As the Anambra State gubernatorial election draws closer, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Oseloka Obaze has called on voters to put sentiments aside and focus on the urgent need to make the state the best in the country. He spoke with Politics Editors in Lagos. Tobi Soniyi was there and presents the excerpts:
What motivated you to join the Anambra State governorship race?
We are a gifted people, very enterprising and we have the environment, which we need to leverage on to deliver the best dividends of democracy to our people as well as drive what goes on in the state, both industrially and economically. We are not there yet. And because I’ve had the privilege of living abroad, travelling to many countries and being asked to come back to serve as Secretary to the State Government (SSG) under Peter Obi and partly under Willie Obiano, I understand the state of play, the narrative and trajectory, which was laid for Anambra State to continue beyond 2014. Governor Obiano has done about three and half years of his tenure, but as I look down the line, what I see does not suit the narrative and that was why I have come out. I am from Anambra North like Obiano and we campaigned to get the governorship for the zone. I led that campaign and it is either I fold my hand and allow that campaign to die or I come out and fight.
We started a process several years ago with Obi, where we had a medium and long term plan, but if we continue on the current pace, we will never meet our target. But if we can change the narrative and the drive, we should be able to bring the state back to the trajectory that it is supposed to be in the next four years. I know that it is difficult to fight an incumbent, but it is either you are very courageous or you are very foolish or a combination of both. But the most important is that Obiano and I put together; the state is greater than us. If we stand alone, the state is also greater than us. The right of Anambra youths to enjoy those privileges, which I enjoyed while growing up in the then Eastern Region is not debatable. So, what do we do? We have to turn Anambra State around and put it on the pedestal, which it is supposed to be in terms of human capital development, industralisation and information technology, to assist every child to be educated and to empower every man and woman in the state.
When you consider the political dynamics in the state, are you under any illusion that the election is going to be a walkover for you? Otherwise, what are the challenges you foresee and what measures are you putting in place to tackle them?
Of course, there are challenges. There is an incumbent governor in place and he has the power of incumbency. But, an incumbent, who is running for a second term must run on his record. He must say that he came in, met this and built that. He must say that he started this and completed that. Yes, I was part of the Obi administration and started with the Obiano administration, but I left after 15 months, when things were not on the trajectory they were supposed to be. If Obiano had stayed on the trajectory that we mapped out to take the state where it ought to be, may be we wouldn’t have been here. For instance, in the area of education, we were ranked 26th several years ago, but we fought from that position to number one in both the National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Examination Council (WAEC) and we stayed on the position for three years. In three years of the Obiano administration, we have slipped from the number one position in both examinations to number six and seven, respectively. If we allow the progression at that rate, in the next for four years, we will be number 10 and 12 in both examinations, respectively. That is reverse progress and we don’t want that. If education is funded properly, we should be able to get our state back to where it used to be as well as produce graduates, who are employable, marketable not just in Nigeria but globally.
Don’t you see the possibility of the other zones opposing your ambition as you are likely to go for a second term if you win the election, thereby giving Anambra North 12 straight years?
Again, you were part of the Obi administration; why did he leave you for Obiano as his suitable successor?
The incumbent governor and I are from Anambra North, but since the creation of the state, the south and central senatorial zones have produced the governors we had until 2013, when we started the campaign for the governorship to come to the north. I was an aspirant, we campaigned and financed it, Obiano was never part of it. But, when some intra-party issues led to some kind of accord between Obi and the then National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, he (Umeh) decided that all those who were on the side of the governor during the crisis would not be the candidate of the party and I was one of them.
That was how Obiano became the compromise candidate from the north and that was why he became the governor. Unfortunately, the down side of it is because he was not part of the process, he did not understand the trajectory we had mapped out for the state in terms of where to go. He assumed power and starting running the office, but somewhere along the line, he derailed and that is why we are where we are now. More than half our development partners have gone and the process of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been abandoned.
What administrative experience do you have apart from having worked at the United Nations (UN) that qualifies you to take over from the incumbent?
People refer to my UN background, but before I left for the UN in 1991, I served in the federal civil service under the Shehu Shagari administration and when Muhammadu Buhari was the head of state and also during the Ibrahim Babangida regime. At the state level, I served in the last two years of the Obi administration and my job as the SSG was to make sure that there is efficient and effective policy adherence and cohesion.
Still on the issue of balancing of political interest, how will assure the people of the other senatorial zones that Anambra North would not be having 12 straight years in power?
I have said it and it is in my manifesto that I will only serve for four years. I will complete the four years left for Anambra North. By April next year, I will be 63, I shouldn’t be running for office now, but we must lay a solid foundation and groom young people to take over. If the foundation and resources we handed to Obiano had been built on, I probably wouldn’t be here. I don’t recall a governor anywhere in Nigeria leaving N75 billion for his successor.
We laid a foundation and wanted young people to take over and continue in that trajectory, but it has been derailed. Lagos State has been transformed because of careful and systematic planning; short, medium and long term. That was what we set in place in Anambra, but that trajectory is no longer on because the government in place has deviated and our worry is that if we don’t bring government back on track to follow that trajectory, we are not going to catch up with other states. Anambra, by its human capital and natural endowment, deserves to be ranked among the first three if not the first state in Nigeria by all accounts.
Will four years be enough to achieve the goals you have set for yourself?
Four will not be enough, but it will be enough for me to lay the basic foundation. I told you that we had a vision several years ago, which has been derailed. My job now is to bring that vision back and allow whoever that will come after me, who will come from my party and certainly from Anambra South to continue with the work. It is not about me or the incumbent, but about the state, our children and children’s children, who deserve nothing but the best.
There is the belief that you are being used to fight a proxy war as result of the person behind you. How do you reconcile this with your ambition?
In life, somebody must be behind somebody. Having a godfather is not a crime or evil because we have godfathers and godmothers even in the church. It only became a negative issue, especially the way we’ve had it Anambra State. There was a particular window in our politics, when it assumed a negative connotation. That aside, I’ve had a brilliant career and I had mentors. Today, I mentor young people and nobody will tell me that it is wrong to do that. In politics, you get mentored also. When I started this campaign, the first person that I went to was Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who I have known since I was seven years old. Why didn’t people see him as my godfather? And, will there be anything wrong for a man, who has attained the highest level in politics by an Igbo man in Nigeria to be the one who is advising me? Who will put a negative thing to that?
I worked with Peter Obi, who was my junior in secondary school. He got into secondary school the year I was leaving and throughout the time I worked for him as SSG, he never addressed me by my first name; he addressed me as senior which was the school tradition. It took him over a year to get me to leave my job at the UN to come and work for him. I didn’t work for him because of the pay. I had to take a 900 per cent salary cut because of my love for the state. So, I don’t see anything wrong for him to appreciate that I made that sacrifice to come and work for him and to say that he will support me because he knows that I can do the job.
Some people are making issue out of godfather because they want to cause confusion, but I want to ask a question: Who is Obiano’s godfather? Is it not Obi? So, why are they not making issue out of that? I want to make it clear that I am running for governor on my own steam and funding.
In three years of the Obiano administration, we have slipped from the number one position in both NECO and WAEC examinations to number six and seven, respectively.
It is difficult to fight an incumbent. It is either you are very courageous or you are very foolish or a combination of both