The All Progressive Grand Alliance governorship candidate in Abia State, Dr. Alex Otti, tells Emeka Obi in this interview that indigenes hide their state of origin because of poor governance
As a professional with decades of experience in the banking sector, what informed your decision to leave your comfort zone to dabble into the murky waters of politics?
This is a question that I get asked a lot of times. If you have been in Abia State for a while, you will understand how bad things have become. When you look at the infrastructure, particularly our roads, they are in a deplorable state. All the roads in Abia have collapsed, except for a few ones.
If you go to Aba, we are on the verge of losing the city completely. Look at other infrastructure, what you see is decay. Pipe borne water is non-existent. When you look at health care delivery, it is also in a state of maybe, near collapse. General hospitals are in terrible shape. I commissioned a study and the results I got, particularly from some hospitals in Ukwa West and a couple of other places, show they are all in terrible shape.
All these are occasioned by bad governance that has been on for a very long time. Yes, my comfort zone is the banking industry, but the reality is that if I remain in the banking industry and loses my state, I am not sure that I will look at myself as having been successful. I always tell the people that I have not seen where you make omelette without breaking eggs. I think it was Edmund Burke that commented that the only condition by which evil will triumph over good is for good men to do nothing. Plato, the philosopher did say that if smart and intelligent people, in other words, if people who know keep away from politics, then, they take away their right to complain when fools begin to rule them.
Some people have said that you are using the All Progressives Grand Alliance platform as a second option, having failed to get the support of the incumbent governor to clinch the Peoples Democratic Party governorship ticket. What informed your choice of APGA?
I was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party and my initial decision was to run on the platform of the party. But you see when I saw on November 30, 2014, that internal democracy was absent in the party, I felt it was time for me to leave. That day was the day set aside for ward congresses. Abia State has 154 wards. The governor refused to allow election in any of the 154 wards. Rather, what he did was to compile a list of his nominees as the three-man delegates per ward. For those of us who could see through his actions, it was clear that those delegates of his were the ones that were going to vote at the primaries and there was no way that the primaries would produce candidates other than the ones favoured by the governor.
APGA is a very acceptable party that has its roots in the South- East. It is a party which manifesto agrees with my views about society and I thought it was a veritable ground for me to realise the ambition of coming to salvage the state.
Speaking of internal party democracy, there have been allegations that you actually bought your way through the APGA governorship ticket. Did you emerge through a democratic process in APGA?
People will always say what they like. I bought no ticket because there was no need to buy one. Even before I declared my intention to run under PDP, APGA chieftains had made overtures at me. I am sure you must have heard the national chairman of APGA speak about it. He at some point enlisted the support of the governor of Anambra State to convince me to run on the platform of APGA. I remember the governor calling me sometime when I was in Houston, Texas, appealing to me and I had to tell him that I had already made up my mind to run under the platform of PDP. So, there is no truth in the allegation that I bought ticket.
The governor of Abia State once had a short stint with APGA and part of his reasons for leaving APGA was that the party did not have a national spread. If you emerge as the governor, are you willing to stay put in APGA?
I wouldn’t know why the governor left APGA the time he did, but I do know that he was first in PDP and then he went to Progressive People Alliance. He left PPA for APGA; I think he didn’t spend more than 24 hours in APGA before he went back to PDP. So, the issue of not having a national spread could not have just been realised at the time he joined APGA or at the time he was leaving.
Rome was not built in a day and I strongly believe that it is people that make institutions. APGA may not have a national spread now, but don’t forget that PDP started one day. Before 1998, I am not too sure that any of us knew anything about PDP. The All Progressives Congress also started not too long ago. So, if you have credible people, they can make credible institutions. I think we have started well in Abia, I believe that when we come into government, we will make the party stronger. For me, I have no doubt that I will continue to contribute my quota to make APGA stronger.
There has been this consensus among political elite that power should be shifted to the Ngwa political bloc. Some people have also argued that you are not a true son of Ngwaland. How do you react to this?
I don’t know what a true son of Ngwaland means. And who is a true son of Ngwaland?
The argument is that your father hailed from Arochukwu and settled at Ngwaland. So, the issue is about you being a settler or an indigene.
