Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa is a member of the New Nigerian Group (NNG) on whose platform he is propagating his ideal of a new Nigeria. The Presidential aspirant seeking to carry the PDP flag in the 2023 Presidential election, spoke to Nduka Nwosu on why he wants to be the next President of Nigeria. Excerpts
Writing about Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa at this time the PDP Southeast Presidential platform has become more populated than expected, is challenging. Ohuabunwa comes from the tribe of corporate chieftains who have excelled in their territory, transcending from, or if you like transiting from the board room to the political arena. Ernest Shonekan remains the shining star for showing the way forward, a board room chieftain elevated to the rank of Head of State, an inspiration for such candidates seeking for the highest office in the land.
Ohuabunwa parades a sterling track record of performance at Pfizer, one of the world’s premier pharmaceutical companies. A prince of corporate Nigeria, what are his strengths and weaknesses? Is he intimidated by this ‘Dance of the Masquerades,’ hosting such big masquerades like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and one time Minister of State for Education, former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and incumbent Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, former Senate President and Governor of Kwara State Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Governor of Bauchi State and former FCT Minister Bala Mohammed?
He shrugs off the question with a smile reminding you these are members of the old brigade, whose baggage is the very reason the country is in search of something refreshingly new, from his rank where competence, probity, strength of character and visionary leadership count in choosing the candidate to steer the ship christened Corporate Nigeria.
First, he belongs to a political movement he calls the New Nigeria Group, “with a life of its own,” and populated by people from all sides of the political equation, “left and right, even non-political people but they believe in the New Nigeria vision. They believe there is a Nigeria that is possible, that is different from what we are seeing, that will be a globally competitive nation and a country that will work for everybody.”
Ohuabunwa says he draws huge support across the polity even outside the New Nigeria Group, from both divides of the two major political parties, the PDP on whose platform he is seeking to contest and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Mazi Ohuabunwa exudes the image of a class captain, a senior prefect, or the anchor point of propriety, who does not believe the end justifies the means. On the contrary, his foray into the ring of presidential contest, began with a challenge in New York after being crowned best graduating student during a Pfizer programme for its sales managers worldwide. He became the focus of attention regarding the African continent and its people with Nigeria as a case study, a Nigeria that was being advertised for the wrong reasons, yet known for her academic excellence, producing such promising technocrats as Ohuabunwa with universities accredited with global excellence, the University of Ibadan, the University of Nigeria, the University of Lagos, Ahmadu Bello University, Ohuabunwa’s Alma mater, the University of Ife, and the University of Benin but unknown to his interrogators
Why is your country known for the wrong reasons, he was asked. The all-familiar stereotype of bias towards all things African notwithstanding, Ohuabunwa gave a thought to the narrative. Is there something I can do to create a trajectory that will reposition my country’s potential greatness, to one of real greatness, a true giant of Africa? Can Nigeria for once be known as an export-oriented economy away from the mono-oil producing economy for which it is known? Can it grow to be known less as a consuming nation and more as an export-oriented economy, from a third world economy to a highly industrialised or fast developing economy? He knew it was possible but how?
Corruption remains an issue just as leadership by example is also an issue. As Achebe put it in The Trouble with Nigeria, bad leadership till date has not eluded our country. Ohuabunwa reasoned that changing the status quo must begin with evangelism, not just on the pulpit, a familiar platform though. He created a media outlet through the Guardian, Businessday and Vanguard newspapers as a columnist expounding his political and economic evangelical message of a New Nigeria where governance that gives the average Nigerian the good life, is possible.
Ohuabunwa has headed numerous committees advising Nigerian governments and the corporate sector on the way forward. His gut feeling tells him he has what it takes to turn around the economy of a third world country to at least that of a fast-developing economy, which we cannot lay claim to right now.
Despite all the efforts he has made, trying to help recreate his country, none is more plausible now than the bubbling desire for ascent to the Presidency and calling the shots from there. Lee Kuan Yew did it in Singapore and succeeded; Chairman Mao did it in China and succeeded. The Rwandan wonder boy Paul Kagame is turning around his once economically moribund country Rwanda into an investment haven, with huge response from Western investors. Nicephore Soglo, a former World Bank and IMF staff, though a politician before his ascent to the Presidency in the Republic of Benin, is also a good example of a technocrat who operated at the global level.
