Bob Njemanze from the Njemanze ruling dynasty in Owerri, Imo State, is a well-known name.To some he is a controversial figure but to him, it does not matter as long as he is fighting for the common people of the state. In this interview with New Vision he says that life in Nigeria "is like living in a jungle where only the mighty and brutish survives." He also dissects governance in the state and Nigeria generally, accusing leaders of being the problem of the country.
How has the name; Njemanze, influences your actions and conducts, considering that some people from established families tend to be arrogant and playing to the gallery?
It is true that I am one of the descendants of the Njemanze. We are the 12th descendants bearing the name, in terms of rulership and the 5th Ozuluigbo. For bearing the name down the line to 12th generation, means that the family has been cohesive because some other families changed theirs at 1st, 2nd or 3rd descent. So Njemanze family is a mini-tribe.
For being a vocal ruling order which resisted what he saw as an incursion by the colonial master, Njemanze himself was sent on exile to Bonny. Now to your question, I have always been myself. This is why my complementary card bears just my name and telephone numbers, in spite of my age and position. I have to give myself any identification that will seem to be petronising.
You are seen more as a social critic than a politician what do you see yourself as?
I am not a politician but a businessman. I have passion on issues which affects the ordinary citizens of my state, Imo. This is because, at a point in ones life, you start putting back into the society so that you are remembered for what you have done. As a younger person, I endeavoured to work hard. I am a chairman of a congromorate of five companies under the envelope name; CICO Holding based in Trans Amadi Port Harcourt.
In our employment within the five companies are a moderate figure of 35 expatriates and we have over 500 Nigerians. However, it might interest you to know that we have folded up because of the militancy in the Nigeri Delta, as the expatriates insisted on leaving the country, coupled with the down turn in the economy.
Talking about the fate of your companies, can you review the business environment generally in the country now, as a businessman?
The business environment is comatose. I don't think the country actually live for any future. Most unfortunately, we live for today. We are like crabs in the basin, nobody wants to get up and nobody wants to get down. We keep scrambling, while government policies also scrambled us. Look at the issue of privatization. I don't think it is the answer.
Government, although is not a very good business manager, but government policies by and large, serve personal interests. Whether we indigenize or privatize, we must learn to do things based on honesty and genuinely well considered policies. But our considerations for implementation of policies in this country have always been self serving. So, government policies, their implementation, apart from recent economic down turn, is the problem. Apart from this , the basic problem for business and industralisation, is power supply.
The country just celebrated her 49th Independence anniversary, can you attempt an assessment so far, not forgetting your state, Imo.
Thank you for this question. I am going to attempt an honest assessment, starting with my home state. I will give credit to Commodore Ndubisi Kanu who was the first military governor of Imo state. He had a dream for the city of Owerri. He brought in Fingerhurt, a foreign firm of Town Planners to plan Owerri. They did what up till date, has not been realised.
He had so much foresight that the city of Abuja would have been secondary to Owerri. His dream was not accomplished. This brings to bear a general notion rightly or wrongly, of Obasanjo's hatred for Igbo people. Obasanjo, the then Head of State, visited Imo state in which Kanu showed him his master plan for Owerri and other laudable programmes and performances.
He praised Kanu lavishly but when he got back to Owerri, he transferred Kanu to Lagos state. I have not been able to find out what was the basis of that action. That transfer has been the inertia that Imo state is still grappling with till date.
His successor in office, Commander Kunle Lawal, made sure that he neither moved forward nor backward. It was a complete standstill. Then came in Col. Sunday Ajibade Adenihun, a young man with so much vigour and vision but without time to conclude anything.
He was succeeded by Sam Mbakwe who did more like post-mortem and quickly embarked on most projects which were the dreams of Ndubuisi Kanu. His successor Brigadier Ike Nwachukwu spent time in the service of the nation. His administration was so to speak, to purge the nation.
He was succeeded by Commander Amadi Ikwechegh whose administration was neither here nor there. Indeed he was fighting everybody and at a point, the Ozuruibgo, Eze Njemanze reported him to Babangida.
Then came Commander Anthony Ogugua. His administration simply continued the style of his predecessor until he handed over to chief Evan Enwerem who was not given enough time to meet up with the challenges of the state. He was succeeded by Navy Capt. James Aneke, a young man with beautiful ideas but no action.
Aneke was succeeded by Col. Tanko Zubairo, a soldier in a hurry to nowhere and getting to nowhere.Here was a man who would have done things that could have given testimony to his ability and character but none of which was ever determined. He handed over to Achike Udenwa.
Chief Udenwa's administration grappled with things and was overwhelmed by a quasi-military president that made him live in perpetual fear for a period of eight years. He then handed over , under the same circumstances to Ohakim who was unprepared, unequipped mentally, psychologically and physically for the job.
He has left the state in total confusion. The present programme of Clean and Green has been more of Kill and Grill, and that is not in the best interest of generality of Imo people.
You said that Achike Udenwa was overwhelmed with fear, why was it so and fear from who?
If you look at what is happening now to agents of Obasanjo, you will understand what happened within the period of eight years of his rulership. There was total confusion. Let us take someone like El Rufai.
When I watch the Abuja he left behind and the Abuja of today, you will agree with me that it might look unfair to declare him as EFCC has done as one of the most wanted people in this country. I see him as a man who rendered very honest service, who was guided by what he believed in, but whose actions were misguided by his loyalty to a brutish boss.
Lets look at Nuhu Ribadu. Here was a man who played to the gallery of international community. He over valued foreign accolade and lost touch with the mood of the nation. He neglected the judiciary and law courts only for him to run to the patronage of the same institutions he desecrated. He , regardless of his police constitutency, deserves no pity from aybody.
