Dr. Alex Otti, a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC), is a grassroots politician in Abia State. The former governorship candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in both 2015 and 2019 elections is an economist and banker who served as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the then Diamond Bank before joining partisan politics. In this interview with Associate Editor, SAM EGBURONU, he spoke about the politics of Abia State, APC prospects in the Southeast state and other issues. Excerpts
You have contested the governorship election in Abia State twice, so it would be right to say you understand the politics of the state. May you explain some of the unique things you have observed in the politics of Abia? Why is the state’s politics the way it is?
I will not say there is anything so unique about the politics of Abia State. Of course, we know that every state is different and the people are different in a way. You are right, I have contested for the governorship seat twice and I have come to understand a few things about Abia State politics. One of the most unfortunate things is that a lot of our people are a bit politically naive and will need to be educated about their rights and what they can do. The people will need to understand that power belongs to them. I think it also has to do with the degree of poverty in the state which made people susceptible to all sorts of manipulations. People are hungry and when they are given money, they behave in strange ways sometimes. We need to let the people understand that every society gets the kind of leadership it deserves. The other unfortunate thing is that many of the elites have not shown much interest in what is happening in the state. A few of them that have shown interest have done it in a half-hazard manner. In my previous discussions, I called on the elite in the state to begin to show interest in what is going on in the state. A few of them that participate are also compromised. Some of them yield to what we called the “blood tonic” theory; a situation where some people receive stipends from government functionaries without realising that by collecting such stipends, their silence is being bought. So, you find a situation where things go wrong; a situation where salaries and pensions are not paid and those who should speak out don’t; those who should cry out don’t cry out. I think this is the time for all of us to show interest. All of us should be interested in what is happening in Abia. This is the time for all of us to show interest in the leadership of the state. I think it was Charles de Gaulle that said politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians alone. We should not allow the so-called professional politicians to dominate the space. We must realise that a businessman who says he is not interested in politics would be affected by the decisions taken by the politicians. A professional who chooses to be apolitical may have his profession wiped out by a simple stroke of the pen of the politician. So, my message is that people should get interested and should participate; even if it is not at a partisan level, people should be involved. People should have a say in how their states are being governed.
What you just said has shed light on why the elite in Abia State have remained relatively quiet in spite of glaring evidence of poor governance. But since ‘blood tonic theory’ is not limited to Abia, why has it worked so well in silencing Abia leaders, or are there other things we do not know of?
The first thing is interest. If you are not interested, you are not interested. I agree that the blood tonic theory I told you about may exist in other states but I think it exists in such a dangerous dimension in Abia. It exists in such a way that there are people paid monthly to keep quiet. I am sure you heard some of the revelations recently made by the former Commissioner of Finance, Obinna Oriaku, on how monies are allegedly shared in Abia State. In such circumstances, the first thing that happens is that the government will not have enough resources to work for the people. Another thing is that the functionaries sharing these resources must take their own share, which of course must be the Lion share. It is natural. So, I do not think that the degree with which this theory is happening in Abia State is the same as in other states. It is very unfortunate. It goes down to vote buying during elections, where people are given N1000 or N500 to vote for a particular party. What the beneficiaries of such exercises forget is that if you are induced to vote for a party or candidate with N2000, it means you are worth N500 every year for the four year tenure of that government. And once your vote is bought, you have been settled; you lose your moral right to speak. So, it is very unfortunate that this has been happening.
When you joined All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and became the governorship candidate in both 2015 and 2019 elections, the party came alive in Abia State. Naturally, Ndigbo have passion for APGA, especially when they are told APGA is their own. Considering the passion of the people vis-à-vis the announced governorship election results, would it be correct to say the people failed to defend their votes?
It may not be very correct to say that people did not defend their votes. In 2015, people worked very hard to defend their votes all the way to the State collation centre. What happened at that time was that the then governor, with a retinue of PDP stalwarts stormed the State collection centre where results were being put together and insisted that the Returning Officer should admit fake results from basically two local government areas, Obingwa and Osisioma. Before then, we were leading with a very wide margin, close to 75,000 votes. The Returning Officer accepted, under force, to admit those fake results, which he had earlier cancelled. So, it will not be correct to say that the people did not defend their votes. They did. What they could not resist was a sitting governor and the PDP stalwarts aided by gun toting security men that brought the fake results and forced them to be accepted.
In the 2019 election, in most places, elections didn’t take place. They just wrote fictitious figures having compromised INEC in the state. But like I always said, we have put all those events behind us; we have moved forward; we have learnt the lessons and we believe that in the future we will do better.
Now, talking about APGA; yes, we agree that APGA was passionately loved by Ndigbo but unfortunately things have gone in the opposite direction and a lot of our people felt that the trust they had in APGA had been betrayed and that is part of the reason I left. I personally stayed back because I hoped things would change, especially by the leadership but unfortunately the leadership of the party had its mind made up on the direction it wanted to go. I personally still believe that that was not the right direction for the party. The great chances we had in Abia and Imo were all frittered away. Today, the APGA you see in Imo and Abia states are not the same APGA we had in 2019. If APGA had managed itself well, we would have won both Abia and Imo states in the 2019 elections. But for reasons which I still find difficult to understand, the party chose to organise sham primaries. There are still a lot of cases that have been filed at the EFCC about people who were allegedly extorted. We thought that a political party that wanted to survive and do well would have addressed cases of extortion seriously. Again, all these are now history. I have moved; I am now in APC.
Yes, you have moved, but now that you are no longer in APGA, is it not time you say something concrete about the leadership that betrayed your trust? We hear stories from afar. What really went wrong in APGA?
