In the global financial system, VALENTINE CHINETO OZIGBO, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and four other professional bodies, is a big name.
The immediate past President and Chief Executive Officer of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (TRANSCORP), a diversified conglomerate with strategic investments and core interests in the hospitality, agribusiness and energy sectors, Ozigbo worked previously as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Transcorp Hotels Plc.
He also worked in the banking industry, gaining over 17 years of experience with NAL Merchant Bank, Diamond Bank, Continental Trust Bank, FSB International Bank, Standard Trust Bank and United Bank for Africa, most of the time managing leading global multilateral institutions in their intricate relationship with the Nigerian financial institutions.
He is currently an aspirant for the governorship of Anambra State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this engaging interview with Managing Director, IKECHUKWU AMAECHI and Editor, EMEKA ALEX DURU, Ozigbo takes informed look at the leadership conundrum in Nigeria, offering suggestions on the way out. He also analyses the PDP in Anambra State, which he says has changed for good. He gives insight into his antecedents and how he would reposition the state if given the chance.
On July 20, you will be 50 years old. Why did you quit your position as President and Chief Executive Officer of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc after just one year? Is it not too early to quit such a high profile job that many your age can only dream about?
There are two aspects to this question. One is my age, the other, my motivation for quitting TRANSCORP. I will like to respond to them separately.
It is actually amazing why we have lost sense of time in Nigeria; why we forget that a man who turns 50, in most cases, has almost hit the borderline and is now thinking about what remains of his useful and valuable life. I say this because I actually consider 50 an age of maturity.
When you talk about my motivation which we shall come to, I always tell myself that I should have done this much earlier because the best time to impact on humanity is at your youthful age. And the definition of youth is when you are in your prime. I want to ask that as in other things we do in life, let’s begin now to challenge our youths at much earlier age to bring out their best because it is actually these youths that can shape a better future for Nigeria. People who are ruling the world today, mention them, check actually when they made their most marks. Let’s not even talk about the likes of Warren Buffet and others. But look at Mark Zuckerberg and some of the youths currently making the wave across the world. Let us even look back at some of those people that led us in the military era. No matter how good or bad they performed, they started at a younger age. In Nigeria, we keep recycling old age and not experience. There is a saying that a man who has done the same kind of thing over and over is simply one year old in that experience multiplied by that number of years. Therefore, until we begin to do new things in our life, and allow younger ones whose ingenuity, creativity, imagination is actually stronger we may not get Nigeria working. So, at 50, I feel it is not such a young age. I just wanted to touch on the premise of that question.
If you bring this to the age of retirement in Nigeria, you may be right because people don’t retire at 50. The good news is that I am not retiring. I am actually looking forward to taking up a much bigger role in the public service. I am looking forward to impacting on far more lives in the next couple of years than I have done in the last 50 years. I am looking forward to, hopefully, shaping a better future for our generations yet unborn so that they can look back and be proud of us. I am in a hurry to do this because I will feel unaccomplished if certain changes do not take place in my life time. I feel that I am done with sitting by the side criticising how badly Nigeria has been run as a country when I can volunteer myself to add my own little quota.
So, I had to leave the job I consider one of the best in Nigeria – the Presidency and CEO of Transcorp – with all the privileges to consider the possibility of governing Anambra State after the current administration. That’s the reason I had to leave Transcorp. I want to seize an opportunity to transform Anambra and set a new standard for governance in Nigeria.
The COVID-19 pandemic, as tragic as it is, is bringing out the best in some Nigerians. Recently, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra under the leadership of the former governor, Peter Obi, put together the sum of N125 million to help vulnerable families in the state. What was your role in that endeavour?
