Hon. Obinna Oriaku was the former Commissioner for Finance in Abia State. He’s currently aspiring to govern the State in 2023 under the All Progressives Congress, APC. He’s speaks to Sunday Vanguard in Abuja after his screening about the poor state of the State, saying he is poised to turn the fortunes of Abia around if elected Governor in next year’s general elections.
By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja
You are 6 or 7 governorship aspirants. One would have thought that all of you would have come together to streamline the number before purchasing the form. Now, what are your chances?
Well, your views are okay because six or seven people going into primaries for a party that is in opposition is not a good development. It is not too good and healthy. However if we manage it well, it can also turn positive. So far, we have been able to manage it to the extent that I can’t remember any of us in APC running down each other negatively. We have also agreed to support whoever emerges as APC. And my own personal view is that if our interest in Abia, if why we all came out is because we want the fortune of Abia to turn positively, it means that whoever is there shouldn’t really bother us especially if the person shares our values and our aspirations which is how to rebuild the state called Abia, to create a new Abia. So if those philosophies are embedded in each and every one of us, it doesn’t matter who runs it but I know Obinna Oriaku stands a better chance to emerge and he will surely carry the ideas of the other people as we move ahead.
How formidable are you on the ground?
I have been around for a while having served as commissioner for 4 years and not only serving as commissioner, being a very vocal commissioner. With all sense of modesty, I was the face of that glorious administration of 2015 – 2019 and Obinna Oriaku, you don’t need to google the name if you are in Abia, even beyond Abia and people today know what he stands for. So, it is not like I came back from US or I came in from UK because it is election time that I am coming, no; even while in government, I have been talking about the positive things we need to do to get Abia started. Even when I was pushed out as it were because today I am like the Biblical Joseph who had a dream and wanted to break his dreams to his brothers, they became envious and pushed him away. But today we are meeting again in Egypt.
Most of those people who did that in 2019 never knew that Obinna’s name will keep resonating even till today. So as it is today Obinna is the man to beat among the lot. One, he is knowledgeable. He is courageous. He has passion for the job and he has demonstrated that he has that political will to take hard decisions which is what Abia needs as it is today.
Not only that, he also understands where all the proverbial dead bodies are buried. Obinna has been around, unlike every other contestant or aspirant that is coming from outside. Having served 4 years with this current administration, he understands better the problems of Abia and the solutions towards Abia problems. So, he is better placed and I am sure most people also know that Obinna Oriaku is the solution to our problems in Abia.
You talked about getting Abia State created donkey years ago in 1991 started in 2023 and again, the phrase, ‘Egypt’, how do you really mean?
What I mean is that even in government, I said the foundational structure of Abia governance is faulty that we must create a new template of governance in Abia and this new template suggests that what we are currently doing, the template of governance in the state is totally unacceptable. It will not engender growth and development. It will not help us aspire just like every other states. A situation where 80% of our total receipt is channeled over recurrent expenditure; what it means is that we just live to feed the political class, 80% of our receipt is channeled towards overhead, towards salaries, towards payment of estacode and all what not, whereas only 20% is for capital development and that accounts for why we have this challenge. And that is why coming on board of Oriaku will be a new beginning. It will be the rebirth of Abia. It will be coming up of a new Abia which will come up with new ideas, new template of governance and of course which will engender new governance.
People said N50 million you paid for the governorship form is very exorbitant. Some said outrageous. Is your aspiration borne out of altruism or selfish interest? Why this burning zeal?
I had hinted that N50 million is huge for an average Nigerian. Naturally, one should have looked the other way with that amount of a cost of expression of interest and purchase of the form. But because of the burning zeal like you rightly pointed out because for 3 years, I have engaged this present government on my experience as a commissioner where I saw and came to the conclusion that our problem is just leadership. So, I have been an advocate of good governance. I have been an advocate of sincerity in governance and sacrificial approach in governance which of course led to my serving as commissioner pro-bono, free, Abia state did not pay me for 4 years as commissioner for finance, I served free and I served sacrificially and people today will attest to the fact that all the things we did do was in line and are still in line with my vision and my aspiration that we can walk for Abia not sapping Abia, not Abia being like a feeding bottle to those who are appointed in government. That is why I served free and that is why I advocated for good governance and that is why they fought against me and that is why I am now like the Biblical Joseph who had a dream. I had a dream for Abia, that Abia can be better with good governance where government should not be seen as a means of survival. Anybody who is appointed, the next thing he does is how to build houses, how to acquire exotic cars, how to have houses scattered all over Nigeria, that is the target at the expense of the poor workers, at the expense of the development of Abia state, at the expense of the pensioners; these are things I fought and they came up again and of course that is the burning zeal. I should have gone back to my bank which is First Bank as a staff of First Bank who came on secondment but I refused that pressure. I rejected it because I want to be part of that change agent and that is why I have been consistent, and that is why I was able to raise the fund to buy the form and I am sure most Abians who have come in contact with me will agree that Oriaku has the solution to Abia’s problems.
Talking about pensioners, these issues are still there, very persistent and I know they are still crying to government to come to their rescue. I understand the workers have been owed for countless months now.
