Alex Oti, from Abia State was the Group Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank PLC. Today, he is contesting for the governorship of his state under the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). This is his second attempt. He lost in 2015 to the incumbent.
You left your plum job as GMD /CEO of a bank in 2014. What was your motivation then and now?
My motivation is to change things in Abia. Abia state has been very unfortunate and has gone through poor quality leadership, and I thought some of us should offer some sacrifice. In fact, I thought I should make that sacrifice, given that I have what it requires. It is the reason why I am still interested in becoming the governor of the state because what I saw in 2014 is still the same now. So, as it was compelling for me then, it is more compelling now in 2018.
Abians are used to promises of good roads, water, improved infrastructure et cetera. What new thing are you going to bring into governance if elected?
The new thing is that you hardly see people like us in politics. We are not politicians. So, I’m coming for that intervention because that is what I call it. It is not the usual run of play with those that call themselves politicians who want to remain in the field to the exclusion of other people. Because I am not one of them, I think that is new enough.
We are bringing in skills, quality management, experience, training network. I believe that should be faster to me, and most importantly, understanding the economy, knowing what to do, when to and at what particular time to do it, knowing that if we do not invest in infrastructure, then, your Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) will go down. That is, you will not empower your youths. By empowerment here, I do not mean buying them Keke (tricycle), motorcycle, Okada or wheel barrow. No. I am talking about empowerment in terms of creating jobs for them, otherwise what we end up with will be kidnappers, robbers, challatans, the ones you call Agberos (touts), even though they may have gone to school.
I believe it is also important that we understand that if you don’t secure your environment, then you can go to Turkey, China, like some of the people I know do. You can even relocate there in search of foreign investment which will not come until you have created the enabling environment for these businesses to come to you. And when you do that, you don’t need to campaign because they will naturally come.
It is also important to note that when you have let your state decay like Abia has today, most of the companies, industries and so on that were hitherto there will relocate. And when that happens, the level of unemployment will grow because these companies were those maintaining the youth, and we don’t have any plans for the youth.
Also important is that when you are running a government, you know that there is so much you can do in terms of generating employment. Today, we hear of governors appointing one thousand SSAs (Senior Special Assistants), two thousand ASs (Special Assistants) and all that. It’s all fraud because you know that you don’t have jobs for them. So, you just hand out stipends to them, give them an impression that they are working. That is what my friend calls masturbation. They think they are doing something, but at the end of the day, they are doing nothing. So, those are the thinking that I mean .We are bringing a new thinking. We are trying to make people know that what makes you wealthy is not the amount of money you have collected, but how much of it you have used judiciously.
What it means is that we want to make Abia people know that we shouldn’t believe in a government where the only economy that is booming is the propaganda economy and billboard economy. So, I believe that those are different from what you’ve always heard.
This issue of youth restiveness in the South-east, the issue of IPOB, how do you think it will impact on your ambition?
I think, on the issue of IPOB, there is a need for proper engagement. Some of the things I have highlighted, they are also applicable because they are young people. Most of them are available for some of these things because they don’t have jobs to do, because government has not really addressed their needs. When I talk about government, I mean Local government which includes Local Government and State Government.
If we had done well in managing our people and resources, maybe an IPOB may not have arisen. Even if it did, may be not in the form or the kind of followership. I think we created the condition for it to happen. So, the first thing to do is to engage them, find out what they are looking for, and provide those things. I’m sure that when you do that, you begin to reduce tension. I don’t believe that the way to deal with it is through force.
Having said that, I have seen election happen in Anambra last year and I cannot confirm, but I did not hear that the boycott was reversed. So, if election could happen in Anambra, I believe Abia should not be a different case. We are not in a position to engage them now because we are not in power, but when we get into power, we will be able to engage them, and sit down with them. And when they see the honesty of purpose and genuiness of passion, I think they will come on board.
You narrowly missed the governorship seat in 2015. What did you not do right then? How do you think you will defeat an incumbent who defeated you in 2015?
Good question. Let me start with the incumbent. He didn’t defeat me, he lost. So, he is actually exercising a stolen mandate and you know how Karma works. Sometimes, you think you know everything, but at the end of the day, you know nothing. He’s not been able to exercise that mandate judiciously, that’s why he has failed in virtually everything he touched. I don’t know what your view is as somebody that know Abia well. Is there any difference from the time the present governor took over and now, like the Abiriba of 2015 and today? If there are, maybe from the wards, and it applies across the state including the ward from where he comes.
