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Peter Obi is … annoyingly stingy, his frugality is legendary – Prof ABC Nwosu

  • PDP should not field ‘tolo tolo’ for Anambra 2021 Governorship election

Professor A.B.C Nwosu, First Class Commonwealth Scholar and academic, joined the political arena with his appointment in 1986 as Commissioner for Health in old Anambra State. He served four military administrations in that capacity including  the new Anambra State. At the return to democracy in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him first as his Political Adviser and later as Minister of Health. Professor Nwosu spoke to Global UpFront Newspapers (GUN). Excerpts:

As a major stakeholder in Anambra State, is the State where it is supposed to be today and what is the way forward?

I am very emotionally attached to Anambra State because I was one of the pioneer Commissioners in old Anambra State. When the new Anambra State was created, those of us from the new State had to come back to become the pioneers. There was no point appointing new people since we had about three or four months left to serve and the Governor then, Commodore Joe Abulu, chose to be kind to me and I was his very good special friend.

I know that we came down immediately to start building a dream State and I know I played a role in persuading transporters from my hometown Nnewi, Ekene Dili Chukwu, Eekeson, Izuchukwu, and other transporters from Anambra State like Young Shall Grow so that they would help in lifting civil servants who were living in Enugu and now had to work in Awka at special rates and taking them back.

They did it for free for two weeks and started charging ten per cent of the actual cost.

You could see the spirit of our people because there was nothing. We were the new State. Enugu State is not new as it inherited the old Anambra State infrastructure in the capital. I had to make my office as Commission of Health, new Anambra State at Amaku General Hospital which was built by the Awka community. And we had to start building a place for the House of Assembly who would be at the Enugu-Ukwu town hall. And we relocated to the Lodigiani Nigeria Limited road camp where incidentally the Government House still stays till today. Lodigiani built the road from Awka to Onitsha.

In the spirit, we were offered Zik’s Government House in Enugu to live as the Governor’s befitting house so he would go down to Awka every day and come back. He asked what I thought and I said we cannot govern a people from outside the State. We started looking for a place and I remembered a Sunday, we woke up Honourable Justice Uyanna of blessed memory. That was how the home of the administrative Judge for Awka, who later became Chief Justice Uyanna became the Government House and it is still the Government House till date.

We allowed him (Justice Uyanna) to move away with all his furniture. The Governor said he could not deprive him of his house and furniture. Where to sleep became a problem. We had to buy mattresses. Commodore Joe Abulu and some of us he chose to stay with him, slept on the floor in those mattresses in order to govern Anambra.

We immediately decided to capitalise on the spirit of the people to launch Anambra State Development Fund in the spirit of Governor Emeka Omeruah for old Anambra State, which I had also the privilege of serving continuously. We also launched the Anambra State Education and Technology (ANSET) fund. Professor Chinua Achebe gave that acronym, to bring the people in a composite spirit and we launched the Anambra State Development Fund.

You can see the spirit with which the new Anambra State was accepted and moved with wisdom. The State Hospital Management Board was at Enugu-Ukwu General Hospital. The people didn’t mind. There was no Psychiatric hospital.

The spirit was high. We were expecting to build a Centre for Adaptation for Technology at Awka. We had ordered the foundries, both metallic and non-metallic foundries. But I believe that subsequent governments handed it over to the federal government and nobody has heard anything again about it.

We were thinking of building our own Silicon Valley. We had very lofty dreams. So, I feel very sentimental about Anambra State and am happy it has now been renamed from Home for All to Light of the Nation.

With this sentiment, are you fulfilled with the level of governance in the State?

Anambra has had a checkered history in terms of governance. In 1999, the Appeal Panel of PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), before the elections, changed my name and it was handed over to Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju. I didn’t mind. It was an Appeal Panel. My views were not heard in taking this decision. It was on a petition and because Dr Alex Ekwueme came from my State, I didn’t think I had to make a mountain out of it because Dr Ekwueme was still contesting for President. From there, Chinwoke Mbadinuju became the only Governor of the PDP that was not allowed a second tenure as children didn’t go to school and people who had to take School Certificate exams did so from other States. That did not go down well with the dreams of Silicone Valley and excellence in education.

