Why we are building the tallest tower in Africa

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Owelle Rochas Okorocha

Owelle Rochas Okorocha

Owelle Rochas Okorocha was elected Governor of Imo State on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance Party (APGA). Since his emergence as governor, his actions have drawn both commendations and criticisms from the people. In this interview with a group of journalists, Okorocha, who recently declared free education in the state at all levels, bared his mind on issues pertaining to the development of the state

You seem to be in a hurry to develop Imo State as evidenced by the number of projects you are currently undertaking, especially on roads. Why are you in such a hurry and do you really think you can sustain the tempo?

For us, competition is already planned. We have a chat we are following and we have tarred most of the roads. If you go to Ikenegbu road you will see it, we intend to have all the roads tarred before the end of September. If you go to Oguta, what they used to call water-lake, you will see that we are turning it into a Bar beach now. And we are turning it around; even the hotel has been completely renovated. It is not something I think I can take credit for; I think there is God’s hand in it. I think angels are beginning to award contracts themselves. In the last two weeks, we awarded a contract for the building of a tower called ‘The Hand of God.’ It is going to be the tallest tower in Africa, if not in Africa and Europe. Why are we embarking on this project? We want to attract the world to Imo State and its emoluments. Just like we have the Ivory tower in Paris, and the Washington tower, this one is higher than this. We also have a new city we are building near the Concord hotel.  Like you know we have a Downtown in New York, then you begin to think that way and it will work that way.

Therefore, it is vision and sacrifice, and prudent utilization of resources. In time past, the last administration had about N280 billion that came into the state. And 95% or 90% of that money went on recurrent expenditure. But we have reversed the towing of recurrent, that is our secret.  Now we have 27 percent on recurrent and 70 percent on capital.

How did you do this?

We introduced what is called “Commercialization”. Take for instance, Concord hotel has never yielded one naira for government since its inception about thirty years ago. It’s always government and government officials and all that. When I came in, I inherited a debt of  N450m owed a Lebanese company running Concord, plus the N850m given to the man to renovate the place. When I came in I reversed the trend, I sacked the man and I started the renovation of Concord, set up a new management team and then handed over to Ministry of Tourism. Now, for the first time, Concord made N40m and is now taking care of paying the salary of Ministry of Tourism.  That has reduced recurrent from our budget. So, every ministry has something similar to Concord allocated to them.

Eventually, we may have a state where money that came from the federal government appropriation will be used for capital projects while the internally generated revenue, plus the commercialization effort take care of staff welfare and everything. We have brought business acumen today into governance and removed all the waste and closed down all the pipes of waste. For instance, I removed N4 billion from my security vote back to the conference. This N4 billion would have been money unaccounted for.

There is this controversy over the relocation of Imo State University from Owerri, can you shed more light on this matter?

The Imo State University is currently at the temporary site. I have received seven letters from National Universities Commission (NUC) for the immediate relocation of that University or it will loose its institutional accreditation.But that is not even the issue; my concern is that I don’t intend to build one university in Imo State; I intend to build three universities. One in Okigwe, one in Owerri and one in Orlu. It is a very sensitive issue and that is why I don’t talk about it, rather let my good works speak.

Now, if you say the relocation of Imo State University from Owerri is not proper, then where is the place that it should be that will be right? Imo is Imo, what is important is that we have a university permanent site. The question should have been, can this administration actually build a permanent site? I think that is what should be the major issue of concern and not where the university is to be located.

But I have decided that if I have enough time in this state, I am going to build three universities. Some political issues have tried to heat that thing up. Which is better, to leave the university where it is and loose its institutional accreditation or to move the university. There is a site for the university in Mbaitolu, there is a site for the university in Ngor okpalla.

We have signed a MoU with a Spanish organization to build the Imo European University, which is still under consideration. That university will be located in one of the senatorial zones.

Most states are collecting money through the “Education Trust Fund (ETF) where the Federal Government brings in some money for education. But only few states are performing well. What is the situation with Imo?

We are driving Imo State through total financial independence and it is possible. I have always imagined myself as managing director of a company.  Imo State is with over five million workforce and I cannot be poor, with or without any financial support. But with regards to the UBEC funds in the Governors’ forum, we lamented on the exigencies and rules in accessing those money which has been resolved by the office of the vice President.

What is the vision behind the setting up of Imo State College of Advanced Professional Studies (ICAPS) which we understand is your brain child?

ICAPS is my baby! The vision of ICAPS has been with me for over twenty years of my life. I believe that ICAPS is a replacement of the theoretical education which does not reflect any particular realities in this country. For me, ICAPS simply means practical education; it is a professional finishing school and the slogan there is: “Be a boss.” If you go through ICAPS you need not to work for anybody, you can work for yourself. That is the whole idea. What kick started it here is the ten thousand job issue where we have ten thousand workers without ten thousand jobs. That was the situation we had in Imo State. It was politically motivated. When I came in I said these young men; these young adults could help themselves in life. This idea of queuing up and looking for white collar job is sickening. Why don’t you be your own boss? – that is what the idea of ICAPS is all about. It is a finishing school where as a graduate you go and secure a professional course for yourself such that if your white collar job does not come, you can become an employer of Labour.

Some months ago, Imo State was at the centre stage of politically motivated kidnappings. Although the trend appears to have died down, what is the current situation in this regard?

We thank God for the security measures that we have brought. Our major success lies in the fact that we have been able to discover the producer of the kidnapper. In Orlu, it was hell fire; every day seven, six, eight cases. So, first of all we decided to suspend the salaries of all traditional rulers where these kidnapping activities took place. The first one month, the thing reduced. I said ok! Now I can understand. Then we went deeper and the main henchmen in Orlu have been arrested. There are two or more at large somewhere in Lagos. The attitude of the people of Imo State has begun to change. Everybody is feeling free and there is freedom.Though once in a while, we hear that this person has been kidnapped, after two days he is released and all that.

Where will Imo State under your leadership be in the next four years economically speaking; do you have plans to expand the resource base of the State through Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)?

As I speak to you now, Imo Plant Plantation- which is a complete new innovation of this administration is creating a huge job opportunity  and has even raked in billions of dollars into the confers of  the government. We had some little impediments by the past administration which we will be through with in the next two months.

Another project will soon kick off that will produce another twenty thousand jobs to boost the economic activities of Imo State. The Imo Tiles which used to be called IMSU, which was an initiative of Mbakwe. He imported over twenty-four containers about thirty years ago but the whole thing has rotten. We have brought in an Italian company and right now, we are starting the Imo Tiles, in partnership with an Italian company which will produce about fifteen thousand square meters of tiles everyday. That is on the industrial side.

This administration in our four years development plan has earmarked the building of 15 new industries which will be Agro-based industries in Imo State. By the end of this administration, I am sure we are going to create more jobs by establishing more industries which we have started with basically four or three for now. As I speak to you now, in Arondizuogu, the rice plantation is coming up. We are replicating another Imo plant plantation in Amadiopara and Okporo West. We believe that the Agro-based industry is good and that is where the Imo State government is looking at now.

In : Politics