By Valentine Ozigbo
For the past two years, not a day has gone by without me answering questions arising from the race for my state’s governorship. I could classify all the questions using journalism’s 6Ws. When I first mooted the idea to my family and friends, I was at the top of the corporate ladder, serving as the President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc, one of Africa’s largest conglomerates with interests in power, hospitality, oil and gas, and energy. I had spent the past 26 years of my life diligently building a career in business leadership. They wanted to know the WHEN.
“When are you going to leave your job?” The first time I was asked this question, I did not have a definite answer. What I did know, however, was that it had to be as soon as possible. Having been active in politics for more than 10 years, even sponsoring the campaigns of several aspirants in my home state, I knew the importance of consultations with stakeholders and engagement with the grassroots. I knew there were no shortcuts on this, and I needed to do this in person.
Anambra State is one of the most politically vibrant, sophisticated, and competitive states in Nigeria. Our gubernatorial election is one of those held outside the national general cycle. As of 2015, we became the only state in Nigeria governed by a party other than the two dominant national parties – PDP and APC. Then, there is the unique concentration of self-made billionaires in Anambra. Some of whom have an intense interest in the politics of our dear state.
Another question I have been asked is the HOW (it starts with H but is regarded as a W in journalism) of my quest. “How are you going to navigate this maze of politics to victory?” “How are you going to win the hearts of the people who matter?” “How are you going to communicate your message to the people?” “How are you going to win your party’s ticket?” In answering the hows, we searched far and wide, engaging the most experienced hands and the best brains. In doing this, we have designed the most robust political strategy in this part of the world.
With all humility, I can say 18 months after I took the leap to leave my position in the corporate world to launch a new chapter of my life in public service that it has been a series of wins. We have empirical evidence that I have gained significant grounds in the race, and I am now regarded as one of the top three aspirants in the race for the November 6th polls. This is true among the key publics – the primary stakeholders in Anambra, my party’s leaders, my party’s delegates, and most importantly, the grassroots – especially the women and the youth.
I am proud of the campaign organisation that we have built. I am proud of the men and women who caught the vision and joined me in our March to liberating Anambra. And I am proud of my beloved Ndi Anambra for recognising and embracing the promise and the values that we bring to the table.
Let me assure Ndi-Anambra, we are not celebrating just yet, neither are we resting on our oars; instead, we are doubling down on what’s working, we are upscaling our people, and we are constantly upgrading our game. After all, continuous improvement is one of our cardinal principles.
This article is about the most powerful question that I have had to answer concerning my quest to govern my people. The first person to ask me this question is the closest person to me.
In October 2019, when I told my wife, Ojiugo, that God had laid this vision in my heart, and it was so strong, pulling me to open a brand new chapter in my life. She asked, “Val, why?” That is an intensely loaded question.
There is a lot to unpack in that one word, WHY. There’s the psychological question, the financial question, the emotional question, the safety question, the spiritual question. If anyone appreciates the toll that this quest would take on me, it is my wife. I guess that is the reason she asked for my WHY. I believe she needed the assurance that this move came from a place of deep conviction.
Though the answer had been burning in my heart for years, it took me some time to articulate my response to her. I had to find the right words to express what I was feeling inside. Sometimes, serving humanity, changing the world, making a difference can be esoteric. So much so that you feel it but are unable to describe what it is. But, deep in the core of you, you know this is right for you. This was my situation.
By asking this question, Oj had put me in a predicament. You see, she is the one person whose approval mattered most (and it still does). I wasn’t about to leap into the unknown without the backing of the woman I love. I figured that the only way out was to convince myself of my WHY?
My why is 10-year-old Chinonso Eche. The talented freestyle footballer from Anambra, the youngest to compete in the Nigerian Freestyle Football Championships. I met him because I followed my heart in 2017 when it told me to create a platform for young Nigerians to express their freestyle football talent.
When I created Feet ‘N’ Tricks International with Kanu Nwankwo, Olisa Adibua, Odyke Nzewi, and other visionaries, I couldn’t have imagined that it would be one step to activating the genius of the then 7-year-old Chinonso. By giving him access to tools and training in freestyle football and exposing him to global stars in the sport, we lit a candle. Three years later, his freestyle skills won him a place in the Guinness Book of Records 2021. The youngest Nigerian to enter the iconic book, Chinonso, said, “I want to prove to the world that anything is possible.”
