Interview: With Obaze and Ekwueme’s daughter, Anambra will rise again – Obi
Sir, Dr.IfeanyiUbah raised some strange issues on AIT yesterday, including that you demanded billions of naira from Gov Obiano. He talked about how you influenced the last primaries and submitted that you were desperate to have your own man at that place. How true is that?
Thank you for that question and for this meeting. Three days ago, when you reached me about the possibility of this interview, the event you referred to had not taken place. I say this as a way of saying, look, if the event is why you sought for this interview, I would have declined, because I have made up my mind on certain things.
Ordinarily, I don’t react to comments people make, especially those made out of ulterior motives. I do not return evil for evil, rather I will cling to my rosary praying for God’s love on all of us.
Having asked the question, let me tell you about anencounter I recently had. About two weeks ago, two persons came to me and said that they just came out of a meeting where it was discussed that for the upcoming elections in Anambra State, they will come out aggressively to attack my integrity and make it impossible for me to campaign for the candidate of my party. And I asked them how it would happen. They said they didn’t know but they had what it takes to bring people to the media to shred my character before Nigerians through blackmail and lies. I thanked them and said that when they come, we will see it.
After a week, I started hearing on local radio in Anambra State, people being put on radio owned by the state government to call me names and associate my name with things I do not even dream of doing in my sleep.
The other day, one reporter quoted me as saying that I would fight the election with the last pint of my blood, when even in the height of normal human rage, I cannot use such a term. Now, suddenly, this issue of seven billion is being bandied about. I joined the PDP in October 2014. That is three years ago, so at what point did I start demanding this money since they said it was the reason while I joined the PDP? Are they saying that if this money was paid to me, I won’t campaign for the PDP or what?
You are all educated and discerning, so let us look at issues critically; whether anybody likes it or not, it is on record in this country and I can prove it with bank documents and statements that I left over 25 billion Naira in local investment for Anambra State; over 25 billion Naira in cash in the banks, and 156 million dollars in the banks in Nigeria. So I ask the question -do you think anyone can leave such money and turn around to beg the person he handed over to give him 7 billion Naira? I would have taken it first, give them the balance and still be in good shape. Let me use the dollars as example, nobody has ever left one dollar in any state in Nigeria. I left 156 million dollars. 30 million dollars alone is over 7 billion naira. If I had taken chances and left 120 million, I will still be a champion. Let it be on record that the money, with its accruals, is today about 200 Billion Naira.
You could even sense it yourself that it is sheer blackmail. I am a Christian and I am not supposed to swear, but I can put my hand on any form of ecclesiastically prescribed oath and say that I have never discussed with anybody to be paid any amount. I have never done that and I will never do that. At this stage of my life, I cannot support anybody for political and personal benefit, I have passed that stage and to do so is to abuse the Grace of God in my life.
I did not go into politics wretched; I was already a director in three financial institutions, a director in four other major companies; all by the virtue of my investments. I was also running a successful family business. Going into politics made me poorer but I won’t question anything because that is where God wants me to be. The joy of rendering fruitful service to the people cannot be quantified in naira and kobo. For me, all I want is for us to have a better society; caring for the poor and the people.
It is a record that you installed the present governor, tell us about it?
Well I don’t want to go into it, you heard the governor say on Channels television that I was not the one who invited him. With obvious reference to me, he said that one fellow was running errands for them does not mean he was the one behind his emergence. I will leave it at that because by my nature I do not like stirring controversies. It was for the same reason that I declined the invitation by Channels to clear the air on that. Beyond who invited and who did what, I am a person driven by performance and quality of service to the people.
In response to the money you left, agents of the State Government usually argue that you left liabilities that are more than whatever was left. How would you react to this?
A very good question. Let me tell you about issues of liability…in government, you only talk about any contractual obligation being a liability or debt if the work is executed and is unpaid or the supply is delivered and is unpaid. I will give you an example. If I award a contract of a road that is 10 kilometres and I pay them mobilization, the only time I’m owing the company is if they execute a kilometre and certificate of execution is issued by Ministry of Works, it becomes a debt. If they did not do that, nobody is owing them.
When I took over from Dr Chris Ngige, for example, he was working on 13 roads, which we inherited and completed with record time, without branding them liability. This is because he paid for all the certificates of work done before he left. I will give you example with three strategic roads that Ngige started: Owerri-Ezukeala to Igbo Ukwu. This road is a long one. As at the time I came into office, it was being constructed by Setraco. They were somewhere around Umuchu. Ngige had paid Setraco for what they had done. So, I took that road from there to Igbo Ukwu. And they were working, I was paying them, without saying it was a liability.
