the party in Mbaise, asked that I return to help them have a voice in the new political developments in Imo State. I also came back to honor the invitation of Chief SOS Echendu, who was initiated as a Knight of St. Christopher of the Anglican Church, at Ife, Mbaise on February 22, 2020. Echendu is the National President of Mbaise-USA.
Can you do an appraisal of the state of affairs in Imo state as you see it?
It is a little too early to give an objective and indebt appraisal of the state of affairs. What I see is calm among the citizenry. I see a governor (Hope Uzodinma) who is in charge, including firing non-performing contractors – displaying a necessary sense of urgency to get the work of the people done. His first appointments are sound. And he appears to be prudent and guarded in deliberations leading up to the formation of his full cabinet.
From your findings, would you say that Governor Hope Uzodinma is starting out on a good note?
Yes. The governor would agree, however, that it can and will get better. I know he has an agenda for Imo State, but the reality of his ascension now demands strategic planning and strategic communication. Press releases without strategy is not helpful. He will have no honey moon – so he has to hit the ground running. There needs to be an urgent segmentation of the stakeholders at the local, state, national, and international arenas, with targeted communication strategies. A tiger does not have to talk his tigritude – he just has to tigrify.
Among actions or steps he has taken was his directive that the controversial 30% minimum wage payment to Imo workers should commence. But considering his lamentation that Imo is in serious financial distress, is the new wage structure feasible?
I don’t have the data he has, so I will defer to him. In an interview I gave in 2016 or thereabout, I opined that President Buhari should have used the loots recovered by his administration from corrupt officials, and the savings he has made in closing loopholes for kleptomania, to fund the minimum wage for federal workers. At a stage in my life I was a labor activist; so I am elated at Governor Uzodinma’s pledge to pay the minimum wage to Imo State workers. He has walked his talk by announcing he would forgo security votes and deploy same to meeting this promise. Yes, it is feasible. Where there is the political will, there will be a way.
With the strong apprehension in your party (APC) about the Supreme Court review of the Imo Governorship case, is there hope for your party in the end?
I don’t see much of an apprehension. Governor Uzodinma has so far demonstrated to APC members in Imo State that where there is HOPE, there is hope. The party’s outlook in Imo and in Igbo land in general, has taken a dramatic turn full of hope, thanks to Governor Hope. He is about to reunite a party in Imo that was fractured by a succession gambit by the former governor that went terribly wrong.
Speaking as a citizen of the state, what kind of government do you expect Governor Hope Uzodinmma to run vis a vis the present need of the state?
We in Imo State are a freedom people. A government that would be more helpful and less intrusive, would work best. A competent set of administrators would suit us just fine. An accountable, ethical and open-door style would be great. Beyond that, the governor should get to pursue his agenda, not mine. What we as citizens owe him is a state-centered cadre of operatives to move the state forward. And we owe ourselves vigilance.
During the last governorship election in Imo, you were in the country and you supported Hope Uzodinmma. What was your rationale?
I am a member of the APC. I joined publicly in 2015. I was among those APC members in Imo State who found Governor Okorocha’s succession plan in 2019 totally unacceptable. The equity consideration recommended that Okorocha’s successor come from Imo East. But as things unfolded, a much more important issue became the prevention of a family-centered succession plan. The only person in APC who could have prevented that (and who in fact prevented that) was Senator Hope Uzodinma. When he emerged as my party’s nominee, whatever other flirtations some of us had, ended and we supported him. Twice now, he has surmounted what appeared insurmountable.
What is your advice to those protesting the governorship victory of Senator Hope Uzodinma?
I am a democrat. The right of protest is an important tenement of democracy. Protests are actually healthy for the release of steam and pent-up energy. The protests, however, should be within the confines of the relevant laws, peaceful, and respectful of Nigeria’s sovereignty. The idea of showing up at foreign embassies to protest a Supreme Court ruling in a governorship election makes no sense at all. Soliciting foreign punitive measures on Supreme Court justices because you disagree with their ruling, is profoundly disrespectful of the nation’s sovereignty. Nigeria ceased being a colony almost 60 years ago. And engaging in a parochial or partisan protest can be counter-productive to the cause of the protesters.
How about the cross-carpeting of former PDP members in Imo State to the APC?
What about it?
What’s your reaction to the mass movement of politicians who were with Emeka Ihedioha, to the APC since the Supreme Court ruling?
In the US, we have a Republican President Trump who was a Democrat for most of his life. We now have an Independent, Senator Bernie Sanders, who appears poised to win the Democratic nomination for president. And we have former Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York who is now running for president in the Democratic Party. What you refer to as the recent cross-carpeting in Imo appears to be public and political statements of attraction to Hope Uzodinmamore than anything else. Politics is not a monkhood. Interests and passions still dominate the political landscape.
Would you advice the Governor on a 5-point cardinal agenda he must accomplish in his first 100 days in office going by the needs of Imo people?
No. Let the governor pursue his agenda. He is the man. The 100 day time frame is arbitrary and irrelevant. He has four years to deliver.
There is serious controversy over whether or not, your party's national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, should quit or stay. What is your position?
Let internal democracy and the rule of law within the party prevail.
The leader of your party, President Muhammadu Buhari, is said by some to have not properly put round pegs in round holes in terms of appointments and replacement of heads of federal agencies. What are your thoughts about that?
I have faith in PMB and his appointments.