Chief Dr Emeka Okonkwo comes across as a man for whom it’s either perfection or nothing. His ready smiles and boisterousness belie a workaholic nature that sees him handle many jobs at a time. A native of Nibo in Anambra State but resident in Abuja, he is currently in Awka handling what is perhaps one of the biggest image making projects for the state government. He talks about it and veers off into a little bit of politicking as well. It is an interesting read.
He spoke with editor-in-chief of Fides, Jude Atupulazi, in Awka.
Please can we meet you sir
My name is High Chief Dr. Emeka Okonkwo, Knight of St. Mulumba. I am the CEO and Managing Director, Great Source Group, a branding outfit. We are based in Abuja.
A branding outfit based in Abuja, and you are here in Awka. We understand that you have been here for quite some time, is there any special project you are undertaking in Awka?
Yes, we undertook the Anambra 25th Anniversary event and we managed it, we raised funds for the event, managed the event and we came to a conclusion in December. And as an offshoot to that event, we have also been contracted by the government to do a photo history book called the Compendium of Anambra. This is showcasing Anambra at its best, for since, even before the existence of the state, and since the existence of the people called Anambra people, we look at the origin of Anambra, we look at the Icons and barons; these are the people of Anambra who have taken our names to grater heights, nationally and internationally. We are looking at the towns that make up Anambra, the beautiful scenario, the natural vegetation and tourist attractions that we have and we have quite a number of them. We are looking at the government structure of Anambra, the traditional rulers, the festivals. The book is supposed to be a bank of Information on Anambra. It’s like when you get the book, you are already in Anambra, you already know where you are going, it will show you the hotels you can stay in, it will show you the kind of people you will meet, it will show the type of temperature that Anambra has and the places of interest you can visit. It’s targeted to be the Bible of Anambra and, be that as it may, before now, we didn’t have such.
We have a dearth of information as to the happenings in Anambra. So we are trying to fill in a gap we saw and the government has been so helpful, being catalytic because they are not directing our every move. We don’t want a situation where we will write a history book that is bent on a political party or an interest of the time. We are thinking of doing a holistic thing that come what may, will say the exact story of who Anambra people are, what Anambra is all about.
So how far have you gone with the project
We will say that we are 70 percent done. We have done our dummies, we have collated a lot of material but like you know, Anambra is a land of so many forces, there are still new sites, new happenings, new land breaking events happening, and we are trying to capture as many as we can. But I tell you that within the next one month, we should be going to press because it is endless and whatever we don’t capture that happens later, a later book could do that.
So what are you going to do to ensure that as many people as possible access the book when it comes out?
Well, the book is quite a volume and the production of the book is quite expensive because, we are using high definition printing and it’s very aesthetic, using the best material we could find. The book will sell for about fifty thousand naira per copy. The book is a 500 paged and full colour, with a leather cover in a leather casing. So it is not going to be cheap. But in order to make people access the book, we are going to, after the production, put it online at a minimal fee. You can gain the site and read the book. But as it is today, may be after this first luxurious printing, we could go for a flip back that would be much accessible.
So have you always been based in Abuja? What gave you the impetus to come down and start doing business here, how do you find the Environment?
Basically, I am Onye Anambra. I come from Nibo and I have always partaken in our communal effort to development. I am a very renowned person here; a chief of Nibo, and all this was because of my involvement in the growth of the community. So I wouldn’t say I left for Abuja, I am basically an Anambra person, but my business for the past 20 years or so, has been in Abuja, but I run a circle, I have business interest in Lagos, Warri and Benin, because most of my clients are oil companies and blue chip companies. But this is the first time I am doing a communal based project and it is quite interesting, and bringing the best system into play here will make Anambra people know that there is another force in Anambra.
We are going to make a book that Anambra people would be so proud to show off and it shows that the talent to make such book exists here.
So how do you assess the business climate of the state?
I will say Anambra was not a safe place to do business, a lot of people, most of us, were afraid to come to Anambra. In fact when we were holidaying, we were so militarized, we would bring mobile police men to safe guard us. Fear was the talk of the day; but with the coming of this present administration, and with the work the previous two administrations carried out, especially what Governor Obiano is doing now, we feel safe to come and we feel relaxed to invest. I have been here for six months going now. I go and come, and I feel so secure. So with security, every business grows. The business environment of Anambra is exploding. There are so many PPP (public private partnership) going on in farming and industry, and right now we are doing publishing. And tourism will just keep us going. That is a new area where, if we look at, could sustain our economy too. If you check Cross-River State, tourism is sustaining her, especially the Calabar Carnival in December, so we could replicate that. We have the sights and sounds, we have the people. The governor has produced a peaceful and secure environment where growth is quite sure.
Has there been any such thing like a physical meeting between the Business Class and the Government with a view to their doing business in the state?
