Oseloka H. Obaze, a policy and governance expert and aspirant in the 18 November 2017 Anambra State governorship elections on the PDP platform, bears his minds on topical political, state and national issues. He is as usual brutally frank in this exchange with some Awka-based journalists.
Governorship aspirants from Anambra South are laying as much claim as those from Anambra North on the issue of the governorship slot on the basis that their zone did only one tenure with Mbadinuju as North would have done with Obiano next year and should therefore be allowed to complete second tenure. What is your opinion on this?
Obaze: The argument is understandable, but nonetheless self-serving. They should have fought to complete Mbadiniju’s tenure then as we from the North are fighting to complete Obiano’s tenure. Whereas there is no statute of limitations for a governor to complete his second term, bringing it up now, is aimed at negating the zoning understanding now in place.
Would you agree to the emergence of a consensus candidate in your party, PDP, as a way of avoiding the political rancor usually associated with full blown party primaries?
Obaze: The party is a master of its own rules. If the way to pick a candidate that will not be acrimonious is by rallying to a consensus, then so be it. It is essential; however, that finding a mutually acceptable solution does not trigger a crisis.
You have been on your toes, with regards to actualizing your dream of becoming the next elected governor of Anambra State. So far, how do you rate your acceptance by the electorate and is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Obaze: The expressed personal and institutional support has been most encouraging. It would be most gratifying if such support reflects broad awareness and acceptance of my candidacy and issues-based platform. But I am aware of the reality, which is expressed daily in my conversation with the people; one must first procure a party ticket, before getting meaningful support from any quarters. That disposition can be frustrating, but it is the reality. I nonetheless remain optimistic.
Dr. Alex Obiogbolu has been a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for years and is also aspiring to fly the party’s flag in the forthcoming governorship election. Having not been in the party as long as he has, do you think you will be able to secure the party’s nomination ahead of him?
Obaze: Dr. Alex Obiogbolu and I are friends. We are both from Anambra North, but we are in the game of competing ideas and vision, even as we share the same passion for good governance. We both need a credible platform to consummate our respective candidacies, but personality, exposure and ideas are also critical factors. Despite Dr. Obiogbolu being a PDP old hand in terms of longevity, that is not the only critical variable required to win an election. The party will decide who has the comparative edge to deliver victory in the end. That is what matters most.
What would be your reaction if you fail to emerge as PDP flag bearer after the primaries? Jump into another party?
Obaze: Jumping ship seems to be the norm in our politics. It connotes lack of discipline and undermines party cohesion and purpose. It is not my style and not my intention to go party hopping or forum shopping.
What is your relationship with the newly formed APDA? Grapevine says that is the platform on which you will contest the election under the sponsorship of a former governor of the state, Mr. Peter Obi?
Obaze: I know some of the preceptors and formators of APDA, but I’m neither a member nor an officer of the party as we speak. I’m a registered card-carrying member of PDP. As you know, I had been approached by two other parties to be their flag bearer. Both parties had also offered to support me even if I was not their flag bearer. Likewise, should the circumstance arise, where I can garner the support of the APDA even if I am not their flag bearer, I will not reject or disavow such a support. But we are not there yet.
How are you mobilizing the elites from your zone, who appear rooted in support of incumbent also from your zone? Any doubts on free polls come November?
Obaze: I continue to engage the Anambra North elite, and also the grassroots. The perceived support for the incumbent is contrived and indeed a fluke. The word and thinking on the streets and market places are quite different and distinctively unflattering. Anambra is retrogressing despite claims to the contrary. Yet we pray and remain hopeful for peaceful, transparent and sufficiently free and credible elections in November. My understanding is that the newly appointed INEC REC for Anambra Dr. Nkwachukwu is a no-nonsense, highly moral and credible person. We hope he will acquit his office and person creditably.
How would you react to the story that you are not really out to contest the November 18 poll; that you are hired to spoil the broth for Obiano in the race, who is from the same Anambra North with you by dividing his votes?
