Dr. Obinna Uzoh, lawyer, politician, businessman and philanthropist is former gubernatorial aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State. He is the Chairman/CEO of GOCUZ Group of Companies, Uzoh, who holds a PhD in Economics turns 51 on Monday, March 17. In this interview with journalists in Lagos, Uzoh said, among others, things that Goodluck Jonathan remains the best man for the job of president and therefore deserves a second term. Yemi Adebowale was there. Excerpts.
You are known as a politician, businessman and philanthropist, but we believe that there are some things about you Nigerians may not really know. What are these things about you people donâ€™t know?
I am a man of humble beginning. I was born a native of Umunnamehi, in Ihiala, Anambra State, to the family of Chief & Chief Mrs. Simon Obi Uzoh, 51 years ago on March 17. I am today a businessman and philanthropist. In 1987, I started a business with a paltry sum, an amount, which I immediately dedicated to God through the intermediary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This business, which began as a mustard seed, has today grown into a conglomerate of many companies, Gocuz Engineering, Gocuz Oil Services, Gocuz Construction, Gocuz Farm, Gocuz Chambers and Gocuz Finance and Security. While doing business, I was able to pursue an academic career that earned me B.Sc in Business Administration, M.Sc. in Marketing and LLB and BL in Law from the Nigerian Law School, and later Ph.D. in Economics. In addition, I have earned honorary doctorate degrees from the Madonna University, Okija and the Bradley University in the United State of America.
I have lived a consistent family life, having been married to my wife, Chief Barr. Mrs. Herientta Obinna Uzoh, for the past 23 years. My family has been a blessing and a bulwark of support in all circumstances. In all turns of our life together, my darling wife has been to me an intelligent, incisive, critical and indispensable adviser and helper. Our matrimonial union has been blessed with five children. The success, which I have experienced in my life, would not have been possible without the immeasurable help of God. It is no doubt, backed by efficiency, by organisational and entrepreneurial ability and by the endeavour to excel by maximising the gifts of God to man. It is a result of the readiness to take reasonable risk, in view of achieving a desired end.
In all, we have kept before our eyes qualities esteemed by human beings all over the world, including hard work, honesty, sincerity, modesty, public spiritedness and the fear of God. Coming from a humble beginning, I have learnt to strive for higher ideals and levels, but also not to forget the less privileged and upcoming youths. That explains my philanthropic engagements, which have mainly been aimed at enabling the youths to have a better future. Apart from the All Saintâ€™s Church, which I built and which was dedicated at my home parish in Ihiala in 2012, as the fulfillment of my promise in my youth to my Lord, I have also built a school hostel at the Holy Family Youth Village of the Archdiocese of Onitsha, near the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, I also completed St. Silas Anglican Cathedral Ihiala, etc. These are donations costing hundreds of millions of Naira but which are done in realisation of the fact that we need to put in more to ensure a better future for our young ones and indirectly for our state. These qualities are those that I intend to bring to the benefit of humanity.
How do you see the security situation in Nigeria, especially in the North-east?
Those who always seek to use the security challenges in some parts of Northern Nigeria as the only barometer to measure President Jonathanâ€™s performance are not being fair to the President, considering the fact that the war on insurgency and terrorism had never been a quick fix anywhere in the world. We need to know that bombings and killings by insurgents happened in Kano, Kogi, Niger, Yobe, Borno, Sokoto, Adamawa and the Federal Capital Territory in 2011 and 2012. Today activities of the insurgents have been largely contained and restricted to three states in the North-east. Moreover, terrorism is a global phenomenon. It is not only in Nigeria; even America, Russia, China, and Europe and Asian countries are not left out. I believe sooner than later the insurgency in the North will be brought to conclusion, based on the assurances from the military.
