In this interview with Professor Jideofor Adibe and The News Chronicle (TNC), aspirant for the 2021 Anambra gubernatorial election under the platform of the All Progressives Congress, Chief Ben Etiaba, shared insights on why he is running for the state’s topmost position.
JA/TNC: Thank you for making out time for this interview. You’re quite an accomplished individual, a chartered accountant among many other accomplishments. Why do you want to become a governor?
BE: I am running for governor in Anambra because I am frustrated. Things are not going right in my local government, state, country, and in Africa. I am running because I feel there is a need to begin to take the right steps toward the destination of success. We need to begin to work in the right path or we will keep wallowing the way we are and keep blaming ourselves.
JA/TNC: So everyone who is frustrated should run for governor or to be President?
BE: No, that’s not what I mean. I am sure you understand what I mean. I am frustrated and I believe I have the tools to make a difference.
JA/TNC: So what do you think you can bring to the table that other ‘frustrated’ candidates cannot bring? What is that unique marketing thing that is exclusive to you?
BE: I am not running because I think I am better than anyone else. I think I am different. We need an altruistic and selfless leader. We need a servant leader. And especially somebody who knows what the problems are – because if you don’t know what the issues are, you won’t be able to address them. If we go back in history to 1960, we had Dr. M.I Okpara, the premier of the Eastern region – he succeeded because he was a selfless leader. We have been failing since then because we have lacked selfless leaders. We see leadership as an opportunity to enrich ourselves and until we begin to see people who are legacy-oriented, and who want to be known for what they accomplished in office, we will continue to remain in the dark. I am bringing humility to the table.
JA/TNC: Let me ask you a question with three limbs. Firstly, you look like a very polished man; you lived abroad for many years, you were chairman of the Enugu golf club etc etc. Do you think you have the necessary rough edges to navigate what some call the shark-infested waters of Nigerian politics? Secondly, your mum was a governor and you also want to be a Governor. Are you trying to create a political dynasty especially given the fact that the Igbo strongly abhor dynasty? Thirdly, politics in Anambra State, especially gubernatorial elections, tend to be what some people call battle of the billionaires. Do you think, you have in what in street talk is called the ‘capacity’ to go toe-to-toe with the billionaires?
BE: I am glad that you brought up the issue of my mother. But I would rather want that you address me as Ben running rather than as Etiaba’s first son. But that is who I am. When she became governor in November 2006, it wasn’t what she asked for. The question then was whether Anambra people would accept a woman as governor? How was she able to navigate the shark-infested waters of Nigerian politics? You will agree with me that she didn’t disappoint Anambra people. And if my mother was able to navigate the terrain at that time, it follows from that, that I am better prepared than her.. On political dynasty, I am not running because my surname is Etiaba. This year will be my 30th year in various leadership positions. I won my first election at 27. I keep saying that I am not better than anyone but I am different. I chose to be a leader. And then on the battle of billionaires, I am a proud member of the All Progressives Congress; I can tell you that there are four billionaires that I am up against. That is in the APC alone – we are twelve in APC running for governor. But if you look at PDP for instance, there are 16 aspirants already and they have more billionaires than APC so Anambra is a battle of billionaires – look at even YPP where you have Senator Ifeanyi Uba. But it is not the billions that will elect anybody governor.
JA/TNC: You’re running under the APC, Buhari is not the most popular person in Igboland. Many people believe that perceptions or misperceptions of Buhari in Igboland somehow influences the way the APC is perceived in Igbloand. Assuming that you get the ticket to be APC’s flag bearer, how are you going to navigate being a member of what some people will call a ‘wrong’ party?