Obaze: Anyone who knows me or has dealt with me knows that I’m not whimsical. I’m not for sale or a hired hand. I engage in events, projects and activities, only if I can add value. To suggest that I’m not out to contest the election is laughable. It is the views of those who argue that there is no vacancy, and that the incumbent should be allowed to complete a second tenure regardless of the level of performance. Such views are self-serving. Perceptibly, Anambra may seem to be working, but Anambra is presently overleveraged. We can’t afford to mortgage its future. Sentiments aside, Anambra needs a leadership change!
Mr. Obaze, you served as the SSG to former governor Peter Obi and also to the incumbent administration of Willie Obiano. What is it you did not do in government then you want to do now?
Obaze: This has become a recurring issue and question. Let me paraphrase my earlier responses. Every leader brings to public office his vision, style and political and leadership DNA. So management style, focus and a full grasp of the imperatives of good governance becomes critical variables of leadership. Ultimately, the issue becomes whether your government is functional or dysfunctional. So it’s not a matter what I did then or will do now; it’s also not a matter of correction, as it is a redemptive effort that will insist on efficient optimization of institutions, extant laws and available resources. Governance is about delivery. By analogy, if you have two Olympic sprinters in the finals, you are better off with the sprinter who is not prone to false starts, and who can run the 100 meter dash in under nine seconds, than the sprinter renowned for false starts and whose best record for the 100 meter dash is ten seconds or more.
Your promise of serving a single four-year tenure is certainly strange here. Why do you insist on four years only and do you think it is enough time for you to do a satisfactory job?
Obaze: We are dealing with the political realities on the ground. To ask for a full tenure of eight years, will be to deviate from the prevailing understanding. Doing so will certainly cause some misunderstanding. We do not need that. Much can be accomplished in four years by a leadership that is not distracted by the burden of seeking a second term. Since governance is a continuum, you do what you can in four years and allow the successor administration to continue where you left off.
Would it be right to say that you are an advocate of a single tenure for governors and other political officers?
Obaze: Our Constitution is clear on tenure of elected officials. Yet, I’m open-minded about a single tenure for governors since it has its merits. We have come to appreciate the related challenges and cost implications associated with seeking a second term. Perhaps a single tenure of five or six year will do. Even if there is to be a second term, it should not be consecutive.
Anambra government is said to have attracted about $7.2 billion dollar worth of investment, would you say it had resulted to increased job opportunities and revenue to the state, through corporate/income/other taxes?
Obaze: The claims by the Anambra State Government are not independently verifiable. The value of investment on the ground does not support such claims. Moreover, the FDI data available nationally, would indicate that over 85% of the FDI that entered into Nigeria was received by Anambra state, which is highly improbable. The incumbent Government has to offer a transparent breakdown of such investments and the actual value for the claim to stick. Before I left government an investor arrived, brandishing papers of purported bank-guaranteed investment funds $1billion destined for Anambra. On rigorous interrogation, we discovered the same funds were being used to secure contracts in other states. The investor was playing a “shell game”. So, if the touted investments are hyped, the accruing jobs, dividends and income taxes would be equally suspect.
Rail and Water transport are major channels of economic and commercial exchange, how would you react to the moribund nature of Onitsha Inland Port and nonexistent rail line through or across the South East?
Obaze: Reactivation and operationalization of the Onitsha Inland Port is possible, but it will require collaboration with contiguous states and the federal government. Same is true with linking Anambra to the national railways grid across the southeast. To make the Onitsha port operational, it has to be designated as an inland port of shipment. Goods destined to the Onitsha port can then be transshipped FOB-Onitsha via Port Harcourt. It is doable, but you need the political will and vision.
Land dispute is a common ugly experience in Igboland, and, Anambra state is not an exception. In some cases the skirmishes had even escalated into to a full blown communal war between the affected/ neighboring communities. What measures do you think should be introduced to arrest the situation?
Obaze: Part of the crisis is self-inflicted. The extended hijack of the local government structure and non-functionality of its offices have impacted negatively on communities. Community land ownership lacks clarity due to poor delineation and registration; local government areas exist notionally but the physical boundaries and limits remain ambiguous. These realities add to challenges. Plus that government handling of land acquisition and allotment remains largely opaque. I believe transparent land administration and registry would go a long way to address present challenges.