My why is 15-year-old Sharon Ifedi, a gifted Anambra actress who won my foundation’s talent hunt in 2018. Through our platform, she was re-discovered and new opportunities began to spring up for her in the entertainment industry. Brilliant, self-starting, multi-talented, Sharon is representative of her age-group in Anambra. These youngsters hold within them the glorious future we all dream of.
My why is the talented 12-year-old coder schooling in a rural community school in Ihiala. A child who could rule her world if she had access to the Internet and a basic computer today. She could create an app that would solve the world’s energy crisis. She could be the next big tech founder. She could be anything she wants to be if only she is empowered today.
My why is the natural 17-year-old artist who lives in Onitsha and attends a comprehensive high school. What he needs to become an award-winning globally sought-after architect in 20 years are the right instructions, guidance, and tools to discover the possibilities before him. He needs a gateway to be opened for him to get into the best universities in the world.
My why are these young ones and millions like them. Blessed with enormous talent, energy, and drive. They’ve been let down for so long by failed and corrupt leadership. Those young Anambra boys and girls need a leader who sees them, a leader who recognises their potential, and a leader who empowers them to unleash their innate power and potential to fulfil their destinies.
My why is Chioma, the 26-year-old young wife and mother of two who is pregnant with her third, and needs to travel four hours from Iyiora Anam in Anambra West LGA to see a specialist at the university teaching hospital in Nnewi because she is carrying twins, and her pregnancy has been diagnosed as “high risk”. This ought not to be so. She is supposed to have access to a specialist in her local government area. The poor access to healthcare puts a financial and emotional strain on her young family, exposes her to undue risks, and endangers her life even more. Why is this so? Because she doesn’t have a leader who sees her, understands her needs, and prioritises her well being.
My why is Mrs Grace Chinaemerem, a 45-year-old woman living in Ogbaru. A farmer and a trader, her day begins at 5 am and ends at 9 pm. Her life has been a tale of unending struggles. With six children to feed, she hasn’t taken a day off for the past 25 years. She fights every day to keep her kids in school, put food on the table, and keep her family together. She hardly misses the 6 o’clock mass where she prays that help would come. Grace is a composite of millions of Anambra women. The often ignored, the excluded, those living on society’s margins, beaten down and forgotten.
Chioma and Grace and all the women they represent need a break. Their life is hard because of failed leadership and the resultant dysfunction in our social systems. When Chioma was six years old, nobody planned for her today when she would need specialised maternity medical care. When Grace was 17, as brilliant as her WAEC results were, nobody cared enough to ensure that she advanced her education to the university level. So she is trapped in this nightmare, and it feels like she’ll never wake up.
Chioma and Grace, and the children God has given them, are my WHY. The women and the youth of Anambra are why I dare to challenge the status quo. They are the reason I am not discouraged by the nastiness thrown at me by detractors. They are the reason I keep on moving forward and upward. I know who I will be if I am elected governor. I will be the champion of the youth. I will be the governor who does what it takes to open the doors to a new future of endless possibilities for them. I will be the women’s champion. I will be the governor who provides the lift needed to create a better future for themselves and their children.
Having run a non-profit charity for over six years, I realise the limitations of intervening as a private citizen. I know that I can reach millions of people with political power in the shortest possible time with a bold transformation agenda.
I am in the race for governorship because I want to change the story for Chinonso Eche, for Sharon Ifedi, for Blessed Ezeakabudu, for Afam Okpalauzuegbu, for Chuka Emodi, for Chuchu Ibeneme, for Chicherem Okafor and many more. Because I believe in them, I believe in their gift, I believe in their dreams, and I believe that we will succeed in actualising our Ka Anambra Chawapu Manifesto with God on our side.
This week, I took another important step in my quest to revolutionise statecraft and bring governance closer to my people. I resigned from the boards of Trancorp Plc, Transcorp Hotel Plc, and Transcorp Power Limited. There’s no going back from here. We have to keep winning.
• Ozigbo is PDP governorship aspirant in Anambra State