Val Ozoigbo, a former Managing Director of Transcorp Hilton, is a gubernatorial aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State. He speaks on his ambition and vision for the state if elected as governor. Okey Maduforo reports
What do you think is wrong with Anambra State that propels your governorship ambition and what do you think is wrong with the South-East that its political class cannot get their acts right?
I see Amanbra State more from the blessing that we have and the missed opportunities that we’ve had. One of the biggest failures we’ve had is a lack of cohesion as a people. Anambra is endowed and in the world of today, knowledge is the most important. Knowledge is power. But when you don’t come together, you miss loads of opportunities. I’m emphasizing this because I want to see myself as that unifier that would eventually get everybody on board. You know, I’ve also seen a lot of people who have governed Anambra talk about, you know in Anambra you have a lot of billionaires, why are you not investing at home. We haven’t made Anambra such a friendly state to invest in. I don’t believe in coercing people to invest at home. I believe in making it conducive for people to invest at home. Making sure that businesses at home are succeeding, we will become the envy of others.
So, part of the missed opportunities also links to your second question which is this lack of cohesion across the South-East. Unfortunately, for you to have leadership at its best; you need an abundance of emotional intelligence and that’s what we’ve been lacking very strongly. I say this because we can’t speak with one voice because we don’t even have the simple humility to converge and discuss. It doesn’t have to be so because we come from different party lines and you have leaders who don’t show the right priority. They have no idea that through collaboration we can achieve more. If for instance, Anambra could focus on collaboration with Delta along the second Niger Bridge or with Imo state on the development of new ports or with Enugu at fixing the road which would link the markets to other locations, we can do a lot more. There’s no reason why we can’t even have joint development agencies that all of these can come together.
My point is to do that; you look at the personalities involved. How emotionally intelligent are they? How do they manage sensitivities? Do they even value people and respect people? Or are they people who are driven by ego and the power that is in their hands? I leave you to answer these questions. We’ve missed opportunities because of the leaders we’ve had, but it has not always been like this, which is why I am so sure of what is possible with Anambra and the South-East. In the days of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and Micheal Okpara, South-East was the envy of the world. We were studied in Havard as the fastest-growing region in the world. We were an example of the world. And this was in the olden days when there was no technology how much more now that we can make Anambra the technology hub of Africa.
What are your thoughts regarding the zoning formula some people are touting in Anambra State and what are your chances of winning the forthcoming election?
Zoning is an interesting subject. But the way I always like to approach this question is to put a preface and that preface is: I am in this race to win. I’m in this race not to experiment; I’m not in this race because of zoning. So, with or without zoning, I believe that I have what it takes to lead and to win. Once you start to talk about zoning, some mindsets begin to change as though this is why you’re running. You could argue on both sides; we have seen examples of where zoning has done wonders from across the world, and it is what is practised by global institutions and I’d like to give examples like the World Bank and IMF. The idea is always not to overlook competency even in the practice of zoning. When you want to talk about zoning in Nigeria, you talk about the six geopolitical zones and who started it; an Anambra man, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. He’s one of those if not the key architect of that formula.
We use zoning to achieve equity and balance and I think it’s a good thing personally. But, I think the issue of zoning in Anambra has gone beyond anybody who may feel otherwise. And the reason I say this is yes; Peter Obi started the zoning formula and for good reasons. He figured out that the Central had been there for 11 years. Ngige and Obi spent three and eight years, respectively, which is 11 years. So, he saw need to say to Anambra South ‘please, we would rather move to the North, so that we can give them a chance to govern Anambra State.’
That is how Obiano emerged and I remember in 2017, when the next election was coming close, this issue became topical. You would see all manner of opinion molders coming out to speak. It never stopped other people from other zones from contesting. So, the issue is do you want to disenfranchise others? But the point here is that they are just coming out for other reasons, not to win the election. Because of the momentum that zoning goes with, it is almost impossible for anybody to counter. Because people argued, when Obiano was contesting, Godwin Ezeemo ran. That’s okay, but where did he get to? Did he even win his ward? The point here is people can run, people are allowed to run. No constitution or law forbids anybody to run.