When we came to Dr Chris Ngige, Chris Ubah will tell you that I refused to be recalled back even in the election. How can I ask to be the Governor? I could not be running against Ngige except I am one of those who says this and turns back and say another thing.

Peter Obi was alright in everything and was ready to work. So, why should I, an older man, enter a masquerade when a younger man who can dance better, except it is to discredit him.

PDP brought Ngige and Ngige sprang a surprise in infrastructure. With all the problems he had, he was not bad. He came a long way. But the person who pushed the dream to where we were going was Peter Obi. He came and did the one thing that we would have done before, handing over schools to the Missions with money to run them. And Anambra State, within a space of one or two years, came from the bottom to the top. For me that is how governance should be measured.

It was terrific. It was the dream of the founders of Anambra. Peter Obi started this but where Peter Obi excelled also was in prudent management of the lean resources. But Peter Obi, being a businessman, made sure the resources were there and made sure that he didn’t borrow. He also saved a lot of money especially foreign exchange and got us to invest in new things like the brewery at Onitsha.

Where I would have differed is that I am not a realist, much like Peter Obi. I am more of a dreamer. I would have bought the Machine tools and Centre on Adaptation of Technology, coupling engineering which our people excel in. You will get a machine to use their work, you pieces it and reproduce it. That’s why Innosson, who didn’t go through secondary education, can produce cars of the highest quality.

If Anambra people make tiles or marbles for you, you can’t get it better. Before Peter Obi left, I had convinced him to make me chairman of Anambra Education Board. He agreed. We would have got 210 persons who have Masters degrees and above from the different Local Government Areas and we will send them to some of the best institutions in China, Japan, Germany, United States and Britain. If you fail you will come back, we will do a repeat so that we can be leaders of tomorrow’s technology and creativity.

We still need a dreamer who would look at that dream and not go away from that dream because of the cost. If you have to give your people the skills they require that are not available locally, you have to pay foreign exchange to India to learn software engineering, or to America to learn cutting edge technology; Britain for anthropology from Cambridge, etc. That 210, by now, they would have been out. It is also part of the dream that anybody who must teach in the university in Anambra State must not only have a doctorate degree from a reputable university, but should also have something they have accomplished.

Yes, I am a dreamer. I accomplished guinea worm eradication. My PhD is from University of London. I attended Imperial College Science and Technology from University of London. But that’s not my major achievement. It was my prayers to God when I came back to Nigeria that the people sentenced every year for punishment and imprisonment of guinea worm disease become a thing of the past. Not that it was globally, but Nigeria became guinea worm free and I don’t think anyone in good conscience can mention guinea worm eradication without my name.

So, back to Anambra State, I am very pleased at the infrastructure revolution that Chris Ngige began. I am especially proud of Peter Obi for this humility in high places, frugal management and building up of resources especially opening up of education to the highest level and for laying the foundations for industrial development and investment of Anambra’s resources.

Peter Obi’s frugality and ability to manage resource is legendary. Some say he is annoyingly stingy. I would not have matched him in frugality but I would have beaten him in dreaming and actualising the dreams. We need someone who will close his eyes and imagine a smart city that we can build this, have a Silicon Valley. Our people can never match others in farming, but give them computers and software, they will develop softwares and crafts that will become worldwide. We can’t do all these machine tools without all these things, these plastics that we throw away. You recycle them and all you need is appropriate modes.

My town Nnewi, at some point, were producing most of the items used by Peugeot Automobiles in Kaduna. It pains me that factories like Ibeto Industries are not working now and Ibeto, who was famous for his batteries that were outlasting those that we were importing. He is now selling cement. Awka is known for blacksmiths and there’s a saying that the Buckingham Palace gate had some Awka smiths involved. One of the most important statue of the Queen of England is by late Ben Enweonwu from Onitsha.

In the past seven years, we have a Governor but you hardly mentioned what he has done

I don’t know the present Governor. I don’t feel him. How can I comment on what I don’t know, don’t feel, don’t see. It would be unfair for me to give comments on him. Of course, Peter Obi introduced him to me when he was trying for him to be Governor. But he had been Governor for seven years. Fashola was Governor. I didn’t see him in person but I knew him. I could pass by the Lekki bridge.

