Ohuabunwa, Minister of Health

•Gowon, Ojukwu would’ve done better if they were older
•How I’ll combat graft

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa is a man of many parts. A University of Ife-trained pharmacist, Ohuabunwa was Chief Executive Officer of Neimeth International Pharmaceutical PLC; chairman, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, and a member of the Presidential Committees on Vision 2010, and 2020 national development plans. He was also on the board of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P. In this Interview with Vanguard, Ohuabunwa, who is vying for the Presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2023 election, unveils his strategies on how to make Nigeria great again among others.

By Dirisu Yakubu

Why do you want to be President of Nigeria or are you into this because of the clamour for power shift to the South-East?

I want to become President because I believe I have the competence, the character, and all it takes.    I am as competent as anyone out there.    I have been thoroughly bred and prepared for the office and I tell you, it has been long in coming.    In 1991, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, current Minister of Science and Technology, invited me to be a commissioner in Abia State.    I was one of those he interviewed and said he was going to hire. From 1997 till date, I have been a member of the PDP. I am not contesting for the office of the President because I am from the South-East. I am competent to be the President of Nigeria and I am qualified and I can compare with the best one-on-one.

I have been in this country and it has been led by different presidents at one time or the other. Yet, Nigeria has failed to achieve her manifest destiny. The countries we started on the same level as third world nations, underdeveloped nations, developing nations in the 60s and 70s have all risen; some have become first world, some developed nations, industrialized nations. Nations like Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and even China.    United Arab Emirates was a desert. As director in Pfizer, we used to go and watch the Arabs do sports on sand dunes but in our generation, some men joined hands and built global capital where everybody is going to now.

And watch our nation! Rather than become a country that will unite the people, we are getting disunited. Nigeria rather than be a safe country to live in, has become a killing field. People are dying as if nobody is able to halt it.

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I am bringing in the experience to change Nigeria. It is not incremental improvement, it is a revolution and the dream is to make Nigeria a first world and to become globally competitive with other countries. 

You will be up against visible political players such as Atiku Abubakar, Aminu Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed, all of whom are bent on vying for the sole ticket of the PDP. How politically visible are you nationwide?

I have gone round Nigeria, social media doesn’t win elections. I am going round to build foundation. When I declared my intention in January, when I came to the conclusion I thought the first thing to go and do was to build a foundation, go and build structures because the votes will be delivered out there, not on the media. It is after that we began to show our heads because we put our heads below water for strategic reasons because we know there are snipers waiting to strike. We have people working in the 36 states of Nigeria, at the grassroots level. We have about four to five groups that are working with us but our media phase is where we are now.

They said when the rain is just beginning, you cannot say today’s rain is not big enough or it is the biggest. We are willing to give good account of ourselves, we are not afraid, we are not intimidated because there have been places where people who didn’t hold political offices became leaders in their nations and why would it not happen in Nigeria?

Age has become a factor in the political recruitment process in many parts of the world. You will be close to 73 when the 2023 elections come full cycle. Aren’t you worried this may count as a disadvantage?

If age is the only consideration for leadership, then it will be tragic because it is not enough criteria.    Odumegwu-Ojukwu was a young man, Yakubu Gowon was a young man too, but both of them couldn’t manage Nigeria. They threw us into a battle that we have not come out from. If they were older and more experienced, probably they would have sorted out their ego and human differences that brought us to where we are today. Some governors are young and we have seen their performance. Leadership is influence, ability to envision and deliver results, it is not a 100 metres dash. There was a Malaysian or Venezuelan leader that was almost 90 years old. They had to bring him back. What is the age of Trump or Biden? What you need is wholeness of body. There are people who are my age and cannot do what I do physically. So, if God gives you a good body age is chronological, it is in the mind. God has given me a good body and a good health. I am mentally and spiritually strong. So you need body, soul and spirit to perform. If there is deficiency in any of them, you may have a problem.

What is the level of your consultation with the PDP governors?

