Give it to Theodore Okwuruni Ejike ‘TOE’ Ekechi, chairman of Alliance Media and Marketing and Media, and now member representing Southeast in the Northeast Development Commission, NEDC: he paid his dues in business. He has his hands on many pies: advertising, haulage, solar energy system, commodity brokerage as well as consultancy. For life has been fair enough. Having made a modest headway in business, he made his foray into the murky waters of politics and he admitted to this reporter, Samuel Ajayi, that it has been a learning curve for him. However, he believes Nigerians could still make politics more enabling and with some minimums in terms of integrity and sincerity. He also speaks on the psychological and emotional damage suffered by the people of the Northeast which, to him, is worse that the physical one
You went into business at early stage of life as a young man. Can you say you are fulfilled?
Fulfilled? If that is suggesting whether I have been able to develop myself to the fullest potential or if I have been able to realise all my life ambitions and desires with respect to business, I will unequivocally say “NO”. Perhaps, more appropriately, I should say I am not YET fulfilled. As they say, where there is life, there is hope. But considering my personal circumstances – the generational and peculiar environmental constraints I will be committing sin if I don’t praise God for his blessings and grace that have been part of my lot and family. In the process of getting this far, I have also become a sort of business encyclopedia and it is my hope that young people who believe in me and hang around me for counsel will excel with my mentorship.
Do you remember the business that fetched you your first million?
It is a bit difficult to recall but I will give it a try. As you may know, my interests span marketing communications with strong bias for out-of-home advertising), brand building, solar energy, publishing, strategy consulting and commodity brokerage. Although, I have made a couple of bucks from each of them, I recall it was an out-of-home brand promotion campaign for Nestle Milo about 1998 that broke the Million-Naira jinx. I am eternally grateful to the Akin Osewas of Nestle and Ojo Osagie’s of Insight for taking the risk on me. Related to this are the Society for Family Health (SFH), Guinness nationwide out-of-home promotions facilitated by a brother and friend, Obinna Aniche. But the big one was when the Managing Director of Sterling Bank, Yemi Adeola against all known banking traditions and credit convention, against the advice of his risk advisers and Executive Directors approved a multi-million naira loan request to finance an ambitious digital display platform in Lagos which was executed by a team of Chinese engineers. To these people who trusted my integrity and capacity, I remain eternally grateful.
As a businessman, you ventured into politics. Can you say it is a decision you haven’t regretted?
No regrets at all for venturing into politics, notwithstanding the familiar refrain of “you would have become far wealthier than you are today”. You see, life is not all about making money. It is also about service and self fulfillment. Which can only come when you are at peace with yourself in doing what you love. I love the “service” perspective of politics. However, if I had to relive it all over again, I would choose a different route and timing of entry. My entry into politics in late 2002 was with a bang and a lot of very wrong assumptions of Nigerian Humans and their characters.
How different are the two worlds: that of politics and that of business?
There is no doubt that there is so much primordial negativity associated with doing business in Nigeria. However, this is a child’s play compared with the insincerity, lack of transparency, absence of integrity and trust, unpredictability, backstabbing and predatory disposition associated with Nigerian politics. Yet, politics is a necessary evil that must be played. Truth is if you don’t play politics, politics must play you. So, since we know that directly or indirectly our lives and livelihoods are dependent on the political decisions taken by some people whom we may consider as mediocre (and there are many of them) and misfits, there is increasing need therefore for more and more people who consider themselves fit and quality to subscribe to active political participation – this must not necessarily be in the realm of partisan party politics. You don’t have to be a party card carrying member to serve the country through political participation.
The belief out there is that the “word” politics is treacherous. How true is this?
My response above, I think clearly addresses that. Treachery in politics is not a myth, it is real. Almost a dog-eat-dog enterprise. And this is simply because many a good man have left the arena for social hyenas and jobbers to dominate. The more professionals (who have established, verifiable source of livelihood) we have in politics the more decent the political turf will become. Only a decent political practice can guarantee sustainable dividends of democracy.
Have you had to cut corner as a politician to achieve your aim even when such was against your personal convictions?
In Christianity there is this saying that just as fishes in the waters cannot deny of water, man on this earth cannot deny of sin. It is impossible to play politics in this country without cutting corners or at best be part of the system that is consistently cutting corners. A politician is guilty of cutting corners even when he personally did not but looked the other way when corners are being cut or refuse to testify against any unhealthy, unethical and immoral practice. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
The difference however is that there are politicians who equate politics with trickery, treachery, 419, deceit, business in the realm of do-or-die. By God’s Grace I, T.O.E. Ekechi, am not in that mold. For me, politics is neither a vocation nor a profession nor a career. It is not even a calling. Politics should be a platform for service to the soul for self fulfillment, to the people, to humanity and to God.
Many corporate guys like you see politics as a no-go area for them. How do we change this mindset?
Indeed, it is foolhardy to live in that mindset. The general belief is that politics is a dirty game, time consuming and in fact distracting. None of these assertions is far from the truth, though. But this is politics of Nigeria, politics of your country, politics of your state and of your community. This is the politics that decides your present and your future and the future of your generations to come. Why leave it in the hands of desperados who may not be as endowed as you. Why play the ostrich or the idiot with your present and future? Why attempt to run away from your own shadow?
