2027 Guber: Okigwe Zone, Ohakim Should Take Over From Uzodimma-Prince Bob Njemanze (INTERVIEW)

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One issue that has refused to die in Imo State politics is the Charter of Equity. This issue became a hot debate in the build-up to the off-cycle 2023 governorship election in Imo State when the Imo State Council of Elders proposed a new Charter of Equity which was adopted by Governor Hope Uzodimma, promising to hand over the reins of power to Owerri Zone. But soon after the governorship election, the heated debate around this issue resumed even when the next election is still years away. In this interview, Prince Bob Njemanze of the Njemanze dynasty in Owerri, shares his thoughts on the issue, asserting that Okigwe Zone has been a victim of the zoning arrangement for the office of the governor, adsing that as things stand today, Okigwe Zone holds the ace for the charter of equity in Imo State. Excerpts:

You turned 81 on the 7th of January 2024. Can you tell us about yourself, your life, and what the journey has been like so far?

I don’t run an advert of myself, really, because those who know me get to know me. I’m 81, even with a name that makes people think I’m 30, because when they call Bob Njemanze, they are all looking for a Bobby or a Bobo or something like that, you know. I mean, I celebrated my 80th birthday last year, and then, this year, in appreciation, the governor made it almost a state affair, and then teased me on my 81st birthday by inviting Bishop Matthew Kukah to come and celebrate mass at the government house chapel, which is something I remain grateful to him for. But apart from that, I have lived a very simple life, but with passion for what happens around me. I’m not a politician, but I can well be said to be very political.

We wanted to ask you whether you consider yourself a politician.

I don’t, but I pick up with issues that are political because every human being has some politics in him. Now, what is politics, anyway? It’s a way and means of survival, governance, what affects you, your well-being. So, even without being a politician, because these days, politics has become a profession. So, when somebody says, “I’m a politician,” he’s not thinking of any other thing. He may have read medicine, law, engineering, and all of that, but all he now thinks of is how to get into that frame of politics, basically for extortion.

So, what is the best way to describe you? A community leader, an activist?

Those who really don’t understand me think I’m an activist. No, I’m not. And I’m not even a community leader. I’m just an elder statesman. Whatever that definition is, because I think that a statesman is somebody who should be dispassionate, who should say the truth the way it is, without minding whose ox is gored, and who does not put his personal and selfish interests above the interests of the people. Now, that’s not arrogating anything to myself because there is no second Jesus Christ, and I’m not claiming to be one. But to the extent of living within the community, living within the state, I try to do the little best I can in making my views, which is my privilege, known. And I stand by my views. Everyone has a right to agree or disagree without insulting the other person. It’s a matter of view.

You are a known voice in the politics of Imo State. In 2011, you were one of the critics of Governor Ikedi Ohakim. Can you tell us what happened?

By and large, I think it was personal. I may not have been particularly involved with what happened thereafter. You see, there’s some jealousy or envy that goes with a relationship. Ikedi Ohakim was a very younger friend of mine. And there are these challenges people have in office. The office is very jealous, very, very jealous. I felt a particular attitude of Ikedi did not go down well with me. Then I mixed it up with the confusion of the people at the time, when they made the allegation that he slapped a reverend father, which turned out later to be false against him. But that does not mean that in the course of his administration, I did not question a number of things. I did, just like I have done in every other administration.

Now that takes me to something else. You see, somebody said to me, ‘you were at the meeting when the Charter of Equity was drawn or agreed, and you made no contributions to that.’ And I said, that was my privilege. I’m entitled to make or not make any contribution. If the contribution I was going to make was what would affect the return of Hope Uzodinma for a second tenure, then it was better I did not make it. That did not mean or does not mean that in the course of his administration, if there is anything I find that is not going well, I will keep quiet. No, it’s a different thing: making it impossible for a man to succeed and helping a man to run a good administration by criticizing a few things in his administration. They are two different things all together. And that’s what people don’t seem to understand when they say to me, every government that comes in, you find fault with them. No.

There is no second Jesus Christ. None. And all of us are fallible. So, if because I supported you to the office, you now take every other person for granted, I will say no. I will point out areas that are not well. See, that’s the mistake we make. I criticized the Ikedi Ohakim’s administration. Maybe, by and large, like I said, it has some personal interest.

Before we return to this issue, let us look at your relationship with past governors and military administrators of Imo State. How do you describe them? Were you quarrelsome with them, or did they give you issues?

