Dr. Alex Otti, a former managing director of Diamond Bank Plc, is Abia State governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 2019 general elections. He had also contested and lost to incumbent Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in 2015. In this interview with The Nigerian Xpress, Otti tells Rose Moses why he is still interested in governing Abia, saying that his is a mission to restore the glory of Abia and make her truly the number one state in Nigeria, among other things.
Why do you want to be governor of Abia State?
Well, the first thing is that Abia State has suffered from deficiency of leadership. Because of that, Abia people have gone through difficulties that are avoidable. The first one is that Aba, which is supposed to be the major hub for trade, commerce and industry, has dilapidated completely and in the last two decades, not a lot of work has been done in Aba. So, Aba has decayed completely. And because of visionless leadership, the state has not understood that if you don’t fix Aba, you can’t fix Abia.
The internally generated revenue, coming from Aba has been on the decline, irrespective of inappropriate tactics that the government uses to drive revenue through touts, through people who don’t even render appropriate accounts.
My view is that taxes are a government share of the prosperity that it has created in system but when you do not bring prosperity, it is very difficult for you to expect that people will pay you taxes.
That is number one. Number Two is that unemployment has become a major scourge in the state and that is because successive governments have left Aba to decay. A lot of the industries that existed when we were growing up have all voted with their feet.
Most of them have relocated to Port Harcourt, Lagos and other parts of the country because of the problem of security, problem of infrastructure, problem of healthcare and problem of education. All those have been at their lowest ebb.
So, life has become like Thomas Hobbes will say, brutish, nasty and short. And a lot of people that used to make Aba tick are no longer there. Therefore, one of the major things that I will like to do is to bring back Aba by ensuring that there is proper security, building the roads, building drainages, ensuring that there is pipe borne water, ensuring that the environment itself is clean.
If you go to Abia today, you breathe filthy air all over the place, from Umuahia all the way to Aba. Everywhere is so dirty and the government does not know how to manage its wastes. The government doesn’t also know that there is what is called waste to wealth where you can use waste to generate power.
All those can only happen when those who understand it, who have the skills, who have the network, who have the competence to govern, are in power. So, these are some of the things that I will like to do.
There was this excitement in the South-east about your party, APGA, being a party for Ndigbo. Today, this doesn’t appear to be so, worst still, when you consider how the primaries were conducted recently. Don’t you think the South-east deserves better from APGA?
The first thing I will like to say is that any time there is a contest between two people, one person will win. And when one person wins, it is always natural that the person that lost will not be happy. But then if you go into a contest you must prepare to either win or lose. A major part of the problems that APGA has faced in the recent time is fallout of the primaries.
Before now, I knew there were issues, just like there are issues with any other party. And where you have more than one person, disagreements are bound to happen but how those issues are resolved is more important.
The primaries held, I think in September, October, but the fallout is still with us up till now. A few people felt they were not properly treated; a few people felt the primaries were not transparently done; a few people felt that there were no primaries at all. And a few people also felt that they were distorted. So, all these are in the public space.
But as a party, we are trying to resolve most of those problems. A reconciliation committee has been set up. They have been working. The national reconciliation committee is headed by the vice presidential candidate of the party, Chief Jerry Chukwueke. His team has gone round most of the states, trying to understand people’s grievances and appeal to them where they can, and then the ones that are serious are presented to the chairman of the Board of Trustees and I believe that as time goes on the reconciliation exercise will continue.
So, I really don’t think there is any major thing that has happened that will lead the party to extinction. There are problems but I believe they will be resolved. So, I still see APGA as a party for the South-east first and foremost. At the end of the day, I see in the future a national party, coming out of APGA just like the AD, ACN, AC that eventually became party of APC today, which is the ruling party.
So, I really don’t see that APGA has lost that position of being the Igbo party where all the Igbo interests are going to coalesce, as a prelude to launching to the national space.
An average Nigerian politician is known to jump ship at the slightest opportunity. How do we know you won’t defect to the ruling party if elected on the platform of APGA?
Well, the first thing is that I am not a typical politician so some of the theories about politicians will not apply to me. The second one is that I have a conviction. There is a reason I came to contest election. It’s not to play politics. I came to intervene in politics so that I can help my people. Mine is not about seeking higher offices. I came to do a job in Abia. At the end of the day when that job is done, I will be satisfied I have done my bit.
