Prof Osita Ogbu
Prof. Osita Ogbu

…Proffer Solution to States. FG on Economy, Politics

Interview:

We came to share with you the joy of your 60th birthday and we will like to know more about your experience in life particularly in areas of academic, politics and social life?

My life is actually a life of risk taking and I start there because it is extremely important for the young ones. This is because lack of personal development is the presence of risk aversion. People are contented with what they have and do not aspire. I am basically a dreamer because you have to dream before you actualize. In 1983, when I left this country, January to be precise, I was a very comfortable Sales Manager at Lever Brothers Nigeria Limited and without scholarship or sponsorship or in service training, I left. That was a lot of risk and it is unheard of in this part of the world.  That you don’t have very rich parents or relation and you resign from a comfortable job which is like leaving the one you know to the one you don’t know. But to the glory of God, that risk paid off and immensely rewarded me. So I always encourage the young ones with my experience and that is why I say that my life is a life of risk.

When I finished serving President Obasanjo, my job with international service was still there but I went back and told them that I am giving them three months notice ahead that I will quit the job. This was without me knowing what else I was going to do. It was Obasanjo who brought me from abroad to serve the country. So after my service to the country at the national level and I decided to contest the governorship election of my state, my job abroad was still kept for me but because I had spent a lot of time abroad, I told myself it was time to invest on the people at home. I was paid very well where I was working but I just told myself that it was time to be home for my people. I came back not knowing what else to do and it was two years after that, that I was appointed a professor in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 2009. It has been an enterprising and rewarding experience personally with opportunity to see the world. I have gone to about 45 countries in the world. Some I visit often. So each time I take the risk, I work very hard. Many people sleep 90% of the time on their beds but I don’t. I don’t even sleep up to 40% on my own bed because I always travel all over the places doing my job on consultancy and so on, and that is why when people tell me they want to see me, I ask them where: is it Abuja, Lagos or Kaduna?

So, socially, I like to mentor the young ones. I am extremely community oriented. One of the joys of being home is rendering services to our people whether it is through the Christian women organization or through town union or students unions. Sometimes we use these things to show what leadership represents. There was a time I gave lecture to student leaders at the University of Nigeria, and in the course of that lecture I said we need to practicalize leadership. And what did I decide to do? Zik’s flat at that time was very dirty and heaped up with a lot of trash all over the places. So I said I want volunteers because you know, to follow a leader is not by compulsion but by voluntarily emulating the attributes of your leader because you believe that the leader is taking you somewhere. Then we fixed a date that we will go and remove those trashes there. Before the date, I had paid for the work of tipper and other instruments we will use in clearing that environment where students lived. I was there in person and all of us were removing those trashes from the Zik’s flats where students lived. I used that to demonstrate practical leadership and an example of how a true leader should lead. After the exercise I asked the students if the exercise removed anything from me and the answer was know. I have not ceased to be a professor and so on since then. Sometimes these are the things we see that is lacking because when most of the people get to the top, they forget that the top is actually for service and not for self. So, as a leader, if you cannot account for lives that you have touched, communities that you have changed, selfless services that you rendered, then what kind of leadership have you demonstrated? On the political side, I don’t consider myself as a politician. I am a technocrat who went into politics because that is an avenue to serve the people. When people say they are politicians, I don’t know what that means. It is not a profession. You must have a profession and then use politics to render service so that if it doesn’t work out, you go back to your profession. Politics must be seen for what it is; a platform and an avenue to strengthen the weak, build alliances and networks to render services to humanity.

Generally, how do you see life?

Life is a journey. When you start you don’t know where it will end and that is part of the mystery. Nobody can predict the end and that is why you cannot take yourself too seriously. Every opportunity you are given, use it for the benefit of others. It was one Rabbi who said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, but if I am for myself alone, what am I?” Meaning that we understand self preservation and a bit of selfishness but if all you have come to this earth to do is for yourself alone, that life has no meaning. So the meaning of life is when the people can say things like, “but for this man” “but for this person” a sort of goodwill, network and the lives you may have impacted in. That is also why I enjoy teaching because it allows me to mould minds and to impact knowledge at a very high level. So I can stay in the classroom for four hours, delivering lecture, because there is a certain joy I derive in sharing what I know.

Prof. Osita Ogbu
Prof. Osita Ogbu

We will like you to share with us that greatest moment of joy in your life

There are quite a number. When I went to the United States, like I said earlier, it was a risky venture. So when against all odds I obtained my Masters, in the first instance it was a whole lot of joy.

When I now obtained my PhD, oh it was even greater joy. When I met my wife coupled with the circumstances under which I met her. That story would have actually been aired in BBC. It was made possible by Divine intervention. Meeting my wife is a story for another day. This is because the person who introduced me to her had given up but I didn’t and it worked well because if I had arrived at her work place two minutes before or after I would have missed her. Like I said it is a divine intervention that this must be the one. By next year 2018, we will be celebrating our 25th anniversary and we have been so happy.

