By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor & Vincent Ujumadu
*Declares: â€˜I did not buy APGA guber ticket’
*Reveals development strategies
*Advises President Yarâ€™Adua
Peter Obi! He does not fit the profile of the average Nigeria politician and this is a fact. How you may ask: he goes to the gubernatorial election petition tribunal where he spends all of three years before he got justice.Â He proceeds to the Supreme Court to ask that it be determined if a governor can be said to have exhausted his tenure when in truth and deed, he has only finished a term the tenure of which was commenced by another and, again, got justice, thereby setting a precedent and giving hope that a four-year tenure is what it means: a four-year tenure.Â He is impeached as governor and he goes to court where he again gets justice.Â That is Peter Obi for you.
In this interview, Obi speaks on his style of governance which continues to annoy some powerful politicians in his Anambra State, the attitudinal change which he wants to create, the need to put the people of Anambra State first and why he would not surrender, even though the thought of quitting had cropped up so many times. He also discloses that some people would rather have him dead because he has become a stumbling block.Â But there had always been this nagging allegation that he bought the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA governorship ticket in 2003 to which he denies.
But you will find Governor Obi, a man who wakes up early every morning to attend mass, interesting.Â In fact, this interview, which ought to have been conducted as early as 7 a.m. did not take place until 2 p.m.Â Why? Obiâ€™s day is a cocktail of activities which saw this writer waiting for all of seven hours while Obi attending to matters of state. That the interview took place in the midst of a flurry of activities is a testament to Obiâ€™s sense of duty â€“ and he kept apologizing for the delay.
AT a time most of your colleagues are complaining that there is no money, you are executing many projects such that the entire state looks like a construction site. Where do you get money from and how much is your administration owing to the banks?
Well, it depends on how strictly you apply the resources available to you. What we have been able to do in this state is to manage our meager resources in a manner that it would benefit the greater number of the people of the society.
As I have always told our people and they will always agree, let us use public money for public good. I have tried to that very effectively.
Public money for public good but?
But our political detractors are very bitter with that because they would have preferred otherwise. We are determined to use the resources available for the good of the people. That had been lacking over the years especially in this state.
It is not how far or how big the resources are, but it is how effective you apply the available ones. That is more important.
What is stateâ€™s income on the average?
On the average we are getting about N2billion a month from federal allocation. Our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) is poor. That too, on the average, is about N300 million. So in some months, with IGR and federal allocation, all we have is about N2 billion.
Some people say â€“ and they claim to know – that you were a very ruthless person in private business. Some say you were the ideal businessman and that whatever objective you set for yourself you go all out to achieve it.
I wonâ€™t use the word ruthless. I have never been ruthless in my life. But if you say I am determined, that is a better word.
Yes, I used to be determined when I was in business.
Whatever I do, I do it with the fear of God. But I will pursue it in the manner that I am determined. That is me. In business, it was the same. I was a trader and I can say that by all standards and anywhere on the surface of the earth that when I decided to go into the corporate world, I was determined to make a success of it and I got to the peak of it.
And you seem to be applying same to the governance of Anambra State?
Today I am doing the same thing.
When I decided to go and contest election, I made up my mind and when they said it was not me that won the election which I clearly won, I said I must follow it to its logical conclusion.
When you were fighting to reclaim the mandate, some people said you were wasting your time and that it was a huge joke?
Everybody thought I was wasting my time. But in my opinion, I didnâ€™t think I was wasting my time â€“ and I do not waste my time in anything I do.Â I have always ended up as a pace setter. That was why I insisted.
Has it really always been the same?
When I was in the bank and I said to people that I was going to be a director of the bank some said no, you wonâ€™t make it because the bank was not disposed to that. But I did not only become a director, I became chairman of the bank.
Issuance of instructions
So, whenever I set out to do something, I pursue it with the fear of God. You see, all these things happened to me because I allowed them. I have no regrets about it. I donâ€™t want to hunt for or hound anybody because of it. For instance, since I entered into politics, I have never used thugs. Not even one of them. I have never issued instruction to anybody to hurt anybody.Â I have never been in a place where somebody was hurt.
What could you describe as the worst moment since becoming governor?
