FROM DESMOND MGBOH, KANO
Mazi Samuel Iheanyichukwu Ohuabunwa, former chief executive officer of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc, heads the New Nigeria Group, a political platform that is set to give the Nigerian political system a face-lift.
He was in Kano State a fortnight ago, where he engaged a number of stakeholders on their vision. In between a schedule of several meetings, he was interviewed by Sunday Sun, where he shared his thoughts on the 2023 elections, zoning, president of Igbo extraction, insecurity, diverse and counteracting interests of the Igbo political class, poverty and injustice in the land. Excerpt:
You have been in Kano in the last 24 hours and have been meeting with some political stakeholders in the state. What is their impression of your presidential aspiration?
I am not trying to be hyperbolic or to exaggerate. The reception has been very, very cordial and indeed, it has exceeded expectations. I find that many people are hungry for a new Nigeria and many people are tired of the situation that we have found ourselves in this country and anything that can bring about real, meaningful change, they can go by it. That is the impression I get. They are hungry… everybody that I have met in Kano, all the stakeholders, indigenous and residents, everybody is saying we need help in the country, we want a country that works for everybody. That is the impression I have.
Out here in the North, a number of people are opposed to an Igbo president of Nigeria. Again, if I may ask, what is the impression of the people you have met in Kano with regard to an Igbo man emerging as the president of Nigeria in 2023?
I believe that most of what they have felt, when they see me and hear me, you could see some form of awe, they seemed over-awed and you can read that if they had had any doubt as to the capacity of a Nigerian of Southeast extraction or of Igbo extraction to hold the office of the president of Nigeria come 2023, you could see those doubt flee. Because they heard me speak like them, they heard me espouse the problems they are facing and they heard me give them confidence that our mission is to unite this country and they heard me tell them that the Igbo man is the major lover of this country. He is the man who loves this country the most. He is the man who loves this country, in words and action, because there is no other ethnic group or any other nationality that behaves like the Igbo in Nigeria. The Igbo man leaves his home land and goes to other parts of Nigeria, everywhere in this country and settles. He buys land, builds house, marries and becomes part of the place. He speaks their language and integrates into their customs and culture. No other group does it at the same level. And you may ask, what does the Igbo man want? The Igbo man wants peace, he wants good working environment, he wants good business environment so that he can do his business. And that business environment is not for him alone. If a good business environment is created, it is for the Igbo, it is for the Hausa, it is for the Fulani, it is for the Yoruba , it is for the Edo. It is for everybody. Every Nigerian desires the same thing, every Nigerian wants peace, wants prosperity. Every Nigerian desires justice and prosperity, every single one. So, what the doubt is, is who is going to be, who is able to exude and deploy these virtues which everybody wants. And when I tell them my background and when I tell them what I had been…as the chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, I was an Igbo, but I wasn’t chosen because I was an Igbo man. There were Yoruba, there were Hausa and there were Benin … Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Perterside and Fola Adeola, they were all in the same board but they chose me.
Aminu Wali, Nigerian ex- Foreign Affairs Minister, while speaking with me, asked Igbo to search inward for nationalists like Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. That Nigerians would have no problem with the presidency moving Southeast in 2023 once that is done. Do you think we still have the likes of these two great men among the Igbo political class?
I think that there may be some politicians in that class if we search hard enough. But I want to tell you with all due humility that I represent that Igbo who exudes the intellectual acuity and propensity of Azikiwe, who brings the humanness and understanding of the Nigerian politics as Ekwueme did. But I go beyond them – and again, with due humility – because none of them ran any major business. I ran a multi- national business. I was West African Managing Director for Pfizer, I an entrepreneur par excellence. Today, I chair more than 25 companies. I am involved in building businesses and people, in building communities. They didn’t go through the grassroots as I did. I came from the grassroots. But many of them came from the principled, privileged class. I came from the grassroots, but I have grown up. I have been seasoned sufficiently by the situations that I have passed through. I believe that there are people like that if you search hard enough. But if you see me, you don’t even need to search any further.
But there is also another big problem about Igbo’s quest for presidency. Unlike some others, the Igbo political class is perceived as unorganized, not united and are most unlikely to work for the big spot. Rather some of them would run for the vice presidential slot and the small small things and offers. What is your take on this?
