Omoniyi Salaudeen and Onyedika Agbedo
The governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Abia State, Dr Alex Otti, has explained why he has not dropped his ambition to govern the state after losing out in the contest in the 2015 general election. According to him, the problems that made him to quit his job to join the race in 2015 have not been solved, stressing that Abia people are strongly behind him.
In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, he also revealed his plans for the state just as he spoke on the crisis rocking his party and other sundry issues.
You are back to the governorship race after a very keen contest in 2015. What is driving you?
Well, there was a reason I came out in 2015. There was a passion; there was something I wanted to do which has not been done. And to the extent that it has not been done, I cannot quit. If the person who hijacked my mandate has done it, then I would have considered quitting. I wasn’t looking for a job; I was in a job. I deliberately quit to come and do service to my people; to ensure that our place gets developed; to give good governance; to run a transparent economic management system; to ensure that our people have the basic necessities of life; to reduce to the barest minimum the poverty level in the state, to build infrastructure; to rescue the heartbeat of Abia State, which is Aba. None of those has been done. So, to the extent that they have not been done, I had to offer myself again. I don’t know if I have answered your question.
Yes, but with your background as an accomplished banker, a lot people are surprised at the way you have plunged yourself into the race given that politics is considered as a dirty game in this part of the world…?
(Cuts in) That’s actually the reason I am coming out. I am an accomplished banker; I have done something else; I have a second address. I have not come to look for fame or money; I have come to render service. And I know what to do. I have the required skills; I have the required training; I have the required network and I have the experience. If you go elsewhere, you find that people who actually offer themselves to serve are people who have something to give because you can’t give what you don’t have. But here the reverse is the case. I wrote an article recently titled, ‘Politics: Why we all must get involved’. I think it was Plato who said the consequences of not participating in politics is that you end being ruled by your inferiors. A lot of our people who know what to do are afraid; and then a few people who really don’t know what to do have zoned them out and they call themselves politicians. Who is a politician? Man is a political animal. So, the issue is that everybody must get involved in one way or the other. If you don’t want to get involved in electioneering, you can volunteer and support, because that is the only way this country can develop. I think it was Charles de Gaul who said that politics is too important to be left in the hands of politicians, not to talk of the politicians we have in Nigeria. What they have done, and it is deliberate, is to perpetuate themselves. They made the place very unattractive for outsiders to come in. They dominate the place and determine what happens to you and I. So, there must be an impressed force from outside that would break that vicious cycle otherwise what you see is that somebody finishes, he looks for his godson and installs him. That one finishes, he looks for his own godson and installs him. And then he finishes and looks for someone who is even worse than him and installs him. I have defined a godson as somebody who is installed by a godfather and the condition is that the godson must be worse than the godfather so that when the godfather asks him to jump he will ask him how high. So, for people who have something to deliver, they really cannot function as godsons. That is the reality.
After the last election, you went through judicial process to reclaim your mandate. At a point, the Appeal Court declared you the winner of the election before the Supreme Court upturned the ruling. Looking at the APGA, which you are running on its platform, do you think that the structure that gave you that overwhelming support you had in 2015 is still intact to enable you emerge victorious in 2019?
Yes, you are right. We went through the electioneering process and ended up in court. The major reason we went to court was that our mandate was stolen. We won that election clear and square. What happened was that our mandate was stolen at the state collation centre. And I think everybody knows what happened. The then governor brought in fake results from two local government areas when we were on our way to victory and those results were cancelled by the Returning Officer and he physically came to the collation centre, which is a criminal offence, to force the Returning Officer to reverse the cancellation and declare his godson winner. We didn’t think that was appropriate, so we went to the tribunal. We lost at the tribunal in a bizarre judgment. I am not a lawyer, but lawyers felt that the judgment didn’t have any relationship with the matter that was presented before the court. So, we went on appeal and the Appeal Court gave what we considered to be the right judgment because they looked at every fact and declared that I won that election and actually declared that I should be sworn in. But of course, my opponent had the right of appeal to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court reversed the victory. But then the point remains that I am yet to see where you make an omelet without breaking eggs. So, this is part of breaking eggs. I don’t think people should be deterred by the obstacles they meet on the way if they have a destination that have been defined. Now, talking about my party, if anything I think my party is now stronger. And it is not just my party. It is actually the Abia people. If you have an opportunity to go to Abia, you will find that not a whole lot has been done; nothing has changed. And if I had 20 people supporting me in 2015 and I won that election, today I will have 50. That is the reality. Even the people who gave benefit of the doubt to him (the incumbent governor) because they hardly knew him, have seen his performance today and there is nowhere that there have been any improvement. Salaries are being owed for upwards of 10 months; pensioners are being owed for upwards of two years. There were series in the last one week because nobody is being paid. So, the question is what are you doing with the money? And every now and then, you see television adverts sponsored by the state government and you know how much it costs. So, our money is being spent on propaganda and billboards; those are the economies that are working in Abia State. Some of us believe that enough is enough and this time we will break that chain that is holding us down.
