From Magnus Eze, Abuja
Renowned industrialist, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the South East. Until recently, he was the Chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) for Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states zone. In this interview, he speaks on his governorship ambition, the bane of manufacturing sector in the country and security in Anambra State among other issues. Excerpts:
What’s your take on the economic diversification programme of the present administration?
One is that this diversification theory is coming a bit late because when we were making all the money out of oil and squandering that money, the money was not even circulating the way it should circulate and those people that made money out of the system then, a very high percentage of that money is in foreign banks. They are in foreign investments so it is not circulating. If people are being encouraged by this administration for example to bring back what they have stolen to Nigeria and these monies remain in the banks, the banks can now be in a position to fund other activities outside of the oil industry and that is what diversification is all about. They didn’t use the money they made earlier to build our infrastructure.
They spent so many billions of dollars to give us electricity and they failed and then they spent a lot of money on roads which were not actually done, so this administration has a very big problem at hand. Without diversification we will die. We want to diversify; where do we raise the money from? We need to pull a lot of money from outside of this country to give us that capacity to diversify. We have to do a lot of borrowing for production and not borrowing for consumption as has always been the case and then again, the government must trim down very seriously the cost of governance at Federal, state and local government levels. Then, like I said when we borrow, we must be investing into the productive sectors, mainly agriculture, manufacturing and especially agro processing for export because that is where we can pay back the borrowed fund. There are places where we can get loans but the management of that loan is where we have problem, because if you borrow without investing in productive sectors judiciously, we might remain a debtor nation as long as we are going to live in this country. If we make any mistake again, it is going to hurt us permanently.
How are you able to combine business with politics; especially your governorship ambition?
It is a very difficult thing because business takes more than 110 per cent of your time and politics takes equally 110 per cent of your time. One is that they are mutually exclusive. So, it has not been easy and we are trying. I got interested in politics because there is room for people with genuine intention to serve this country. Remember what they said that evil will continue to thrive until the good men wake up to their responsibilities. So, I want to use the opportunity to encourage people of like minds to come into politics to help rebuild our place. As for my aspiration, it is not over yet until God says it is over; as long as God didn’t say it is over, no problem. Then again, that’s not something that one feels desperate about. It is something that one should allow the will of God because the bible says it is not for him that willeth nor of him that runneth fast but it is him that God shows mercy.
As long as somebody is there and you have seen something that is not being done rightly and you want to seek for an opportunity to serve to correct those things that you consider to be anomalies and at the same time, don’t forget that it is the party that decides who will carry the flag and my party has not said it is me and if they don’t say it is me; no problem.
What’s your view on governance in Anambra State?
I am not in the business of criticising or condemning or even praising any incumbent administration. The only thing I know is that I can do better. You see Anambra people; we are different in a way because everybody participates in politics there including the youth. The only danger is that most times, these youths are sponsored to counter genuine reasoning. Before Chris Ngige became the governor of the State, I had the opportunity several times of sharing views with him; he had a burning desire to fix Anambra roads and I knew because he has been around and knew the role to play at that particular time. As soon as he became the governor, he tackled the roads and all the roads that Chris Ngige did that time are still motorable; even many years after. Anambra State is still grateful to him because of that singular action of his and even before Peter Obi became the governor, he felt what the Anambra people needed at that time was integrated system of development; that dominated his manifesto and when he became the governor he just hit the ground running. He did roads, he looked into education, transportation, health and we excelled in so many of those areas.
Till today, Anambra people still hold him to a very high esteem because when you say what you want to do before you become the governor, people will watch you to see whether you have done that. People will praise you and criticise. People criticise you based on what you promised that you will do because it is not just about the promise, but we are discussing something that was at the hearts of people of Anambra State. What were at the heart of Anambra State before Chris Ngige became the governor of Anambra State were good roads. When my brother the current governor (Willie Obiano) came on board, he had no manifesto.
