Former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, is unarguably one of Nigeria’s most successful businessmen and politicians who have made a mark in many facets of life.
The irony of Obi’s life, though, is that he keeps a low profile.
In a rare moment, Obi spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the state of the nation, Anambra politics, his legacies and why he feels the cap to be Anambra State governor will fit Oseloka Obaze.
Here are the experts:
How do you see the agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra for a separate state out of Nigeria?
(Cuts In) Look, irrespective of whatever the Federal Government has said about IPOB, my position has remained constant – agitation in Nigeria is nationwide. It is all over the country and not restricted to only one part of the country and the reason is very simple: there are millions of young people in their productive ages doing nothing. When you don’t know where the next meal will come from, you are a free agent, you can become anything. The reason you people are here is because you know where the next meal will come from.
What you see today is the cumulative effect of leadership failure over the years in the country. That is one of the consequences and it’s not going to be solved by what we are doing today. You can quote me anywhere. We have to sit down, dialogue with those who are agitating, start looking at meaningful solutions that can give them hope. Once a country makes her people to develop a sense of hopelessness, the people will agitate a lot.
I gave you an instance of China. In 1980, the GDP of China was $341 billion. The GDP of Nigeria your country was $143 billion. So, you can say that China was twice bigger than Nigeria. In terms of savings, Nigeria had in 1980 $10.5 billion and China had $10 billion.
In terms of per capita, Nigeria was $870; China was $193. Today, China’s GDP is 12 trillion; thirty times bigger than ours. China’s savings that was $10 billion is now $3 trillion. Somebody you were four times better before has moved miles ahead of you, that is our crisis today. That is why the agitation is on-going. It’s a simple thing. It’s the economy.
I can go on and on and show you more examples of what is causing agitations in Nigeria. South Korea just in savings alone had $3 billion when we had $10.5 billion. Today, they have $365 billion and we have $30 billion.
Thailand was $5 billion when we had $10 billion. So, why don’t we take the right steps and do the right things? The cost of our governance is unacceptable. When you talk about restructuring, they will say no, no, no, America has 50 States. You can’t compare us with America. That is a disaster. One State in America called California has a GDP of $2.6 trillion, six times Nigeria. Per capita is $50,000. We are not even investing in the future. The future is education.
Did this realization influence any aspect of your governance in Anambra or are you just telling us about political economy?
Look, it was seriously applied during my tenure and the results are clear. Somebody asked me recently why I saved in dollars. It was clear because of two things. We studied what China was able to do by attracting investors. China is investing and supporting manufacturing. That is driving 40% of their GDP. And these were done by regions within China. Every region was busy doing the right thing.
In Anambra, we invested about $20 million dollars in one company. I said to myself, why don’t we continue to save about $19 million to $20 million per annum till 2030, which is when the SDGS will end. If you continue to put $20 million till 2030, plus the accumulation of interests, we would have about a billion dollars. Most regional manufacturing firms in China were actually set up by SMEs for about $2 million. So, if we decide to take 25% of that and invest in manufacturing, we will have a thousand of them with half a billion dollars scattered all over the state. That alone can create a million jobs.
Secondly, we need to invest in education and the environment and we don’t have money for this. The World Bank approved an initial loan of $40 million for education, $40 million for environment, of which my government did not draw down from. This education was to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, which is the future, because we know that as from 2025, there will be millions of job vacancies in that sector.
So, we said, since we are going to pay this money in the future, we started saving. Because we are going to earn a billion by the time the loan matures, $500 million will go to these SMEs, $200 million will go to others, $300 million will be left. Everything being equal by 2050, we will be hitting almost $2 Billion. Meanwhile, we have 1,000 SMEs out there, which about 80% of them will survive, and if they do, they shall be producing for export that will change the place.
But as lofty as your programmes were, there are claims by the present government that you left behind huge debts and liabilities now hampering the state.