Your question is valid but I always believe in moving forward. I think it was the late MKO Abiola, may God bless his soul, who said that you cannot be moving forward and looking backwards. I have moved forward and cannot be looking backwards. But one thing that I want to say is that a situation where a party has been turned into a Ponzi scheme where people are defrauded and the leadership picks interest in betraying trust for pecuniary reasons; I cannot be found there. I have said time and time again that it is unfortunate where we found ourselves. So, it would be foolhardy for me to start telling the story of APGA when I have left. I wish them well but there is an election that is coming up in Anambra State soon; I am worried about what will happen in that election except something drastic happens with the leadership of the party.
That is the point; during the 2021 governorship election in Anambra State, APGA will still campaign with its slogan, Nkaa bu nkayi (This is our own). Is APGA really our own or is this claim just a deceit?
It is very unfortunate. But I think those who are going to run the elections there will be the ones that would have the responsibility of explaining things to the people and the electorate. They are the ones that have the duty of making explanations. I am not one of the people running elections in Anambra State.
But in Abia State, where I come from; I explained things to my people and fortunately, they listened to me. A few days ago, the entire party structure; from the State Working Committee; the state exco; the 17 local government chairmen and their exco; the 184 ward chairmen and their exco and many former party members, all defected from APGA and joined me in APC. So, I believe I have done my own job in Abia State of explaining to my people. Of course, they were all witnesses to what happened. If I had listened to them earlier, maybe, I would have left even before the 2019 elections. A lot of them came to say that the party had been sold; that moles had been planted in the party; that monies were exchanging hands and that it was a futile effort to remain in the party. But I thought that it was not time to leave because, for instance, out of the 24 House of Assembly seats contested for, we had close to 60 aspirants. Most of them joined the party because of our modest efforts and because of what we did in 2015. We had close to 20 aspirants for the eight House of Representatives seats for Abia and several senatorial aspirants also. All these people were looking at me and so I didn’t see why I should jump ship in the middle of the contest. You don’t relocate from your house because some armed robbers showed up. That was why I told them we should stay and take our leave at the right time. I think this is the right time.
Now you are in APC; one can say that many visible and popular politicians are now in Abia APC, especially from Abia North Senatorial District. Is this the trend also in all the other senatorial districts in Abia?
Sure! It is not only in Abia North that APC has attracted prominent and popular politicians in Abia State. That is happening in all the three senatorial districts in the state. Without mentioning names, the party has influential politicians from Abia Central; Ikwuano, Umuahia South, Osisioma, Isiala Ngwa North and South and a lot of People from Abia South; politicians of high repute. But it is still early days. Many more will join. We still have some time. There is no election coming up in Abia soon. I think this is the time to make our people understand the truth. The fact is that over the years, our people have been deceptively made to think that PDP is the party for us. That is propaganda. The truth is that all politics is local. Since 1999 PDP has been in power in Abia State; where has that left Abia? We have only made progress backwards. The truth must be told, PDP has short-changed Abia State. So, this is the time for us to look for an alternative. For now, there is only one alternative for Abia and that is the APC. We need to understand that APC and PDP are both national political parties, not owned by any single individual. There could be leaders who, of course, will change from time to time. There are some people who were leaders in each of the political parties before and today, they are no more the leaders. New leaders keep emerging every day. For example in APC, the national leadership of the party just changed recently, with the emergence of the National Caretaker Committee and I believe that very soon a new National Working Committee would be elected. It is therefore propaganda to deceive people by alleging that one party is for one part of the country and the other party is for another part of the country. I believe that with more credible people joining APC in the state, the party can only grow stronger. Quite frankly, except those who are benefitting from the rot that is Abia State governance; except those who are part and parcel of the bad governance that we have been witnessing in Abia State, every other person should be on our side. There should be no sitting on the fence. If you want to sit on the fence, you are siding with the oppressor. My plea is that everybody who does not like the retrogression in Abia State; everybody who does not like the fact that teachers in the state are being owed salaries for several months; everybody who does not like the fact that pensioners are dying because they do not have food to eat; anybody who does not like the fact that our hospitals and the schools our children go to are in decrepit state, should stand up and be counted against what we have in Abia State. We cannot afford to continue to sit on the fence. We cannot continue to pretend that all is well. All is not well.
Judging from your passion, it seems correct to assume that come 2023, you will still contest for the governorship election in the state. Although I read your blueprint during the 2015 and 2019 electioneering campaigns, may I ask that if you eventually contest and win the governorship election in Abia, what are the major things you will do immediately to save Abia State?
Frankly speaking, 2023 is still a long time from now. It would not be proper to begin to pontificate about what will happen in 2023 except if you are God. I am focused on good leadership; good governance. That is what I have stood for since I joined politics and I will continue to stand by it; whether I am contesting or I am not contesting; whether I am a candidate or I am not a candidate; my voice must be heard and some of the things I have condemned; I will continue to condemn them, irrespective of whether it is one party that is in power or another party. I am happy you have read my blueprint. My blueprint is available even on the internet for anybody to read.
I do not think the problem in Abia is lack of good ideas. No. But if you are a good captain, you will look for good assistants to support you because nobody knows it all. I am an economist, so I cannot claim to be a medical practitioner or a medical expert; neither can I claim to be an engineer. So, when I have an engineering issue, it would be wise to look for an expert in that field and I should be humble enough to listen to him because he is the expert in the field. So, when you assemble good and knowledgeable people, not Motor Park touts and clowns, like it happens in some states, including Abia, the results will show. Your performance is a function of the quality of the people you have around you. If you choose to have poor quality assistants, associates or advisers, it will show in your output. The first thing is to ensure that you have people who know what they are doing; who can advise you properly and you should also have a little bit of knowledge to understand when you are being advised properly.