Obaze Oseloka is the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the November 2017 election in Anambra State. He is a retired diplomat and a former Secretary to the State Government (SSG) during the administration of Governor Peter Obi. In this interview with newsmen in Abuja, he discloses that he will only serve a single term of office if elected governor. He talks about a variety of issues. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, presents the excerpts:
Before the primaries took place, a lot of people predicted that you were going to emerge. But your emergence has also raised dust. Some of the aspirants have been shouting that you were merely endorsed by your godfathers; that you were imposed. Where does this leave you?
I don’t know about imposition and I don’t know about godfathers. What most people do not realise is that I’ve been in the field campaigning quietly for over one year. I set up a structure in all the 21 local government areas.
Don’t also forget that I’ve lived in Anambra State, Awka, for the last seven years or thereabouts. I lived in the same house I live as SSG. I’ve never left. I have an office there and I’m visible. So, the recognition is there. The other part of it is the narrative people are looking at. I’m not your traditional politician. I speak out, I write, I do interviews. I discuss issues that people are not willing to discuss because they want to be politically correct. So, what you saw with the primaries is a cumulative of my own presence and what I have done and the fact that people can relate to me. I think the people of Anambra are interested in walking away from the past narrative of money politics. The other part of it is that the incumbent governor; is somebody I know; somebody I campaigned for. So, you can look at it that I’m either stupid, foolhardy or that I’m courageous to come out and challenge an incumbent governor, somebody I supported in the past. I have no quarrel with the governor as an individual. I have vast differences with his policies because that’s not what we planned when we brought him in. We campaigned for him. He is a beneficiary of the campaign we did to bring the governorship to Anambra North. We had a commitment to deliver good governance and services. That is not being done. The whole trajectory that was set in place is not being followed. And basically, I’ve told him that personally, that is why we are here. So, for people to come out now, I think some people expected that it’s business as usual.
But let me tell you what I think changed the narrative of my emergence. When I joined PDP, I didn’t make any fanfare of it, but I made sure all the papers and everything was in perfect order. I also knew that if I was going to run for governor, I would not have spent the two years required by the constitution. But I knew there was a constitutional provision that allows you to get a waiver and I was willing to go for that, which I did. But one thing that is clear to me as I said about doing that was that I spoke on the issue that people needed to speak on. Most importantly, when there was a fight going on and there were factions, I refused to belong to any of the factions. From my ward to local government, I was talking to both sides, relating to them, even at the state level. Some people saw that as sitting on the fence. But for me as a diplomat, somebody who spent years in conflict resolution and mediation, I believed there was only one PDP, one umbrella, one leadership, one certificate. The issues were individual interests. So, at the time the judgment came, they found that I was somebody who could talk to the left, I could talk to the right. I had a relationship with the left, I had a relationship with the right, even at the national leadership. And you go to the primaries, the people who were coming for the primaries knew me by name; they knew me by face. So, we went to the primaries and the outcome became what it became. It was not surprising. I’m the new kid on the block. So, it’s like magic and you start looking for the witch or the wizard that performed the magic. There was no magic to it, except that people wanted change and they saw Oseluka Obaze as a brand new face.
I have never made a promise. First, I don’t have any baggage, I don’t have a godfather. I worked for Obiano, so he could very well be my godfather. I worked for Peter Obi, so he could very well be my godfather. But interestingly, both of them were my juniors in the same high school. Obiano was one year my junior; Peter Obi came into the secondary school the year I was leaving after I took school certificate. I have a wonderful relationship with both of them.
Where does the political configuration and dichotomy between Anambra North and South leave you?
Well North/South, I have said it that I will run only for four years, because we campaigned for the governorship to come to the North for eight years, Obiano became the beneficiary because he’s from the North. Those of us who campaigned and insisted that they should allow us to complete the remaining four years, no questions asked. And in order to keep to my own commitment, even though it’s written, since he has served four years, we also say that whoever emerges will serve the remaining four years. I think I am the only candidate who has committed to that. Interestingly, of the people who have emerged now, with the exception of (Osita) Chidoka who comes from the South, Tony Nwoye is from the North, I am from the North, Obiano is from the North. One thing I told them at the beginning was that the easiest way to solve this is to get all the political parties to meet and agree that they will never field anybody, except people from the North. We finish the four years, let it move to the South.
Can you be specific on the policies or areas that the current governor decided to focus on that you feel were not part of the agreed blueprint you used to campaign?
