Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze is a diplomat, writer, public policy and governance expert and politician. He is the MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult, a policy, governance and management consulting firm. He was the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the Anambra State governorship election in 2017. A former United Nations official, he served as Secretary to the Anambra State Government under Governor Peter Obi and Governor Willie Obiano from 2012 to 2015. In this interview, Obaze responds to questions on politics, his personality and pressing national and continental challenges.
PFM: Good morning sir, please tell us about Selonnes Consult Ltd.
OHO: Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Policy, Governance and Management Consulting Firm, which I founded after I separated from the services of Anambra State Government in 2015. Overall, at SCL, we aim to contribute towards creating a better Nigeria through advocacy and rendering well-articulated strategic public policies that meet international best standards and practice.
PFM: What did it feel like being a Diplomat?
OHO: Exhilarating! At a very young impressionable age of 7 and 8, I knew the words “Diplomat” and “Ambassador” and knew it was something I would aspire to, thanks to a late uncle who was a career Diplomat. My mother wanted me to be an Engineer, but that was not my calling. Diplomats are by nature positive travelers; or in the jargon of the craft peripatetic mandarins. Being a Diplomat offered me the rare opportunity to travel around the world, but more importantly, it offered me great exposure and an unfettered worldview.
PFM: As a former Secretary to Anambra State government, what were your major contributions to the administration you served under? Are there facts to attest to these?
OHO: As the SSG I had a synoptic job description, which was “fostering policy coherence and coordination and problem solving.” My job and position required of me as a public servant and technocrat to be a professional to the core; and a PRO – persistent, resilient and optimistic. I will not blow my own horn of my accomplishments, but the policy options, undertakings and accomplishments during my tenure are amply documented in my 2015 book, Here To Serve. Of my greatest accomplishments: I helped Governor Peter Obi to finish strong and Governor Willie Obiano to start strong and hit the ground running. In all modesty, when I left, the Obiano government literarily went off the good governance trajectory.
PFM: -How do you mean “the Obiano government literally went off the good governance trajectory”? At least people hear Ndi Anambra chant “Willie is Working”.
OHO: I do not wish to court controversy. Obiano arrived to vie for Governor unprepared, without a blueprint or manifesto. It was my campaign blueprint and manifesto that Gov. Peter Obi took and gave to him and it was adapted and reformulated into what eventually became the Obiano Blueprint. Naturally, there were additional inputs, but the core premise was based on my notion of governance. The young man assigned to rewrite that template was a member of my campaign and strategic team. At the outset, I had ample leeway to advise on policy formulation and implementation, with a hard focus on cohesiveness, coordination and due process. When I left, theses three variables derailed, governance became freewheeling and transactional. The difference was that I could look the governor in the face and honestly tell him what was working and what was not. He did not always like it, but he knew I was honest and selfless about governance. Good governance is not about political sloganeering, which works well during campaigns, but is a suspect attribute of justifying governance performance that ought to be self-evident.
PFM: You ran for Governor of Anambra State twice in 2013 and 2017. Why did you decide to join politics after your years as a Diplomat?
OHO: If you desire to serve you must do so from within and from a position where you can add value. I was a child of two public servants so I have always believed in public service. I had done so, supporting my principals at the federal, international and state levels. Running for office was aimed at serving by being at the helm to articulate and drive public policies rather than merely implementing policies articulated by others. Above all, I wanted to add value by bringing on board, international best practices related to good governance.
PFM: One would say you had a better outing in 2017 compared to 2013, seeing the technical issues that knocked you out of the race then.
OHO: In 2013, I was knocked out of the race deliberately, and on technical grounds. I did not have a voters’ card. Only INEC could issue me one, and they shifted the issuance date. I certainly could not have presented a fake card or lie that I had one. I had a window of opportunity to rectify the situation, but those in APGA who were against my emergence pulled the plug before the fact. In 2017, I followed due process, ran, won the PDP nomination, but some powers that be and indeed some PDP stakeholders, mostly from the South for selfish, personal or sectional interests opted to align with the ruling APGA party. They could not countenance a supposed outsider wining the PDP primaries, even though it was free and fair and nationally televised. I lost an election PDP was all set to win; losing had nothing to do with the power of incumbency, but more with subterfuge, in INEC, within PDP and by the ruling party. The Federal might was squarely deployed against us at the last minute to garner a win for APGA and assign APC the second place. I might have lost the election, but Anambra as history has shown was the biggest loser.