That was when I was impeached. I asked myself, what was it all about? And when they said it was based on fraud, most people said no, we know he canâ€™t do that. When they said my tenure was temporarily over, it became a case of, what was all these about? I told myself but this is not what the constitution said; and several other accusations. Even the recent one of N250 million, I asked myself, do people really appreciate the sacrifices I am making for my people as a governor; the extent I have gone, breaking barriers and hitting my head against the wall just to get the best for my people.Â And I answered myself no. What actually happened? I said, what are people actually talking about? Without being involved in politics, I was worth several times more money than that several years ago. I pay as much as 40-50% of that in taxes all over the world. My wife would say to me, this is what I told you. Imagine what these people are talking about. People just forget that I was only trying to help the situation, to save money for the state. And this happened. Like I said to people, we should even be apologizing to our people for creating all these impressions which were not necessary. Sometimes you feel like, let me just get out of this. But I realize that it is the wrong thing to do.
My attitude about it is, only God knows everything. Number two is the people of Anambra State who appreciate what we are doing. I know that their prayers will not allow this state to go back to what it used to be.
Who shapes your direction or which group assists in the thinking which governs the state or perhaps, who is your godfather since Anambra State politics is all about godfatherism since 1999?
When people ask me who is your godfather and I say, I have two godfathers. Number one and the most important is the Almighty God who allowed me to be here. Despite all that people did, he did not allow them to succeed.Â Then the other is represented by the people of Anambra State.
When you look at all that you have been through in politics, doesnâ€™t it worry you?
It is a long story in the sense that even I could not understand why. My wife would always ask me this question, why all these? As I say everyday, this should be the worst job Iâ€™ve ever done in my life. I have lived a very good life; I have earned good money and suddenly I came into a place where I met the worst of humanity where people will ridicule your life and integrity even when they know the truth.
Whatever happened to me happened because that was the way God designed it. He knew why that trouble came to me and why it should be part of me. So I can only say all these things were Godâ€™s will.
Was there any time you felt, â€˜hey! What the hell is going onâ€™ and you felt like quitting from this job?
I can tell you that it happens every now and then.
So, why donâ€™t you quit?
Let me tell you this.Â Whenever I go to a secondary school or primary school in this state, I look at those kids and what comes to my mind is how these young people would fare. Who would repair their schools? I am not saying somebody else canâ€™t do it. But the issue is that I am the first governor to visit such schools and the first governor to start massive repair of schools. Just last week, I was in New Era Girls Secondary School in Onitsha. I was in Ado Girls, Inland Girls School all in Onitsha. On Wednesday I was in Uli Girls and Abott Girls and in so many primary schools. You need to see how these kids feel seeing the first governor come to their school. I have said that whatever it takes, I will continue to be with them.
Some people describe you as a peculiar person; some say youâ€™re just dealing with a peculiar situation. Yet some say you are a one man riot squad doing things his own way. Which one fits you?
I am not a strange fellow, but I am dealing with a strange situation. I am dealing with a situation where people had created a type of confusion which they were using to service their greed. And suddenly you are there frustrating that confusion and they are resisting it by all means. They donâ€™t want anything like that to happen because once you get it right, it becomes a problem for them. It is like bringing a change.
When you bring a change, you become an enemy of all those people who live on the old order. That was what Jesus suffered. He was just trying to bring a new order and of course, they made all sorts of allegations against him.
So, in everything, they try to paint it as if to say oh, this man is claiming to be this and that. He is doing this, he is doing that. All those who live on the old order and those who are not sure whether the new order will succeed have never been happy. So they are on edge. This is a state that did not have a governorâ€™s office when I came in. There was no Governorâ€™s Lodge. But we are happy things are changing.
When course participants of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, came here, I asked them to go round the state. After going round, they observed that no state compares with Anambra State in the area of rural development.
If you go to other institutions we are working with, it is the same thing. I just received a team from the European Union Water Supply Sanitation Reform Programme that is working in six states. They brought everybody here to say that other states should learn and understand the vision and commitment shown by Anambra State towards improvement of the sector. And we were the last state to be admitted by the EU.
If you go to the UNDP, we were the first state to sign. If you go to the World Bank, we were the first to contribute. It is the same in other sectors. Everybody that has gone round the state has praised this administration for the rate of infrastructural development. Everybody is asking the same question, where did the money come from?
But really, how much do you owe the banks?
How much do we owe the banks? We donâ€™t owe anybody any kobo. We called the presidents-general of the town unions and everybody to come and see what we are doing. And everyone on the streets of this state will say we want this man. But those elites that brought this confusion insist that this man must die. They are not even talking about his being alive. They want to kill me by all means.
You were in PDP before moving into APGA?
