By Wilfred Eya
Chairman of the United Nigeria Airlines and Anambra governorship candidate of the Zenith Labour Party(ZLP), Dr. Obiora Okonkwo believes that with the right leadership, the “Home for All” will be the number one state in the country. In an interactive session with journalists in Lagos, he spoke on various issues including his 10 point agenda and why Anambra people should vote for him on November 6.
From the record, you are not new in politics. Could you tell us your trajectory in politics?
I have been involved in politics as a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In 2015, I contested for the Senate and there were issues about who was the valid candidate of the party. The court eventually decided that I was the candidate and actually ordered that I should be given a certificate of Return and sworn in as senator. The Appeal court later ruled otherwise. In 2019, the PDP offered me a ticket to go to the Senate for Anambra Central. I looked at it and felt that my political ambition should be better realized on a platform like the governorship where you are responsible for your actions. It is a platform where you take initiatives and carry it out. I offered to work with a candidate that the party would provide. That was how Uche Ekwunife is the senator today from Anambra Central. We had an understanding that she would go to the Senate and I would go for the governorship seat.
Immediately after the election, we embarked on the process of putting the party together to deal with all the issues that are common with political parties in Anambra State. God helped us to bring it to the level that we had until 48 hours to the governorship primaries on June 26, 2021 and the party, in its own wisdom, dissolved the executives for what they termed conflict of interests. We were concerned initially because we knew that with that singular action, they had breached the constitution of the party. The constitution of the party is very clear, that the state congress should elect the gubernatorial candidate of the party; and that state congress was very specific –the state exco, Local Government excos and the five man per ward and three ad-hoc members. The constitution went further to say two third of that number shall form a quorum. What it means is that in any business of the party, if you do not form that quorum, that business is null and void. The party went ahead to conduct that exercise.
Eventually, the primary was conducted. When that result was announced, many people were disappointed. I did not know that for the short period we were marketing ourselves and programme, we had been able to build a silent, committed followership that has turned into a movement. There were calls that this project should not just end like that. I recall the commitment of those who decided to work with us that they would not be behind me but with me. This is because if somebody is behind you, you might be moving forward and he might be moving backwards. So, remembering that it was a commitment we made to one another, I was not flattered when they made that appeal that we should not just stop. It took a while to decide what to do next. I made some further consultations and I saw that genuine confidence that we have something to offer; that somebody like me with the 10-point agenda will be needed for Anambra State and even the South East, and that we could be a source of inspiration for Nigeria at large.
Won’t you consider yourself lucky that you were not announced winner of the primary because there is controversy as to who is the candidate of PDP, with Val Ozigbo and Ugochukwu Ubah emerging from parallel primaries? The other political parties, like APGA and APC, are also having problems.
Yes, there are problems in all the major political parties. Litigations are endless in PDP because they have two major things to contend with. They are already saying that the product of that exercise is null and void. That means that the PDP might not have a candidate in that election. APC also has its own issues and the problems are still there coupled with the latest Supreme Court judgment that may have made it null and void for any primaries conducted by the national chairman of the party. Then the other party is APGA, which is going from one crisis to the other.
It looks like a good number of the people of Anambra have realised that our state is in a total political quagmire. There were concerns that we might fall from frying pan to fire and that people might wake up one day and an unexpected person might just be declared the governor of Anambra State. So, I hearkened to the voice of the people and decided to take up this project with full knowledge that this is a difficult task. This is because anyone that hears that I am from a known party to one that is relatively not well-known, will wonder what happened. If the person does not have the other details, one may conclude that one is going on a suicide mission. I would not blame anybody. I would have thought so myself. However, there is prospect in this venture.
We decided to agree to this call because the people who were with us in PDP are still with us today. We decided to seek the governorship on the platform of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP). There was a window for substitution of candidate and we took advantage of it. I have looked at the advantages. As we speak today, I am the only governorship candidate from Anambra Central, which has the highest number of registered voters. Apart from that, I am from Idemili Federal Constituency that has over 600,000 registered voters. So, that flank is open. There is the North, which has the second largest number of registered voters and they were compensated with Governor Willie Obiano. Many people from the North are angry, having thought the PDP could pick a running mate from there, which didn’t happen. We have taken care of this in my candidature.
Strategically speaking, we thought that with my strength in Idemili, and my reach in the Central and a partnership with the North, we could make a difference. There is work of mobilisation and sensitisation to be done. We will do our best. The choice of ZLP is strategic. It is the last party on the ballot paper. We will tell voters to go vote for the last party on the ballot paper, instead of leaving them to start looking for our logo in the mist of so many others.
