Valentine Ozigbo, the quintessential technocrat, banker, businessman and hospitality expert, is the immediate past president and group CEO of Transcorp Plc. But he has a different mission now. He is working his way to become the governor of Anambra State, the state that Peter Obi, also a banker, once governed. But first, he is contesting to win the governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. A businessman per excellence and a philanthropist, Ozigbo is leaving his comfort zone in the business world to make a foray into the murky waters of Nigerian politics. A native of Amesi in Aguata, Anambra State, he is motivated by his hunger for a better Nigeria and a better place for the black man in the world. And he says his mission is to make Anambra the most competitive economy for investors in Nigeria, when he becomes its governor.
OZIGBO IS A POLITICAL NEOPHYTE, but he will lean on experiences he has acquired nationally and globally in boardroom politics, plus a very strong competitive spirit he has horned over the years to scale all hurdles to clinch the top job in Anambra State in 2021.
Already, he has a blueprint to turn Anambra State into an Eldorado. But first he has to secure the ticket of his party – the Peoples Democratic Party, known for habouring all manner of big wigs, especially in Anambra State, where political banana peels can trip even the most experienced politician in a blink not to talk of the enervating years of rancor within the party. But Ozigbo’s sense of purpose and strategy has primed him on how to unify the party and emerge as consensus candidate. Can he achieve this uphill task?
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Going by how he overcame his humble origin to climb to the apex of banking halls, business world and the successes that have trailed him, he stands a very good chance of achieving what angels of politics will mostly regard as “dead on arrival” for a novice, especially in Anambra State’s PDP.
“We are living in a competitive world where you have to run faster than those ahead of you if you must catch up. And we are comfortable with being last and doing nothing. I said this because I don’t see sufficient hunger for the change. And this is part of what is driving me into going for politics. And I feel that if the story of a black man can ever be changed, we must get it right in Nigeria. If we must get it right in Nigeria, the Igbos have a bigger role to play for many reasons that I don’t want to go into,” he said.
According to him, “if you must change the story of the black man, Nigeria is crucial. If we must change our story in Nigeria, the Igbos have a bigger role to play than we are currently playing. We have to strategically position that opportunity and change Nigeria for good in many ways and not necessarily just when we become presidents. But there are many other things we can do. And the starting point is looking at us at the state level. And for me, I think Anambra is so crucial to talk about what we can bring as Igbos. I think Anambra is pivotal to this change that we’re talking about. And I think that we are so blessed as a people with the intellect, resources, capacity, whatever we want to make of our areas, the South-East.”
Born right after the civil war, July 20, 1970, he completed his primary school in Amesi.
“So because of that disciplined background, I learned much early the meaning of hard work. I learned very early that actually in life it is he who hungers the more that succeed and not necessarily the most endowed. Because I knew, I had people, who were far more brilliant than I was in my school days. But because I always wanted to prove to my dad, I wanted to make him proud, I’d go the extra mile. I would follow a teacher at his home. I would beg him to clarify certain things. He would give me assignments and I’d fail and I’d go back to him. So I worked hard and all of a sudden, a subject that I considered difficult, I ended up becoming the best in that class. So I knew the meaning of this much early in my life. So when I went into a village secondary school, Christ the Redeemer College, I again put in my best and I started to represent the school in the quiz competition and debate society and all kinds of things.”
At the University of Nigeria, UNN, where he studied Accountancy, Ozigbo won all the prizes in the Faculty of Business Administration and also bagged an MBA. As a Chevening scholar, he studied MSc in Finance and also graduated with distinction. He has done several other professional management programmes. Last year, for instance, he was part of the Global Chief Executive Ofcer, CEO, Programme for Africa for the frst time by the Lagos Business School, SBS, in Nairobi, Kenya and IESE in Barcelona, but at their campus in New York. He has also been to GE Crontonville for management courses. Because of his excellent performance in the Global CEO Programme, Ozigbo was elected the pioneer president of the class, a position he still holds up till today.
His excellent performance in academics caught the eyes Jonah Ezikpe, one of his lecturers in Financial Management, who was then an executive director in NAL Merchant Bank. Ezikpe’s cash reward for Ozigbo as best student in his class was converted to a position for him to do his National Youth Service at NAL Merchant Bank. “So that was how I had already secured my place of primary assignment for my Youth Service year, while in the 300 level at the UNN. So I ended up in Lagos and my frst assignment at the bank was given to me by Mr. Peter Obuzo, he was from Anambra State and just passed away three months ago. He wanted to teach me something, not knowing that I had used my strike period during the university days to learn computing and other things, I undertook this assignment such that the man exclaimed that since his entire 20-something years in the international service, he hadn’t seen anybody, who did it so well,” Ozigbo said.
