UNTIL few months ago, a question was asked in the social and mainstream media: ‘Who is Valentine Ozigbo?’ It was a question asked, perhaps out of curiosity, especially when someone’s name pops up unto public consciousness like a silent mystery. The truth is that, in business, as in sports, there is a saying that goes: “You never want to be the person who replaces a legend. You want to be the person who follows the person who replaces the legend”. The thinking is sound. You know why? If you follow a superstar, you are destined to be compared to him forever. That’s why most performers – be they corporate businesspeople, athletes, or even entertainers – are reluctant to follow a superstar’s wake. Unknown to many, Ozigbo, who turns 50 next Monday, July 20, has been around for years, working dutifully for a higher purpose in the corporate world. He has registered his footprints everywhere he had worked. Until March this year when he voluntarily stepped down from one of the prestigious posts in corporate Nigeria as President/CEO of Transcorp Plc to pursue a higher purpose in politics, Ozigbo’s name was (still is) a constant mention in Nigeria and beyond the shores of the continent. An astute banker, financial expert by training, the best and brightest in his class, he became one of the best sought after talents in the banking industry, a Chevening scholar before Transcorp came calling. He worked there for seven years with sterling achievements and was elevated to the position of President and CEO.
During this period, he led an astonishing $100 million project that saw Transcorp Hilton undergo a globally celebrated transformation and upgrade. For the records, the responsibility of piloting a firm’s affairs as big as Transcorp brand, and ensuring sustained profitability often rests squarely on the shoulders of the CEO, though running a company is never a task that can be accomplished by just one person. But as Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco International, now a diversified company as Transcorp, and one of the world’s largest manufacturers and installer of fire protection systems says, “there is a lot one person can do” to make a company successful. That is why Ozigbo is a new entrant to politics who should be keenly watched as the governorship nomination for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket in Anambra State for next year hots up in the coming months. He is, of course, not the only one in the PDP. Others are business mogul Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, and Amazon, Senator Uche Ekwunife. Other aspirants in other parties include old fox and former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, and an accomplished surgeon Dr. Godwin Maduka. Be sure the list will expand. Anambra is never lacking in human resources. Their chief want, to borrow the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be”. But my focus today is on Valentine Ozigbo.
As many bankers and policymakers will tell you, there’s something about Ozigbo that rivets attention. It’s his vision, leadership, competency and missionary zeal that he brings in anything he puts his mind on. He’s an ‘idea’s man. He’s serious about business and serious about people. His briefings on finance and economic matters are simply detailed and dazzling. His analytical mind and imperturbable calmness even in the face of pressure are amazing. They are all steeled in vision and leadership by example. Former two-term governor of the state Mr. Peter Obi set a remarkable example of how an idea’s and visionary leader from business boardrooms can get to the top of politics and governance without a political godfather but leveraging on integrity and accomplishments. Expectedly, the road to the primaries will not be easy. Ozigbo should know that as the number of aspirants will swell in the months ahead. That goes to show the complexity of politics, especially in Anambra State. Politics does not lend itself to easy theorising. Neither does it favour subtleties. However, one thing is sure: At the end of the grueling campaigns and primary, somebody’s bubble is going to burst. No doubt, the stakes are high. But as things stand now, Ozigbo is the leading aspirant in the PDP for the governorship contest that will decide who succeeds Gov. Willie Obiano in 2022. The election comes up next year.
Though zoning favours Ozigbo’s aspiration, coming from Anambra South where popular opinion says the next governor should come from, zoning or no zoning, Ozigbo believes professional competency should not be overlooked. Leadership is key and the culture of continuous improvement and excellence that challenge the status quo. It’s anchored on the Japanese phenomenon of Kaizen – a “Change for the better” that supersedes all things else. Looking at his background, Ozigbo seems to have mastered this through nature and nurture. He has developed himself, developed businesses he was entrusted with to the heights of sustainable growth and profitability. He has supported his people, and he’s communicating his messages effectively. But the ultimate test is how he will connect with all the different constituents in the state and what he intends to do as a unifier. Though he’s yet to come out with his manifesto and theme message, my recent encounter with him was revealing: Never met a man who had a better emotional intelligence and awesome ability to sit in a meeting for hours, summarize the points that scores of people around the table had made, and then lay out all the options for them in a manner that was elegant and unambiguously clear. This writer and the Anambra electorates want to see details of his policies and programmes that he wants his campaign to emphasize – realistic objectives for the next four years if he gets the party’s ticket. For him, at least for now, professional competency recognises that we live in a competitive world where you must “run faster than those ahead of you if you must catch up”. Such is his forward-looking approach to problem solving. He also recognises the power of the private sector which in today’s world and economic uncertainties holds the key to job creation. He projects experience. He’s both smart and principled.
I see him riding on the overwhelming acceptability of the key holders in the state. If a free and credible election is held today in Anambra State, it’s PDP’s to lose. Never before had the prospects of the party winning the governorship election in the state look brighter than now. Ahead of the party primary, this is my unsolicited advice to Ozigbo: First, make Ndi Anambra earn your trust. Trust is not having to guess what an aspirant means. Trust means leveling with the people before the primaries and election proper about what you are going to do after the election. Trust is not being all things to all people but being the same to all people. Also, trust is not shading words or stonewalling so that each separate audience can hear what it wants to hear but saying plainly and simply what you mean – and meaning exactly what you say. Simply put: what do you want to achieve and how?
Flowing from the above, Ozigbo should avoid gaffes that may tend to disparage other aspirants either in PDP or other parties. People are yet to forget how Soludo perhaps diminished his chances in 2010 governorship election with demeaning words against other candidates. He described Dr. Chris Ngige as a “small candlelight in a darkness that people see and began to clap”. But Ngige had proved that height or lack of it, is not a factor in service delivery to the people. He dismissed Senator Andy Ubah as “too unserious” to merit his attention. Turning to Peter Obi, Soludo said Obi was like a “lantern that Anambra people saw and were jumping”. Obi remains till today, an exemplar, a prescription for success in governance. Now look at how Soludo described himself: “I’m a fluorescent tube with halogen bulb”. What a superlative that can be interpreted as hubris. He played fast and loose with the facts. Ozigbo should make politics look like what it should be – a human enterprise – something like an accountant’s fondness for figures in a balance sheet. He must project an image like a screen upon which Anambra can see the vision of the future.