No, I don’t think I was quarrelsome with them. Look, from the inception, from Ndubisi Kanu – Ndubisi Kanu came in here, and he was a good friend of mine. He mapped out a program. In fact, when Obasanjo visited and saw the program Ndubisi Kanu had mapped out for Imo State, he took him away from here and sent him to Lagos and brought in Kunle Lawal, again, another friend, depending on how we were growing up. Kunle Lawal came in here, and it was like, how would you call it – a little break in program. He was unable to put together the master plan that Ndubisi Kanu had put together. Luckily for us, they brought in Sunday Adenihun, who took over from him. Adenihun happened to be one of the most vibrant of the administrators or governors we have had in Imo State, and he was very close to me. Now, I will give you an example. Ndubisi Kanu brought in MCC and said, “Do 50-kilometer roads in Owerri, 50 kilometers in Okigwe, 50 kilometers in Umuahia. It’s not a stretch of 50 kilometers. Those were indigenous habitations, and that’s why today, if you go to villages in Owerri, you will see very solid roads with gutter in our various villages. It’s not a question of doing a long stretch of roads, no. And then he went ahead and tried to do the road from Uturu to Ovim, his own area. That was his own idea of, first of all, building up and beefing up the place. Then, he did well in the area of sanitation. But these things were Ndubisi Kanu’s roadmap, which Sunny Adenihun now took over and tried to implement.

Most credit that is given to Mbakwe today ordinarily should have been given to Sunny Adenihun. But the good thing started from Ndubisi. Mbakwe was the chairman of MCC at the time the contract to do most of these things were done. And he was not the one that kick-started it. It was Sunny Adenihun. So, when Adenihun moved out, Mbakwe continued with it. And Mbakwe had a wonderful team working with him. So, it was easy for him to run an administration that the people of Imo appreciate till tomorrow. And that’s why Mbakwe’s name is written on marble. Landmark is different from legacy. Mbakwe has legacies because he was of the same thinking like M.I Okpara, those who so needed to develop where they come from.

Ike Nwachuku took over from Mbakwe. Fortunately or unfortunately, that particular administration was more into what you might call sanitizing. But today, I now look at it, that they were victims. They were victims because when you talk with Ike, you see how clean and definite he is. But then don’t forget that we were running a unitary administration that was under Muhammadu Buhari and Idiagbon at the time. So, people like Mbakwe were hounded, not necessarily by Ike Nwachukwu, but by instructions from above. So, for such a person, you cannot blame him for taking instructions. He handed over to Alison Madueke. Then Madueke handed over to Amadi Ikwechegh. Ikwechegh handed over to Tony Aguguo. Tony Aguguo handed over to Evan Enwerem. You see? So, that’s the way the administration here has gone.

I criticized Colonel Zubairu, who took over from Evan Enwerem. I criticized him very much because Zubairu didn’t mean any ill, but he was just dumb. He was just like something that was dropped on us. He didn’t know how to manage it. So, it was a confused period, and I stood my ground. I criticized him. When they wanted to sell Concorde Hotel, I went to court, and I stopped it. Now, some of these things one has done or still do are not because you want to. In fact, if you are not careful, you ingratiate yourself from the people you are trying to help, not to talk of now being praised for doing them.

It’s a very unfortunate circumstance, though. Then Evan Enwerem came in. The Ohakim you are asking me of served as a commissioner under Enwerem, who, again, was a very good friend of mine. So, I mean, in terms of relationship to the seat of power, I would say that within this confine, this Imo setting, I have had a good relationship with them depending on how the other person sees it. Some might see me as having been very troublesome to them. Others would say, ‘oh, but for him, you know, at least he was able to stop this or stop that.’

Not like Jimmy Aneke, who took over from Enwerem. When they sold Amaraku Power Station, I happened to be the chairman of the public utilities then. I took exception to the selling of that power station and the one at Izombe, and I told the governor so. But when it was sold and they set up a tribunal, I had to go there, and I stated my own side of it. I said, “No, please invite the governor at the time. That’s Jimmy Aneke.” He was the one who would tell you the reason for selling it because it never came to my board. I never looked at it. It wasn’t an issue for me. So, these are the things they would think, and for those who don’t know, they think you are controversial. No, no, it’s not being controversial at all.