PFM: If and since you knew the things which led to your loss were “subterfuges” from those you mentioned, why didn’t you choose to head to court?
OHO: My take is that it’s the people and not the Courts that elect leaders. Unfortunately, by default we have subscribed to judicial supremacy in electoral matters thus making the judiciary at all levels the Electoral College. Going to court was expensive, distractive and always with an indeterminate outcome, not based on facts or reality. So why waste my time and resources, and for that matter Anambra State resources? It did not make any sense. My position has since been validated by court rulings on the 2019 presidential elections, and recent court rulings on the Imo and Kogi State Governorship elections.
PFM: Would you run for Governor of Anambra State again in 2021?
OHO: In life, you never ever say never! Doing so may prove precipitate and unrealistic. My options remain on the table and indeed remain open. I’m very sympathetic to the clamour of zoning aimed at allowing the South senatorial zone to produce the next governor. But the South must also admit that in the past, they have never offered other zones the sanctity and unfettered space they now seek. It seems all too convenient. More importantly, what Anambra needs now is a capable leader, not a person elected on partisan, sectional, religious or gender sentiments. If the truth be told, Anambra is in very bad shape than most people know, and it will only worsen unless we get a good administrator, who is fiscally disciplined and understand the inner workings of bureaucratic governance. I feel sorry for anyone who might succeed Obiano, myself included, which is not to say I’m running.
PFM: The practice of zoning public offices is fast becoming a political tradition at all tiers of government and for even appointed offices. Recently, Traditional rulers in Anambra Central Zone stood against zoning in a public statement. Has this helped our system or is zoning an indirect form of Nepotism or Cronyism?
OHO: Zoning has its utility in prescribed circumstances. It ought not become a preferential policy and in that sense defeatist. Let me repeat what I have said consistently in the context of zoning in Anambra. The South Senatorial zone is not bereft of competent politicians who can be governors. What PDP needs is to put its best foot forward in order to wrestle power away from the ruling party. As such, to win, PDP must present its best candidate and a united front, notwithstanding the zone from which the candidate emerges. The risk we face, is the possible polarization and fracturing of the party as is happening now, over presumptive zoning arrangements. If I recall correctly, since 1999 PDP aspirants from the three Senatorial zones have always competed for the ticket. It happened in 2013 and 2017 so I don’t think it will be any different in 2021. Yet the inherent danger will manifest, if the South decides to scuttle the chances of a person who emerges as the PDP candidate, but is not from the Southern senatorial zone. Were that to happen, the PDP will remain in the doghouse and in political opposition for another four years and perhaps, longer than that. The corollary is that APC and YPP will continue to wax stronger as opposition elements in the State. Personally, what I seek is good governance in Anambra. There are capable people in PDP who can govern Anambra well, of which I can humbly count myself as one.
PFM: Recently, oil mogul Arthur Eze took some Traditional Rulers to pay President Buhari a visit. The outcome of the visit is in public domain. Do you think this has an immediate or remote connection to the 2021 gubernatorial race? Do you also support the measures adopted by Governor Willie Obiano?
OHO: As a matter of personal policy and principles, I decided after the 2017 governorship election not to comment on the activities of the Anambra State government, for good or bad, despite being in the opposition. I will stand on that premise. However, insofar as it relates to 2021 governorship electioneering, I must say that ‘all politics is local’. Routinely, the rich, mighty and powerful in Anambra State play a very divisive and dangerous type of “helicopter politics.” They pull plugs and punches in Abuja, often to their own advantage but inimical to Anambra State’s collective interests. I don’t see Dangote, Adenuga, Adeleke, Otedola, Elumelu and others doing that in their respective states. If they wished to run the state as their individual fiefdoms, the least they can do is subject themselves to electoral suffrage. Mike Bloomberg, a U.S. billionaire ran and served as Mayor of New York City and eventually ran for the Presidency. We need to imbibe international best practices.
PFM: The debt profile of most African countries is on the rise. Where does this leave Africa as a continent?
OHO: Africa must continue to look inwards. Intra-African trade capacity is huge and sufficiently broad to serve Africa. There is an inevitable nexus between Africa’s external trade deficit and its growing indebtedness to Western nations and more troubling, to China. With the African Trade Agreement in place, African nations need to collaborate more closely to avoid being entrapped in a collective debt peonage. As things stand, Africa’s debt overhang is already huge and troubling. The optics are not salutary, so we need to change the narrative quickly.
