Hon.(Engr.) Gerald Irona is the member representing Ohaji Egbema/Oguta/Oru West Federal constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives. He is the former chairman of Oguta Local Government Area of the state. In this interview with Damian Duruiheoma, he speaks about his representation, his party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and governance in the state and the nation and concluded that the gal of defections from the APC to the PDP was an indication that Governor Rochas Okorocha is not not doing well.
This is more than three years now that you have been in the House of Representatives, can you look back and say what you have achieved for your constituents?
I clocked three years in the House of Representatives by June 2014. But I want to say you are asking the wrong person. This is because I’m a dancer. I cannot appreciate myself. If you have a dancer at the stage, you don’t expect him to say I did not dance very well. It is the spectators that are in a best position to judge a dancer to say whether he has done well or not. If you ask me to assess myself, you’ll not get a proper judgement. You know my constituency and my constituents, so, it’ll be fit and proper for you to go and ask them about my performance. They’ll be in a better position to appraise and assess my representation.
But, sometime ago, some of your constituents gathered in Owerri and lampooned your representation. They said you’ve been the worst representative the constituency has ever had and that nothing has come from you to the constituency. So, what’s your reaction to this?
Where was the meeting convened? Owerri. I represent Ohaji Egbema/Oguta/Oru West Federal Constituency in Orlu Senatorial Zone. How come they convened a meeting to discuss me and they took it to Owerri and in a secluded area to hide themselves from the real people? I made visitations to the three local government areas I’m representing. I met Oguta people in Arthur Nzeribe’s house. I met Oru West people in Nze Umunna’s house while Ohaji Egbema people I met at Chief Uwakwe’s house. So, if people I represent want to talk about me, let them come home.
Recall that what they published in the papers was not what was discussed. Opinions were merely canvassed. Check out the best performing governor in Nigeria; go to his own state, local government and even his family, you see people criticizing him.
However, those people that said those things are entitled to their opinions. You know that most of them at one time or the other represented their local governments, part of the federal constituency in one form or the other. Go and find their records. If someone is looking for this seat which I’m presently occupying, he should go and prepare to take it away from me. He should not come through the back door.
As a lawmaker from the PDP, do you think your party has the chances to win back the seats it lost in Imo? This is more so when the impression among the masses is that Governor Rochas Okorocha has performed according to the people’s expectation.
Tell me any project Rochas has put in place in this Federal Constituency or in my local government, Oguta. What is that thing that will make people look his way? But look at my almanac and see a whole lot of projects. But, in the state you are talking about, civil servants were not paid. Pensioners are not being paid. Contracts for projects are just awards without due process and they are abandoned soon after they are commenced. I’m not in a better position to assess him. It is you journalists that should do that well.
But the question is, if he is doing well, why are people leaving his camp in thousands. A sitting governor doing very well cannot be losing a sitting senator, sitting members of the House of Representatives and House of Assembly, former governor and a plethora of commissioners, advisers and supporters. I’d have put your question the other way round: with the depletion of APC, don’t you think it’s going to be a lifeline for PDP. That would have been more suitable.
With the number of people coming into the PDP in the state, people are foreseeing crises that may deplete the party again in 2015 especially over who becomes the party’s candidate in the governorship and other elections. What’s your take on this?
PDP is a large umbrella that has the capacity to contain all the contending forces. But one thing is very clear. The presence of quarrel does not mean the absence of peace. Everybody must not agree all the time. You must disagree to agree. PDP has an internal mechanism to resolve any crisis and it is only in PDP you have this kind of thing because it is a democratic party. You saw APC congresses they conducted. They anoint you. You don’t participate in their congresses. You don’t elect somebody that will represent you, be it ward or LGA party chairman. They appoint. Go and read the INEC report of the various congresses. It is only in APC that you can see a sitting governor cancel a congress in a state because it’s not going his own way.
But I assure you from the present leadership of the party from the national to local government levels, we have been assured of a level playing ground. If you run and lose, you know you lost be cause you’ll know you lost because you’re not popular. Unlike what was obtainable in the past where somebody who is not a delegate will be included and they will vote out particular aspirants. The aspirant will feel not satisfied that he was not given a fair treatment and he will feel that he is so popular. So, he will go and look for alternative platform to consummate his ambition.
So, when you have two teams playing in a football tournament and one team beat the other one cleanly 3-0. There won’t be problem. But a situation whereby a referee awards three questionable penalties to one side in a match, the fans may react angrily. There should be a deliberate policy to institutionalize free and fair electoral process. That will guarantee and assuage all the aspirants. When you have a level playing ground, well, I don’t think the majority of the aspirants will not be contented with the outcome of the electoral process.
