Senator Athan Nneji Achonu, Labour Party Candidate in the forthcoming November 11, 2023, governorship election in Imo State, is very passionate about his state. Agu Otu Aka, as he is popularly known, inspired the Aku Ruo Ulo mantra, a demonstration of his burning desire to industrialize the South-East, Imo in particular. This vision burns ever brightly in this interview he gave, along with Tony Nwulu, his running mate. He spoke with journalists of South-East extraction in Abuja. TONY EZIMAKOR was there and brings the excerpts:….CONTINUE READING…CONTINUE READING
You have no doubt responded to this questions about you being a placeholder for Governor Hope Uzodinma, the incumbent holder of the office. Yet the tag appears to stick on the opposition candidates and refuses to go.
Yes, but if I’m a journalist and they say somebody is a placeholder for the governor, it is my job to investigate the veracity of that claim. If Labour Party is said to be the party to beat in Imo and Igboland for this election, especially in Imo, and I do a poll to try to guage the feelings of the electorate to see where they are leaning towards, honestly I will expect a Labour governorship candidate who wins the primary of his party to at least collect twenty million dollars to sell out to Hope Uzodinma, not one million dollars. It’s an insult. I will expect that Hope Uzodinma will offer that candidate at least twenty million dollars to step down for him because the man has almost won the election, without campaigning. Because even in the last election, where did you see their candidate win in the actual voting? Then, myself, Athan Nneji Achonu, you investigate me. You find out my capacity, the level of contact that I have in this country, which is more than his. The level of respect that I am accorded in this country, because of my integrity and my personality, which he doesn’t have, how can I then collect only one million dollars to sell out as claimed ? It’s 100 million dollars. If I’m that hungry now, if I’ve suddenly become hungry to be his placeholder, at least I should demand $100 million, for God’s sake.
What strategy do you have to confront the governor – as you know, he has a way of outsmarting others.
I have my plans and strategy but I can’t expose my plan here. I’m ready. I’m very, very, very ready to secure Imo for Imolites. I’ve often asked myself, why am I alive? Because I’ve been through so many things in my life. God protected me, saved me, kept me alive. I believe it is for this day. And I’m very very ready to take him on. He doesn’t believe in voting. He has never really won any election. If you investigate properly, you see that he has never really won any election. I’m going to win him in his local government. That I can guarantee you.
Can you give us highlights of your administration’s plans will do when you become governor? At least in summary. What should Imo people expect from your administration?
The first thing I’m going to do, I’ve been championing autonomy of local governments since Obasanjo left the stage. I’ve funded it, I’ve sponsored it. After being inaugurated, I will inaugurate a caretaker. The caretaker is not known to the constitution, but just for six months to enable me hold a proper election, because I’m trying to set up an electoral umpire now for that purpose. So I’m already working on it. So they (the caretaker committee) will work for six months. We’ll have the freest and fairest election in black Africa happening in Imo State. So, we need to lead by example. Why am I insistenting on local government autonomy? I’ve been saying that, if you Google me, so many interviews I’ve granted, go to YouTube, you see a lot of them. I’ve always believed that it was since they hijacked the local government system that criminality came in. You know the local governments used to patronize these local warlords. These men, the big men in the villages, the local governments, strong men, they used to be contractors. They used to build drainages. They used to grade roads and make money. But the moment governors started to pocket local government money, all hell broke loose. If you have a councilor elected by the people , because the people elect you to lead them, they believe in you, that you have the integrity to protect their interests. There is no way you will be an elected councillor and a criminal comes into that immediate environment and you will not notice. It will be brought to your notice. That’s why if you look at some of my billboards, I was advocating vigilante for communities and local governments. So, immediately I’m sworn in, the first bill I’m going to send to the House of Assembly is to set up vigilante, every local government will have their own vigilante. Because one naira of their money, the state government will not know how it is spent. Even though we’ll be looking at it, because we have to oversight capabilities through the House of Assembly. So, I am gonna work in partnership with all the arms of government, based on mutual respect. In the plan I’m advocating that we have vigilante in every local government area They have a DPO, the police. You have civil defense. You have DSS. Every local government has this structure already. So, they work as a team to provide security in the first place. Now, another thing I’m going to do within the first one year is power. As we have gas obligations from the gas companies working in Imo State, they’ve just signed that into law. The state governments can produce their own power. So, we’re going to go into partnership with power companies to give them the enabling environment. They’ll come