Let us go back to the Ikedi Ohakim era. When you read newspapers, I mean newspaper publications of those days. When you google stories on the internet, you see your critical comments, interviews, and all of that. Ohakim lost the election in 2011. Looking back, do you have any regrets for your criticism of that administration?

No, because nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. At the time I made those criticisms, that was what my thinking was. Today, if the same situation occurs with my present disposition, I wasn’t going to do that. But if my thinking is confined to who I was, I would still do the same thing.

In 2011, Ikedi Ohakim lost his re-election bid. But what shocked many was that Owerri Zone did not produce the governor. Rather, the zone supported Rochas Okorocha from Orlu Zone to become governor. What do you think happened?

It was deceit. It was pure deceit. You see, Ikedi Ohakim was a victim of circumstance. And a few of us, like I told you, were opposed to him for personal reasons. But on a larger scale, he was framed up. And Rochas Okorocha came into the polity with what I might call the more you look the less you see. He was able to browbeat everybody with his “philanthropy”. You know, that was ephemeral. That wasn’t real, you know, and showing interest in the poorest of the poor. But I decoded something about this whole thing. I said he was one man who made money by being said to be supportive of the poor. Because how can you establish free education and you didn’t have the capital, you didn’t have the seed money to do it?

So that was really what happened to Ikedi Ohakim. But I will say something to you because I’m sure why you sought to interview me was my recent position on the Charter of Equity. After being in the forefront of Ikedi Ohakim being shoved out of the office, why have I now considered him? Now, those who have succeeded Ikedi Ohakim have not done anything better than him. Two: the circumstance we have found ourselves, and that is what the Owerri Zone must realize. And let me start from Owerri Zone. Let me start from the Senate seat. Every potential candidate for that Owerri Zone Senate seat in 2023 was already a senator. Why? Because they said that the governor promised each and every one of them that seat. Particularly those of them who were in APC. So, let me now compound APC as Owerri Zone. Every candidate that ran for the Senate in APC was already the next senator. Labour and PDP, I will now refer to as Okigwe and Orlu. At the end of the day, Owerri Zone, that is APC, lost out. A senator came from elsewhere.

Now, we say we are doing Charter of Equity, as if Charter of Equity is something embodied in our constitution. It’s not. It’s a very ephemeral and transient thing. And each one you see says the governor says he’s going to hand over to an Owerri Zone person. Yes, he said it before the last election. I was the last person who should contest that statement, but because doing that would be affecting his votes from Owerri Zone. So, I kept quiet. Now, he is in office for a second term, and his position is not challenged, and it is now time for us to tell ourselves the truth. Okigwe, as a zone, has been a victim, and I have always talked about it. The Orlu Zone has and had acted like the Fulanis of Imo State. When it comes to that question of who goes into office, they are very calculated, very meticulous. They are traders in that regard, and they make no mistakes about their gains. And that’s what we have lost sight of. So, every Owerri man is excited that the governor has offered Owerri, has granted us the next time around, succession. We will succeed him, but how do we succeed him? And I said to them, the only arrangement that will make this thing possible for us is an understanding with Okigwe Zone. Because Okigwe has become supplementary in a way. All the Orlu person would need is to pick a few votes from Okigwe, which is quite easy. And then you see the Owerri man crying, “oh, we’ve lost it”, and looking for who to blame.

Why don’t we right away determine the best route to get to that position? And I looked inwards and said to myself, ‘Ikedi Ohakim was denied his second tenure, by and large, by Owerri Zone. That, as an aside. As it is today, he is the only one bound by the constitution to do only one tenure. If we have an understanding with Okigwe Zone, and we bring him back to the office, first of all, we have compensated them. Secondly, there will be no question of him as governor – since governors donate successor – there’s no way Ikedi Ohakim, in the circumstance, will deny Owerri Zone a successor. If governors are in a position to determine their successor, he will not deny Owerri Zone the position. If they are not, he will not be opposed to an Owerri person succeeding him, and he is not coming a second tenure’.

