I am in the Race to Develop Anambra of our dreams – Valentine Ozigbo
In this interview, granted Nigerian Notch at Grand East Hotel Awka, he looked at numerous leadership challenges facing Ndi Anambra, his desire to govern Anambra and his passion for an egalitarian state.
*Let us know about your family background, education and your entry into the business world?*
Thanks for having me chat with you. All my life, I can say, I am a man of grace; a man whom God has special love for. This was been made manifest right from my early childhood. I am a son of a village catechist and headmaster, and my mother was a petty trader. I am the last of seven children. My mother is 86 this year; while my father is 92. This year, they will be celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary. Because my father was a headmaster, we had to move from one village to another, where he was transferred to. I was born in Umuomaku, in Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State, where I started my primary education, before coming back to Amesi, my own community in Aguata Local government Area of Anambra State. We moved like this because of my father’s profession, and this movement helped me in many ways. As a kid who moved from place to place, I was able to make new friends and i endeared myself to new neighbours. The fact that I was son of a headmaster also pushed me to behave in a manner that will gave respect to my status. I learnt to become more disciplined, applying self control and work hard to protect the name of my father. That consciousness is what summarily helped me to become what I am in life, today. Attending primary school in multiple villages, and becoming one of the best in any school I attended, was also the outcome of what I just described. In my secondary school, I was also one of the best students. That was also a product of my background. This is why I said, I am a man of grace, a man who strives for excellence, who applies himself to the fullest to see that I achieve a lot. So, I learnt in life that he who succeeds more is not the person, who is most endowered, but he who hungers for more and works harder. When I was in SS1, I wasn’t the best in Mathematics. I had to approach a corps member, who devoted his time to teach me the subject. Before I knew it, I mastered the subject; such that I represented my school in quiz competitions. During our General Certificate in Education, GCE, examination, I scored A1 in Mathematics. It was same standard that I replicated in my Senior School Certificate Examination, SSCE. Why did that happen? Because, I paid special attention and worked hard. After my secondary education at the Christ Redeemer College, in Aguata, I was the only student that was called by Rev Fr. Ellias Anyaora, the then principal of the school, to come back as a teacher. I thought Mathematics and Physics in the same school, where I passed out from. That became my first paid job. That actually boosted my confidence. That was why when I went to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to study Accountancy, I reminded myself that I was going from a village school, and I was going to meet people from Special Science Schools, Federal Government Collages; but I would not let anybody pass me in the class. As a young man, full of confidence, and also a teacher, I insisted that I would make my mark, and by his grace, that came to pass. Our late elder brother, Engr Collins Ozigbo, who died in the sosoliso aircrash, was the one whom I followed his example and style because he sat me down and told me to make my first year the most important year in the school, and that if I actually wanted to succeed, I should pay attention to my God, my studies, and then always have good rest away from the fun that comes from being a first year student. I followed his advice, and at the end of the day, I made the best result in my department and the best in my faculty. I also won a scholarship to travel to UK. It was considered the most prestigious scholarship in Nigeria. A chevny scholarship it was. As at then, I just got married and had a kid of three months old. So, after I got that scholarship, they took my passport, my wife’s passport and my little kid’s passport, and prepared student visa for me. I did not go to Embassy for interview then. They paid for our flight ticket, paid tuition for me, paid the rent for me and still gave me allowance for the period I stayed there in the UK. After my studies in UK, I came back to Nigeria, to continue with the banking profession. By the time I returned from England, I visited over 13 countries every year; because, I assumed many roles: Head of Special Liaison, Head of Global Transaction Banking, etc. I was actually moving from one country to other open more banks. So, everything I do, you see clearly the hands of God in them. I spent seventeen years in the banking industry.
