After the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting last week in Abuja, Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, spoke with some Journalists.
What is exactly happening in Abia state?
Well, on the 27th of last month precisely, there was an attempt to snatch my mandate through circumstances that are completely curious and strange. In the first place, everybody in Nigeria has come to understand that I was a public servant paying my taxes for the past six, seven years through Pay As You Earn (PAYE). What it means is that my taxes were deducted as it were from source before my salary was paid to me and I had no private business before I took the decision to run for governorship. For my tax clearance. I do not know of how many civil servants collect their tax clearance certificate or receipts on weekly or monthly or yearly basis. It is usually collected when the need arises for you to do so. And I applied to the Board of Internal Revenue and my certificates and receipts were issued which I forwarded to my party. And somehow somebody decided to query those documents and the entries therein. And I had three things on my mind. even as a lay man, the first one was that there was an established legal principle that if you want to talk about falsification or forgery of document you must be able to show the original and compare it with the one claimed to have been falsified. And the author of that document must also be part of the evidence.
Something happened at the Federal High Court Abuja and the Board of Internal Revenue who had sworn an affidavit that they had issued that certificate, the affidavit was discountenanced with and somebody went ahead and entered a judgement against me based on what was entered in the receipts. And even went ahead to deny me my fundamental human right as enshrined in the constitution to appeal. The judgement was entered on the 27th of June by 4pm, by 28th an enrollment order was released despite the fact that the judgement was advertised by the judge himself that it would be released after five days. So secretly an enrollment order was released and then INEC despite being in custody of my notice of appeal and notice of stay of execution went ahead and issued a spurious certificate of return. And they attempted to raid Government House Umuhia.
But I have just four questions which the courts and the public would determine
in the future. The first question is, did citizen Ikpeazu pay tax? And the answer is yes because I was a government worker. Were tax documents issued by a valid tax authority? The answer again is yes, by the Board of Internal Revenue of Abia State. The third question is should a tax paying citizen be punished for entries that are right or wrong without considering the facts, as a result of ineptitude by the public servants that are serving on the Board of the Internal Revenue? The answer is no. Should a tax paying citizen be denied his rights and privileges on account of the mistakes made by the Board of the Internal Revenue or the tax authority, if any? The answer again is no. Again I ask, if that judgement was a death sentence so I would have died on the 28th of June when the judgement was given at 4pm on the 27th?
At a global level, it is not my person that is on test or trial. Abia State has become a guinea pig of some sort for a very serious issue that is challenging the fabrics and pillars of our democracy. There are over 1,000 courts in Nigeria including the ones you have to go to by sea for three hours. So if somebody goes to Bonny and begin to question the serial number of the school Certificate of a governor in Zamfara and got a judgement without subpoenaing WAEC and without a recourse to affidavit, so it means the governor of Zamfara leaves office? If everybody are made to leave office on account of that kind of High Court decision, it means that Nigeria will be regarded as having unstable polity. It means even Mr. President can be removed by a High Court.
If our perception outside is that we are unstable polity, can we do middle term and long term projections to enable us develop our skills and develop Nigeria?
I do not think that the Electoral Act and the Constitution of Nigeria imagined that somebody can be punished without his right of appeal. I do not also imagine that Electoral Act imagined that somebody can become a governor without running for election. Every constitution, every law has a spirit.
So what you are seeing is gymnastics of people trying to import impunity of old days into the present day circumstance and I have said it time and time again that my people are happy with the present government at the federal level for not yielding to this kind of impunity, such that you can get money from oil subsidy and deploy it for the removal of a sitting governor. I remember Ngige, I remember Abiola, those were serious attacks and affronts on our democracy and our journey to develop ourselves in an egalitarian way, in a modern way, as it is practiced all over the world.
But I have said it time and time again that Abia people are willing and prepared to resist this kind of impunity. Anybody who thinks that he is in good and regular standing with the people should go and run for an election. I mean that is what is morally and legally right. If you think you are man enough, obtain the form and run for election. You can’t come and steal a mandate of somebody who campaigned four times in every local government, who ran election on the 11th and another one on the 25th, who had gone through the Tribunal up to the Supreme Court and was affirmed as governor. Then you just go, because you have the privilege of subsidy slush funds to obtain judgement and attempt to storm government house and take over. That is not how it is done. That High Court cannot decide for the over 400,000 voters in Abia State.
So that is the situation in Abia state, is unfortunate, but we can only have one governor who swore to an oath of allegiance and to the constitution of the federal republic to serve his people and that is me.
There are hierarchy of courts, the High Court has decided, there is still the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court, are you hopeful that the judiciary will be able to correct that mistake by the High Court?
I have always said I’m a beneficiary of the erudite legal work of our jurists down the line up to the Supreme Court. In this matter I seem to be the man that is the weak person because my story has gone everywhere that I come from an area that has never produced a governor of Abia State before, the only senatorial zone with nine local government out of 17 that was yet to produce a governor. The person that is contending with me is from Abia north, they produced Orji Uzor Kalu for eight years. And this party which mandate he is claiming had zoned this thing and he is the only person from Abia north who attempted though he did not even participate fully in that primary that he is claiming benefits from now. So, I have express confidence that the courts will take a decision but if I arrive at the Supreme Court and they decide otherwise, then I won’t have any other option than to talk to my God about it. But I am saying what is the hurry?