In addition, I want to appeal to Nigerians, especially critics of the present administration that they should be humane enough to appreciate the enormity of work facing Mr. President, as far as the issue of Boko Haram is concerned. This sort of thing has never happened in Nigeria before. When you analyse their activities critically, you will see these people on their own could not have amassed the huge resources required to acquire the sophisticated weapons they use in the act. What this means is that they have sponsors. And these sponsors are Nigerians who do not want Jonathan to succeed or to make the nation ungovernable and chaotic to discourage him from re-contesting in 2015. But I tell you, Dr. Jonathan is the best Nigerian to be president in 2015. His records are there to speak for him. I will therefore, advise politicians not to use the current security challenges in the North to score cheap political gain. They should not use it for politicking. They should rather support and encourage the president in his efforts to make the country safe for all of us to live in. If not the bold steps he has taken so far, nobody knows where this nation would have been today. Lastly, while dialogue is being canvassed between the Federal Government and the insurgents, I urge the president to further empower the military with more sophisticated weapons as well as enhance their welfare package to boost their morals.
Now that you have mentioned dialogue, what do you think about the national conference, which, incidentally, will be inaugurated on March 17, your birthday?
I would say that itâ€™s a privilege that the national conference is starting on the day I am marking my 51st birthday. I take it as a birthday gift for me. Having said that, I would say that the conference is a step in the right direction. That President Jonathan agreed to convene the conference is a manifestation of the fact that heâ€™s a listening leader. You recall that many Nigerians agitated for the conference. Now the government has agreed. I believe that this is because President Jonathan know that when Nigerians sit down to talk they would tell each other the truth and from there we will collectively agree on how to solve our problems. I therefore, will say that the national conference is a parley whose time has come and I have no doubt that its outcome would not only strengthen the country but also increase the socioeconomic and political development of the country.
Whatâ€™s your take on the flag off of the Second Niger Bridge by President Jonathan?
As I said earlier, President Jonathan is a listening leader. The flag off of the second Niger Bridge also attests to this. People of the South East and South South have harped on the importance of having a second Niger Bridge, since the current bridge is old. President Jonathan listened and has started acting. He has stated that the project would be completed in four years. When itâ€™ completed, the gains would be enormous. The second Niger Bridge will open up the South East and South South. This will bring about increased business and wealth creation. It will be in line with President Jonathan support for the economic growth of the South east and South South. He has, in the past given tacit support for the industialisation of these two zones. Since he assumed office, he has gone to South East to commission many multi-billion companies. And I know that many more companies will open for business, with the coming of the second Niger Bridge.
The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) at its national summit accused the Peoplesâ€™ Democratic Party (PDP) of failing the nation in the last 15 years it has been in power. As a foundation member of the PDP, what do you have to say about this?
I think the APC or whatever name the party answers is being economical with the truth. The fact is that you do not destroy an institution by falsifying facts simply because you want to succeed an incumbent government. It is regrettable that what we have as opposition parties in Nigeria are mere self-seeking individuals, whose only objective is to take over the reins of government for their selfish end, without any clear programme of action. Having said that, let me say that despite the refusal of opposition parties to acknowledge the achievements of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party has kept the promise of transforming the country. Today PDP is the only party that has retained its identity since three parties were registered in 1998. PDP is the only party that is not aligned to any ethnic, religious or regional interest. Other parties have imploded along the way or subsumed their identity in search of political direction and relevance. So PDP is not just the party of the present, it is the party of the future.
In the last 15 years, the party has recorded achievements in various sectors of the economy such as telecoms, agriculture, aviation, transportation, roads, water resources and education among others. The process of building an enduring political institution is difficult and thankless, but ultimately rewarding. The party has maintained and upheld its tested values of party internal democratic culture and rule of law. Our great party, which is widely acclaimed as the biggest in Africa, is the only Nigerian party that has been growing in leaps and bounds. It is the only party that is collectively owned by Nigerians. We are very proud of our heritage and we will never betray the trust that the majority of Nigerians reposed in us.
The PDP is the party for patriots. However, itâ€™s a pity that there are Nigerians, who for those who, for partisan reasons, continue to deny or feign ignorance of the progress the country has made under the PDP leadership. Telephone penetration has grown from 400, 000, in 1999 before the PDP came on board, to about 130 million today. Our telecom sector has grown to be the biggest in Africa and one of the fastest growing in the world, providing jobs for millions of Nigerians and creating a new generation of successful entrepreneurs and industrialists. The reforms in our communication sector are fuelling the boom in new media and supporting the development of our country. These are facts critics never want to acknowledge.
