Alex Otti, APGA's Abia State gubernatorial candidate

Former bank CEO and two-time governorship contestant in Abia State, Dr. Alex Otti, OFR, has vowed that the country’s ruling party, the All Progressive Congress will free the state from the bondage of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2023.

Otti who officially declared for the APC on Friday at his Ehi na Uguru Ward 5, Isiala Ngwa South Local government of the state, made the vow in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU.

The technocrat turned politician said he decided to leave the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) under whose platform he ran for governor twice because of its poor leadership.

In your speech on Friday, you noted that you had, by 2014, built APGA into a formidable political party. But between then and now, things have gotten so bad that you have had to leave for the APC. What went wrong?

Well, I try not to dwell on the past. We have come to the end of the road with APGA. A lot of things went wrong. We have documented some of them. We do not believe that as presently structured, APGA will help us in achieving the lofty ideals that we have. But we are not quarrelling with APGA. We still respect the party. We thanked them for providing us with the platform that we used to change the story in Abia State, ensuring that it was not just the PDP. But we will leave it at that. We wish them well, but we have parted ways and it’s for good.

You have now joined the APC. It doesn’t appear that the party is popular in Abia and the East generally. Are you confident that it will provide the platform that APGA couldn’t?

Well, you know that the issue of popularity has to do with people. If people of like minds come together to promote the ideals that the people are looking forward to and send the right message, then popularity will follow. So, maybe before now, people have not come together in APC. But now, I’m not just the only one, a lot of other people are coming. All the people that supported us and worked with us to enthrone APGA as a formidable platform in Abia State are moving with us, a vast majority of them. When you have that kind of number, people will definitely follow. So I’m very confident that with all the people we are coming with and the people we are meeting there, and the whole lot more people that will come, we will together build a formidable party in the state to counter the PDP.

Ultimately, it’s about bettering the lot of Abia State and Abia people. Abia is now an example of how leadership fails. For an outsider who may not know what is wrong with the state, how would you explain the Abia problem?

Well, you also have answered the question. What is the problem of Abia leadership? A few people have formed themselves into a cabal, and they insist on installing those without capacity because what is important to them is not the capacity to transform Abia, but people who will listen to them, do their bidding and serve their selfish interests. The selfish interest of the individuals is the overriding factor in leadership selection and that’s the major problem. So, you find somebody who was warming up to contest for, at the maximum, membership of the state house of assembly, and you ask him to be the governor. He is simply not prepared for the job, irrespective of the education that he has. He hasn’t done that kind of job before; he hasn’t operated at the management level, not to talk of leadership level anywhere. So, you give him a job that is bigger than him and what you get is the kind of failure you see in Abia. But they are not doing it out of ignorance. They are doing it because it serves their selfish interests.

Unfortunately, again, the rest of the people who could talk just keep quiet. So, they have a field day, from one bad leader to another, and the interest of the people are not considered. That’s the major problem in Abia, you can’t give what you don’t have. Until the people rise up and say enough is enough; until the people come together in opposition to say we can take this thing no more; until the people come out and say that the result of elections must be respected, we will continue to wallow in the dark. I think this is one good attempt that we have made now, and there are a lot of people who do not agree with what has been happening in Abia, and they are all coming together in APC as an alternative platform, don’t forget it’s a platform. So, if all of us come together to say No, we are not going to accept the status quo, I believe that the story of Abia will change.

You have been on this quest for a while. And for the people of Abia, they might be wondering, what would you do differently?

I’m sure anybody that would ask that question doesn’t know Abia State. The state is on its knees. It’s at its rudimentary level, so whatever you bring will be an improvement. But of course, we have our goals for Abia and we know how to achieve them. And if you also understand where I am coming from and what I have done in the past, and what I’m capable of doing, then that question will not arise. When you pick infrastructure, there is absolute decay. But it’s not rocket science to fix infrastructure, and it’s not a favour to the people when you fix infrastructure. On the other hand, when you don’t fix infrastructure, investments both local and foreign will take to their heels. And that’s what has happened. There is no major business that operates in Abia State today because you don’t have good roads, you don’t have electricity, you don’t have water and the healthcare system is on its knees. Even the educational system, teachers are not paid, pensioners are not paid, civil servants are being owed. So, the economy has gone south, it’s on tailspin. There is a lot that need to be done. The first thing is to understand that when you have created an enabling environment, you boost your capacity to raise revenue to do other things. If you have been to Aba, you would have seen that it’s a ghost of its old self. When people are relocating to other states that’s also the time that your internally generated revenue is relocating to other states. There is a whole lot to do and we believe that we have the network, the capacity, the training, the contacts and all what it requires to turn the story around. That’s what we are trying to do. But again, it’s not just me, there are a lot of people who believe in what I believe. We will put heads together and ensure that our story becomes a positive story. Anywhere you mention Abia today, people remember the dirtiest state, and it’s not me that said that, you can Google it. You can check the dirtiest states in Nigeria and see what you get. It’s a sad situation. Our people are trying to breathe because they can’t breathe anymore.

