Wave from Peter Obi encouraging me — Sunny Ofehe, Delta State YPP gov’ship candidate

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How June 12  protest forced me out to Netherlands at 23 with only $5 in my pocket, no passport, no visa.

Comrade Sunny Ofehe is the governorship candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) in Delta State for the forthcoming 2023 general elections. The circumstances of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election forced him out of Nigeria at 23 years old to the Netherlands where he went without an international passport, visa and had only $5 in his pocket. That was almost 27 years ago. In this exclusive interview with Saturday Vanguard in Abuja, he shares his pains and gains, saying he has seen the world’s best in political leadership and is ready to put his State on the world map if elected to lead.

You are running against two big political parties, the PDP and the APC and I do know that your state is predominantly PDP. Your party, the YPP is just coming up. How do you intend to wrestle with these people to win the gubernatorial election next year?

Well, first and foremost, as a leader if you want to serve your people, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself a whole lot of questions. I want to serve my people, do I have what it takes to serve? You don’t look at the party. You don’t look at the platform where you want to run. I don’t know how other politicians do it. So, that is why I said I am not the usual politician because I don’t have any godfather. I didn’t grow through the ranks of the political structure to now make people say, okay, well, we are not surprised that he is running for governorship. But then, you look at yourself and say do I have the capacity?

Do I have what it takes to be the governor of a state like Delta? And then, you begin to also ask yourself the questions like, what is your motivation because at the end of the day, you have to think about a lot of things like the question you asked, how do you wrestle these big political parties?

How do you deal with the issue of the huge financial implication of this election? There is no one person that has the capacity to be able to single handedly, on his own, finance an election even at any level in this country. Now, once you are convinced that you have what it takes then, you begin to talk to people, the wider audience and then you begin to make your ambition known to them, that you want to see if they can be supportive of your ambition and then, you begin to look for the political party. In 2019, I came out to run and the motivation was that I have stayed in Europe now for 26 years and November this year will make it 27 years that I have been living in the Netherlands and I have seen democracy and I have seen how the people can enjoy the dividends of democracy and I have seen how leaders can work thoroughly and tirelessly to deliver on campaign promises. I have seen the rigors of campaigns, debates where issues are discussed.

Now, we are in an election period and at the same time we are facing an ecological problem of the highest order that is not only disrupting human lives, properties but also affecting our economy but I don’t see it on TV. I don’t see the politicians talking about it.  Rather you see people talking about how this candidate is not healthy, just issues that cannot give us any socio-economic advantage. It calls for national debate. I expect the national assembly to convene, to sit down and bring the appropriate people who are saddled with the responsibility to tackle our ecological problems particularly this flooding issue. This is not by accident. This has nothing to do with climate change.

This has a lot to do with leadership failure. There are ecological funds in the budget. There are ecological funds that are entitled to states and nearly every state today has been affected with this flooding and then nobody is talking about it. Who are you blaming? Who am I blaming? I’m not only blaming the political leaders, I am also blaming the people and now, you see massive support cutting across PDP, APC. So, what are you supporting them for? So, we are preparing another 4 years of a disastrous leadership and because issues are not discussed in our politics, you don’t even know how a PDP government will touch your life as a husband, as a father and as a leader of your own house, let alone your family.

What concrete things are you bringing to the table to salvage a state like Delta?

Let me answer your initial question. PDP is a strong party. They’ve been the leading political party in my state and they have a very so called powerful candidate who is currently the speaker of the state assembly, fully backed, bankrolled by a sitting state governor, who is currently the vice presidential candidate of PDP at the national level and then on the other hand, you have the biggest opposition party which is the APC whose candidate is the current deputy senate president of the country and who is still very much in office. So, both parties are probably or possibly using the instrument of government to contest against smaller parties like us. I read one article, where they analyzed just the two of them and then they added Ogboru to it and they said the other political parties might just be satisfied being on the ballot. For me, that is what I am taking as a challenge.