Under the PDP, our banking sector has flourished. The branch network has grown tremendously and more branches mean more assets. And the systemic crisis that used to consume banks and depress depositors has been well-managed. Before now, banks will collapse and some people commit suicide because they will take community and club money and put in their accounts and when banks collapsed and they have no money to pay they commit suicide. From the beginning of PDP administration, that is over. These are just a few achievements. PDP is the only party where candidates are not imposed on the people. Everybody has the right, under the umbrella, to aspire to any positi
Ã¢â‚¬Â¨You are one of the well-known supporters of the present administration, led by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. What do you find interesting in the president?
What I find most interesting in President Jonathan is his humility, sincerity and human disposition to issues. This is a man that had a low beginning in life and is not ashamed of telling anyone that cares about his birth and history. Even recently, during the Peoples Democratic Partyâ€™s rallies in Owerri and Ilorin, he used his life as example to motivate everybody in the party to aspire to any post in the land. That is humility at its best. Jonathan once told us that he never wore shoes to school, but today can wear any shoe or cloth he desires, no matter the amount. Iâ€™m sure this is the reason for his transformation programme, which is recording monumental progress. That is the type of leader we need in Nigeria.
Jonathan was born in what is now Bayelsa State, to a family of canoe makers. but he went ahead to pursue his education up to a PhD in Zoology from the University of Port Harcourt. Before he entered politics in 1998, he worked as an education inspector, lecturer, and environmental protection officer. What a credential! That is not all. In the history of Nigeria, Jonathan is the only person that has served as deputy governor, governor, vice president, acting president and president. It has never happened before and may never happen in a long time to come. He can therefore, be described as a destined child. hence, I find Jonathan as one credible individual who has the competency, character and capacity to lead this nation and we all need to support him.
How would you then assess Jonathanâ€™s performance in the last three years?
It is an obvious fact that despite several continuing domestic and global challenges, Nigeria has witnessed many positive developments since Jonathan assumed office. The administration is diligently implementing national transformation agenda in priority areas, including power, rehabilitation and expansion of national infrastructure, agricultural development, education and employment generation. Last year, for instance the government created an estimated 1.6 million new jobs and this figure is unmatched by any previous administration. Same year, the Federal Government commenced implementation of the National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP), aimed at industrialising Nigeria and diversifying the economy into sectors, such as agro-processing, light manufacturing and petrochemicals. It also successfully negotiated a strong Common External Tariff (CET), agreement with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) partners on the need to protect the countryâ€™s strategic industries from foreign domination. As a result of his administrationâ€™s backward integration policies, Nigeria moved from being a net importer to a net exporter of cement, with its production capacity growing from about two million metric tonnes in 2002 to about 28.5 million metric tonnes today.
For the first time in our history, foreign direct investment into Nigeria has also been strong. In fact, for the second year running, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, named Nigeria the No.1 destination for investments in Africa. Also the revolution in the agricultural sector is tremendous. The administration has successfully tackled corruption in the input distribution system, as a result of which farmers now obtain their fertilizers and seeds directly through an e-wallet system. The administration has also brought inflation down to its lowest level since 2008, partly due to higher domestic food production. Today, inflation rate is about eight percent and this will boost manufacturing. And the recent anti-gay law signed by him, against international pressures, is an added plus to his administration.
Do you think these are things that should make Nigerians proud or are there other areas you think Jonathan excelled?
Well, there are achievements in other sectors of the economy. Of course, nobody will lose sight of allocation to education sector, which has improved. For instance, between 2007 and 2013, allocation for education almost tripled, from N224 billion to N634 billion, apart from additional efforts towards improved access to education in the country. These included the construction of 125 Almajiri schools, and the establishment of 12 additional federal universities in states with none. Also, about 352 laboratories were rehabilitated, while 72 new libraries were constructed in the federal unity schools and laboratories rehabilitated in all the 51 federal and state polytechnics across the country.