Ozigbo left NAL Merchant Bank and joined Diamond Bank. And within six months of joining Diamond Bank, he became the best staff of Diamond Bank in Warri, which coincidentally became the best branch of the bank that year.
“And that’s how I became the best staff of Diamond Bank within a few months of becoming a banker. So all of that propelled me and what I can say to you that there’s an abundance of the Grace of God in everything that I have ever done in my entire life,” he said.
Within five years of being a banker in the Warri branch of Diamond Bank, he moved to a new bank that came into town after he was recommended by two big customers of theirs. He spent 17 years working in the banking sector and rose to the level of a general manager and head of offshore liaison for UBA, head of International Banking, head of Global Transition Banking for Bank PHB and regional manager at FSB among others.
“It was actually at this point that my international exposure started. After I came back from that Chevening scholarship, I had done 10 years before going for Chevening. So during my first 30 years, I hadn’t been anywhere outside of Nigeria. But from the moment I started handling those international roles, there are years that I would be in over 15 countries in a single year. So I was busy opening banks in different countries of the world, within Africa and beyond Africa. So I had interfaced with presidents of countries as a banker,” he said.
He had met with the US Federal Reserve, the Financial Services Authority in the United Kingdom, the Dubai authority as well, China, India, and was moving into France before he finally got another role which was to head Global Transition Banking.
In 2011, he took over as the chief executive ofcer, CEO, of the hotel business of Transcorp Plc. He transformed Transcorp Hotels – starting with its human resources; changing their vision and imbuing in them the Kaizen culture of continuous improvement. To him, the Kaizen culture “is something that we lack in and it’s something that actually will help to change the story of a black man.”
He spent seven years in the hotel business, and became, perhaps, the most decorated man if not a black man in the
hospitality sphere. He was voted the CEO of the year in Spain by the Seven Stars award in 2016. In 2019, he was also decorated as the hospitality personality of the year and became the only black man to be so honoured in these gatherings “even up till today no one has beaten that record that we’ve set. And for the past six years consecutively before I left, we were voted the best business hotel in Africa by the World Travel Awards,” Ozigbo said.
And for me, it wasn’t really about these awards. It’s the fact that it allowed me to truly be of service to people. Hospitality is the true meaning of service because what you care about really is how to make the other person happier now that he’s walked into the property. So mine has always been how to leave a positive impression on anybody that I met in that period. And I can say to you that if I go by my experience so far in politics, I tell you that I thank God for the enormous goodwill he has led me to build over the years. Because I see remarks and I hear remarks from people and I see how they’re buying into this vision.
After seven years, Ozigbo became the group CEO and president of Transcorp Plc, which now covered power, oil and gas, and hospitality. He also established a foundation which he used for many things, particularly, leadership training and youth empowerment. Ozigbo aims to bring true leadership, excellence, competence in leading Anambra people if he wins the governorship election in the state in 2021. He promises to be accessible.
“I’ve learnt and I’ve mastered through nature and nurture, the deeper meaning of emotional intelligence. I know that one of the things you could do right in this world is your respect for humanity, for one another. And that comes from appreciating the diversity that we have.
“So when I run a company, for instance, I could pick my best idea from the gateman because it’s not about his circumstances. And in fact, the table could turn, and if not for opportunities that some of us have we could be that gateman. So if not anything else, remember that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and therefore we have one thread that runs across all folks.
“And I also have the tradition of giving back. I don’t just consider myself to have youthful energy. I’m youthful in everything I do. Tat means I’m also digital, I’m modern. And so I meet the youth that is coming at their level because both in spirit and body, I am one of them. I also have a deeper understanding of where the world is headed,” Ozigbo said.
The promising guber aspirant made out time out of his busy schedule to field questions from Realnews and gave details of how he will tackle the myriad challenges of the state to make it Nigeria’s most competitive sub-national economy.
Can you give us an overview of how you intend to make a successful bid to become the governor of Anambra State?
Anambra State needs a breath of fresh air, a restoration of past glory, and transformation into a knowledge-driven state. I am part of the youth vanguard that is strategically positioning to represent the change we desperately need. We have had a succession of change agents starting from Chris Ngige right down to the indomitable Peter Obi. We need a visionary, competent, and connected leader to complete the good works they have started. And not just to complete the tasks, we need Anambra State to hasten the process of changing the Black man’s narrative in the world, by being a model state for other states in Nigeria and being the pivot for regional development in the South East.
