The 2019 General Elections have come and gone but the sour taste it left in the mouth of some of those that participated still lingers. For Mr. Iboro Otu who contested for the Governor of Akwa Ibom State with the ticket of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party ANRP, that experience has opened up another episode of his life. In this Exclusive Interview with FESTUS FIFEN the 42 year old Leadership Coach bares it all about his NGO, his aspiration to be the governor of his home state of Akwa Ibom, events leading to the general elections and how he was schemed out of things before, during and after the General elections. Excerpts:
Can we meet you please?
My name is Iboro Otu, I am from Akwa Ibom state I am 42 years old and I ran for the Governor Of Akwa Ibom State in the last general elections under the ANRP (Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party) I have never held a political office before. I took on this interest because I saw the need to do so because I could see that the younger generation which today we call ‘not too young to run’ generation did not actively participate in politics and as such, we are economically short-changed. I thought that having sat with so many great people and stakeholders it will be great to develop and engage the youths of my state in order to move forward and I believed and I still believe that I have the capacity to deliver on the promises I made to the youths of my state during my engagement with them with my NGO.
I took the responsibility of going into the hinterlands of my state with my NGO, investing in communities, doing a lot of research materials, energising young people asking youths to actually participate in politics.
At the time, and it’s still very prevalent now, it seems that there is a disconnect in understanding; where young people tend to not see that the reason things are not happening the way it’s supposed to because they are not actively participating in politics. They see politics and politicians as a different breed of people doing their own thing. With my engagements, I was able to break that jinx and demystify that process by telling them I am just one of you and I don’t know what politics is but I want to know, and I have understanding on how to develop people and I have done it in my businesses so let’s engage.
How did Campaigns Start?
I actually participated, I got my forms started my rallies and town hall meetings and did everything by law as it allows every citizen to do as a runner and here we are. It’s been great, I got to visit many places I have never been, I met many great people, I got the opportunity to connect with my people at a different level. It’s a different thing having friends and knowing people and it’s a different thing understanding problems. I see it as a wonderful experience and I regret not doing this early enough.
I believed that for me before any child is up to 20 years of age, their parents should actually bring them up for leadership roles like a counsellor in a local government, not because you want them to win but for them to understand the world and understand people. When you get into politics, you really understand how people think, how they reason and what people truly need.
It’s been a wonderful opportunity and I thank my people for the opportunity.
Since you said you have never ventured into politics, why running for the governor as your first attempt and not an office lesser than that of a governor?
It’s simple, because I wanted to solve problems and I needed that executive capacity I did not want to be tossed about, you know how it is in the country when people say learn the ropes.
I don’t still see myself as a politician, I see myself as a nation builder so as the saying goes, if you want to sail in big ships, you go to where the water is deep.
When I started my NGO to develop people across the 31 local government Areas of Akwa Ibom state I could understand what the problems were, where and how, but my issue was now scale, so the ability to scale across the state was an issue and the only office that can give you that opportunity, is the office of the governor. I saw it as an opportunity to serve and I plugged in. though I come from a family with a strong political orientation I have never participated. My network across the state with my NGO gave me more opportunities to engage.
Why Did you not try to join one of the two major Political Parties in your quest for leadership? why ANRP?
I joined ANRP because I did not believe and I still don’t believe that any of the two political parties will give me the opportunity to serve because of how they are structured across the country. They tend to do a lot of godfatherism which has created a lot of all these problems basically what that means is that people are not chosen by merit and capability they are mostly picked by who they know and because I did not want to craw and beg and kiss ass, I needed a political party that was very futuristic and very concerned about how to approach issues. I guess looking back now, I would have taken some other advice I got, maybe
I wouldn’t have ran with a party that was very young and very fresh because going through the journey, I have come to realise why politicians tend to go to the two big parties, it’s not just about the structure, most of the people that get into young parties don’t have capacity and it is easy for your team members to be bought.
for example 4 days to the election, when the PDP try to buy me and I wouldn’t sell, they bought my whole campaign Team Including the Director General of my campaign Organisation, he stepped down for the Governor, a lot of people left me and it was a s a result of capacity to deliver. I wouldn’t say the people sold out, they are human beings certain needs had to be taken care of, I mean look at the campaign budget it was so wide and because there were not many people to support, you have to come up with 4500 party agents, you have to do so much with so little capacity. so I guess why people go to these big parties with structures and God fathers is just because of winning elections but I knew this before I got in but it wasn’t much of a concern to me like it was for me to get things right. Even when I think about it now, I still think that my heart was just about getting things right. so I am trying to see how can Nigerians benefit because it’s not just my problem, Obi Ezekwesili faced same challenge either at the governorship level of the presidency, so how do we get parties to work?.
Now what I did because i foresaw this possibility, I thought beyond my party. if you read in the papers you will see that I had this coalition of 17 political parties coming to support me, they saw the need and they saw what I was bringing to the table going forward and they decided to work with me, though towards the end they sold out because I collapse my campaign organisation and made the chairmen of these political parties directors in my campaign organisation but then going forward some of them stepped down and all other drama that followed. However I must say we built a great team and I believe this is the way forward, a coalition between parties to make things grow. I think that’s why politicians spend so much money trying to build these two parties and reach out to the godfathers so that they can get passed these rot that poverty has instil. The reason people sell out is because of poverty, they want to solve problems with what they have right now, so a lot of people don’t bother about the future but I believe we will get there.
