“It makes sense that Owerri zone which has not produced a governor in well over 18 years should be allowed to take a shot.”
Okey Ezeh is the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic party (SDP) in Imo State. He speaks on why Owerri zone deserves a shot at the governorship and other issues.
Why do you want to be governor of Imo State?
Our leadership recruitment process has been faulty over the years. Empirical evidence shows that when people are recruited from specialised disciplines after having proved their mettle and distinguished themselves as creators of value, commonly tagged technocrats, and they come into government it is not business as usual because they bring a cotton-edge competence, which is what we need in our public space, our public life and our public service in this country.
Governance should not be business as usual. Because you have been a Personal Assistant (PA) to a government official does not mean that over the years you will be promoted beyond your competence and you decide to run for the office of governor of a state. This is why we have not made progress. 2019 will come with lots of challenges. Our economy is in doldrums; our allocations are declining because our economy over the years has been dependent on our mono product, which is crude oil. People talk about excess crude account and Paris Club refunds, but these are one-off windfalls which will not endure, they are not going to be there in a couple of years to come because the global economy is moving in a different direction. The emphasis on hydrocarbon fuel is fizzling out; economies that were dependent on hydrocarbon fuels are diversifying. Look at Saudi Arabia, they are talking about Vision 2030, Qatar diversified a long time ago, they have moved away from oil dependence to become a fully diversified commercial hub. It is not a lot of people that know that Qatar as a country bought over Heathrow airport, they also hold over 17 percent equity shares in the multinational TotalFinaElf. Some high profile Real Estate addresses like Highspark is owned by a Qatari investment agency. So these countries have turned full circle because their planners knew that at some point hydrocarbon as the mainstay of the economy would be shaky.
If you trickle that down to Nigeria, you will agree that every state of the country needs to look inward. I believe that we can have an Imo State that is not allocation dependent, an Imo State that can harness its agricultural potentials to become the net creator of employment and opportunities for her teeming population. But to do this, we must focus on value creation. I believe that I have the training, competence, character and the network to take Imo State from where it is today and help it to attain its manifest destiny of being an oasis of possibilities in the South-East and Nigeria as a whole, that is why I’m in politics, that is why I want to be governor of Imo State.
You are contesting from the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Why that platform?
The SDP for me is an excellent platform. We hear about big political parties like the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but I can tell you that the SDP does not rank very far from these parties. The SDP is a national party and it has a bit of history that dates back to the days of MKO Abiola when it was a winning platform. Although it went moribund at some point, it has come back repackaged, more vibrant and stronger. I can assure you that it will spring surprises in 2019. If you look at the leadership structure, it is composed of some of the most credible Nigerians leading the party. No party is perfect but when you talk of lack of internal democracy, to a large extent, the SDP can beat her chest and say it abides with internal democracy processes and principles.
In 2014 you were an aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) are there any particular reasons that made you leave APGA?
I just talked about lack of internal democracy. Many political parties in this country are guilty of that. APGA was not able to give us the opportunity we craved for. The party was stifled by anti-democratic tendencies and didn’t have robust internal democratic practices despite all pretensions to the contrary. So given our vision and passion to provide credible alternative to Imo people, which we consider more important than succumbing to the shenanigans of party platform, we decided to pull out.
You talk about a credible alternative, what is your assessment of the current state of affairs in Imo state?
Imo State is in a terrible state. If you look at all the states in the South-East, you will agree that they have all made more progress. Progress is relative depending on where you started from and what you inherited. Imo has made some progress but where we are now leaves a lot to be desired. Government is a continuum but it behoves on any leader to take the state to the next higher level from where he met it. I’m not sure Imo State has been taken to that next higher desired level.
As we speak, Imo is one of the worst performing states economically in the South-East. Imo State has the lowest and worst Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) figure, it is unacceptable. I think Imo State deserves better and we must take our destiny in our hands by ushering in a knowledgeable, creative, competence and credible leadership in 2019. If I’m elected, I will institute a regime of fiscal prudence which is lacking in Imo State and many states of the country. We must ensure that the taxpayers’ money works and counts for the taxpayer. As we speak today, Imo does not have any functioning Board of Internal Revenue. Revenue collection is parcelled out to all sorts of social interests. We must also find a way to invest. Some years ago, Imo State took huge loans and sold bonds, beginning from the time of Ikedi Ohakim. I’m not saying that borrowing money is a bad thing. Economically, when you borrow money it is to invest in a regenerative businesses and projects that will enhance your capacity and create more wealth, but if you borrow to consume that becomes a recipe for disaster. What we are saying is that we have not managed our resources optimally.
What is your take on the debate on restructuring of the country?
Restructuring is a very good thing. As way back as 1954 when Nigeria lived under the regional structure, the then Eastern Region government exported oil palm produce worth £54 million through the Akwete Port. That port in today’s Nigeria looks primitive. The value of Eastern Nigeria government’s import based on available records show that Eastern Nigeria imported goods worth only £25 million and exported £54 million worth of oil palm produce. You can see that they had a positive balance of trade. All the economic fundamentals then were right. It was then that they set up all the palm plantations and farm settlements. In the North they had the groundnut pyramids; the first television house in black Africa was built from the proceeds of cocoa. So I think the regional system worked well and that is an example of what a restructured Nigeria will look like.
There is agitation in Imo East where you come from that they should in the spirit of fair play be given a chance to produce the governor. What do you say to that?
That agitation is valid because Imo historically always had a charter of equity. Elders of the state in their wisdom felt that there should be opportunities for component parts of the state to provide leadership so as to give everybody a sense of belonging. The zoning was not configured to put anybody at disadvantage. Our elders know that every part of Imo can provide quality leadership, so zoning was introduced to reduce rancour and acrimony given that we don’t have robust political institutions that can meritoriously sort out these issues. It is supposed to be something like a roadmap to build in equity and fair play in leadership selection process. However, we should not over stretch zoning. The fact that you want a governor of Owerri extraction for instance does not mean that just anybody should go there because a governor of Imo State no matter where he comes from will make decisions that will be binding on the entire state. However we are saying that as a matter of justice and fair play that Owerri should take a shot at the governorship. It makes sense that Owerri zone which has not produced a governor in well over 18 years should be allowed to take a shot.
Still on the issue of equity and justice, the people of the South-East geopolitical zone are agitating for the zone to produce the president of Nigeria in 2023. What do you say to that?
A Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is a good wish list to draw. However, I can tell you that a responsive restructured efficient and more functional Nigeria is far more important than a president of Igbo extraction. If we have a country that is restructured and geared towards efficiency and responsiveness to deliver on the expectations of the people and opportunities to actualise your aspirations, it will not matter where the president comes from. If there are encumbrances that are holding Nigeria from actualising her manifest destiny, let’s remove them. If we have a country that works, the high premium we place on where the leaders come from will reduce.
For 2019, we have 91 political parties and yet many see the election as a two-horse race between the APC and the PDP. What do you think?
I think that Nigerians should not latch too much unto political party platform but should rather look at competence and antecedents of the candidates. They should look at personal records, those who can move the country forward, and those that have established themselves. Nigerians should look at the scorecard and track record of every individual seeking elective office no matter at what level. It shouldn’t be about platform because if you subsume everybody under the same platform, you put them in a pigeonhole and all you will have to do is dip your hand and pick one, which means we are not making any choice and that is what we have been doing over the years.