Yes, what you are saying is true. What has also happened has confirmed that it is not about whoever is the commissioner for finance. The time I served, everybody wanted to look as if Oriaku was the problem because I think teachers were being owed 5bmonths only. Today, teachers are being owed 16 months, ABSUT is shut down with 23 months arrears. Abia State Polytechnic has about 27 months but these ones were being owed while I was there average of 6-8 months. While I appreciate that 8 months is a huge month but these were occasions with poor receipts because at that period, we were receiving 3 billion, 2.9billion total receipt but today Abia is receiving almost N6 billion. So, why are we growing the number of outstanding salaries? I have said that the fundamentals of these problems, of these institutions must be addressed. We have fundamental problems and that is why we initiated those reforms; the civil service reform, the judiciary reform, the local government service reform, the parastatal reforms, those things are there, they are all in black and white, produced in paper form, the only thing remaining is just how to implement them. Oriaku has got the political will to take those decisions. So I am not coming to study the system, it is just to plug and play because already as commissioner, we took time to understudy the challenges of these institutions and if these recommendations are carried out to the letter, I assure you that issues about salaries or even pensioners will not be there. We were at the verge of moving the entire state pension to be among the states that are hooked up the pension administrators, the pension commission so that state government will be monthly remitting stated amount to the pension administrator so that the burden of pension will be taken off the burden of the state. But unfortunately when I left, that system was dropped, that system was truncated just like every other reform I initiated that was truncated and that has brought us back to Egypt. A situation where people were padding salaries, where ghost workers were being used to siphon money from the state and all those things were stopped, with the automation of salary payment which I initiated and of course centralization of the salary payment system which eliminated ghost workers, had good savings for the state. At a time a total of about N600million was the difference from what we met on ground and what we were using to pay salaries, we saved about N600million; but unfortunately when I left, the people who were left to handle this salary management system were people who had no business with it. And that is why when I tell you that they have gone back to Egypt, they reverted to the old ways of managing salaries, no wonder even with N6 billion, it is difficult to see salaries being paid in Abia. Salary should be taken for granted, pension should be taken for granted, others are struggling for other areas to grow the economy of their state, that should be the concern of Abia being the economic hub of the entire southeast at a time. But today we are so down that people celebrate salary payment. It should be taken for granted while we look towards the frontiers of economic development so that Abia which the epicenter of the entire southeast growth. We are 30 minutes from Port Harcourt, 30 minutes from Akwa Ibom and we are blessed with human capital. Our young boys and young girls are blessed with the works of their hands. There are young vibrant, energetic men and women that are very ingenious and very creative. They just need the support to grow what they are doing. The made in Aba, the belts, the shoes, everything, these guys are good in it. So they all need enabling environment which of course, good road, electricity and all what they need and then you need to open up access to the market so that these guys can compete with the best in the world. That is just what we need.
APC is said not to be on the ground in Abia or in the southeast; do you think you can breakthrough with the party?
We’ve always said it, that it is good we are underrated as a party in southeast especially in Abia. It is a strategy, keep underrating APC but you will be shocked what is going to happen in this election.
Out of the three senatorial zones, APC is in full control of Abia north. That one is not in doubt. The zone that produces Sen. Orji Uzo Kalu, Hon. Ben Kalu, Hon. Nkiru Oyinjiocha and a good numbers of house of assembly members. You come to the Central, Hon. Sam Oniogbo has joined. And we have always advocated that we cannot, our people say that there is no pride in poverty or in suffering. You can’t keep celebrating your being in opposition when others are coasting home in victory. We have said that Abia needs to play at the centre, when you play at the centre, you see the difference.
Look at what is going on in Abia north, most roads, most amenities are being provided today because these guys understand what it takes to represent their people. Imagine if all the representatives in Abia are in APC and what we are seeing now is replicated in the entire state, the burden of the development of critical infrastructures will be left off the hook of the state government. So, that is why we said that APC is the answer to our problem and besides we have also looked at it that we are focusing on individuals, we are not focusing on party as it were, where we need the party as a platform. Our focus today is the credibility of the candidate and that is where Oriaku comes in.
Unfortunately, you are going to square up with your former boss who I understand has interest in a particular aspirant. How optimistic are to beat the anointed?
Oriaku is the Biblical David. David was not called because he was the best, he was the tallest, neither was he the wealthiest amongst his brothers but God chose him; God has chosen Oriaku to liberate Abians and I am sure that his coming or his calling has no relationship with his age as a young man or with how old he is or who is backing him. The people backing Oriaku are Abians, the Abia youths, the Abia women, the Abia men and of course the Abians in Diaspora who understand that this guy called Oriaku has got what it takes to change the narrative for Abia state.
Again, you are running with some other bigwigs so to speak in power who has contested before. We are talking about the serving minister of mines and steel, Dr Uche Ogah and another bigwig, Dr Alex Oti, former MD, Diamond Bank who has also run for the position for two times. If you were asked to drop your ambition, to step down for any of these people, would you do that?
With all due respect to the people you just mentioned, these are people I have fantastic respect for. Like I’ve told you, we have run a very fantastic campaign, those of us in APC which of course includes these people and even those that are not in APC because we’ve told ourselves that really if our focus is how to create a new Abia where development should be the key focus, it doesn’t matter who runs it. So, I expect the whole opposition to come together. But for me, I am like the Biblical David, I may be the smallest amongst them, I may not have known all the big names in Nigeria but Obinna’s project is a project whose time has come. Oriaku’s time is now to liberate Abia through what he has known for the 4 years he served as commissioner. Now the next question is, yes with all due respect, they have contested two times, the people you mentioned and for one thing or the other it didn’t work; but I also want to tell you that Seyi Makinde contested once and won. Oriaku is the Seyi Makinde of Abia state. He is going to contest once and he is going to win.