When you have a child too, it is also source of joy and this is why we did a thanksgiving during my 60th birthday celebration because there are so many things we are celebrating. That God’s favour is with one is not just that you attain the age of 60; it is that in the journey to those 60 years on earth, you have achieved a lot. I have achieved a lot through God’s favour.

Who else will you also give kudos to for who you are today?

I think my parents being who they are, because my father was quite exposed even though he wasn’t that educated. He had travelled. He lived outside Nsukka and in fact he was living in Ibadan before I was born. I think my father’s exposure rubbed off on me in particular. I was a very precious child and you know with the name given to me “Ositadinma” tells you a lot of stories. So that level of exposure he had and his single mindedness about education laid the foundation upon which everything else was built. My father doesn’t allow me to play football or mingle with my mates unnecessarily. Instead he will choose to hire a private teacher that will teach me when I am back from school. All these laid the foundation because I went to very good schools. My primary school was in Holy Trinity Onitsha and Secondary school was in St Theresa’s College Nsukka. These foundations are extremely important and he never quivered each time I had an ambition. Like when I said I was going to the US he didn’t say how or no to my ambition. It was others who were even saying no but because he was also a traveller too he supported my ambition. When I wanted to marry, he didn’t say no your wife is not from Nsukka, because you know my wife is from Asaba. Some will say no but he never did. Again he had already lived in Asaba. When I got married he would speak Yoruba with my wife because she is very fluent in Yoruba language. His exposure rubbed off on me in addition to my sense of achievement. You know to be successful; you have to take yourself away from the back. You know that many are invited but few are chosen. Even when God was preaching at the Mount, many people couldn’t climb the Mount. Many of them were at the base of the Mount. So to be successful, you have to climb the Mount. My message for the young ones is hard work! hard work!!  and hard work!!!”. Shortcuts will lead you to nowhere. You can escape but somehow you will be caught. So you have to build a foundation for success. If you have never read a book, how can you be a writer? On September 29, 2017, there was a dramatization of a novel that I wrote and I am an Economist, how come? I was a very good literature student but to produce a novel that is not published by me but by a commercial publisher, who used his own money, meant that the work is good enough to be published. So what greater joy and gift will I receive that the creative work was dramatized and I see the characters that I created play what is on the script. It is a product of hard work because many people start to write a novel but they don’t finish. Tenacity is part of it.

So who is that your wife that is from Asaba?

Wow! Every man should pray to have the type of wife I have because of the level of wisdom and humility in her. People do not even know that she is a Chief Consultant Physician at the National Hospital Abuja.  People do not know that she left school in 1988 and that she is an American trained Physician and of which there are only, may be three of them that are Geriatricians in the country. How would you know; because she is simple and people complain that when they come to my house, my wife will keep serving them something to eat. She is very welcoming and best friend with my mum with a lot of wisdom. When we counsel young people who are getting married, we tell them about these things. Wives must have wisdom and husbands must show leadership, care and provide. I can say that I have the best wife being that she is beautiful, intelligent and respectful and most importantly loves my family members, and equally takes care of me and the children. As a matter of fact some of us are not that easy to manage and when you get someone who can manage you well, you thank your God. Before now I was very anxious about my 60th birthday but she will be the one who will always tell me calm down, things will be very okay. She will tell me don’t worry take it easy. That’s what you need because it is very easy to make money but who is the one managing this process. Like I use to tell my friends that if my wife wasn’t there, I don’t know if my children will be in the schools where they are. Because you are just running around making some money and you don’t know whether the children are where they are supposed to be. So I always tell people to find smart and humble people if they care for marriage.

Do you have any regrets in life?

My life is an open book. I basically sleep well at night. I don’t step on toes. If you insult me I reward you. If you don’t greet me I still pay your school fees. This is because I believe that there was a reason I was created and so I don’t listen and interpret what people do or say. I do things according to the dictates of my own conscience and love for God’s creature.

What Denomination do you profess?

I am a catholic.

You have been a man of the people all this while; you have been Economic Adviser to the President, Federal Minister and also Director Institute for Development Studies. Back home in Enugu State, you are a member of the Economic team. Are you worried with the present state of economy in the state and that of the country?

Yes. When this government (Federal Government) was coming in, some of us wrote and put our views in the public domain expressing policy options. Many times I give lectures on the way forward of our country and this year precisely June 15th, I gave the annual lecture of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and the title of my lecture was, “National Integration Citizenship and the Challenge of Economic Policy Making”. The central theme was that we basically have only created a country, we need to create a nation and that the absence of common purpose which is a sense of nation has created additional challenges for policy making. This is because policy making is seen from the prism of where one comes from. So once you do that it means you won’t pursue that which advances the nation but that which advances your community. Some of us are concerned because when the cabinet was formed there was no Economist in the team and we have over a dozen lawyers in the cabinet. But what it tells you is that there is no careful selection of the key plays that will lead the team. Like one of the coaches that won world cup said and I quote “I first design a plan of play and then I choose the players that will fit the plan.”

