Dr. Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odii, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in Ebonyi State, has said he is confident of emerging victorious at the polls, noting that his track speaks for itself.
Dr. Odii who spoke in this interview with Obinna Ezugwu , promised to focus on human capital development if elected governor in 2023.
You’re known for your philanthropy. Through your NGO, you have been impacting lives. Couldn’t you have continued doing that as a private individual? Why not leave politics for politicians?
Yes, I’ve been doing philanthropy over the years; trying to help and empower people. But the more I do that, the more I realize that a lot more needs to be done, and as a private individual, there is a limit to what I can do. A lot of the things I do for people are what the government is actually supposed to do. So, when I realised that I would not be able to do everything as a private businessman, I decided that it would be better to be part of the government, so as to use the instrumentality of government to impact more lives positively. So, yes, it’s still the desire to empower people that prompted me to join politics, having realized that a lot more needs to be done, and that I may not be able to do them as a private individual.
You’re from Ebonyi South, same zone as David Umahi, the incumbent governor. There are a number of stakeholders who are working towards power shift to the North, particularly to Izzi. Don’t you feel that they have a point?
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Well, what we have done over the years is that we try to make ourselves saleable to every clan in Ebonyi State. If you have been following my activities within the state, you would have realised that I don’t discriminate. I do not care whether you are from the South, the Central or the North. My core belief is that we’re all Ebonyians first; a people with common destiny whom God has brought together for the purpose of discovering and fulfilling that destiny. The important thing is that we have somebody from Ebonyi who can use the instrumentality of government to deliver good governance to our people. I believe that the ultimate desire of every Ebonyian, irrespective of clan, is the growth and development of our dear state. So, to that extent, I believe that having a government that is people oriented is the desire of all the peoples of Ebonyi, whether you’re Izzi or any other clan. We’re are one people, and that’s what matters most to me.
Let point out that if you go to Izzi land today, I have built a number of houses for people there. I have many people from there under my scholarship scheme. My records are there. As a private citizen, I’ve treated every part of Ebonyi as one, and cannot therefore discriminate against anyone as a governor because being a governor means to the whole Ebonyi would be my primary constituency. So, yes, I see Izzi people as Eboyians who have similar aspirations as myself; the desire to see Ebonyi develop, and I call on them and everyone in the state who share these aspirations to back this project.
When you look at NBS statistics, Ebonyi has been in upward trajectory in terms of education and other human development index. As governor, what would you do differently?
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We have documented our programmes in a manifesto which will soon be released to the public. Having said that, one of the things I’ve done over the years is to identify the needs of the people with a view to meeting those needs. That’s what my philanthropy has been about. Yes, I agree that the state has improved in certain areas, but if you look at the same NBS statistics, Ebonyi is ranked among the poorest states in the country, about number three on the list. And in terms of ease of doing business, Ebonyi is ranked about 34 out of 36 states. These are some of the parameters you use to know whether people are impoverished or not. For me, a lot of things have gone wrong and that is why I looked at these things critically and decided that I should come to help change the narrative. Very soon, I will unveil my manifesto, which is encapsulated in a four-point agenda. Education is there, healthcare is there, wealth creation and security. These are the four needs I believe we have to meet immediately.
In terms of wealth creation, you have what is called new infrastructure; infrastructure that address the actual needs of the people. In terms of wealth creation, we are have mapped out programmes on how to bring investors to Ebonyi State in order to grow our investment portfolio. Today, the GDP of Ebonyi State is about $2.9bn, and the population of the state is about 3.4 million, which is to say that per capital income is just $852.98, and if you divide that by 440, you have $1.9, which is less than N1000 per day, and that is our minimum wage. And you could tell that with inflation and the fluctuation of the exchange rate, it’s very difficult to use N1,000 to feed a family per day. What that suggests is that Ebonyi still remains one of the poorest states in the Southeast, if not the poorest. And when people are poor, it’s natural that there would be social vices. Criminality would occur because hunger is what brings people’s self esteem to zero. No matter the level of education you have, if you’re hungry, only God can help you not to think of going into criminality.
Until recently, you could have been convinced that your key challenger was APC, but now we have Labour, which has grown in popularity courtesy of Peter Obi. Don’t you think the emergence of Labour may mitigate your chances?
I doubt if there is anything that would mitigate my chances. I don’t have any fear because I’ve always believed that it’s about what we’re bringing to the table. I often ask people to look at where all of us are coming from; look at what we’ve done for the people in our various capacities. That would be a good pointer to what we would do if we get into office. If you ask me what I’ve been doing for the people before now, I will say that in the last eighteen years, I’ve built schools, I’ve built over 130 houses for people, I’ve built nine churches, I have had thousands of people under my scholarship scheme, I’ve provided healthcare and empowered small businesses. That’s what I think people should be looking at. If I could do all these things with my little resources, that means I would do much more if I get into government, and I’m telling the people of the state to trust me to be able to do much more.
So, I’m not scared about any other political party. I’m optimistic about the PDP and myself as the candidate. Also, remember that Ebonyi State is a PDP state; this is the truth no matter what anyone wants you to believe. There is no other party that would go through what we’ve gone through in the past few months and still stand. But go to the party’s secretariat today, you will see thousands of people holding meetings. Again, in recent months, you haven’t heard about someone from the PDP defecting to any other political party, but everyday you see people defecting from other parties to the PDP. That tells you that the PDP is strong and is determined to take back the state and take it to the place it should be.
The primary that produced you was contested all the way to the Supreme Court, and it is obvious that a number of party big wigs didn’t support you heading into the primary. Now that the Supreme Court has validated your candidacy, are you making effort to reconcile with these people who didn’t back you?
