Dr Alex Otti, an accomplished banker and the standard bearer of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), is a frontrunner jn the Abia governorship race. Recently, he fielded questions from newsmen in his Library Road Campaign Office in Umauhia. He broached on issues concerning the dual governorship candidacy of APGA in Abia, allegations by the state government that he denied Abia credit facilities for development projects as Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank and as well as running violence-prone prone campaigns. He also used the forum to speak on his plans for Abia if he wins the April 11 guber poll and vowed not to be cowed by government into abandoning his guber chase. Boniface Okoro was at the forum.
Okoro: “When you joined the governorship race, you anchored in the PDP. What made you to leave the party for APGA?”
Otti: “As a party, I don’t think there is anything wrong with PDP. But a lot of times, you find things wrong with people, not institutions. Unfortunately, it also people that make up these institutions. This same government that you have here today frustrated internal democracy in PDP. On November 4, 2014, there was supposed to be state congresses in PDP. The government refused to allow congresses to hold. They sat down in Government House and wrote the names of all the local governments’ three-man delegates
In our place, it is only a tree that you will give a warning that you are coming to cut it tomorrow and when you show up tomorrow, the thing will still be standing there, looking at you. So, when it was clear that the party was not going to allow free and fair internal primaries, it was time for me to leave and look elsewhere. Am sure that if you engage other aspirants, if they would be honest with you, a lot of them are not happy about the conduct of the primaries and I am sure that many Abians even know more than us about how these things happened. But again, that is now even history, so I don’t even want to go into it but it just because you asked. We have moved on and so I should be addressing APGA. I saw there was internal democracy in APGA, even in the contest of the primary elections for me. The candidate that was standing against me had indicated that he was leaving APGA to run under PPA. But the party insisted that to the extent that he has not submitted his resignation letter, that they must conduct primaries that will include him and even though he did not show up, they included him in the primary. That is to show you the quality of individuals in APGA.”
Okoro: “But it appears that all is not well with APGA in Abia as you and Ochiagha Regan Ufomba have embarked on campaigns as governorship candidates of the party. What is your take on this?”
Otti: “I am sure Abia people know the facts of the matter. INEC has published the list of candidates and if you go to INEC, they will show you the list and under APGA, you will see that the candidate is Dr Alex Otti (OFR) with the Deputy Governorship candidate as Mrs Uche Eme Uche. I think that is most authentic. If you decide to now go and campaign that you are APGA candidate, I shouldn’t waste my time chasing you because I will be dissipating my energy that I should use to talk to the electorate. It could be a distractive tendency, somebody could be hired to do that.
There is a saying in Igboland that when you go to take a bath , a madman comes to take your cloth any run away, the natural tendency is for you to start pursuing him and when people see you, they will say look at two madmen running. So, the best thing to do is to let the madman run with your cloth and then you arrange for another cloth to wear so that people could not mistake you to be a madman. So, that could be the way I would respond to that.
We are very busy people right now and we are going about canvassing for votes and campaigning because we believe that under this dispensation that votes will count. So, we didn’t consider it necessary to begin to get ourselves distracted by somebody who is going about campaigning and calling himself a candidate.
There is also a letter from INEC to the individual concerned, informing him and his partners that INEC does not recognise them and INEC does not recognise factionalisation in any party. I think that settles that.”
Okoro: “We would like to know if there are suits challenging your candidacy.”
Otti: “Talking about court cases, yes, there can be a million and one court cases, that is why we have lawyers. We have lawyers who are facing court cases. Anybody can go to court and sue me today. I shouldn’t stop that. All I need do is to put a lawyer to the matter and ensure that it is being handled. I don’t see it that there is any serious or genuine court case right now against my candidature or against any of the candidates in APGA. But then, I cannot rule out the possibility of somebody going to court to, even as we speak, to file a case but we are not afraid of court cases because we also have lawyers who must be engaged at this time.”
Okoro: “There seem to be growing concerns over constant “clashes” between the ruling party, the PDP and your campaign organisation and there is this apprehension that you may be frustrated out of the race.”
Otti: “The good news is that we are in a democracy. There is an Igbo adage which says that the rat does not eat something that belongs to a man who is awake. We are aware that PDP is doing everything possible to frustrate people and to rig the 2015 election and it is our responsibility to stop them from rigging. It is our responsibilities to call the authorities -the INEC, the security agencies – to ensure that rigging doesn’t happen and we can’t be intimidated into abandoning this cause. We cannot, because, if you go round Abia State, you find that everybody wants change becuase PDP has ruined Abia state and that change must happen and that is why we came out, and that is why we are calling the attention of everybody.
If some of these their evil manipulations were not uncovered, then it may be easy for them to go out there and rig, but we already have uncovered a lot of them and we want to bring this to the public domain for people to know what they are planning. By the grace of God, I can convince you that they will not succeed.”