If you care about our individual and collective socio-economic wellbeing, you must care about the country’s political well-being because it is political power that determines, shapes and controls society’s socio-political equation. So, corporate Nigeria should desist from being holier than thou and join the political fray; sanctimonious pontifications from the height of corporate boardrooms will only make opportunistic politicians drink and toast to their own “good health”.
Our mindset about political appointment is about Prebendalism How do we change this belief?
There is nothing wrong in a political appointee earning sufficient and adequate wage for his labour if that reflects a commensurate payment for the deployment of skill and time. The challenge however is that the average politician looks forward to political appointment as a compensatory package for all his political investments as well as that for his constituency. All that should change. Political appointment should not be a Magna Carta for wealth acquisition, of getting rich. It should be for achieving glory, societal recognition and respect. Those who hold political positions should be called out if they become wealthier after serving out their terms. At the risk of sounding immodest, I opine that my tenures as Chief of Staff to the Honourable Minister of Interior, Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Imo State or as Director of Planning and Monitoring of the APC Presidential Campaign Council were for me periods of self-sacrifice, self fulfillment and service to humanity. That is probably because I did not join politics with the objective of enriching myself and family. This is in turn because I was not impoverished spiritually – poverty is a spiritual condition. Otherwise, why would people whom you can credit with so much wealth goes into government and steal to the last penny? This is poverty of the soul or you call it Spiritual bankruptcy! Those who conquer spiritual bankruptcy don’t steal from government coffers.
Do Nigerians really see politics about service to the people and society?
That is the crux of the matter. First, Nigerians see political participation as a Magna Carta for political appointment while the appointment in itself is simply a compensatory package while the amount of wealth you acquire while serving is measured as a return on investment on political time and resources. The obvious consequence is that politics is not practiced in this clime based on conviction or belief. No doubt therefore there is not practiced in this country politics of ideology. Rather, we are proud to applaud what is now known in our political lexicon as politics of stomach infrastructure.
This attitude is so much entrenched in our political consciousness that it is even your constituents, admirers and supporters that worry more for you and even go as far as blackmail you when you are not “compensated” with appointment after any round of rendering political service. This attitude can only change when we have more and more people who don’t expect “compensation” coming into political activism.
You were recently appointed as Commissioner representing South-East in the Northeast Development Commission. After visits to the region, what is your assessment of the situation?
Well, I am not sure if it is appropriate to qualify me as a Commissioner in the Commission. But it suffices to admit that I am a Member (representing South East) on the Governing Board. The situation in the North East continues to be precarious. The devastation is enormous and mind bungling requiring massive deployment of men and materials to alleviate the sufferings and build a sustainable future for the current population and generations to come.
You are involved in promotion of peace in the country even before your appointment. How far have you gone with the project?
I convened the United Nigeria Initiative for Peace and Prosperity in 2016 as an alternate platform for dispute resolutions among groups, particularly restive ethnic nationalities who for one reason or the other are warring against one another or against the state. Often, and consistent with our findings, people who foment troubles within ethnic groups are usually a small minority who attract to themselves a larger proportion of the voice share which is deployed to dominate the rest of the community. Our alternative platforms enable “other” voices to be heard thereby providing a fair and equitable basis for problem resolutions. In this wise we are doing our best within the constraints of our self-funding sources.
You virtually junket around the country and even outside. How do you find time to bond with your family?
It’s really demanding and sometimes frustrating if you do not make the right mixes at the right times). I deliberately and painstakingly strive to strike the delicate balance of God, family, Work, pleasure and Politics.
To effectively and efficiently manage my self-inflicted schedules, I am compelled to maintain four homes in Lagos ( where my family resides), Abuja (the home of national politics), Owerri (for my home state politics because ultimately all politics is local) and of course my native home, Imerienwe in Ngor Okpala (where I reign as a true son of the soil). I must confess that the pressure of politics and work has transformed me into an itinerant worker. Whereas politics at the emerging level I am still operating demands almost physical presence at almost all times, technology on the other hand, has significantly reduced the need for physical presence in attending to my professional, work related responsibilities – especially if you have invested in institutionalized structures in your organisations. So, reality is that I have equipped myself in such a way and manner that I can work and relate with colleagues and staff from any location, seamlessly.
But try as I may, I must confess that this takes a toll on my times with family. To make up for this or ameliorate the effect, it is the tradition to shut down (almost completely) during long vacations, Easter and Christmas holidays which I spend with family in the village or abroad.
Your life story is that of a triumph over all the odds. Do you plan to write your memories in the near future?
Sure. Already, I have some proposals under considerations. When it happens, I believe it will be a thriller, a suspense and a best-seller. It will be a study in arrogant humility, regrets and fulfillment; in the genre of hopelessness and faithfulness; of ambition, fearlessness and hard work, of undulating progression, and of the power of family bonding and cooperation as assurance for generational growth and success.