First and foremost, COVID-19 has laid bare our bad governance over the years. There is no more hiding place. I think that Nigerians and the world are seeing us for whom we are – a set of people who haven’t prioritised the common good, a people who celebrate anything other than competency, who unfortunately, do not run away from the rain until it has beaten them properly. I think that with COVID-19, the ground has been leveled. We can now see that there is no much difference between the rich and the poor. We are all in the same boat. There is nowhere to fly out or travel to; your money cannot save you. The much that can happen is how to think broader and lift one another. Because if you are that Big Man in a slum, which is actually what Nigeria is – a big slum – and you think you are safe at home, wait until it is your turn to face the wrath of the poor masses we have left unattended to. So, I think it is good we learn the lesson of the shockwave that COVID-19 is sending to us as Nigerians. Let’s wake up.
It has also shown that oil cannot save us. Reliance on oil as the only product we export is not the way to go. We can see how vulnerable Nigeria truly is. We can see that there is nothing in life that is better than health and education. The reality is that we must prioritise. I read in a tweet that a combination of our health and education budget is not even up to 70 percent of how much we spend on the National Assembly – the entire budget of 200 million people on something as important as education not near to what we spend on less than 500 people in the name of making laws! Laws for who?
In the private sector where I am coming from, we look at value for money. Of course, I understand the importance of the National Assembly in a democracy and what the legislative arm of government is there to do, talking of checks and balances. Therefore, I know that it is an important institution. But we have got to do what we call a value-for money audit; a value engineering! When we talk about restructuring in Nigeria, some people misunderstand it. But actually, restructuring has to take place in Nigeria. We have no choice about it other than to look at how to fundamentally shift Nigeria on a paradigm for greatness. Otherwise, we will die, as a country. It is as simple as that.
What we are doing presently is not sustainable. With oil price below the production cost and it is likely to remain so for a long period, with the COVID-19 there, the level of insecurity and level of disunity, the loss of confidence across board and the fact of no help coming from anywhere because the people we run to are also having their own challenges, we have no option other than to look inwards and allow the best among us, the brightest and the competent to lead and to take charge and take us where we should be.
You spoke of the lessons to learn from COVID-19. With what you have seen so far, are Nigerians learning the right lessons?
No! We don’t even understand the problems at hand. That’s why before I come to the Anambra PDP response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would want us to understand the lessons. I had spoken at a forum where I argued that for us to understand the lessons we need to consider some drastic measures like collapsing the Senate and House of Representatives into one House and trimming the number of legislators. I stressed that ideally in the world we are living in today, we should be talking about volunteerism. We should be talking about those who are willing to volunteer to do the work of the legislature so that we know that they are there to do the work of the common good. Of course, it is not only in the legislative arm but also in the executive. If we can’t cut down the cost of governance, it manifests in many ways. Cost of governance must be pruned in many ways. If I have my way, I will apportion a number for the presidency as a cost that must not be exceeded. For instance, you will have a billion Naira in a year with which to run Nigeria. Decide how to utilize it. If you don’t want it, resign and we look for who can do it.
That’s how we do it in the private sector. That’s the mindset we need to send the necessary shockwaves. So, we are not learning the lessons. Some will be forced on us; we will react but we are not being proactive. As we are doing with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, apportioning money to the financial sector, say N50 billion, same to power and other sectors, we are dealing with the symptoms. We are reacting. But we need to be proactive. How do we deal with power? I think the fundamental answer to these questions is actually entrenching competency and allowing us take decisions based on objective reasoning. The point here is that we are not learning any lessons.
Let me go to the question you asked on the wonderful initiative of the Anambra PDP under the leadership of His Excellency, Governor Peter Obi. I have to say that my respect for Governor Obi has gone a notch up because it was actually his idea. He called me to say that he had reached out to other key stakeholders and asked that we respond. He first acknowledged all that I had done as a private individual using my foundation where I had spent over N20 million on palliatives, buying rice, hand sanitisers, facemasks and other activities.
He acknowledged some of those things and said, this time, let’s do something collectively. I loved the sound of it because one of the things I had feared about PDP in Anambra was unity. The truth is that Anambra belongs to PDP. The only reason why it had had problems at governorship election is multiple camps; people moving towards different directions when it comes to governorship. If you want to test what I am saying, check the way the national elections go. With that, you will know that actually Anambra belongs to PDP. So, the attempt to bring us under one umbrella which is what PDP symbolises, is the first thing I want to applaud.