Like I said earlier, I have friends that cut across political divides – religious and ethnic divides. But I keep my friends. So, if people see me with you, assuming you are in APC, they can begin to make guesses as to me joining APC. I remember it was at the birthday of John Oyegun, who is a senior friend of mine and I went to felicitate with him. I believe that was when this rumour of joining APC started.
But I am still here several years after and I have not joined APC. Yes, of course, when parties see a credible candidate, a credible person, they want to woo him to join them. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is for me to decide where I want to be. My joining APGA was not by force. It was a choice that I made. And I haven’t seen anything that will make me leave APGA. That’s why I have not left, irrespective of the challenges that one has been through the last three to four years.
So, answering your question categorically, I am not the kind of person that decamps and re-camps and decamps. I came for a job and I want to do that job and do it very well.
Considering that politics in Nigeria is one expensive business, do you think you have the financial power to match your major opponent, who is also the incumbent governor?
Well, everything is not money, really, but I know that money is important. My opponents have been spreading all sorts of propaganda that I don’t have money and all that. I said, okay, that’s fine; I have refused to respond to it. But I know that my God will provide everything that I need at the time I need them. I am not short of money and I do not worship money and I believe that money should not be my problem towards getting to that destination.
How specifically will you address the problem of unemployment, militancy and other crimes generally, if voted as Governor of Abia State?
This problem is embedded in the entire socio-economic structure. We do not have the enabling environment for businesses to thrive, for new businesses to come in, for the existing ones to do well, for people to find what they can do, that is, for entrepreneurs to set up their small and medium scale enterprises. Then you cannot solve the problem of unemployment. Some people have been deceived into thinking that governments can create jobs.
Governments cannot create jobs. It’s the private sector that creates jobs. There’re only so many civil servants you can hire. There’re only so many SAs and SSAs and advisers that government can hire. So, when you are dealing with a large army of the unemployed, you need to do something outside government to support the private sector to create those jobs. That is the major part of the problem.
Until government begins to focus on that, you cannot solve the problem of unemployment. When we were growing up, Aba, for instance, had all sorts of industries that existed on Factory Road, such as PZ, Nigerian Breweries, Lever Brothers that is now Unilever, all on that same corridor.
Then we had the companies that were set up by the Abiriba people – there was Dubic and all sorts of companies. All these companies don’t exist anymore. Some of them that exist have relocated.
Isn’t that a general problem because most companies are also relocating from Nigeria?
It’s not a general problem. Yes, companies do relocate, including from Lagos, but Lagos is still bubbling. New companies take over from those ones that are relocating. But the truth for Abia is that nothing is happening in those places because the reason they left in the first place is that they are unable to do well.
Ok, if they have to provide roads, provide water, provide electricity and all that, then, their cost will be too high and they will not be making profit. So, it’s very simple but sometimes people do not understand and they do not pay attention to it and when you don’t pay attention to it, you are not addressing it and until government addresses, problems arise.
Then the large chunk is actually the small and medium scale enterprises, people doing little things like pure water, mechanic, you know, small things, and Aba is blessed because it’s not just a commercial and trading post, it’s also an industrial zone. There is virtually nothing that cannot be produced in Aba. They may not produce it in the form that you want it, like if it is this bottle (holds one) it may not be this smooth, this neat and all that, but practice, they say, makes perfect.
So, you need to start producing in order to improve. So, the reality is that if you have not started at all, you need to start producing. Think of somebody producing this and he needs raw materials for the label, he needs raw materials for the cork and all that. So,
he himself can also backwardly integrate and set up another company that produces his own raw material and he can integrate forward too to also set up businesses that will also require what they are producing.
But those have to be done in an atmosphere that is receptive to the kind of business you are into. There is none in Abia. That is one of the major things that I will do and it is only when you do that, that some of those people can engage themselves, they can employ themselves.
Specifically, how do you intend to go about that?
To ensure that I invest heavily in infrastructure, in security, in healthcare, in education, in the environment itself. Some of the big companies, the major problem some of the big companies have is that some of their senior people are expatriates and could not live in Aba. I have a house in Aba but I have not been there in several years because there is no access to the place. So, it’s a serious problem.
Till date, even with the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), members still constitute serious challenge to the South-east where they’ve been calling for boycott of elections, as they believe only in Biafra and not Nigeria. Do you think this will affect your chances in the coming election?
Yes, it will. I think it is important that more engagement should happen because you see, when they call for people to sit at home, they listen to them. So, I believe it is important we engage them a little bit more than we are doing.
