*Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is the immediate past Governor of Abia State. A lecturer, administrator and politician, he speaks on his ‘first address’, biochemistry, challenges of office, the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration and others.
You seem to have gone back to your first address, biochemistry, what has it been like?
It has been beautiful. I do not have a problem going back to biochemistry because I’ve always been part of the biochemistry family. I thank God that in my eight years as a Governor, I always kept it low and simple with my people in biochemistry so that this transition would not be a problem. I think it’s beautiful. We’re looking at new challenges from the perspective of science and how to further our acquisition of knowledge.
You were recently given an award, what have you done since you left office or was it what you did as a Governor?
Well, it’s a combination of both. When I was a Governor I kept a very close tie with the biochemistry family. I was teaching biochemistry at the Abia State University, Uturu, although pro bono. I was heading two research groups, one at Michael Okpara University and the other at ABSU. We were publishing, attending conferences, teaching and researching. Many people may not know that I set up a biochemistry laboratory in the Ishmael Ikpeazu Memorial Library. Part of that library is focused on evidence-based leadership. So, it’s a leadership institute and also a biochemistry laboratory for the validation of Folk Medicine because we have some herbs that possess potent hypoglycemic principles. We’re thinking we can improve on some of these things and see how we can use them to solve our everyday problems. Problems of diabetes, problems of high cholesterol and so many other everyday problems. We need to validate those things in the laboratory to ensure that they don’t contain principles that can undermine our health. I’ve also been mentoring young biochemists to see how they can sustain their interest in the subject. While in office and out of office, I’ve been active.
Do you have any regrets six months after your leadership?
No, I don’t regret anything. I’ve had time to reflect and do this review dispassionately. Our circumstances may not be the same, but if you repeat the circumstances, I will take the same decision again. I’m someone driven by logic. Before I make a decision, I check the reasons and basis, yes some of those decisions may not be good in the eyes of some people but it is natural. Can I be found wanting for not making a decision? The answer is no. Can I make a wrong decision? The answer is yes. But you will never find me not taking a decision. One must make a decision and I don’t regret it.
Nigerians appear to be regretting the exit of Buhari at the Federal level?
I think we need to be fair to the incumbent president. It takes time to prepare a good soup. One thing we must give to him is his ability to make difficult decisions. We’ve been a country managing things that shouldn’t be managed. There comes a time when we need to face reality and make a decision to put a stop to the bleeding. If you want to treat a wound you must arrest the bleeding. I think we’re in the process of arresting the bleeding before we can treat the wound. Some of the voices, especially the loud ones are voices of those who must have been benefiting from the continuous bleeding of our country. What do we need to do going forward? I think we need to be a little more patient, give time and be careful in setting agenda and canvassing our opinion. Agenda setting is very critical and we must elevate our National agenda for unity and economic development above an individual or his political party. This is where I bring the media because the problem is that we ask the wrong questions. We appear not to know how to hold leaders responsible. At times we’re too sentimental. I give you an example, the turnaround maintenance for our refineries is sweet music today, but nobody bothers to ask, if Dangote refinery takes 400-500,000 barrels of crude monthly are we going to have enough crude to export and at the same time service the two local refineries when they come on stream?
Do we have enough production capacity for local refining and export to earn forex? Iran was sanctioned sometime ago, they took a decision and changed their policy. They said since you cannot allow us to sell crude to the international market, but we can still sell products from petroleum. We can sell paraffin, petrochemicals and other products coming from petroleum. They went into technology and started producing some important byproducts that come from petroleum and incidentally, the world did not ban those products. So, they ended up selling value-added products and made more money. So, it behoves on us to know what we really want. So, I cannot join the chorus of turnaround maintenance without interrogating the question of do we even have the crude to service those refineries. If you spend all the billions to turn around the refineries do you have enough crude to service them? What should we be targeting for the international market? Shouldn’t it be value-added products from Crude rather than just petrol, kerosene and diesel? These are just elementary. Just refining crude isn’t enough and it is not new. That’s what people do in the Niger Delta. During the Civil War, I understand the Biafrans were refining crude in churches. So, what’s new in the technology? I’m just saying that we should put ourselves in order and know how to hold our leaders responsible. If a leader comes and says I’m going to do turnaround maintenance in our refineries, should that be enough? Shouldn’t we be talking about value-added products and other things in 2023? So, I cannot join the chorus to say that nothing is being done. No, I cannot do that. I’d rather say we need to give time and look at what’s being done and where we’re headed. This is because, when we know our destination, we can now interrogate the pathway and ask if this pathway will lead us to where we’re going. From where we are now looking at the distance if my destination is Maiduguri and what’s available to take me there is a bicycle and you said I must be in Maiduguri in three hours then it’s not possible. So, our destination, where we want to be as a country, should be the parameters to determine whether somebody is doing well or not.
Therefore, our question / interrogation for our leaders should revolve around
1. How do we improve production capacity to meet OPEC QUOTA?
2. To follow the IRAN option which is value addition of raw crude to maximize financial inflow.
I think that our quest for petrochemical industries should over shadow mere turn around.
But as it stands now, does it look like we have a direction?
Certainly, we do, but I’m saying that foundational or fundamental issues should focus on arresting bleeding first if you can do that, then other things will follow. Perhaps I’ll desire that we should focus more on alternative sources of income for our country. We’re huge on solid minerals and I think we should do more in the direction of solid minerals. This crude Oil thing alone isn’t solving everything.
But I think the focus is the effect it has on the people from cooking gas to petrol, so to ordinary Nigerians the policies are not favourable?