Secondly, the sheer level of generosity I saw in the people especially those in elected offices giving back to the people from the nice figures they have been paid over the years, it’s good that the masses are benefitting from such. Of course, I know they have been doing a lot through their constituency projects and I have to commend them, though it is one of those things I wonder if, indeed, it is the best way to govern. But their coming out to show that level of generosity is worth commending.
The idea was to provide immediate cash to every single ward, provide palliative in terms of food items. The fear really was that COVID-19 might not kill many Nigerians but its impact can lead to hunger that could kill more Nigerians. So, to provide those comforts would go a long way, especially with our most vulnerable who are actually the targets of the palliatives. There is also another part of it which is building a Test Centre in Anambra which I consider very laudable because with that, we are able to identify cases better than what currently obtains regarding travelling to Edo State many times for the tests. It was an initiative carefully thought out and efficiently executed. We raised a total of N125 million. I had earlier invested N2.5 million but a few days ago, we realised that there was a funding gap and I raised the figure with another N2.5 million, bringing mine to N5 million. This is not minding what I had done through my foundation, my community and through another forum.
So, it is a test of leadership, test of togetherness, test of generosity and test of caring for the vulnerable. These are things I believe even God will be happy about.
Aside these commendable actions by the PDP, are there other things you people are doing to make the party more cohesive and ensure that the members do not go their separate ways again?
Before I jump into that question, I would want to use this opportunity to challenge other states in the country, to emulate the action of the PDP in Anambra. It doesn’t matter whether PDP is in government or opposition, I want to see this kind of leadership exhibited. We can’t be the only shining example all the time. Let this be a common denominator. Let’s see people rising up to the challenges. COVID-19 has taught us many lessons, one of which is that the care for humanity is needed now more than any other time. We need to lift other people out of the doldrums. I want to encourage everybody to be far more generous than we have ever been.
About the PDP in Anambra, I am a strategic thinker. I don’t jump into anything without carefully and methodically looking through issues involved. I know the strengths and weaknesses of PDP as a political party both at the national and Anambra State level. I call tell you that when I searched through the philosophies of what brought everybody together, even with its weaknesses that had been exhibited in the past, PDP, among other parties in Nigeria, ranks tops.
In Anambra, as you rightly observed, we had faced a lot of challenges because PDP was actually far from being democratic. We had godfathers whose intentions were really to remain godfathers. These are noble intentions. If you are in leadership, you would want to remain in leadership. Nobody wants to relinquish leadership. But if you actually want to strengthen leadership, you must try and elevate those around you. In fact, you create new leaders, then, your leadership will blossom. But when you see leaders who are scared by the next person emerging stronger, you begin to have issues in that entity or organisation. That is why I get the shock of my life when I see people in choosing their deputies in many parts of the country, go for people they consider less competent because they don’t want their positions to be threatened. That’s not fair. For me, you succeed when you surround yourself with competent people so that together, you take whatever you are doing to the next level.
PDP has gone 360 degrees in Anambra State. It has moved away from a single person, an individual holding sway to a number of people holding sway. The difference is like day and night. The PDP is by far more democratic today. Even as Obi is our leader today, he, alone, cannot decide for the party what happens. That’s what I admire in him. His intention is not to be the only person determining what happens. We had such situations in the past but we have all learnt.
If you come to Anambra, we have three senatorial zones. In each zone, you will see leaders who are playing one role or the other. What is important now is how these leaders also respect the ladders of leadership and hopefully come together. You will see senators and other people who had held important positions in the past who are managing, funding activities of the party in their wards, local governments, zones and they all now have a say in the affairs of the party. That is what democracy should be – all of us coming together to discuss in a well-structured manner.
