Ozigbo, no doubt, has exciting and very rich credentials in intellect and leadership, going by his antecedents. He is a highly distinguished entrepreneur, a philanthropist with a heart of gold, and business leader of note.
As a banker, he traversed almost all known big banks, leaving in his trail intimidating records of achievement.
He told a team of editors: Chidi Nnadi, Tony Manuaka and Daniel Kanu, in this encounter as he shared his life at 50, that his mission in politics is to change the narrative and put Anambra State where it belongs – the top.
He also made some sensitive revelations on what he thinks is the true position of Anambra politics, the role of the church and why the PDP is the party to beat in 2021. Excerpt:
You will be bracing the golden tape on Monday July 20; what is your journey in life?
The first thing to do is to simply thank God for what He has done in my life. I am overwhelmed by His mercy and grace upon my life. I will always be grateful to God on how He has lifted me up. I am one of the persons that understood life deeply and now being driven by all of these to seek how to continuously impact lives, love humanity more, leave a legacy, and begin to change the narrative, especially that of a black man in the world. I am someone who is driven by excellence, driven by the culture of continuous improvement, and who applies himself to the maximum in pursuit of anything and, therefore, believes in diligence and hard work. I am someone who is disciplined, who looks to leave a positive impression on everyone he meets and these life philosophies have been rounded on strong belief in God, and that’s how I have seen myself succeed and shine in everything I have ever laid my hands on. This is how I want to characterize myself and, to begin to give more credence to what I have said, I will paint a brief picture of my journey so far. I am the last son of a headmaster (Mr. Andrew Ozigbo) and of a petty trader mother (Mrs. Christiana), a catechist, growing up in a village setting, moved across multiple villages, started primary school and attended secondary school all in the village, Amesi, Anambra State, where I was an outstanding student, having represented my college in various quiz competitions. I was one of the best students in the school. In secondary school, I was also one of the best students, first in most cases. I understand the need to do proud to the name of my father knowing that I was schooling in the same school he was a headmaster. When I graduated and was looking for admission to the university, I was the only student called back to teach because there was shortage of teachers and I taught physics and mathematics. Eventually, I went to the University of Nigeria, where I studied Accountancy, made the best result in the department and the faculty (Faculty of Business Administration), won all the prizes. I qualified as a chartered accountant, did my MBA at the University of Nigeria, later on won Chevening Scholarship and studied M.Sc in Finance at Lancaster University in England and graduated with a distinction. In 2019, I was voted Alumni of the Year by the university. I have attended a lot of seminars and executive programmes. I have attended a lot of world economic programmes, and international conferences. These include World Bank annual meetings in China, the USA, and other parts of the world. I have attended the World Economic Forum at Davos (WEF), World Economic Forum in Africa (WEFA), the African Development Bank annual meetings in China, the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) annual meetings in Washington DC, Euromoney and Economist conferences in London, Euromoney debates on Capital Flows in Africa and SIBOS, the biggest financial networking event in the world. I became part of the global CEO Programme, which was taught in three universities, Lagos Business School, SBS in Nairobi, and that of the biggest university in Spain, but we did this at the campus in New York. Upon going through that programme, I was voted the president of the class, which I still hold up till today. I am a fellow of many bodies. If you engage everything that culminated to who I am today, this different classes and journey, you will see the thing I said in the opening statement, you will see grace of God, you will see excellence, you will see hard work and diligence, you will see somebody who hungers for success and who works hard and with God blessings, that is what you see as being part of my journey.
You started from corporate Nigeria, how did it go?
