Chief Charles Odunukwe is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Colonades Hotels and Resorts Limited. A gubernatorial aspirant for 2013 governorship elections in Anambra State; a Lawyer and respected personality in Nigeria’s hospitality industry, he is also associated with a couple of notable beverages and spirits that are making waves in the country. He is a onetime board member of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) under the late Prof. Dora Akunyili as the Director-General. He is an ambassador of good leadership and passion-driven enterprise development. In this interview with Segun Oladipupo and Ifeoma Iloh, Chief Odunukwe shares his thought on President Goodluck Jonathan’s leadership and why he deserves a second term; why foreigners easily identify business opportunities, where Nigerians are opportunity-blind in Nigeria. He believes that Nigeria has a lot of untapped opportunities in tourism. Excerpts.
As an importer, Sir, what are the challenges you face importing goods into the country?
Well, the issue of importation in Nigeria, whoever that is importing in Nigeria should consider that as a temporal business. Temporal in the sense that no country can grow if you are not manufacturing, so what we should be talking about now is production and not importation. As for the challenges people face, there are different challenges but I don’t think perhaps, I should be enumerating that because I will subscribe to a situation where the government should encourage people to produce locally and until we start producing locally we will not be able to create employment for our teeming youths and without creating employment for our teeming youths we will not have stability, so I so much believe in local production, because that is what I will prefer to talk about.
We would like you to talk about Pre-Arrival Assessment Report introduced by Customs. So far has it been able to facilitate import procedures into the country?
Those things are all part of the import rules and regulations and like I said before it is not an area that I am too conversant with, I will prefer to start to talk on local production.
Alright sir, lets talk about your political career, you once contested for the governor of Anambra State, what happened then?
Well, in 2013, two years ago, we turned out to contest for the governorship of my dear state, Anambra State, because if you recall that Anambra has a different governor different from other states as a result of the court injunction in 2002 which favoured the then governor, Mr. Peter Obi and following that it happened that our election in Anambra State took place in November, 2013 and throughout November, 2013 a lot of aspirants emerged. I being one of the guber aspirants I emerged under PDP; other people of course, came up under different parties. Ok, of course we did our best, we struggled, you know, to ensure that our party PDP win the governorship position in Anambra State but, it actually went to the side of APGA, PDP came second. However, politics in my own definition is something that I will refer to as a sport.
In other words, a sport in the sense that; lets take football, for example, in a game of football, of course, it has to be two teams, team one; team two, at the end of the day there must be a winner and the winner of a football match emerges as a result of scoring goals, higher goals and at the end of 90 minutes plus additional extra time, a winner definitely will emerge and once it emerges the other team is expected to congratulate, hug and of course exchange jerseys. That is the spirit of sportsmanship. So politics should be so, once someone has emerged in a proper way, the opponent should be able to appreciate the other person, thank the other person. There should be unity, there should be understanding, there should be love, there should be brotherhood or sisterhood, etc. it’s not meant to be a do or die affair. But let me sound another note at this point. That a winner has emerged does not necessarily mean that the winner must take it all because if a winner insists on taking it all that is, where the problem comes. Rather, a winner is that person that should know that he or she is only there to serve, you know, politics is about service, position is about service, if you don’t see your position where you find yourself as a position to serve other people, it will definitely not make sense, so whether you are in position A or position B it must be about service and service to whom? To humanity. Because even if you take from those who are Christians from the point of view of Jesus Christ himself whom we all know is the Lord and master, He said, He came to serve and not to be served so, we look at him as power that be and He came to serve others. So how much more we human beings if we don’t see whatever we do as serving our fellow human beings then it does not make sense to me. It must be service. At that point where that winner has emerged, that winner must see himself or herself as a servant, rather than taking it all, the winner should share it all and where you can share it all there will not be much problem it doesn’t matter who is there if I know that at the end of the day you will represent my interest that whatever comes on this table you will give me my own portion or what is due to me, take your own and give her her own.
From what you just said sir, the present Governor of Anambra State, has he been doing the winner takes it all or the winner shares it all, according to your definition?
The current Governor, Willie Obiano is such a wonderful man, as a matter of fact, if you ask me about the way he is leading the state now, I will say let him be there because like I said, it must not be, if you are good be there, represent my interest. So, Willie, the current governor is representing my interest, representing the interest of every other person and we are all happy that he is there, he is indeed a gentleman, a good administrator, someone that I will even want to serve because he is working for the best.