I have met some of them and it is work in progress. I am still going to meet a few more. Some of them who knew me didn’t know me as a politician. They knew me as a corporate person and they are pleasantly surprised and they said they wish Nigeria will be a country where people like me will accept leadership challenge. I know when change wants to come, it has to be extraordinary. When God wants to make a change, he doesn’t follow the normal path. He finds a way to break the existing paradigm. So we are here to change the story and I want to assure you that with God on our side, we will accomplish this.

What is your stand on zoning? Is it something to be jettisoned for now?

In my book, I said zoning is critical in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country where you have minority and majority.    If you don’t zone, you are going to perpetually keep people as slaves and if you want unity, you must bring inclusiveness. When we get to the point where we become politically sophisticated, dealt with all the mundane issues, dealt with housing, education, transportation, health, defined our assurance to accommodate people, have mortgage system that gives people houses, have educational system that ensures scholarship, have bursary, student loans, when we take care of these mundane things,    zoning will become unimportant.

Secondly, when you have leaders who are dispassionate, who are detribalized, who mean well and they run the system once or twice and the man from the North does not see the difference between what the President from his own area did and the one from another area did. It will get to the point where zoning will naturally become unimportant. But if you say there is no zoning and there is no rotation, after President Buhari has become president, somebody from Katsina should also become President and I will tell you how the rest of Nigerians will take it.

The federal character principle as enshrined in our constitution, when you apply it to the Presidency, it means that one state, one group cannot dominate it, otherwise, the federal character has no significance. 

The problem of Nigeria is basically economy, but in electing a Nigerian president, the king makers will not look at who can fix it. They look at who is our man, who is a party man. Is he an independent minded person? Are you a party man?

I am a party man, go and ask people from my state. I am from Abia State, go to my local government, go to my zone.    I worked in Umaru Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan governments. I was a member of SURE-P. They don’t put you on the government boards if you are not politically related to them.    Obasanjo gave me MON, because of the work we did with Charles Soludo in developing National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies, NEEDS from the economic summit group. Jonathan gave me OFR because of the work I did in vision 2020 and Presidential advisory council. President Buhari gave me MPON because of the work that he saw I did in the private sector. 

The economy is in a terrible state. What quick fix will you make to turn things around?

Three things! First is that we will quickly prioritize our expenditure profile. The money that Nigeria has can do twice the things it is doing today. Should I tell you why?

When I was in Sure-P, I convinced my guys that we needed to run a system because I am against corruption. I said we need to tie our hands and our mouths; that is the only way we can survive and so they asked me why and I gave them methods. One of the things is that we didn’t deal with contractors.

If you wanted any job which we were over-sighting, go to the Ministry and discuss. Contractors didn’t come to us; they were going to the ministries. The Ministry will come to us and we will go with our consultants to verify if work had been done. We then recommend payment and we didn’t have an accounts department. We use the office of the director of budget as we didn’t have accounts with commercial banks. We dealt with the central bank; all those corners and points of corruption were avoided.

But despite that, a contractor brought money to me one day. I said my friend this money you are bringing, where did you get it from? He said that it was budgeted for, that in all their contracts, they make budget for minister, permanent  secretaries, directors, National Assembly, they budget for everybody and they also budget that the money will not be paid for three years, so they put the cost of money.

So, we are going to do a few things. Those who are working, we are going to adjust their salaries and make them something that will give them living opportunity. We are going to index salary to inflation, salary to devaluation.  We must maintain a minimum standard of living.

We are going to provide health insurance for everybody, those who are not working; government will provide health insurance for them. We are going to introduce high level of scholarship, bursary and student loan so that parents will be relieved of the pressure of looking for money to pay school fees.

So, when we have done that, we will therefore remove the necessity for corruption from  among  us. Those of us who are God-fearing will keep away because many are compelled to compromise because of the reality.

There is nobody that is paid salary in this country that can go home with it because of inflation and devaluation.

  And I am going to start with Diaspora investments and attract the Diaspora Nigerians and to do it, you need to do three things; create the security of lives and properties; institute law and order; ensure that you have micro-economic and policy stability and finally throw in a lot of incentives that will make Nigeria investment friendly.

These are some of the things we will do while looking at our agriculture which we can ramp up. Agriculture doesn’t need 10 years planning, every state have some crops, commercial crops that they can grow in commercial quantity, process and export and   I want to see processing plants everywhere.

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