By Jude Atupulazi
The 2021 governorship election in Anambra State will be one of the most fiercely contested in the history of Anambra State. Apart from each election being hotter than the last, and the issue of zoning taking centre stage, this election will not overly put anyone in an advantaged position as none of those in the fray will be an incumbent.
Although the incumbent will no doubt have his preferred candidate, he may run the risk of being branded a godfather which the people of the state seem to lately abhor.
This means that the various contestants will be contesting on an even keel, with the electorate having the final say.
In this edition, I am bringing to you one of those candidates. His name is Engineer Johnbosco Onunkwo.
Described variously as a phenomenal technocrat, philanthropist and politician who has in recent years been making in-roads across the state with his foundation, his style of politicking, his meteoric rise from the status of a spectator to a gladiator of a household repute, has baffled a number of co watchers and associates alike.
In this interview, Onunkwo speaks on a number of issues giving numerous insights as always.
You are becoming a household name in Anambra; what has been your driving force?
To tell you the truth, I do not agree that I am a household name because I am yet to touch a majority of Ndi Anambra with my good works. You will agree with me that Anambra is a big state, blessed with wonderful people; a people who have dreams and goals, a people who know that they can come from nothing and become something in life. So these are the people I want to assist, either through my foundation, through my investments across the state and the nation, as well as through the kind of politics I intend to introduce into the state. Only then will I accept that I am a household name.
What kind of politics is that?
The politics I intend to introduce to Anambra is what I like to call The New Narrative and Forward –Leap. These are basically philosophically backed thinking that seeks to change the way and manner our politicians see the concept of politics, service and the people. The New Narrative envisages a new thinking, a new thrust. It is tagged the manifest destiny of the people of Anambra who have been shackled by the imprimatur of our poor politicking. It seeks to do away with the empty innuendos and empty sloganeering and create a charter between the governed and the governing so that the pulse of the people will be felt all the time. The New Narrative is brimming with ideas, workable ideas!
Forward Leap, on its own, is a projection of where we want Anambra to be in the next 40 years. These 40 years will be segmented into five different stages for which the first eight years will be most critical. The first eight years of the Forward Leap Agenda will build the foundation for the remaining 32 years; it will look into the areas of Infrastructure, Education, Healthcare, Enabling Business Environment, ICT, Sports and Entertainment. The Forward Leap concept will see Anambra lead in these areas while other states follow. How we will do it, I will unravel soon.
Some describe you as a green horn who should first try his hands at House of Representatives or Senate before thinking of leading Anambra…
(Cuts in) Sorry, how old was Azikiwe when he led the nation to Independence? Awolowo, Bello, JS Tarka and co? How old were Gowon and Ojukwu when they were in power? What experience did they have or possess? I may agree with you that the times then were less dynamic than they are now but know this now: every generation is handed a responsibility in its time; how that generation handles such determines whether that society will move forward or remain backward. My generation’s responsibility cannot be jettisoned by the talk of age or inexperience. I led the Good Governance Ambassadors of Nigeria, GOGAN, in Anambra State. It was the main campaign body of President Buhari’s second term quest. So where will the talk of not having experience come from? I have been a key player in every election in Anambra since 2003. I have campaigned with candidates, sponsored candidates and delivered candidates. Should such activities not count for experience?
Even at that, let me inform you that I have the cognate experience of working in a high profile oil and gas firm. I am sure you can’t take that from me or anybody with the immense experience of the private sector. Again, I am not someone who is aloof to society and its dynamics. I am always in the fray; mixing, interacting, learning. Mind you, I also read. So if you add all these up, I am sure the talk of experience will be scorned by serious people.
Let’s talk about your foundation, the Johnbosco Onunkwo Foundation. What reasons made you to channel your wealth into the foundation, given that you are not that wealthy?