From what you just said here now sir, can we say you are still a PDP member?
Till tomorrow I am a PDP person but the issue is not the party, the issue is not the church, the issue is not where you come from, the issue is who is doing well. I don’t want to know which party you belong to, I don’t want to know your religion; which church you attend. I don’t want to know where you come from, I only want to know one thing. Do you have the ability, the capability? Can you do it well? If the answer is yes, be there. Have you ever been to America, even if you have not, there is one slang in America, America describes a man or a woman with one sentence, if you are an American they will describe you as, ‘Segun is this’, “Segun has done that” nobody asks you whether you are from Alabama or from New York or L.A. It does not matter, whether you go to church or not. It does not concern them, the only thing that concerns them is “Segun is this” or “Segun has done that”, “I am an American,” “I am this” “I have done that”, it must be so in Nigeria, “I am a Nigerian” “I am this” “I have done that” wherever you come from is immaterial.
This must stop if we want to move this country forward. So it does not matter if this person is in this party or that party, the important thing is that if this person is doing well I have to support him.
Do we see you contesting in the next election?
Like I said, I contested in 2013 and if I have another opportunity definitely, I will contest, but in contesting, what is primary is that by the grace of God if I find myself there, the whole essence of being there is for me to serve the people and if I cannot provide that there is no point for me to be there, it is not for selfish interest. Of course, I will work and I can eat three square meals, so the whole essence of going there is to render service, some of the legends I appreciate so much are the likes of Mandela, Winston Churchill of England and then a few other great men and women who have distinguished themselves. Former Indian Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln. These were the people that labored and stood for their country and the collective interest of the people, these are the people I emulate. It does not matter whatever you have in your bank account.
I have never seen anybody that died and his epitaph read that he left a certain amount of money in his Bank account. The only thing they talk about are those good deeds that he did. I have never seen anybody that they said he died but has 1,000 certificates, whether you have one million certificates or not does not matter. What matters is what you did with those certificates. Have you ever seen anybody in America that they said he has certificates even though he is Mr. or Mrs. or Miss, so what matters is what you do and what you are. We must drop those ideas? In this country, Nigerians worship certificate. Certificate is not the issue. The issue is what you did, what can you do? I am an employer of labour, so if I want to employ someone can I begin to ask the person, ‘which church do you attend?’ What has that got to do with my business? What concerns me is, what can you do?
That’s very Good, Sir. Let me ask this question. President Jonathan has been there for six years now in the saddle of leadership in Nigeria. Is there anything significant he has done for the Igbos that will make the Igbos rise and say they want to support him again for another term?
Well, the issue is not what President Jonathan has done for the Igbos or what he has not done for the Igbos, the question should be what has Jonathan done for Nigerians? Jonathan is the president of Nigeria, he is not the president of any ethnic group, so if you ask me what has Jonathan done for Nigeria I will say Nigeria has a lot of problems and all these problems cannot be solved overnight. We have to start somewhere and my assessment of president Goodluck Jonathan with respect to what he has done for this nation, Nigeria I will say that he has done well and if he is given another four years to continue we definitely will see something much better that we are seeing today but again people should also realize that he is only one person, the mere fact that he is a president does not suggest that he can do alone, he can only work with the people and working with the people means the people working with him must be honest. If the people working with him are not honest, again that will be a hindrance because I as CEO I need people to work with me. I cannot do it alone. President Jonathan as a president cannot do it alone, it then means he needs the collective efforts of all of us, including you. You may not be directly working with Jonathan but you can help Jonathan by praying for him, you can do so. All of us can wake- up everyday and pray for our leaders. Even the bible says so. Pray for those in authority. God knows the importance of that, that is why he enjoined us in the scriptures that we should pray for those in authority. We should be praying for them so that they will have the right frame of mind to be able to think right and then execute right policies for the people. So my assessment of Jonathan for the number of years that he has been there, I will say that he has done well and again if we should give him more time he definitely will do something much better.
Alright sir, you once identified with NAFDAC. Can you compare NAFDAC under Akunyili and now, the difference?
In every organization there must be continuity. So the present DG, Dr. Paul Orhi continued from where Dora Akunyili stopped. Most of the policies that NAFDAC is implementing today were the policies that were made in 2001-2004. I was there for 4 years, so that is the continuity, they continued from where we stopped. Dr. Paul Orhi is the present DG, actually he is still implementing the policies made by Dora Akunyili and making them to be in tandem with the present day realities.
