AMBASSADOR Okey Nwadiuto Emuchay was the Consular General of Nigeria’s High Commission in South Africa. He retired in 2014, two years before he was due for retirement. Amb. Emuchay spent about two hours with editors of Elendu Reports in Abuja. Here is our interview with him.
I served the Foreign Service of Nigeria for 31 years. I resigned voluntarily on the 8th of August 2014. I came back to Nigeria and I joined the APC in 2015.
I’m still a member of APC and I am offering myself to run for the governorship ticket of APC in Abia state for 2019. The process has started. I live in my village in Ukwa East Local Government.
You said, you live in the village, it means you know the yearnings and aspirations of your people. What do you think the incumbent governor is not doing that you are bringing on board?
First the focus will be on good governance. Good governance takes care of a lot. Abia is a failed state in all ramifications. Abia has huge potentials. The commercial city of Aba if it is repaired will generate enough IGR to run the state government. The education sector is in shambles, the health sector is in shambles: infrastructure, basics, water and the rest of them are not available.
Abia doesn’t have a government house; Abia doesn’t have a government lodge. Refuse litters the big two cities of Aba and Umuahia, civil servants are owed months of salary, pensioners are owed months and there is no environment to attract the private sector.
Governments all over the world do not create employment. We have a huge challenge in Abia State; youth unemployment and its increasing every year. A lot of the youths, five years after NYSC, and seven years after NYSC there is nothing for them to do because the industries are not there. And these are people that are known for their entrepreneur spirit but there has to be an environment to engage the private sector.
When you said there is no environment to engage the private sector, in specific terms, what are those things that are lacking in the state?
The Ariaria market in Aba used to attract businesses from Cameroon and other West African countries; Abia is so positioned that between Abia and Cameroon, you have two states Akwa Ibom and Cross River states and Cameroon as you know is a bulwark of economy of the Central Africa. Those traders don’t come any more, those business people don’t come anymore because there is no road to access Aba. I remember years ago, President of the World Bank went to the same market and said yes, the people are doing a lot, but what of the mountains of refuse. It was pregnant with meanings and there are no roads in Aba.
What Aba needs is a complete repair, it needs to have town planning experts to redesign Aba and to do what Governor Amaechi did in Port Harcourt. Take that critical decision, town hall meetings, discuss with the stakeholders and then take a decision to clean the city. Abia needs industrial parks.
Today, the world has moved too far, that those people who are manufacturing shoes, sewing clothes, doing all sorts need help. The challenges they have to get to where they do businesses and if you create industrial parks where you have facilities, electricity, water, good roads, then you can create new businesses. A lot of them are using what they call ‘I pass my neighbour’ generator. There is no way you can run the kind of businesses they are doing with I pass my neighbour generator. So as I said Aba needs to be recovered, Aba needs to be repaired and it has to be done by experts and that is not happening presently.
You don’t have public water supply in the whole of Aba town; in fact, there is no city in Abia State that has water supply. The power situation is bad, the Geometric power project has been on for years and it has not been fully integrated. The whole idea is to supply Aba and possibly Nnewi.
With what you have said, one is tempted to conclude that the past and present administrations in the state have not done anything, is that the situation?
The citizens of Abia State and those who live in Aba and the large population of those who live Imo State, Anambra and Akwa Ibom states have given the verdict. The verdict is that Abia is not doing well. It has potentials to do more than what it has achieved at the moment.
You left service in 2014, many of your friends and colleagues believed you left the service too early, now what is that you have that others don’t have that you are bringing to the table?
Like I said, I served in the Foreign Service for 31 years and I come from a family of service to humanity. My late father, Sir Dr. Dick Waobianyi Emuchay MFR, was the first doctor in what was the Eastern Region of Nigeria to build and commission a hospital in the rural part of Eastern region – Cottage Hospital, Azumini, a hundred and twenty bed hospital opened officially in 1961.
My father had a choice of putting it in Aba, Imo or Port Harcourt but he didn’t. He cited it in our village, in a rural setting to serve the poor. The cottage hospital is still open till today as we speak, serving the people from Akwa Ibom, Rivers and beyond. In 1972, my father was appointed chairman of East Central State Public Service Commission. He did that job into the then Imo State.
In 1982, the then governor of old Imo State Dr. Sam Mbakwe had a chat with him that he wanted to build a university and then requested my father to serve as the first Chairman of Council and Pro-Chancellor of former Imo State University which today is Abia State University. So that’s the background, that is where I’m coming from.
It is about service to humanity, it is about serving our people, and it is about returning the privileges and opportunities that I have had to the people. That is my passion that is what is driving me, that is what I’m bringing. Governance is a serious business; I have travelled round the world, I have served Nigeria and I pray and hope that I will have the opportunity to serve the people of Abia State. That is what is driving me and nothing else.