You see everything that is happening, from what happened at INEC and somebody describing a piece of judgement as very very wonderful, . a judgement that was delivered by 4pm, he had described it as very very wonderful. Everybody in Nigeria, everyone understands that a lot of water passed under the bridge. Even their hurry to move into government house and take over. Because the situation today is that whenever the Supreme Court affirms you as governor your tenure begins to run, so why the hurry, why the desperation? I don’t want to believe that school of thought that somebody is running away from the noise in Lagos courts but I see clear signs. Of course you know that whenever a coup d tate is not executed within hours it has failed. The coup against me failed.
This is about the second time your seat is being threatened by a court judgement, what’s so special about that office that everybody wants to have a feel of it?
Is not the office, it is the person and where I come from. You see I came from the classroom to do this, apart from God and the Nigerian mass, they see me as somebody who has no contacts. But I’m a firm believer in the supreme authority of God and that is why it says in my bible that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. The more they go down the more they should be afraid, not of me, but of God. And the heart of the King is in the hand of God and he turns it whichever way he chooses. If God blesses a man nobody can curse him, so they should stop laughing at a man, the scrappy and scruffy nature of little boy David, they should look at the God behind David. So, they are treating me with contempt because they think that I don’t have what it takes. Two, they also see my people as people that are underserving but it is very unfortunate. Abia South has Aba and that Abia State is considered an oil producing state today, is because of the oil that is located in Abia South and yet these people are maginaliased. Whereas many elders in Abia state believed in the Abia charter for justice, fair play and equity, a few individuals. especially those that had acquired money because a few years you can be poor on Friday and on Monday become a millionaire and if you have such funds and you don’t have the fear of God and control, you will think you can plan for somebody and take what belongs to him with impunity. I know that God is a God of justice. So it is not about the seat, it is about contempt and greed and lack of patriotism and respect for the rule of law.
Are all these things distracting you from the work you are meant to do for Abia State?
As a person it is very difficult to distract me but I will tell you my strategy in Abia. In one year, I have mobilized to about 60 road sites, some bridges completed and I have completed so many roads. I do an average of one and half roads a month and we are still working. But my secret is that you come into government with two things, if you don’t have all the money you need you come with your integrity which comes with your office. And that is to say if you have 60 contractors, you tell them gentlemen I don’t have N100 million to give each and everyone of you every month but the first batch I will give so so and so, second month, third month or I will give N10m or N20 million to each of you but please just be on site, and if you agree you sign off and make sure you keep faith. So today in Abia, the era of bounced cheques, approval is not given is gone. What we say we do and the people can see through our eyes and know that we are serious. But with what is happening now and the uncertainty and all kinds of rumour mills even in the social media, investors that had come with faith, development partners as I would like to call them, for instance a week before this ugly mishap, I had engaged Setraco and Arab contractors and they had mobilized to sites and the road flagged off. But as I speak I’m not too sure they are on site now because my arrangement with them was for banks to pay them while I guarantee the payment and they won’t stop working. It was a very smart way of getting these two big contractors to do our most difficult roads. And those who perpetrate this do not even have the welfare and the love of our people at heart. When I paid salary last month, some civil servants came to me and they were crying because they didn’t believe it.
So as a person it is very difficult to distract me because I have come to serve and God knows about my presence in this office. And again, the second, my mandate is for people to know that whatever your circumstance in life God can make you whatever He chooses to make you. So another lesson coming from my circumstance is that anybody can be governor if God wills it for you. So our government has lost traction but it is temporary, we will go back and work on it. I tell everybody to remain calm that the worst days are over.
Talking about roads, is Ikwano to Ikot Ekepene Road among those you are working on?
Ikwuano -Ikot Ekepene Road, Port Harcourt road, Aba – Ikot Ekepene Road, Aba – Port Harcourt road are federal roads. They are among the worst roads anywhere in the world. We have engaged African Development Bank to help us in funding that cover Port Harcourt road. As we speak. I’m just returning from the National Economic Council meeting, state governments are working out an arrangement with the federal government where we can be allowed to take over some federal roads. You know if you work on federal road without getting approval, without approving the design you could be arrested. So we are working out something that can enable us deal with it. These roads are very bad. They are federal roads but there are no federal citizens, everybody comes from one state or the other. So we are looking for ways of allowing us to own the roads within our jurisdiction so that I can be held accountable for those roads.
So in effect you want to do what your colleague in Kaduna State has done? So what will be the responsibility of the federal government and wouldn’t that be an extra burden for states that are finding it difficult to pay salaries?
Yes, that is the only way out. We have to find resourceful ways of recalibitrating the resources. If the federal government has earmarked a certain amount for a particular road, it is up to the state government to prioritise that road and find a way of doing it. But the funds, of course, will have to come from the federal government until we rejig our constitution and others. The important thing is that what is priority for federal government may not necessarily be priority for state governor but the priority impact on the state is more acute on the states than it is on federal government.
What are the challenges of the school feeding Programme that you initiated and has this increased enrollment in school?
Yes it has. The thing that is unique about our school feeding Programme is that it is the people that are funding it. What do I mean by that? We were asking can’t our farmers feed their children? If our farmers can feed their children, the duty of the state government is to build food warehouses and then employ cooks. So bring whatever it is; yam, cocoyam, whatever we see in our store especially things that feature in our locality. We are not going to serve anybody basmati rice, we are not going to serve spaghetti. We are going to feed our children with yam, beans, eggs. Some protein farmers are contributing to the store, vegetables farmers are contributing to the store. All we have to do is go to the store and cook what is available, if there is a shortfall, then the state government will now augment but it is our duty to feed our children. And it will work because we are bridging the gap between the table of the very rich and the table of the have nots. The leftovers from the table of the very rich goes to either their dogs or dustbins but we are saying, in the true spirit of African communism, please hand it over to your cousins that do not have as much so that it can go round.