It is not going to be easy, but I believe that it is only people that can make things easy. Political structure is human and not spirit. Anambra people are already in the kind of mood that what would determine the outcome of this election is individual and not political party. Internally, political parties are flawed and the best, most times, does not emerge. I am not in this race by my strength, but I believe that with God, everything is possible. Human beings have spoken but God would always have the final say. We have something to offer in Anambra. It would only take a good person on a platform of governance to be able to influence what is happening. With my background and exposure, we will give Anambra the best. I am in this because I believe that the greatest resources are available in Anambra State and human resource is more important than anything. The world today is knowledge driven.
I was telling a group of people that the Israeli prime minister has the capacity with drone technology to determine the type of soil in a farm and use the same drone to correct whatever is in that soil without going there physically. If Americans would stay in Washington and pick the enemy one by one in Iraq or Afghanistan without putting foot on ground; even pick those inside an armoured car, then what are we talking about? That is the world of the future and the brain power is there in Anambra State. I do tell people that what makes the difference is leadership and you do not need all the people; just one or two people, to drive the process. I studied in Russia; had my PhD in political science, Masters in Economics and first degree in Economics. I have what it takes to be Anambra governor.
You talked about Anambra Central, which has done eight years plus three of Ngige and that is about 11 years before it went to Anambra North. In your calculation, you did not factor in Anambra South, which, the last time they were there was during Mbadinuju and perhaps Ezeife. Don’t you think the issue of zoning would affect your chances?
We have come to the end of that agitation. Like I have always said, in the first place, the agitation was unfounded. It was for the simple reason of some people who wanted to eliminate me from the race without reasons. Anambra has never zoned the governorship seat. And it might interest you to know that the biggest propagandist of that zoning was APGA. One wonders, if APGA had zoned its ticket to South, why are they pushing other political parties to go to South? The only reason you were hearing about zoning was because I am in the race. They did not want me to be in the race because they know that I would win. Inside the PDP, you heard about 14 aspirants from the South talking about zoning then. If they had the strength to win, they would not have been agitating for zoning. But talk about zoning has ended. Even those who were talking about zoning before now would tell you that it ended during the primaries. It is not an issue now and nobody talks about zoning.
Beyond that, South has had its share. Mbadinuju served as governor and it was not by any person’s fault that he did not complete eight years. We in Anambra also believe that those who should be crying of marginalisation should be the ones that never had a chance. The power base of Anambra had been in the South. A kingmaker is usually bigger than the king. It is just that people do not manage what they have. But even if you go to that South, there is also a dichotomy there. There is old Aguata South, old Nnewi South and there is Ihiala that is standing alone. I think that the answer to the issue of zoning as reflected in the primaries shows there is nothing like that any longer. Have you ever wondered that in 2003 when Mbadinuju was leaving office, why did APGA not choose its candidate from the South? Talks about zoning are all about politics of deception.
The relationship with the church is a critical factor every candidate in Anambra must consider. What is your relationship with the church in the state?
The relationship with the church is a fact and it is not with their prayers only. Whether it is the Catholic Church or the Anglican church, they are just like any other civil society. When you talk about civil society and politics, it becomes a game of number. The church has dominant population and when they organize themselves, they might be able to push their followers to the direction they want. I am acceptable to both sides of the church in Anambra State. I have good relationship with them. I don’t play division; I work with both the Catholics and Anglican.
You have chains of businesses and people see you as a very busy person. Also leading Anambra is a tough job. How are you going to manage your businesses and leading a strategic state like Anambra?
That is a good question, but also in that question, there is an answer because if I have been successful in managing businesses, that means I have been exposed to managing business at the highest levels. So, I would say that I am taking the experience of managing successful businesses into governance. This is because one of the gains we will have is for those with private sector experience coming into governance. Anambra people individually are very successful. Thank God that today as a good administrator and manager of people and resources, my businesses are set up in a way that they can run independently with or without me. I can go to Anambra for two or three weeks and my officers in the airline would not even call me. I only call when I want to ask what is happening. So, if you have not been able to set up a business of that nature, you cannot be competent to run a government. My businesses are structured to run on their own. That is the experience I am bringing into governance.
Many people believe that you are popular and you have what it takes to be the governor of your state, but with ZLP, what structure will you use to win the November 6 election, especially considering the time constraints before the poll?
You are right because you need the political structure to win an election. The essence of structure is about servicing them. We are relying on what we built as personal structures. The Zenith Labour party may not have all their cells right now, but we can populate the entire structure in 48 hours. As we speak today, my team is having an audit of the party in the state. We controlled 80 per cent of PDP structure. And I told you that nobody has left our structure. Zenith Labour Party is the latest talk in town and I am happy about it.