You might be one of the best players but you don’t fit the plan. What this means is that if you have a plan, you look for the players that will fit in the plan so as to actualize that plan. It is not when you assemble the players then you start designing the plan. First, design a plan of play, then you choose the players that will fit in the plan. It was the Brazilian Coach that was saying this when they won the world cup and I think if you recall he did not play his best player in that tournament. This is because he did not fit in the plan. So when you choose Commissioners or Ministers, the question you must ask is that, is there a plan of play or I am just choosing names. So where is your plan of play? We are concerned but I am sure we will get out of it because nobody should minimize the importance of knowledge or exposure. These three elements are very essential, knowledge, experience and exposure, you can’t buy them. You just have to have them and they are critical and they are not common.

What is the impediment to the last economic summit that was widely celebrated last year in Enugu state?

You know people are agitating for restructuring. There is reason for it. You want to make the state a little stronger. You want to be able to have high calibre of individuals that are assisting the government. We must down play politics and play up economics. Yes, politics is superior to economics but once you get into a political position, the emphasis should be on how to raise the standard of the people from point “A” to point “B”.  If you come in as a leader and there is 25% of unemployment, the question is that by the time you are living are you able to reduce it? The statistics can be obtained. If by the time you are coming in as a leader and the percentage of pass in WAEC is 60%,  the question is, are you able to raise up to 70% and above? There must be this indices stating whether we are going higher or lower. When I was the Planning Minister, I devoted a lot of time on these measurements to show what President Obasanjo was doing or was not doing.

Prof. Osita Ogbu
Prof. Osita Ogbu

What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buharis`s eonomic policy??

What I can say is that it is clearly not giving the desired result and it is not likely to yield the result because of what I call “coordination failure” where there are many economic agencies of government but they are pursuing different agenda. So once these agenda are not coordinated it is not likely to get the desired result. This coordination must be centrally done. Secondly, many states shy away from vigorous economic policy, and no state is adjudged based on the employment it generates or social goals it pursues. The Federal Government could also have a way of decentralising that states focuses on economic policy industrialization. In fact during the time of the so called “bailout fund”, certain conditions would have been attached to it to enable states focus on creating shared prosperity as part of the conditions for giving out that money. I have said somewhere that the National Economic Council could have been turned into a forum for engineering a bit of competitive federation where states and Federal Government partner in other to derive a diversification that is common to all. Because each state or region has something they can bring to the table.

What do you think can be done to get the country out of the present hydra-headed problems facing it?

I have already addressed this in my lecture on “Issues of National Integration”. For as long as the country is fractured, it is not even easy to make policies that will hold. This is because many policies will be seen from tribal, sectional, ethnic, regional perspective. So our best order of business is to reconstruct this country as a nation and that requires a lot of work from our leadership, followers and all Nigerians. What this means is that the success of one region is the success of all, and the challenge in one region is the challenge to all. So we must see the country as one because what happens is that policies are made as if to favour a region or disadvantage the other which is not in the interest of the nation. So, national interest has to be reawakened, the creation of a nation where we all believe that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, as well as success.

What is the way out?

You see, there is no substitute to very strong leadership. And what this really means is a Leader recognizes that there are things he doesn’t know and therefore must surround himself with those who know the way out. Just like a Professor doesn’t know it all, that is how it is to a Leader because a Professor is a Professor of a very small area. So you can’t be Professor of everything and you must allow yourself to be taught. There are people in my Institute that I go to their offices so that they can teach me on areas I don’t know much about. I even tell my PhD students when they are writing their thesis. I say to them that though we are supervising you but have it at the back of your mind that we don’t know everything you are writing on. Our role is to ask the critical questions and yours is to educate us on that small area you are researching on and if you unable to, I won’t let you pass.

Leadership means understanding that you are first among equals and that you are open to assimilating knowledge. When you see a bright star you should actually draw the person close because that’s what leadership is all about by deploying men and material to achieve certain goals. It is very important.

At the end of your career, what will you like to retire to?

As earlier stated, I enjoy community service; you know Professors retire at 70, so if I remain in the University, I have just ten years but if I don’t remain in the university then I have other things to do. Remember that I am an international person who decided that I must localize myself because there are services we must render. So long as I am in Nigeria, maybe I will take-up farming because I like to do things that I haven’t done before. In fact I may not even wait until I retire. I might decide to take it up and see how it goes. But otherwise I will remain a teacher not really in the sense of a classroom teacher. I read a lot and therefore I like to share a lot.

You did mention that your wife a friend to your mother, where is your mother?

My mother is in the village Ovoko to be precise.

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