Dr Jeff Nnamani who hails from Agbani in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State is in the race for the state’s 2023 governorship election as an aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He fielded questions on sundry issues of importance. Excerpts…
Generally, you are perceived as a new player in the Enugu State political field. How correct is that perception and what does it imply for your current aspiration?
Really, I doubt if there is any political player of note in the state since 1999 to date that will tell you that Jeff Nnamani is an unknown quantity though I have, as a matter of principle, deliberately refrained from partisan politics until now. My coming on to the field now to vie for public office is equally deliberate. For so long, the state has been badly run. And I have come to the realization that most of those we have trusted in the past to lead our state have wrongly construed the meaning and implementation of what public service entails.
You said most of the leaders the state has had since 1999 have the wrong impression of what public service entails. Could you explain this opinion of yours better?
Unfortunately, Enugu State, in the last 23 years, has not been led well along with the modern ethos of public service. How you serve people is different from people serving you; so that’s exactly why I decided to come and serve.
We want to bring in a new era of governance, not the old way. The old way is personal wealth acquisition using the instrument and facilities of the state, and this old way is selfish. It is why our state has had arrested development while a callous and selfish set of government-facilitated power mongers have been holding the state down and keeping the people poor and subjugated. So, it is the need to do things differently and institutionalize a new approach to public service that’s making me offer myself in service.
So, in a nutshell, what is your mission?
I need to let Ndi Enugu understand that our state needs to be rescued from sliding any further. There is massive youth unemployment, decaying infrastructure and despondency all over the state but those in power are amassing unbelievable wealth by diverting state resources. My mission is to liberate the Enugu state from the hands of people who believe that politics or power belongs to them because power truly belongs to the electorate, not the elected.
But why is it taking you this long to come out with this Liberation Agenda?
I wouldn’t say it has taken too long. Rather, I would like to believe that we are coming at the right time, after having watched the players on the scene over an appreciable length of time and realising that none of them has the capacity to bring anything new and progressive to bear on the state. I am led to embrace my current mission because the end of the current governance culture is not looking good for the future of Enugu State that we desire collectively.
For instance, the youths are getting more agitated. The government has failed them woefully. We are in the 21st century and people are getting wiser; the world is just a global marketplace now, so you cannot keep on personalizing government and think that it will continue forever. After a while, people will start asking questions and the consequence may not be good for all.
What major ills of the government of the day have you identified that require urgent corrections?
For me, this is the best time to let the Enugu people know that there’s a better way to serve them, and this better way to serve them is that the leader has to be seen as the number one servant of the state. Governance in the state has for too long been run from top to bottom with the leaders treating the people as beggars. The government has not been a listening government.
Most of the things that made Enugu great in the 70s and 80s have been destroyed – the factories, the enterprising spirit of commerce, health facilities and many others. What I am saying is that the resources that come into and from Enugu state must be prudently used for the betterment of the people. The people are being punished unnecessarily because people in government have failed to devise sound policies on strategic resource investment, deployment and management.
What, in your opinion, is the difference between the 3rd Republic and the current dispensation in terms of governance in Enugu State?
Then, we had talented and good leaders who were innately called to serve. Jim Nwobodo was an innate leader who came to serve. And he served the state brilliantly. The last industrialization of the state was in the 80s and it was done by a man called Jim Nwobodo who is still alive I wonder why people will not look at it and say what was the difference between Jim’s concept of Enugu state where you can have factories working, where you can employ labour, where you can do everything and this era of arrested development we have today? All investments that we are talking about today that are moribund were done by him. The roads, health facilities, the vibrancy of the civil service and so on have all been destroyed in the last 23 years of PDP in the state. Even at the local government level, it is pathetic.
The most important tier of democracy is the local government; if you cannot empower the local government very well, liaise with them, follow their projects that benefit the people, then you are killing democracy. One grave thing that has happened to our state is that the people who believe that they have the resources, we don’t ask them where they got these resources from. It is ridiculous.