Why can’t Nigeria succeed in solving her problems? Ohuabunwa asks rhetorically. To be able to do this, he has identified what he calls the Nigerian problem, which is not farfetched, just as Chinua Achebe did.
“I am coming to change Nigeria’s narrative,” he enthuses, arguing that Nigerians are tired of listening to the all too familiar refrain of failure and all the ugly issues associated with a failed state. The Presidential aspirant insists Nigeria has a chronic leadership deficit at the political level. People come to office unprepared or ill prepared, and they come with minimum or no vision.
“Some are outrightly incompetent and even if they are competent, they lack character; if they are competent with character, they lack the courage to make bold decisions. A visionary leader with all these traits will change the Nigerian story,” he argues. What are the issues a visionary leader needs to address to turn around the polity? He responds: “There are four principal demons afflicting the country. The first demon is poverty; the second demon is corruption; the third demon is injustice, and the fourth demon is insecurity.”
The Presidential aspirant believes once poverty is gotten rid of, half the problem plaguing the country would have gone. With 53 percent of the Nigerian youths jobless, and 22 percent of those working are under-employed, and doing the wrong job, jobs not in sync with their educational experience, and 33 percent of the population being jobless, is it any wonder the World Bank has said 71 percent of Nigerians are poor? He asks. How do we reverse this trend? His answer is that when Nigeria becomes an investment haven, poverty will be eradicated as people are kept busy doing the right jobs that will create a sense of wellbeing for them.
“We need three things to create wealth as a nation. We need human capital, financial capital, and a market. What we lack among these three is the financial capital.
“When I become President, I will have the additional portfolio of Minister of Investment. If I can make the country a preferred investment destination for four years, I would have changed the narrative because people become less fanatical and criminally minded if they have a better life. The moment you satisfy them economically they would stop all these things they are doing. They embrace religion and fanaticism as an escape route from the pangs of poverty and degradation. Why are the British and American people who brought religion to us becoming less religious? They have sophistication and a sense of wellbeing and worship God with less hassle, in an environment of well-being.”
He uses his community’s approach to security as a near example of what he would do at the national level when in office. “In the village I come from, in a town called Arochukwu, if people go to the farm and they are assaulted, if people’s houses are being broken into by unknown people, my chief will go round calling the elders in the village to come around. The elders will gather, and he will say my people, what is happening in our village now is strange; we are not used to seeing this before. They are raping women, breaking into houses and they are assaulting people on the farm. What have we done wrong? Have we offended our gods? Or is the fault with us? Chief Okonkwo will say, no wonder yesterday he saw Okafor’s son with a group of people under one coconut tree and he was wondering what they were doing there.
“Right there they would start calling the names of those who were caught causing the trouble and a decision is made. When a decision is made, the youths are mandated to execute order or new rule made and the fine for infringement. That is the way it is done, and suddenly the problem is resolved. But when you as Eze or king decides to stay back in your palace and be pontificating, you will not know the problem. There is a saying that says armed robbers are not spirits but human beings who live among us. They live in the same communities with us. It is possible through intelligence gathering out the culprits from their holes or hideouts, just before they embark on “So, our problems in this country are not insurmountable, but we have hard hearted people who do not love the people they claim they are governing, because if they did, they would sleep and wake up worrying about how to solve their problems and not to engage in frivolous activities that add little value to the welfare of the citizens.”
On rotation or zoning of the Presidency, Ohuabunwa adds: “The rotation that has served us well should continue. Everybody I have met who in my own estimation loves this country has come to that conclusion that the people of the Southeast should be given an opportunity to present a candidate in 2023. Other regions have had opportunities. So, this has become something that I think people would like to support. It will achieve two things: the first is the fact that the Southeast will give the country a competent president from an array of very competent and proven leaders.
“There is also the known fact that the people of the Southeast have certain natural tendencies or proclivity for creating wealth and development anywhere they go. They have turned many swamps and forests into cities, business, and industrial resorts all through the country and elsewhere in the world and will continue to do so.”
Ohuabunwa says Nigeria is divided today because of injustice to one section of the country at one time or the other, orchestrated by misguided leadership. A country where justice, fair play, and equity are given a pride of place, will quicken the process of reintegration among different nationalities that constitute the nation state. No one should suffer for a crime he did not commit, and no one should be left off the hook without paying the price for his crime and neither tribe nor ethnic lineage should deprive any Nigerian of his rights and privileges in the polity.