I promise to be that person that will lead Anambra to achieve these and more. Now, to directly answer your question on how I intend to emerge as the next governor. By the Grace of God, I have set this noble purpose; I have crafted a high-powered vision around this big dream. I have been careful to ensure that this great vision resonates strongly with my people. I have developed strategies and a game plan to realize this purpose. I have also surrounded myself with competent people who buy into the grand vision. I have put only God first before the people I wish to serve. I have provided competent leadership for the people to organize around. I believe magic will happen. It is inevitable. You see, God has blessed me with the right dose of emotional intelligence, humility, and temperament to manage the sensitivities of leaders and people of Anambra State.
I love my people. God made us unique. They know quality when they see one. They know a good listener when they see one. They know when they have made a mistake and what they need to do to correct it. They know that I mean well, and that I have the capacity they are looking for. They see all other factors that are collaborating in my favour and it does appear to me as though they see me as someone whose time has come and whose service is most needed.
This is why we are already the leading aspirant on the platform of the PDP. I am grateful that God has shown us mercy and grace so far. All we need to do next is deepen our grassroots engagement, and design the best-ever blueprint that will bring the transformation we need and endear us to Ndi Anambra. When the campaigns begin, we will present the blueprint to Ndi Anambra. For now, we are actively engaging the grassroots so that all we do will reflect the will of the actual power holders, the people.
For more than 10 years Anambra has been ruled by APGA. It appears that the people of the state are emotionally attached to APGA because of the Ojukwu factor and the fact that it’s seen as a party for South East. Does this bother you and how do you plan to work on the psyche of the people to vote for you and not the party they are emotionally attached to?
This question is founded on a wrong premise. Yes, APGA takes its roots from the late Gen. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who founded the party. Today’s APGA was elevated to where it was because Peter Obi did wonders as a governor. This same transformational leader is now the leader of the PDP. And PDP has since taken over Anambra as it has in most of the southeastern states. A deeper refection of past political exercises will lead you to this conclusion. If you consider the fact that PDP dominates most of the Senate and House of Representative seats, you will begin to see why PDP has been popular.
That APGA holds the governorship seat today is majorly based on internal wrangling in PDP. Having seen the deterioration in APGA in recent times, and with most of the problems in Anambra PDP resolved, the party is by far the most popular in Anambra, and this is an election for it to lose. We will win it by the special Grace of God. So, the question about working on psyche does not even arise. PDP is in good shape and whatever may be left undone, in terms of unifying PDP, I will do my very best to achieve that totally. I will go beyond unifying PDP to unifying Ndi Anambra.
The PDP has a lot of stalwarts supporting different factions who will like to be appeased in order to get their support. How are you going to overcome this challenge?
My party has undergone positive changes in recent times. These are developments that you may not be aware of. The first is Anambra PDP has become a lot more democratic than ever before, and you actually may not find one individual alone that can make the party’s flagbearer. And that’s the beauty of democracy. Democracy is not a system where there’s one godfather deciding who wins an election. Rather, it is where you have several key stakeholders, who along with the masses decide who governs them. Of course, in the PDP, we have several leaders, who have laboured for the party for decades, leaders whose voices are important and deserve to be respected. Before I joined the race for governor, I first consulted with my only godfather, who is the Almighty God.
Then I consulted with these leaders, and I am now riding on their overwhelming acceptance of my interest. As I have stated earlier, I am perceived to have the right intention and personality to unite PDP family and Ndi Anambra, not just to win the election, but to come together to pull our strengths for better governance of the state.
You are relatively new in politics without much political baggage. This could be an advantage as well as disadvantage. How can you optimize your newness in politics to your advantage and prevent it from working against you, especially when you are contesting against some tried and tested politicians? Why would it be wrong to describe you as a novice in politics?
Undoubtedly, Anambra needs a breath of fresh air, and that’s one of the things I represent. It means I have not been part of the problem, and those whose only claim to fame is career politics cannot extricate themselves from the issues we currently face. Tat said, I am not new to politics. I am deeply rooted in the PDP and have made positive contributions to the party where I could in the past years. My role as a former chief executive officer, CEO, of Transcorp Hotels placed me in a unique position to understand politics in ways that hardly some elected ofcials do. For these reasons, I am not just the best of one world, but two.
What are your plans for developing Anambra state? Which critical areas are you going to focus on to achieve results within the shortest possible time?