The ripple effect is what is happening today when people who see governance as a tool of personal wealth acquisition turn themselves into lords and dictators that anoint leaders for the people. 2023 is the right time to redefine public service to reflect the fact that when you talk about public service, you have to live life with integrity and accountability because you can never live above the people you serve.
Your campaign theme and the brand identity you’ve been projecting so far have two concepts- 042 original and O be go. What do these two concepts mean and what do you want to give to the people through the concepts to answer their yearnings for good governance?
First of all, 042, on the surface, is a social identity of the Enugu State. So, each time we refer to ourselves as 042, we believe we are passionate about it because we grew up in Enugu, we saw the good life in Enugu. We are proud Enugu people, and seeing Enugu deteriorate gradually to the point it is now, we have chosen to reawaken our sense of pride and dignity.
Look at Ebonyi and Anambra which were created out of the old Enugu State with 042 as the capital then; they are progressing while Enugu has been put in a retrogressive mode. So, the concept of me picking 042 original, I added the original because I’m an original 042, is to signal the resolve to rescue and restore Enugu to its original state of excellence.
And, what does O be go stand for?
O be go means it is over; it is enough; it has ended. So, when I say O be go, it means that whatever that is our problem in governance has ended. So, misrule has ended, misgovernance has ended, imposition has ended, embezzlement has ended, everything in Enugu that is bad has ended.
However, it is only the ones that are bad that have ended, any other thing that is good will continue. So that’s why I say O Be go, your yearnings have been heard. I’m coming out to ensure that all your yearnings will be answered to. O Be go, it is time, enough of what is happening. So we can move forward to the future of Enugu State.
There is a growing call in the state that zoning should be respected in the choice of the next governor in 2023. What is your take on the idea of Zoning?
To be truthful, zoning has been okay for Enugu State people and anybody who is saying there should be no zoning is just trying to project a selfish idea. It has contributed tremendously to making the state relatively peaceful. In actual fact, if it wasn’t the turn of Enugu East where I come from, I would have tried to look for and support another like-minded aspirant with a burning desire to drive this Liberation project.
But, there are those who argue that Zoning does not encourage competence…?
Yes, I recognise there is a bit of a disadvantage to the State in the way the ruling party has corrupted the noble idea of Zoning which all well-meaning Enugu people love and embrace.
That is why I cannot be in the party in government today because I have a different mindset that does not fit into their template of governance. I don’t believe that we should have one party in Enugu State.
Competition brings results and where there’s no competition, it brings lethargy, meaning nobody is answerable to anybody. Once you come in, there’s parlance they use in the ruling party, OJEBEGO and they have tried to impose it on the entire state.
It means, even if the people never have trust in you but the party leadership and its caucus have anointed and selected you, they have given it to you. So, if the people didn’t give you power, you can’t be answerable to them. That’s exactly why succession planning gotten wrong can also give you a bad result.
Zoning is good enough, but in zoning, it’s not everybody that’s innately called to serve. We must separate those who love to use Zoning to oppress the people and those who genuinely embrace the idea because of pure public service. People who believe that they have to use public funds as if it is theirs are not innately called to serve.
There is also the view by some of the leaders in the state that the sitting governor has the right to pick his successor. How true is that and what’s your take on this view?
For me, it is a sign of impunity taken too far, and it’s because of the ruling party’s disrespect for the people, especially their democratic rights. If you’re a political party and you have your internal arrangement to impose candidates on your party members, it’s fine by you.
But remember, when it comes to the polity itself, where you have other parties, where you have people who are independent-minded, where you have people who want to vote for a very good candidate, you don’t tell them that the governor has a right to pick his successor. It is in bad taste and undemocratic.
The generality of Ndi Enugu abhors it. You can’t impose somebody on an entire state and tell me to vote for that person because that is the person the governor brings.
No, that’s not democracy, that’s not the politics we want to play. That’s why we in APGA are saying bring it on, just bring a candidate, let’s get to the field, and let’s subject ourselves to the people because the people have the right to ask what you want to do for them through the office you are vying for.
Why did you pitch your tent with APGA and not with the PDP or APC?