The corporate experience is not any different. My banking experience spanned through NAL Merchant Bank, Diamond Bank, Continental Trust Bank, FSB International Bank, Standard Trust Bank, United Bank for Africa, and Bank PHB, among others. From my first year as a banker, I spent 17 years in the banking industry, but, in the first year, I became the best staff in the bank. Again that journey continued. I was always being sought after and hardly ever applied for any job. I transited from one financial institution to another and I rose very fast to the level of the general manager and I became one of the best bankers in Nigeria because it wasn’t just the typical money marketing, loan, and all that kind of banking. I became a total banker; I became head of international banking, head of global transaction banking, head of offshore liaison, head of embassies and multilateral, and many more. In banking, from being a village boy, I became an international man in banking. So, that exposed to me what businesses need to thrive because I was an entrepreneur even though an employee. It wasn’t difficult to imagine, therefore, when Transcorp board was meeting and they were looking for who should shepherd the company by the new team that was making an acquisition in the company led by Mr. Tony Elumelu, I had already left working for him then at the UBA, moved to Bank PHB. I got a call one morning as I was entering my car to go to China with my family for holidays and he (Elumelu) said it’s important that we meet. I said, Sir, I am sorry, I am actually on my way to China and when I am back I will come and see you, but he said it is important we see. So, I had to allow my family travel without me. I had to join them the next day. I went to that meeting and behold it was board meeting of Transcorp and we discussed and I got the job. The remarkable difference we made in the hotel is there for everybody to see. I was the MD/CEO of the hotel for seven years (2011-18). In the past, when you get to Abuja, you would argue between Sheraton and Hilton, which one was better. Nobody does that comparison anymore. The hotel became the best business-leading hotel in Africa by the World Travel Awards. The truth is that, when it comes to brainpower, we are not deficient, but it is just that we have keyed into the wrong narrative that seems to suggest us as being inferior. We have been in the same class with the whites and we have found ourselves beating them, most of us coming out with distinctions, so we need to change the narrative with good leadership. I actually think that we all have to begin to think of how to change that narrative and that has to also be by the things we do and not just merely say, the actions that follow what we say. And if we must change that story of the black man, it is possible and doable. After all, if you go back to the Zik and Michael Okpara years, when they led Eastern Nigeria, within those years, go and catalog what they did and you begin to see why it was being studied in Harvard, how the South East was the fastest-growing, regionally in the world not in Africa. If we had been consistent with that we won’t be telling this story today, we won’t be in the mess we are today. So, how do we go back to that era? We also saw what Peter Obi did as a governor In Anambra State, his outstanding strides. So, the truth is that Nigeria must be right for the story to change. Once we get those narratives changed, Nigeria will be restored. Once we get Nigeria right, Alaigbo will be okay and, if you come to Alaigbo, Anambra will be considered to hold the key, looking at antecedents. Anambra is blessed with potential, it is not about money billionaires where we have the abundance of it, intellectuals also abound. Go back to the Azikiwes, Achebes, in the political world Alex Ekwuemes, Ojukwus, Okadigbos, Anyaokus and Chimamanda in the literary, in sports, entertainment, name it. So, what is there is that, if we get Anambra right and begin to orchestrate it, especially when there is better regional integration in the rest of Alaigbo, things will pick up, with good leadership providing direction. So, Anambra has enormous potential that we haven’t tapped, all it takes is to find a more credible leadership, craft a new vision and align the people of Anambra State around it, they will buy into it, and we will begin to execute and you will see how things, including the narrative, will change. Let’s just fix Anambra and South East, the story about Nigeria and the black man will change. So, I am here, a man in pursuit of that grand purpose, grand agenda, it is beyond Anambra, and I am not looking to becoming Nigerian President. It is about fixing our Alaigbo, and God has blessed me with a sufficient dose of emotional intelligence, I know how to put things together. I thank God, the things I have done have exposed me to a lot of people and leadership experiences. I am one of the most committed people in Anambra, if not Nigeria. I have had the privilege of shaking hands with Presidents, who-is-who in the world. I am thankful to God for what He has done in my life and I want to use those experiences to see how we can create an example. So, in Anambra, I want to set a new standard for governance, I want a situation where when anybody comes from Imo, Abia, Ekiti, Adamawa, etc, and they want to govern, they will come to Anambra to copy the template. The idea is that we want to present what is possible, but which they never thought of. I am saying this with every sense of truth and conviction in what I can do. This is not a political talk because I walk my talk. It can be done, all it takes is credible leadership, getting comfortable people around you, working seriously towards it, and having that culture of continuous improvement where you must always seek to improve in whatever you are doing. So, ask me what areas I am going to tackle if I become the governor: all areas, no sector will be neglected. That is my promise.
You are running on the platform of the PDP to realise your governorship ambition. Did you consider the fact that APGA has been holding sway, how do you intend to dismantle the structure already established by APGA in the state?
I like the way you captured it, but it is almost sounding like the narrative of a single story. The truth is that PDP is a more popular party in Anambra State. APGA has always won the governorship and more seats in the assembly because of the connivance and support of some members of the PDP because of disunity. To prove this point, APGA people, its leadership, did not actually support the candidacy of Atiku and Peter Obi in the 2019 presidential election, but out of the 36 states in the country Anambra produced the highest PDP vote, that speaks to the popularity of PDP. PDP has more seats in the National Assembly, Senate, and the House of Representatives, that also speaks to the popularity. Why did Obiano win? Some actually believe there was a bit of malpractice there, maybe he could have won, maybe he couldn’t have, because, sometimes, when we allow these narratives based on the wrong premise, it can send the wrong signal, which is far from the truth. Secondly is that there was a point that a lot of people miss. A lot of people from Anambra South actually wanted Obiano to just round off. Giving another person opportunity from the North meant another eight years for the Anambra North. This zoning thing is so strong in the heart of the people and so many people from Anambra South said even though Obiano could have done any better in the first term, but they said let him just continue and so it infused the momentum in the minds of some of those leaders of the PDP and if that’s the momentum most of them decided to support him (Obiano) and there was this anti-party (sentiments) that arose, which created a discordant tune in the PDP. But today the story is completely different. APGA almost killed themselves with organizing the worst primary election known to man. There are more people unhappy within APGA than those that are happy. I know how many of them are calling me today and I know what they say. Many have already left the camp, especially with what happened in Imo; a lot of my Imo friends were saying: see what you people did to us. So, we are still defending Anambra in most of the things that happened at the APGA primary. Look at what happened to Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu. What I am saying to you is that, today, conduct a study, APGA is far weaker than ever before and the PDP is the single most popular platform in Anambra State today. The biggest hurdle for me is to win the primary first, not the main election. PDP is intent on taking back Anambra State and it’s going to happen.