We know that we have to respect our leader, Peter Obi. We also know we have various roles to play to support that leadership but when there is in-fighting, that is when you have a lot of issues. We are resolving a lot of these issues. This is what had been made manifest in this gesture. It is a sign of other things to come. For me as a person, I consider my being active as something that will help to unify PDP more in Anambra. I consider myself a symbol of that unity because I have not had any altercations, any issues with any of the constituents of the leadership of the PDP. So, I think it is going to be easier for them to demonstrate that confidence in me more than somebody they had fought with in the past or who may have given them reasons not to trust him. The best way to summarise this is that PDP has changed for good in Anambra. It is more democratic; it has better leadership and it is a team work, now.
Now that we are about to go into election, we already know who the statutory delegates are. In the past, you won’t know the delegates until a day to the election. That was why somebody could decide who participated. It is no longer so, now. It is good that people are made to be more accountable for their actions.
How do you people intend to tackle the issue of zoning in Anambra PDP?
This is an interesting question. Zoning can be good and bad. Well managed, it can be excellent; when not combined with competency, it can be bad. I will like not to be seen as a candidate that emerged as a result of zoning. I am rather in this race because I consider myself, far more qualified, far more competent, with all sense of humility than the names I have seen in the race so far. I feel that the exposures I have had, the experience, the network, goodwill, my level of emotional intelligence, my sense of purpose, my strategic foresight, my critical thinking nature, have prepared me well enough for the assignment I am going for. So, zoning or no zoning, I am in a position to win the governorship of Anambra State.
I have seen zoning in the best of time. You may look at the likes of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Appointments there are by zoning. Zoning brings order, discipline and actually helps us minimize over spending in politics. When you over spend, the temptation to recoup is so high. There is a lot of good in zoning. We have also seen that zoning has actually gone beyond a party affair to a pan-Anambra issue. There are cases in the public sphere of how zoning has mutated today to Anambra affair.
We know our father, the former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, was the architect of the six geo-political arrangement in Nigeria. Before his death, he supported zoning in Anambra State. In 2017, before his death, while Governor Willie Obiano was running for re-election, he was one of those leaders that insisted that Anambra North should have a second term. Even his daughter had to be paired to a PDP candidate because that candidate had to come from Anambra North because it was still the turn of the zone.
Majority of the key influencers in Anambra supported this. When I say the majority, it was almost the whole. You have the likes of the Elders Forum, led by Chief Emeka Anyaoku (GCON), former Commonwealth Secretary General; the Obi of Onitsha and all the Igwes, the Presidents of Town Unions, President of Anambra Traders Association. All bought into this. So, it is not an APGA, PDP or any other party’s affair. In a very recent meeting which the current governor had with the Elders Forum, they also issued a communiqué that every political party should be encouraged to pick its candidate from Anambra South.
Why Anambra South?
Obi and Chris Ngige hail from Central and had done a total of about 11 years in government. Obi actually initiated the principle when he said that the next governor should come from the North so that after the North, it will be the turn of the South. That’s why Obiano is in power now. Of course you will see people who will argue against this. But they have always failed because it is not their turn. They are not favoured. Once the momentum is in favour of a particular zone, it makes no sense trying to change it. Once you go against the momentum, you are bound to fail. My advice to people who are not from Anambra South who are in this race, is, not to search for what is not theirs. If there are other reasons they are in this race, they can go ahead. But if it is about being the next governor of Anambra State, I might as well advise them to save their money because no matter what, you cannot play God; certainly not in Anambra. God will always remain God, people will remain people. If you go to Onitsha Main Market and all the leading markets and ask the question, ‘where will the next governor come from?’ the answer will be overwhelmingly, Anambra South. So, it is better you respect the will of the masses. What I always want to advise is that in the practice of zoning, match it with competency. You do not just go for people because they are from your zone. Vote for people who are from that zone but who are competent. This is where I fit into the best of the two worlds.
Still on the COVID-19 pandemic, you made a unique intervention in providing N100 million guarantee for small businesses to access the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) N50 Billion Intervention Funds. What is it all about? Why did you decide to go this unique route?