I was in every party. I wasnâ€™t just in PDP. The day I decided to come and contest for governor, I was not in any political party. I had not been involved in politics. Never! I just decided to come in.Â But what I did when I came in was to go round each and every political party, actually trying to be a change agent in all of them.
Eventually, in most of them that I tried to change, I found out that they were just a collection of people who nobody can change. It was like trying to change a pig not to stink. What you end up doing is just to waste your time and you annoy everybody in the process without achieving anything.
Okay!Â But there was this allegation that you bought the governorship ticket of APGA in 2003?
Brought? From who!
That you paid as if you wanted to buy a commodity; that there was another aspirant who saw himself as the natural choice of the party?
That shows that somebody saw himself as a natural candidate. I didnâ€™t see myself as a natural candidate. I was in APGA from day one. I was one of those who attended the pre-registration meeting and when it came, I was there from the onset. I even contributed financially, from the onset. So, nobody can say I just came from nowhere and bought the governorship ticket. I was the one who paid the first rent for APGA. I did all the contributions and so it was not a case of saying that I came from nowhere. Far from it! I was part of it. When the rent was difficult to be completed, I made it up. If anything, I would say it was the other way round. But that is history. And I will choose not to make any other comment on that.
With the on-going arguments as to who is the rightful national chairman between Chief Chekwas Okorie and Chief Victor Umeh, how does that make you feel as the only APGA governor?
Well, the rightful national chairman, according to law, is Chief Victor Umeh and I remain with Victor Umeh. It is not going to change.
But your party constitution is very funny.Â How come you people inserted the name of an individual as Chairman, in the constitution, thereby suggesting that the chairmanship is personal?Â In that APGA Constitution, they wrote the name of Chekwas Okorie as Chairman â€“ in the constitution?
Well, you need to read further that constitution and see whether there is any other condition in which that name might not remain like that because it wasnâ€™t just written without other conditions. One must therefore read everything completely to be able to say yes this is where we are.
Okay, your deputy, Madam Etiaba: How did you come about making her your deputy?
Somebody mentioned her to me. She was not a politician. She never contested any election. Somebody just mentioned that there was this woman who is a retired teacher, a widow. That was all.
And that qualified her to be your deputy?
Yes, considering the situation at that time.
Any regrets making that choice?
I donâ€™t regret anything in my life, because it is God that allows these things.
Would you say that in the next election, you will run with her?
I donâ€™t know what will happen when I go for the re-election.
When I ran before, I didnâ€™t know I was going to go with her. The only thing I can tell you now is that I am contesting the election. I canâ€™t tell you who and who will be in my team.
When you look at what you are doing in Anambra State, and what President Yarâ€™Adua is trying to do at the federal level, would you say there is a meeting point, in the area of due process?
The only thing I can tell you is that so far, to me, President Yarâ€™ Adua comes across as somebody who is sincere and he actually wants to serve Nigeria faithfully. I can only hope that if only he can continue with the way he started, including maintaining the rule of law even when it is not beneficial to his party the PDP, if only he would give this country free and fair election.
Whether we are doing this or doing that, all we require in this country is free and fair election. The rest will be taken care of. Free and fair election will be the beginning of the commencement of true development of Nigeria; it will help to reduce corruption and help in other sectors. Most of the things that bring about all these things we are shouting about today are because, ab initio, people were not elected by the majority of the votes cast in the elections. And the people themselves know because I always say it that the process through which people come to office is far more fundamental than what they do thereafter. A situation where one was not part of an exam or you fail an exam and you are awarded a certificate or even awarded a first class when you did not merit a third class.
It is like a situation where you are a spectator in a competition and you are given a medal at the end of the game. You kill hard work. You kill everything. All these people who are running about and saying Peter Obi must be killed is because they have been used to wrong processes for a ling time.
What concerns me most is how to conduct free and fair election and maintain President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s rule of law. We believe that if the president gives this country that, his name will go down in history forever. Itâ€™s a critical issue.
But Nigerians are complaining and they are saying that the President is very slow.
Well, we had been on top speed the last time and I donâ€™t think that it got us anywhere. We were on the fast lane before, but on the fast lane to where?
You were a governor then?
I wasnâ€™t the President; where did it lead us?
