Anamero Dekeri, a well-established businessman and philanthropist spoke to Nume Ekeghe on his desire to change the fortune of his people which has inspired his political ambition
How would you assess Gov. Godwin Obaseki’s performance?
Obaseki is a friend. I simply did what a true friend ought to have done. When you see a true friend embarking on a worthy cause, you are duty-bound to key into the venture and support in the best way you can. That was how I became part of the campaign project.
On his performance so far, I think I will say he has done well. I see Obaseki as Edo State’s hidden treasure and I am happy that he is running the affairs of the state diligently. We have witnessed a tremendous revolution in almost all strata. You would have noticed his diligent approach to the industrialisation of the state as he strives to attract investments into the state. We will continue to see more of what has been done already because he is one person that gives the wellbeing of the people a priority in everything he does.
The man is a technocrat whose economic ideology is driven by long-term vision. When Obaseki talks about Edo, he does so with passion. I am close to him enough to know his worldview; he is not a greedy person. The interest of our people and the future generation is paramount in his thinking and developmental agenda. He is committed to building on the foundation laid by his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, to prepare the state for enduring economic growth and development.
Has he gotten the priorities right?
You would recall that when he came into power, the first major project he embarked upon was the resuscitation of the Benin Technical College. What is that meant to achieve? He wants our children to be equipped with vocational and technical skills required to drive the industrialisation agenda of the government. The governor wants the next generation of leaders to be immersed in the task of building on the foundation that has been laid.
One of the first places the governor visited was Okpella. He was there to assess the moribund fertilizer plant, which is key to the agricultural development of the state. Today, the fertilizer plant is undergoing reconstruction. He also visited the fertilizer company in Auchi, took inventory of progress of work at the company. Few months after, the company was unveiled by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo who commended his industrialisation drive and commitment to continuing the industrialisation programmes of Oshiomhole. The fertilizer company in Auchi alone has created 500 direct jobs; more employment opportunities will be created through the economic activities the company will generate. The second phase of Edo Cement plant in Okpella was also commissioned by the Vice President. Also, last December, Rongsheng Glass Nigeria Limited in Benin was unveiled. This is one of the fruits of the administration’s efforts to attract investments to the state. There is also the N200 billion Benin Industrial Park and many other investments.
The governor is determined to industrialise the state by creating the enabling environment that encourages investments. Ultimately, the initiatives of the Oshiomhole and Obaseki administration is transforming the state from a roadside ticketing and Okada riding economy to an industrialised economy – an economy where youths are positively engaged and one that supports commerce. To achieve this, Obaseki has realised the need to take some painful decisions. He has to because leadership is all about sacrifice. Obaseki is very systematic. He doesn’t believe in rushing to get things done because he wants to impress people. He believes in leaving enduring legacy.
He is determined to move Edo State from an agrarian state to an industrial centre. We must also give this to Oshiomhole. The foundation is the most important part of a structure; this is what the Comrade Governor did for the people. We have seen the essence of a good foundation in building an enduring city in Lagos State. Obaseki acknowledged this when he declared that he would build on the existing foundation when he assumed office.
Sometime last year, he organised an economic summit in the state, where he brought key players in the economy, including Osinbajo, to articulate a roadmap for the future of the state. One of the objectives of the summit is supporting the long-term development of the state.
Once an administration gets its vision right, things work out well for successive administrations. Why has Lagos become a model today? Asiwaju Bola Tinubu got it right. Without playing politics with the state, he brought in Babatunde Fashola. We all witnessed what happened during Fashola’s era. Today, Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode is doing very well, building on the foundation his predecessors laid. The Lagos model has also begun in Edo State. Obaseki’s coming is like discovering Edo’s hidden treasure.
Does the governor give room to technocrats to make input in form of advice?
The last economic summit organised by Obaseki was the first of its kind in the history of Edo State. That forum was an opportunity for investors and businessmen to come together to chat a road map for the economy of the state. The Vice President was there alongside other key economic players like Aliko Dangote. So, there is sufficient room for technocrats to contribute to the ideation and economic reengineering process championed by the governor.