I come from a background of deep understanding of finance and appreciation of issues. My background is accounting. I am a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and four other professional bodies. Beyond having a B.Sc in Accounting, my MBA is in Banking and Finance. I still went to England as a Chevening Scholar to do a second Masters in Finance and majored in bankruptcy.
So, I understand the world we live in. And I know that we are headed for bankruptcy and great depression. We are headed for trouble. No matter what any person may say, it is certain because the numbers are not adding up. There are sectors that are going to be worst affected. Some will be marginally affected. Only few will make money in the next couple of quarters. So, we are going to have a lot of problems that our government does not have the resources and the competency to tackle. I also at some point in my life, was head of embassies and multilaterals. I managed most of the multilateral institutions in the world in their relationship with the Nigerian financial institutions. What that did for me was to elevate my understanding at the global level. I was head of international banking. I had to visit over 50 countries and had met with almost all the top regulators in the world from the Federal Reserves in USA to the United Kingdom Financial Services Authorities (FSA), to Dubai, to the regulators in China, India. In my days as a banker, you wouldn’t go to the World Bank, US Exim or UK (DFID) and mention my name without realising that it was a household name.
Coming from this background, you may understand what I did. I don’t just jump into something, I think through it. I understand the importance of guarantee in banking. The CBN had put out N50 billion Intervention Funds. I was concerned with my people from Anambra and the problem of mistrust. They may ignore the facility with the insinuation that the beneficiaries had been decided beforehand. What I am doing is bringing their consciousness to it and creating awareness. I am encouraging them to go and apply and not give up. I know that in asking them to apply, one of the problems they are going to face is guarantee. So, I want to unlock the opportunities for Ndi Anambra. I want them not to have reason not to take advantage of the facility. Let the failure come from the authorities, for whatever reasons.
So, I bring those items I call three solutions in one – awareness, the guarantee and of course, the advisory. I am saying to them, ‘if you run into trouble, I am available’. I have tidied up the arrangement with two other microfinance institutions that I actually have stake in.
This also gives you an idea of what can be possible in our society if you have the right people. I say it because the answer to some of our problems can be simple solutions. Most governors go to borrow, which is very unfortunate. Peter obi handed over Anambra with a positive balance sheet. Today, we are in major deficit. I am going to look into how to get Anambra out of the woods. A lot of what the state governments are doing is not what they should be doing. I may want to have an airport but I will not want to put our money in the project. I may get a private sector to take up the project and even guarantee it with potential businesses. If the private sector does a good job, I would have achieved the same purpose, for less.
What I am saying is that I will leverage our assets and resources in a manner to unlock bigger opportunities so that the limited resources of the state can do far bigger things. I think that the COVID-19 Intervention Fund is a great opportunity and people are responding positively. When I do things like this, I don’t do them for glory. I do them to arouse catalytic chain reactions. I want people in other states to take up this challenge and help people around them. Let’s compete in positive terms.
You are leaving your comfort zone for the uncharted path of politics. What motivates you?
Many things! And I started with that initially. I honestly want to leave a legacy. I want to make a difference. When I think of the place of a black man in the world, I feel that we are doing badly, we are poorly positioned and there is not much to change the narrative in the short run. I am discussing this from a very informed perspective because I know the issues. In fact, people have taken this argument to the level of ‘are we cursed or are we the cause?’ The question remains, ‘is something wrong with the black skin?’ Why do we prove our critics right? Pieter Botha during the apartheid era sniggered, ‘give them freedom and they will mess themselves up’. And we seem to be proving him right in some of the things we do. This doesn’t take away some of the snapshots of successes we record here and there, in most cases, singular efforts without building institutional frameworks around them.
We try to explain this with all sorts of reasons ranging from slavery, racism, conspiracy against the black man and all manner of theories. Now we have some good examples in Senegal, Ghana, and Rwanda where they are doing great things. When I analyse these, I come to the conclusion that nothing is wrong with us. We just haven’t got our acts right.