You did not win the Elections in your state obviously are you challenging the outcome of that election?
Yes I am challenging the outcome for so many reasons, one of the reasons why I got in was because I wanted to give voice to the people and one of the things I also found out in the process is that when you start looking for power, you understand that Nigeria is a different country.
When you are doing your business and going about your normal life, you really don’t understand that there are two sets of people, and some people think that we have religious and ethnic problems as a country. we don’t have such problems, the only problem we have in Nigeria is the difference between the rich and the poor, at that level they don’t play political parties they play interest, so when you as a common man tries to break the ceiling that’s when you realise that Nigeria is different
I got in, got my tickets and started campaigns fast forward to after elections the result came out right from a week before the election we have started hearing that a lot of money is being put in especially by the PDP in different polling units. what we heard from our agents and people that are willing to come and testify is that in every poling unit they put N1.1 Million , this is for vote buying on the election date not for campaigns and other expenses. let me take my unit for example on the election day at least 80% of those in my units are my cousins but they came to me and said we have N1.1 Million here to share how much can you offer?
So people got between N1, 000 and N10, 000 across the 31 local governments in Akwa Ibom State. I can tell you that 90% of the votes were bought 700,000 people voting un-behalf of 6 Million,
if you spend that kind of money to buy votes, that’s actually a crime against humanity, you have short-changed the people. so I am not interested in the results I am interested in the process and that’s why I approached the tribunal because I believe this shouldn’t be a template that should hold, if we allow this to continue, I wonder where we would be in 2023 general elections. There were a lot of issues like vote buying, voters intimidation and other issue which I took forward to the tribunal which now opens up a very different episode.
Have you filed your petition before the tribunal?
Going in to submit my petition, I was unable to, my lawyers came back and told me that the registrar said that remita the payment platform was not working and that we were late because we went there on the 30th of March don’t forget that the elections were announced on the 11th and officially done on the 12th so counting 21 days plus the day of announcement, we still had 2 days. we thought the man was joking, the next day I went to the tribunal with the media you will see some of the videos on YouTube, we addressed the press in the court premises, we called the registrar, he refused to come and take the petition.
The question is does a registrar of a court have a right to reject a petition on whatever reasons? These are issues that Nigerians needs to know. we wrote to the president of the court of appeal we have not gotten any response, in fact the process of submitting that was a big issue it took the Intervention of press men from Akwa Ibom state to submit that letter in the court. He registrar refused to take the letter, and he promised us that no matter the number of letters we write, we won’t get any response. I have it on tape, in fact when the deputy chairman of my party went to submit the letter we wrote to the chairman of the tribunal about what happened that we couldn’t submit the petition, the registrar was so arrogant that I had to take the letter there myself and in the process of doing that, my deputy chairman was making a video of the event, the man collected the phone and broke it, this is the phone ( displaying a phone with broken screen) I have not changed the screen and I have the video and audio recording of all the processes as well I am really interested in seeing where this is going to end.
One could see the arrogance and the attitude that follows for a registrar to come out and refuse to collect a petition, I spoke with the DSS and they said they are doing some investigation. The courts started sitting recently and I am wondering on what premise is the court sitting, this is such is miscarriage. thesame day
I submitted my petition and it wasn’t taken was the day the APC submitted theirs and it was taken, so how come the court took APC petition and not mine. These are issues for Nigerians to look at
I know that I don’t have any godfather, I know that there are so many shortcomings we have as a people but there are certain things I know the law stands for, there are some rights that are inalienable and these are the rights we want to pursue not just for me and my election, but for posterity for our children and the country so we can move forward. the main issue here is to see how we can get our petition into the tribunal. I don’t want to have any problems with Mr. Abubakar who’s the registrar because I understand the strategy behind this, the issue is to get him served and he will say oh your petition came too late sorry of course that has already been taken care of by the people, I am not interested in the man, he represent an institution, he represents an administration, a body so I am interested in getting the right thing done. so that the 500 people I have as witnesses can come in and testify, you will be shocked at what was done to those that refused to be bought over, some were beaten, machete sustaining various degrees of injuries. bottom line is that election was a farce
Why do you think the registrar will not want to collect your petition?
For me I just feel he has been compromised, though that’s an allegation because I don’t see any reason why he should act like that because he knows clearly as man working as the registrar in a gubernatorial Election, it’s not a joke, for him to take that risk he knows what he is doing, I don’t want to make bland allegations but I don’t believe he is doing that just because he doesn’t like my face, he has not met me before so whoever he is working for or working with is what I am interested in and I want Nigerians to hear because this is not just my story, it’s the story of every young man out there who is trying to get somewhere trying to get ahead in Life, trying to contribute to society and defy some certain people to allow things to work so this is not about me.
What’s your message to your supporters, how are they handling the situation?