So if we are on the slow lane this time and we are doing it rightly, let us be on the slow lane. Have you noticed that in Nigeria, we are used to condemning governments, but when another one takes over, we suddenly begin to say the one we condemned appeared to be better than the new one and we can go back in this order:Â Obasanjo to Shagari, from Shagari to Buhari to Babangida to Abacha to Abubakar to Obasanjo again and now to Yarâ€™Adua. Even with all the criticisms, at some point some people began to say that the Abacha government was better than Obasanjo and that Obasanjo appears to be better than Yarâ€™Adua. What do you think is responsible for this pattern of thought?
One of the reasons is that when those who were benefiting from a particular government are no longer there to pillage and benefit, they start complaining. I donâ€™t think I will be one of those who will say that the past government is better than the present Yarâ€™Adua government. I canâ€™t be part of that.
Could that be because of what you suffered in the hands of Obasanjo?
No.Â There might be issues that require amendments here and there but I keep saying that when a nation is governed by the rule of law, every other thing will follow. I keep saying that the most important thing that is missing in Nigeria today is for the people in power to subject themselves to the rule of law and be brave enough to allow for free and fair election. When I said it the last time comparing Nigeria with Ghana, people misunderstood it. Unless we conduct free and fair elections here, all these ills we are quarrelling with will continue.
I said before that I donâ€™t want anybody to give me one vote that I am not entitled to. But at the same time I donâ€™t want one of my votes to be taken away to somebody else.
All those gladiators today who want to kill, main and do all sorts of things to Peter Obi are not with the people. When the people vote for them, I assure them that I will hand over to them immediately, thank them and offer my advice and go back to my private business.
When Obasanjo was president, where you able to discuss with him one on one?
No, I didnâ€™t have that opportunity.
Was he not allowing you make your points during meetings or?
You know where he was coming from and people like me couldnâ€™t have had the privilege of talking with him one on one. How could that have happened when I was impeached less than six months after coming into office. So there was no opportunity like that. He was a different president from the man who is there today.
I did make points in some meetings where he was, but then it was not the way I do it today in the sense that in some meetings, he didnâ€™t ask for peopleâ€™s opinions. He would have probably made up his mind before the meeting.
In Nigeria today there are such meetings you attend and people would have made up their minds and they regarded you as somebody who should contribute nothing.
A lot of things happen in this country.
Since the present democratic dispensation, South East governors had never been as united as they are at present even with their differences in political affiliation. For instance, you have been chairman of the South East governors for two years which had never happened before â€“ almost always they were changed. What do you think is responsible for this new regime of understanding?Â And to think that all the governors were of the PDP then?
In the past, all the governors were PDP. Today we are not. We have realized one thing and that is that we have a common background, common purpose and we have realized that we must hang out together, or be hanged.
One of the complaints of the politicians in this state is that you donâ€™t carry them along and that you are doing your thing your own way?
I donâ€™t know what they mean by that. I have been repairing the schools. I donâ€™t understand what they mean by not carrying them along. I donâ€™t know what else to do. Should I carry them on my back? They say I donâ€™t travel with people. I do travel with people. If I am in this state and I am going for an occasion, those who are part of the occasion should go with me. If I am going to attend a meeting in Abuja, those who are part of the meeting should go with me. If people want me to travel with those who donâ€™t have anything to add to the trip, it doesnâ€™t make sense to me because at the end of the day, there must be a reason why somebody should be part of a team. Otherwise, the person will become a distraction.
For instance, when I went to Kenya to talk about the master plan for our state, I went alone because I was the only one who had an idea of what I went for. Any other person accompanying me would amount to waste of public money. That was because I needed to prepare myself for the presentation.Â But if I was with somebody, I wouldnâ€™t have time to think about my presentation.
Many groups have been touring projects executed by your administration. What informed that?
We encourage people who want to come to go around and see what we are doing. We say, if anybody is interested in coming, he or she should come and see things for himself or herself.
You delivered these master plans for Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi. What do you envisage this state will look like when these plans are eventually implemented?
Wonderful! I am sure that the plans will be well implemented if the state will have a visionary governor when I leave office in 2014. The plan is already there. I am also trying to secure the necessary funding for the implementation. Being that my background is finance, I know I will attract the necessary funding for the implementation.
You people would soon engage another gear preparatory to the 2010 elections in this state, what do you see happening?
Quite frankly, the way I see it is that people should subject themselves to free and fair election. I keep saying this: we owe it a duty to build a better place for our children. As long as we continue this vicious circle of everybody trying to kill the other, we are going nowhere.
I maintain that we only need two things: respect for the rule of law and conduct of free and fair election.Â Let peopleâ€™s vote count.