Former governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi says his relationship with current Governor of the State, Chief Willie Obiano will remain cordial. In this interview with some journalists, Obi said he is Obiano’s guarantor, and will always wish that he performs. He also spoke about life outside office, saying that nothing about him has changed.
Congratulations sir, on the successful conclusion of your two terms as Governor of Anambra State.
While thanking me, I must also thank all those that collaborated and assisted us in all that we did, especially the Press. Without you guys, it would have been difficult for us. I cherish the good relationship I enjoyed with you and I am inclined to say I was very fortunate to have you people in the State.
May we start by congratulating you on Anambra State coming first in WASSCE and NECO examinations in the country…
My attitude to news like this is that the new Governor should actually be congratulated. I have done my own part, he is now in charge. Henceforth, he should take credit for the successes and failures of the State. But our prayer is that Anambra State will never fail again.
Your Excellency, we believe it is right to congratulate you because it was one of the many manifestations of your investment in education. Barley a month in office, the new Governor is even yet to settle down. May we know how you succeeded in turning education around in the State
If you recall, ten years ago, Anambra schools were closed for over a year. At that time, things were really bad. The problems confronting education in the State were legion, from lack of teaching materials to non-payment of teachers’ salaries. When we came on board, we took time to study the factors militating against the progress of the State. At that time, many people accused us of being slow, but I argued that a person taking over the governance of the State ought to, first and foremost, understand the State before embarking on actions. I argued that it was better for a man planning to fell a tree to take time to sharpen his machete and do it in minutes than use a blunt knife and take days to do the job. I went on to say that even if it were a twig that should be felled, the need for a sharpened machete was imperative. All I was emphasising was planning. Having discovered that the State had no Ministry of Planning, I set up one.
In Education, which is your specific question, we returned schools to the original Missionary owners. In doing this, we did not abdicate our responsibilities of paying the salaries of the teachers and providing needed facilities. We followed it up by granting billions of money to them to rehabilitate the schools already ran down by Government. Today, if you visit schools in the State, you will marvel at the level of transformation.
One unique thing we did was to take money directly to the schools rather than go through intermediaries with their accompanying toll gates. Contractors frowned at this, but it achieved the desired results.
We also committed billions of Naira to buying and distributing about 30,000 computers and laptops to schools in the State at various times. We connected the schools to the internet, we bought generators for them, equipped their laboratories, provided them with Microsoft Academies, Sickbays, Libraries, among others.
With what I have said, you would agree with me that Anambra State coming first in 2013 WASSCE was not by accident. In fact, considering the efforts we put in to revive our schools, what we should be talking about is the margin with which we overtook other states.
In saying this, May I say with all humility that a lot still needs to be done by the present Governor. If we scored 67% in WASSCE examination, it means we still have 33% left to be conquered and he is now leading that army of conquerors.
Talking about coming first in WASSCE, may I happily let you know that it has become the same thing in all external examinations. For 2013 NECO organised National Common Entrance Examination, an Anambra indigene came first . I think her name is Agbasi Praise Chinemelum. Anambra as a State also came first among the States in Nigeria. While our cut off was the highest – 159- some states were 2. You can see for yourself that we are on the right path to regeneration.
Sir, after eight years of being the Governor of Anambra State, how would you rate yourself?
I have never rated myself because I believe it will be self-indulgence. Nobody marks his papers after examination. Even in Universities, they invite external examiners now and then. For the sake of objectivity, it is better for others to do the rating.
I recall when some people came from the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic studies on study tour to Anambra State. They asked me to convey people from the State to a particular place for interactive session with them as to know firsthand the peoples’ feeling about our Government. I insisted they should rather go to the markets with me and we did so, without security. I think what they saw marvelled them. The responses from people about activities in the State were most cheering. This is how people are assessed. If I had conveyed people to them, the chances were that it would be party supporters without respect for objectivity.
Why did you place emphasis on education during your tenure?
Though we believe that education is the most viable currency for competition in the world, we did not neglect any other sector. I have often told people the story of the Philosopher Zeno, who, upon seeing an uneducated man sitting on a stone, said “behold a stone sitting on another stone.”
When asked to differentiate between the educated and the uneducated, Aristotle said it was as the differences between the living and the dead. What these people said many years ago is still the truth today. Education is very important but other sectors are equally important.
