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Alex Otti: Long road to the rescue mandate

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June salaries: Elated Abia civil servants praise Otti for keeping promise

BY EMEKA EJERE

Had he not been robbed of his mandate in 2015, Dr. Alex Otti, governor-elect of Abia State, would have been getting ready to handover power on May 29, 2023. But God works in mysterious ways.

Eight years after his mandate was stolen in broad daylight by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government in the state, the former bank chief, persistent, determined and undeterred, has finally fulfilled his destiny, and will for the next four years, pilot the affairs of God’s Own State; a state yearning for real governance, and which he is prepared, perhaps more than anyone else, to deliver.

But it did not come easy. In 2015, it was Obingwa local government results that was inflated to deny him victory, and this time, the PDP in the state returned to its old playbook. Once it was obvious that Otti was headed for victory, the party rushed and mindlessly inflated the Obingwa results, hoping to use it to overturn the nearly 94,000 margin of lead after 16 local government results were collated.

However, this time around, it took the state INEC returning officer, Professor Nnenna Oti who stood her ground and insisted that the travesty would not stand. Eventually, the INEC BVAS also came into play and ultimately, Otti won convincingly, securing 175, 467 votes to defeat his closest rival, Okey Ahiwe of the PDP who scored 88,529 votes.

The emergence of Otti, an eminent economist and banker, as the governor-elect of Abia State, after 12 years of persistent push, may be the beginning of the good governance that has eluded the state since the return of democracy in 1999.

There is probably no better person to place such a deprived state on the map of prosperity than a man, with a track record of growing organizations to enviable heights, and proffering quality solutions to the myriads of Nigeria’s problems.

With the country now struggling to avert another recession, Dr. Otti will certainly not be a happy man. He knows that the nation would have been saved from the woods of the present moment were the policymakers willing to listen to the voice of reason.

At different fora and in different platforms, Mr. Otti has never minced words in his case for a more efficient management of the nation’s limited resources, enhancement of productivity and diversification of the economy away from oil as ways of becoming competitive at the international arena.

He has constantly drawn attention to the danger the badly structured nature of the economy portends for the country. One area that has continued to worry him most is the fact that the nation seems to be stuck in a situation of perennially dedicating over 70 per cent of her budget to recurrent expenditure while less than 30 per cent is allocated to capital expenditure.

While the argument over expenditure mix raged, the revenue debate also assumed centre stage, with the financial guru actively involved. Nigeria has overtime only been able to achieve about half of the revenue targets of her annual budgets, available records have shown. Otti believes that in situations where the budgets make provisions for deficits like has been the case in the last six years, it simply means that the realisable revenues are less than 40 per cent of the targets in real terms.

For him, since the total revenue for any specific period is finite, expenditure should be made subject to revenue. In other words, as revenue expands, expenditure can be allowed to increase in accordance with Parkinson’s law, which states that ‘expenditure will always rise to meet income’.

He had thrown more light to the issue in an interview with Business Hallmark a couple of years ago: “When you are only able to make 50 percent of the revenue, whether you print money there are costs to it. It means that the 30 per cent that you allocated to capital expenditure, then you are only able to manage less than 15 percent.”

This, he opined, was a big problem that needed urgent attention to save Nigeria from a grave financial problem from 2020.

“Then we have a big problem, in fact, if we do not do something about it, then we will have real financial crisis from 2020. Everyone, who understands economics will have to put on their thinking cap and see how we can bring down the cost.”

His audience at the time and members of Business Hallmark interview panel may see the economic quagmire of the country today, which has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, as a fulfillment of a prophecy. But Otti, a man of numbers, with the skill of putting figures together and calling the future correctly, may not see it as so

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Of course, he should know. With a first-class degree in Economics that saw him emerging the overall best graduating student and valedictorian of the University of Port Harcourt in 1988, professional trainings from some of the world best institutions of learning, including Harvard Business School, Otti can conveniently be described as an encyclopedia of Economics and Finance.

As a banker he rose through the ranks to the top of his career before opting to follow his passion and “abiding desire to contribute more directly to the overall economic and political transformation of his beloved Abia State in 2014.”

But that was not until he had, within four years, taken the now defunct Diamond Bank from a little above a fringe player in the fiercely competitive Nigerian banking landscape to one of the best positioned in the country by all indicators, even with significant presence on the continent and beyond,

Passion for rescue

One would have thought that a man with such a tested competence will not face stiff opposition in his quest to deploy his wealth of experience in transforming his home state in the capacity of governor.

Abia, a state that prides itself as God’s Own state, has ironically become a commonly cited example of a grossly mis-governed state. And as far as Otti is concerned, this narrative must be changed and the people rescued from an age-long bondage, hence his decision to join politics in 2014 ahead of the 2015 elections.

As expected, it did not take much time for him to win the support of the masses, who easily saw in him the willingness to do things differently. They went ahead and said so through their ballots. But the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and subsequently the court decreed otherwise.

But knowing that the road to his destination would not be smooth, Otti has continued to keep hope alive. Facing a sitting governor that was out to throw money around and a ruling party with the federal might, in 2019 elections proved even more trying for him. He placed third.

Otti did not still give up. Instead he officially declared for the All Progressives Congress (APC), with a vow to free the state from the bondage of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2023. He said he decided to leave the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) under whose platform he ran for governor twice because of its poor leadership. Of course, thousands of his then APGA loyalists joined him.

Similar circumstances prompted his dumping of the APC for the Labour Party (LP), and his eventual clinching of the party’s governorship ticket, polling a total number of 454 votes to emerge unopposed.

In his acceptance speech, Otti said he was prepared to move Abia from an era of bad governance to an era of prosperity. He assured his supporters that victory was assured for the party in the forthcoming general election while soliciting their support for the party to achieve the feats.

He said, “You have started a movement which no cabal can stop. We are the party the majority of people who deserves good leadership in the state are looking for.

“The symbol of our party is human beings. I, therefore, urge you to join me as we work hard to win the 2023 governorship election and make life easier for our people. If elected I will donate my salary for humanitarian purposes.

“We shall move in with courage to upset the backlog of unpaid salaries, stop insecurity, bad roads and poor health care delivery because we have all taken to make a difference.”

This is the time to match words with action. All eyes are on the governor-elect. Perhaps, his first 100 days in office will tell whether or not he has come to change the narrative.

 

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