Also take note that Obaseki has successfully redesigned the state’s tax policy and made it friendly. The policy has made it easy for people to pay their taxes; you don’t have to struggle with people to pay taxes. These are some of the things that encourage investors, including me, to play in the economy.
When, Obaseki came on board, one of the first projects he embarked on was the construction of the 25-kilometer Agbede-Jagbe road. The essence of the project was to open up that axis for access to the massive land in that area for agricultural purposes. That road will encourage mechanise farming. And guess what? It will not only create jobs opportunities for the people but it will also help in boosting food security for the entire country. To the best of my understanding, investors are coming into the state because the needed environments, like infrastructural challenges are gradually being addressed.
The governor has continued to engage both local and foreign investors to take advantage of the opportunities in the state. BUA is operating in Okpella; Dangote Cement Plc is coming soon. Take note that industrialisation does not happen overnight. It requires adequate efforts and planning. Yes, one of the factors that drive industrialisation is raw materials. But that is not enough. You need to build human capacity; you need infrastructure and the enabling environment. These basic requirements constituted hindrance to the industrialisation drive of the state for several decades but they are being addressed. The manpower gap is being addressed through the government’s investment in technical college while roads and other infrastructure are being built. Obaseki is on the right track.
Are there supportive institutions to make these programmes sustainable even after his tenure?
Enduring systems are never built on individuals. They are built on institutions. We can clearly see that Obaseki is building institutions. For instance, he is reforming the tax system. He is revolutionising the internally generated revenue (IGR) collection methodology. There is nothing he does that revolves on an individual; they are system-driven. After Obaseki, the institutions he is currently building will remain. But we should remember that it will take time. The orientation of the people needs to change to enable the government achieve its mandate. The idea of coming around to share money and the entire concept of stomach infrastructure needs to be discouraged. This is the only way we can get it right.
What value are you bringing to support the industrialisation process of the state?
We will continue to expand our network to create more job opportunities for the youths. The agricultural revolution is one area we want to key into. We are working out modalities to acquire land for mechanise farming to create both direct and indirect jobs for the teeming youths. I have mentioned to the governor that we are interested in Gelegele Seaport project. I am also making plans to bring in investors to play key role in the project.
Given your giant stride in the business world, people are curious to know what influences your decision to delve into the murky waters of Nigeria politics?
I had struggle for years to dissociate myself from politics because of the way it is perceived in our clime. Many people see it as a dirty game. It kept me wondering how I would be branded as a politician. In the cause of my philanthropy, I discovered that there is limit to what you as an individual can do to help an extremely deprived society. I told myself that I need a platform to affect a greater number of people positively. As an entrepreneur, I have limited resources to touch the lives of thousands of people that are looking up to me. If I have a better platform, I would be able to touch more people. So, this is the whole idea. This is the passion. More importantly, we need more people of contrary worldview to water down the endemic grab-everything attitude among public officeholders. This is the only way we can build new culture that support selflessness.
My humble background has taught me a lot about life. I have seen it all growing up as a teenager and I have tasted the harshness of life. I don’t need to be told what people who are in position are going through. My joy comes when I am able to affect positively the lives of people around me. I want to see them happy; I want to give them hope. The driving principle of religion is faith, and faith is worthless without hope. Faith runs on the vehicle of hope. If you take hope out of faith, it is useless. That hope is what I want to inspire in politics.
I was a bit reluctant to come into politics because it is seen as a dirty game. At a point, I asked myself is it politics that is dirty or the people practising it? We need to make a clear distinction here. All what evil requires to succeed is for all good men to do nothing. If everybody stays away, then what happens to the system? How did we get to where we are today? We had decent and patriotic politicians when we were very young. But today, it is something else. If you are passionate about your people, you must be ready to sacrifice for them. This is exactly what I am trying to do. The society will only be better for us when the greater numbers of the people are happy. If we fail to deal with greed and selfishness, we will all be consumed one day. The society will be better if the few people that are fortunate give hope to the less privileged.