BE: The next candidate of APC for the 2021 election will be a son or daughter of Anambra State, not of any other State. So it doesn’t just matter what you tell me that people think or perceive of the APC or any other party in the State. Sometimes, perception may not be reality. Recall that we had a different party at the centre for 16 years. Can you name what that party did for Anambra State during that period? In just 6 years of APC government, we are having the second Niger Bridge being rushed by Julius Berger. We have a lot of Federal constituencies in Anambra and in almost every one of them, there is a federal project going on. The APC-led federal government is doing a lot in the State. But then, I will agree with you that the image of the party is far from what it should be because the party has been recycling the same set of individuals and that is why I am running to bring a fresh perspective. I want to be able to take Anambra State to the centre and ask for our fair share of the nation’s resources.
JA/TNC: You said you want to take Anambra to the centre, until recently; people talk about Igbo politics being driven by the philosophy of the goat following the man with the palm frond which was criticized as politics without principle. I think some people believe that there has been a big shift in that politics in Igboland which suggested that once you give a contract to an Igbo politician he will follow you. Are you trying to say you will back that brand of politics which espouses that the goat should follow the man with the palm frond?
BE: I am not espousing that we should go cap in hand to beg. I am asking for our fair share, our right. An adage in Igbo says it is he who is closest to the face that can slap that face. If you’re not in that room where decisions are being taken, decisions will be taken against your interest.
JA/TNC: There has been this talk that given the strategic importance of Nnewi to the Igbos in general and to Anambra State in particular in terms of being an industrial hub, centre of commerce and in Anambra state, as a town with a relatively large population, some people have been clamouring for a governor of Nnewi extraction – just like people talk about president of Igbo extraction. Remarkably, in virtually all the leading parties, you have an Nnewi man as a governorship aspirant. Does it mean aspirants of Nnewi extraction are unable to reach a consensus? Do you see Nnewi as a microcosm of the Igbo political problem?
BE: What it means is that we have enough capable hands that can become governors. But, I don’t think anybody should be elected next governor of Anambra State because that person is from Nnewi or because of any social ties. Let us look for that candidate who has the capacity to identify our problems and who knows what the solutions are. And we can find that capacity in Ben Etiaba but don’t vote for me because I am from Nnewi.
JA/TNC: You identified five thematic areas: Security Upgrade, Education Reform, Health Care Delivery, Agricultural and Industrial Revolution, and Integrated Infrastructure and Environmental Protection as your cardinal programmes. Can you tell me how you will deliver on these areas and where the money will come from?
BE: There is enough funds for the issues of security and we are praying for the current governor to get hold of the present security issues in the state because it’s overwhelming him. On education, I will go round to ensure that we have functional infrastructures and capable manpower in the sector. On where the money will come from, every year, Anambra reports less on IGR than Enugu State. How can that be? We will find the money within – we will assess properly, levy properly, collect properly, account for the funds properly and use the funds to develop Anambra.
It is the same issue in the health sector. When last did you see a world class hospital in Anambra State? I will ensure that world class hospitals with world class personnel are put in place. I will personally ensure that my administration delivers on the thematic areas I have earmarked. I am saying these things so that they will inform our decisions in choosing candidates for the parties next month.
JA/TNC: It is believed that religious politics has become very ascendant in Anambra politics, and the dichotomy is between Catholics and Anglicans and it is believed rightly or wrongly that the Catholics are dominant – how do you intend to navigate this religious terrain so that your candidacy is not imperiled by religious politics?
BE Last night I was with Governor Ezeife Chukwuemeka, a former Governor of Anambra State. He told me that when he came out to run for governor, he was told he was not going to win in a state like Anambra because he was neither Anglican nor Catholic but he won. Our people are not that crazy not to know that if you have an Anglican as governor and he messes it up, he has messed it up for everybody and it is the same with having a Catholic who messes up the system. And if you get it right, you get it right for everybody. Your reason of voting for me should be that I am the right person and not because of religious affiliations.
JA/TNC: Thanks very much Chief Etiaba. Let me close this interview with this question: What are your personal views on what is now popularly called ‘the Asaba Declaration?’ by the 17 Governors from the Southern parts of the country?
BE: All the Southern governors came together to make that declarations so if you fail to support them, it means you’re ascribing more knowledge to yourself than all of them put together. So I am all for the Asaba Declaration.
Watch the interview below: