Q&A With Mr. Peter Obi…Governor of Anambra State
Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, a quintessential gentleman, in this interview conducted by Huhuonline.com Publisher, Emmanuel Asiwe and Editor, Albert Ograka, bares his mind on mind-boggling issues bothering on his challenges in developing the
state vis-a-viz his performance amid criticism, succession plans and many other national issues.
Huhuonline.com: Your Excellency sir, you've done almost six years as Governor of Anambra state. How would you rate your performance? Gov. Peter Obi: (Cuts In) For me, I've actually been four years as the governor of the state, not six years. It's a very simple thing, in 2006 was when I came in here and I was impeached in about seven months. That means that year is gone. In 2007 I came back from impeachment only to again stay on to have deviating elements because somebody was alleged to be elected in an illegal election and I had to cite the constitutional provision that says the governor's tenure is four years. So 2006, 2007 is not there. I started in 2008, even that is in court but I always say I've been here for four years.
As you can see, we have just finished a meeting with the Governors' Forum Committee on Peer Review. We are the first state in Nigeria to allow people to come and assess us. We've heard people say, how do you rate your governance and I say to them, go and see what we are doing because its people that would rate us. For me as a person I do what is the right thing but I'm not all perfect. I'm not a saint. But I know that within the confines of my job, I think I'm doing what is right. How people assesses, I don't know but I'll continue doing the same thing, just being myself and doing what I believe in.
Huhuonline.com: What would you say is your major achievement thus far?
Gov. Peter Obi: That is what I'm saying. I don't have the greatest, I don't have the rates. I'll just continue to do what I'm elected to do and I believe the people should judge that.
Huhuonline.com: Do you have a succession plan?
Gov. Peter Obi: People have asked me and I said no. The succession plan is that the people of Anambra state should be bold enough to elect somebody like me who does not see politics as a job. Politics is a vocation. They should only allow those who have proven track records in their endeavours to serve.
Huhuonline.com: There's no doubt you possess a very intimidation CV, having been Chairman and Director of notable business investments at different times and now governor of a state known as Nigeria's economic hub, how have you brought your experiences to bear in Anambra state?
Gov. Peter Obi: Well, you see you can't give what you don't have and it's there that nobody can manage wealth if you've not created wealth itself, if you've not worked hard. And wealth creation is not just about making money because people see it as just making money. No, if you've not worked in a system and progress that system successfully, there is no way you can give.
Huhuonline.com: In 2006, you initiated a programme of action which you tagged Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS).
Gov. Peter Obi: (Cuts in) No not in 2006 but in 2008. In 2006 ANIDS was not there and I was still telling people that the state is failed and can't progress because there is no plan. We had to bring in the Ministry of Planning and made it an engine of what we were doing. So we were still doing this when I was impeached and when I came back in 2007, I was trying to bring myself back first, so this particular plan which you are talking about now was initiated and commenced in January 2008. That was when I did my first budget. The budget of 2006 was not my budget; it was a budget that my predecessor had approved. In 2007 it was the same thing because when I was impeached and somebody prepared the budget again. The first budget I presented in this state was the budget of 2008 which was the first budget that was based on vision of the state to achieve the MGD goals by the year 2015.
It is when we adopted that as our vision, that we needed a vehicle a strategy for delivery of these, hence the initiation and commencement of Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS).
Huhuonline.com: What has your administration done with the ANIDS model?
Gov. Peter Obi: What it's doing is very simple. If you look at all the MDG goals , this is just a vehicle or strategy or a process that allowed us to plan within all the MDG goals, budget, execute the projects to ensure that we achieve this and delivery. Recently, we moved our budget from being supply driven to being demand driven. We now go to the people and say what do you want? And we do what they want.
Huhuonline.com: You have been so passionate about the construction of a 2nd Niger Bridge. What is the position so far?