 So, 2023 is not going to be business as usual and the pendulum is swinging towards a credible election to some extent because some of the loopholes that gave room to the big parties with the big monies to dominate the political process in the past have been dealt with to some extent. So, the current electoral act makes it possible for every vote to be counted and we see the wave that candidates like Peter Obi is having in the mindset of the electorate. So, we’ve had more people going out to register to vote. We’ve had more young people coming out to say, we don’t want to do it the normal way anymore, we are tired of the status quo. We need a third force and that third is a force that must align with the issues that affect us as a people. Well, I am riding on the back on that wave and I am young and I am much more exposed internationally than any candidate on that ballot in Delta state. I have seen much more than any of the candidates on that ballot and I have tried to bring my knowledge to the fore of governance in this country at national level, at state level, so that we can harness the opportunities that Europe can provide for our people but none of them has tapped into it. In 2019, I was a governorship aspirant under the APC and I did a lot. I worked for the party. I genuinely stepped down for Ogboru and we worked together and unfortunately that election was lost. I was expecting that with my knowledge and experience, at least, that the party at the national level should have said with your knowledge, with your exposure, what can you manage and let’s see if result can come out of it and that did not happen. And this time around, I cannot allow opportunities that I see in Europe continue to slip. I cannot allow opportunities that I see in Europe to continue to move to countries like Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Mauritius name them, because Nigeria, our leadership does not know how to come to the European union and tap into those benefits that our people can ultimately benefit from.

Understanding the local peculiarities, what will you say that people will be on the lookout for should you win?

Delta state has the population of an average of six million people. Delta is gateway to the south south and south east of the country. That is a potential economic opportunity that we are not utilizing. Delta state is currently driven towards urbanization which is making the urban cities to be choked up with people and creating more joblessness and causing more social problems. But Delta state is a small state where you can crisscross every part. You can de-urbanise those urban areas and create low cost housing in areas that are a bit further up.

This is what they do in Europe and connect good roads to link and connect electricity and make it hospitable and therefore because they are not in the big cities, at least renting places like that, buying houses in places like that would be cheaper. So, you can start first with just civil servants, provide low cost housing for the civil servants and get the PPP arrangement with private investors and use part of their salary to finance a mortgage programme for them and move them out of the big cities and therefore you decongest the big cities, you make it free for vehicles and human movement. And then, also you have a state that is rich in oil and gas, one of the largest producers of crude oil, has the highest gas reserve and there is no state investment in those sectors? Currently, crude oil is running at averagely about $135 per barrel even though Nigeria is not benefiting from it because we cannot even meet our OPEC quota, I mean if there was state investment in all of the sectors that are involved in the oil and gas business, we would have been getting much more money from it. Today, the city, Rotterdam, where I live has the highest concentration of tank farms in the whole world. No crude oil that is transported with barges and vessels that does not stop in Rotterdam and whereas Rotterdam does not even produce oil and now the city is so rich because they get taxes, they get duties being paid, they get revenue from such investments. What stops us from running tank farms?The reason Nigeria ensures that all its crude oil leaves the shores of this country is because they don’t have a place to even keep them. So, the state can cash in into that business and raise money. We have a state that has four under-functioning seaports. I learnt that the federal government has given concession to private investors to take them over. What was the state doing until those things came about. We have an average 165 square kilometres of coastline that we are not using to our benefit, what stops the state in investing in fishing trolleys. In the 21st century we don’t hook fishes even though our waters are polluted. We use technology to find the areas where fishes are concentrated. You see them from a remote location then, you send your fishing trolleys to go there and harness and take all of them and that is why we still don’t meet the global fishing demand today. The Chinese are even coming from China to come and take our fishes from our shores here, we can take advantage of those ones. And on top of that we have arable lands. We have forestation. We are good in palm oil. We are good in all of the agricultural produce that can not only ensure that we feed our state, feed the country but we can be a big player in exporting agricultural products across the shore.

How acceptable is YPP and what’s the followerhip? 