There is another road from Iseke to Awka-Etiti. Again, that road was started by Ngige. They stopped at Ukpor. I was the one who finished it from there to AwkaEtiti. He wasn’t owing them for what they did before I took over, So, I won’t call it a debt. Same thing happened with another road from Ideani to Otuocha. They were around a place called Nteje and I took it to Otuocha.
When I took over from Ngige, I did not meet debts because he was not owing contractual obligations. There is a road that was awarded, even though he had not mobilized the contractors, but the contractors had not started any work. For example, the Zik’s Avenue Awka; he awarded to RCC. I came, I stopped the contract, were-designed the road with the same RCC, dualized it, paid them the mobilization. So, I cannot go, except I did not perform and is shopping for excuses, to say Chris Ngige left a lot of debts because there was no debt.
As at the day I left office, I want you to quote me, I had no unpaid certificates of job that had been executed. Not one! I had no single unpaid certificate of supply that had been delivered. The highest supplies I had in government were the one from InnosonMotors . We bought vehicles of over N5 billion Naira from the company. The decision to buy from him was a deliberate policy to support him for the value the company is adding to the State in terms of employment and other multiplier effects in the economy of the State. I actually paid them all these monies, clearly a year before I left office.
The next ones are Coscharis Motors; we had billions of supplies from them. You can ask them, we paid him the funds. The other one was Zinox and HP. We bought the highest number of computers for schools – over 30,000, which came to about N2.4 billion. Go and ask Leo Stan Ekeh, I woke him up by 2.00 am in the morning; I said we wanted this order. The first thing he told me was that he would not do it because he didn’t think I would be able to pay. I told him we would pay up front. We paid at least four months before he finished the supplies. I can go on and on, never did we have one person being owed for supplies delivered to the State the day I left office. Anybody can go and look into that. I was not owing salary.
You are in Nigeria and you know what is happening. As a Governor, I spent over 37 Billion Naira paying arrears of pensions and gratuity unpaid in the State since 1990. I paid some of the contracts executed under Dr.Mbadinuju and did not complain. In my own case, after doing all this, I paid for every single executed contract. Some Governors were handed over states owing billions in salaries, contracts and money borrowed from banks unlike what I handed over.
Concerning the PDP primaries, you were …
( Cuts in) I’m not a member of PDP Caretaker Committee in the State. I’ m not a delegate to the primaries. So, I wonder how this came about. There were delegates that voted. Those delegates are not my brothers and sisters. The best thing to do now is to avoid distractions the opposition is deliberately planting amongst us in order to have competitive advantage over us. I wish all PDP members realize this.
They say the person that served as your SSG and therefore your stooge was the one that emerged.
In any election, you must support one person or the other based on his proven and inherent potentials. I do so based on that criteria and not for transaction. I must have a cogent and convincing reason in my own case to support anybody. Yes, anybody can talk about OselokaObaze. I can tell you that for me, people said my government did well; one of those that made it possible was OselokaObaze. Because of people like him we were number one in achieving Millennium Development Goals, MDGs in this country. If this country had followed the MDGs guidelines, we won’t be where we are today. In the year the MDGs started, China’s GDP was $1 trillion. By the time MDGs was completed after 15 years, China’s GDP had gone to about $12 trillion because China mainstreamed all the MDGs goals into their agenda and followed them strictly, and was able to pull 439 million people out of poverty.
Our country is among the countries where the opposite happened. Rather than more people going out of poverty, more people became impoverished, because they didn’t follow it strictly. In Anambra State, we started late. We started in 2008. But I can tell you by the time we left office in 2013, we were number one in the country in the implementation of MDGsand it helped us a lot. We followed the goals strictly. We were the first to do poverty mapping, which made us to know that one of the major things we needed to eradicate poverty was to have road access. This made us to construct roads to the hinter lands. Go to Anambra State and you will see roads everywhere in the rural areas.
In education, we moved forward from 25 and 26 in NECO and WAEC Examinations to number one. I can go on and on. Health, the same thing. We did not achieve all these in a vacuum. As a Diplomat with the UN for over 20 years, OselokaObaze was part of what was happening in the Organization. He was severally commended even by successive UN Secretary Generals for his quality contributions to the successes of the body. It was the same OselokaObaze that presented a paper to us as one interested in the progress of his State, advising us on how to come into it and his preparedness to offer us 100 per cent support. When we started it and was highly successful due to his input and contacts he connected us to, I almost dragged him to come and be part of the implementation. The UN knew they were going to lose an asset, but we used diplomacy to pull it through.