If we deny Ohakim his second tenure and struggle for it, we will find ourselves denying ourselves that which everyone of us look forward to. If anything, I, particularly and personally, would pray and wish that the Owerri man is the next governor of the state, but it is not as a joke. We have to be real and factual about it. We may think we are fighting Ikedi Ohakim. No, we are not fighting him. We are fighting ourselves. He is, for us, a comet. He may have been domiciled there by God for today. So, the better we get together and reason objectively, the better for us. You see, somebody said to me, they didn’t see me at the meeting at Emma Iheanacho’s place, and I said, yes, Captain Iheanacho is a gentleman. He is clean and sound. I don’t see him wanting to go back into politics and bring himself into the pigsty. No, but to create ground for the Owerri people to get together and ventilate, he would do that. But if you call him aside and say, Emma, what do you think is the true position of this? What are our chances? If he looks you in the eye and he believes you, he will open up and tell you, but he wouldn’t want to be quoted. So, if you ask him, he will just smile and laugh and leave it at that. These other people that have gathered together, all and each one of them is next governor already after Hope Uzodimma. Hope has made his statement, and he is now running his administration. By the time he exits from here and you are calling him back to come and determine for you who the next governor is, either side must be stupid, and I know Hope is not stupid.

In a recent story that circulated on social media, you were quoted as warning your people of Owerri Zone not to make a mistake they would regret. Could you talk more about that?

Yes, I didn’t warn them. I brought the issues to the fore so that they can see it more carefully. I brought it to their notice. I gave them the opportunity to look at the terrain once more and look at what is feasible. And by my own perception, by my own thinking, I think Ohakim is the best bet in the present circumstance. I don’t see what would change this equation. Otherwise, come back here in 2027, and you will see a non-Owerri man on that seat of governance. So, it is better for us to look at the issues as they are and pair up, merge, and have an understanding with Okigwe. In fact, if you are talking about the Charter of Equity, that’s where the Charter of Equity should be – it should start with Ikedi Ohakim, not a loose arrangement that was made for convenience. And then you say Elder, Elder, Elder, Elders. There is nothing like elders of the state. It was an APC Elders forum. When you talk about elders of the state, you should have the elders across party lines, but that’s not the issue. The issue now doesn’t have to do with the party because all we hear is Owerri candidate.

Where is that Owerri candidate coming from? We have to do primaries in APC, we have to do primaries in PDP, we have to do primaries in Labour, and we have to produce an Owerri candidate in all the primaries. Have we agreed on that? When we agree on that and say look, all the political parties must produce an Owerri candidate, and then you know we are moving forward. That’s the best thing to do instead of mudslinging. We shouldn’t mudsling. As long as this agreement is not there and we are leaving it open, we should just go ahead and see the man who is constitutionally handicapped and give him the opportunity to complete his own tenure and bind him to ensure that his successor comes from Owerri Zone, and that man is Ikedi Ohakim.

Before we come back to the Charter of Equity, we want to talk about your membership of the Imo State Elders Council. You seem detached from the entire scenario. Tell us about it.

No, I’m not detached. I’m an elder statesman. Whether I belong to that council or not, by circumstance and by my involvement and by who I am within the society, I don’t know how anybody will translate that – I am a member of the elders council. I mustn’t flow with them. You see, when you get into a group where everybody agrees, come on! Look at the electricity we use: you have positive and negative wires, and you also have the neutral to stabilize it, isn’t it? If you have only positive current, it will burn up the whole place. So, that’s why you have the positive and negative wires, and then you have the one that neutralizes the two of them. Any society or group or meeting you are into and you cannot share your views, please get away from it even if it’s a cult.

For us to have progress, there must be divergent views. It’s like a cocktail. But what we do here is we use it as an opportunity to insult people. They want to slam you with one negative reference or something, and then those who have their personal grouse against you look at it as an opportunity. They think they have now gathered a team of people to help them fight you, and at the end of the day, you see them denying their group and denying their people one after the other. But that shouldn’t bother you. Just say the truth the way it is, believe in what you are saying, and believe in yourself. At the end of the day, you will be vindicated, and that’s the way I have lived my life.

Still on the Charter of Equity. The Charter of Equity was proposed by the Imo State Council of Elders last year. What was your position when the issue came up during your meetings?

I was quiet, and that is one of those things they will say, ‘the man who was quiet, what did he say?’ My main interest and concern was to return Hope Uzodimma for a second tenure, even as he had said at the first instance when he came in, that he was going to do one tenure. But no politician tells you he is going to do two tenures. I wasn’t opposed to Hope Uzodimma coming back as governor and so if I expressed my views about that Charter of Equity at that point in time, it would have helped to torpedo his return and it would have by and large affected him. And don’t forget, when he decided he was coming back for a second tenure there was no other thing he saw but a second tenure. And being a good friend of mine, I wasn’t prepared to be on the way of a moving train.

You have also been reported as saying that Okigwe is the shortest route for Owerri Zone to produce the governor.