I will not say that I am not that wealthy and I will not say that I am that wealthy. God, I think, has adequately blessed me and it is such blessings that I have decided to give to the poor, the needy and the sick. My foundation’s medical outreach just covered the whole of my local government, Aguata, and will soon move into Orumba North and South before covering the whole state. Now to my reasons; you see, I was not born with a silver spoon. Growing up was hard for me. I saw what many today are seeing and so, since I witnessed such trying times, it is my drive to ensure that people are liberated from the challenges of poverty, ill health and illiteracy; these are the areas my foundation seeks to tackle and to provide succor for the people. So far we have touched over 5000 beneficiaries directly and over 20,000 indirectly. This, to me, is modest, and I am everyday thinking of how to make life better for the people, the ordinary man and woman in the villages and hamlets.
5000, 20, 000, isn’t that enough to beat your chest?
Why should I? What have I done? Look, I am not into this for personal or political gain, if I was, then I would be satisfied and pull the stops. Same goes for my kind of politics. But, no, 20,000 is even small. Left to me, I want to use the foundation to eradicate poverty, want, disease and illiteracy entirely from Anambra. This, I believe, can be done. What do I gain from beating my chest when the average youth is unemployed and takes to crime? What do I gain when a woman is held hostage in a hospital because she can’t pay her bills? What do I gain when brilliant children are sent home from school because they can’t pay their fees?
These challenges are close to my heart and I won’t rest till I have done more.
You ran for Governor in 2017; your first time against a number of household names. Your debut was quite impressive, tell us what insights you gained in what looked like your first missionary journey?
I have the little experience. Well, let me first of all state that it was indeed an eye opener for me. The primaries of 2017 schooled me to the challenges of our people, it threw a fresh light on a number of conceptions that I had previously had prior to that period. I realized that Anambra was not where it was supposed to be, despite the huge resources and the immense human capital at our disposal. It was at that point that I conceived the ideas of the New Narrative and Forward Leap.
You lost but went on to support the winner of the primaries, Hon Tony Nwoye. Why did you do such, given the fact that Tony Nwoye was a new entrant into the party in which you were more of a foundation member who started from the days when it was the Action Congress?
Well, yes. I was a foundation member of the APC. I had served the party and used my resources to promote the interests of the party, right from 2007 till this day. I have never shirked from such responsibilities, but you see, with the emergence of Tony Nwoye, I had three options; the first being to quit the party; the second was to stay aloof or even work against the party and the candidate; while the third was to work with him. I chose the third because of two things. The first is that I am a believer in the philosophy that God’s time is the best and that as a true party man, I ought to take what transpired in the primaries as a good sportsman. That I did and I supported my good friend, Tony Nwoye, with all I had. I even delivered my ward for him, beating APGA, despite their solid structures.
It is already in the public sphere that people are clamoring for power to be zoned to Anambra South come 2021. Being from Aguata which is in Anambra South, what’s your take on this?
The concept of zoning is very tricky and politicians without conscience have sought to leverage on such for their own benefits. Now, the makers of the 1999 Constitution and elders of the PDP in 2002 decided to adopt the zoning clause to enable power to rotate between North and South. Immediately, the bug caught up with us. Since we are still a developing democracy, a number of states decided to buy into such and adopted it. It was zoning that saw power shift to Anambra North and it is this same zoning that returned power there in 2017 where people felt that four extra years for Willie Obiano was better than eight for any of the two main challengers then.
So, much as our political realities thunder forth on zoning; based on the need for equity, fairness and oneness, let me state clearly that I, Johnbosco Onunkwo, will never hide behind the veil of zoning. No, I welcome anybody to the race; be you from North, South or Central. I believe in ideas and my ideas will speak for me. So I welcome all to join the race. The more the merrier!
You recently added another year to your age and we can say that you have accomplished quite a lot, what do you think the future holds for you?
I am not God and I cannot say what the future holds. Such can amount to boasting and I was raised up in the Catholic Faith, learning that our God abhors such. However, I am also a man of faith. So, God sparing my life, I see myself doing more and achieving more with regard to touching and uplifting the lives of the poor. I see myself contributing more to the development of our society as one that will be progressively egalitarian in nature. But again, all these are for God to decide, he is my maker and I am his vessel.