Governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State, Oseloka Obaze, in this interview with select journalists, unveils his plan for the state, if elected in the forthcoming election. MUYIWA OYINLOLA was there for LEADERSHIP
Why do you think Anambra state needs somebody like you?
As I speak to you, I live in Awka, I don’t have a place of mine. I don’t have a house that I own in Awka. We had a problem when I came in; I told the governor that this wasn’t acceptable. So to answer your question; development in the society is not an event, it is an ongoing process. You must have short, medium and long term plan. You should know what is happening to us here, forget vision 2020 and 2030. The last national development was prepared by Adebayo Adedeji in 1975. And national development was done in a 15 year interval. Five years for the short, 10 years for the medium and 15 years for the long term. It is necessary that we ensure continuity.
Before the primaries, a lot of people knew that you were going to emerge victorious, but your emergence has continued to raise some dust with some alleging that your godfathers handed you the ticket. Where does this leave you?
Well, I don’t know about godfathers, what most people have refused to realize is that I have been in the field campaigning quietly for over one year. I set up a structure in all the 21 local governments. Don’t also forget that I have lived in Anambra State in Awka for the last seven years. I live in the same house as I lived as SSG, I have never left, I have an office there, I employ people and I am visible. The other part of it what people are looking for; I’m not your traditional politician. I speak out, I write and I do interviews. I discuss issues that people are not willing to discuss; so what you saw in the primaries is a cumulative of my presence and what I have done and the fact that people can relate to me, and I think of the people of Anambra.
I think the people of Anambra are interested in walking away from the past narrative of politics. I have worked for the incumbent governor, so you can either look at it that I’m stupid or courageous. I have no quarrel with the governor as an individual. I have vast differences with his policies because that is not what we planned when we brought him in. He is a beneficiary of the campaign we did to bring the governor to the north. We planned that we will deliver good governance and services.
The whole trajectory was set in place is not being followed. Let me tell you what I think changed the narrative of my emergence; when I joined PDP quietly I made sure all the papers were in perfect order. I spoke on the issues that were needed to be spoken on; more 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 the local government, I was talking to both sides, even at the state level. Some people saw that as sitting on the fence but for me as a diplomat, someone who spent years in conflict resolutions, I believed that there is only one PDP, one umbrella, one leadership.
At the time the judgement came, they realized that I was someone who could talk to the right and to the left. I was a brand, I was a new brand; people wanted change and they saw Obaze as a brand new face. I have never made a promise, I don’t have any baggages or godfather. I worked for Obiano and Peter Obi, so they could very well be my godfather. Interestingly, they were both my junior in the same high school. Obiano was one year my junior and Peter Obi came into the secondary school the year I was leaving. I have a wonderful relationship with both of them. The only way to go about this is to get all the political parties to meet and agree that they will never field anybody except people from the north.
Can you be specific on the policies and areas that the present governor has focused on that were not part of what you agreed upon before campaigning and working for him?
Well as at the time the governor was selected as a default candidate, because he was not in the race or amongst us, he had no blueprint, he was not running. The blueprint that he started implementing was my blueprint, I was a candidate in 2013. But that aside, let me give you a specific reply. On the 30th of August 2012, President Jonathan declared Anambra State the 10th oil producing state. As I speak to you, we have not earned a naira or a dollar since then. In contrast, Lagos was declared in January 2016, the 11th oil producing state. By the December of 2016, they had started earning derivation. If you had a functioning government, you don’t need 2012 to 2017 to sort out the process that will enable your people to earn their right as an oil producing state.
When I became the SSG then, I sat down with my principal then, Governor Peter Obi. We agreed to help the old people who are indigenes. We passed a law that allowed old people who have never earned anything from the private and public sector. At the end of the month, they earn 5000 naira for social welfare backed by law. We got people from Lagos to set up the database and started the protection, we started the budgeting but they took over and bastardized the system; rather than using the database and the system, they started using pen and paper and doing it manually. They project give thousand people and also add two thousand more, and they pay the money to those people and the two thousand more people wether accounted for or not, they take the money.
We also had a policy under Peter Obi, Anambra integrated development strategy; Which he inherited. What it means is that 177 communities are not left behind. So if you put a health centre in a community, every community also gets a health centre. If you start a borehole, every community gets a borehole. Now on education, the standard for education is set by UNESCO, 26 percent of your budget must go to education. And as we speak, only two states have met that regulation; Kwara State and Sokoto State. At the end of the day, it’s our children that go there. So education must be accessible and affordable and the only way to do is for government to support them and he hasn’t done that. Another thing is the investor profiles. It is one thing to sign MOUs and it’s another thing to bring an investor that will stay. In the last three years I can tell you of about four or five companies that we lost to Ogun state. You must create an enabling environment. You cannot say you want an investor to come and the cost of doing business is so outrageous.
Where do you think Anambra should be at the moment, how do you intend to take the state to that height?