Gov. Peter Obi: It is going on very well. The reason why I'm saying it is going on well is this. The Federal Government is committed to it. The Ministry of Works is committed to it. The Ministry of Finance is committed to it. In the next few months which the Ministry promised me, so far, I believe it's on track.
Huhuonline.com: You are desirous to further industrialize Anambra state, taking into cognisance your plans to encourage made-in-Nigeria cars as is the case with the proposed Nnewi plant.
Gov. Peter Obi: It is already functioning. The Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing plant in Nnewi is functioning very well. It's the place that I laid the foundation and people are buying cars and buses from it. If you go out there, you will see vehicles we bought from it are still there. So it is no longer proposed. We are interested in foreign and local investments. If you invest here, we will support you as a government. It's functioning and we have orders for goods worth over One Billion Naira with them.
Huhuonline.com: Despite your visible efforts, considering what we saw on ground, you seem to be getting too many criticisms. Why is it so?
Gov. Peter Obi: Yes, because when you bring a change, like every other person or even journalists, trying to drastically change the place, when you bring change you will have enemies among all those who live off the old order and those who are not sure whether you will succeed. Because all these saying that things are bad, things are bad, its people that made them bad and when you have come to change it, like it is in the Bible: When Jesus asked the evil spirits to leave the man who is possessed, he said how many are they and they said they are legion and he said okay you can go and as they were going, they damaged, destroyed everything that the town started crying…Wao! This man has destroyed everything.
You said that the people in the rural areas wish it can be the same everywhere because they saw a concerted effort to do something even with our little resources, yet there is criticism. Why? Because you are displacing those who used to live up in the confusion.
Huhuonline.com: Why have you not conducted the LGA elections?
Gov. Peter Obi: In 2009, six months to my election, we wanted to conduct the local government elections [ You can go and check ] but people took us to court. They said I'm doing so because I want to consolidate for me to win the second term. So they went to court and we could not conduct the election.
After I had won the election, the state electoral commission wanted to do it again but people went to the court and claimed that the electoral register was faulty. And in 2011 INEC updated the voters' register. As I speak to you, we are the only state in this country where members of our electoral body were a Monsignor, Cannon and Pastor, drawn from the Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal Churches because I wanted them to conduct free and fair election. I am committed to it. I wish if they are here to tell you they are still in court and have not conducted the local govern election, which has really nothing to do with me.
Huhuonline.com: What about the other group? You just mentioned Christians and we know that there are Muslims and some unbelievers in the state too.
Gov. Peter Obi: all those people constitute less than five per cent and in any system where you have more than 75 per cent of a particular group, they become the dominant group and it is not question of if you don't believe in anything, well so bad because they are not up to two per cent, neither is there any other group, well too. Anambra state, you can say, is a Christian state because 97 per cent of the people that live here are Christians.
Huhuonline.com: Sir, at a time when missions and states are borrowing funds to finance its budgets; your state is listed as the least indebted. So how have you been able to undertake these infrastructural budgets without going through financial institutions to fund them?
Gov. Peter Obi: We are going through a lot of sacrifice. We are cutting costs at corners. We are cutting costs everywhere and this cost cutting, you can say, I'm not being frugal about our spending. It's what has brought us the hatred. Basically frugality has turned into hatred. We are receiving money from wherever we can and we are asking agencies to help us. We did not apply in our budgeting that there is gas. This gas is now making us to approach development partners, supporting agencies, even plead with people to help us and they are helping.
Huhuonline.com: What is your take on the present security challenges in the country? We went through Agazi, and saw the burial site of people who were killed in Mubi. How have you been able to contain reprisal as a result of Ibos killed in the North?
Gov. Peter Obi: That actually has happened in the past and for me; the security situation in this country is worrisome and deserves of us to know that we have no other country, except this one, and all of us have to work to ensure that this country does not degenerate into a civil war or into a country where we would be referred to as insecure place in the world. I know that the Federal Government is taking some bold steps to solve the security problems.