We fashioned our vision for the State along the Millennium Development Goals. We came up with Anambra Integrated Development Strategy, by which we developed all sectors simultaneously and we did this faithfully. Beyond education, there is no aspect of the State that we did not touch.
In health, we built the first Teaching Hospital for the State, built new hospitals, rehabilitated selected General hospitals. We collaborated with the Church and massively rehabilitated their hospitals – St Charles Borromeo, Onitsha; Holy Rosary, Waterside, Onitsha; Our Lady of Lourdes, Ihiala; Iyienu Hospital, Ogidi; St. Joseph Hospital, Adazi-Nnukwu; Diocesan Hospital, Amichi; among others. We also bought and distributed close to 100 ambulances in 8 years. Some are life saving ambulances that cost close to N30Million Naira apiece. We did this because those hospitals are in the State and offer medical care to the people of the State. We built healthcare centres in all the communities in the State.
By the time we left, Anambra which had no accredited hospital or health institution, had about 14 accredited hospitals and health institutions.
In the area of road construction, today, without fear of contradiction, I can say that Anambra State has the best network of roads in the entire country. We constructed over 800Kms of roads. This was collaborated by the Federal Ministry of Works.
We built roads in places that had none since creation, such as at Umueze-Anam, Nmiata. We built, completed and some on-going, about 30 bridges some of which are Odo, Oghomili, Ebenebe, Agulu lake, Okpuno.
In the area of the environment, we worked on many erosion sites and at the same time kept soliciting external assistance because of the enormity of the problem in our State.
In the area of Commerce and Industry, we worked closely with manufactures. We attracted Fortune 500 companies to Anambra State. Today SABMiller has completed their facility and is expanding. Distell is building theirs, GalxoSmithKlin is building theirs, Niemeth Pharmaceutical Company is building theirs, among others. Go to Harbour Industrial Area of Onitsha and see our own contribution by way of providing infrastructure- roads. We also provided roads as a matter of policy to places where industries are located.
In the area of Agriculture, we have also done a lot. We got the Federal Government to Transfer the giant Omor Rice Mill to us. We are partnering with Rainbow Chicken to come to the State. We secured and distributed loans to farmers.
In the area of provision of public utilities, we did our best. Within our eight years in office, we bought, distributed and installed over 1000 transformers in communities in the State. We took electricity to parts of the State that had none. We are partnering with a foreign company on Independent Power project, for which we had contributed about N250 Million Naira.
There is no area that we did not touch. Beyond the tangibles, we also did a lot. We succeeded in clearing the areas of pension and gratuity owed the State workforce since 1999. We spent over N35 Billion Naira on this. As at the time I left, Anambra State did not owe arrears of pension and gratuity to any category of workers up to December 2013.
Talking about the intangibles, we made value re-orientation part of our policy. Over the years, our people’s values had been bastardized. People now take despicable things for the measure of values. People look up to characters of questionable pedigree as role models. We tried through various ways to change this. We honoured those that really merited to be honoured, the Achebes, Chike Obis, Chimamamdas, those that made first class in universities, among others. This is how it should be. People should be measured in terms of ennobling values and not in terms of how many private jets they were able to acquire, as any fool who came across money by mistake can buy those things.
During your tenure, the Millennium Development Goals was like a compass to you, how did Anambra key into that?
I said it earlier that we modelled our vision after that. For instance, the first goal is the eradication of extreme poverty. In this regard, we did Poverty Mapping and were able to determine the poorest parts of the State. This informed our intervention. Realising that most of those poor areas had the problem of access, we provided them with roads. The first road I flagged-off as Governor on the 1st of May, 2006, was the 43-Kilometre road traversing the entire Anyamelum. With that, we connected them to the rest of the State and their situation changed. Today Ogbaru area that was accessed in hours can be accessed in 15 Minutes. You can ask Prof Ben Nwabueze, he is from Atani, he can confirm this to you.
Your Predecessor recently organise Security Summit. As the immediate past Governor, how would you access security situation in Anambra State?
On the 17th of March, a journalist met me at the Akanu Ibiam Airport and wanted to know the secrets of our relationship with International Development partners. I merely told him to go to the rising sun, His Excellency, Gov. Willie Obiano, as my gubernatorial sun has set. I am no longer the Governor, Obiano is and it is appropriate you go to him for such questions.
Sir we ask the question because during the Summit, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Abubakar Muhammed, advised the new Governor to follow in your footsteps on security, He went….