Are you hoping that the crises in other parties would work to your advantage?
The winner of this election will be determined by the personality and antecedents of individual and then the stability of your own ticket. If you are the best candidate and you are in a good party with a large number of litigations, you know what it means. I know that the people wanted us and what we need to do is just to remind them that it is no more about party anymore but the individual candidate.
It might interest you to know that there is an organisation called Save Anambra Group, which was set up by a good number of politicians in the state who are unhappy with what has become the outcome of the primaries in various political parties. They are also desirous of having a consensus candidate and I happen to be their choice. We are inheriting about five other political parties. We are moving with a lot of people and we have chosen our deputy, Mrs. Balonwu. With that, we think we should be able to get votes from the North because she is quite acceptable.
Where do you think Anambra is and where do you want to take it to?
Since the advent of this Fourth Republic in 1999, Anambra has not fared well. I can tell you that Ebonyi and Enugu have progressed more than Anambra. We are strong individually but as a state, we have not benefitted anything from this democracy because of the people who have governed. We have looked at all these problems and we understood them and we have developed a 10-point agenda to deal with all aspects of problems in Anambra State. Obviously, it is not a rhetoric. There is nothing in that 10-point agenda that I am not doing as an individual. If you talk about human capital development, I am there; if you talk about value reorientation, I am there.
The biggest problem that we have in Anambra State is that we have abandoned our virtues. You need huge infrastructure development in Anambra State and this must come from huge bulk funds. Those bulk funds we have access to. We can access up to $10 billion into Anambra and the entire South East will benefit economically. If the funds are prudently used, the multiplier effects will show in four years. We have looked at it, that a typical Anambra person does not need too much but that “can do” spirit in them has been dampened. You need a leader who would tell them look at me, I was born in this place; I grew up where you are; this is what I have become because I did it this way. I do that in my own community and I have seen the change and the difference it has made.
Education is key. Now, you have our kids sent overseas to study but by the time they are due back, if they do not get a job in Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or NNPC, they do not have the interest to come back here. Those are great talents we are missing. When I look at those little kids on the streets who are addicted to tramadol and all that, I see Olympic champions; I see the likes of Kanu Nwankwo, Okocha and so on. They are in the street because the leadership has not given them good direction. Are you aware that Anambra did not send any contingent to National Sports Festival? That was because they could not fund it. So, where do you develop those sports talents?
Look, if somebody would want to trek through the desert in his desire to get to Spain for better life, if he sees a better opportunity, he would be more productive. These are people who are determined to succeed. Give them the right environment, they would not go out. The apprenticeship system has collapsed. Most big names from Anambra you see were, at one time or another, in Onitsha main market. I grew up in Onitsha main market, going to assist my father in business. It was a place to learn the nitty-gritty of doing business. Today, the deteriorating nature of that place makes me sad. I have instituted a research at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University for the study of Igbo Apprenticeship Scheme. That is the biggest venture capital in the whole world where you do not have to be the son of a millionaire to be a billionaire. All you need to know is to be of good behavior.
We have programmes that would take Anambra many notches high. It is because of government’s failure in Anambra that our people are running across the Niger to develop Asaba. If previous Anambra governments did well, businessmen in Onitsha, who have gone to Asaba to live, would be in our state. Thirty years after, Anambra is in bad shape. Most states created with it have gone far ahead. We would change the narrative if elected to office.
We saw that you have among the 10-point agenda something on diaspora. What is it about?
The Diaspora population in Anambra is very active. Do you know that in last year records, the Diaspora transmission was more than the revenue from oil and 60 per cent of it could be from Anambra State? With a well planned relationship, we will channel all that to that place. That is why we are planning to have a special Ministry for Diaspora Affairs. We need to engage our people wherever they are. Those people who are in China, we do not have to ask them to come back. We will encourage them to set up things in Anambra. The world is a global village. I will just set up a liaison office in China and direct them.
What is your plan for the local government areas?
We believe that governance should be from bottom up. The local government system is very critical. Most of the developments we knew growing up were done through the community. Today, communities in Anambra still build tarred roads. They still build schools and handover to governments. I built one in my own community, but I did not handover to the government so that it would not be mismanaged. I handed over to Catholic Reverend Sisters because I trust them more. They are managing it very well. When we come in, we are going to do local government elections as soon as the budget and time permit. We are not going to be counting on local government money to survive; we need to generate income.