Huhuonline.com: Can you let us know some of these steps because ordinary Nigerians in the streets think the Government is doing nothing?
Gov. Peter Obi: Nobody can. It's a security issue. Americans don't say what they do with security. You live in America, they don't say it, and they don't. They just tell you we put everything into operation. I can follow you through the bombings of 9/11, they say they put something into incubation, they do this, and they do that, even when they went to other persons' country to kill somebody. They did not tell us until it happens, so how can I tell you the one of Nigeria?
Huhuonline.com: During our tour we noticed that you have opened up the hinterlands. What informed your choice of extensive road access to the extremities of the state?
Gov. Peter Obi: Because if you look at vision. The first part of it is to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger. How do you do this? The first thing you do if you have to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger access, to open up the place. Today, for example, people who used to sell a basket of their food-stuff for N2, 000 and because we've opened up the place, now sell it for about N12, 000. That is critical.
Huhuonline.com: Talking about the schools. Your administration handed over 700 secondary schools to its original owners. What necessitated this move? And also, recently you increased the school fees of students of Anambra state University. What was the rationale behind the increment?
Gov. Peter Obi: Well, as far as I'm concerned, the fees are still very modest. We are still subsidizing the University. I do not believe that we should subsidize University education or even pay for it. We provided the primary education free up to the first nine years of school. That is the Basic Education. The rest of the education should actually attract fees, so people can concentrate and work the education so that also the system can be propelled properly. You live in America. Does the American Government provide for education? You can borrow loan and go to school and that is what people like me are trying to get the system to do. We would eventually concentrate on education and cults and other vices would go. Because things are free here people don't concentrate on what they do.
On the issue of handing over of schools, yes, it was inevitable and I would continue to apologize to the churches for taking their schools. That was the veritable means with which we were able to build better human beings in the past. Today, because those schools were taken over, we've just produced massively, people who do not deserve to live in the same society. They are taking it back so that they can inculcate the discipline; inculcate the sense of responsibility and values that are required for nation building.
Huhuonline.com: Sir, what is the position of pension vis-a-viz pensioners in Anambra state?
Gov. Peter Obi: Well, I believe that we are doing the right thing in Anambra state. At least we have cleared their back-log of gratuity in the state and local governments.
Huhuonline.com: How do you view the clamour for a South East President in 2015? Is it feasible in the present day Nigeria?
Gov. Peter Obi: I'm not into it and what is more of my concern today is that South-East should be together.
Huhuonline.com: As Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Governors' Forum, what is your take on the disqualification of Timipre Sylva, former governor of Bayelsa from seeking a second term? Don't you think this sort of arm twisting is dangerous for Nigeria's democracy?
Gov. Peter Obi: For me, the only people who can make comment on that are people from the PDP.
Huhuonline.com: In 48 months your tenure elapses as the governor of Anambra state. After now, what is next sir?
Gov. Peter Obi: Oh no. I'll go back to what I used to do. That is why I said that politics is not a job, it is a vocation. So, you must be able to go back to where you are coming from. I look forward to it. Everybody knows where I'm going back to. I'm not just going back into business but I will be contributing in building a better Anambra state, a better South-East and a better Nigeria. I'm not just going to be on the streets searching for food or constituting a nuisance to those who would come after me.
Huhuonline.com: It is rumoured by the founding Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Chewas Okorie, that you have Presidential ambition, probably due to your romance with President Goodluck Jonathan.
Gov. Peter Obi: I don't romance with President Jonathan. I believe he is sincere and doing the right thing. And for me, as a Nigerian, I have to support somebody who is sincere and doing the right thing. Politics is about helping and contributing to building a better place. Opposition is not about you seeing everything that is bad. It is for you to contribute meaningfully, constructively into building a better place. You should be ready to support what is good for the society.
Jonathan as a President means well and I can understand him because I know how, here what I go through with people, because I'm trying to bring a change.