We are gradually growing our followership. I cannot tell you we are there yet but with the wave that we see from Peter Obi and the youth awareness currently and our party almost 90 percent focused on youths, so gradually people are beginning to identify with the party. And then, me being the candidate of the party, I have done a whole lot as an individual in the diaspora. I have contributed immensely to the socio-political issues that affect the Niger Delta region. So people are beginning to turn in because of me being the candidate for the party and I believe that by the time we unveil our campaign plans which begins this Saturday and then in the course of campaign and talking to journalists like you, more Deltans will start to know who I am, what I am bringing to the table and they will start to see for themselves if I have the capacity to run the state in the next four years. But one thing I want to assure everyone, if you undermine me, you do it at your own peril. I am coming not as a usual politician. I am coming because I know the problems of the state and I have used the last six years to plan a workable solution that when I talk about them, you will know that it is possible. And I want to also bring other contestants forcefully to talk about issues rather than blasting themselves and with this way we will win more support, we will get people who genuinely and truly feel that it is time for us to come together and make the Delta of our dream through a credible, trustworthy leadership which I am prepared to offer.

In your own estimation, will you say that 2022 Electoral Act is actually the motivation; that it has given a clearer picture that in the election, votes will count and therefore motivating most of the youths in this race?

Definitely, there is no doubt about it. Even the diaspora participation has increased tremendously and this is what we should be proud of. We that have gone out to get knowledge, to get exposure, it is time for us to come down and not being given leadership on a platter of gold but to compete with those who are here because the beauty of democracy is for every candidate running for a public office to bring in a manifesto and then under that manifesto tell the people, identify the problems of the people and tell them what you are ready to offer them. What has been happening over the years is that you see leaders who have no clue on how to externally generate revenue. All they do is wait for FAAC to come, wait for the so called mysterious internally generated revenue which they are never transparent about and then when they combine both together, if it is not able to run the expenditure and the overhead which most of the time are unnecessary.

 They run deficit, so they begin to borrow. And when you borrow, you leave your economy worse. But this time, I am bringing to the table, an opportunity to use my contact, my network and the fact that a lot of individuals, entrepreneurs, the corporate world and then the regional and international institutions bring them in and say look, our people have been dying, if we are talking about the sustainable development, the sustainable project, we have teachers in remote areas that we as a government cannot provide all that they need, it is time for your NGO. I come from a civil society background. That is also another advantage that I will be bringing to the table. This is why I will make civil society the fourth arm of my government to encourage them to come and go down to the locals, and follow my policy and bring results if they are working and to also tell us areas of improvements.

Are you perturbed by high cost of governance, will you do something about that?

Yes. I believe that some areas where we spend money as a government are unnecessary. First and foremost, in my time, I will never celebrate commissioning of projects because when you construct roads, you build schools, it is the very least of government responsibility. So, why announce to the world that I have just done a flyover; this is supposed to be governance. So, the only thing I can celebrate is when I can create a competitive atmosphere among my health workers, among my civil servants, then we can come down at the end of the year to say, we’ve all done well, let us come together and appreciate those who have done exceptionally very well, let us give them some reward which may come in the form of oversea trip, better training, then I can invite people and spend the state money and celebrate that because we are motivating our civil servants and we are motivating the private so that they can prepare for the following year. And again, we will make vacation compulsory.

You used to be an activist in the days of famous June 12. Talk to me about it briefly and tell me what took you to the Netherlands?

I am still an activist. I was very much involved in student unionism in my days as a student of the University of Benin and it was also in that time that we had this issue of June 12 presidential election that was annulled by the military government and then we came out protesting and that was the same time when the former REC, Mike Igini was my leader, my mentor, who was my student union leader at the time. I learnt a lot from him as a young man and then of course, in the military era, there were a lot of arrests here and there and then in that period I left the country. I went to the Netherlands in 1995. I sought political asylum and I started growing from there and then to see political refugee grow through the ranks in a society that I was 23 years old at the time. I didn’t know anybody and it was my first time entering a plane. I left from Kano and I had only $5 in my pocket. I was given some passport and visa to board the airline. One hour into the flight, I had to destroy the passport before I arrived Schiphol airport, without a passport, without a visa, with $5 in my pocket, 23 years old, I didn’t know anybody, so if there is anybody who understands the rudiments of a diaspora growth, I am one person. I am a living example of how Europe can torture you, how Europe can go through you and you can go through Europe. And the beauty about my last 26 years of stay in Netherlands is that I have been actively involved in everything that I see as a motivation from 1995 till date.

