Alex Otti, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, had a job even many politicians would be envious of: chief executive of Diamond Bank. It is a job that comes with a lot of perks as is the practice all over the world. Otti was comfortable. He had enough to spend and he could afford to give his kids the kind of education that will secure their future. But even in his comfort zone in highbrow area of Lagos, Otti was aware that there were millions of ‘Abians’, as people of his native Abia State are fondly called, who could only dream of the kind of life he has. Otti had to move out of that comfort zone and throw his hat into the ring. He wanted to be the governor of his state and positively impact on the lives of the people of the state. But it would not be a smooth ride to the Umuahia Government House. Otti had to battle many forces. He was against a Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP that has become so entrenched in the state having been in the saddle for 16 years. Otti was convinced that he won the election, but the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, said Okezie Ikpeazu, the PDP standard bearer, was the winner. The battle had to shift to another front: the courts. The Tribunal upheld Ikpeazu’s election, but the appellate court has reversed that and ruled that Otti actually won the election. Now that the final battle has shifted to the Supreme Court, Otti feels he can sniff victory and dream of a 48-month sojourn in the Abia Government House. In this interview with Thisday’s Adedayo Adejobi Otti speaks about the journey, his motivation to fight on while all seemed lost, his plans for the state, why he joined politics and his abiding faith in nation’s judiciary as well as an unshaken belief that the Supreme Court will affirm the ruling of the Court of Appeal so he could keep a date with destiny…
How has the journey been? What are the frustrations?
It has been an interesting and challenging time throwing back to the pre-election period up until this moment. But I have always been encouraged by my conviction that Abia State deserves a better leadership than what the PDP was offering. I believed that if we did nothing to wrest political power from the charlatans who have raped the state for the last 16 years then we have waived our rights to complain. Like the great philosopher, Plato, would say.
I see what you may call frustrations as challenges. We have seen a lot of that in this journey. Starting from the campaign era, we were denied public spaces to meet and sell our programmes to the electorate. We were even physically attacked in many instances. We had opponents who did not play by any rules, people who used the instruments of state to encumber the electoral process to their advantage. But my confidence and faith in God were unshaken through it all. The support of the people, the hopeless state of things and the fact that our children had no future if we did nothing kept me going.
Were you surprised that you got justice at the Appeal Court given how corrupt the system has become?
I have firm belief that no matter how long it takes, evil cannot prevail over good. It did not come as a surprise because I know that majority of operators in our judicial system are men and women of integrity. Even where we have some turncoats, the system has in-built processes of correcting itself as evidenced in the Abia instance. Recall that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. Because I won the election convincingly and my opponents fraudulently stole it, I was convinced just like I assured Abia people that justice was on the way.
Did you ever have doubt about the judicial process?
I have always believed that God will give justice to Abia people because most of them have cried to him to redeem them from the clutches of these evil men that have held the state hostage for so long. If God, in His wisdom, has elected the judiciary as the instrument to achieve His will, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
This is your first shot at contesting for a competitive position. What was your campaign trick?
Abians were already fed up with consecutive governments that have continued to squander the collective wealth of the state. Civil servants had not received their salaries for over a year, hospitals were places where you go to contact diseases rather than get cured. Our schools have no roof; teachers are not trained and not paid. The infrastructure of the state is not different from what it was immediately after the civil war. So we did a need assessment working with our consultants to develop a realistic solution to the problems and presented a solution to the electorates in a format they can relate with. That is the bedrock of the movement you saw during the campaign and the massive support to vote out the party that was responsible for the plague Abians were subjected to.
What exactly is your mission in politics and what was the motivation for running for governorship?
I have spent all my work life in the private sector. My last job was the chief executive officer of Diamond Bank, one of the top banks in Nigeria. My foray into politics was motivated by my desire to give back to my community. As an individual, I do not have enough resources to significantly impact my community. More so, consecutive governments in my state have over the years degraded the economic and social base of the state. In my thoughts, I reckoned that it will be a waste of time to continue to stand neutral in the face consistent decay in the state from where I come. Just like Edmund Burke wrote: “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I therefore elected to move from my comfort zone into this murky uncertain terrain seeking to lead a group of like minds to rescue Abia State from the grip of these charlatans who have run the state down in the last sixteen years. The only way to achieve this is through the political process. This is the reason I joined the race to the Abia State Government House.
Many were surprised that you resigned as managing director of a bank to risk everything in politics. That was pretty risky…
There comes a time when one must make sacrifices for the betterment of the society. For me, there is no better time than now when all hopes appear to be lost; there is also no better platform to achieve maximum impact than through the political process. Life itself is all about risk. If what was important was personal comfort, I wouldn’t have taken the risk. But the life and well being of over five million Abia people were at stake. Majority of them could not do much about their situation. Those who could do something were afraid, unconcerned or compromised. Someone had to bell the cat. I believe it was Plato who once said that when intelligent and endowed people refuse to take part in politics, then, they take away their right to complain when fools begin to rule them.