Okoro: “Given the scenario in the state, would you say that Abia PDP is afraid of Alex Otti and APGA?”
Otti: “I don’t know if the Abia PDP is afraid of me but there are ways you behave and people will begin to read meanings into your behaviour. Members of the public are in the best position to assess what is happening in the state. Being a key participant, it is very unlikely that I will be unbiased. But one thing I do know is that we are carrying out sensitisation campaigns and we are all over the place. We have gone through the nooks and crannies of the state, we have met people and we know what their responses are and if these responses are anything to go by, people believe our story and people have also voiced out that they need change in the state and I think this is the right time for the change to happen. So if PDP has been in governance for the past 16 years and people need change, then it follows necessarily that they party that has to be changed is PDP. So, by mere fact of that, then somebody needs to be worried. Some of the actions of the party in the state in the recent past also point to desperation. Am sure you have read sponsored articles and advertorials in the papers where people are accusing me of all sorts of things. Some of them, I responded, some of them, I just ignored. But when people begin to behave in such manners, then the only reason that you can adduce for it is that those people are worried and concerned.”
Okoro: “When you speak of change, is it just changing the political party in power? What kind of change is the opposition advocating?”
Otti: “Well, if you live in this state, you don’t need to be told that things have gone so bad in the state. There has been inept governance, bad governance of this state. The infrastructure in the state has completely decayed. From Ukwa East all the way through Ukwa West to Arochukwu, there are no good roads. You probably find one or two, but most of the roads are in different states of disrepair. Pipe-borne water is history, nobody remembers it any more. The whole place is littered with rubbish. Am sure you are aware of the complaints of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Railways Corporation about the six-metre long heaps of refuse that has made it impossible for trains to move from Enugu to Port Harcourt and it is in Aba area.
The schools are in terrible shapes. Hospitals, particularly General Hospitals, are in different states of disrepair. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the state and people don’t want that that should continue and that is what the change is about. Now the only way you will continue to have what you are having is that you like what you have. People don’t like what they have now in Abia. So, if you live in this state and you want to be honest, you will agree. Even PDP itself agrees that this state needs to change. Now, how we approach it, I am not too sure that we are agreed but when you want change, it has to be complete, it has to be radical, particularly when you are in the kind of state that we are.
So when I am talking about change, yes, changing the party is good but they may be cosmetic. You need to look beyond the party. Look at the individuals, the kind of individuals the parties parade, their pedigree, their track record, the kind of training and experience that they have, what they have done in the past. So, when you juxtapose that against what you require them to do in government, then it becomes very clear that the only direction that that change is going to come from is the group that you have today as APGA candidates that are running for the elections.”
Okoro: “Following allegations by the opposition that government was denying them access to public facilities, how are you coping with your campaigns?”
Otti: “We are non-violent people and we have done everything possible to ensure that we don’t have violence. So, even in instances where we have made the requisite payments and we have been assured we will have the facilities to use, when they are cancelled, we look for alternatives.
We were going to hold a concert in a public facility that all arrangements have been made and 24 hours before the event, it was cancelled. So, one of our members had to get someone who has land somewhere along the road in Umuahia and we cleared the place and in 24 hours we were able to make the place look like where people love to come. We don’t want violence because what we are bringing to the state is peace; we want people to love being citizens of the state. So we avoided confrontation. It is not that we couldn’t have lodged complaints but we just thought that there was no need, we don’t want to escalate the problem here. So, we have been managing. That is what happens when people, even though we talk about democracy, don’t understand what it means because democracy means that people should be free. But I think we have, in this state, tolerated so much of impunity and people have gotten used to it and that has not been helped by the docility of the people also. People hardly talk here, when things go wrong, everybody keeps quiet. it is the first liberation that we will create so that people can express themselves in a democracy. Things like that should not be done but that is the story for another day.”
Okoro: “The State government recently accused you of frustrating development of the state by using your position as Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank to deny Abia loans that would have been deployed to building some projects, especially the Aba Mega Mall and the Spaar shop in Umuahia.”