You are contending with an incumbent government and the power of incumbency is always brought to bear on elections in this country. Secondly, APGA has also gone through its own crisis, which led to the defection of some members of your party to other parties. How do you hope to overcome these two major obstacles?
First of all, you are right about the power of incumbency, which to me is the availability of state resources with which they can hijack the election. So, that is very true. But this is not the first time that an incumbent is going to be defeated. We saw it in 2015 when Goodluck Jonathan being an incumbent president was defeated by Buhari. We have also seen it in a few other states, including Imo State. So, this won’t be a novel action. The second point that you raised about our party is also true. There have been challenges. But I would like you to point one major party in Nigeria that doesn’t have challenges. I want you to show me one major party that doesn’t have people decamping and re-camping. So, I think it is part of the political process. Yes, we have had a few people leaving us, but we have had much more people joining us. Whenever there is a contest, people are bound to be unhappy because they lost. Sometimes, they may not have lost fairly because we are all human; sometimes may have also lost fairly. But it’s natural for people to be aggrieved when they lose. In the states where we had major problems like Imo and to a little extent Anambra, first of all, there were over 20 governorship candidates and that was difficult to manage. All of them were serious; all of them felt they had the right to be nominated. They did have the right, but at the end of the day, it’s only one person that emerged. Some of them have protested about the process. Some said the primary was not free and fair; some of them said they didn’t know where the election held. But there is a committee that has been set up by the leader of the party, Governor Willie Obiano and that committee is working to reconcile aggrieved members. I think they are making success out of it. In Abia, we also have a few people that were not happy about the way the primaries were conducted and we are also trying to reach out to them. We set up a committee that has been visiting to resolve the problems. So, the issue is not that you are not going to have a problem, the issue is what you do when you have a problem. And for us, I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that we have a whole lot more people joining us than the people leaving us.
APGA was positioned as the party to beat in the Southeast in the 2019 election, but the party is fast losing its image and acceptance in the zone as a lot of the crisis you just talked about…?
(Cuts in) No, no, no! It is not true that the party is losing its acceptance in the zone. What I have just told you is what it is. There are people who are aggrieved and most of them are legitimately aggrieved. You can’t tell somebody who feels that an electoral process was not transparent that he doesn’t have a right to be angry. But the point that I have raised is that there is a process to resolving those challenges. I have also pointed out to you that I am not aware there is any party, except the ones that hardly exist, that don’t have problems. Every day you open the pages of newspapers, you see Okorocha, Amosun and Oshiomhole fighting. I’m sure you are not oblivious of that. Bukola Saraki was a member of APC yesterday, but today he is back to PDP. But that wouldn’t stop APC from contesting the election. PDP itself has its own problems. Once it is a political party, it’s designed in a way that there will always be challenges. But as I said, the issue is not about having challenges, but about what you do when you have those challenges. And I am confident that the Jerry Chukwueke committee that was set up by the governor of Anambra State will be able to resolve a lot of the problems. They may not resolve all, but they will resolve a lot of the problems for us to keep moving. And in any case, we are already moving. I flagged off my campaign within the week in Umuahia. We flagged off the presidential campaign in Awka recently and it was a huge success. The place was filled to the brim and people were happy. So, you will be dealing with the problem, but at the same time you are moving on.
Another issue is the Abia Charter of Equity…
(Cuts in) There is nothing like that. There is a document that was put together decade ago. I am running on a platform of APGA. And every party has a right to determine who will run. So, my party doesn’t have zoning arrangement.