In the power sector, it is common knowledge that electricity has improved in many states. Apart from the completion of the privatisation of four power generation companies and 10 power distribution companies, the government recently opened bids for the privatisation of 10 power plants, under the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP), while an additional $1.5 billion was advanced for the upgrade of the transmission network to boost electricity delivery to beyond 18 hours per day. I was happy when government said it would complete the deployment of the three electronic platforms, namely, the Treasury Single Account, TSA; the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System, GIFMIS; and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS, to curb leakages in the system.
On the international scene, Jonathan has been able to engage the international community constructively, building on interactions gained as Acting President and President, before the 2011 elections. As ECOWAS chairman, he was able to rally the sub-regional bloc in December 2010 to force the exit of recalcitrant Ivorian leader, Laurent Gbagbo, four months later. Building on this momentum, Jonathan was one of the few African leaders that came out boldly on August 23, 2011 to ask Libyan despot, Muammar Gaddafi, to quit. He followed it up by recognising the National Transitional Council of the Libyan rebels as the legitimate leaders of the people. This was against the general feeling among African leaders, especially South Africa, as it was only Nigeria and Egypt that recognised the rebels. Jonathan has also been able to attract high-profile visits from world leaders. These include British Prime Minister, David Cameron and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. He also organised $2million assistance in food aid for famine-ravaged Ethiopia on behalf of Nigeria.
The recent centenary celebration, where over 40 heads of states and governments from across the globe, including France were in attendance, is a further testimony of the Goodluck Jonathan administrationâ€™s record of performance.
As a businessman and entrepreneur, how do these things rub off on the real sector of the economy?
Positively, I will say. Let me give you some examples. Today, there are marked improvements in economic indices. In October 2011, the international ratings agency, Fitch Ratings, revised the countryâ€™s outlook upwards from negative to stable. That is positive growth sign. The low inflation rate is also good for the economy. Standard and Poor, another internationally respected and independent ratings agency, revised Nigeriaâ€™s ratings from stable to positive. Signing into law the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Bill 2010 (Local Content Bill) has increased local content in the oil and gas sector. As a direct result of that law, Royal Dutch Shell awarded a N7.8 billion ($49.9 million) contract to a Nigerian firm, S.C.C Limited, for the manufacture of high pressure line pipes that would, otherwise, have been awarded to a foreign firm. As a result of this law, Exxon Mobil awarded an off shore platform contract to a local firm, Niger Dock Nigeria PLC that would, otherwise, have been awarded to a foreign firm. These are employment generation activities. And you know when you give a man or woman job, it affects lives of many other people positively.
The Youth Enterprise with innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN) initiative and SURE-P are also for job generation. On March 29, 2011, the UK government in London described Nigeria as the fourth fastest growing economy in the world, just as the administration has secured investment commitments worth N4.89 trillion. The NigComSat-1Rsatellite will help expand Internet Bandwidth, monitor the weather and provide early warning to prevent natural disasters like floods, crop monitoring and urban planning. It has the attendant benefit of reducing the over $1 billion spent in purchasing Internet Bandwidth from abroad. In the banking sector, there is today stability in the system, unlike when we used to sleep with one eye open wondering which bank would be liquidated, of course, the establishment of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) in 2010 is one beautiful idea. Nigeriaâ€™s GDP grew by a record 8.29 per cent during the last quarter of 2010 and by over seven per cent in 2013. In the first quarter of 2012, Nigeria had verifiably become the fourth fastest growing economy in the world as recently attested to by several multilateral bodies and trading partners.
Revival of the textile industry via the N150 billion Textile Industry Bailout is worth commendable. As a result of this, the United Nigerian Textile Limited was reactivated, among others, and 2000 employees re-engaged. Non-oil exports from 2010 (standing at $2.3 billion) and subsequent years are 10 times what they were in 2000 (which were $200 million) as a direct result of this administrationâ€™s intervention in the textile industry and real sector. All these are verifiable facts. Jonathan also signed the Minimum Wage Act 2011 in March, which enhances the take home pay of the civil servant.