I am running to set an example for governance, not just in Nigeria, but in the world. My approach will be to bring a total transformation to the state with no area neglected. Developing Anambra should take a holistic approach, but the most important thing to look out for is maximizing human resource capacity. I will soon unveil my blueprint. It will also include policy reforms and the strengthening of institutions of governance. We will embark on massive infrastructural projects that will be catalytic to developments, such as power, technology, ports, roads, and gas. Many other areas like agriculture, trade, and industry, will not be left out. We will take our key cities like Awka, Nnewi, and Onitsha, to the next level.
The poor will receive relief from unending struggles; the youth will have a renewed sense of empowerment and jobs; the women will have better access to healthcare and financing; the rich will get richer and help to pull others up, and businesses in Anambra will have higher chances of success than anywhere else. I want to make Anambra look fashionable for investors based on their success stories. The private sector will know that one of theirs is on the saddle to serve them and all.
We have communal clashes in Anambra which have been intractable, especially in Umuleri and Umuoba Anam where many lives were lost recently. What can you do to bring lasting peace in the area if you are elected governor?
Yes, there have been incidences where disagreements between communities have escalated into violent confrontations. I personally engaged the leaders of the concerned communities wherein I urged them to embrace dialogue and consultations as the best mechanism for lasting peace. I know that the body and the tail follows the head so once the community leaders adopt dialogue the members of the community will fall in line. Crises often arise from injustice or the feeling of inequity. If I am elected governor, I intend to run an inclusive government and will unify my people in Anambra. No part of the State will be left out of my policy hence the issue of feeling unrepresented, neglected, or oppressed will arise. I will bring my people together under a shared vision for lasting peace and prosperity.
Insecurity is a severe challenge in the country. There have been reports of the menace of killer herdsmen and jihadists raping women, girls and killing farmers. What programme do you have to protect lives and property in
The encroachment of criminal activities into the South East, the form reported in Central and Northern Nigeria by armed men believed to be running an expansionist agenda, is a source of worry for any right-thinking person. Only an irresponsible governor would watch and do nothing as bandits or terrorists take over his state. Respected leaders in the country agree that the worsening security situation is a manifestation of structural weaknesses. Te federal police is, clearly, underfunded, underequipped, and overwhelmed by the security challenges.
This state of affairs only strengthens the argument for restructuring Nigeria as it relates to the security apparatus to enable the creation of state and local policing. Anambra is relatively safer, and my target is to make it completely safe, for life and property, and safe from other sources of insecurity like COVID-19.
Are you bothered about the incessant killings in the country and the takeover of communal land arbitrarily by armed herdsmen?
Yes, I am bothered by these reports, and it is unacceptable to me that criminals would be allowed to wreak havoc on lives and properties of Nigerians without a competent check.
Unemployment in the country, especially that of jobless youth is a threat to the security and wellbeing of our country. How will you tackle youth unemployment in Anambra State if you are elected?
Unemployment informed the point I made earlier. We usually get these things wrong because we expect the government to do everything for us. Te truth is the government can only create an enabling environment for investors and private sector practitioners to do the rest. Come to think of it, how many jobs can the government create? Compare that to the number of employable persons that are not gainfully employed. What is it really that the government can do? It is the private sector, which I represent, that holds the key.
Creating the right balance is what I’m here to do, and this further buttresses my point about human resource management, which is key to any kind of development we want to achieve in Anambra. In my capacity as a private citizen, I have personally helped in creating jobs in addition to creating opportunities and funding for the youths through my empowerment schemes, sports development, and entertainment promotion. Since 2017, I have annually organized a freestyle football competition that has morphed from being a countrywide championship to one for the whole continent with the full backing of the World Freestyle Football Association.
The 2020 edition is going to be unique because, for the first time, it’s going to be virtual. COVID-19 has given us new realities, and we have to move with the times, not stop. Feet’ N’ Tricks, the company I founded, is still the biggest promoter of freestyle football in Africa. I picked up freestyle football and decided to register this company with Kanu Nwankwo and others as partners after seeing a video on social media.
At the 2019 edition, we had 30 countries on our Nigerian soil. The idea behind Feet ‘N’ Tricks is to create another platform to empower the younger ones, the youths. I recall that when I organised the Nigerian Championship for freestyle football, an Anambra person became Nigerian champion. I few him to Poland to represent Nigeria in the global competition. He’s there to tell my story. I started the Ogene championship that went viral. Now we have an Ogene partner in our foundation. I then did the Mbem and Oja competition. I’ll be happy to share this rich content. You’d be shocked how this is resonating very strongly with the grassroots. I like to think that I’m one of the biggest friends of the entertainment world in Nigeria. And I say this very modestly. A lot of people
don’t know what I’ve also done to promote entertainment.