Far from the truth. Let me tell you that as at the day I left office, I want you to quote me, I had no unpaid certificates of jobs that had been executed. Not one! I had no single unpaid certificate of supply that had been delivered. The highest supplies I had in government were the one from Innoson Motors . We bought vehicles of over N5 billion Naira from the company. The decision to buy from him was a deliberate policy to support him for the value the company was adding to the State in terms of employment and other multiplier effects in the economy of the State. I actually paid them all these monies, clearly a year before I left office.
The next ones are Coscharis Motors; we had billions of supplies from them. You can ask them, we paid him the funds. The other one was Zinox and HP. We bought the highest number of computers for schools – over 30,000, which came to about N2.4 billion. Go and ask Leo Stan Ekeh, I woke him up by 2.00 am in the morning; I said we wanted this order.
The first thing he told me was that he would not do it because he didn’t think I would be able to pay. I told him we would pay up front. We paid at least four months before he finished the supplies. I can go on and on, never did we have one person being owed for supplies delivered to the State the day I left office. Anybody can go and look into that. I was not owing salary.
You are in Nigeria and you know what is happening. As a Governor, I spent over N37 billion paying arrears of pensions and gratuity in the State since 1990. I paid some of the contracts executed under Dr. Mbadinuju and did not complain. In my own case, after doing all this, I paid for every single executed contract. Some Governors were handed over states owing billions in salaries, contracts and money borrowed from banks unlike what I handed over to my successor.
I want to say that whether anybody likes it or not, it is on record in this country and I can prove it with bank documents and statements that I left over 25 billion Naira in local investments for Anambra State; over N25 billion in cash in the banks, and $156 million in the banks in Nigeria.
So I ask the question – do you think anyone can leave such money and turn around to beg the person he handed over to give him N7 billion? I would have taken it first, give them the balance and still be in good shape. Let me use the dollars as example, nobody has ever left one dollar in any state in Nigeria. I left $156 million dollars. $30 million alone is over N7 billion naira. If I had taken chances and left 120 million, I will still be a champion. Let it be on record that the money, with its accruals, is today about N200 billion.
But the claim by Dr. Ifeanyi Uba against you is that you demanded N7 billion from your successor to back him or impose another candidate if he refuses to pay the amount. In fact he accused you of manipulating the last PDP primary to produce your own stooge as candidate.
You could even sense it yourself that it is sheer blackmail. I am a Christian and I am not supposed to swear, but I can put my hand on any form of ecclesiastically prescribed oath and say that I have never discussed with anybody to be paid any amount. I have never done that and I will never do that. At this stage of my life, I cannot support anybody for political and personal benefits. I have passed that stage and to do so is to abuse the Grace of God in my life.
I did not go into politics wretched; I was already a director in three financial institutions, a director in four other major companies; all by the virtue of my investments. I was also running a successful family business. Going into politics even made me poorer but I won’t question anything because that is where God wants me to be. The joy of rendering fruitful service to the people cannot be quantified in naira and kobo. For me, all I want is for us to have a better society; caring for the poor and the people.
Ordinarily, I don’t react to comments people make, especially those made out of ulterior motives. I do not return evil for evil, rather I will cling to my rosary, praying for God’s love on all of us.
Having asked the question, let me tell you about an encounter I recently had. About two weeks ago, two persons came to me and said that they just came out of a meeting where it was discussed that for the upcoming elections in Anambra State, they will come out aggressively to attack my integrity and make it impossible for me to campaign for the candidate of my party. And I asked them how it would happen.
They said they didn’t know but they had what it takes to bring people to the media to shred my character before Nigerians through blackmail and lies. I thanked them and said that when they come, we will see it.
After a week, I started hearing on local radio in Anambra State, people being put on radio owned by the state government to call me names and associate my name with things I do not even dream of doing in my sleep.
But what role did you play at the PDP primary and why?
(Cuts in) I’m not a member of PDP Caretaker Committee in the State. I’m not a delegate to the primaries. So, I wonder how this came about. There were delegates who voted. Those delegates are not my brothers and sisters. The best thing to do now is to avoid distractions the opposition is deliberately planting amongst us in order to have competitive advantage over us. I wish all PDP members realize this.