Today, the world has moved on from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. China again adopted it and mainstreamed it into their development programmes and have said by the year 2030, they will double their GDP, they will double their per capita. In fact, for China, by the year 2025, five years before the end, they would have pulled another 20 million out of poverty.
Are their conditions by other PDP members to support the campaign?
I’m not talking about conditions. I visited them. There is no other condition because we now have a candidate. I visited IfeanyiUba. I visited every other candidate, not just him. I visited John Emeka, everybody. I’ve gone to see them and I told them, let’s come together as a family. I’m not contesting election to be Governor. I want the good and success of the PDP not just in Anambra State but in Nigeria. And for Anambra, let us use OselokaObaze as a springboard.
There are still claims that you are trying to impose a running mate, whereas some people like IfeanyiUba want to be running mate…
(Cuts in) I am not comfortable when people’s names are mentioned in an interview like this, otherwise the interview becomes personalized. Let me tell you, I’ve never one day spoken to anybody about anybody being the running mate. Never! In fact, the party Chairman in the State, Prof ABC Nwosu told me personally that since the candidate is somebody who joined with me, because these are some of the contentious issues, that we just joined; I now said to them, PSG has just signedNaymer. They are paying him10 times what they used to pay people who have been there playing for years. They want to win and this should be the spirit among party members that want victory. They said they wanted the deputy to come from the original people, all my interest is that it should be a person that will add value to the people. Obaze is not somebody we should associate imposition with, because he has a mind of his own and above all, he has rich experiential pedigree punctuated with character and integrity. He has everything needed to drive the process of governance.
How can somebody question the choice of Ekwueme’s daughter as the deputy? Look at her CV and you will know that her choice was after careful and painstaking search. How can somebody say I imposed her when her father was the founding father and chairman of the party?
Sir, IfeanyiUbah recently gave a notice to go to court, alleging that the primary was a sham, a deceit…
I don’t want to go back to that issue. You can agree with me that the primary was the best the PDP had organized in the State. What the PDP needs now is for everybody to come together as one united family for us to win the election.
Sir, going by how you are treated in Anambra State today, the destructive films the State sponsored against you, the sponsored name-calling among other indignities, do you regret being part of those that brought Obiano to power?
I have never regretted anything in my life. I came here with nothing. I’m going away with nothing. Whatever I have in my life is by the grace of God. So, I have never had any regret. I can tell you, at 55, I’ve never been to hospital, except when the doctor said they saw a small growth in my system, they wanted to remove it and I was in hospital for two hours for that.
I am married, have a wonderful family with two children, a wife,the best that anybody could wish to have. So, why will I regret in life? I came from a larger family where people are very accommodating. My immediate elder sister is a Reverend Sister, my immediate younger brother is a Rev. Father. They are understanding. I don’t come from a place where people are not contended. The things that give some people headache, I don’t have. So, what will I regret?
However, I do not know whether to call it a regret, but I despise it – supporting somebody to office and the person starts working for himself rather than for the people. When I went into government, I went into government to serve the people. My regret is about my country not taking the advantage of building a better country that will accommodate everybody. If I tell you where this country was when China started what they are doing today, you will shudder. We were better off in all indices of development: they didn’t have money; they didn’t have anything. Why did they do better? I’m looking forward to my country learning from her mistakes.
Is it because Nigeria is not doing well that you said you want to be Vice President?
You are talking about aspirations that are not there, which is part of well-planned issues to blackmail me. What I want is a good Nigeria. You don’t need to have a post to speak about a good Nigeria. I go around because I know that we can be better. I know we can reduce the cost of governance that is unacceptable. I know because I’ve been a Governor. As a Governor, rather than stay in hotels where people pay over N500, 000 per night, I stayed in a Hotel I paid less than 50,000. Rather than have a convoy of 20, I heard that of five. Rather than maintain over 10 guest houses, I closed them down and restricted myself to the Lodge. Rather than travel on chartered plans, I flew even economy class most times. These are cost-saving measures that we deliberately introduced to keep government going.
What are the issue that you expect that will be used for campaign?
I’m not the one contesting, it is Obaze. Whichever way it goes, but we know that objective electioneering all over the world is about issues – what the incumbent has done to deliver on his promises and what the new candidates will do if eventually elected .
Is Anambra better than you left it?
You would have noticed reluctance on my part in talking about Anambra, I prefer to discuss Nigeria, because whatever I say about our country will somehow be applicable to the states.
We have suffered cumulative effects of leadership failure over the years, everybody, including myself is guilty. It is not a blame game, but an attempt to diagnose what is wrong with us as a country and proffer solutions. In doing this, I always go by way of comparative analysis.