Otti: “I read that report. I cannot remember any such happening. But you see, it is not even the important thing. The important thing is that the person that made the comment should have also in the spirit of transparency told his listeners how much facilities I approved as Managing Director of Diamond Bank for Abia State, for completeness. It could have been nice for the person that made that comment to also say how much he owes Diamond Bank at the moment. It is also important for that same person to say clearly how the servicing of the facility is going because it is not for me to start talking about that because I am a professional, there is something about confidentiality and ethics of my profession. But I can tell you if somebody came to ask for facility when I was sitting as chief Executive Officer, if I said no, it was within my competence to say it. They are a whole lot of reasons why you can say no. If you have N10 in the bank and you have drawn your N10 and you come tomorrow to say, ‘oh!, I have a new project’ and I had looked at your capacity to repay and I believe that you shouldn’t have N10 as loan and that if I give you N10, you may not be able to repay, as a trained banker, I should tell you that you do not need this money or you do not have capacity to pay it back because one important thing about borrowing is that there is a day of reckoning, a day you will pay. It is easy to borrow but then when there is a knock on your door and it is time to pay and if you don’t have the capacity to pay, the loan has become bad debt. I think it was sheer propaganda and I think it was coming from quarters it shouldn’t be coming from because as a banker who has been your banker for several years, I could open my mouth and I could talk but I choose not to respond to that because I saw that it was a very lazy complaint from people who didn’t have anything to say because if they had anything to say, they would have been saying it but I am not under any compulsion or obligation to lend to every customer.
If you brought a project and it was viable, people who know me and my track record will tell you that I will always go for viable projects.
But maybe the other thing to do, because there was also a rider that somebody else gave them the money, so they should also publish how the loan is doing.It is important that they avail the public the opportunity to know, if I said no to the facility, and somebody else gave it, how is it doing? Those are important information.”
Okoro: “Aba is a problem and no government has been able to fix it. So what is your blue print for Aba?”
Otti: “I have my blueprint for Aba. I will not agree with you that preceding governments have been unable to deal with Aba, after all somebody created Aba in the 1920s and somebody built Aba ‘even in our own very before’ Mbakwe transformed Aba. So it is about vision. If you are visionless, then you really cannot achieve any success; it is not just Aba. How is Umuahia? As far as I am concerned, Umuahia is a glorified village. I have a lot of work to do in Umuahia to transform it into a state capital. Some of you come from Umuahia. When you get into the town, you will know that Umuahia has not changed from what it used to be. So we need to do a lot of work. There is no where that considerable work has been done, not just Aba. But Aba is pathetic and Aba is so important because it is actually the economic and industrial hub of the South. So, any government that ignores Aba, ignores Aba at its own peril and also at the peril of its Internally Generated Revenue. That is true.
Aba is also important because as a young man growing up in Aba, I remeber the kind of employment Aba used to generate and I believe that if we do the right thing, given the creativity and ingenuity of the Aba people that we can reclaim that town, we can get back the over 50, 000 shoe makers that existed in Aba back to work. If we fix the roads, pipe-borne water, the electricity, the drainage and if we clean up the town and move it out from the refuse dump that it is today to a very clean environment, a lot of people who have taken flight from Aba will come back. I have a lot of friends who will never leave Aba in those days because they saw that that was the best town to live. But today, they have all taken flight, they don’t live in Aba any more. Big houses are empty. You have a house you want to sell and nobody wants to buy, property value has gone down drastically. So, there is a whole lot that we can do. Employment is very key. If you can generate a lot of employment in this state, a lot of the fears we have about people who have become kidnappers, armed robbers, wayo people, agberos and all that, most of them just need jobs they will occupy, they can fend for their families, if they can guarantee three square meals for themselves and their families, they don’t have any business in crime. The best ammunition to fight crime is to give the people jobs, not to release bullets on them.
So, it is such an important town. Now, if you must understand, you need to invest before you now begin to reap and that is my own strategy. I will invest massively in Aba and I will do everything possible to get support from international donor agencies, even from Nigerians. There are a lot of people who can bring back their businesses once you have done the right thing and we have seen it happen.”
Okoro: “During the governorship debate organised by the Catholic Church at Mater Dei Cathedral, Umuahia, you promised to create a ministry specifically for Aba. We want you to expatiate on that.”
Otti: “It is an administrative construct. What that means is that I am going to pay a lot of attention to Aba. Aba is as important as to have a ministry manned by a commissioner who will sleep, eat, dream, wake up Aba. Everything will be Aba. So Aba will sufficiently engage that ministry, so that all the things that I have lined up, you will have somebody who will not be distracted by other government jobs and functions. So, he wakes up and is concentrating on Aba. So, when I said all the roads have to be paved, I have somebody I have to hold responsible, just for Aba. When I say I need all homes to have water, that person knows that it is his office, when I say that the roads to Ariaria Market should be done and the place should be opened up, when I say that I want all the garbage and rubbish in Aba to be cleared, when I want the drainage to work in such a way that if there is a drop of rain, everything empties into the waterside, the person knows what I am talking about. When I say that I want overhead bridges in places like Ogbor Hill, Ngwa High School and Port Harcourt Road, the person knows that I am going to be holding him responsible for delivery of those projects.”
Okoro: “Many governments have been unable to fix Aba because it is alleged that many houses are built on drainage channels which cause flooding whenever it rains. So, are you going to pull down these buildings?”