People must realize that In any election, you must support one person or the other based on his proven and inherent potentials. I do so based on that criteria and not for transaction. I must have a cogent and convincing reason in my own case to support anybody. Yes, anybody can talk about Oseloka Obaze. I can tell you that for me, people said my government did well; one of those who made it possible is Oseloka Obaze.
Because of people like him we were number one in achieving Millennium Development Goals in this country. If this country had followed the MDGs guidelines, we wouldn’t be where we are today. In the year the MDGs started, China’s GDP was $1 trillion. By the time MDGs was completed after 15 years, China’s GDP had gone to about $12 trillion because China main-streamed all the MDGs goals into their agenda and followed them strictly, and was able to pull 439 million people out of poverty.
Our country is among the countries where the opposite happened. Rather than more people going out of poverty, more people became impoverished, because they didn’t follow it strictly. In Anambra State, we started late.
We started in 2008. But I can tell you by the time we left office in 2013, we were number one in the country in the implementation of MDGs and it helped us a lot. We followed the goals strictly. We were the first to do poverty mapping, which made us to know that one of the major things we needed to eradicate poverty was to have access road. This made us to construct roads to the hinter lands. Go to Anambra State and you will see roads everywhere in the rural areas.
In education, we moved forward from 25 and 26 in NECO and WAEC Examinations to number one. I can go on and on. Health, the same thing. We did not achieve all these in a vacuum. As a Diplomat with the UN for over 20 years, Oseloka Obaze was part of what was happening in the Organization. He was severally commended even by successive UN Secretary Generals for his quality contributions to the successes of the body.
It was the same Oseloka Obaze that presented a paper to us as one interested in the progress of his State, advising us on how to come into it and his preparedness to offer us 100 per cent support. When we started it and was highly successful due to his input and contacts he connected us to, I almost dragged him to come and be part of the implementation. The UN knew they were going to lose an asset, but we used diplomacy to pull it through.
Today, the world has moved on from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. China again adopted it and main-streamed it into their development programmes and have said by the year 2030, they will double their GDP, they will double their per capita. In fact, for China, by the year 2025, five years before the end, they would have pulled another 20 million out of poverty.
I have never regretted anything in my life. I came here with nothing. I’m going away with nothing. Whatever I have in my life is by the grace of God. So, I have never had any regret. I can tell you, at 55, I’ve never been to hospital, except when the doctor said they saw a small growth in my system, they wanted to remove it and I was in hospital for two hours for that.
I am married, have a wonderful family with two children, a wife, the best that anybody could wish to have. So, why will I regret in life? I came from a larger family where people are very accommodating. My immediate elder sister is a Reverend Sister, my immediate younger brother is a Rev. Father. They are understanding. I don’t come from a place where people are not contended. The things that give some people headache, I don’t have. So, what will I regret?
However, I do not know whether to call it a regret, but I despise it – supporting somebody to office and the person starts working for himself rather than for the people. When I went into government, I went into government to serve the people. My regret is about my country not taking the advantage of building a better country that will accommodate everybody.
If I tell you where this country was when China started what they are doing today, you will shudder. We were better off in all indices of development: they didn’t have money; they didn’t have anything. Why did they do better? I’m looking forward to my country learning from her mistakes.
Is it because Nigeria is not doing well that you said you want to be Vice President?
You are talking about aspirations that are not there, which is part of well-planned issues to blackmail me. What I want is a good Nigeria. You don’t need to have a post to speak about a good Nigeria. I go around because I know that we can be better. I know we can reduce the cost of governance that is unacceptable.
I know because I’ve been a Governor. As a Governor, rather than stay in hotels where people pay over N500, 000 per night, I stayed in a Hotel I paid less than 50,000. Rather than have a convoy of 20, I had that of five. Rather than maintain over 10 guest houses, I closed them down and restricted myself to the Lodge. Rather than travel on chartered plans, I flew even economy class most times. These are cost-saving measures that we deliberately introduced to keep government going.
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