*How, I became a banker*
This is my story of how I found myself into the banking industry. Right from my third year in the university, we had a lecturer, who prided himself of teaching Financial Management, one of the most difficult courses at that time. But for me, as Mathematics inclined person, and also a teacher myself, doing quantitative analysis was usually an easy thing for me. The first time he entered our class, he reminded us, that his course had kept many students from graduating, and that the best student of that course in my class would go with a prize money. After the first semester, there were two ‘As’ in the course, and I was one of them. After the second semester, there was only one ‘A’ and I happened to be the only one. But by the time we were done with the second semester, the man left for NAL Merchant Bank, as Executive Director. Months after, when we were in the final year, the man drove in, and he came down from his car. When I saw him, I rushed to him and reminded him of his promises. So, he told me that instead of giving me money, he promised that I would do my youth service at NAL Merchant Bank. That was how I did my service at the Lagos Branch of the bank. The branch manager was from Anambra State. He gave me a lots of assignments that he considered very critical. By the time I was leaving after my service, the manager broke into tears, and wished I would remain. Although NAL Merchant Bank was not retaining Corps members; but he made efforts to ensure I was retained; that was how I joined the banking system. After some time in the bank, I told them I was to resume at Diamond Bank, which is also all about God's grace in my life. I, resumed in the Diamond Bank, and within few weeks, they sent me to the Warri branch. That was the time of hostilities in Warri. I felt sending me to Warri was a punishment; I didn’t know it was destiny. After six months at the Warri branch, I was elected the best staff of the bank at the Warri branch. That same year, Warri also emerged the best branch in the whole country. After 17 years in the banking sector, traversing through NAL Merchant Bank, Diamond Bank, GTB, and others, where I trained over 1500 bankers, I went to Transcorp, where I became the first President and Group CEO after privatization. Within seven years under my leadership, Transcorp Group became the best in Africa and the world. The hotel also became the best hotel in Africa. As Transcorp president, I had a privilege that was unparallel. I don’t believe there is anybody from Anambra State that is that privileged. I had the privilege of meeting who is who in the world. I had to shake hands with Prince Charles, Tabo Mbeki, Bill Gates, the CEO of Facebook, etc. There was no year, I would not shake hands with at least, thirty presidents. Anywhere I went to in the world, I got treated like a king. It was in 2019 that I was announced the President of Transcorp Group, which covers all the business of hotels, oil and gas, agro businesses, etc. I am still at the board, even though I retired since March of 2020, I remained on the board because, obviously, they value my contribution. But I will soon be leaving, because, I will soon be running for an election, because, I cannot remain in the board and be running an election. On the community side, there is also a lot going on. I have used the instrumentality of my foundation to inspire a lot of greatness among our youths and women especially. I have done leadership training, where I had to bring leaders from across the world to Anambra. I have done empowerment programmes, talent hunts. I’ve done carnival; I’ve brought about twenty artistes to my community to perform. I was not doing all these things for politics. While doing all these, I did not imagine going into politics. What was driving me in a lot of things I was doing, was how to impact in the society that made me what I am. Even during the COVID-19 era, I was the only PDP aspirant that went to local governments up to five times, providing palliatives to the down trodden; because, I like living an impactful life. I believe that the life worth living is the life whereby people talk good of you, especially when you are not around.