At the time the governor was selected as the candidate, he was not in the race; he was not even among us. He had no blueprint because he was not running. The blueprint that he started implementing was my blueprint. I was a candidate in 2013. But that aside, you asked a specific question. Let me give you a concrete narrative. On the 30th of August 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan declared Anambra State the 10th oil-producing state. As I speak to you, we have not earned a naira or dollar in derivation. In contrast, Lagos State was declared in January 2016 the 11th oil producing state. By December 2016, they had started earning derivation. If you had a functional government that was focused on policy and knew what to do, you wouldn’t need 2012 to 2017 or 2014 to 2017 to sort out the modalities, legislative process that would enable your people earn their right as an oil-producing state. Government must drive that process, and driving that process requires synergy between the government of the day and the representative members of the state in the National Assembly. If you don’t have that relationship with them, they will never drive that.
The other aspect of it relates to the two contiguous states – Kogi and Enugu, because the oil basin traverses the three states. The oil well that we are developing is in Anambra region, but the oil basin extends to Kogi and Enugu. So, basically, all you need to do is have a political will to sit down with the two governors from the other states and say you are ready to become an oil-producing state, this is how much we have invested. We are ready to carry you along. Your gain is not our loss because it can’t be. We can do this as a shared responsibility. This is how much we have invested. Are you willing to offset this or are you willing to invest the same amount, then let’s go to the National Assembly jointly. Even if it is in the order of ranking, I think Anambra will still be number one because it’s letter A, followed by Enugu and followed by Kogi in terms of the alphabet. But already, we had been declared an oil-producing state by Jonathan. So, you can’t change that. But let it be that on the same day, we agree that the paper will be signed and we can all start collecting our derivation. As I speak to you, if that is not done, four years from now, if he stays, you might still come back and Anambra State will still not have earned a kobo from oil. That is one area.
When I became the SSG, I sat down with my principal (then, Governor Peter Obi) and said we need to do something for the old people who are indigent. We passed a law that allows everybody who is 75 and above, who has never earned income in the private sector or public sector, therefore not pensionable, to receive N 5,000 a month as social welfare backed by law. We got people from Lagos to come and capture the whole people in the same state, set up the database and begin to do the projection: that if you are 73 this year, in two years you will be 75, because that will help us in budgeting. We started paying that money. They took over, they bastardised the system. Rather than using the valid data that is in place and augmenting it so that you can do the projection and do the budget, they started using pen and paper, they will come and say we are going to Obadu Local Government, they have 5,000 people, we are projecting that there will be 2,000 people more. They go, they pay the N5,000 and the other 2,000, whether they exist or not, the money is basically accounted for but you wouldn’t know if the people exist. What they don’t do is also in that planning; you must account for attrition; people will die. If you are saying that in this community there are 5000 people last year, at least 100 of them would have died and another 2000 would have graduated from 74 to 75. That is planning. It takes long-term planning and vision. They haven’t done that. The difference there is that a woman who is 75 might still plant pepper and greens and things, still be able to fetch water. At the time she is vision impaired and is walking with walking stick, that N5,000 a month means that she can call ‘Sunday, go and fetch me water my son; here is N50’, and she still has money left. If she cannot cook food, she can say ‘go there buy me food, takeaway; here is N200’. That empowers her and sustains her. That scheme as I speak to you, is almost moribund. In civilized societies, health and social welfare may stand alone as a department or ministry by itself because in tandem with that are also people with special needs and all what not.
We had a policy of the Anambra Integrated Development Strategy under Peter Obi, which he inherited. What ANIDS means is that the 177 villages that we have, none is left behind. So, if you went to a community and you built health centre, every community got a health centre. If you sank a borehole, every community got a borehole. If you gave N2 million for palliative to maintain roads every community got N2 million. That’s one aspect of it.
In education, after we handed over schools to missions, we committed that all the schools are not parochial. They are not mission-based. They are government, but most of the schools that are legendary, legacy schools are parochial; they are run by the Anglican Church, Pentecostal or Catholic. We used to give money under Peter Obi in bulk sum. I’m talking about N300 million (maybe per a quarter) to the Catholic mission schools, to the Anglican, to the Pentecostal. That ceased. If you look at my manifesto, under education, I have said that we must commit to that. Now, the standard for education as a basis for running government is set by UNESCO that 26 per cent of your budget must go to education. I’ve even gone further to say that we must meet that threshold. As we speak, only two states in the federation have met that threshold – Kwara and Sokoto. In my own case, I’ve gone further to say that on that 26 per cent, we will reserve 10 percent to support parochial schools because at the end of the day, it’s our children that go there.
Culled from Nigeria Tribune