The hype that NAFDAC used to have those days when they had mass seizures we no longer hear of such activities these days?
The issue of clamping down on people or seizing their goods actually is not the main reason why NAFDAC was put in place or set up. Seizures are meant to discourage people from bringing in such unwanted product. But the present DG, has a different approach, a different system, a kind of corrective measure rather than punishing a man or punishing a woman for their wrongs. I think this approach is better.
I notice that you been making your references to Bible in your talk. How much of a Christian are you?
The issue of how much one is or one is not, is dependent on that person, I think it’s a personal thing between that person and his God, so I think it’s a matter that we should leave for our God to judge.
I know you are married
How many wives do you have, Sir,
Well, I have one
How do you combine your job here because, I can see it’s very hectic, how do you combine your job with your family?
Well, I think what is required of a person is to be able to manage one’s time, you create time for everything, there is time to eat, time to work, time to play, so you apportion time for everything and that is what I have been doing. There must be time for you to be with your family members to take care of your wife, to take care of the children, time for you to work, time for you to relax, all these things you must create time for. I notice that in Africa and Nigeria in particular, very often we make use of our time and focus on a particular thing and at the end of the day you may even neglect those ones that are very important, your family, your health, your life. If you do the whole work in your life and don’t look after your family, you don’t look after your health, of what use is life, so there must be time to relax, make time for you to go for medical check-up even visit friends and be happy with your friends. For me as a person I have time for all issues and I manage them well.
Let me ask you this last question. You have been in this state for quite a while, how were you able keep it?
Well, whatever you set out to do, you must be able to. One, you must have passion for that thing. Two, you must be consistent. For example, let me refer to you people that are journalists, publishing this MMS and you have done it for 5years. If you don’t have passion, the first one year, I believe might not have been smooth for you, even the second year and so on and so forth but you have been consistent in pursuing this vision. But I know that at some point you felt like dropping the idea. But if you had dropped it no one would know MMS today and I can tell you that if you continue to pursue this in another two three, four, five years by the time it gets to 10 years, the whole world will come to know the brand and people will be looking at you from that point forgetting that it started from the scratch. So there must be passion in what you are doing and you must be consistent as long as you are consistent one day that victory will come to you.
Are you thinking of being a pastor in the near future?
No,no,no. I’m not thinking about that. Again I won’t say no, if my God now asks me to do that. But what is important to me is that I want an opportunity to talk to my fellow men and women especially the youths educating them on what they should know and what they ought to know, how they should do things and how they can even start business or something on their own, that can yield them income. There are lots of opportunities in Nigeria. When I think of how a foreigner comes to Nigeria, he lives here and two years after he becomes so rich and wealthy, I begin to wonder what happens to my own brothers and sisters, my fellow Nigerians? A foreigner once told me that people match money on the streets of Nigeria and they don’t see it and I asked him a simple question: ‘You mean on these streets? And he said yes, that all things that we match upon is money. It then means that they themselves see a corridor of opportunity which we don’t see. And these are the things that we need to constantly explain to let our people know what area has not been tapped? Look at tourism; talking about tourism, Nigeria has never tapped its potentials and we have not started tourism, we have not scratched at tourism. We have not done two percent of it.
Look at our shorelines, nothing, all our shorelines are rotting away, the same shoreline that leads us to the West Coast here. Go to Gambia, you will see hotels on their shoreline. In Gambia, people from other parts of the world come there for holidays and as they come they are coming with their families. Remember tourism creates more employment more than oil, our opportunity is so much, the government has a key role to play in the area of providing security. Security is very key. Two, energy has to be stable. Three, you must have access roads so that people can move around. Nigerians themselves must be hungry to work because our work culture in Nigeria is poor. People want to be rich overnight. How can you be rich overnight without working? If you don’t have the knowledge of what to do you will be wasting money. Health care system must be transformed to be in tandem with what is obtainable in western world. Our educational system, instead of sending our children to Ghana, even Cotonou the schools must be raised to some standards. These are part of the issues putting pressure on the Naira because you send the children out with foreign currency. Rather than use the gifts God has given us; the brains God has given us to come up with innovation, come up with an idea, we are all chasing one person who is there in a position. We must change our orientation. We must change our ways of reasoning and thinking. Once a particular person is opportuned to be in a position everybody wants to go after that person. You ask why, do we now become like Fela who would say “Follow follow”.