Why are you interested in the Senate?
The drive is to touch the masses and set a new standard of representation. What we hear is that the salary of a lawmaker can pay tens of medical doctors or teachers. Imagine the difference it will make if I employ 10 medical doctors to go around my senatorial district with the salary I earn. First, I will declare my salary and allowances to my people. Then, I will open a trust account where my salary and allowances will be paid into. The money will be used for the public good, to empower my people and develop my senatorial district.
You started your humanitarian service since early 1990s, will you continue this if your people do not support your political ambition?
For me, philanthropy is a calling. It is a pledge I have made. One of the things that give me joy is giving. When I give, I get the kind of satisfaction wealth, fame and business success cannot give me. One thing nobody can separate from me is philanthropy. It is in the course of expanding my philanthropic works that I am seeking a political office. I see politics as a platform for expanding the reach of my humanitarian works. The more I give, the more I realise the need to give more. It is an unending venture. I have realised the silliness of stomach infrastructure and the wisdom in teaching a man how to fish rather than giving him a fish. My intention is to focus on empowerment. We must get the unemployed youths and women to stand on their own. People will continue to run to others for help except they are able to stand on their feet. When they are independent, their thinking and orientation will change. It is only then, they will want to support individuals that are vying for political offices on the strength of their merit and not what they want to give them. They will not mortgage four years because of a pot of soup that will not last for two days or a cup of rice.
The reason Nigerian masses appear so naive is poverty. A hungry man can easily compromise. If you are hungry, everything presented to you looks like food. It is a psychological thing. I weep when people scramble for rice every Christmas when we go to villages to distribute rice. When the supposed breadwinner fights for rice, what would you expect from women? That is the level of poverty in the society. Poverty has reduced us to a ridiculous level. We must, through legislative intervention, begin to guide people to create wealth. It is a revolutionary campaign that we have to embark upon. We must teach and support people to work to earn legitimate income. And the people themselves must be prepared to embrace the revolutionary trend.
Education, like I have said, is very critical. One of the greatest heroes of the country, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, said an educated man is easier to govern. When governance fail, it is partly because those saddled with leadership responsibility and the followers lack quality education. An educated mind is a liberated mind.
This is the reason Anamero Idofe Anamero Foundation has been involved in educational development since 2012. Since 2012, every pupil of public school in Edo North gets, at least, four exercise books. Recently, scholarships were given to 10 students in Okpe, Akoko Edo Local Government Area. On the same day, 10 women were selected for empowerment. Last October, two 10-classroom blocks built by the foundation for two public schools in Okpella were unveiled by Gov. Godwin Obaseki.
Education is not optional, it is mandatory. Little wonder that the Holy Bible says that my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Take note, it does not say they are stupid, hungry or poor but that they lack knowledge. As a matter of fact, some translations say they perish for lack of knowledge. That tells you how crucial education is to a man. Take education from a man, he becomes useless.
Over 12 years now with all you have contributed to the society through your foundation; construction of roads, donation of transformers, building of classrooms, boreholes and others, how come your activities were not publicised like an average Nigerian politician would have done?
I have lived closer enough to the people and I understand them better. God has blessed me with what is enough to live on in the rest of my life, so I see it duty bound to give part of it to the society.
I don’t have to go publicising my humanitarian activities like we see people doing today. What is important is that we see it as our responsibility, even if it is not, to put smile on the face of the people without any selfish motives attached.
You are spending so much from your fortune trying to make life comfortable for others? Do you have issues with your children and family who may fear that you are giving too much and could be left with little or nothing?
My background has thought me a lot about life. While I believe that it is my responsibility to give a future to my children, the best future I can give to them is to guide them through that part of life, such that guarantees their future. In other words, I am responsible as a father to teach them how to fish. They will have the best of education and be equipped with the necessary tools that will help them confront the challenges of life in the future and come out even better than me.
In advance democracies like the United States, people have specific areas of interest. Do you have specific areas you intend to contribute to through law making?