One of the philosophies I hold dear which is actually a recipe for our solution is building a culture of continuous improvement. No matter whatever thing we are doing in the world, there is always a better way of doing it. It is just a change for the better. It is about challenging the status quo. That is what is ruling the world. Africans don’t want to invest in research.
What I am saying is, nothing is wrong with us. We are wrong with ourselves. I feel I have a bit that I can contribute in changing the story of the black man in the world. I want to change that narrative. I don’t need to become Nigerian president to do so. I can actually start in Anambra to show the example. I want to use Anambra as an example of what a black man can do to govern ourselves, change our story and have a state we can be proud of. That’s my motivation.
In Nigeria, we have this uncanny ability of attracting the worst of us into positions of leadership? Again, why is it that on the outside, politicians know what they want to do but when they get to office, it becomes a different ball game? Why should Anambra people believe that you be different?
On the point of attracting the worst of us in positions of leadership, I may want to argue differently. It is not the question of attracting the worst, it is just that the best don’t actually want to show up. It is always easier to remain in the comfort zone; it is always easier to think of self first and how to be comfortable. We have not created the right environment for the best to manifest. The consequence is that people who don’t know what to do or who don’t even have value to add, jump into the fray. And before you know it, they start to protect themselves. I also don’t want to assume that all past politicians are incompetent and ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the role they played. There were actually the best of us among them. Part of the things I have learnt is never to assume you are better than the next person. Everybody is good. It is what they do that is bad.
The bad man can decide to do good; Even the good man can decide to do bad.
How do you then get the good men in the society to do good?
Disposition is not enough. My point is that we need both the good people and the right environment for success to take place. Let’s have critical mass of good people in the race. Let’s insist on the right things to be done. Our electoral laws are obsolete. We need a lot of improvement. When we begin to do the right things, the best will begin to show up. Sitting on the fence and criticising will not do us any good. Let us get in and change the system so as to unleash the potential we have in the country so that the right kind of people will emerge. I want to say that I am hoping that I will contribute my quota in ensuring that we open doors for competency to be entrenched in Nigeria. If we don’t get it right, we will always go in cycles.
How do we ensure in Anambra that going forward, an incompetent person does not emerge?
That means retiring incompetency. That is what my candidacy and my governance will do.
Why should Anambra people believe me? I am convinced that Anambra people are too intelligent to know who is telling them the truth. I have gone round in about 17 local government areas. We are actually holding the momentum. If today, primaries are held in Anambra, I will emerge the candidate of the PDP, without even doing much yet. Why I say this is because the people have seen through it. We have been fortunate. We had a Peter Obi as a governor. The people can draw a lot of parallels. They know the good when they see it.
Anambra people know my past. They believe the story. All it takes is for those who never knew me to hear my story from those who knew my past. They know that I was born in Anambra and that I have added value to Anambra and other parts of the country. They know that I have been driven by excellence in all that I have done right from my days in primary school, secondary school, university.
They know that when the grace of God started to shine on me mightily in my career progression, I never forgot Anambra. I always came back to give back in my little ways. They know people who have benefitted from my leadership trainings, my youth empowerment schemes, my scholarship programmes, my support for the widows, the church, the communities, my talent hunt competitions, singing, dancing competitions and carnivals where I used to bring thousands of youths together. I did those things for nothing. I never asked anybody to pay for a penny in all that I have done. I realised early enough how to give back, even when I wasn’t rich. So, they know that much about me.
They also know that I am one of the most connected in the state because of the privileges I had in my working life. And in all of this, I came out unscathed; no scandal! They know my story of leading a company (TRANSCORP) with the highest number of shareholders in Nigeria – almost 300,000 shareholders and taking it to where it is, and may be also, being one of the most decorated men in Nigeria, leading an organisation that has won series of awards in Spain, Greece and other countries. Maybe with these feats, they will be convinced that competency is not lacking in me.
I think they have the confidence that if there is any one that will take them to the new reality, they will see such in me. We are preparing ourselves to compete favourably with the best in any part of the world. They have that confidence in us.
Culled from the Niche