There is something called law of natural selection. The law of natural selection, at the final point, selects the best out of the whole, out of the unqualified and those who are at different levels of qualification. I have no issue with many people wanting to offer, if they genuinely want to offer service. But we have seen them. Many of them you are seeing today, we have seen them. Nigerians have seen them. My Bible says that if you cannot be faithful over a small thing, who can give you a big thing? They have been given smaller things to do and they didn’t show faithfulness and today, they want to be given bigger things…. Unless Nigerians are dumb and cannot discern. And I know that Nigerians are not dumb, whether they are Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. They can differentiate. Yes, because of the egalitarian nature of the Igbo, because of the republican nature of the Igbo person, he does not easily succumb to a singular opinion. There is diverse opinion. But the essential Igbo is a communal person. The essential Igbo meets in the Obi and they take a decision and everybody abides by it. The essential – I am not talking of these Fly- by- night Igbo, who ran into money and got intoxicated by strange money – but the essential Igbo listens. When the elders speak, they listen. And for me, what is important in this case are two things. The first is that Nigeria needs a Nigerian leader, who is competent, who is a man of character and who is courageous to do what is right and righteous. That is what Nigeria wants. Secondly, we are saying that for equity, for balance, for healing and reconciliation, the presidency should be preferential given – or it should be allowed that all the major political parties should produce their candidates from the Southeast, so that in the end, one of them would rule the country. But it has to be the best. When Nigerians see the good person, every reservation they have about the Southeast region or the Igbo man would disappear.
Prof Attahiru Jega, one-time INEC chairman, said this morning in the papers, that he prefers merit to zoning of the presidency to any particular region in 2023. What would you say about his remarks?
Opinion is free, facts are sacred. I think that is your dictum in journalism. We have seen when the North say, it is our turn. We have seen when the West said, it is our turn. We have seen when other regions said, it is our turn. They fight and said: “If we don’t get it, the world would break and the land would break.” I am sure you are not a 10-year-old boy. You heard and saw these things and when people, like Prof Jega, say such things (about zoning), you should challenge them. Ask them why are they changing the rule of the game in the middle of the game? I have a book, “Nigeria at 50: Time for the Evolution of New Nation”. My national proclivity is merit because I had risen by merit. I came to become CEO of Pfizer by merit. It was not because I came from anywhere. I became president of NECA by merit and chairman of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria in Lagos by merit, I became the president of Nigeria-American Chamber of Commerce by merit. I was appointed to all the offices I have held by merit. However, we are not talking about a business organization. We are talking about a nation. And this is a political-social consideration, and where it is important that every Nigerian is given a sense of belonging. In business, if you don’t measure up, we show you the way out. In Nigeria, who are you going to show the way out? Throw him out of the country or what? We have to cope in this country with the good , the bad and the ugly and so we need something that unites us because it is when we are united that we can push in one direction. When we are happy with our country, we shall be motivated and be productive. So the case that I made in that book is that let us complete the rotation; let every zone have the opportunity of the leadership of this country. And after everybody has done it once, we can then jettison the model. Because nobody would say that he has not been given an opportunity. This is fair guys! This is what we lack in this country. What we are lacking in this country is true men of integrity. Men who stand on their principle, men who do not change just because they want to protect their interests. In this country, we have very few men who stand on their principles. They bend and that is why we are in trouble. My position is that just as we have spoken since 1999, that we should give this people a chance, we should give this people a chance, let’s give every zone a chance at least once, across the political – civilian system. After that, I will support that we return to merit. However, that does not mean that I said we should return to merit and that should be it. Why? You know politics is a game of number and until this country becomes completely united, completely sophisticated, completely elevated socially, and where Nigerian can live and is ably supported by the institutions of government, where it does not matter whether you are Nupe or Igala, whether you are Igbira or Ogoja because when it comes to worse, that system would guide you and you are not going to be able to discriminate against anybody. The system would guide you and limit you. It is only at that point. Otherwise, the minority would never have any opportunity to produce a leader in this country and somebody would tell you that politics is number. And which kind of country is that where one group is always producing the leadership. Is it only that group that has merit? Because of their population, they lord it over others and say it is merit. Let us not get into self-serving argument. I want merit, but at the time when our country has reached the reign where there is political sophistication, where there is social amenities and strong institutions that can guide any errant, misguided leader, who might just come to foster his personal or his group interest. Just as we have seen in the United States of America. If it were not for the system, America would have been in a bigger trouble.