I also listened to the IG. He did not say you should come to me for questions on security in Anambra State. He merely commended what we did, the over 500 vehicles we purchased for security agencies in Anambra, the cordial working relationship, He linked all of them to the low crime rate in the State. I remember he talked about Anambra State not experiencing any bank robbery in last five years. I think if the same cordiality is maintained, Anambra’s safety is guaranteed. I am particularly happy over the Summit. If nothing, it is early signs that the present Government in the State has security at heart.
Sir, while Nigerians are applauding you for a job well done in the State, some people published in the newspapers that you did not leave behind money and investment of about $86 Billion as you claimed to have left. How would you react to this?
I often say that there must be the lunatic fringe in all reform movements. People told me about the publication, but the only thing is that I refused to read it because they are minor distractions intended to snare the lowly minded. As far as I am concerned, I should not comment on such things.
Sir, pardon our disagreeing with you. It is not about the publishers of the advert, but about clarifying issues to Nigerians.
My brother, on the 8th of March, I called Nigerians from all walks of life and presented what I called my “End of Tenure Report”. I explained where I met Anambra State and where we are leaving her. I made it clear that we did not borrow a dime neither did we issue bond. I mentioned our investments and savings in Banks. For example, I mentioned that we saved $156 Million Dollars through buying local and foreign denominated bonds. The manging Directors of the banks where these monies are, are- Fidelity, Access and Diamond Banks- and they were present. It baffles me that some people would come up to cast doubts on people’s mind just to pull Peter Obi down. All I can say is that what we said we did, the money we said we left and all that were properly documented and certified. With the Freedom of Information Law, one can actually apply to those institutions to know if the money is there.
Let me take this opportunity to clear one misconception, I did not say I left all cash in the banks. I made it clear that some were by way of investment. For example, Anambra State invested money in some of the companies we attracted to the State.
It is important to let you know that we were able to save money in the State because we made a law that Anambra must save the minimum of N100 Million Naira monthly and I obeyed it religiously.
As a Governor, I supported savings by the country. Look, no matter the situation, one must save even if kobo kobo every month for the rainy day. Unfortunately, when one says so, one is reminded by some people that it is already raining here. The irony is that the same people saying this have private savings? When one witnesses the mindset of some of us, one shudders. Many of us are only interested in the next post and not what the future holds for us as a country.
You were noted for financial prudence, some said you were merely stingy, but towards the last days in office, you donated money to many organisations. Was it a strategic move to buy their love?
Those who know me over the years will tell you that I am allergic to money being spent wrongly. It is not about being stingy. Some even have the good sense to call me “araldite” to my face. All I request is that money should be spent properly. Not just money, we have the moral obligation to do things properly. The other day, I was at the airport and a cleaner offered to carry my bag. I refused. I made it clear to her that she was paid to clean the airport and not to carry people’s bag. By carrying bags, she hoped to be given tips, but in the course of doing that, her work suffers. All I do is to insist she should do what she is expected to do. As a former Governor, I was not expected to be sharing the money of the State to people who would not utilise it to add value to the State. I am finically responsible and not stingy.
Talking about donations, I have even seen newspapers used it for cartoons. Immediately I started my second tenure, we entered into collaboration with the Churches. Having returned their schools to them in 2010, we started offering them support in the form of grant. We also supported their health institutions as well as organisations that contribute one way or the other, to the development of Anambra State. It is wrong to call those support “donations”.
I am happy that the effect of what we did has presently led the Federal Government to consider direct support to institutions, the Coordinating Minister for Education, Barr. Nyesom Wike said so when he visited Anambra State and witnessed the generators and computers we distributed to schools in the State. Even the World Bank commissioned a team of experts in education led by Prof. Paul Collier to visit Anambra and study what we were doing. They recommended other States to do the same, having taken the fruits it is yielding into cognisance.
It has become a tradition for past Governor to go to the Senate. Are you nursing such ambition?
I have said it repeatedly that I will not go to the Senate. Those aspiring to go have their reasons much as I have mine.
What of taking up a Ministerial appointment as is widely rumoured?
Let me start by saying it loud and clear that I am not looking for Job. However, I believe that public service remains one of the highest callings because if one is genuine, through it one will serve humanity. Nigeria belongs to all of us and we owe it as a duty to support the President in the task of governance. If I am appointed a Minister or directed by the President to assist in any way possible, even at Local Government level, I will answer the call.
How would you rate the Presidency of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan?