PFM: With your experience, what do you think Africa needs to do better to get things right?
OHO: Africa has shining exemplars in some emerging leaders and nations. Rwandan and Ethiopian leaders and countries are validators. Where you elect good leaders, good governance and sustainability will follow. External interests will not develop Africa for us. Our aspirations, policies and governance methodologies must be unapologetically Afrocentric. Quite unfortunately, we cannot say that of our country Nigeria any longer. Once Africa’s bellwether, Nigeria has lost that credential, and sadly so.
PFM: Nigeria’s economy is obviously in comatose. It could be said that this has an immediate & remote cause. What indices are responsible for this and how can our economy be rejigged?
OHO: Leadership indiscipline at all levels is our bane. But we must also begin to look closely at the negative impact fostered by bad followers. It is the bad followers that elect bad leaders; and support and sustain them in office. Fiscal, and economic discipline will be imperative. Federal, State and Local government cannot spend more than they generate. We can start by making zero-based budget mandatory. Then we can focus on public procurement policies and the implementation methodologies. The emolument of public officials, especially the legislative branch is hugely embarrassing. I would suggest that we have a Common Regimentation Emolument Structure Table (CREST) where a Senator is ranked with a General in the Army, a Supreme Court Judge, a Minister, the Inspector General of Police and Heads of Statutory Agencies. They should all earn the same salary and the same prescribed perk and perquisites. We are wasting a lot of resources on recurrent expenditure and far less on infrastructure and capita development. We must scrap the two-tier foreign exchange regime and allow the market forces to drive the economy. Economic and political reforms are imperative and one word for that is restructuring. Power and resource control need to devolve more to the regions and states. We Already have NDDC and NEDC, we must complete the mosaic by setting up SWDC and SEDC, thus replicating the functional regional arrangements of the First Republic which served us well in terms of development. For now, the Centre Government is too powerful. In a democracy, that is a contradiction of subsisting tenets.
PFM: Considering the position of the South East in Nigerian politics, do you see the possibility of an Igbo man becoming the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023? Should the Igbos rather clamour for Restructuring?
OHO: Unquestionably yes. An Igbo person can become Nigeria’s President. We need a President of Igbo extraction not an Igbo President as some aver. The latter is too frightening for some Nigerians. Yet the Igbo nation must rally to a consensus and speak with one voice. There are sufficiently compelling reasons to believe that the Presidency will devolve to the south in 2023. But there will be high contestations for the slot between the three zones in the South. There will also be “spoilers” who will opt for the Vice-presidency slot, thus confusing matters. The position of the South-East needs to be strategically and tactically managed. We cannot take anything or any support for granted. That said, the South as a collective, has to be strategic in handling this matter. Once you encounter an intra-south jostling and bickering, the default option will kick in, which is to maintain the status quo. That will be utterly unacceptable. Contextually, Nigeria must restructure or risk disintegrating. As I see it restructuring will be incremental rather than a one-off formed event. We already see that manifesting in the security sector reform and governance.
PFM: In the question before the last one, you talked about Restructuring and in the last question, you also talked about Restructuring as a response. It appears Restructuring mean different things to different people. In the two contexts above, what kind did you mean?
OHO: Simply, we need to fine tune our governance and power and resource sharing modalities. Call it whatever name you want. Nigeria as presently constituted and governed is largely dysfunctional. That needs to change. Restructuring means different things to different ethnicities and vested interests. It scares the hell out of some Nigerians. I don’t believe Restructuring means the Balkanization of Nigeria, even as that remains a remote possibility. We can either come together and agree on change modalities, or risk that happening by default, which may lead to catastrophic implosion of the country. All said, we are long overdue for a change in our governance and power sharing modalities.
PFM: Thank you so much for these insights. In closing, what do you do for pastime?
OHO: Well, the Covid-19 pandemic has made us all very insular. There is limited social interaction. So, I spend my quiet time reading. Routinely, I read one book every month; sometimes more than one. Part of my consultancy involves traveling and writing. The travels are very curtailed since the interaction and engagements are now mostly virtual. But I have more time to write. This year I’ve published two books: Waning Strength of Government, which is on governance, and Africa’s Vision – A Second Anthology. Both were released in July and are available on Amazon.com and on several Nigerian online platforms.