Yes, Nnamdi Kanu, their leader has been confirmed to be outside the country but I think the major problem with the youth is that of unemployment. Government needs to address it because it is a ticking time bomb.
Today, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 20 per cent of people who are willing, able and ready to work, cannot find work. It could be a whole lot more but even when you take it at 20 per cent, that’s still high. I mean when countries like the United States and others begin to have three to four per cent of unemployment, the government gets worried. So, when you are talking of 20 per cent, which is understated, then we shouldn’t sleep. And we find a lot of our young people, enrolling in schools and coming out. In fact, youth unemployment should be nearing like 50 per cent. So, I think it’s a big problem.
Now, when you have this massive army of unemployed people, they are basically idle. So, they find solace in organisations and in crime and all that. And I believe that we need to address it, even though I don’t think the issue of IPOB has been handled very well.
At what arm of government do you think the issue has not been properly handled, federal or state?
First of all and like they say, all politics is local. The core of the issue was in Abia State, very close to the Government House and I am not aware that the Abia State government engaged them at any point before it got to the level where the Federal Government came in with Operation Python Dance.
That may have temporarily solved the problem but it created a whole lot of other problems. And if you watched what has happened during the Anambra election, they called for a boycott but eventually they participated. So, I believe that at some point, they will also participate because the reality is that when you boycott, election still goes on and at the end of the day, the wrong choices may be made because a large chunk of the people, who should have participated, did not vote.
In fact, there is an article I wrote once and I talked about people not participating. When you do not participate, you actually participate to elect the wrong person.
So, for me, I would appeal to them to understand really that the direction they want, which is good governance, good leadership, a better future for the young people, good healthcare facilities and all these things they want can be achieved if they participate in the electoral system by voting the right person, the kind of person that has the ideology, that has the vision, that has the strategy to deliver on that until you get to that Promised land, that is, if it is possible.
How do you intend to fund all these brilliant ideas of yours, considering that internally generated revenue from the state is not much and federal allocation is also not enough?
That is my own otumokpo (laughs). You know, I’m a financial person. The first one is that you must transparently use the resources that are available to you. When you look at Anambra State, for instance, they do not receive more money than Abia but they judiciously use those monies.
Part of our problems is that our money is stolen. And because the money is stolen, then it is not available to work for the people. Something comes every month, at least, you need to start with that.
Now, when you start with that, the internally generated revenue will come when you have invested, when there are businesses running….You can’t tax businesses that are dying. It is in your own interest to ensure that businesses work and those businesses are alive so that they can also pay you taxes and rates and all that. Then of course, if need be, you can borrow. Today, they have borrowed so much and they cannot point to what they did with it. They’ve taken so much in terms of bailout funds and the bailout funds have disappeared.
For me, if it becomes necessary to borrow, it will be judiciously used and attached to a project. If I am borrowing for a road you will know there is economic value for that road. That road must also pay back the loan that you used in building it. If I borrowed for water, then that scheme must generate enough water that will pay back the loan.
If I borrowed to build a hospital, which I intend to do, I intend to have specialist hospitals, state-of-the-art specialist hospitals in each of the three senatorial zones. The kind of hospitals that I have in my dream will be the kind of hospitals that you see in the US. I already have started engaging with some doctors from Abia, some partners abroad that will be able to come in, set up a world-class structure. And it is not rocket science. You can do it, ensure you get the right doctors and the right equipment.
Today, Nigeria spends over $1 billion annually for medical tourism. You have to think of targeting 20 per cent of that amount. That is $200 million, because if you have good medical facilities, good doctors and all that, people don’t have any business going to India for medical treatment. So, that is part of my agenda.
Do you have any other thing you may like to add that we may not have touched in the course of the interview?
Well, just to tell our people to get active. Our people have been very docile and a lot of time they have accepted less than what they should be entitled to and it’s important to get everybody on board to ensure that we install good government, particularly in the South-east, as a prelude to development. If we continue the way we are going, one day, we’ll all fail.
And if Abia fails, Imo is at risk; Anambra is at risk, Ebonyi is at risk; Enugu is at risk. So it’s important that we get it right.
People have started getting it right in some other geopolitical zones like the South-west. You can see that Ogun is enjoying the fallout of development from Lagos. You see a lot of companies that are now setting up in Ogun. I think they lowered their tax rates and all that. Now people live in Ogun and work in Lagos.
Sometimes we don’t know we are shooting ourselves in the foot when we make life difficult for those who want to invest money and they cannot invest money because they cannot find their way through.