One of the challenges of the PDP in past elections in the state has been the fact that some polarizing figures who remain members of the party. What makes you think that their ambition will not rear its head again in this campaign?
In Anambra, we have several key leaders that have been there as far as PDP is concerned. But there’s been a lot of changes and I’ll mention two. One is that Anambra PDP has become a lot more democratic than ever before. And you may not find one individual that can make you a governor. And that’s the beauty of democracy. It’s not where you have one godfather but where you have several key players. For the primary election, you need key stakeholders because usually, a delegate election is an election by a few. But for the main election, you need the entire masses to galvanize around you. And how I have seen things progress is one of the key reasons I am in the race because if it were to be in those days where just one man can decide what happens, I am almost certain that I would have been busy doing what I’ve been doing by now.
So, for me, I owe respect to the leadership, including Chris Uba, Nicholas Ukachukwu and His Excellency, Peter Obi. I owe them the deepest level of respect because of what they have done over the years but I’m thankful that we now have to get everybody on board. My strategy is to win their hearts and I consulted with every single one of them, including Chris Uba. What excited me was him saying to me, no conditions attached. In fact, I made sure I went to their houses with nothing, not even a bottle of drink. And I heard him say for instance if he’s asked to choose from all the people who have indicated an interest in running for governor in the next election, that he would say somebody like me because he has never had any issues with me.
What I’m saying here is that I’m riding on my overwhelming acceptability by these key leaders and I’m willing to show them the respect that they deserve, but I think politics has gone beyond them centrally deciding alone. We need to have a collegial decision. And I think today, it’s not in doubt that Peter Obi is the clear leader of PDP in Anambra State and I am comfortable with the leadership that he brings. The reason I say this is because not just by being a former governor, I think that being the vice-presidential candidate sets him apart as the number one leader. So, the emphasis is on my being a consensus candidate of all of them.
One of the challenges facing the states is their dependence on the central purse for survival and that includes Anambra. So what will you do differently to be less dependent on the central purse to make sure that Anambra can generate enough revenue?
Honestly, we have to begin to think of the individual components of the Nigerian state as having the opportunity to make themselves viable independent to some extent, where we can allow for competition that would drive progress. Unfortunately, we are running Nigeria in a handout manner that inhibits creativity and ingenuity. We’ve seen that we need to do a lot more, especially if we compare with what we used to do in the past before the advent of crude oil. And I think what this COVID-19 has done is to send the right shock to the right quarters. But I don’t think that we have learnt the lessons because what we see is people taking reactionary measures and not looking at the strategic and fundamental factors.
So for me, I would do two things. One, lend my voice and push whatever I have into ensuring that we change the structure of Nigeria for good; achange that will allow the states to become a lot more viable from a policy perspective and a constitutional perspective. But beyond that, even if we have a worst-case scenario where that doesn’t happen; how do we make Anambra, in this case, to be more competitive for business such that we can begin to attract a lot more investment, especially among our people and beyond our people because if you want to, you can make that change happen.
I hear people always talk about foreign direct investment and I usually laugh. Because in my world, and I’ve seen it, the local investors must be comfortable first before the foreign ones would come. It’s the local investors that would attract the foreign ones and it goes beyond creating an enabling environment that people talk about. When you recognise the power of the private sector; when you know the role of government; the questions are: How many jobs can the government create and what is it really that the government can do? It is the private sector, which I represent that holds the key and creating the right balance is what I’m here to do.
What gives you the impression that PDP will overrun the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Anambra State?
The fact on the ground is that PDP is even much more deeply rooted. Go back to the National Assembly elections, where the true test of voting is made manifest. Even with the APGA incumbency, even in their best moments, we have the Senate and House of Representatives dominated by PDP, how much more when APGA almost destroyed themselves in the last primary they held. We have been interacting with the people at the grassroots and we know what they are saying. Many AGPA people are already supporting us on this project, only waiting for the time to make a shift. This is coming from an informed perspective and I encourage everybody to do a little bit of survey, you’d come to the same conclusion that the election is for PDP to lose.