Mr. Odey Ochicha is one of the few aspirants on the platform of the opposition All Progressives Congress in the race for Peregrino House in Calabar come 2015. In this interview with our Editor-In-Chief, Agba Jalingo in Lagos, he says if he becomes governor of Cross River State, Education, Health and Infrastructure will be his priorities.
Good evening Mr. Odey Ochicha. We are meeting you for the first time after several months of trying to track you on the phone. We are very pleased you granted us audience. I understand you are from Bekwara Local Government in Cross River State and you worked with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and you are to contest the governorship of the State on the platform of the opposition, All Progressives Congress, APC?
Why do you want to be governor of Cross River State?
Thank you very much for that question. I want to be Governor of Cross River State simply to serve. That’s number one. I love serving people, to advance our state, among the 36 states of Nigeria, to turn our state into a world class state.
Our state is the third most indebted state in Nigeria with over N100 billion Naira debts and monthly federal allocation hovering between N2.8 billion to N3 billion Naira, which can barely pay salaries and other overheads; the incumbent governor is seeking to raise N64 billion Bond to make the state viable to recapitalize our debts and the state has budgeted N16.5 billion for debt servicing in the 2015 appropriation proposal….what will you do differently to free the state from this debt burden if you become governor?
The debt burden is a big problem really, but as you are aware, there is no problem that has no solution and for me, three things we need to do, just three solutions, creativity, innovation and imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. A number of advanced countries like Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, they are not as rich as Nigeria, they are not as endowed as Cross River State, Cross River State is endowed, but they are developed…from where? From creativity! All that is required of us is to think inwards. Our endowment is very very good. Cross River state has a lot of potentials. All that is required is to package those potentials. The palm plantation is there, there are so many other resources. We have salt deposits in Yala and many other resources that we can tap to take care of our problems. Whatever amount we get from Abuja, for me, is grossly inadequate without looking inwards. A lot of our problems can be solved by investing massively in agriculture, in manufacturing and tourism; and from these three sectors, we will make all the money. That is what is happening in Dubai.
When you talk about investing, you will need money to invest. You will need money to create the enabling environment for private enterprise to thrive, where will you bring the money from as governor, bearing in mind the fact that your federal allocation plus your IGR will barely run your overhead bills also minding that we are not even viable to borrow now unless we raise new bonds?
Well, it requires some deep thinking and it requires going into partnership with investors or getting investors from different parts of the world to assist you. When it comes to the issue of debt burden, it is not something you alone can solve without getting the assistance of others. For me I will borrow a leaf from the partnership between Dubai and Abu Dhabi and that can be done between two sister states, between Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State. If it requires borrowing from other states like Rivers, like Akwa Ibom to assist you, and other states that are richer than Cross River as is been done between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in UAE; but for me I think the major innovation is to think inward to leverage on these three sectors that I mentioned earlier, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing, if we leverage on these three sectors, we are going to be able to solve the debt burden.
If you become governor of Cross River State, how will you address the travails of the abandoned people of Bakassi, will you wait until they begin another round of intractable insurgency before government begins to buy them private jets and send them on oversea trainings?
For me, insurgency will not be the best solution. A stitch in time saves nine. There is an urgent need for us to listen to the plight of the Bakassi people and address their concerns. If the solution is to resettle them, the state government under me will take drastic action to put that in place before it degenerates. Yes, drastic action will be taken to solve that problem because taking up arms will only escalate the problem so the time to weigh into the matter is right now. An APC government in Cross River will look into the concerns of Bakassi people, identify what are the issues the state needs to do in collaboration with the federal government, what are the issues and what can be done to resettle them, what is required to resettle them and provide them with what they need so that they can settle down in their new settlement.
For the past 8 years, Imoke has said education cannot be free and qualitative. APC in their manifesto claim that education is a social service. As governor of Cross River State, will education in the state be free or will it be paid for or will it be paid for up to some point or what do you have in mind about the sector?
Education is at the center of development. In all advanced societies, education should be any government’s top priority. If any state or nation wants to develop, there is this common saying that, a nation is as developed as its standard of education and J.F. Kennedy, I like his quotation that says, the progress of any nation is not swifter than its progress in education; so for us to develop, for Cross River State to develop, there must be free and qualitative education. Let me just quickly come to top three countries and their three priorities, take the United States of America, whether it is the Democrats or the Republicans, they are still talking about their education, health and energy as priorities, for Britain, its education, education and health, for Japan it is education, education and education. For APC in Cross River State, we are going to tow the line of these three nations that have given education a pride of place and make education our top priority followed by health and infrastructure, because if you don’t make education your number one priority, there is no way you can develop. Education and development, they go together so it should be free and compulsory for at least up to secondary level. Even if you don’t afford to round it up to university level, you can pick up anything else. Education is the best thing anybody can do for his people. Education is life, education is progress so without education, they can be no progress.
Talking about infrastructure, the roads on our state are some of the most terrible ones around the country, particularly the federal roads in the state. The incumbent governor has waited all his tenure for the federal government to come and tar the roads to no avail. Knowing how critical these roads are to development in the state, will you fix the roads and ask the federal government for refund or you will also wait for the federal government that may never come to fix the roads or what will you do differently?
Good network of roads is one of the five fundamentals of economic growth and it’s going to be one of our focal areas, development of roads. And what is required is to partner with the federal government to get the roads tarred. It very unfortunate that the two major federal roads in Cross River are in a very terrible situation which shouldn’t be. Road development stimulates, opens up development, it adds beauty to a state, it stimulates economic activities. So if it requires tarring it and then asking for a refund from the federal government, it’s a wise thing to do and in our own case, we will explore that possibility. We will source for resources, get the roads tarred and ask for refund from the federal government or we will liaise with the federal government to make sure that the roads are tarred for free movement of people and for people to move their cash crops easily from one point of the state to another.
Finally Sir, what are the chances of APC in Cross River State, a state heavily dominated by the PDP?
I think our chances are bright. You know the APC has just come on board. We came into existence in July last year. Just trying to get established in the state. You know, change as you are aware is a gradual process, it’s coming gradually. Our chances are bright because the people are yearning for a change and an alternative platform and for me, we have APC as the alternative agenda. Any government that has education as its number one policy has the best policy because education is the best gift you can give anybody. Give knowledge to people, it brings out the best in people and you prepare your citizens to assist in the development of the state, and prepare people for the next generation because without education, you can’t have the next leader to continue with the development of the state. So our chances are very very bright.
follow us on twitter @crossriverwatch
Since You Are Here, Support Good Journalism
CrossRiverWatch was founded on the ideals of deploying tech tools to report in an ethical manner, news, views and analysis with a narrative that ensures transparency in governance, a good society and an accountable democracy.
Everyone appreciates good journalism but it costs a lot of money. Nonetheless, it cannot be sacrificed on the altar of news commercialisation.
Consider making a modest contribution to support CrossRiverWatch's journalism of credibility and integrity in order to ensure that all have continuous free access to our noble endeavor.