Yes for now, but what will be the mid-term and long-term effects? This should also be important. But should we say that spending the money we don’t have all those times to enjoy the availability of fuel and all that was the best? I give you an example, Nigerians should be steered towards responding appropriately to the nuances and impulses of the economy. Today, electricity has been epileptic. We can no longer buy diesel. What options do we have? Solar, the natural reaction will be to be moving towards Solar. If I have the money today and I want to buy a car, I’ll buy an electric vehicle. That’s my natural response to unavailable fuel. If I have three vehicles and I usually put all of them on the road, the natural reaction will be to put one. I know of a highway in Texas USA where you get a tax refund or you wouldn’t pay the toll if you’re carrying about three persons in that vehicle. All members of the family, heading in one direction. Because you people have elected to use one vehicle, they wouldn’t charge the toll they’re supposed to charge if you didn’t apply that system. So, this is a problem everywhere, but people respond differently. I was telling some people some time ago that here in Nigeria, we complain about electricity which is true because it drives everything. But then, how many of us need electricity to support manufacturing and production? The majority just need electricity to watch movies. When you get to some people’s rooms today, the heater(air-conditioner) there is switched on while they’re at work. This is just me saying we should adjust to some of those things. This is not me saying that all is perfect, but we need to allow our economic policies to grow up a human face. But fundamentally speaking, I believe that if you’re on the wrong path towards a prescribed destination and you identify that that’s the wrong path, the earlier you stop and resume your journey towards the right direction, the better for you otherwise the hours you waste on that wrong direction will not take you there. We must begin to face the music that the years we wasted on the sojourn to the wrong path. We need to face it and do the needful. The time has come for us to make a decision. There are certain things the government needs to do and the people also need to do something. Citizens should also respond appropriately to the nuances and impulses .
What’s the government supposed to do?
In terms of energy, the government needs to focus on mining as against subsidizing products and also make alternative sources of energy available for our people, Solar. I remember I brought a Power Pack that I distributed to some areas then. This Power Pack can light five bulbs and has different pots for the charging of phones. It’s as small as the pack of a shoe. The local market woman can move with it to where she sells and can use it to lighten up five bulbs in five different rooms when it’s dark. Then, there’s a solar panel that you put out in the day to charge for use at night. This is where the government should come in. Help get Solar panels, inverters, and lithium batteries. I understand lithium is in Nigeria, this is where we should think of subsidizing mining, making it a product of national interest for lithium and attracting companies that will come in here to produce lithium batteries to set up solar panels for rural areas and upgrade power generally. These are some of the areas we should be focusing on.
How do you feel that so many big companies are leaving Nigeria, aren’t you worried?
Yes, you see, the fight and struggle for foreign direct investment is a process. It should be done using a multi-pronged approach. You don’t talk about foreign direct investment without properly marketing your country. If the president is going about marketing Nigeria, that’s very good, but should not be at the expense of creating the enabling environment for such enterprise to thrive because we cannot attract foreign investment by sentiments. No foreign investor goes to a place because it was spoken about. We need to go beyond that. I said this in Washington DC on one of my visits to speak about foreign investment that we need to look inwards. I told Nigerians there that we need them to come home and invest. This is because if a Nigerian in the diaspora has refused to invest in our country, what’s the biggest incentive the foreigner will see to come and invest here? We need our people of this country wherever they are to come home and invest. We should create an enabling environment for local businesses to thrive. We must do something about the banks making credit available. We must be intentional about protecting local investors and manufacturers. We must help them. Look at the areas of Entertainment and Techs that are thriving today, they’re just a result of the ingenuity and talents of Nigerians. When it comes to the provision of software for the growth of these businesses, we seem to be lacking. So, first of all, we must look inwards. As for investors leaving, that’s natural. The investment climate is in flux.. People will come and others will go and it all depends on what it is. If somebody comes to do a business that requires crude oil and suddenly, crude is no longer available, he’ll go to where he will get crude. If somebody does business and he cannot repatriate his money, he’ll go. So, these are some of the things we need to put in place. We need to work on security and even middle cadre training for labour because part of what Nigeria markets to the world is cheap labour. China was doing that before, but now Chinese labour is no longer cheap. They’re looking for alternative manufacturing platforms. We must be able to build the training and capacities of our artisans to the level that one can comfortably come to Nigeria and say that we have some good technicians for different fields from auto to many things that can compete favourably with what’s out there elsewhere. Not until that’s done, we cannot get to certain levels. So, working on your local manufacturers and providing incentives that’ll drive ease of doing business is key. Again, you need to work hard to bring people into Nigeria that’s why I said the president has to travel as he’s doing. It’s okay because he has to be interrogated by some of those people for him to clear the air about some things that concern foreign investment and only can give that assurance while interacting with people, but we must make sure that some of the things we’re saying are already on the ground. Nigerians need to show a little more Faith in our country. I travel to Turkey with my friend and he said to me, Nigerians complain too much about their country and say all kinds of negative things about their country but we don’t talk about it. He said I do business in Nigeria but I’m from Istanbul. He said that there’s a place he’ll take me to in his place and I’ll discover that all the crimes in Lagos, Kano, Aba and Onitsha are child’s play. This is not me trying to cover, hide or protect anything but we need to be seeing our country differently. Some of these people that swim across to the Atlantic to travel outside go there to do some jobs that if you ask them to do down here, they’ll not accept to do it. We’re not responding appropriately to the stimulus of our economy. We think that the NIGERIA of today is the same as the Nigeria of 1970 where we can wake up and subsidize everything. That may never come back, but in the interim, we must learn to adjust. My advice to the Government is to let everybody know your destination and your pathways so that it can be followed.