He has never made any promise to anybody. He never campaigned anywhere. So, there is no way you can assess him because he never said I will do this for you when I become the governor. Therefore, whatever he does, we just keep watching because he never made any statement to anybody. If he is doing well, we can’t say because we don’t know where he is coming from and if he is not doing well, we can’t say. I think that in my own consideration just like I said earlier even in the last election, that Anambra State has the highest number of unemployed graduates in this country and unemployment is a crime against society. You see the energy of our youth are not being channelled where it is supposed to grow the economy because that is the force we actually need to grow the economy; as long as our youth continue to be dormant and underutilized, we are not going to see the light because this is time for that. It is the time to look inward, time to see the use of our young people.
I know I have been in the business of creating jobs for many years and that was what former Governor Peter Obi discussed with me and we agreed that this is the next thing that should be done to grow our economy and you cannot grow the economy if you don’t have the knowledge. If you are not in the business of wealth creation, you wouldn’t even know what to do and you know that there is serious unemployment problem in Anambra State. The quality of life has been going down. There is so much bitterness, so much unhappiness in the hearts of parents.
But what is your party doing about the federal roads in the South East?
Most of the federal government roads have all decayed. It is a national disgrace for almost 20 years, those roads have not been maintained. When the Enugu/ Onitsha road was built in 1983 by the President Shehu Shagari administration, it will take you 40 minutes to travel from Enugu to Onitsha. Today, it will take you 4- 5 hours to travel over the same distance especially during rainy season, it is a shame. It is only in the South East that you can find that kind of dilapidated road.
For the past 20 years, I have not seen any kind of maintenance. I have not seen any kind of rehabilitation; the road has been left like that to decay and it got to the extent that it became immotorable. What pains me is not just that the federal government had not done anything about it but the fact that our top politicians were not shouting. The president of Nigeria is not a magician; it is what you press for that you get and that is it. If our top politicians have concentrated their effort on network television every day, tell the world the kind of road you are having in your state, people with good conscience will start talking. It is a very big problem and it has reduced our coverage because for you to take your goods from Anambra to Enugu, it will take you close to four hours journey. It is a day’s job. Just close to N150,000 worth of goods, to make such expenses to go and come back. So, when you look at it, you decide to wait. It is a very terrible situation and it is our duty to talk and we are not talking enough. People that should be talking are not talking enough.
However, I’m pleased that some rehabilitation work is going on now on the road. I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for keeping to his promise. If not, the condition of the Enugu/ Onitsha road was actually denting the image of this country and denting the image of our party, APC very badly. With work progressing on the road, once they are doing that including other promises they made to us like the Second Niger Bridge, the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway that passes through Aba, we’ll start feeling this sense of belonging; we know that this marginalization is not the fault of the central administration. Sometimes it is our own fault because we are not making a lot of noise. We should speak out, instead of staying in our small enclave and say we are not loved, we are marginalised. Marginalised by who; by men like yourself? Why don’t you confront the problem straightaway? Why don’t you sit on the table and talk to the people and say come and repair our road, they will listen. We are talking about APGA that it is our own party, an Igbo party and we stay there and hold ourselves like orphans. No! APGA is not the answer. The answer is; raise men that should represent you, let them talk on your behalf and bring those things that belong to you.
Do you think the efforts of Governor Obiano in the area of security have really paid off?
I’ve told you that I don’t want to assess the governor. But the truth is that the governor did nothing in the area of security. You know sometimes things happen and then somebody lays claim. During the time of the former governor for example and even the time of Mbadinuju, there were a lot of criminal activities in the South East.
There were a lot of kidnapping, armed robbery and all kinds of evil and with time, society begins to outlive those things not that they have disappeared completely but they have reduced significantly. I will give more of the praise to the Police because we don’t hear such things as kidnapping again. Before, there was a lot of it in Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Asaba in Delta State. The Police have done a good job. All I have to say is to continue to ask police to move on with what they are doing because you can’t clean up crime completely in any society. Once it is reduced to a tolerable level, that is okay. It is a national issue.