They are disenfranchised, they call me every time, they try to vent their anger in so many ways and I tell them it’s not a thing to get angry about they should look at it as a life journey. we are about to break what has never been broken, I try to encourage them because some of them feel we have been used, so my appeal to them especially the young people is that when you take the laws into your hands they would have opportunity to condemn your generation. sometimes I wonder if this country is actually a jungle, the more you engage with the system the more you begin to think that human beings can’t be possibly be behaving like this to each other. In my state for example 80% of the people are living in poverty. The GDP of Akwa Ibom State is bigger than two times the GDP of Rwanda. I just want to focus on the ball which is getting my petition into the tribunal so we can move forward
As a person how do you feel about this whole thing?
I feel very terrible, I feel as if I don’t count, we don’t matter our voice does not matter and it’s a waste of time, I have been doing this for four years, spending money, selling properties, engaging people, making promises and you just realise that someone has already sat somewhere and had done something to decide your fate playing God which is not supposed to be. I feel very pained but I try to turn the pain into something positive. I want the president to hear about this, I want everyone that matters in taking care of this mess in this country to hear about this so they understand that this problem we are creating is their problem not mine because no matter how you look at power it comes and goes so when you are on the other side you will also suffer what others suffered. I am not fighting this because I want it to favour me, equity is the best form of doing this thing, if the son of my gateman is smart enough to be my governor, he should be allowed to, because that’s the only way this country can go forward when the best men are allowed to rule. I feel very sad that I have not been giving the opportunity to do so.
You said Nigeria needs fixing how do we actualise that as a country?
I think is very simple to fix Nigeria, first we need to take up the knowledge base of our people in the areas of Health, Agriculture and Education sector, if we can focus on these three sectors, the economy will pick up on its own because it’s from great education sector that we have the brain’s that will manage every other sector. we spend so much money in the construction sector which are in the hands of foreigners when we can actually allow the ministry of works to partner with technical schools and colleges to actually do the work, they learn on the job but then when they leave they start companies to manage the process. that’s why when I go to the UK for example, every two years there is a new technology being used but here we have been using coal tar since the 1970s to do roads and it has not changed and this cuts across every sector.
for example the emergence of electric cars that are coming, I heard the senate is fighting the process it’s a lost battle, America told us four years before that they were going to stop buying our oil, we thought they were joking before they actually stopped. if the European countries making the spare parts says oh there are no petrol cars anymore and we are not producing spare parts we lose. the way out is to plan for the future. Remember we can’t out industrialize China even America recognises that too. what we need to do is develop our people and make the people the oil. So that our people can develop the capacity to do their own thing in different areas.
Israel is three times the size of Akwa Ibom state but 20% of the land mass is Arable Israel makes 4 Billion Dollars off Agricultural Produce and guess what they export? Just fruits, the Arable Land in Akwa Ibom State is more than the Arable Land in Israel, so let us just assume that its only 10% of that amount we bring in, that is 400 million Dollars, we have cassava, we have oil, we have rice let’s stop there. Israel’s Agricultural revolution is built on Technology. Technology works everywhere. The other time the president said we spend N500 billion on medical tourism, its actually one trillion Naira. How much does it take to set up a world class primary healthcare centre? I told my state, if we can set that up even if it’s just 5 % of that it amounts to 40 billion Naira. These are low hanging fruits. I like things that you start and in a year you start seeing results, plant cassava today and in 6 months you start harvesting it. Once we start the process there is no one in the village you will teach how to plant cassava they already know how to do it , it’s just scale that’s the issue, we already have the population for all these. The challenge is the will power to do so.
Politicians already have the godfathers system where some people have the interest and when you come in you see yourself working against your godfather, so they now start telling the governor to give contract to supply what does not exist.
When our people leave here to other countries they obey laws and fall inline, so what do you think is actually the problem with us at home?
The problem is Institutions, in Nigeria we have strong men and weak institutions, and abroad they have the reverse, strong institutions and Natural men. Our strong men kill our institutions so that they can stand up one day and write a letter to people to change things. for example when some of the party chairman with me refused to be bought over, the governor sent his people to Abuja to meet the National Chairman of that party and they issue another letter removing that man as a chairman and give another person the position of a state chairman of the party. The man will be there until INEC will tell him that you are no more the chairman another man is being recognised. these people killed the institution so that they can be stronger than the country. what we should do is to make institutions stronger than the people so that no man is above the law. the question now will be how soon will that happen we can only wait to see.
As a young man what will be your advice to the youths who are underdeveloped?
My advice will be for them to have faith in themselves and try to see that there is a different life out there for them. I think it’s also our responsibility to sell it to them because over the years we have had so many failed promises and the youths are so disenfranchised. Poverty has been weaponised by a lot of people. The youths should believe more in hard work. I know how difficult it is to talk to an hungry youth, during the election some came to me and said I voted against my conscience because I needed the money to survive my children needed food and you know some immediate needs that even me myself I said I understand.
So who are you directing your appeal to over your tribunal issue?
I am appealing to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who has been working very hard against impunity in the country, I appeal to every office holder to look at the matter and support it in one way or the other because a support to get the truth out is a support for all Nigerians we need to get out of these mess that we are in and one of the ways to do that is to get the electoral system and judicial