Given your background, what do you say to people who say Okey is a child of privilege who went into the Foreign Service and spent most of his adult life outside Nigeria. What does he know about the plight of the common people?
In my 31 years in the Foreign Service aside from two years, I always spent all my annual leave in Nigeria and in the village especially during the Christmas time.
I went to school in the village, went to college in Umuahia. I have always been in touch with my people. I’m telling you that I have a feel of what the people of Abia state are passing through and they need something different. We have to start to rebuild Abia State.
And rebuilding Abia state means you bring what experience, what skills to the table?
My experiences in the Foreign Service, opportunities took me to other parts of the world to see how things are done. With the interactions that I have had with those in private sector and as a diplomat, you must deal with those in private sector and that is where the opportunities for employment are. That environment has to be created, that synergy has to be created.
Like I said earlier, civil servants in Abia are not paid salaries, pensioners go months no pensions. I’m a pensioner, I know what I’m passing through and I have an idea as to what to do. The issue of payment of salary, payment of pensions is central. Abia doesn’t have industries, so a lot of them are teachers, doctors, nurses: civil servants. The civil service in Abia state has to be rebuilt because you need that to drive whatever policies any government has. Today, a lot of things are wrong with public service in Abia State.
You are in the APC and the state is in the hands of the PDP, given the fact that APC is not popular in the South East, what are your chances?
All politics is local and the people of Abia State are Nigerians. A lot of things happened in 2015. There were deliberate attempts to suppress votes of Mr. President in Abia state and most part of the South East. The message we are taking to the people is that of probity, integrity, honesty. Those are what the President is known for. President Muhammadu Buhari is known for that.
And our local problems; what Abia state needs, what the entire South East needs is a refocus. We need to change the narrative in the South East of how to fix the economies of the five states in the South East. Potentials are huge and you need good governance. It’s happening in Anambra state, it’s happening in Ebonyi state and it’s happening in Enugu state. These three states that I have mentioned are not oil and gas yielding state, Abia is an oil and gas yielding state.
Abia receives statutory allocation from Abuja; it receives statutory allocation for local government and also receives 13 percent derivation. Ukwa East, Ukwa West and the rest of the 15 local governments have nothing to show for all of these. Abia has 17 local governments there is no development in any of these local governments. There are no projects being embarked upon by the local governments in Abia State.
The state is not able to collect and dispose of refuse, there is no public water running in Aba or Umuahia or any of the big cities.
Abia does not have an abattoir. If you go to Aba and you see where animals are slaughtered for people to eat, you would not want to eat. What does it take to build an abattoir, what does it take to provide public water, what does it take to construct drainages, what does it take to pay workers salaries, what does it take to pay pension?
All of these revolve around good governance and that’s why I’m emphasizing that it carries quite a lot of weight. Good governance in all the ramifications.
Ambassador Emuchay, how do you convince your people to vote for you because you belong to a party that many believe is a Fulani party?
It is ridiculous to say APC is a Fulani party. APC is a national party like PDP and anybody who wants to brand APC a Fulani party is not wise. Parties are set up to win elections and people are entitled to belong to any political party of choice.
The truth of the matter and the mistake we are taking to the people is not about governance. Anambra has been governed by a PDP and then APGA governor, Ebonyi is under PDP; APC has 24 states in Nigeria. Lagos State is doing very well, Ogun State is doing very well, Oyo State is doing very well; these are APC states and I don’t think the governors in these states are Fulanis. So it’s unfortunate APC can be branded a Fulani party. It is a party that is open to any Nigerian and is not a Fulani party.
You talked about the need to change the narrative in the South East, one of the issues that usually come up when national politics is being discussed is restructuring and agitation for secession , what’s your disposition to this issue?
I was born before the civil war. I was relatively young, but three years of my life was spent during the war. My prayer as at now is that war should not visit us again. The agitation if it is situated, you would see that lack of leadership created most of the problems you see. When you have the issue of millions of youths not properly engaged; like I said earlier, no government anywhere in the world has the capacity to create employment, government needs to engage private sector. So there has to be creative avenues.
There are no industries that are government owned in Abia State that are functioning. Dr. M.I Okpara was in his 30s when he was the premier of Eastern Region. All those things that he did aside from the Presidential Hotel in Portharcourt and Trans-Amadi industrial estate, the rest have gone moribund. The ones done by the former governor, Dr. Sam Mbakwe are not functioning.
Abia Palm that is now part of Abia State for the past 12 years, Ogwe Poultry is also not functioning; Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuhahia built by M.I Okpara is not functioning. Ceramic industry in Umuhahia is not functioning. If some of these industries, some of these businesses were up and running, these youths would have been engaged.