The point is that he has failed. The point is that he did not win. He knows it was a stolen mandate. The other part of the question is: what we did not do right. I’m not sure there is a lot that we did not do right. It was the impunity by the former governor, Theodore Orji, who knew that they would lose, and they stole the election results of two local governments. And when they saw that I was leading with 75,000 votes, they wrote fake results, and pushed them into the collation centre. And as they did, because we had made sufficient noise and raised alarm, the Returning Officer knew they were fake results, and he cancelled them in Umuahia. And as he cancelled them, since I was leading with 75,000 votes, the right thing to do was to declare me winner.
Now the same former governor, Theodore Orji, invaded the collation centre with a lot of PDP people, police, army, security of the governor, and forced the Returning Officer, Professor Ben Ugwumba, to reverse himself under gun point. That was impunity of the highest order, that was criminal. I’m not too sure that will be allowed today. He did it because they were in power at the center. I’m not sure anybody will allow that today.
So, it was not what we didn’t do, it was actually what we didn’t envisage because it was an act of desperation. Under normal circumstance, that should not stand. We thought it would not stand. If we thought it was going to stand, I also would have come there with my supporters because I was controlling 70 per cent of the state, and the whole place would have come down. But I didn’t want to do that because I thought that the court would restore the mandate.
Of course the Court of Appeal did, and pronounced me governor, but it was reversed by the Supreme Court.
Being an incumbent, you have a point because he has the resources of the state, he’s not paying salaries, he’s not paying pensioners and so he can unleash that. But we have also seen instances where incumbents have been defeated. Jonathan was an incumbent. He had all the resources, but somebody came from outside and defeated him. Ohakim was an incumbent at one point and, he was defeated. I’m sure the Abia people that voted for me are more than willing to do so again, and some of the people that voted for them are sufficiently angry and will not vote for them again. So, I’m very confident about winning.
When you were going for the election in 2015, APGA was one house, but now, APGA is divided against itself. So how do you intend to bring everybody on board?
It is not entirely true that APGA was together then even though majority of them were together with me. If you remember, there was a gentleman called Damian Ufomba that was also dragging issues. He went all the way to Supreme Court to Appeal. I defeated him all the way. The thing about political structure is that it is not like a corporate entity where everybody must align even if you disagree. I would like you to show me one party today where there is no disagreement.
I am sure you have been reading about Rochas Okorocha and his problems with the APC National Chairman. I’m sure you have been reading about what is happening in PDP also. The issue is not in people having grievance and disagreeing. The issue is in what is done to deal with it. Today, we have set up reconciliation committee to reconcile those that are waiting. But don’t also forget that opposition also funded some people to come and cause confusion in APGA. Those people who are funded are on a mission. They will only stop when there is no more likelihood for them to cause distraction. And of course, it is easy for them to continue so that they will continue to draw money from whoever is the one sponsoring them.
Some of them have gone to court now, lawyers have to be paid, so they have to present the bill to whoever is sponsoring them. So it is a business for them. So when you want to negotiate with them, they look at you as one who want to stop their business. So you leave them to exhaust themselves. And for those who are genuinely aggrieved, we know how it is when two people contest for a position, one of them will win. And when that one wins, the one who lost will not be very happy, but over time we tend to manage the situation.
Are you saying you are the authentic APGA candidate in Abia state?
I thought you knew. I am not the one that will be telling you. I think INEC has published the issues of those to contest the elections in Abia state. What did you see there? It is not me saying, it’s INEC.
Taking you back to what you said, that federal might was deployed in that election. Don’t you think the same federal might also be deployed this time?
There is a remote possibility. Remote I say because the party in the centre is not the party in the state. So the APC candidate and myself will go into that race fighting the incumbent who is a common enemy. So, there would not be any congruence. You need the man at the centre to share the same party with the man in the state to be able to unleash the level of impunity.
If you become governor of Abia state?
(Cuts in) Not if, it is when I become governor.
I insist Sir: If you become governor, how do you intend to tackle the issue of the rampaging herdsmen?