Huhuonline.com: Sir, with the demise of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwe, Ikemba Nnewi, the leader of APGA. Do you see yourself stepping into his leadership position?
Gov. Peter Obi: Whose leadership did he step into? He did not step into anybody's leadership. He did not take over from anybody. He did so well. He did the right things and people followed him. Even when he was there, people didn't even follow him, I can tell you.
Huhuonline.com: Sir, there seems to be crisis in your party, APGA. What could be responsible for that?
Gov. Peter Obi: There is no crisis in APGA. Whenever there is an issue, they call it crisis. What is the crisis? Can you tell me the crisis?
Huhuonline.com: Recently, you had to issue a press release in March, stating you had no intention of defecting to PDP after Chekwas Okorie announced that you had the intention.
Gov. Peter Obi: No, I tell you, that is not crisis. Somebody said that I had the intention of leaving APGA and I said I won't. Is it crisis? That's not crisis. Chekwas Okorie is not my Chairman. He used to be but he is no longer the Chairman. He wasn't talking about me. If you are referring to Chekwas Okorie, he is not the Chairman of APGA where I belong to. He used to be and I'm not saying his comments are right or wrong but I've said mine.
Huhuonline.com: What plans do you have to make Onitsha an economic hub and Nnewi an industrial base for the state?
Gov. Peter Obi: I know you have gone to two of them and you have seen what we are doing to upgrade them. Since we came, that is why we can build a plant in Nnewi. We are upgrading and we are still talking. It is not going to be an overnight issue. The fact is that the system keeps on growing. That is the most important plan.
Huhuonline.com: Do you have any plan to impose anybody to take over after you leave office?
Gov. Peter Obi: No! Never! It's unnecessary. It wastes everybody's time because then you are not genuine. If you genuinely want the system to progress, what you should do is to clamour for somebody better than you to take over. But I wish Anambra state should have somebody who is genuinely committed and can serve them very well to come after me, because then, we would all join hands and celebrate it.
Huhuonline.com: It is alleged that you are building multi-billion naira shopping mall project located at Kado, Abuja. Is it true?
Gov. Peter Obi: A very good question you asked. Number one is no, I'm not building one. I used to be Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of Next International (Nigeria) Ltd. Next is a foremost ground management company in the country. If you go to Next's office in Apapa, they own the office since 1991. Their warehouse is bigger than anyone else. It is about 30, 000 square metres. I came in here as a Bank Chairman. I was a Director in three banks by virtue of my investments. So, I didn't come here an unknown person. Next built and owned before I came here. In the new shopping centre in the Trade Fair Centre in Lagos, Next owned a building there, containing over 120 shops. They have been put into official engagement or hiring for over 12 years.
So, it is surprising when people try to link it to me. Next is building a shopping mall in Abuja and what Next is building now is small compared to what they have been able to achieve. Actually if you go to Abuja, Next owns the big building immediately after the Federal Ministry of Transport. That is why they wanted to build a mall. The partners had advised that they can't build a mall there and that the most important thing a mall needs is parking space. That is why they moved it from there. But of course, you know Amambra politics.
I was a bank chairman before I came here by virtue of investments. I was a Director of a bank before I came here. You can go and verify how many shares a man needs to be Director of a bank.
Huhuonline.com: When we moved round the rural communities, we saw how you linked up the various local government areas with roads and bridges. What is happening to some of the access roads in the state capital?
Gov. Peter Obi: There are lot of tarred access roads in the state capital, Awka. It only the Federal roads that are bad and they are the ones we have not touched but we have spoken to the Federal Government to permit us to do their roads. And when they give us the permission, we will go ahead and do them.
Huhuonline.com: How do you grapple with the problems of erosion which poses grave danger to the state?
Gov. Peter Obi: It is a big problem. Sadly, we are struggling with it. We need help and hope that you can use your medium to help us attract solutions.