Yes, severally the governor interacts with business men everywhere he goes. He has gone to Lagos severally, interacting with the business men, he has done that in Abuja and part of our strategy in Anambra 25 event was the gala night where the governor was supposed to meet with the business people around these three cities. We did it in Port Harcourt and it was a resounding success. So there is interaction and you see it with the farms springing up everywhere – multi-million dollar farms, million dollar investments, and million dollar housing investment. Awka has changed. Awka has a night life now; we have street lights everywhere; we are no more a backward state. Without mincing words, Awka is better lit than most parts of Lagos. Awka is better lit than Port Harcourt. So investment will surely flow in, the hotels are enjoying high patronage because people are coming in and investment is coming in every day.
Now let’s go to Politics, the Governor of the State is enmeshed in his second tenure battle and we believe that very soon, more people are going to come out to gun for his seat. How do you assess the chances of the governor against the expected onslaught of the opposition?
First and foremost, I would like to tell you, be it that as it may, I am not a partisan politician. I am a core business man, but I will tell you this: I like this status quo. What do I like in the status quo? Freedom of movement, clear development. You can see the physical development. You pass a street today and the next day you are passing the same street, it is looking different. We have the best road network in Nigeria today, take it from me. We are the most secure state in the whole of Nigeria – take that from me too because I am widely travelled. So why would we want to trade these sureties for a strange hope? Governor Willie Obiano is working and I don’t see the reason why we should change. A lot of partisan people will tell you so many stories, but I keep telling people that, look, ”I prefer Anambra of today where I don’t spent N300,000, and I don’t have gun totting police men all around me, just to spend three days with my mother in the village”.
The governor deserves a second tenure and this is coming from a non-partisan person. I am not a contractor of the state; I am raising funds from APC, APGA, PDP, PPA, PPP, lining politicians and business men to do this work. The government is not putting any one kobo expect the seal of government. So this is coming from somebody who is not a hired hand. I feel comfortable with the government as it is positioned today. I didn’t know Willie Obiano from Adam when I sent in a proposal for this Anambra 25th event. He looked at it and for the first time, in a very long time, the proposal was looked at on its merit. And I never met him until we were given the nod to come and do this. If I say government is not putting money, obviously he is not putting money. And I still have not gone to have a meeting with Obiano and we are doing this. This shows you that the government is working. Government is not all about the people, it is government of the people. Government is the institution that this governor has put in place. There is no arbitrariness to government, so why would you change this?.
Another four years of this structure will further deepen it. So our tomorrow will be surer. I like to digress a little, if you look at where Anambra is today, you will know that whatever happens, we can stand on our own. This is the state which does not have oil reserves and is not an oil producing state but you have him paying salaries, paying pension, you see governors of oil producing states not able to pay salaries and pension as and when due. I can say it is only in Anambra that you have someone working this fantastic and people are talking about changing of guards. But on a lighter mood, let us see the kind of competitors that will come out. Except they are going to mould a new thing which we have not seen, if it is the band wagon we have been seeing in the past, sorry. Willie Obiano has shown that he is miles and miles ahead of them.
Surely you must feel that there are some areas where the government can do better. So what are those areas?
It is strange. I am a very pessimistic person, but I have seen a governance that is almost, how do I put it? An almost 100 percent governance. The only area is on the dissemination of information. The governor should be able to reach to people much more early and people should be able to have more access to him. But outside that, this government is doing very well. This government is open, they have given the youth a part to play; before now you would find only old people in government as commissioners, as directors and the rest of them. But now you find young professionals all heading government agencies and Anambra is working. See I have seen states and some parts of the FCT, the federal bureaucracy; Anambra will score over 80 percent. What else can they give us except the road going into my village? If they do that road I will say that this government is 100 percent.
Which Road is that?
Ezeawulu Road, Nibo. There is a road that leads to it from the back of Government House and this is an agrarian community and this is a place where you could find very good estates that could service the housing needs. Outside that road which is about three kilometers, I will say this government is percent.
Do you think there are other such roads that need attention?
Let them do the Ezeawulu road first (laughs)
Now Finally I want to know your vision of Anambra State, say in the next ten years
In the next ten years, I see Anambra State being as cosmopolitan as Abuja. I see Anambra State with the influx of our citizenry back home to invest. I see here as the business hub of Nigeria. You see, if we can, in the southeast develop our economy, situating farming to Ebonyi axis, situating commerce to Anambra, situating manufacturing to Nnewi area and possibly Aba, situating tourism to Owerri, I tell you, we would not be talking about marginalization. We would have built an economy that Nigeria would be begging us to be part of. You see, if you look today, the west is not joking. The North is doing so much about their agriculture and we are the least ready people. We shout the most about balkanising Nigeria but we are the least ready people to live in a balkanized Nigeria. So in the next ten years I see Anambra as the hub of the Southeast; in fact, as the China of Nigeria
You think this vision or goal is realizable given the lukewarm attitude of the Southeast governors? You know there seems to be a problem coordinating and being more cohesive.
I think we have gotten it right in Anambra with three sessions; we have action governors that you could point to what they have been able to achieve. Going by Willie Obiano, another four years of him and, possibly handing over to another person that will also increase our development. Ten years is far. It’s too long a time. In the next eight years, I will say Anambra will be the shining star. Today, President Buhari keeps saying, if you have problem in security ask Obiano the way he does it, if you cannot pay salary ask Obiano the way he does it. We are the referral point in Nigeria today. So I think it is achievable