What do you make out of the situation where about 26 people are angling to take up the governorship position in the state in 2015?
The thing is simple. If so many people are angling to oust the governor in 2015, that simply shows that the governor is not doing well. If he is performing according to the wishes of the people, that will be enough testimony. If you have a sitting governor and over 20 people want to take the job away from him, what is the message? The message is that we don’t want you.
At national level, the leader of your party, President Goodluck Jonathan is receiving very scathing criticisms especially from the opposition, APC, over the Boko Haram insurgency in the country. What’s your opinion about this?
Which one has he done well for them? Which one has the president done and they acknowledged it to be good. We’ve won under 17 World Cup, he didn’t do well. We won African Nations Cup, he didn’t do well. We qualified for World Cup, he didn’t do well. He successfully privatized the power sector, he didn’t do well. The rail system that is working now, he didn’t do well. Have you moved from Cross River through Ebonyi, Abia to Imo and seen those roads? Who is the person doing this? Yet, he didn’t do well. I’m from Ohaji Egbema/Oguta/Oru West Federal Constituency and we are seeing the Owerri-Port Harcourt Road fully dualised. Still, he didn’t do well. So, which one will he do and they will agree that he has done well.
What is happening in Borno and Yobe States, don’t they have local governments? What are the local government chairmen in the affected states doing with their resources and allocations? They should complement the efforts of the president. They should utilize the money given to them to create employments for these youths. So, what you have to know is that Jonathan is not carrying bombs and guns and killing the people of the area.
But, we know that the antics of these people is to cause President Jonathan to abandon his second term bid. If they think they can intimidate the president to abandon his second term bid, most of us will never allow that. Nigeria belongs to all of us. So, we will allow Jonathan to do his work.
If you know what is called insurgency or terrorism, you are fighting people that are not tagged. It was the same Northern elites that said that the former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ihejirika be charged for genocide and for killing innocent Northerners. Now, if Jonathan moved with full force, he will be attacked. They will criticize him for genocide and for massacring innocent people. The man is being meticulous; he is being careful and you could see what is happening. So, we are supporting him and he is doing very well as far insurgency is concerned.
However, the earlier the North speaks up and rises to the occasion, the better. There are some Northern leaders we are watching to condemn this dastardly act of insurgency. There is a particular class of Northerners we are watching to speak up against this act of terrorism. They have not shown concern. There was the National Security Council meeting the other day and the APC governors boycotted it. They are the people playing politics with the lives of the people. Unfortunately, it is the same three states controlled by the APC. So if they think they are causing trouble for Jonathan, they should go and read the hand writing on the wall.
Don’t you see the possibility of elections not holding there in 2015 if this situation continues?
If there are no elections there, so be it. I don’t see INEC moving material and human resources to the endangered areas for election. So, they should be the people petting, begging and prodding President Goodluck Jonathan for peace, not challenging him. So, what I’m saying is that no right thinking electoral umpire will risk the lives and properties of his workers to go and conduct elections there.
In Imo State, we are witnessing internal squabbles and this is a party that has promised to redeem the state. With this internal problem, how realistic is that promise to the people of the state?
Tell me one political party in the world that does not have internal problems. Even amongst us here now, if you bring drinks: three bottles of champagne, six bottles of bear and four bottles of soft drink. You now look at the number of these people here. So, what do we do? We scramble for it. That does not mean that we are still not together. So, PDP is the greatest party in Africa and what are those pecks and paraphernalia associated with the ruling party? Are they enough to go round? If they are not enough, what is the sharing formula? If you have sharing formula, is it equitable and properly done? These are the tendencies that have thrown up what you might consider as crisis. These are the issues that are very germane and are seriously being handled. I believe that what is happening is a normal democratic process in a developing economy like ours in Nigeria.
What have been your challenges this past three years in the House of Representatives?
My greatest challenge is that I have not been able to provide enough democratic dividends for my teeming constituents that have reposed enormous confidence in me. I would have preferred a situation where within my tenure, I will give electricity, water and access roads to all the communities in my constituency. However, due to scarcity of resources, it couldn’t go round. I am hoping that before I leave office, I will be able to fulfill this. I have 33 wards, I have over 40 projects. There are some communities that do not have electricity; I pray I’ll be able to give them light. Those that do not have water, I’ll be able to give them water. These are the basic challenges coupled with youth unemployment which is becoming a serious national challenge. We are talking of insecurity; one has never bothered to know why we are having such security challenge. Don’t rule out what is happening in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states happening in this part of the country. It’s a challenge to us. There must be a concerted effort to properly engage the youths. To me, that is the easiest way to safeguard this country and all the ‘big men’