Well, it is a sad development, a sad problem. Quite frankly, it is a problem that must be dealt with, and it is a security problem. For me, I believe in engagement, I believe in jaw-jaw, I believe in discussion. So part of the problem that we have is that a lot of them are not able to sit down and talk. So, we cannot effectively do so much in terms of security. If you do not have a platform with which you can discuss with the head of security agencies, because security is still key, even though you are the Chief Security Officer of the state, power still comes from the centre. So I will engage them to ensure I have an understanding with the centre, whoever is there, and have a clear programme on how to deal with it. And luckily for now, it has not been a very topical issue in Abia state, but I know that in Benue to a little extent in Enugu, and I think some parts of Ebonyi. It is not a problem in Abia but to the extent that it is a problem in the country, I am also interested in it.
Now, as somebody with a business background, what are you going to do to increase the awareness of Aba as the fashion capital of Africa.
Part of it is awareness, part of it is real. Real in the sense that traditionally, Aba has always been the centre of leather and fashion. They also have the skills. So Aba is too central to my agenda, Aba combines Nnewi and Onitsha. Nnewi is an industrial city. Onitsha is a trading and commerce axis. Aba combines the two. There are lots of manufacturing that typically happen or should happen in Aba. It is also a training centre. So, all that I need to do is take a holistic view of Aba and ask: what do these people need? When you do that, you are also doing so many other things. You are also taking people out of the place. So when you invest heavily in infrastructure, for the place is completely rotten, replant the place, have proper channel for drainage, and all that, and the roads – all the roads in Aba are under 140km. I will ensure they have electricity. It is so very critical, I was involved with Geometric Power in Aba that was expected to generate about 141megawatts of power for Aba and its environs. Since I left them, I don’t know where they are now. But what I remember is that I was able to furnish the construction when I was in the Bank. So there were political issues about how to reinvent Aba. It was sold again to Eastern Electric. I don’t know what has happened in the last four years. If I were at the driver’s seat in Abia, I would have expected that, that is where all the energies will be concentrated. They were at the point of delivering power. So I will put all my energy to see that it is done. But now that it has not been done, it means they are waiting for me to come and do it. Once that is done, we will have power 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year in Aba. At least, we would have solved one major problem. You see, the fashion you people have talked about, their major problems is power. If you solve power problems, you solve about 70 per cent of the problem. And then, poor environmental sanitation is very key with the focus of infrastructure they will get back to Aba, and when they get back to Aba, the Internally Generated Revenue is guaranteed in real form.
Look at Lagos. A lot of the businesses in Lagos are coming from the East. All our people are here in Lagos. And I’m sure they are guaranteed some of the basic necessities – security, infrastructure. I’m sure it is going to be cheaper to do their businesses here in Aba than in Lagos.
How will you deal with the issue of bad federal roads in Abia state?
When you say the road is a federal road, who uses it? For me, it really does not matter. The road is important whether a federal road or a state road. If it is a federal road, you get approval from the Federal government, then you do the road for you are the ones using the road. It is after this you begin to battle the federal government to get your refund, and it is on record that a lot of them have been refunded. When they see that you are mismanaging the one they gave you as federal allocation, they would not be in a hurry to refund. Sometimes, the quality of the road you build may be substandard, and by the time the federal government looks at it, they are not going to pay for it. That may be part of it, I’m not too sure. I am saying that if I am on that seat where decisions are being taken, I would look at it that way. When I have the budget if I have hundred naira, who do / give fist? Should I give the one in Kafanchan or Owerri that is building low quality road, or should I give the one in Ebonyi that is building high quality road? That is the way I will look at it. I will give it to the man in Ebonyi. The issue is that whether it is state or federal road, it is you that pass through the road. And when you fold your hands and say it is federal road and federal government does not see it as a profundity, you will be using the road, you will be passing the road.
What are your plans for Foreign Direct Investment for Abia state?
We have talked about it. Foreign Direct Investment is not about how many times you visited China, not about how many times you visited Dubai, not about how many times you went to Europe and America. Foreign Direct Investment will naturally flow in area that are prepared for them. If it is a good product, people will buy. So, that is my opinion of Foreign Direct Investment. You have not fixed your backyard and you are looking outside. They already have more information about you.
What is your relationship with the governor?
He is the governor. But if I made any allegation, I don’t come out to make frivolous allegations. Beyond his being the governor, I don’t have any other relationship with him. We are in opposing camps, we know each other.