It’s going to take a lot to fix the infrastructure in Abia, I mean the many years of decay. And we also know that the economy is bad, oil price is low and states are struggling. How are you going to source funds to do the things you are outlining?

That’s actually the more reason why we need people who understand what to do. This is a critical time. The pandemic has left the global economy floundering and there is no more room for trial and error. When you talk about oil prices, yes, even though it’s recovering now, it is not anywhere near where it was before now. And there is no indication that we will get to that very high prices anytime soon. Beyond the pandemic, the world is moving away from hydrocarbon. Most of Europe, America and some parts of Asia have set deadlines beyond which hydrocarbon powered vehicles cannot be allowed in their countries. That is a major threat. When that happens, some are 2030, some 2035, some 2050, and you didn’t prepare to replace oil, not just Abia, the whole country will be in trouble. I have written extensively about it. This is the time to put on our thinking caps and begin to look at the world without oil, a state without oil. The Michael Okparas of this world, when they led this part of the country, there was no oil. Oil was just coming out, there was no oil boom. But they were able to harness the natural resources that the different states in the Southeast and South South are blessed with, and these resources are still there. If you set up farm settlements, you will be amazed that in Abia, there is hardly any local government that you will go to and you will not find resources that God has blessed them with. But we ignore them because we have oil money. One of the major things to focus on would be how to harness our God-given resources. You will be amazed that even solid minerals are just buried in the ground and nobody is paying attention to them.

I believe it’s a good time for thinking people to come into government and begin to think of alternative ways to generate revenue. Of course, we do not fool ourselves that all the rot that is the lot of Abia State will require money to fix, but just like Rome was not built in a day, we start with the most critical ones that will generate additional revenue to now deal with the rest.

You are a determined person. It’s not everyone who has gone through what you have, that will still have the desire to push ahead. We know what happened in 2015 for instance, when you obviously won the governorship election but was denied. What is your motivation?

If that is complimentary I will say thank you. We believe sincerely that when we start a project, we will not rest until we accomplish it. So, this is the project that we have undertaken, and if you started with the project and you never anticipated that you would have challenges, then you are not realistic. We expected that there are going to be challenges, maybe not as much as we saw, maybe not in the form that we saw them, but of course, there is no project that you undertake that you will not face challenges. So, we were in no doubt that there were going to be challenges, but just like Obafemi Awolowo once said, that his joy is not in his inability to fail, but in his ability to rise any time he fails. I think there is also a former American president that said that success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts. So, for us we have a destination. And our training is such that we don’t stop until we get to our destination because it is more expensive to stop midway.

You mentioned the fact that in APC, you are building a network of people who are unhappy with the situation in Abia. But there are also those who have contributed to the decay in Abia in the APC in the state. You have for instance, those who have governed the state before. Is it not contradictory then?

Well, we are not God. And of course, even God forgives. Our target is not people or individuals. We are not interested in who did what or who didn’t do what. We are interested in what we want to do because, I think it was MKO Abiola that said that you can’t be going forward looking backward. Some people could have performed roles which over time, they would regret. The honorable ones among them would even apologise, because we are human and not perfect. No matter how good you are, when you look back at some of the things you have done in the past, particularly when you were younger, you just laugh over them and say, Oh, if only I had this knowledge or if it were today, I would have done it differently. I don’t know if it happens to you but it happens to me. When I reflect on the things that we have done, even as recently as last year, I would say that if I had this knowledge, I probably would have done it recently. But my concern is not to judge people. If you believe that this state has to be rescued; if you believe that the state has been badly managed, then you can contribute your own quota to what we are doing; the things we are trying to put in place. Passing judgement on people who have been in leadership roles in the past and are now in the platform won’t be my job. It would be very distracting for me to start investigating people and taking decisions on what to do with them, whether I want to talk to them or not talk to them. That’s beyond my call of duty.

In your speech, you paid tribute to people who you worked with in APGA. I noticed that there were obvious omissions, such as the Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano. What could have happened?

The way I will answer that is that I was the one writing the speech and I was the one delivering it. It is those who I want to pay tribute to that I paid tribute to. So, if I didn’t pay tribute to anybody and you felt that the person should be paid tribute to, then you can write your own speech and go and pay tribute to them. But I chose those who I wanted to pay tribute to, and that’s it. Of course, I thanked APGA as a platform, and also thanked the members of APGA. Somewhere along the line, everybody who worked with me or supported me, will fall in. But I just singled out about five individuals. Of course, there were a whole lot more people that supported us that we couldn’t have mentioned their names. But I felt that in the order of importance, and contribution to what we had done in 2015 particularly, also 2019, that there were special people that I needed to pay tribute to.

Are those people joining you in your new platform?

I mentioned the people that are joining me, and I said clearly that some of the people I paid tribute to may not even be on the same side with me within the APGA platform. So, if they were not, then it follows that they are not joining me. But of course, I must be honest enough to recognise those who made contributions, irrespective of whether they are with me now or not.