I was in class four when Nigeria gained independence in 1960. Am not a young man. Why should I not praise a young person if that person has done well?  Do I belong to same political party? If we have elections tomorrow, I will not be found anywhere near Chris Ngige. But you are asking me about what he did and he did well. If I give him good, I will give Peter Obi excellent.

I did not think that Dr Mbadinuju was a Governor, let alone a good Governor. I was not in competition with him. The day he was sworn in as Governor was the day I was made Political Adviser to the President. He knows that before I was made Minister, President Obasanjo called him and asked him to nominate me as Minister from his State. And me and Mbadinuju were as friendly as ever and he had no problem at all nominating me as Minister.

That strike and the fact that we were not able to settle down to do a job and use his power to do a job. He didn’t face worst problems than Ngige faced. He wasn’t kidnapped. But his inability to use that power for the common good completely ruined him. But if you ask him, you will know that I regard him as a friend and he regards me as a friend. His being Governor and my not being Governor has not affected in any manner, the trajectory in which I have travelled.

Peter Obi will stand out. You will notice his disarming humility, his simple dressing, his watch not gold. Before he became Governor, he was one of the richest young Igbo men. If you look at the carriage of all the Governors in the State, there is a way a Governor carries on in public. I am not sure how much money we still have from his (Obi’s) savings. When Peter Obi was Governor, you scarcely knew his wife. Those are personal things but they infringe on governance. My wife jokes that she never entered my office while I was Federal Minister of Health. We have married for 48 years with ten grand children and she still says this.

As a major stakeholder, are you satisfied with those you have indicated interest to govern Anambra State in next year’s election? Which of them is going to give excellent performance?

I am a member of the Board of Trustees of PDP. Am one of the founders of PDP and I want the next Governor of Anambra State to come from PDP. We know why Anambra State went to APGA (All Progressive Grand Alliance). That reason does not exist anymore. I would never be part of humiliating Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu in any manner in the past. The best I could do for PDP was not to do anything in favour of APGA and not to do anything against Ojukwu.

APGA does not exist in any State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria except in Anambra. There is no trace of APGA in Enugu, Ebonyi. There was a trace of APGA in Abia because of Alex Oti. Imo had APGA but Rochas Okorocha used it to make his entry into the APC. So, in terms of philosophy, the founder and father figure which no Igbo man could go against no longer exists. And that father figure who imposed someone as his last desire, that person has seized everything he has done, examined APGA in the context of contemporary Nigerian politics and joined the PDP and quickly because of his personal characteristics, reached the Vice Presidential candidate.

If it hasn’t been that the Supreme Court upheld the result of the 2019 Presidential election, he would have been the Vice President of the country under PDP. Yet, that was the man around whom APGA revolved around. So, what are we monkeying around APGA in Anambra State for? Call a meeting of APC Governors Forum. They will be 19 because they are the majority. Call a meeting of PDP Governors Forum and they will be 16. You call a meeting of APGA Governors Forum. There is no one except one. So, it cannot be plural.

If the APC’s Governors Forum decides to meet the President over some problem, they have a greater chance of being heard than if you went alone. If you have PDP’s Governor Forum, they have a chance of being heard and if you don’t hear them, they can create a credible threat. APGA creates no threat let alone credible threat to anybody. APGA just minds himself. Whatever falls down from the crumbs, he picks and goes out spending the money that has been accumulated before.

Even if the South East States have been APGA just like in the South West was AD before, they have each had a rail line all over. We wouldn’t have been talking about Lagos to Ibadan alone, but Lagos to Enugu, Onitsha, Benin, etc. So, anybody who does not see the next Governor from PDP is not a friend of Anambra people because APGA is losers politics.

The entire Igbo nation has shown from the inception of APC that they don’t like the spirit of APC. And the philosophy is simple. When somebody doesn’t not like you, you don’t like that person back. When a party decides to form a government and decides nobody from your area is good enough to be in the National Security Council of the federation, not one, he is already telling you he doesn’t like you. And he told you five per cent. The friendlier thing you can do is, you don’t like me, I don’t like you too. It is a draw. Do what you like, that is why I said the choice of party is PDP.

When PDP had the chance at the national level in the last elections, it took the Vice Presidential candidate to Anambra State. People said there was a quarrel. Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia, Imo State wanted. But Lagos didn’t want. They knew they didn’t stand a chance. Until something fundamental happens in APC, people like me will remain in PDP and will continue to regard the APC as a party that dislikes people of my stock.