*What informed your decision to run for the number one citizen of Anambra State?*
My intention is not to become number one citizen of Anambra State. My driving force and principle is to serve. My desire is to lead Anambra into greatness. I don’t care whether I am the least in the state; my concern is, as governor of the state, to take our state to the next level. I want to use Anambra State to show the world an example of what good governance is supposed to be. I want to use Anambra to demonstrate how we can change the story of the black man. I want to inspire professionals into politics; I want to inspire Igbo people, using Anambra as a starting point; to prove that the energy, wisdom, zeal and other potentials with which God endowed them with, could be used for good and positive things. I’ve been in discussions where the story of black people is discussed, where we often wonder if anything is wrong with the blacks. Why are Africans the way they are? Why I use Africa as a case study is that in South Africa, for instance, during the reign of the colonial masters, the country was doing well; but immediately after independence, and the blacks started ruling themselves, everything almost collapsed. So, we begin to ask the question whether we are cursed or we are the cause. We behave as if to say that we are the cause. So, one begins to ask, is this how God made us to be; to be second class or third class citizens of the world and unable to uplift ourselves? When you want to adduce answers to these questions, you find out that we give a lot of funny excuses as reasons behind our story of woes. See, just to restructure Nigeria, and we are having debates. How stupid are we? Restructuring should be happening on yearly basis. If a particular thing is not working well, we should figure out how to improve on them. I am into the governorship of Anambra State because, I am not comfortable with the status quo. We are actually more blessed than most people that are seemingly better than we are. It is only that we failed to get certain things right. First among them is the ability to entrench competency in leadership. If we know how to recruit properly; if we know how to insist on competence, and make it impossible for the incompetent to emerge as leader, just like China, where it is not practicable for an incompetent person to emerge as leader. In our own case, most often, we have the most incompetent emerging as our leaders. This is what I can see. We cannot be talking about the civil war as our draw back after almost after 60 years. Japan fought the Hiroshima war, and within ten years, it emerged as one of the largest economies of the world. So, there is absolutely no excuse to give. All that we need to do is to join hands to enthrone competency in all strata of leadership. As Ndi Anambra, it behooves on us to ensure that an incompetent person do not rule the state again. There are things we can do to change the status quo. This is the main reason I am in this race; because, I believe that with competency in leadership across board, the right culture, I will lead Anambra to that glory it has been yearning for.
*It is believed generally that anybody seeking political position, such as the governorship, is going there to make money. Do you have any contrary view?*
It is only true to the extent that we sacrifice competence and integrity on the altar of mediocrity and incompetence. Personally, I am here to change the story for good. I am not into politics to make money. As a matter of fact, I will be a richer person focusing on what I’ve been doing than being in political office. So, the least in my consideration is money and fame; because, I’ve got all these. Looking at the past governors, I don’t think any of them is richer than me. None is happier than me, and none sleeps better than I do. What inspire me are the great things some of them did. During the time of Nnamdi Azikiwe, the southeast was considered as the fastest growing economy. How do we go back to the good old days? That has been my inspiration and driving force; those are my dreams; not money and fame. So, I am not here for money. Majority may be; but some are not and I am one of them. I am here to change the system and to change the story, so that son of nobody can become somebody. In Anambra today, people who throw money about in order to be elected into political offices are most likely going there to make money. They are the least people Abambra electorate would likely entrust power with, because, Anambra people are about the most successful people in the country, so, you cannot cajole them with money. Therefore, Anambra people are not looking for people to lord over them; but people who will synergize with them to improve the face of the state. We are not here for money or for the fame; but for the legacy that we have to entrench.
*You were honoured by CNN as one of the highest promoters of freestyle football. As you go into governance, what is your blueprint for sports generally?*
It speaks on the point I made earlier about my fate in the younger generation. I want to leverage in their energies, because, energy is very important. Two ways of leveraging into the energy I am talking about are sports and entertainment. Freestyle football is a summation of both sports and entertainment. In 2017, I was watching a clip on my phone, when I saw young people juggling with football all over their bodies. I said to myself, I would invest in this, because, our people can do it, and it is a way of getting our boys off the street. I had to research about it in the internet and found out it has been existing in other continents, but nothing to show for it in Africa. A few who were doing it in Africa did it on their own, as they had no platform in Africa. Right there, I called J.J Okocha, met with him and discussed how we can partner with the world body to promote it in our area. He gave a stringent condition; so, I had to contact Kanu Nwankwo and a number of others. I later contacted the person, who supposes to be in charge of Freestyle football. I told him I wanted to organize Nigerian championship in 2017. We met in London, signed the contract, and in September, we organized the event. Participants went home with huge prizes. The championship we organized broke world recorod by all standards, according to the world freestyle body. In 2018, we organised African championship with participation of 12 countries. We also extended the record breaking. In 2019, we also organized it with 32 countries participating. In 2020, we could not organize it because of COVI-19. So, CNN recognized us because, on their own, they approached me and said they wanted to showcase what we did because they were remarkable. So, as we go into government in Anambra State, we want to break the grounds; we want to set new records; we want to harness the potentials of our young ones in sports. So that they will engage themselves actively, entertain themselves doing so, and make money doing so. Anambra will be the entertainment hub. We want to use Anambra to set example of what good governance should be in all spheres of life.