Yes, I said so, and I still believe it.

Could you explain what you mean by that statement?

Look, you know Okigwe has only six local governments, Owerri has nine, Orlu has 12 – however it was arranged. So, if you merge Owerri with Okigwe, the nine and the six, you are getting 15. Orlu has 12. All Orlu Zone would need to do is poach a little from Owerri, poach a little from Okigwe, and they tell you it’s a constitutional matter. But if there is this understanding and if the Okigwe people – funny enough they have been so battered that even for their senate seat you have to decide for them who is put there – I don’t know how they have been so castrated. I’m sorry about it. If we reach that understanding and they know that it’s their son that is coming to the office for one tenure and it is specific, they will accept it. I’m not just talking of any Okigwe son, no. That is the funny thing about it. And somebody will say ‘oh what is this understanding you have with Ikedi Ohakim?’ I have no understanding with Ikedi Ohakim, no. I have a better understanding with one-arm general. But in terms of what would benefit my people, I mean, I have good relationship with virtually everyone of them and I tell you, Ohakim this time around is mature, he is 16 years older since leaving office. His perception about things and his objections about a few things and his objectives, too, have crystallized. If anything, he has tested that position, and he has come out of it. I tell you, he might be the better governor than every other governor we have had starting from Ndubisi Kanu because none of them tested it and came out and went back. So, he is the only person as of today you might regard – like we say, Obasanjo is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ohakim has seen it, and he has been with the Imo people, and he knows what they are looking forward to.

Do you think that Owerri Zone will listen to your position on the issue of the Charter of Equity?

I’m not the determinant. Certain things are individual privileges, and so when we talk about Owerri people, I only contribute. I only make my personal view. Others have their own views, and it should remain personal to them. I’m not going to insult anybody whose views are not in sync with mine, no. We need those other views. But my view is specific. In fact, I’m not even sure my children are sharing the same views with me. I don’t even know how the members of the family feel about it, but my view – and I think I’m dispassionate about it – is that Ohakim is our shortest route to the seat of power. One; it’s too early for us to start fighting for who succeeds the governor. Two, that that charter of equity was an arrangement to enable us to give Hope Uzodimma a leverage for the second tenure. Third, the said statement of handing over to an Owerri Zone candidate is political, and if you understand what I mean by being political in the Nigerian context, it had no depth. It was made for a purpose, not to alienate himself from the Owerri people. So, that’s my own translation of the Charter of Equity. But if anybody tells me he was in the bedroom with him and he swore to him that the next governor must come from Owerri Zone, that is that person’s own thinking. Mine is that it wasn’t a statement that was made and expected to go beyond having uttered it.

Recently, a certain group from Owerri Zone said that they would commit anyone from Owerri Zone who is against their quest to produce the 2027 governor to a hall of shame. Do you have a reply to such bullies?

No, no, no, it’s rabble rousing. I don’t talk about such things. And then, you called them a group? I’m not a group.

Is there anything else you would like to say before we wrap up?

Well, the other thing I would like to say is that I wish our people well. I wish we would not allow our emotions and sentiments to becloud our reason. I want us to settle down and reason along the best way. I want to lose a battle and win the war. So, let us not start fighting a non-existent battle and imagine we are making a headway. The war is winning, to succeed by God’s grace, at the right time. But if we go scrambling now and the food pours away, we will live to regret it. Had I known comes at last. Had I known: ‘oh you see, that was that thing Ndaa Bobo was saying. If we knew we would have reached an agreement with Okigwe and then in reaching that agreement with Okigwe, we make sure that that seat is domiciled with our Ohakim’. I’m not saying just anybody in Okigwe. There are so many of them qualified to be governors. No. That place is as fluid as Owerri is. But look at this scenario: 10 Owerri people will come out for governorship, two from Orlu and one or two from Okigwe. And you put it down in votes. Orlu will be scoring five votes for one of their candidates. The other will be scoring two.

Then Owerri, we are sharing two. Each one of our own will have two. The one that would have won gets three. But there is a five from Orlu. In fact. Okigwe will have four because they will bring two from their six LGAs. So, you will see Orlu coming first, Okigwe again, second. In the event of a runoff, where do we come into? Then we will start looking for who stopped us or who denied us. So, why don’t we do the arithmetic of it and make the best of what we have? For me, that’s the way I think about this. And that way is Ikedi Ohakim.

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