and give us power 24/7 in Imo State – because, without power, you can’t do anything. We have mapped out six industrial layouts, two per geopolitical zone. Charity, they say, begins at home. So, already my home is an industrial hub for agricultural processing. Oh, yes, I’ll use my personal resources. So I’m going to enlarge it with government’s resources. So, other people can come and invest. Some people can come and be producing tomato, canning, processing fish. I have a cattle stockade that can accommodate 5,000 cattle. I’m now breeding ehi Igbo (Igbo native cow) because it was going extinct. So, right now I have 53. It’s growing. I’m buying more and more. So now my focus actually is job creation, industrialization. That’s why I’m focusing on power. I have a license to operate a refinery. I’ll activate it, but now I’m going to sell it because I will not have the time for the next eight years, I will be busy. Running a refinery is not an easy business. But I will encourage people to come and take it over, or get their own license, and have another refinery there. I’m going to create so many things. I have already completed plans with Afri-Exim Bank, and ADB, to support industries. I have the Imo Airport there, which I have tried to take it over as a private individual to activate it to become the (Cargo) hub for West Africa. I’m going to activate it. I asked Hope Uzodinma, when he was chairman of Aviation at the time, in the Senate to support me in that, you know, that bit. But it didn’t work. He didn’t give me any support. So you know when I talk I say go and verify. So now I’m going to activate it. Look at Ghana, it’s now the international hub for Africa. Ghana, as small as Imo State. Because Lagos Airport has stopped growing. The city has surrounded it, no area, no room for expansion. Unless you build somewhere else. But here in Imo we have land. Ngorkpala has a lot of land. You can have phase one, phase two, phase three, phase four. I brought the people who built the airport, I engaged them, I paid them millions to come and do a study for me, to take it over. Jonathan gave me the go ahead. But before you know it, all the land around the airport has been acquired by government just because I was involved. So I just kept away. When I’m sworn in, all those ideas I have, I’m going to bring them into play to create a lot of job opportunities. Look at Orlu. They are pharmaceutical people. I approached Orange Drug, he doesn’t support me, so he’s there to answer this, people should go and verify. I approach him, I got banks to finance it. I wanted to do a pharmaceutical pack in that area, so that we create the enabling environment for investors to come. And I approached him, I told him about it, I invited him to talk about it at that time, a long time ago now. So, all those things are in the kitty I don’t want to say somethings. There are things I have said, that I explained in details. Government is already trying to now latch onto it. But that’s fine. If it can be done in these two months, I’ll be very, very happy. Are you following me? Yes. Honestly I will be very very happy.
Obviously all these will address the high rate of youth unemployment in Imo
Yes. What we are after is development, a way to create opportunities for young people. For example, as a private person, I’ve set up a studio now in my village. We’ll invite young musicians who are talented, we have a bar with instruments, talents who don’t have money to record themselves. When they come and play there and we like their music. In fact, I engaged one of my PA’s, a musician, for that purpose. When we like the music, we record them on credit after sales, we collect our cost of recording, then we give them their profit so that they can grow from there. We have plans for sports as well because that’s the kind of thing that’s making our young people generate income that are not from direct employment. We can now train them in sports academies give them the opportunity to excel and then they go from there. We’re working on it now, we’re going around to the whole State to sensitize the youth, sports clubs, to engage in sports activities, so that it will be ongoing, so that once we take over we hit the ground running. That’s why we are doing all these things now, sensitizing the people and so many other things.
How do you address the huge debt profile of the state. Where do you get funds to do all the projects you’ve conceived?
Huge debts, that’s one question they’ve been asking me everywhere, but let me answer it. The huge depth profile of the state is unbelievable. There are people who have been owed six year’s salary from the last time. Up till now it’s the sixth year. Then when this government came, they said that they have found a lot of ghost workers, as a result there are so many people who have been laid off, people who have been working all their lives, and three years now going to four years, no salary, two years. And then pensioners. That will be a very big headache for any incoming government. Then the money that has been borrowed is unbelievable. Regarding the huge debt profile of the State, only a mad man like me can go there because I know what I can create. For me, as a private individual, I make money from the air. I use my brain, I create businesses. So I’m going to do that for the state. I’m going to find a way for it to survive. But I’ve told those pensioners and workers, I said we can’t pay it overnight. We’ll now start a gradual process with a timeline to pay off all the debts. But it has to be gradual….CONTINUE READING
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