But your party, PDP, is known to have constant leadership tussle, especially during elections. How are you going to handle this?
We have a much better, refined PDP, which is the paradigm I want you to come from. I am saying this with every sense of seriousness. A Valentine Ozigbo will never have gone into politicking in the old era, it’s not possible. I went to see some of those “big men” and they will be telling me the party they want me to run with, some telling me to run on the APC platform, where they say they will guarantee the ticket for me. I asked them to do what? Where is the mind of Ndi-Anambra? Is it APC? So, I will become an imposition? Do you see the desperation in me? Am I in this race to make money or fame? No. I am here to galvanize my people; I don’t want to be an imposition by either the court or any godfathers. Please, let me make four points I want you to note and highlight. Number one, we have as a leader somebody who is possibly the best governor that Nigeria has ever produced, Peter Obi. He is highly respected at the national level, that’s why he emerged as the vice presidential candidate and he performed handsomely well and is today extremely popular. That is our leader. Is he the kind of person that will ask you to give him money because you want to run for an election? You know him very well, do your research, that is who we have. Number two, is he the kind of leader that will impose his will on others? Mistakes have been made and lessons have been learnt. We have a clear case of a leader who is listening to what is happening and trying to lead by what other people are saying and not “it must be my way.” The third point is, PDP has become more democratic. No single person, even with all I said about the former governor, Peter Obi, he alone cannot make anybody governor. No single person can make anybody governor. They all have their influences, no doubt, and you can never take away their influences. In PDP today, maybe there are varying levels of influence, one may be more influential than the other. You cannot come to my village now, where I hold sway, and tell my ward people where they will vote, they won’t listen to you, they will listen to me. And there are many other places, that’s what the PDP has become, it has been democratised.
So, if you go to Anambra North, for instance, you have to contend with their biggies: Alex Obi Obolu, Chief Mike, Prince John, Stella Odua, Joy Emordi, Linda Ikpeazu, the Obaze brothers, etc. Are they the people that somebody will sit somewhere and say “everybody must go this way”? You must be a joker to think so. In the past, you won’t even know who the delegates are, we now know the delegates two years before the primary, we are engaging, we are consulting and we will endear ourselves to them. Before now, 48 hours to the election, a list would emerge; you don’t even know who members in the list are. All this has changed with the present leadership.
In politics, one cannot say it is over until one gets the ticket. Supposing you go into the primary and fail to come out successful, what will be your next line of action or option?
I answered this before, but not as maybe specific as you want it, so let me make it clearer. I will support the candidate of the party that will emerge. That is why I went through all what I was saying, telling you why PDP is important and not just the individual who becomes the governor. PDP is the platform to bring the change that we deserve, so I will work to show that whoever is in power, I will accept and support. But I also want to tell you that, if you look at what is happening, you will see clearly that I will be that candidate of the PDP. I am confident in this race.
We know that the church in Anambra has a big influence in elections in your state; to what extent has the church bought into what you are doing?
You see, what I am happy about is the fact that the church conducts and carries a deep level of due diligence before you start to see them shift their support to any candidate or the other. They look at your trajectory, your history, what you stand for, what drives you, etc, if there must be any endorsement from the church; I am not in any way worried that I will not be the choice. As a matter of fact, with all that I have also done, with my influence in the church, I can tell you that I will be the bride of the church and that cuts across all denominations in the state. I believe in the individuality of these denominations but, at the same time, I must tell you, we must actually separate politics from religion. I think that voters should vote due to the competency of the individual contesting and not what denomination you belong to. And, so, it may help me to gain into the position of authority, but I want to begin to see how I can shift that conversation so that we will always want to be driven by merit. Let meritocracy be the watchword. If the church helps to produce a bad candidate they will actually begin to mar the reputation of that church and we have seen that happening at the national level. Therefore, as much as I am a Catholic and I belong to a dominant denomination who, if it is about conquest, I will overcome, I actually, sincerely, want us to respect the individuality of our denominations and not create unnecessary divisions in Christendom.
What do you see as your greatest obstacle towards realising your governorship ambition?
I don’t see anything, I am confident of victory. If I didn’t see the signs in the hand of God evidently leading me, that, perhaps, may have been the obstacle. So, there is nothing again so far.
THE SUN, NIGERIA