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Uzodimma bitter because I am pro-people —Imo demolished hotel owner


Uzodimma bitter because I am pro-people —Imo demolished hotel owner

The Chairman of All Season Hotel, Owerri, Imo State, Mike Ikoku,  in this interview with DANIEL ADAJI  narrates how the state government demolished his facility, among other issues

There were reports on social media that your hotel was partially demolished by the Imo State Government. Could you tell us what happened?

My experience with the government of Imo State started sometime in 2021. When this government came into power, as an investor in the state for over 30 years, I have been supported by all governments that have come into Imo State. I diversified from confectionary to hospitality, in the year 2003 because I opened All Season on January 14, 2003, which is exactly 20 years today. All the successive governments had always supported my business because I came in and changed the face of tourism in the South-East and people started coming back home to invest. Most people now discovered that the South-East is a potential ground for tourism and I made it possible. So every government that has come supported me to make sure that the state reaps the benefit of tourism. Being the pioneer, they have centred the development of tourism around me because I put my experience in the development of tourism in the state.

I started my first business in Imo State in 1993. I came in 1993 to set up the biggest confectionary factory in the South -East. At the time, we were producing over 100 bags of flour daily which we distributed within the eastern states. The factory was in a town called Umukahi Orji. The factory is still there but the management changed. When I diversified, I handed it over to my immediate younger brother and they are still producing today. That is to tell you that I am not a new person in Imo.

When I came in as a young man, most of the people pursuing me were still in secondary schools but I took my time to build my business because I was from a very poor home. My father was a teacher and my mother a petty trader. My father lost his printing press during the civil war in Port Harcourt that was when he advised me to set up my business in my hometown to avoid what happened to him.

I was about 23 to 25 years old when I started a business.

How did you go into hospitality?

It is a great question.

During the military regime of Colonel Zubairu Tanko or so, there was an uprising in Owerri called the Otokoto uprising which rendered the town impotent. Many people left Imo and businesses in Imo died. So when Governor Achike Udenwa came into power, he came to Lagos to solicit support from Imo entrepreneurs for them to come back home and invest because there was no economic activity in Imo and the business environment was dead. I listened to him and that was how I decided to come back home and invest. At the conference, I met him and told him about my interest in tourism and hospitality. He said that I am smart enough to understand that Imo is a hub of South-East and that tourism is going to thrive there. So I requested that the government support me with the enabling environment and infrastructure to invest.

The governor then promised me land. I called him a week later and met him. He asked me to make a choice of location and upon inquiry and feasibility study, I settled for the new Owerri which was a farm land with only Concord hotel existing in that place. When I noticed that that place would be a good area for my business, I, then, informed the governor that I had seen a place that he could give me. He approved my application one month after and that is where All Seasons is still today. It took me two years to do construction until I opened the hotel in 2003.

From then on, I changed the face of hospitality and tourism. It was a very big success. Ikedi Ohakim came in after Achike left and toed the line of Achike Ndenwa and gave me all the support that I needed so that tourism was booming. Ikedi made me the chairman of the Imo State Tourism Corporation throughout his tenure.

When Governor Ikedi visited the business premises and saw the number of cars that plied the road, he supported me by dualizing the road to ease traffic.

Also, there was a land close to my business that was initially allocated to the Bank of Commerce and Industry in 1982 and 2007 but was not developed.  When Ikedihoha saw that I needed to expand my business further, he asked me to apply for the land.   The governor then revoked the land because of my application and the Bank of Industry was notified of the revocation. The land was then allocated to All Season with an offer letter. That area is the only commercial district in the environment. After we fulfilled all the necessary conditions, the government issued us a Certificate of Occupancy and we were asked to put up a structure worth N20m but what we had there was about N1.2bn. So, I have the legal right and position on land and we pay all our dues when due. I wonder why they have to disturb my business

When Governor Hope Uzodinma emerged, I started supporting him because I wanted peace for the land and my business also requires peace to prosper. We were enthusiastic that Hope knew what he was coming to do. I even floated an organization called Hopism-where governance meets the people which I single-handedly funded. Because the Governor was battling with legitimacy issues when he started, the people were aggrieved so I used that organization to reach out to the less privileged in the state and those who were not happy. At a time I started seeing the handwriting on the wall. I stand with the people. When the governor’s style of government was becoming foreign to the Imo people they started complaining. I approached him to look into the complaints; because the people were not getting the desired infrastructure and good governance. When it became obvious that the government had derailed from what I was thinking, I worked away from the government and started advocating for good governance and peace in the state. I joined the people and started searching for good governance. I have two of the most listened-to radio stations in Imo State. Box FM and Busy body FM. One of the stations, Busy Body FM was set up to protect the Igbo language from extinction.  I was shocked that this was the first time that a government would be coming after me since I started business in Imo State.