Inadequate power supply remains a problem. What plan do you have to boost electricity for growing industries in Anambra state?
Obaze: Government needs to be introspective as well as adaptive. Government is not in the business of generating or distributing electricity, yet it can play a critical role in the interest of its populace and industries. Lagos, Rivers and Cross Rivers States have invested heavily in independent power generation for short, medium and long-term purposes. Extant regulation allows such engagement with excess power, where applicable, reverting to the national grid. Anambra could generate electricity, no matter how little from its oil production facilities in Aguleri Otu. That would offset some domestic and industrial demands. The state could seriously look at solar energy for homes and public building, thus conserving power from the national grid for its industries. It’s all about focus and ensuring that public policies are not transaction driven.
What are your programmes for women and youth empowerment, and how will you monitor the implementation of such programmes, if voted in as the governor?
Obaze: Simply, I will guarantee gender mainstreaming in my public policies with a 60:40 gender ratio for political appointments. Youths will be represented well and youth empowerment programmes articulated and driven by the youths. There are niche sectors, where women have comparative advantage and high productivity. We will expand such sectors and make them sustainable to outlive my administration. From experience, women empowerment pet projects driven by the spouses of governors have limited viability; they die off once the proponents leave office. We shall avoid such costly mistakes.
Restructuring and Secession are renting the air because of injustice perceived and imagined on some parts of Nigeria. How will you advise the Federal Government to handle the issue, especially given the quit notice served on Igbo people by Arewa Youth Association?
Obaze: The call for restructuring is not by implication a call to dismember Nigeria. There are political anomalies that do not speak to equity in our federalism. Some are structural, some are resource-related and the rest are about political, cultural and religious mindsets. We operate a six-regional geopolitical system in principle, but not formally. If we were to formalize the process we would have started restructuring. On the question of balance, the southeast region is still being shortchanged in terms of equity in the component units. Symbolic adjustments can be used to address symptomatic and systemic challenges. It’s all psychological. To do nothing or reject the restructuring call outright is defeatist. Those who peddle hate speech or use fighting words must be brought to books. Such calls are beyond free speech. The government must be consistent.
What is your advice to Igbos resident in the Northern part of the in view of the threat issue to them by the Arewa youths ordering them to leave the area before October 1st, this year?
Obaze: Circumspection. No one should evict any Nigerian from any part of the country. But the quit order having been made public, means that some political undercurrent is afoot. Those who issued the quit order may not execute it; but spoilers and extremists might. It only takes a shot across the bow to start a major crisis or war. Circumspection is the key word- on the part of the people and the governments. The matter is as delicate as it is dangerous. Nigeria needs to tread carefully.
From your experience as a diplomat, what will the United Nations do to help Nigeria out the present quagmire?
Obaze: Nigeria is a sovereign nation. The U.N. will not meddle unless it is invited to offer its good offices. The reality is that nations must make hard choices. If the goal is separation, you may opt to go the bloody way of Yugoslavia, or the pacifist way of Czechoslovakia. It’s all about choices.
In a recent public engagement, you talked about the loss of reading culture in Nigeria. Do you think reading culture can ever be revived in Nigeria, especially among the youths, in this Internet and Social Media age?
Obaze: Definitely. If reading is made attractive, competitive and duly rewarded, we can make headways. These days you no longer have to read a physical book — you can do so on your Kindle and other gadgets. We need to make e-books available both for academic instruction and pleasure reading. We must encourage book clubs, even if online. But more importantly, we should as parents and role models make our youths to read. A minister admitting publicly that he can no longer find time to read set an awful and indeed very bad example. At any time, a public figure should have a book on his bedside or by his arm chair. You need not read it all in one week. Even reading the Holy book will suffice. I’m presently reading Muyiwa Popola’s “Discourse on Personality-Induced Conflicts in Nigeria- the Media and their Narratives.”