Two questions look very interesting to me at this point. First, how come you are not occurring within the context of the two leading political parties? Is it that you don’t have confidence in the existing political parties or you will eventually join one of the parties?
I am a member of a political party since 1998. I have exercised my political franchise. It is just that I have not been in competitive politics because I was a career person until lately. But I have a right to belong to a political party and I did. And I have been there till today. But what it is is that at the appropriate time, God who motivated us and who helped us to come to this conclusion and who has prepared us from our mother’s womb to this day for this job would show us the appropriate platform to join. Because you know that today, there is no ideology…. Nigerians just move from one place to the other. They mess themselves and mess everybody up… because of lack of principles. So, what we have decided to do is start with the New Group, which is a political Movement that espouses an ideology, that has a vision, that has objectives, that has a destination of where it is going. The New Nigeria Group has developed a vision that wants to make Nigeria a First World nation and in the process, makes a country that works for everybody. Works for the journalists, works for the businessman, works for the professional, works for the students, works for the adults, works for the woman and works for the man, a country that protects the poor, while giving the rich the opportunity to also do their thing; that understands that all fingers are not equal; that understands that situations are different, that circumstances are different. That is what we are looking for, a nation that is sympathetic, a nation that fulfils its obligation to its citizens, a nation that protects lives and property. That is what we are looking for. That is our mission. So, what we are doing is to get Nigerians first to believe that a Nigeria is possible. That is our job now in the New Nigeria Group. Many Nigerians that I spoke to said that they have lost hope, both old and young. The young are looking for an opportunity to immigrate and the old has resigned and the middle age is confused. And so we are saying. Let’s not give up on our country. This is our country. That country that God spoke about saying it is flowing with milk and honey. This is it. This country is it.
You mean you could make Nigeria flow milk and…?
It is already flowing, but some people are milking it, drinking the milk and licking the honey. They drink and they reserve for their linage and leave the rest of us in the cold, starving in poverty.
Insecurity is a major problem in Nigeria. Recently, in the Southwest, there was fighting between Fulani and Yoruba; in far Maiduguri, it is a case of Boko Haram and in the Northwest, there are cases of banditry and kidnapping. What is your take on insecurity in Nigeria?
One thing you must take home is that the insecurity you find in this country is caused largely by injustice. Yes, injustice. Many sections of this country, at one time or the other, have felt mistreated, maltreated, misaligned and marginalized. They have grievances against the nation called Nigeria and at every opportunity, they take it on fellow citizens. And this injustice is exploited by the elite in the society to hold on to power, to have more opportunities to allocate money to themselves in the name of fighting one insurrection or fighting one terrorist group… if not. Can you tell me who is funding all this? How much does A-K 47 costs? Is it something that I can pick on the road? So, the truth is that there are injustices and there are people who want to keep us perpetually down because it serves their interest. We have seen through their tricks. So, for me, if you want to solve insecurity, solve injustice. I have come through life to know that the moment everybody is good and everybody is happy, people do not destroy what they owe. They don’t have issue about the government. Related to solving injustice is dealing with poverty. Poverty is in the land, people are not gainfully employed , they are paid starvation wages and the state is wicked. Nigerian state has shown wickedness to many people. A man is building a kiosk on the road to start and do business and government would come up and destroy the place and say he built on the wrong place. If they did not destroy the structure, the moment he sets up the place, all the vultures would gather. Local government vulture , state government vulture, Federal Government vulture, area boys vulture, they come to this man to destroy him. They give him tax to pay, they give him bills, they want to destroy him and if at the end, he can’t pay, they destroy his kiosk. My question is what is he supposed to do when he can’t build his kiosk? He can’t ride his Okada, he cannot do any job? What else is he expected to do to respond to hunger? So, he listens to basest instinct which is well I have to get it one way or the other. He goes into stealing. If he has the opportunity, he takes on other people and takes it violently. So, if we solve poverty and solve injustice, I can tell you that 80 per cent of Nigeria’s problem is over because solving injustice solves insecurity and solving poverty, solves corruption largely.