Rt. Hon. Chiji Chimezie Collins, Speaker, Imo State House of Assembly, Is a legislator with a rare parliamentary record in Nigeria. A doctorate degree holder in architecture, which he obtained from a university in Italy, Collins, by his current status, is serving a second administration in the state as Speaker of a State House of Assembly. He first served as Speaker of the House under the short lived administration of Governor Emeka Ihedioha. In this exclusive interview with Ugonna Anejionu, Assistant Editor, Verbatim magazine, Collins gives insight into his stewardship at the Imo State house of assembly and why is presently giving full support to the new administration of Hope Uzodinma, the current governor, in the state. Excerpts:
Verbatim: Let us kick off this interview with a look at your relationship as Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, with the Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma who is heading the executive arm. What seems to exist is a strong relationship that is keeping the new government moving forward without any friction so far. What is responsible for this?
Collins: Thank you so much. What I am doing is what I think anybody who loves his state should do, giving the circumstances we found ourselves in the state. Imo must move forward and that should be for the greater good of all .The next point I want to make here is about the personality of the Governor. You see, Governor Hope Uzodimma is just a blessing to Imo state. To me, God wants to use him to take the state to another level. First, it is not easy to have a governor that is well connected at the centre of national politics. You will agree with me that Governor Uzodimma is in the league of progressives in Nigeria and is also respected as well. He is no doubt a stakeholder in the country’s politics and I am sure he will use this to the advantage of Imo as a state. Secondly, I believe students of Imo politics and history will not forget the roles he played during the last elections in Imo. To be more specific, it was 85% of his personal efforts that stopped the intention of former Governor Rochas Okorocha to impose his son in-law and his Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu as the governor of the state. Imo people, am sure, have not forgotten his bold steps then. As a matter of fact, he was applauded by the indigenes for liberating them from the grips of Okorocha. This alone won him the respect of Imo indigenes also. On the other hand, he, upon being sworn in as Governor, proved that he has the interest of the state at heart. His policies and achievements so far points to the fact that Imo is in safe hands. He has proved he has listening ears and you will agree with me that any leader that has listening ears is simply wonderful. Again, he is so resourceful that he has gone out of his ways to ensure that all the looted funds of the state are returned. This, he is chasing by making sure that the various panels of enquiry set up by the state government under Emeka Ihedioha,to look into contracts and others, are functioning as they should without any hitch or interference. By the time these panels conclude their investigations, Imo people will know what the man has achieved for them. Another thing I respect him for is his courage and boldness which he has exhibited in several ways especially by making sure that several sacred names linked to various financial scandals in the past government of Okorocha are not shielded from the panels. This you will agree with me is a rare attribute. Honestly, he has brought hope back to Imo state and we are happy to work with him.
Verbatim: Talking about the various panels, we hear that former governor Okorocha who was summoned at a time by the panel on contracts shunned the panel’s invitation but rather took the panel to the courts to stop his investigations. Don’t you think this will intimidate the panel and even the government?
Collins: No, no, no. Remember I told you that the governor is a fearless and highly courageous man who will stop at nothing to give the best to his people. I am sure, based on this, that the panel will conclude its investigations. He is poised to see it to the end. I am also sure that no influence and no power can stop the process.
Verbatim: Nowlet us also take a look at your experience as Speaker of Imo state house of assembly. What major challenges have you encountered so far?
Collins: Well, I think it has been a wonderful experience. I have really enjoyed the privilege of serving my state in this capacity. Again, I must say that am too lucky to serve under a man of vision who has given his maximum support and encouragement to the state assembly. I and my colleagues cannot wish for more. Remember he was a ranking member in the senate who served Orlu Senatorial zone for two consecutive terms. He knows the need and importance of separation of power and has ensured we enjoy that privilege here at the state assembly. However, there are still challenges to be surmounted. For example, we presently moved out of the assembly complex to a government building in the Ikemba Ojukwu centre as the state assembly complex is so dilapidated and may cave in at any moment. We inherited it in this state of dilapidation. Based on this, we had to vacate the place to go to another place from where we hold plenaries in a makeshift arrangement. We believe the government will definitely award and finish the renovation of the place soon, so that we can return and function from a more conducive environment. There is also the challenge of funds which this administration inherited. We hope these will be sorted out soon so that the state assembly members will be encouraged to serve both their people and state most effectively and efficiently.
Verbatm: Mr Speaker, you broke record as the first legislator to serve two different administrations in the state as Speaker. What do you think led to this?
Collins: Well, I can’t assess myself but I think I earned the trust and confidence of both my colleagues and the state government under Governor Hope Uzodinma. I don’t know what to say here but I do know I was elected the speaker by my colleagues during the Emeka Ihedioha era and was also retained when Governor Uzodinma came in. I can’t say why this happened but I also do know that I have, as a person, worked so hard to be dirty proof. I know I have worked so hard to establish a certain degree of integrity and that I have also been so committed and dedicated to the growth of the assembly. Maybe this and the hard work I deployed from my first tenure despite tribulations I faced during the Okorocha era could be the reason why I was elected in the first place and also retained. But in all of this, I think it is Gods design.
Verbatim: Talking about integrity, we hear you were not involved in the controversial purchase of SUVs for the house members under Governor Ihedioha, even as the speaker. We also hear that you were not involved in the controversial and scandalous contracts awarded by Okorocha even when a house member and your colleague, Kennedy Ibe is being quizzed for complicity. How did this happen?.
Collins: Let me say this. I am here only as a legislator and not as a contractor. I am here to help make laws for the good people of Imo state and not to amass wealth. Am not greedy and I have never been poor. I was not involved or mentioned because I have been conscious of the above. That is all. I am a man of principle and am not petty. Materialism does not move me. What moves me more is the quest for achievements for my people and the legacies I can leave on ground for posterity. I don’t want any blemish to my name or person. That is why.
Verbatim: It is a fact to acknowledge that so far, you have enjoyed solidarity of your colleagues in the house. Can you tell us the magic?
Collins: There is no magic. I think that I earned that respect. Remember I am the speaker of men and women of high intellectuality who know who the cap fits. I am very lucky to serve under them and I am happy we work as a team and family. No discriminations and I ensure everyone is carried along.
Verbatim: We were told your constituents took delivery of several millions of naira worth of relief materials to help cushion the hardship of the COVID 19 imposed sit at home. What motivated you sir?
Collins: I want you to remember that I told you I have the interest of my people at heart. I had to do what I did for them because it is an obligation. I owe them that and will also be willing to do more whenever the situation arises. I cannot look the other way or shy away from my responsibilities.
Verbatim: Where do you want to leave the assembly at the end of your tenure?
Collins: I will strive to make the house the best the state has ever had. It must be a deviation from the previous house under Governor Okorocha which unfortunately I was a member of. My colleagues fortunately have this same mind set so we will jointly leave that legacy for Imo.