By Chris Ochayi
Chief Johnson Ossai Opone is a Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governorship aspirant in Delta State. Opone, who hails from Ndokwa in Delta North, is one of the few technocrats from the private sector aspiring to succeed Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.
As a chartered accountant who has been in practice for over 30 years, he superintended major government corporations like the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), the National Universities Commission, NUC, the defunct OMPADEC, Nigeria Paper Mint Jeba as well as Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill among others.
The aspirant, who pledges to continue with the implementation of Governor Uduaghan’s Delta Beyond oil, in this interview, says he is the most credible candidate to actualize the Delta State Beyond Oil initiative if elected.
Delta has over 32 governorship aspirants. What stands you out in the midst of all the aspirants?
Elders within the PDP told me that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan said he needs somebody who has integrity, who is competent, who is credible to actualize the Delta State Beyond Oil initiative. That is the edge I have. I have done it before. I am all over the sector.
Where I stayed in Lagos, I am known. Regency Towers, I did the projections. If you talk about KFC in Nigeria, I am involved. If you talk about Dabowl International, I am involved. If you talk about steel industry and the aluminum industry, I am involved. You talk about Gino, I am involved.
I will give you an example. At my youthful age, I was in charge of the Cocoa Development Units in Ondo State. I was also in charge of AOA that designed Ife University, I audited them. So we are talking about somebody who has something to sell to our people. What do I have to sell to Nigerians? Wealth creation. And when you want to create wealth, I will give you a simple example. I told somebody, in Delta State, think what will happen to the aqua culture of fishing if government should go across the creeks where you have scattered ponds; artificial and man-made ponds, and then in each local government, put 10millions fingerlings and allow it 6months, the aqua culture of the people will increase.
But hear the big one; we want to turn Delta into a net exporter of refined sugar. Our land is very fertile for sugarcane plantation. So we are going to create three-tier processes, cultivation processing and also marketing of the refined sugar for domestic use and also for export. When we do that, we will be earning foreign exchange and that is what our incumbent governor means by Delta State Beyond Oil.
When people are empowered, they will pay tax and when they pay tax government will have alternative revenue. But what do you see today, everybody goes to the centre for allocation. Only two states in Nigeria today is viable and that is Lagos and Rivers because of the economic activities taking place in those states.
But when you visit other states, if there is fall in oil revenue, everybody shivers; even the Federal Government is thinking also in the same direction by saying we need to collect more tax. Of recent because the oil price per barrel has fallen, the Federal Government said we are going to tax luxury goods.
So when we do this in Delta, our people will be happy. And we want to give them happiness and their children who are graduates, who have skills from vocational and technical institutions, they will get jobs.
Most of us, we have our paper qualification but we don’t have the experience. Similarly most people talk of allocations; collecting money from the centre does not know what governance is all about. Governance is not about sharing but it is about creating wealth. Who are you creating that wealth for? The citizens and when they are happy, we say the right man is in government and the people will rejoice. But when the wrong person is in government, the people weep for lack of food, for lack of basic amenities, for lack of power.
In Lagos, we do not have steady power supply. What we did was to build what is called Isolo power plant that gives light to all those factories around the Aswani area 24 hours. No entrepreneur, or a petty trader or a peasant or craftsman can work without power. So I told my people in Delta that we are going to install heavy duty gas driven generators that is eco friendly and can last for 25 years to ensure that those entrepreneurs and the small scale factories under the micro credit scheme are able to power their businesses. Without power, you cannot talk about economic growth. Building beautiful houses across major cities in Nigeria is not synonymous with good governance.
Good governance means when the citizens are able to partake in economic activities to earn their daily living. You talk about insecurity, what is the main root of it? When you see a young graduate after leaving university, five years, no good job and you will now see somebody advertising you need to have 10 years experience. The man first must find job before he can talk about 10 years experience. But the jobs are nowhere. How many people can government. I am in this race to make Delta the focal point of analysis by Nigeria’s major practitioners by the time we transform the state. Like I said, creating new cities that will compare with Dubai not in terms of high rising but in terms of planning drainage.
One thing there is that in Nigeria’s politics, money speaks. Do you have the financial capacity to compete with some of these people who have been in the system?