Professor Dora Akunyili. If I were her, I would have exited from office as the director general of NAFDAC, and the international community , would have held her like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or Oby Ezekwesiri.
Her ovation now can never transcend her achievement in NAFDAC. Her image and intergrity are today hanging in the balance for she now comes off as an over-zealous, over-ambitious propagandist. I do not see her present position match the accolades she generously earned while in NAFDAC.
So, that now takes us to your question on why Udenwa was afraid. Using this three people to judge Udenwa and considering his background as an only child, and accountant, and the man who fought in the Biafran war where he was a capt., he was fully exposed in the vindictiveness of his president, Olusegun Obasanjo. So he had to trade softly and carefully, if for no other thing, for self preservation. This, by-and-large, affected his administration of Imo state.
But governor Ikedi Ohakim is largely seen as doing well. Why then do you describe him as 'unprepared, unequipped' etc.?
Honestly, his success is out of the question. There is no way one will discuss his performance extensively that one may not be thought to be jaundiced. For there is nothing so far that is complementary that can be said of him in office.
You recently filed a suit against him at Abuja High Court. You are said to be fighting every government in Imo state. What do you really have against Ohakim or is it out of hatred, envy or playing to the galary?
I took him to court and the issue is simple. Christians know that bondage is slavery. If you are bonded, you are in slavery. Nobody wants to be bonded without his or her consent.
I did not take Ohakim to court because I am not in support of his government, no. I took him to court like I had earlier done with the past administrations for actions that are inimical to the interest of generality of Imo people. I do not have ambition for politics but I have strong passion. I have taken actions which managed to either correct of stall the administration , in Imo state, taking them on for anything that is not in line with the interest of the people.
But some people might begin to see you as being disgruntled or mischievous, not necessary for the interest of the people as you claim?
Yes, for you to get into a crusade for the people's interest, you must first and foremost, within the Nigerian context, accept the reference as a disgruntled and frustrated element. These must be your qualification.
So, if you shy away from being so referred, you may therefore not been able to stand in the interest of the people. To me, the end justify ones action. I am a man that lives within my needs, I have wants but I control and manage them. It therefore becomes too difficult for me to be compromised, influenced or cowed.
But what is the reason for taking Ohakim to court, you have not answered this question?
It has to do with the bond he undertook recently. At the inception of his administration, he painted a pitiable picture of our treasury. At a stakeholders' forum, he told the Imo people that he was left with a debt of N40billion.
I may be an ordinary citizen but I enjoy the privilege of many circumstances. So, such statement that are challenging, I always take up for verification. I was overwhelmed when I discussed this supposed debt with his predecessor, Achike Udenwa. I discovered that what Ohakim inherited as a positive balance was enough to discredit Udenwa for non utilization of funds for the interest of the citizenry.
I was therefore taken aback when it came to my notice that between the governor and members of the State House of Assembly, they were conspiring to leave us in Imo , in everlasting bondage. The N40 billion which the governor, the House, some banking institutions and SEC have conspired to put on Imo people is unacceptable to me. On the face of it, it is a bond of N40billion but on retirement, we may be dealing with N100billion.
But many states have used that avenue to raise fund for development, how has Ohakim's own become different?
There is no crime in getting funds for development through bond. However, what excited me was what the first trenche of N18.5billion was to be used for, as disclosed by the Commissioner for Finance, Mr. George Irechukwu. He said that a 150 kilometre free way or Boulevard is to be built.
There is no way in the length and breath of Imo state you can traverse 150 kilometre, 500 communities, 39 markets, 19 Local Government Areas, with 13 electronically controlled toll gates in a country where electricity supply is the biggest problem. Then a Conference Centre and a Hotel in Oguta. To me, these are all white elephant projects which Imo people may not remember, were used as excuse for getting the funds. This money will be carted away and we will be called to pay back.
The most annoying in this matter is that the refund is a first charge in our federation allocation. So, whether we like it or not, the Accountant General of the Federation, will withdraw at source, whatever percentage agreed to be collected. This is wicked because it will hinder the progress of successive administrations and the legislature in Imo state. This is what I am fighting to stop, it is not a personal matter.
Let us now leave Imo alone and look at Nigeria at 49, what is your assessment?
The story of Nigeria is the same as Imo state. There is nothing actually to write home about the country now. I would imagine that I saw better days in this country during the colonial administration. In as much as it is not desirous but it is a statement of fact, things worked better during the colonial days. But the present time , might is right.
If people can sit in their rooms, determine who will rule us, not minding how people voted, that is where they were allowed to vote at all, not minding the electoral laws or the judiciary, it means that might is right. It is now a show of power, brutal behaviours and you expect things to go right. This is why I keep on telling people that Nigeria is like a jungle where life is nasty and brutal.
ASUU was on strike for months and nobody seemed to care enough, what is your view on this?
ASUU strike was most unfortunate. In a situation where the president and his vice were former teachers, the minister of education was a teacher also, one had expected a better and faster deal with ASUU but it did not happen.
Days are gone when teachers are told to wait for their rewards in heaven. They now need it here to meet their responsibilities before the heavenly reward. This brings me to the issue of Nigerian Police. Nobody talks about their welfare but we expect much from them.
Abroad, it is an honour to be referred to as a friend of a policeman. But here in Nigeria, if you tell somebody that you have a policeman as a friend, people may see you as a criminal or one who has something to hide. So, we should pay serious attention to these critical sectors or institutions so as to guarantee progress in this nation.