Former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State in this encounter with Saturday Vanguard speaks on his legacy, life after governance, APGA and says he pities President Jonathan....
How has life been outside government?
I am one person who had never missed any post I occupied in the past. Life itself is transient and so is everything else. It is those that see only permanence in appointment that are disturbed once they are relinquished of that either through efflusion of time or any other means. All I have tried to do is to live 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 that 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 would live forever.
Recently, against your principle, you took the title of Okwute and received award from Champion newspaper. Was this a 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 said 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.
How would you rate yourself as governor?
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 they marvelled at what the saw. 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.
Some people published in the newspapers that you did not leave the money and investment of about $86 Billion as you claimed. 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 inanities.
Pardon our disagreeing with you. It is not about the publishers of the advert, but about clarifying issues to Nigerians.
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 Managing Directors of the banks where these money are- Fidelity, Access and Diamond Banks- 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 are 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 a 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 a 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, “stinginess” some say, but towards the last days in office, you donated money to many organisations. Was it a strategic move …?
(cuts in) 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 financially responsible and not stingy.
Talking about donations, I have even seen newspapers used it for cartoon. 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 supports “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 governors 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 as 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 it is 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.
Are you saying 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 keep 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 ends 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.
Your successor recently organised a Security Summit. As the immediate past governor, how would you access security situation in the 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, 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.
We asked 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 five last 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 have security at heart.
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 mee t and collectively take decision on that.
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.