Sir, the raging issue in Nigeria today is IPOB, what…
(Cuts In) Irrespective of whatever the Federal Government has said about IPOB, my position has remained constant – agitation in Nigeria is nationwide. It is all over the country, not just one side of the country. The reason is very simple: there are millions of young people in their productive ages doing nothing. When you don’t know where the next meal will come from, you are a free agent, you can become anything. The reason why you people are here is because you know where the next meal will come from.
What you see today is the cumulative effect of leadership failure over the years in the country. That is one of the consequences and it’s not going to be solved by what we are doing today. You can quote me anywhere. We have to sit down, dialogue with those who are agitating, start looking at meaningful solution that can give them hope. Once a country makes her people to develop a sense of hopelessness, the people will agitate a lot.
I gave you an instance of China. In 1980, the GDP of China was $341billion. The GDP of Nigeria your country was $143 billion. So, you can say that China was twice bigger than Nigeria. In terms of savings, Nigeria had in 1980 $10.5 billion and China had $10 billion. In terms of per capita, Nigeria was $870; China was $193. Today, China’s GDP is 12 trillion; thirty times bigger than ours. China’s savings that was $10 billion is now $3 trillion. Somebody you were four times before has moved miles ahead of you, that is our crisis today. That is why the agitation is on-going. It’s a simple thing. It’s the economy.
I can go on and on and show you. South Korea just in savings alone had $3 billion when we had $10.5 billion. Today, they have $365 billion and we have $30 billion. I can go on and show you Indonesia, Thailand. Thailand was $5 billion when we had $10 billion. So, why don’t we take the right steps and do the right things? The cost of our governance is unacceptable. When you talk about restructuring, they will say no, no, no, America has 50 States. You can’t compare us with America. That is a disaster. One State in America called California has a GDP of $2.6 trillion, six times Nigeria. Per capita is $50,000. We are not even investing in the future. The future is education.
Somebody asked me why I saved in dollars. It was clear because of two things. We studied what China was able to do by attracting investors. China is investing and supporting manufacturing. That is driving 40% of their GDP. And these were done by regions within China. Every region was busy doing the right thing.
In Anambra, we invested about $20 million dollars in one company. I said to myself, why don’t we continue to save about $19 million to $20 million per annum till 2030, which is when the SDGS will end. If you continue to put $20 million till 2030, plus the accumulation of interests, we have about a billion dollars. Most regional manufacturing firms in China were actually set up by SMEs for about for about $2 million. So, if we decide to take 25% of thatand invest in manufacturing, we will have a thousand of them with half a billion dollars scattered all over the state. That alone can create a million jobs.
Secondly is the fact that we need to invest in education and the environment and we don’t have money for this. The World Bank approved an initial loan of $40 million for education, $40 million for environment, of which my government did not draw down from. This education was to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, which is the future, because we know that as from 2025, there will be millions of job vacancies in that sector. So, we said, since we are going to pay this money in the future, we started saving. Because we are going to earn a billion by the time the loan matures, $500 million will go to these SMEs, $200 million will go to others, $300 million will be left. Everything being equal by 2050, we will be hitting almost $2 Billion. Meanwhile, we have 1,000 SMEs out there, which about 80% of them will survive, and if they do, they shall be producing for export that will change the place.
Unfortunately, I live in a system that people just get up and say, ‘oh they are talking about savings…if I want, I can take all of them, put the state in debt before leaving.’
Sir, Civil Liberties Organization issued a press release and even published it as advertorials, asking You and Obiano to give accounts of APGA stewardship in the State. Though they promised to extend it to other States when elections approached as part of measures to encourage transparency. What would you say about some of their specific demands like the issue of erosion money, 75 Billion Naira savings, money for UBEC projects, among others?
One is worried about some of these things, not knowing where they are coming from. However, I have always said that I am prepared to give account of my stewardship, which I even did before handing over. CLO is a first class, respected organization. I will take time to respond to every issue they mentioned, one after the other. I will reply them and I will find the means of placing it in the same medium which they used. I urge you to give me time; in some few weeks I will answer everything. What they did, I hope they do it to other people.
The clamour for restructuring is almost nationwide, you may want to say something about that, Sir?
I think it was Jean Jacques Rousseau that said the will of the people should be the ruling principle in his book, The Social Contract. Let this be our guide in a manner that will not be injurious to us.
What will be your message for Nigeria?
We shall never despair. Let us prayerfully ask God to give us the crop of leaders that will understand the dynamics of leadership and apply themselves becomingly to that.