*Water Corporation in Anambra is almost dead. How do you intend to revise it if elected governor?*
When I will unveil my manifesto, you will find out that we are devoting much energy in giving safe water supply and good environment to our people. The truth is that you will hardly get a good and healthy urban city without functional water system. It is a big shame that this has eluded us. If elected governor, I will be forming the right partnership to fix the water coporation. So, it will be the focal point of our agenda. At the start, we are going to devote a chunk of our budget to water. We shall also partner with development financial institutions to get it properly done. So, that the resources we don’t have as government will be complemented by the development financial institutions. I am happy that I have what it takes to bring people together to get things done.
*Crime wave is increasing by the day. How would your government fight crime via job creation?*
This is one of the areas I consider as my areas of strength. I am a job creator; I am an entrepreneur. I am a business person. So, we need to create an ecosystem where a number of things happen in a coordinated and independent manner. On one hand, we need to improve on the quality of sustainable development goals; especially education and health; so that our people will be healthy, safe and secure and also employable; so that the product of our university system will be relevant to the market place; in order to increase their employability and the ability to stand on their own. We need to get Anambra more competitive. We need people who are in business to succeed more. We want to make Anambra a fashionable destination. We will not compel business people to come home; they will be compelled to invest at home when they see that others, who invested at home, are succeeding. We are going to create economic hubs; when we do this and Anambra starts to succeed, employment will grow from the bottom to the top. When this is added to sports and entertainment, Anambra people will be awash with employment. When this happens, crime rate will reduce, and people will start to wonder how Anambra happened to succeed, and they will come to copy the template. I am not always comfortable when I hear people talking about Ministry of Employment. The important thing is to understand the workings of the entire ecosystem.
*As you go into politics, who do you want to take as your role model among past and present Nigerian leaders?*
I will not answer your question in a conventional way. Because, when you pick people like that, you run the risk of taking their good traits, and also their bad habits. What I do is, I go to somebody; I pick whatever I want to pick from the person; go to another person and do the same thing and so on; and in that way, I will not run into risk. Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no one person I want to be totally like. If I go to the business world, I may go to somebody like Tony Elumelu. I will imbibe his, I can do spirit and other good qualities that make him what he is. I can go to another person and pick another good trait. So, in politics, Peter Obi, is one person many people say, and I stand to agree, is considered the best governor Nigeria has ever produced. In some areas of his governance, I may like to improve; but in very many areas, he achieved remarkable feats. You remember what Anambra State used to be before Obi took over, and the position he left the state, after doing much in agriculture, security, education, health, infrastructure, and a lot of things; and still left a lot of money in the coffers of Anambra State. I wish I were the person succeeding Peter Obi. Peter Obi has been an inspirational leader. I wish I will not be inheriting all the loans that is presently hanging on Anambra State; so that upon assumption of office as governor, I will only be thinking of how to take Anambra State to the next level; not how to repay loans. If Anambra State is operating on the kind of loan as being adduced; if Anambra has been so weakened to this present level, you only need an enigma, a visionary and empathetic leader, who the suffering of the masses will touch. We need a silent performer. When that picture is painted clearly, you find out that there are people, who will not even be considered as being eligible to come into the Anambra governorship race. I am not going to boast about it; I am aware that nobody comes near, when it comes to competence and preparedness to govern Anambra State at this critical time of its life. Again, Olusegun Obasanjo is another role model, who knows how to assemble the right people to get the job done and delivered. I will copy that trait from him. I also admire Barracks Obama. The former US president, who understands how to communicate and how to engage people. So, when i, assemble all the good attributes of the people I’ve mentioned, I will be a completely different leader, world leaders would like to copy.