The Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate in the November election in Anambra State, Oseloka Obaze, was in Lagos at the weekend to affirm the importance attached to the media as a worthy partner in nation-building. Olawale Olaleye, who was at one of the sessions with select journalists, captures the vision of this former staff of the United Nations in the quest for a new Anambra State
Oseloka Obaze is not under any illusion that the November election is a walkover. If anything, he is not oblivious of the fact that the incumbent governor, Chief Willie Obanio, is seeking re-election and that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is also determined to have another South-east state in its kitty if it must prove formidable in the 2019 elections.
Therefore, the governorship election in November is a major political challenge for Obaze, whose party, the PDP, sees as an avenue to make a defining statement, preparatory to the 2019 polls. Save for the weight of incumbency on the part of Obiano and the likely federal might that the APC could deploy, Obaze seems to have a lot going for him in the election. From experience to capacity, platform and contact, he is certainly coming onboard, fully armed to take, not just on all his opponents as represented in the participating political parties, but everything standing in his way.
Organised, cerebral, temperate, self-effacing and evidently prepared for the challenges of state, Obaze is no less an astounding choice by the PDP. With focus on human capital development, employment, security, industrialisation, education, commerce and compelling economic diversification, amongst others, he is desirably not a feckless option, placed side-by-side with the task ahead.
Not unexpectedly, he appears to understand the narrative that is best for the November election. His one-term proposition is arguably the most defining selling point for his campaign. For a man from the same senatorial district (North) as the incumbent, his one term agenda has taken effective care of whatever political misgivings thereof and sincerely so.
Thus, as he reels off his plans for Anambra in the foreseeable future, Obaze boasts the confidence of a man with a well-tailored home work. Although he sees not the opportunity as a do-or-die affair, having been a part of the Peter Obi and the Obiano administrations, Obaze is strongly of the view that Anambra can actually get more than it currently does now in terms of the delivery of good governance, with a better focused and administratively inclined leadership.
“We are a gifted people, very enterprising and we have the environment, which we need to leverage 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 hands and allow that campaign to die, or I come out and fight,” he says.
According to him, “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 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.”
Talk about the challenges ahead of him, Obaze admits: “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, maybe 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) examinations 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.”
Reiterating his one term agenda, especially that it could be his undoing if not properly communicated, Obaze explains: “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 started 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.”
He therefore maintains that “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.”
Alluding to experience as a critical ingredient for capacity, Obaze notes that “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,” adding that these combined puts him in a position of advantage.
Dismissing insinuations that he is being used to fight a proxy war between Obi and Obiano, he posits that, “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 in 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.” But he would not end this very explanation without landing a definitive clincher – more like a subliminal message to the incumbent.
Hear him: “Some people are making the spectre 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,” he adds.
QUOTE: Thus, as he reels off his plans for Anambra in the foreseeable future, Obaze boasts the confidence of a man with a well-tailored home work. Although he sees not the opportunity as a do-or-die affair, having been a part of the Peter Obi and the Obiano administrations, Obaze is strongly of the view that Anambra can actually get more than it currently does now in terms of the delivery of good governance, with a better focused and administratively inclined leadership.
Culled from Thisday Newspaper