Otti: “Before I tell you what I will do with the so-called buildings that are on drainage routes, I want to be sure it is true. I don’t think it is true. First of all, before you build, you must get an approval. Aba is an urban area. So the question to ask is which government agency gave approval for those buildings to be cited at drainages. But the reality is that if you know Aba, you will know that those are lame excuses the people are giving. Aba has much more fundamental problems than those excuses they are giving. How about, at least, Port Harcourt Road, that is one major road that I don’t know that anybody will come and build his house at the centre of the road. So, why weren’t that done. So, I think they are excuses. You can always find excuses to explain away what you didn’t do right.
So, I won’t go into whether I will bring down buildings. If any building has to be brought down for any purpose, adequate compensation will be paid. It has been done everywhere in the world. So, this would not be an exception. So, if you decide that for overriding public interest that a road bas to go past this building, there is a way it is done. You come and assess the building, assess everything and pay the owner adequate compensation and give him enough time to relocate and then you can bring it down. It is done and it is not a big deal, I think it is just excuses.”
Okoro: “You spoke of the refuse littering the commercial city of Aba; how do you intend to handle refuse management in Aba?”
Otti: “In my manifesto, you will find that this thrash that we are talking about, refuse, is wealth in some cases. Today, there are generators, there also power plants, there turbines that are powered by methane which is got from recycling of refuse. It has been done in a whole lot of other places. But you need to know that such a thing exists before you are able to do it. A lot of our leaders don’t even know that such things exist, so how can they do it. I am not worried by the refuse in Aba, we will collect them and we will use them and turn them into wealth.”
Okoro: “What is your blueprint in the areas of security, health and agriculture?”
Otti: “Security is key and it is part of the 12 items in my manifesto. I will continue to improve on security as the Chief Security Officier of the state. But I may do things a bit differently. I talked about tackling the problem from its roots. You know, you can deal with symptoms rather than dealing with the real cause of the problem.
I talked about unemployment, the converse is employment. When you generate employment for the youth in the state, the number of them that are available to do things that are not respectable would be very small. That is what I believe. I have tried it elsewhere and I believe that it works. So, one major solution to the security problem is to ensure that people are properly engaged.
Of course you will also have to ensure that you strengthen the security forces so that they can do their job. But the reality is that the fewer the number of people they have to chase around, the better.
When you talk of healthcare delivery, I have a comprehensive health care programme and my medical health care delivery is going to reverse what we call medical tourism today where a lot of our people who can afford flight tickets take off to India whenever they have health crises. The reason why they go to India is because India has fixed their health care delivery system and today, even though some of them have questionable services, but there are a lot of them in India that are good – Appolo Hospital and the rest of them.
If good services are relatively cheap, I mean when you look at countries in Europe and America. So, it is somebody that took that decision. What I said in my blueprint is that I was going to set up a state-of-the-art modern medical facilities in each of the three senatorial zones, that is one in each zone and as time goes on, we will replicate them in each local government. They are going to be very well equipped. We are going to attract a lot of our doctors who are abroad today and even others because we are going to ensure that compensation package is competitive and we are going to ensure that there is security and the quality of life in Abia State will be high enough for people to want to live here.
And what you will see is that once you have good facilities and you have competent doctors, you will see that people will rather come to Abia State than go to India and it will be cheaper for them.
The final point about food is very key and you know that 70 per cent of our people are involved in agriculture but the truth also is that larger percentage of this 70 per cent is involved in subsistence farming. So, we want to move farming from the subsistent level to mechanised level to ensure that farming does not just become a hobby, of course, if want to do farming as a hobby, you are welcome to do that, but farming becomes a business and it has been shown elsewhere that people can train their children with income from their farms, people can afford decent housing, cars and everything that they require to lead a very respectable life. So, you will be proud to be a farmer.
And it is government that gives support to farmers everywhere in the world, including America. You will be amazed that even as we speak, in the US that farmers, particularly wheat farmers enjoy subsidy. I don’t have problem with subsidy once you are subsidising production rather than consumption. So when wheat prices go down, government buys up wheat and store them just to ensure that people’s standard of living donot go down, it is the responsibility of government. Most of our farmers today cannot afford storage facilities, so it has to be centrally planned, they can’t also afford processing plants assuming you want to add value to the primary product. Let’s say cocoa for instance, you want to process cocoa from cocoa beans to cocoa butter, to chocolate and all that, it can be done. But what we do is to export cocoa and export jobs because if you add value, you create jobs. So I am very interested in every and anything that we can do to create jobs. So we have a reward programme for the three identified needs. I dare say that there are a whole lot more than the three but I think stomach infrastructure is key.”
by Boniface Okoro, Umuahia