Employment will reduce level of crime in Abia —Otti


On the 31st of December, 2015, Dr. Alex Otti, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA was declared the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary election in Abia State by the Court of Appeal which sat in Owerri, Imo State. With the declaration, the reign of Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was terminated. In an interaction with journalists in Lagos, Otti spoke on, among other issues, his chances of winning again at the Supreme Court where Ikpeazu is already challenging the verdict of the Appeal Court. SAKIBU OLOKOJOBI reports. Excerpts:
The judgement of the Appeal Court declaring you the winner of the 2015 Abia State governorship election has been criticized by some lawyers while there was a protest on the streets. What is your reaction to these?
Let me correct the impression that the judgement has been criticized by senior lawyers. That is not true. Yes, there have been some hatchet men who were recruited by the present government of Abia State to go on rampage. They started by organising people to protest on the streets and you would recall that that was 48 hours after the judgement. The judgement was greeted with spontaneous jubilation across the length and breadth of Abia State. If you were in Abia like I was, there was tumultuous celebration of that judgement and it is understood why there would be that celebration because Abia State indigenes and those who live in Abia State voted for me. I received a lot of text messages and e-mails, and one thing that underscored those messages was “we know who we voted for.” Everybody knows that I won that election. So, people were very happy with the verdict, but as an after-thought, 48 hours later, the PDP government held meetings and later decided that they were going to protest the judgement and there was no less a person to lead that protest than the former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara. I do not want to talk much about him, but the only thing that I can say is that we know that senior citizens should live in a way that people will like to emulate them. Understandably he was securing his source of livelihood. So, it was an arranged protest. I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that Abia people voted for me and they are looking forward to the time I will take over the leadership of that state and begin to develop the state like I promised them.
What is your expectation from the Supreme Court, considering that the tribunal gave the victory to Ikpeazu before that was upturned by the Appeal Court?
I do not see that the Supreme Court will not uphold the judgement of the Appeal Court because it was a well-grounded judgement that they gave. The major issues are very clear. If you go by the registered voters, there were about 1.3 million registered voters in Abia State from 17 local governments. PDP knew they were not going to win that election. So, all they did was to isolate three local governments that they used to perpetrate fraud – Osisioma, Obingwa and Isiala Ngwa North. On the day of the election, they removed the original result sheets for ward and local government collation for the three local governments and they packed them in Government House; we have this on good authority. All what they did was that on the day of the election, they ensured that there was maximum violence in the three local governments. What they did was wait for the collation to start. At the 14th local government, I was leading with about 60,500 votes and they quickly filled those original result sheets that they had taken from INEC in collusion with corrupt INEC officials and forced them into the collation centres. So, that was exactly what happened. Those results from Osisioma, Obingwa and Isiala Ngwa North were fake results written in Government House with the active connivance of the former governor, Theodore Orji, and all the PDP people and forced them into the collation centre. The returning officer, with all the complaints that there were no elections in all those places, he quickly announced that he was cancelling those local governments. PDP with its impunity, led by Theodore Orji and Olisa Metuh, who is now in detention, stormed the collation centre in a brazen manner, took the returning officer upstairs with the Resident Electoral Commissioner, stayed with them for about 45 minutes with a retinue of policemen and all kinds of people; they intimidated them. By the time the men came back, they were panicky and the returning officer grabbed the microphone and reversed himself. He now collated those result that he had earlier cancelled. The question is: Did this people win election? They did not! And when you don’t win an election, the right thing to do is to concede to the man that won election instead of using all kinds of tactics. Having done that, they continued and collated the results and declared them winner. Then, I went to court and at the lower tribunal, the judges misunderstood the case and gave a judgement in their favour. I pressed on. We didn’t call people to the streets; we have more people than PDP in Abia State. People wanted to protest and I told them nobody should protest because the case was already at the court. We moved to the Court of Appeal where we got judgement in our favour.
The PDP criticised the composition of the Appeal Court judges in your case. They said it was largely made up of members from the Lagos axis and you, being a Lagos based man, may be favoured. What is your reaction?
I saw the petition that they wrote and it came barely 24 hours before the panel sat and quite frankly, I don’t know what to react. I don’t know how panels are set up. I understand it is the president of the Court of Appeal that sets up panels; may be when you see her, you should ask her. The reality is that the Court of Appeal is the Court of Appeal. If you followed a case that Governor Wike filed that went up to the Supreme Court, I believe when that case was decided, the Supreme Court said, Court of Appeal is Court of Appeal, irrespective of where you sit. So, if they decide to sit in Abuja or Port Harcourt or anywhere, that is the prerogative of the Court of Appeal. My reaction would be that PDP, unfortunately, is not in a position to determine the membership of the panel of the Court of Appeal, neither was I in a position to do that. I know the chairman of the panel does not come from Lagos except if they have just transferred her to Lagos. The last time I checked, she was the presiding judge in Benue division in Makurdi. So, I don’t know what they are talking about. But they know that the mandate they are exercising is stolen and they will like to hold on to anything to make a point or case I am sure they found out that they would not be able to do the wrong thing with the panel. In fact, when I read the petition, what came to my mind was that (that petition came the Saturday or Sunday before the Monday they sat) some of these cases, if you don’t handle them expeditiously, may expire. Within 60 days, if the matter is not decided, that is it. Just like the Supreme Court matter now – From 31 of December, you just count 60 days. Whatever happens, is going to be the end. I think it may be a ploy to get the case expire without the Court of Appeal looking at it (because it would mean disbanding the panel and setting up another one). The judges said they were justices of the Court of Appeal and they were going to hear it, that it was not for them to decide the membership of the panel or for me.