Was there any prior notice before the demolition?

They just gave seven days’ notice and came there with caterpillars to destroy the place. That time was when I was appointed chairman of the campaign council of the PDP governorship candidate. The reply the state had when I was announced as PDP campaign chairman was pulling down my fence to intimidate me. When I was informed about the demolition, I drove to the hotel and was amazed to see crowds mix of the Nigerian Army, Civil Defense, Police, and thugs. I told my staff to allow the destroyers to do whatever they came to do but no one should engage them in a fight to avoid loss of life. The moment I drove off from the premises, they started the demolition. The construction of the place cost me over N400m and they destroyed everything. They beat up my staff with iron including women.

Two weeks before the election, my staff called me that the same people visited the place and asked us to pull down the place within 28 days. They made it the property of the Bank of Industry.

We went to court and filed the case showing all the documents of the land. We also approached the court for an injunction to prevent them from destroying the place within 28 days. But on December 1, they went to that section of my business to destroy the place; that is part of my business that is most profitable.

Is it in any way politically motivated?

No, it is not. It is the governor who will answer that because he used to be a very good friend. If I am a bad man today, was I a bad man when I supported him? Just a few years ago I was the one who set up an organization to ease up the rejection of the people towards him when he was battling with legitimacy issues. Was I a bad man then? I walked away when I saw that my vision and that of the people of Imo State were not what the governor had. It is not a crime to walk away because we are not in a one-party system.

The state government revenue agencies came to two of my business outlets the Havana Cinema and Mimi Entertainment Centre shortly after the COVID-19 and ENDSARS protest, in 2021, and they gave us a tax bill of N130m to pay consumption tax. That was the first time we were hearing about consumption tax in Imo State. We were used to Value Added Tax. Before I could act, they came and closed down the place. As if it was not enough, I opened my cinema, Havana Cinema in August 2021 and started commercial operations in December 2021. They came and gave me a consumption tax of N35m to pay from January to December 2021 when the cinema had not started business activities. I complained about the lockdown that affected our business and they insisted I must pay so I headed to court. Despite the court case, the government came to my business premises without a court bailiff to arrest my staff and seal off the business. They locked up my staff and they had to pay money to get bailed. I told my staff that the case of fundamental human rights is still in court. I am also challenging them for double taxation because we cannot pay VAT and consumption tax.

Sometime in August this year, because of the inflow of customers and to protect my customers’ vehicles from car hackers and thieves, I wrote a letter to the government to lease the green verge, an open space for me to develop and fence with wire mesh. We wrote the government and we secured approval to lease the Green Verge for 40 years and approval to build wire mesh to fence the place. We have the entire document; we paid all the government levies. We lease from both the Ministry of Land and ENTRACO. What they are doing to me is total witch-hunting and not government policies.

There was another green verge in front of Mimi place where criminals and prostitutes operate, they gave me a condition to fence and beautify the place too, and maintain it on behalf of the government which I consented to. I reached out to the owner of Everyday Supermarket to make his contribution because the place was close to his supermarket. He agreed and we both joined hands and built the place for N21m.

Aside from speaking to the press, have you raised this concern elsewhere?

Yes. I have taken the matter to court. The only thing I can do is cry out to the media and the court.

What are your concerns right now?

My concerns now are not about me. It is about other smaller business enterprises in the state that are facing the same hostile situation. As I speak to you, businesses in Imo are not making a profit because of insecurity in the state. Businesses in the state are petty businesses so we depend on the inflow of people just like Lasvegas that depend on gambling, Owerri depends on hotels and entertainment but you can only go for entertainment, hospitality, and tourism where there is peace.

Within the last three years, I have never made a profit in any of those businesses and the one that broke our heart is the increase in the prices of diesel and petrol which has made it more difficult for us to operate. I believe I will make more profit by closing the place but I cannot because of the people who are working for me there; at least there was a time when they were making profit for me so I cannot throw them out now.

I have businesses in Lagos and the government in Lagos is not hostile to me. I make money in Lagos State and invest in Imo yet the government wants me to close the business down, that is witch-hunting.

If Mike Ikoku who is a top-rated investor and a stakeholder in the state is being maltreated that means the small-scale businesses are all dead. I am not speaking for myself; I am speaking for the small businesses.

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