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Paul Orajiaka is the founder of Auldon Group and chairman of Paul Orajiaka Foundation. In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he regrets that leadership in Nigeria has been befuddled by gerontocracy and oligarchy, stressing that while Anambra State should strive to join the mainstream of national politics, the governorship slot in 2021 should be reserved for visionary youth
Last month, Anambra State marked the 29th anniversary of its creation. How far do you think its political leadership has fared?
ANAMBRA State’s political history has been rather turbulent. While Lagos and Anambra States are close in terms of landmass and population, Lagos’ politics has been quite stable. But Anambra has been flavoured with numerous firsts and instability since the fourth Republic began. Starting from the administration of Chinwoke Mbadinuju, sworn in on May 29, 1999, as the first civilian governor, to the removal of Sen. Chris Ngige, after Peter Obi brought an action against him, to Peter Obi being impeached and replaced by Virginia Etiaba, his former deputy, to Andy Uba being replaced with Obi, down to the current Governor Chief Willie Obiano, currently on the last lap of his second term in office.
All these clearly depict the state’s turbulent, chaotic nature. There is a need for fairer elections and accountability going forward. Also, while Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) have both enjoyed political tenures in the state, it would be refreshing to have another person and party for a change and perhaps draw the state to the centre.
In terms of the social wellbeing of citizens, what can you say about its level of development?
Since the creation of Anambra State in 1991, the population has risen astronomically to an estimated 11 million people in 2020. Statistics show the state has an estimated 8,060,000 million persons who are under-employed, unemployed, or vulnerable persons; Women and children. That is quite staggering for a state of only 11 million persons.
Looking at issues as they are, while I will give credit to past administrations for their efforts, I must say that much more can be done with purposeful leadership. Such should bring together men and women whose quest for public office goes beyond pecuniary interest; men and women who embrace a higher nobility of purpose and conduct their affairs with an attitude of integrity, honesty, compassion, and Godliness.
The task ahead towards achieving my life goals of being an agent of change and upholding value-based leadership in Anambra polity calls for people with strength, grit, and steely focus on a broader spectrum of administration matters to champion good governance in the state.
Could that be what propelled you to join politics?
I realised that we are blessed as a people with a myriad of natural resources and diversity. Yet paradoxically, we are afflicted with some of the worst cases of under-development, infrastructural dearth, neglect, and decadence. There is also progressive disarmament of institutions, pandemics, and frightful high mortality rates and they built my strong desire to be counted as an agent of change.
Politics and quest for the public good became a long-term desire. I needed to start with a business background, create jobs and opportunities within my capacity, and understand the Nigerian business terrain. And now that I have accomplished all that, I want to contribute to the good of this great nation.
I see firsthand the economic situation honest politicians and public officials face to maintain their integrity and I strongly feel it’s worth a concerted effort. Aside from this long-held dream for politics, my everyday interaction and doing business right at the heart of Idumota, the rowdy commercial nerve centre of the cosmopolitan city of Lagos, affords me firsthand knowledge of the challenges ordinary Nigerians face eking out a living, and yet have collectively been able to take charge of managing their dysfunctional environment.
These personal experiences elicit the thoughts that having flourished relatively well in business, I am duty-bound to prepare myself for the life of service through active politics, because politicians make society’s choices, prioritize their needs, and are actors in enhancing service delivery to the people.
What constitutes the real needs of Anambra people and how can those be met?
As I said earlier, Anambra needs laser across security, education, infrastructure, and health. Security in Nigeria and especially in Anambra State is an ongoing issue far from resolution. Governor Willie Obiano recently launched Operation Kpochapu II (clean up II) in the state in the last quarter of 2019 and gave further directives to banks and filling stations to install CCTV cameras, where they operate. He said those places could be potential targets for security breaches.
While all these are commendable efforts, there are still a lot of holes to be filled with regards to security. States and cities across Africa are beginning to embrace smart city initiatives where they deploy technology (ICT) to tackle security challenges. Rwanda’s security model has clearly shown the effective role technology plays in formulating frameworks to adequately protect life, property, and a safer clime for business.
In the area of health, Anambra State has about 396 hospitals, 178 missionary hospitals, and private hospitals, far more than the last two combined. With these numbers, it’s important to properly equip the government-owned hospitals with all necessary facilities for adequate health care and equally provide the needed government support.
On education, it is very important that we lower the number of out-of-school children in the state having recorded a high-ranking 2nd place in the 2018 WAEC exams against other states in Nigeria.
Also, the Federal Ministry of Education’s statistics, in the 2015-2016 calendar year, gave the total number of public primary schools in Anambra as 1045, while the number of total male pupils was 348,071, and females 365,051. That is a total to 713,122. In the same year, the number of out-of-school children aged between 6-11 years was 49,319.
For a state with such high pass rates, the numbers need not drop lower. Our goal, therefore, is to make it the highest state of enrollment for kids from its current number. Tackling these issues first requires listening, following some of the best practices obtainable in tackling such issues, and above all, staying truthful and accountable to the people throughout the execution or implementation.
What’s your take on the growing clamour for zoning the 2021 governorship in the state?
People have the right to clamour for equal opportunity in government. I believe every zone in the Anambra state deserves equal opportunity in the leadership of the state. It brings about a sense of unity and inclusiveness.
Be that as it may, we must not sacrifice competence on the altar of zoning. We need zoning, but more importantly, we need a young, visionary, and capable individual to bring about the transformation the state badly needs.
Nigerian youths seem to have lost faith in the country’s future, what vision is available for youths to realize their potentials in your state?
Nigeria currently ranks 131 in the World Bank’s ease of business index conducted in 2019. That is very poor for a country that prides itself as the most populous black nation.
This means that many youths in their prime with sound entrepreneurial ideas are held back by these poor statistics in starting up their own business or entrepreneurial journey. My vision for the youth is to address the major challenges of doing business in Nigeria, particularly in Anambra, so the youths can seamlessly start off on their entrepreneurial paths. I will provide industrial zones within the commercial centers in Anambra so businesses can have unfettered power supply, access to Capital and credits for start-ups
What does the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign mean to you as a young governorship aspirant for youth to take up governance challenges?
Let me thank President Muhammadu Buhari for assenting to the Not-Too-Young-to-Run Act. This ought to have happened a long time ago, because as a country, Nigeria made lots of progress when youthful leaders piloted its affairs. How old were our founding fathers when we got independence? Even our military leaders like retired General (Yakubu) Gowon and the others were in their late twenties and early thirties when they ran the affairs of the country.
So like I said, the youth are change-makers and hence should not be afraid to run for political spaces in the largely gerontocratic and oligarchic society we presently have.
As a prominent businessman in Idumota, how did manage to marry business and academics to become a Harvard-trained scholar and doctorate research associate with Henley Business School, UK?
As a person, I am always passionate about whatever I lay my hands on. Starting off in Idumota, I never let the environment define me. While most people saw chaos and filth, I saw an opportunity instead and applied myself to make the best of the environment. Before Harvard, Henley, or even Lagos Business School from where I bagged my MBA, I always prided myself as someone with a first degree in business management from the University of Idumota. I am passionate about creating and deepening structures, which incorporate the best of the private and public sectors. It is for this reason that I enhanced my public service delivery skills and leadership.
I opted to study Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School because to live and remain ignorant of events around you is to live in bondage. To be aware of ills yet desire no change is itself saddening and to be conscious of how to improve the lives of your compatriots and fail to do so is living a worthless life.
THE GUARDIAN NG