The decision was very simple and easy for me to make. When you try to change the mindset of some people towards public service, towards sacrifice and the best way to rule people, you find out that it is highly impossible to do so on certain popular platforms based on some people use succession plans, based on expectations on a succession plan, you can’t play in that field. In some of the so-called political parties, everybody believes money is the most important thing needed to become a leader.
These leaders with money whose source of money cannot be cleanly explained are the same people who call themselves core politicians but they disregard the power of the people. You can be very rich, you can acquire all that you want to acquire personally but in the long run, it’s not service. And there’s no way I can get involved with those people, given my orientation and personal character.
For me, what we are saying is we have to move from the level of personal wealth acquisition in governance to public service and public wealth creation and management. Ten people’s wealth is bigger than one man’s wealth.
So, you are saying APGA is better?
Sincerely, I believe that APGA resonates with what governance is supposed to be; because after reading APGA’s constitution, I felt that this party can listen to the grassroots. They can govern very well; there will be accountability in this party; there will be integrity in this party; this party has a character of saying no, this is our pride, this is how we want to do this, and this party is starting from bottom to top.
Taking all the foregoing together, I had no hesitation registering to be an APGA member; and in my time in APGA, I am happy to say the structure and culture have re-enforced the belief that we will try to play the politics of service, try to play the politics of respect for the people who vote. APGA believes that if people have trusted you to serve them, you have to serve them. You have to show what it is to be the number one servant of the state. I am totally at home with the ideology.
You said something earlier about government being a continuum. However, there is a growing public outcry about the issue of public debt, especially debts being piled up by state governors. What’s your take on public debts, especially by state governors?
I think states borrowing is, in itself, not a bad thing. The issue is what are the debts for? As I said, governance is a continuum, it’s a continuity of investment. If for instance, I’ve invested 400 billion, and I borrowed the money anyway and I invested it for my state and by the time I’m handing over there’s a debt of 250 billion left from what we have borrowed, I should be in the position to let the incoming governor see the debt profile and how we are paying these debts, and the investment we have made with the debt. If you have done that, reasonably the facts will speak for themselves.
A state is a consortium. It has to move on, everything you are doing is on behalf of the people, so the people must give you the power to do it. Your house of assembly must give you the power to borrow, and when you’re going to borrow, the people must also accept.
And that’s why I keep on talking about letting people know what you want to do for them or asking them where are we? Or what are your needs? If we follow that process, then we will move as we should. That’s basically how to let people know that whatever you’re doing, they are part of it.
You came out ahead of other people in your party as the first person that the people of Enugu state heard to be interested in the governorship race on the platform of APGA. But after you, your party seems to be having an influx. What stands you out amongst all the APGA aspirants today?
The good thing about the scenario you mentioned is that it is a very good revelation sometimes. I mean the revelation that in any political dispensation, there will always be political jobbers and genuine people who share the aspirations and yearnings of the masses.
The field welcomes all, including those looking for opportunities to play politics to see what they can get personal and not to serve the people. For me, I joined the APGA party before the local government election because I knew it was the right time to join the party.
Together with loyal APGA members all over the state, we did all we had to do to compete in the local government election. I knew the party needed muscle then. And I offered myself to team up with the party at that demanding time because I believe greatly in the ideology of the party.
By the grace of God, it was a good outing for the party, regardless of what the ruling party and the electoral umpire connived to do. To me, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have tested the ground and we know that we are on the ground.
We know that people are actually queuing up behind APGA and that gives us so much joy. So, if after that positive outing of the party, other people start joining the stage, for me, the bigger, the merrier.
Are you saying the sudden influx of members of other parties defecting to APGA to declare governorship ambition does not affect you?
I am a disciplined, committed and focused person with a great capacity to remain on track once I am convinced it is the right way to go. I don’t allow distractions into my life.
The project I am pursuing is about the people and the future of a state I love dearly. It is not about my person because, by the grace of God, I am eminently contented with what God has made of me materially, professionally and even, spiritually. There are some people joining the party now and we know their plans are not in the interest of progress for the state.