Has there been any threat to your life?
There have been threats to my life, but I don’t have any fear because I’m a child of God and my Bible says, touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm. There have been attempts to eliminate me and those attempts have failed and they will continue to fail. I’m sure you must have known about the one that happened in Abuja. I was in the place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday morning, God told me to relocate to another town and I left. Thursday night, over ten men stormed my residence, killed my mobile policeman and turned the place upside-down. It was God that took me away and He will continue to protect me.
Some have argued that this is not the best of time to be a governor, considering the state of the economy. What is then driving your aspiration for the position?
This is the time for uncommon people to come into governance – people who have things to deliver. It is not going to be a tea party, and I know that. I have come to face the challenge. I was reading the newspaper the other day and somebody said she was supporting me because I can read the Balance Sheet. People who can’t read the balance sheet should not even aspire to lead a state or hold any position of leadership because this is a challenging time. It is time for creative people who have something to offer; people who know what to do without necessarily going to Abuja cap in hand for allocations only to bring it back and share it among loyalists. I am aware of the enormous challenges. It took about eight months for the consultant that I hired to do a study of Abia State to complete work. When the result came, I was shocked at the level of rot and the infrastructural decay; the lack of direction that had been the lot of the state in the last 16 years. Hospitals are in terrible shape; there are no roads; Aba is gone completely; Umuahia is a glorified village. This is the time for those who have something to offer to come in. If you had read a little bit about me, you will know that I thrive under a circumstance like this. I’m blessed to make something out of nothing. Yes, I do know how bad it is, and I do also understand where oil price is today and how the federal allocation has gone down. I also do know that our people are very creative people; all that they require from government is the enabling environment for their businesses to thrive. Once you are able to give them good roads, you are able to give them water, you are able to give them electricity, you provide security for them, you give good hospital, you ensure that quality and quantity of educational facilities are in top shape, then the place will do well. It is no longer a tea party.
What would be your area of focus if you eventually win?
I’ve just itemized it. There is absolutely nothing on ground; even Government House does not exist. So, it is a bad situation and I would like to invite people to visit Abia State; there is nothing. You need to see the condition under which people live in the state. All the things that I’ve just talked about are the things that I will have to tackle. Youths are basically, to a large extent, unemployed because the few industries that used to be in Abia and Umuaha have all left. There were governments at the time and they were watching. As they moved away, they moved away with your internally generated revenue; they moved away with the employment they were generating; they moved away with the contribution they were making to the economy because people didn’t know what to do. People who came to power were not prepared for leadership. Today, to qualify for a local government chairman in Abia State, you must be a thug; you must be willing to remove your shirt and fight on the streets; you must be willing to win election by all means, including killing people. So, those are the things we need to exterminate. That is why I make bold to tell you that Abia people were very happy with my entrance into the race and they voted for me.
Abia State was at a time the den of kidnappers and that was one of the reasons some of the companies relocated. I want you to let us into your blueprint on security and power. Also, you just said the governors in the past did not really do well. Do you intend probing them to account for the allocation they got?
You are very right. Majority of the companies relocated because of insecurity. The problem of insecurity needs to be tackled from the root. A lot of people who get involved in criminal activities could be re-orientated, particularly, if they have skills, if they have where to channel their energy; most importantly if you have jobs for them. So, job creating is key to eradicating insecurity. Unfortunately, it is a vicious circle reinforcing each other. By the time you have insecurity, it leads to more insecurity, more people get involved and because of that insecurity, the companies that operate will relocate and unemployment becomes the order of the day. Unemployment will now give rise to the reserved army that will be used to reinforce insecurity. So, you need to break that chain at some point. What we need to do in the first place is to ensure that people are able to get something to do. Think of somebody who has a 9to 5 jobs. By the time he comes back, he is tired and goes to rest and looks forward to the next morning to go back to work. He is also sure that his source of livelihood is guaranteed. That population that you have taken off the street and given a source of livelihood will not be available for crime and criminality. The second thing is also to ensure that government goes into programmes, including agriculture, micro, small and medium scale enterprises and all those kinds of things that will get people to be self-employed. And of course, there is a little percentage of people who are criminals by their nature. You will now deploy the power of the state to fight them. So, you need to remove those ones that are circumstantial criminals out of the bucket and the people that are left; you fight them. You will rather exterminate them or they relocate.
What would you say about your plan for power?
Yes, talking about power…. Power is a major one. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are two power plants in Abia State. I believe that when I come in, I will be able to put more life into them. There is a blueprint as to what to do. You talked about previous governments and probing. Everybody should be accountable. I may not call it probe, but if there is evidence that somebody made away with money that does not belong to him, he will have to be called upon to give account, just as it is happening at the centre. I also believe that that is one of the reasons why the so called elites are fighting me, because they know it can no longer be business as usual; the stipends that some of them used to collect, they won’t collect any longer. Some of them had, before the election came to me to say, there is this blood tonic (that is what they call it) that the previous government used to give to them that I should confirm that I would still be giving them. My response was that I wouldn’t do that. The days that you were sharing the collective patrimony of Abia people are over. So, I will not call it probe, but I will ensure that government monies they were frittered away are recovered into the coffers. It will be a veritable source. People who had taken our collective money away need to return them. Quite frankly, they can start returning them now before I come