But let me share this with you. I mentioned earlier how one of the things we do in the area of talent hunt is acting. And I made sure that one of the winners of my talent hunt competitions participated in a movie that I co-produced. Today, the single most selling movie on Netfix out of Nollywood is ‘Merry Men 2’. And I’m an executive producer of ‘Merry Men 2’. And I got the winner of my talent hunt contest from Anambra to be in the first part of that movie, to showcase what is possible. So I thank God again that I always want to see how I can impart my people through any opportunity that I see. There are many other things I have done, and these go to prove that we have had gold on our hands covered by dust, and it is time for Anambra to shine, meaning Ka Anambra Chawapu.
Erosion poses a serious threat to the state. How will you tackle it?
Erosion is an ecological challenge, which appears to have been either neglected or treated with ineffectual palliatives. When I unveil my blueprint for Anambra, you will see the practical steps, which we will take to bring a long-term solution to the areas affected by erosion. Erosion control will also be a means to positively engage our youths to become more productive and solve an existential problem.
Closely allied to the above is the issue of environment and sanitation. Effective refuse disposal is a problem in the state, and it defaces the environment. What can you do to tackle this challenge and rid your state of dirt?
Waste management and environmental sanitation are not rocket sciences. Why these issues have defied all solutions in the past few years beat my imagination. There are models of global best practices on managing waste in an
earth-friendly and revenue-generating manner. Again, my blueprint, which I will release in a few weeks, will address this in detail.
What is your appraisal of the state of education in Anambra State. How can you improve and sustain education in the state?
Under the leadership of His Excellency, Peter Obi, the former governor, Anambra State recorded a massive leap in the performance of our primary and secondary education. To a certain extent, the gains of his reforms in the educational sector are still being felt. This is evident in the performance of students from the state in standardized examinations administered by WAEC, NECO, and JAMB. These strides are something to be proud of and worth sustaining and improving on. This reminds me of one of my principles, which is called Kaizen, which means continuous improvement. This is a principle that has guided my life and my career. To always seek for ways to improve even the excellent. No matter how wonderful something is, there is always room for improvement. I will also dedicate a lot of attention to solving the question of the relevance of education and ensure that what the schools produce as outputs are precisely what the businesses and institutions need.
What is your assessment of the handling of the coronavirus pandemic at various levels of government in Nigeria? Any suggestions on how its management can be improved?
Nigeria is not the worst country in the world when it comes to COVID-19, and we have to thank God for that, and
also the leaders that have done their bit to curtail the spread COVID-19 has unearthed our nakedness, and the flaws in our governance have been laid bare. It is understandable that our approach so far has been very reactionary. COVID-19 is supposed to be a wake-up call for Nigerian leaders.
We should be more proactive and strategic as we look at Nigeria’s situation. Not until it forces us to restructure Nigeria and place it on the path for sustainable development, and with that, allows us to cut wastes and embarrassing huge costs of governance, I will not be satisfied.
Anambra State has huge gas deposit. If you are elected, what can you do to ensure the state benefits from this huge natural resource?
This is a broader issue that still takes us back to the question of restructuring. Restructuring is a multifaceted issue that covers the devolution of powers that would impact the economy. Te arguments are that the current Unitarian power structure robs the states of capabilities to create wealth and prosperity for their people. I will lend my voice and do what I can to see that Nigeria is remodeled for economic justice and prosperity for all. With this, I will deepen the partnership with the private sector to ensure that the right investment and intensity of support is provided to enable a win-win-win for the government, the people, and the private sector. Coming with a wide experience in finance and global banking, I will look at deepening the financing and institutional investments to ensure that the benefits of the natural resources, not just gas, in Anambra reach all.
What can you do to make the economy of Anambra State the best in the country?
All of what we have been discussing are part of it. But in simple terms, we will place Anambra through the fastest path to sustainable development through collaboration and effective support of the private sector. We will raise the standard of living and run an inclusive government. We will enhance efficiencies and cut wastes. We will be creative, audacious, and purpose-driven. We will restore law and order and make Anambra the most competitive state in Nigeria for investors. We will leverage on technology to solve Anambra and the world’s problems, and we will transform and beautify Anambra for good. These and more will help us make Ndi (People) Anambra proud of their state, and we will be an example of an ideal world.
Courtesy: Realnews Magazin