We have to create opportunities. It is the responsibility of the government to create environment for private sector to thrive. And that is one potential area if properly repaired.
We are in the world of ICT where new businesses are being created by versatile minds but government has a role to play. Investors would not come to an environment where you do not have roads, security, decent hotels where they could stay and you don’t have electricity, you don’t have water. They would make their choices because businesses are not charity. If they have top opportunities in other part of Nigeria, they would go. So we have to create the environment.
Like I said, I saw the war, I was a little kid, I don’t want a return of civil war in Nigeria. So every effort has to be made to inject development into the South East. That’s a task, that for me, more important than any other thing.
Those who have run Abia State including the incumbent set out with good ideals, goals and ambitions, yet they go there and come out as failures, what is it about you that would insulate you from that?
I said before: governance is a serious business and because it is a serious business there has to be a sincerity of purpose and ability to gather the best around because no one person can do it all.
The Governor of the state provides leadership, transparent, honest, sincere and focused leadership. Once you have that, then you have a team that will drive the dream you have for the state. Politics is not a one man affair, it is a like a group sport, like soccer. We have arrived at a particular state now in Nigeria that people are beginning to ask questions: who is this person, where is he coming from, what has he done in the past, where is he going to take us to?
Those questions are being asked these days and you have challenges in virtually all states, just not Abia alone. So that’s what is happening. Like I said to you before, in the 17 local governments of Abia State there is nothing. The local government administration in the state is dead and if given the opportunity, there will be engagement between the local government and the Abia House of Assembly because the process I know in an ideal situation is that budget is taken to the Assembly for debate. Today, that does not happen and therefore, there are no projects being embarked upon by the various local governments.
Now, Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, my good friend did not have the office of the First Lady for the eight years he served as the governor of Anambra state.
If I’m privileged to sit as the governor of Abia State, there would not be office of the First of the Lady. The money that goes into that office is enough to build a government house and a host of other things. And it all boils down to good governance which is a platform that could take care of quite a lot of things.
ER: With the gale of defections recently witnessed in the APC to the opposition PDP, what are the chances of your party across the states and national level?
Amb. Emuchay: One would always feel a sense of loss that party members decide to move. The political season came earlier in Nigeria, perhaps for the first time since 1999. As you know, usually, primaries…the INEC timetable shows that all parties must hold their primaries between August and September.
People are jostling for tickets and relevance but as people are leaving APC for PDP and other parties, so are people coming to APC too. I believe in a couple of weeks things will stabilize. The PDP created its own problems in 2015 and from the sideline that I have watched events, not much has happened in the party. The more interesting aspect would be to see how the civil war in PDP would commence over the Presidential ticket.
A lot of the people who have decamped recently did so for nothing else but the presidential ticket. PDP has signed an MoU with a number of other parties; I have read that they are also thinking about a name change in view of the image PDP attracted to itself.
We are in the market for votes and I can say that APC will reach out and as you are aware, it is not every Nigerian that must be a member of a political party. Not sure that the number of card carrying members of political party is up to 50million.
What is important is how to reach the electorate and at the end of the day, elections would be about issues that concern the electorate. I’m not bothered about people who are not moving.
What would be the focus of your administration?
Good governance, the effort would be to recover and repair Abia State. In entrepreneurship, infrastructure, ICT, it has to be holistic and there has to be a plan, there has to be a document. Abia doesn’t have that as we speak and then the recruitment of competent people that will drive this vision. Abia has been left behind, you have to get the right people within Nigeria and in Diaspora and you have to engage the populace and have buy-in on things that have to be done.
Paying salary should not be celebrated by any governor of any state. No governor in Nigeria should celebrate the fact that he has been able to pay civil servants at the end of the month. These are basic things: collection of refuse, building of incinerator, provision of public water, the same way people pay for electricity, the way people will pay for water if it is constant. They need water to survive, it will impact on environment, it will impact on health and virtually on everything. It will generate revenue. It creates jobs and people will be engaged.
Spending my time working for Nigeria, I know what to do, where to go to attract both the private sector and the public funds from international organizations.
Where are you going to generate the money because most governors complain that they have to look for money to pay salaries?
The last time I checked, Lagos State generated more than N30 billion IGR a month and receives allocation from FAAC, every state receives allocation, local governments receive, states in the Niger Delta receive including 13 derivatives. In 21st century, states have to be creative as to the generation of IGR. I say it again and I want to underline it, Aba has the capacity to generate more than enough revenue for Abia State.
Then money litters all over the world, there are donor organizations: the World Bank, African Development Bank, IFC and a host of others. But they check where they get involved and transparency in government. That is their first attraction; Interventions in health, education, youth empowerment, women issues and a host of others. These funds are there. But you need to have an environment to attract them.