Yes, my activities in recent days have revolved around trying to get aggrieved member of the party to see reasons for us to work together in the interest of the party and our state. I’ve been doing that and the results have been very positive. I’m going to continue to reach out to members of the party, and I tell you that everyone I have met with has expressed willingness to come back and work even harder to ensure that the party emerges victorious in the election. I’ve been doing that, even across party lines, reaching out to all the major stakeholders in the state. So, I assure you that Ebonyi State PDP will come together as one family, by the special grace of God, and that’s already happening.
There is a growing sense of insecurity in the state. Only recently, Abia Onyike, a member of your campaign team, was abducted and tortured by Ebube Agu operatives. Does this give you reason to worry?
Yes, we’ve seen the government in power trying to use coercive means to create fear in people, but let me tell you something; power belongs to the people. The power to decide who becomes the next governor resides within the people of Ebonyi, and today, the people are so resilient that no matter how you push them, they know who they want to elect to lead them. They know the kind of person they are looking forward to having as their governor in 2023. So, you can try as much as you can to intimidate the people, but the truth remains that Ebonyians are not scared anymore. We’re equal to the task, and by the special grace of the God, on May 29, 2023, we will form the government.
But come to think of it, if you know that you’re popular, why are you deploying coercive measures? Why are you trying to force people to follow you? If you think you’re popular, you should be able to market yourself. But once you resort to the use of force, what that suggests is that you’re not sure of yourself. And I make the point again that power belongs to the people, and I’m sure that at the appropriate time, the people will resist force and make their voices heard. What I tell my followers is that they should be calm; they should be law abiding, and not allow anyone to force them into taking laws into their own hands. I believe it’s always better to engage in a civil manner, so we’d try to do that as much as we can, while making sure that relevant stakeholders are aware of what is happening in the state.
The governor recently issued an executive order barring political parties from using schools and other public facilities for campaigns without first applying for approval and making a non refundable deposit of N5m. What’s your take on this?
Well, when an executive order comes from a sitting governor, the first thing to do is to review it. You invite your legal advisors to study it and give advice on the best way forward. But from the look of things, we know that the electoral act 2022 supersedes every other executive order in relation to the electioneering period. I know that INEC has brought out its guidelines, and parties are allowed to use public facilities to campaign.
When a governor just wakes up and says that you cannot use secondary and primary schools, as well as markets to campaign, what the governor is saying is that there shouldn’t be anything like rallies or campaigns. It is an attempt to circumvent the electoral act, and anything you’re doing that is not in line with the provisions of the law will not stand the light of the day. People will definitely go to court to challenge it, and I’m sure that very soon, these things will be over.
You will discover that civil servants, prior to the coming onboard of this administration, supported the governor so much. They were promised a lot, but they eventually got nothing. We want to know how you intend to handle the issue of their welfare as governor?
Of civil servants welfare will be top priority of my administration if elected into office. I’m aware of what they have gone through in the past few years because some of them are members of my family, and I believe that everyone of us has relatives who are civil servants. We know their pains, and our message to them is that the days of their pains are almost over. If we come into power, by the grace of God, civil servants in Ebonyi State will get salaries and promotions as at when due. We will make their welfare our priority because we’re also aware that the best way to circulate money within the economy of a state is by paying civil servants well. When they are paid, they go to the market to buy their items and thus stimulate economic activities. So, if you want to run an economy that is very robust, you must take care of the welfare of the civil servants.
You’re seeking to succeed Umahi who obviously has built roads and sundry infrastructure. Why should the people abandon him and his party and support you?
Well, I’m not saying that anyone should abandon any person. For me, it’s about what you intend to do, as encapsulated in your manifesto, and what you have done in the past, which should give an idea of what you are are capable of doing. I’ve mentioned previously that we’re in a state that is one of the poorest in the country. What that says is that even if you have built roads but you have not built the people, you have not done much. My idea is to focus on building the people; that is human capital development. I will go into new infrastructure, as I mentioned. And by that I mean infrastructure that would meet the immediate needs of the people. I’m going to build roads, but for each road I’d have to assess the impact it would have on the people. I ask you, how many of the farmlands in the rural areas are accessible through good roads? If you check, you’ll find out that there is none. So, for me it would be about building infrastructure that would improve the lives and livelihoods of the people.
I won’t be pursuing white elephant projects. My job will be to ensure that the farmer has access to good roads to transport his produce; that he has access to credit facilities and farm inputs to enhance output; to ensure that our children go to school, and to ensure that people have access to good healthcare. The ultimate objective is to create an environment for businesses to thrive in Ebonyi. I will make sure to industrialise the state. If you check, how many industries do we have in the state today? The answer is that we have very few, and you can only grow the economy of a state by creating the atmosphere for businesses to thrive. Yes, you’re building an airport, but the question is, what’s the level of commercial activity going on in Ebonyi? When you board a commercial aircraft coming to the East from anywhere in the country, how many Ebonyi people do you see in that aircraft? The answer is very few. Many airports have been built in many states, and you find out that it’s the state governments that augment the number of aircraft coming into the state. In fact, in some airports, no aircraft goes there because there are no passengers going there. So, the question is, instead of using all those resources to build airport, why not channel them into areas that have direct bearing on the lives of the people? For me, I will focus on projects that have direct impact on the people. You will see the details in my manifesto.
The manifesto is very robust, and I think that this is the first time that anyone wanting to govern Ebonyi is coming up with such robust manifesto. We took time to analyze the problem of Ebonyians, and we’re very optimistic that we’re going to address them. We will run an effective and transparent government, holding town hall meetings to assess the level of progress made.