PDP wants to win this 2021 Anambra Governorship election. PDP that has two PDP senators out of three, six House of Representatives members out of 11 and has always failed in producing a Governor in the past because we had this father figure called Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu which no Igbo man could insult either in life it in death. That was the reason we will let him have his Governor but Peter Obi came and used his personal disarming characteristics to hold onto power, even when the other ones were there. So, it shouldn’t be so difficult.

But PDP should not take a ‘tolo tolo’ to run for Governorship especially when we all suspect that APGA is trying to bring a former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria who is as sharp as razor. PDP should start looking for such quality and not bring a ‘tolo tolo’ to compete. PDP has people like that who are capable of winning the election.

In 2017 Governorship elections, PDP begged you to help the party win. A lot transpired then. What happened?

A lot of people have wondered how and why a Minister descended to become Caretaker Committee of Anambra PDP and another Minister served as my Secretary, Mrs. Josephine Anenih, because we wanted to put order. Before I came, there were at least four factions of the party. And by the time we went for the elections, we had one faction which produced a credible candidate that have a resume that could fit into any job in Nigeria.

He had worked for the United Nations, had been Secretary to the State Government. He didn’t have much money because I don’t really like people who have too much money as if money is the criterion to become something; just the village fool who will not be accepted in the town hall meeting because he has money. He wants to be Governor. That candidate emerged and I have no regrets at all in whatever role I played for Dr Oseloka Obazee to emerge. Any day, he is a fit and proper person to be Governor.

There was a gang up against, not Obaze, but against a particular individual. In the same manner, people worked against Dr Oseloka who is also a good man and who had as his running mate, the daughter of the founder of PDP in Nigeria. The gang up was against Peter Obi. People felt that having been a good Governor, he was allowed to bring Chief Willie Obiano. Everybody in Anambra knows that Mr. Peter Obi brought Chief Willie Obiano.  

People said why must he bring somebody and Peter wasn’t smart enough in my view, to realise that these people also had their point. And he was trying to give the impression even though I know that he was trying to do something for the PDP. Obaze was there but Peter was to reinforce his position in the PDP by delivering a PDP Governor.

There were deep misunderstandings and Anambra has far too many millionaires and billionaires and once they think one millionaire or billionaire is trying to show he is invisible, they gang up so he doesn’t succeed. And that was what happened. In this particular case, the Board of Trustees, we have taken a decision. We will not come shouting and clapping for any candidate. We will make sure we had a free and fair election and whomever wins we shall all support him and we will not allow a gang up.

What is your position on zoning in Anambra State?

PDP is interested in winning the coming Governorship election. It’s the primary objective of ABC Nwosu. We have been in the storm for too long. So, zoning for me is secondary. The primary thing is who can win. If who can win comes from any zone in Anambra, it shows the capability that they can win, I ABC Nwosu as a member of Board of Trustees will support the candidate that will win. I will not support a candidate because he comes from a particular zone. This is important because I come from Nnewi and Nnewi is the centre for the South, the place being looked at.

It is after you have won especially from an incumbent, especially at this tough candidate that you can use that power of incumbency to correct zoning if zoning has been a problem. When we contested in 1999, there were 10 candidates from the three zones. Thereafter, people contested from the various zones. Peter Obi used the power of incumbency to get it, with Ojukwu helping him. But Ojukwu was not there at the election that pushed it to the North. But the North has had it now for eight years. If Mbadinuju had managed his four years well, the South would also have had it for four years. Yet, it won’t obviate the fact that it is the turn of the South. But you have to get something first, hold it in your hands and begin to think how to share it, to make sure you are fair.

Of what purpose will it serve us if we get a candidate that will not win from any zone? If we say it is this zone that will produce and this zone produces and we do everything and that person doesn’t win because he doesn’t come near to the other candidate, what will you do? I don’t want to be caught in that kind of argument as a member of Board of Trustees of PDP because it transcends Anambra State PDP. It is Board of Trustees of PDP Nigeria. What is important is the next Governor being sworn in should be the candidate of the PDP. Like what I said in 2018, if PDP loses the Governorship election next year, I will resign from politics and from public service.

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