The IGR of the state, they will tell you it has fallen and that’s a lie, the only thing that has fallen is the amount of money given to the state from the federation account. In the last two years of Peter Obi’s administration, that government earned a 178 billion from the federation account. In the first two years of Obiano, the figure was 298. What he has done is to increase the window of taxation, sometimes resulting in multiple taxation for some and there has been a lot of complaints. I can tell you a fact, the majority of the money in the private sector, are not always related to the government. And because you don’t have reinforcement capacity, you are losing revenue. I know that it is in the interest of the rich people that the banks do not publish how much they get on withholding. You have a bvn, whether it is a company or an individual account. At the end of every year, you find out that the banks have withheld XYZ amount. If they remit that amount, your tax burden lowers. But some of the rich people don’t want that to happen. Because if they report that, the government will know that you made N25 million and you must pay tax on that money.
Now the property tax, take Abuja for an example; there are houses here that are worth billions. Some of them pay tax of 100 thousand, and they are worth more than that. A man living in Mafoloku will not pay the same thing as the man living in banana island. The same thing with the person living in Karu, he can’t pay the same thing with the person living in asokoro. The same thing also gives with Anambra State. So those are things you need to take a look at. We need to do the documentation and know how much it costs. We went somewhere for an event during Peter Obi’s administration, and within one hour of that event, they had opened 50 bottles of champagne. The next day Peter made calls and asked how much the man that had the event paid in taxes the previous year, the amount of drinks and luxury consumed at that event was far more than what he paid in taxes. So we wrote him a letter and told him how much the luxury consumption that took place in his house cost in taxes and he paid the difference. And he told us that when next we come to his house, he will serve us orange juice. There was also a place I went to, there were 25 vehicles and whether they were registered, I don’t know. But a vintage car from 1945 is worth 200 million, and you must pay for the value of the car and register it.
When Obiano was coming in, I was leaving with the Peter Obi administration. I wasn’t going to stay because that wasn’t my plan. They asked me to stay for six months and I told them no, that I had to do other things. About three to four days to the hand over, the incoming governor called me, I told him that my answer is still no. But because I was part of the last two years of the Peter Obi adminstration we had a plan and strategy, so I agreed to stay for six months. After six months I said to the governor that if he finds a replacement, that he should let me know; that I will ease myself out and the person can take over. That six months went to 15 months. I could sense some changes although it was all about continuity. But even those that were heads of the government were being washed out gradually.
I do not discuss political issues outside especially when I have a higher principal. So I asked him why we are doing this, and that it isn’t right. The final decision is his, I am an appointed official not an elected official; my job was to advise, i gave advise and in certain times asked for one on one meetings and told him that it is not happening. I sat down with him and had a two hour meeting, I wrote a one page memo and gave it to him, told him that everything that will go wrong eventually is in it. It is hypocritical for someone to pay for your ticket to come here, so everything for you and helps you become a governor and you do not consider him a godfather; that is pure hypocrisy. Obiano did not put a penny in his campaign, he didn’t put a penny of his personal money on his campaign, you can quote me on that. My brother ran the campaign, I know how much that was spent.
If I was a spoiler and not a team player, when I was disqualified, I would have gone to court and Obiano would not have been governor of the state. I made a statement; when you travel and you come back to your house and you sense that something has died inside, do you close your door and runaway? You open the windows, disinfect the place, find the lizard of the rat and take it away, and that’s what I did. I got offers to go to other parties, I said no. I did not leave the Obiano government to go to another party. I waited for months before I decided to go to another party, I did it quietly.
I am a diplomat as you know, if you look at my background you will see a lot of mediation. For the last nine days I have shuffled between Enugu, Akwa, Abuja, reaching out to everybody who is a key state player. I have had a discussion with Ifeanyi Ubah and it lasted up to five hours. I have sat down with John Emeka, Alex Obiogbulu, I have sat down with everybody who was an aspirant. The others I have sent emails, and text messages. It is because I wanted that reconciliation that I flew into Abuja to see the national chairman. If the national chairman calls for a meeting for reconciliation and you don’t show up, then you can take yourself out of the equation. I can do what I can as a person. That’s why if you look into Anambra, I have not flagged off my campaign because you need to bring everyone on board under the same umbrella so that they will be united. Another thing is that if the primaries seem peaceful, it is because the party leaders decided to do this in the right way. It was televised by AIT, but what was important was that they brought Govs. Wike and Fayose, two active governors, they left everything they were doing to come and conduct this by themselves. For the primaries proper, they brought Govs. Umahi and Udom of Akwa Ibom to come and conduct it.
You worked for the Governor in the last campaign, would you say you know some secrets you can capitalize on to defeat him ?
I was not a campaign director for him, yes I supported him, my younger brother was a the director of operations during his campaign. Anambra has been a PDP state whether you like it or not. Even in my former party, we won elections with the PDP government at the highest level. So to come and assume that Anambra is not a PDP state is a fallacy. And there is something you need to know, because I am a social scientist; there are two parties in leadership today in Nigeria, APC and PDP. The only other party that has a government is Anambra State which is APGA. What it means is that in the whole southeast or southsouth, it is only Anambra that is not hooked to the national grid. Imo is APC, the rest of the southsouth and southeast are PDP, except Edo which is APC. I can understand the emotion, but the party which rules Anambra today does not have the national spread. Anambra has to go with PDP or APC other than that, we will continue to operate in a very confined narrow margin. That is not the basis for growth and development.
Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.