When I came out, the first thing people asked was, is he capable? But as a chartered accountant that has been in practice for so many years and has been identifying with community development. I am patron to so many women associations and they cannot make you their patron if you have not been supporting their programmes and that is like politics. If you don’t come out to say you want to contest in Nigeria, if you don’t have the capacity to averagely reach out, so I believe that where they will spend N10 million, I can spend N1-5million and get the same reach because I know how money can be judiciously managed, that is the edge I have. So they can have more quantum of money but I have prudency in the way resources should be managed, so I think that is what I have going for me.
What about god fathers, do you have them especially in Delta State? We see how aspirants are running to Chief James Ibori in London, how they are running to Chief Edwin Clark.
My performance in the last four months has given me god father. I did a presentation when I visited Chief E.K. Clark about eight weeks ago and he opened a bottle of Champagne. Others they just prayed for them but he said this bottle of Champagne we need to drink it together because there is something in you that this state needs. When I also attended the screening exercise organized by the Oganigo-Anioma, Chief Philips Asiodu, a well known technocrat, was there. The question he asked me was where have you been hiding? ‘Supposing you don’t emerge as the next governor of Delta, will you contribute to your state?’ And I said I would like to be like Dangote and they burst into laughter. I didn’t say that because of money. I’m talking Dangote because he is creating jobs and I weep when Nigerians cannot be gainfully employed.
Could one say that with what you have done as a grassroots man, you have the endorsement of the likes of E.K Clark and Chief Philips Asiodu?
Our father and leader in South-south said he is going to give us equal opportunity, he is not going to endorse any person and that is good enough for me. The burning issue now is what do you have to offer? because this god fatherism does not allow our people to practice. It leads to imposition and that is why we have been appealing that god-fatherism should be there but it should not take pre-eminence over your credibility and your performance.
Today people tell you that man is from governor and governor of our state has denied it severally that he is giving any candidate preferential treatment. But we do know that this thing does exist. When you have your children, you don’t love them equally, definitely there is bound to be favouritism. But I know that Deltans are yearning for a man that will turn around Delta to the new world. We are tired of saying we need 30years to turn around. I will give you an example. Malaysia came here to borrow our palms; today they export vegetable oil to us. Singapore and Nigeria were in the same level.
Today, Singapore is a first world country and we are still calling ourselves developing. It is not by saying you are the giant of Africa that matters; we need to re-engineer our mode of thinking to tell our people that we all make the economy, not an individual. Even if I become governor with the fine programs I have, I need people to implement them and these people need to know the process of actualization rather than the pure processes of glorifying people. You see people taking awards for building schools, you see people taking awards for owning their own degrees. What people should be remembered for is what great leaders are remembered for; what is the legacy you are bequeathing to the coming generations? That is why I am in the race.
Do you subscribe to the power shift agitation in Delta State and that the Delta North is the rightful zone to produce the next governor?
100% and that is why I am in the race and I see myself as the next governor of Delta.
So that is part of the urge you have to run?
No. The urge to run is because I have something to offer. Like I said, my candidacy is not based on god-fatherism. I am earning it because they believe I have a good blueprint to transform the economy of Delta
As an Ndokwa man, grassroots wise, how have you been able to reach out to your people in Ndokwa and Deltans in general, because when you emerge as a governor, you are the first citizen of the state. Grassroots wise, how have you been able to reach out to the people because it is the masses that decide who govern them?
The masses are looking at the programme and, like I said, we are selling a programme not my person. If they want transformation, they will key to my programme; if they want Delta State Beyond Oil, they will key to my programme, and so that is why I am selling a programme.
And I have been a grassroots person. Like I said, I have supported other political office holders, so this is the time for pay back.
What is your advice to your co-contestants in this race?
Let’s allow equity and justice, fairness to prevail in all we do. It is not about winner takes all. There are other positions also. Let’s allow democracy to rule in Africa especially starting with Nigeria, My advice to them is to let justice prevail.
In the PDP, there have been complaints about the local government congresses. Do you have the confidence that the PDP will get it right in terms of the delegates because every candidate is haggling to have his own delegates to favour him and put him at the poll point. Do you have that confidence that the PDP will get it right in the choice of delegates?
Delta State is peculiar and with what the governor suggested, from what he did, he will give his anointed candidate an edge. But like I said, politics is full intrigues. The man that was anointed today may not be the favourite by the time we are going for delegates congress. And I believe we are all working to change the mind of those who make decision, so that we can have equity. So we will get it right.