Individuals not parties will decide Anambra governorship, says Okonkwo
Governorship candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) for Anambra State, Dr Obiora Okonkwo said the state has not enjoyed dividends of democracy since 1999 because human capital has not been given its due attention. The businessman turned politician in a chat with newsmen explained why he picked the ZLP ticket and the strategy behind it. MUYIWA ADEYEMI was there.
You were a household name in the PDP, which has structures in Anambra State. Now you’re in ZLP, relatively unknown and without much strength. What’s your strategy?
You are right, because you need the political structure to win an election. The essence of structures 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 structures 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 structures. And I told you that nobody has left our structures. ZLP is the latest talk in town and I am happy about it.
It might interest you to know 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 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.
Major political parties in Anambra are in one crisis or another, PDP had parallel primaries, APGA and APC are not sure of who will fly their flags. How would you describe your decision to quit PDP?
Yes, there are problems in all the major 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 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 rendered null and void any primary conducted by 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 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 moved from a known party to one that is relatively not well known, will wonder what happened. If the person does not have 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 people who were with us in PDP are still with us today. We decided to seek the governorship on the platform of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), there was a window for substitution of candidates 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 north, which has second largest number of registered voters and they were compensated with Governor Willie Obiano. Many people from north are angry, having thought 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 midst 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. It is the individual and not political party that will determine this election. 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 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 brainpower 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.
What is your take on the agitation that next governor in Anambra should be zoned to the South and you are from central?
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 heard 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 PDP, you heard about 14 aspirants from the South talking about zoning then. If they had 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.
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.
Church plays critical factor in Anambra election, what is your relationship with the church in the state?
The relationship with the church is a fact and in addition to their prayers, whether it is Catholic or Anglican, they are just like any other civil society. When you talk about civil society and politics, it becomes a game of numbers. The Church has dominant population and when they organise 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 Catholics and Anglican.
How are you going to manage your businesses and governing Anambra if you win election?
Let me say that I am taking 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.
What is your blueprint to take Anambra beyond where she is?
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 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 streets 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.
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