Hon. Luke Chukwu is the former Executive Chairman of Ohaji/Egbema LGA, former House of Assembly Member that represented Ohaji/Egbema State Constituency in Imo State House of Assembly. In this interview with our correspondent Praise Njoku, he reeled out his achievements, and other issues bordering on Ohaji/Egbema.
Sir, for some time now you have not been seen in any political gathering in Ohaji/Egbema, what actually went wrong?
Nothing actually went wrong. I decided to take a french leave in order to rest after many years of struggle. As a politician, I actually abandon my profession before joining politics. I was on it before I joined politics. You know I am a professional farmer and I have raised a lot of palm trees. When I finally joined politics not actually for money but to make my name and in making my name, I lost one vital thing I have in my life and that is establishing viable farm for myself and my family. When I realised my mistake, I then decided to take the decision to correct it.
In all these years you have been out, how has it been?
It has been good to me at least today I can boast of 360 hectares of palm plantation and I have oil mill where I processed it. At a particular month, I sold 1,260 of 25litres of oil palm at a go and that’s the joy I have. I have been able to train people who can take over from me. What I am now looking for is a modern oil mill to cope up with my own. My joy today is so much because I look at myself as someone who has grown in the oil palm business.
Talking about empowering people, what process did you apply and who are the people involved?
I started empowering people from time immemorial when I was a councillor representing Umuapu ward in Ohaji/Egbema LGA. I awarded a scholarship to 6 sons and daughters from Umuapu because I saw the need to push some people into classes to benefit from the little knowledge God gave to me as a councillor. From there I contested my first election for the chairmanship of Ohaji/Egbema and I won. I continued my scholarship with the award of contract of Umuapu/Apani road to ensure its expansion. That was when people wanted to kill me. They said that I have destroyed their palm trees which they planted beside the road. But I have to expand the road because of the civilization which was coming and the usual use of bicycles was becoming a thing of the past. The road in question as at that time was too narrow to accommodate two vehicles and that was why I decided to expand the road both in weight and length down to Apani Community. People were even asking me why I should rehabilitate the road from Imo State to Rivers State. But I realised that there is no difference between Imo State and Rivers State because both states have the same culture and natural upbringing because of the inter-marriages that exists between us and them. Their tradition and culture with our community are the same. They attend schools here in Umuapu. The Umuapu market which happens to be one of the biggest in Ohaji is been filled by people from there. They carry their wears into Umuapu and it makes the market very large. So, it beholds on me to expand the road and I did it. Not only was that, but all the community roads in Umuapu also awarded for rehabilitation. When I left the councillorship and won my election as the Executive Chairman of Ohaji/Egbema, more empowerment came in. You will agree with me that as at that time I built primary schools across the Local Government Area of Imo State. If you come to Umuapu now, you will see a road at Nwari in Egbema, you will see another road at Oforola in Egbema among others. I was not doing these because of the availability of the money, but for the love of it at least as a one-time teacher. Remember there was no road leading to Nwari in Egbema as at that time. I took it upon myself to build Kwako Bridge from Nwari to the Shell quarters and that is where people pass and that was what gave us incentives to build the primary schools. Not only had that, at a time I have to install 100 monos pumped in all parts of Ohaji. Today am a happy man that I did not leave the disabled people when I awarded 20 scholarships to the less privilege in the area. When eventually I remembered villages, I gave out empowerment including food to people. Every Christmas festive period would buy full bags of rice, not the quarter bags rather the 50k including live cows, vegetable oil and N100,000 to the comers while the traditional rulers were also given cows, vegetable oil, bags of rice and a token of N50,000. All the leaders in the area were not left out in the sharing of the Christmas largess. By the time I came in as the chairman of the council, my predecessor Hon. Celestine Uwakwe was given the traditional rulers N15,000 as their monthly allowances but I increased it to N35,000. I also increased their arrears to N20,000 monthly for 13 months after that I increased their salaries to N50,000. So I want to claim it that I remained the first and the only executive chairman of the council who paid N50,000 to the Royal Fathers and that earned me commendation from the former Governor Chief Achike Udenwa and from there it was made a law for other Local Government Chairmen to follow suit. It is on record that the houses I built for the indigents attracted a national award as the best performing Local Government Chairman in Nigeria. This was because I built 33 homes for the indigents less privilege and from there the wives of the governors picked it up. Monetarily, my welfare schemes have no bounds. Every month I would approve the sum of N1m to be shared to the needy. That time the