Who are your godfathers?
All the times I am asked this question I give a simple response: the only godfather I have is the Almighty Father in heaven.
How did you raise your campaign fund to prosecute the election?
My campaign funding is mainly from well meaning individuals many of whom I have never met. These are people who are sufficiently dismayed with the dismal state of affairs in Abia State. We have volunteers from all strata of the society contributing efforts and money to propel the change the state has been yeaning for. My campaign is probably the most inclusive movement in the history of Nigerian politics. You can therefore understand how heart-broken people of the state were when their mandate was stolen and their spontaneous reaction when the Appeal Court ruling was made.
Do you think it is because you don’t have that is why you were robbed of your mandate as you alleged?
I know for sure that those who have perpetually extracted rent from the collective estate of the state used all available illegal means to subvert the will of the people. It is no news that the ruling party then through its agents in INEC, the police and so on provided support that enabled the violent rigging of the election particularly in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isialangwa North. But our strength was the people who craved the change we offered. You would recall that I was coasting home to victory before PDP forced in fake results to the collation centre which was promptly cancelled by the returning officer. The then governor, T.A Orji, Olisa Metuh and other top PDP, leaders stormed the collation centre, and with impunity, forced the returning officer to reverse the cancellation. You can imagine the number of security agents in the company of the group. We opted to recover the mandate at the tribunal, which by the grace of God, we have just done.
What are your expectations of the Supreme Court?
If you have followed the case from the lower court to the Appeal Court, you will understand that the appellate court has corrected the error of understanding that precipitated the initial ruling by the lower court. The ruling by the Appeal Court is clear and based on the constitution and the law of the land. I expect the Supreme Court to uphold the ruling of the appeal court.
What are your plans for Abia if the Supreme Court finally decides in your favour and you mount the saddle?
Before we took up this mission, we worked with consultants who visited all the nooks and crannies of the state and conducted a need assessment survey. We have developed a work plan for rebuilding the degraded social, economic and physical structures of the state. We have continuously adapted our priority and strategy with emerging realities in the economy so when we get the judgment we will hit the ground running immediately.
Abia is a poor state. How are you going to transform it from a backward state to a land of opportunities?
Abia is not a poor state. Abia has been made poor by misrule and perpetual callous mismanagement of her resources by the PDP government in the last sixteen years. Abia is blessed with many natural resources. Above all we have gifted entrepreneurs and craftsmen whose businesses have been stifled because the government has failed to provide the enabling environment for them to grow their business in the state. We have plans to bring these businesses back and by God’s grace we will so do
What is the first thing you would do as governor?
We already have a working plan so to a large extent we are ready to go. My first task will be to assemble a team together. We understand that we need the right leadership in every segment because we are going to inherit a system that is so devoid of any sane process. The decay in the civil service and other government agencies will need strong and dedicated leadership to correct.
There have been protests by some people against the Appeal Court judgment which declared you the rightful winner of the election, what is your message to them?
When the Appeal Court gave the verdict on the 31st of December last year, there was spontaneous jubilation and thanks giving everywhere in the state. This reaction came unsolicited from people who were happy that their votes have made meaning after all. Two days later, the caretakers in Government House rented a crowd made up of street urchins and people whom they have made perpetually poor so they can accept money to act against their good conscience just to feed for the day. This rented crowd was led by PDP “elders” many of whom were those who over the years have shamelessly extracted rent from the state and kept it under continuous penury. They know that the new order will have no window for such nonsense so they came together to lead the rented crowd many of them didn’t even know why they were there. My message to PDP is that cases are not won on the streets. Their deceit will not work this time around. Their aim was to intimidate the Supreme Court into reversing the judgment. When the people reacted a few days after, the governor hurriedly banned processions. But he organised the first one. He was scared at the number of Abians that came out to celebrate even from his Obingwa Local Government. I can assure you that over 90% of Abia people are excited about the judgement. Like they will say, Abians know who they voted for.
What exactly was the central point of your argument which eventually swayed the judges?
Our case was based on the fact that the elections in three local government areas in the state were marred by substantial irregularities and over voting. The electoral officer being aware of the incidents cancelled the elections in these local government areas but was forced by the then governor in company of the national publicity secretary of PDP, Olisah Methu, and a serving senator to reverse himself under gunpoint. Our plea was that the cancelled results should so remain and a winner should emerge based on the valid votes recorded. This is not only equitable and fair; it is the right thing to do.
Do you think your victory will encourage other technocrats to venture into politics because in actual sense nobody gave you a chance?
The events in Abia State so far will change the political landscape of Abia politics and indeed Nigeria. It will definitely convince professionals who aspire to change things for the better that it is possible. From my story they will know that you do not need a godfather to achieve your ambition as long as your intentions are genuine and transparent. Truth is that the electorate is wiser now. They vote for their interests and ensure that their votes count. I like to quote Franz Fanon who wrote: “every onlooker is either a traitor or a coward.” A lot of technocrats now want to stand up to be counted.