You also have to take cognizance of the fact that other zones too have their rights to aspire to the governorship seat…
(Cuts in) I am not stopping anybody. It is a democratic right. In terms of zone, the current governor is from the Abia South and I am from the Central. The point I am raising here is that zoning becomes necessary when you are talking about political party. It is an internal arrangement of PDP and I am not a member of PDP. So, I am not answerable to them. Neither do I have to be bound by their rules. Where Abia is today, things like that are very irrelevant. Abia needs help. The state is stinking. So, an average Abia man needs a help. He needs somebody who has the competence; he needs somebody who knows what to do. Those things are luxury that can happen when you have already developed your state. At a point in time, the UK that had to ask a Canadian to run their Central Bank because they needed the skill, they needed somebody who understood the economy who could deal with the economic challenges they had at that time. Our people say if your house is on fire, you don’t start chasing rat around. You need to deal with the fire first.
To take you back to the issue of decamping, your party lost somebody like Regan Ozumba to PDP. Is it not going to affect the chances of your party?
Regan Ozumba was not with us in 2015. In fact, his living APGA is a blessing. He was running a faction and that faction went to court and he lost from the lower court to the Supreme Court. When he lost at the Supreme Court, he naturally moved to the PDP. So, he was just a stumbling block out of the way. He didn’t work with us. He went to court before the election. He was actually a distraction. He claimed he was the right candidate for the 2015 governorship election. He went and conducted his own parallel primary, which was not recognized by the INEC. So, he is one hurdle out of the way.
What are your major programmes for the turnaround of Abia State?
One of my programmes is transparent and competent management of the economy. That is very key. Abia State is an oil-producing state. It benefits from 13 per cent derivation. It gets more money than some oil producing states. Yet if you go to most oil producing states, they don’t have the kind of problems we have in Abia State. In Anambra State, salaries have been paid up to date, pensions have been paid up to date. I even understand that within this week, December salary will be paid. When you move to Ebonyi State which Igbo people used to say was the smallest and most backward state, you will be shocked when you get to Abakaliki by the level of development that has happened within the three years of the Governor Umuahi administration. So, it is all about management, it is about competence, it is about skill, it is about vision. Part of the problem in Abia State is that monies are being shared to political jobbers. The man that is sharing will also take his own. He has his hangers on too. By the time they finish, they can’t even pay salaries. Abia State is a state that is unique. Aba, for instance, is a town that combines the qualities of Nnewi and Onitsha. Nnewi is known for industrialization, Onitsha is known for trade and commerce. What do they require to do what they know to do best – enabling environment. They need to have electricity, they need to have a clean environment. Abia State today looks like a refuse dump. Everywhere, people breathe in stench. The place is like a garbage site. We are going to focus on industrialization, small and medium scale industries. We are going to support them in any way we can. We need to secure the place. We need to bring back those days where people used to come from Cameroon and other parts of Nigeria to buy from Aba. We are also going to focus on agriculture and the entire value chain. In my administration, we are not going to be selling primary products. Government is going to come out to support farmers to move from primary products to secondary products and then tertiary products. We are going to do this by value addition. For instance, instead of selling cocoa beans to people that will export them, you can further process it into cocoa butter or chocolate. If you do that, you earn more money and then generate employment for the youths. The insecurity we have is because a large majority of people are unemployed. What we have today as Nollywood started from Aba. The story has changed because the state has become a garbage dump. There is a street called Factory Road in Aba. All the major industries- PZ, Lever Brothers, Nigerian Breweries used to be there. Today, you can’t find any of them there because of insecurity and lack of infrastructure. Another problem is dilapidated educational system. People don’t have place to send their children. Health system is completely gone. There are no good hospitals to treat the sick ones. And these things are not rock science. The money they are using to pay advert on TV can be used to pay workers. There is a whole lot we are going to do. We are going to start afresh. We need to build a lasting system. We need a sustainable development system.
Don’t you think that what happened in 2015 when your mandate was allegedly stolen can still happen again?
The impunity then was because they were in power at the centre. That was why they had the courage to do what they did. Now, people are sufficiently angry. So, it is not just about me. We are not going to tolerate that again. Whatever they want, we are going to give it to them. You can win an election and somebody who didn’t win will come and steal your mandate. We are confident of victory.