I Pity him.
Is that all?
Each time I remember him, I am reminded of what Niccolo Machiavelli said about introducing a new order. He said that those introducing new orders are never popular, because they will have opposition from those that benefitted from the old order and lukewarm defenders in those not sure of his success. President Jonathan took over this country when she was laying prostrate on the ground. He is making a lot of efforts to revive her.
Today, under Jonathan, our roads are changing. Our Airports have completely changed. He is particularly beholden by my people for making Enugu airport an International Airport and starting the second Niger Bridge. We today witness the commitment towards providing power to the country.
Under Jonathan, we see the rule of law in operation. We now have a democracy properly so called. Today, everybody says what he fancies without anybody harassing him. Today, we no longer link deaths to politics. Jonathan has introduced decency into governance. It is not in the best interest of the country when people criticise him unfairly.
How do you mean? Perhaps he should not be criticised?
If you look at Nigeria today, one is appalled by the quality of the opposition. The aim of opposition is to make the ruling Government awake to her responsibilities and not to pull her down. In Nigeria, most of what passes for opposition are pure ill-will that end up hurting the country and not the President. China is a good example of what parties should be. During electioneering, parties in China are opposition parties, but once elections are over they become supporting parties, offering advice even if in the form of criticisms on how the State would be properly governed. In Nigeria, what we see is parties opposing the most noble of decisions because they want to be seen as the opposition. This is political recklessness and immaturity rather that encouraging political behaviour.
What is the situation in your party APGA? Would it support Jonathan’s bid?
APGA is much more than a party. It is a mass movement. Like all organisations founded by fallible sons of Adam, we had our challenges. At a point I disagreed with the Chairman, but following the judgement of the court, we all came together and forged ahead. There is no doubt that Chief Victor Umeh remains the Chairman of APGA. As for supporting Jonathan’s bid, it is not a decision I would take right now. All I can tell you is that our party will meet and collectively take decision on that.
Let us go off from politics and ask you what life has been outside Government
I am one person who had never missed any post I occupied in the past. Life itself is transient so is everything else. It is those that see only permanence in appointment that are disturbed once they are relinquished of that either through effusion of time or any other means. All I have tried to do is to leave my normal life wherever I found myself such that on leaving I will not miss anything.
When I was the Governor, I did not use sirens, I carried my bags, checked into hotels myself, bought my tickets and did my bookings. I queued like other Nigerians and flew business and economy classes. Now I am no longer the Governor, basically the same life style goes on. There is nothing to miss. I am one person who does not eat as if I would die tomorrow or build edifices as if I will live forever.
Recently, against your principle, you took the title of Okwute and received award from Champion newspaper. Was this change of principle or what?
First of all, let me say that no principle is cast in iron. Events dictate principles at all times. Having said this, let me set the records straight, I have never been against granting honours and dignities to people. All I said was that I would not suffer the epidemic of receiving awards whilst I was the Governor as I believe that genuine honours come when one is out of office. Thus, I had to reject hundreds of awards that came by my way.
Occasionally I received some. However at the end of my tenure, all the Traditional Rulers in Anambra came together and say they would honour me with the title of “Okwute” for my service to the State. I accepted it. I also accepted the honour from Champion, because, coming after my tenure, it was evidently not informed by any consideration. This is my stand.
What is your relationship with your Successor
It is most cordial and will remain so as far as I am concerned. My only interest is in his success and I am happy he has started well. In Igboland, fathers pray that their sons surpass them and that is my prayer for him. If you do not know, I am one of his guarantors and no guarantor wants the object he guaranteed to fail, because the guarantor will be held responsible.
How would you react to the “Rebasing” of the Nigerian GDP?
The problem with Nigeria, again the opposition in Nigeria, is that they do not try to understand issues at stake before commenting on them. A lot of people write on rebasing without even understanding what it meas.
Simply put, the rebasing of our GDP means there were some critical factors that ought to be taken into consideration to get our GDP, which we omitted. In Rebasing, those factors were put into consideration. Many countries of the world did so in the past such as the USA, UK, Australia, Canada. It will help us in turning around of our economy and attract investors to the country.
What is your advice to your successor?
I will only appeal to him to remain focused on the Job. As a Governor, many tendencies would be perambulating around him. Many people will be holed up in different hotels writing one empty proposal or the other. Some will be close to him with the aim to be given an opportunity to loot the treasury. Once he remains focused, he will get it right.