There hasn’t been any doubt as to where my ancestors came from. They came from Arochukwu, but the question to ask you is, if your ancestor came from a particular location, does that make you an untrue son of a locality? Okay, so it’s something for you to think about.
Let me take you back to history. If you understand Ngwa very well, several years ago, there was nobody here in the whole of Ngwaland. I will refer you to the works of Prof. Oriji, he is an Ngwa son. You will discover from his works that 80 per cent of Ngwa is inhabited by people from Imo State that came from Mba-ise, about 10 per cent came from Akwa-Ibom State; five per cent came from Arochukwu and I think the other five per cent came from other different places to settle here. So, those people that settled here eventually became the Ngwa people. My great grand-parents were part of those settlers. So, it was not my father that settled here. My father never visited Arochukwu for one day. He was born in Ngwa; he grew up in Ngwa, died here and was buried here. My grandfather was also buried here, so it was my great grandfather called Otti Otti that migrated with others.
If you go towards Aba, you will see a place called Aro-Ngwa. Everybody there is a settler, just like everybody here and everybody elsewhere. So, we are all settlers. I always tell people that if we begin to trace where everybody comes from, nobody will even be an Igbo man. We will all end up in the Garden of Eden, that’s where we all started the journey from.
You have gone round the nooks and crannies of the state campaigning, what has been your message to the people of this state?
My message is hope; that the Egyptians they see today, that they will see them no more. That we are going to change this state for good. That we have come to salvage the state and that we are a people who have demonstrated pedigree, people who have done things in the past, people who have put food on the table for others, people who have generated wealth for others, rather than redistributing poverty.
Banking on your experience in the corporate world, what do you intend to do differently if you get into office as governor of Abia State?
A lot! I am going to do everything differently. First of all, I have a vision which I have documented. I am going to create wealth in the state, I am going to emancipate people from mental slavery and restore the dignity of man in Abia State. Some of our people are not comfortable claiming that they are from Abia because of how bad things have gone. I am going to make sure that people are well empowered. I also intend to revamp all the ailing industries. Virtually all the businesses and industries we have in the state have collapsed. If you go to Aba, there was a factory road, I believe the name has not changed, what has changed is the landscape. When we were growing up, we had Aba Textile Mill, we had Lever Brothers, and we had PZ, Nigerian Breweries. If you move further up, you will see the International Equitable Association, you will see the International Glass Industry, the metallurgical plant. Come towards Owerrinta, Star Paper mill, you go to Umuahia, Golden Guinea Breweries, modern ceramics industries and a whole lot of others. I don’t know where all these companies have gone to, but the reason is obvious; we have had successive governments that had made the state uncompetitive. And anytime you make your state uncompetitive, businesses develop wings and fly away. One of my directors in our campaign organisations relocated his business several years ago to Lagos State. As he relocated that business, he relocated 3,000 jobs. So, those are some of the things that we have done to ourselves by having killed the economy.
We are bringing in a government that knows how to fix the economy and encourage businesses to develop so that we can get our youths employed. Education is another aspect that I am passionate about; we intend to introduce free education up to a certain level, we intend to rebuild our schools, we intend to equip them properly, we intend to get good teachers, train them properly and pay them well.
We intend to have three state-of-the-art hospitals; we intend to reverse medical tourism. Today, a lot of our people head towards India. The president of the Nigeria Medical Association said about two years ago that Nigerians spend almost N75bn annually on medical tourism to India, America and some parts of Europe. Just imagine if we can take half of that out. Because a lot of people going to India don’t even want to go to India, they just want good medical care. So if we are able to get the required facilities, laboratories, drugs, medical personnel and every other thing here, people will head here instead of going over there and a lot of people, who would have died on the way, wouldn’t have died.
Are you satisfied with the level of preparations by the electoral umpire so far?
Good question. I am always very positive. I am positive about the Independent National Electoral Commission’s level of preparedness. It can never be perfect. There are still complains about the card readers, but I believe that the commission would have blocked all the loopholes before the next election. I am also confident that the security agencies are going to do their best by ensuring the safety of the people.