Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) in the November 6 governorship election in Anambra state, speaks with journalists on his plans for the state if elected, challenges ahead and how he hopes to surmount them. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI brings the excerpts:
Many people believe that you are popular and you have what it takes to be the governor of a state, but with ZLP, what structure will you use to win the November 6 election, especially considering the time constraints before the poll?
You are right because you need the political structure to win an election. The essence of structure is about servicing them. We are relying on what we built as personal structures. The Zenith Labour party may not have all their cells right now, but we can populate the entire structure in 48 hours. As we speak today, my team is having an audit of the party in the state. We controlled 80 per cent of PDP structure. And I told you that nobody has left our structure. Zenith Labour Party is the latest talk in town and I am happy about it.
Are you hoping that the crises in other parties would work to your advantage?
The winner of this election will be determined by the personality and antecedents of individual and then the stability of your own ticket. If you are the best candidate and you are in a good party with a large number of litigations, you know what it means. I know that the people wanted us and what we need to do is just to remind them that it is no more about party anymore but the individual candidate.
It might interest you to know that there is an organisation called Save Anambra Group, which was set up by a good number of politicians in the state who are unhappy with what has become the outcome of the primaries in various political parties. They are also desirous of having a consensus candidate and I happen to be their choice. We are inheriting about five other political parties. We are moving with a lot of people and we have chosen our deputy, Mrs. Balonwu. With that, we think we should be able to get votes from the North because she is quite acceptable.
Where do you think Anambra is and where do you want to take it to?
Since the advent of this Fourth Republic in 2019, Anambra has not fared well. I can tell you that Ebonyi and Enugu have progressed more than Anambra. We are strong individually but as a state, we have not benefitted anything from this democracy because of the people who have governed. We have looked at all these problems and we understood them and we have developed a 10-point agenda to deal with all aspects of problems in Anambra State. Obviously, it is not a rhetoric. There is nothing in that 10-point agenda that I am not doing as an individual. If you talk about human capital development, I am there; if you talk about value reorientation, I am there.
The biggest problem that we have in Anambra State is that we have abandoned our virtues. You need huge infrastructure development in Anambra State and this must come from huge bulk funds. Those bulk funds we have access to. We can access up to $10 billion into Anambra and the entire South East will benefit economically. If the funds are prudently used, the multiplier effects will show in four years. We have looked at it, that a typical Anambra person does not need too much but that “can do” spirit in them has been dampened. You need a leader who would tell them look at me, I was born in this place; I grew up where you are; this is what I have become because I did it this way. I do that in my own community and I have seen the change and the difference it has made.
Education is key. Now, you have our kids sent overseas to study but by the time they are due back, if they do not get a job in Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or NNPC, they do not have the interest to come back here. Those are great talents we are missing. When I look at those little kids on the streets who are addicted to tramadol and all that, I see Olympic champions; I see the likes of Kanu Nwankwo, Okocha and so on. They are in the street because the leadership has not given them good direction. Are you aware that Anambra did not send any contingent to National Sports Festival? That was because they could not fund it. So, where do you develop those sports talents?
Look, if somebody would want to trek through the desert in his desire to get to Spain for better life, if he sees a better opportunity, he would be more productive. These are people who are determined to succeed. Give them the right environment, they would not go out. The apprenticeship system has collapsed. Most big names from Anambra you see were, at one time or another, in Onitsha main market. I grew up in Onitsha main market, going to assist my father in business. It was a place to learn the nitty-gritty of doing business. Today, the deteriorating nature of that place makes me sad. I have instituted a research at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University for the study of Igbo Apprenticeship Scheme. That is the biggest venture capital in the whole world where you do not have to be the son of a millionaire to be a billionaire. All you need to know is to be of good behavior.
We have programmes that would take Anambra many notches high. It is because of government’s failure in Anambra that our people are running across the Niger to develop Asaba. If previous Anambra governments did well, businessmen in Onitsha, who have gone to Asaba to live, would be in our state. Thirty years after, Anambra is in bad shape. Most states created with it have gone far ahead. We would change the narrative if elected to office.
You have among the 10-point agenda something on diaspora. What is it about?
The Diaspora population in Anambra is very active. Do you know that in last year records, the Diaspora transmission was more than the revenue from oil and 60 per cent of it could be from Anambra State? With a well planned relationship, we will channel all that to that place. That is why we are planning to have a special Ministry for Diaspora Affairs. We need to engage our people wherever they are. Those people who are in China, we do not have to ask them to come back. We will encourage them to set up things in Anambra. The world is a global village. I will just set up a liaison office in China and direct them.
What is your plan for the local government areas?
We believe that governance should be from bottom up. The local government system is very critical. Most of the developments we knew growing up were done through the community. Today, communities in Anambra still build tarred roads. They still build schools and handover to governments. I built one in my own community, but I did not handover to the government so that it would not be mismanaged. I handed over to Catholic Reverend Sisters because I trust them more. They are managing it very well. When we come in, we are going to do local government elections as soon as the budget and time permit. We are not going to be counting on local government money to survive; we need to generate income.
You have chains of businesses and people see you as a very busy person. Also leading Anambra is a tough job. How are you going to manage your businesses and leading a strategic state like Anambra?
That is a good question, but also in that question, there is an answer because if I have been successful in managing businesses, that means I have been exposed to managing business at the highest levels. So, I would say that I am taking the experience of managing successful businesses into governance. This is because one of the gains we will have is for those with private sector experience coming into governance. Anambra people individually are very successful. Thank God that today as a good administrator and manager of people and resources, my businesses are set up in a way that they can run independently with or without me. I can go to Anambra for two or three weeks and my officers in the airline would not even call me. I only call when I want to ask what is happening. So, if you have not been able to set up a business of that nature, you cannot be competent to run a government. My businesses are structured to run on their own. That is the experience I am bringing into governance.