Some want to scuttle APGA; they want APGA to remain unseen. They want APGA not to have viable candidates to campaign for, they want APGA to become part of a one-party state. So these are the plans we know some are having and these are the plans we learnt they’ve been having towards this particular party for some time. To those people, my advice is that this has to stop.
You are doing a disservice to the founding fathers of APGA and to the thousands of loyal members who have built the party over the years with their resources, sweat and blood. You are doing a disservice to the average Igbo man. You are doing a disservice to our future generations to come because you have to bequeath alternatives for your children to pick from. If you don’t have alternatives, then it is about enabling a one-man autocratic movement, and that is not democracy.
Anambra is Enugu’s neighbour and an APGA state. Any correlation between your dream and what is going on in Anambra now?
If a governor of APGA extraction assumes office in Enugu, the state will not remain as it is now. Just look at Anambra, watch the developmental performance of Anambra since it has been with APGA, starting with Peter Obi.
It’s been fantastic. Go to Anambra, they are moving like lightning but Enugu is not moving that way because Anambra will have elections, you will see PDP, you will see LP and other parties competing. This is where democracy is being enjoyed.
In Enugu, I do not see why somebody cannot criticize a sitting government. They are doing so much to tie down the state as a one-party fiefdom. Competition and customer feedback are being destroyed by the party in power. And, if you don’t want to accept criticism, which is what we call customer feedback, you cannot improve.
For the first time since 1999, APGA fielded candidates in an election in all the 17 Local Government Areas of Enugu State without stepping down but actually going as far as contesting. What does that tell for 2023 and what went into achieving that feat in the February 23rd Local Government election?
Really, APGA has contested elections very well in the past and it was a very keen contest. I think it was after that election that the PDP perfected the wicked strategy of killing APGA. So, they infiltrated the party and made sure that come whatever, the APGA party will not see the light of the day.
But, now we are coming back to say no, we have to make sure that this party is fully on the ground; in the 260 wards of the state, the 17 local governments, everything. We have to have the structures put back in place, and we will nurture these structures with commitment. The APGA leadership, especially the current EXCO, have shown great bravery and commitment to the party ideals. So also the people at both ward and local government levels.
And I am optimistic that we will all keep up this newfound spirit of resilience. APGA needs to give the people an alternative voice. People are suffering, they don’t have an alternative voice. Everything PDP gives Enugu state today is as good as done; whether the people like, it or they don’t like it. People are not happy, but the ruling party doesn’t know or doesn’t care that people are not happy.
For the presidency, there are also agitations that it is the turn of the southeast. What’s your take on that?
If everyone is saying it is the turn of the southeast, we actually merit it. But the problem is, are the political parties sincere in keeping to the terms of agreements?
For the sake of the peace, unity and progress of the country, the political parties, if they are very sincere that it is the turn of the Igbos to bring a president, should all present presidential candidates from the Eastern part of the country and then let the candidates campaign across the whole country for the best to be chosen by the people. If we all agree it’s the turn of the Igbos, let’s see it at the primaries.
Finally, what other message do you have for your followers, for your party people and for Enugu citizens in general?
I wish the youths, the women, the retirees and the eligible voters, especially all Ndi Enugu who are above the age of 18 years could imagine the future and what we have in mind for them. Unfortunately, it’s only God that can direct people, and I’m praying to God to direct them to have the wisdom to listen and act right, for the sake of the future generation.
It is unfortunate that our people have been impoverished to the extent that they see nothing wrong in worshipping money that comes from anywhere.
But I wish they would trust us with regard to our plans, so we can bring out the best in every and all Ndi Enugu, starting from the youths. The power of a nation or a state is in the youths.
So, the human capital development programme we want to put in place will see our young people aspiring to be the best they can be in every facet of life.
Our socio-economic blueprint is detailed about what we have to do to harness our state’s talents and resources to ensure that our people live the quality of life befitting the 21st century.
So, I am praying that God will help our people to change their mindset to see that these N2,000, N3,000 crumbs the wicked politicians give to them to buy their votes are man’s inhumanity to man and wickedness of the highest order.