We must understand that they are different from us by all indices. The literacy level is higher than us. We bridge the gap between the advance world and the rest; we must begin to address the challenges in the education system in a strategic manner. When you educate an individual, you have liberated several generations to come. That is because the level of reasoning and the worldview of an educated individual are remarkably different from others. Through lawmaking, we can reform the education system and make it more result-oriented. Through lawmaking, we can bring hope to millions of people through education. The liberation of every society starts with education. To achieve this, we must live a life of contentment. We live flamboyant lifestyles that we do not have the capacity to maintain whereas the critical needs like education suffer. We cannot develop if we continue like that. This is why I invest so much on education. Every year, I distribute thousands of exercise books to schools. When I was in Primary two, I could not afford common exercise books. Whenever I remember what I went through, I acknowledge the deprivation some pupils go through and how useful I would be to them.
The level of employment and poverty in Edo North, for instance, is still extremely high. Several youths that should be assets to the states are not actively engaged. What are their challenges? Yes, some of them are graduates. But that is not enough. What other things can they do to contribute to the growth of the society? It is not just about the certificates; we can give the horde of jobless youths some direction. Our women are hardworking, commitment and diligent in the calling. But there is limit to what they can do. Some of them are doing very well in agribusiness and trading. The Anamero Idofe Anamero Foundation has been actively involved in the empowerment of the youth and women but to reach a larger percentage of these groups, we need to put in place robust institutional frameworks that are supportive of the society we want to build. And I think that society is one that is progressive, developmental and wealth creating. Young men and women die daily of ailments that could be cured by common medical aids. Children who are willing to learn do not have the basic education facilities required for descent learning. If we cannot begin to think of how to address these challenges, it means we have lost the essence of humanity. We must create an environment that is supportive of quality living, education and healthy living.
Many people rarely know about your foundation but it seems to be doing a lot in terms of community development. Could you speak about the future of the foundation?
What the foundation is doing is a reflection of my calling and passion. The foundation started operation formally in 2012. My plan is to ensure that it emerges the biggest charity organisation in Nigeria. To own the biggest charity organisation in Nigeria had been my dream even before I started the foundation. I have remained focused in pursuing that dream and make it come true. In 10 years from now, we want to see beneficiaries of the foundation come back to testify of how the organisation has changed their lives and also contributed to the moral and educational development of others. I want to see the foundation develop into a life-changing institution and a model in the humanitarian circle.
How do you plan to replicate what you have done in Edo North in other parts of the country to emerge the most impactful foundation in Nigeria? Is the scope not too wide?
Recently, professionals advised that the scope of the foundation is too broad and that we should focus on education, empowerment or community development. They have advised us to focus on a particular cause and that is what we are currently doing. We will certainly go national in operation and impacts. But we should remember that I have limited resources as an individual. The kids we have impacted, hopefully, will be part of the foundation someday. As we speak, I have not collected a kobo from anybody or an organisation. I want to create an impact using my resources first. And that is a deliberate decision; I don’t want people to see it as a business venture when we meet them for support. If people do not see the need to join the foundation, some of those who have benefited will certainly do so. That is the reason we have continued to expand the frontier to reach as many people as possible.
The foundation has done a lot in area of empowerment and we are currently restructuring to ensure that it is more efficient. You may not know but you can do your findings to know the number of boreholes, industrial boreholes, community town halls, access roads and schools the foundation has donated. Our focus, going forward, will be education and empowerment. From 2012 till date, close to 1000 if not more have benefited from its scholarship. The foundation will continue to endure and possibly outlive the founder. There are examples of foundations that started small but have moved on to run multi-billion-dollar budgets. The Ford Foundation is one of such foundations.
Can you put a figure to what the foundation has done?
I focus more on the number of lives we have impacted. The foundation spends several millions every year to deliver the exercise book project. We have also spent much on the building of community town halls and blocks of classrooms to foster positive interactions and quality learning. We are currently constructing roads and streets. I am not seeking the praises of men, so I don’t throw these figures around. In five to 10 years’ time, I want to see the number of lives the foundation will transform. That is the ultimate and not the billions of naira we spend on projects.