scheme takes care of any pregnant woman and if the woman happened to give birth to twins, she would be paid the sum of N40,000 monthly. If the woman gives birth to triplets, she would receive N60,000 monthly for 9 months and by that time the child would have started walking. The scheme remained there until I left the council. I equally established a piggery at Egema council headquarters, with 12 piglets and by the time I left, I had 146 of it. But very, unfortunately, immediately I packed out barely some weeks after, I went back to check on the piggery, I could not see any again. Now go to Umuokanne today, I left a big legacy by changing the district headquarters to a living environment. I raised it to a status of LGA by building a hall, the official quarters of the traditional rulers, the pavilion that has a seating capacity of 3000 people which the then Governor Chief Achike named mini-stadium. When I left the House of Assembly, it was the highest because I went further in empowering people. Then I gave out 56 motorcycles to Okada riders, the needy and fewer privileges at no cost. Among the things, I donated to the people were auto grinder machines, sewing machines, 200 motorcycles, 300 handsets which I procure from OZB Communications, Owerri. The money I spent then was not government money rather my personal money. But it was unfortunate that I won my second election in the House of Assembly and it was truncated by people who don’t see good things. However, I will continue to empower people. Right now in my oil mill, I have more than 30 people working. In my farm, I have up to 25 people who derived their daily meal from me. I also have 32 cutters and harvesters and other field workers whom I pay. So is there any empowerment that is greater than that? It is what God has done for me and I assured if given the chance again, my empowerment programme will be more.
Do you think any former chairman after you have done what you did?.
I am yet to see anyone. When I left, it was Chinonye Ikegwuruka who came on board after several people had gone there as Transition Committee chairmen. I have not seen anything to their credits. After me what the former chairmen went to the council to do was loot. I left the sum of N64.8m in the account of the LGA. Then people were pushing me to go and collect the money, even my councillors wanted to make a case with me for leaving the money behind. I left the money because it was not my personal money but the LGA money meant for the less privilege and other people in the LGA. So, should I take such money? Whoever that took the money was not my concern. We were 27 council chairmen that left LGA, how many of us got the opportunity to go to the House of Assembly?. It was my myself, Mrs Eudora Igwe and Chief Acho Ihim. It was not because we were brighter than others but because we did very well. Other people who came after were Mr.Okwodu and after he was Mr.Stanley before Hon. Harcourt and in the end Mr Stanley came back again. From there they gave it to Mr Ariaga before they brought Mr Chinonye Ikegwuruka who only served for a few months and there were no recorded achievements until he left the council. Until tomorrow, if not the last administration under Governor Emeka Ihedioha that started a building project in the council though not yet completed, there were no recorded achievements. In all their assignment in the council, I marked them down. Today if you go to the office of the Auditor General of the state, you will find out that the last audit report carried out then. It was only two of who were Executive Chairmen that survived it. It was I and the then chairman of Owerri West LGA Mr Oparachaekwe who left N72m in his account while I had N64.8m. When eventually the EFCC came into Imo State, nobody touched me. That is what you call administration. I left a legacy in the Local Government Area and until tomorrow, my name will remain tall in the entire Ohaji/Egbema politics.
Before now, the sharing of positions in Ohaji/Egbema has been Ohaji first before Egbema, but presently it appears the formula has changed, what really went wrong?
When I remembered such roles played by some of our leaders, I will prefer to stay in my house than coming out. But let me say that it is one of the reasons why I remained in my house. From time immemorial, we consider population, a landmark in sharing positions or amenities in Ohaji/Egbema LGA. Ohaji/Egbema is made up of 4 court areas which include Umuapu, Awara, Ohoba, and Egbema respectively and that has been the way we share our things. In sharing, it is usually 3 to 1 and when I was in the LGA as chairman, I maintained that. That precedence left by our leaders, I did not suppress anybody. Even when you talk about love, Egbema people love me more than Ohaji people because I tried to maintain equity in my sharing. The population of Ohaji is 67% while the population of Egbema is 33% and based on that before we share anything, we have to consider the ratio and that has been the pattern. Egbema people will always come to Ohaji for a chance in LGA. At that time, if Ohaji man becomes chairman of LGA, Egbema will take vice-chairman and supervisor. It has been like that until presently when our people who never saw anything started worshipping money. When my brother Chief Goddy Obody came out to contest for House of Assembly, I was there already for the chairmanship. The former Governor Achike Udenwa invited Ohaji/Egbema people to the Government House exco chambers. He told my people that he would want to go for the second term and he would not want Ohaji/Egbema people to disappoint him.