Today, I do an average of  70 flights. I am a platinum elite member of KLM Air France, I fly through the same Schiphol airport every two times in a month, the same airport where I entered without a passport, without a visa with $5 in my pocket, 23 years old, not knowing anybody.

 For me, it is a personal achievement. And then, I have been able to look at the society. I have seen that their development is not rocket science. It is borne out of dedication, leaders who want to leave a mark behind, leaders who tell themselves that it is time  to serve their people, and what do I do, serve them and make them put my name on the annals of history. So, my activism has grown from there. And when I got to Holland, it was also about less than 2 weeks after the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and because of the role of Shell in all of the trial, execution and the aftermath of the execution, it was a burning topic in the Netherlands and then, a lot of questions were being raised by the people.

They needed answers to those questions. So, I happened to fall into that time and then coming from the Niger Delta, understanding the role of Shell in our oil and gas industries and how they have polluted our environment because of corporate greed and then I started seeing the double standards. I came to a city where they have the refinery. I saw the benefits of people who live around those kind of environment. I saw how these oil companies are treating them. I saw how they are very prudent in their work ethics. I saw how they are very proactive in their environment policies and then I saw these double standards. And then, I started an organisation called the Hope for Niger Delta Organisation because I needed a platform to be able to tell the world that what I see here from this oil company is not what they are doing back in my country. And then, through that organisation, I was able to organize conferences. I was able to come back and say well, the issues of the Niger Delta cannot be sorted by just doing research. We need to bring practical information to the door step of European politicians so that once they get this information, it can help shape their policy on how they control the multinational oil companies so that when they in return do their activities in our country, excuses like government being corrupt, like we not being advanced enough to understand the human and environmental impact of their operation in our area, it is not a sufficient reason for them to continue to act with impunity in our society. So, I started exposing them through my knowledge as a young man from oil producing area and then through what I have seen that they do in those countries. So, in the course of my activism as well, I started getting close to international civil society organisations like Amnesty International, Green Peace, Friends of the Earth and all of that. I started becoming like a face in the course of what they were discussing as it relates to the Niger Delta region. So, luckily, it catapulted me into a level where, I’ve been called to speak on the Niger Delta issues at the Dutch parliament and also at the Italian Senate. I’ve also been called to speak on the Niger Delta issues at regional organisations like the European parliament. I have also every year appeared at the United Nation plenary session on minority issues where I talked about communities like Ogoni, communities that have been affected and devastated by oil production in the country and to some extent diplomacy and lobby become my tool with which I use to send home my information. And as a non violent activist, I have decided to toe the path of pulling the Europeans to make them understand that the Niger Delta people are human beings after all.

Like before I left this country, we used to thank Shell whenever we see gas flare because it was the only source of energy at night but little did we know that it was killing us, we were drinking acid rain, premature birth and all that; we didn’t know that it was connected to the carbon content that was being thrown into our atmosphere. So, most of the time we connect it to home trouble, witchcraft and instead of going to seek knowledge and going to hospital, we were going to churches and going to prophets who will want to see us through. So, this is the stage I have gone through and in the process, I have met European politicians from prime minister level, president level, to members of parliament and then in the course of discussion, I have come to see the driving force behind their leadership and that is what I am bringing to the table. And that is why I said that as a governor of Delta state, it will not be the usual politics.

Do you subscribe to this assertion that many Nigerians in diaspora are wiling to return home to help grow their country should good leadership evolve?

Definitely, if I didn’t fall into the category of those people that you’ve just mentioned, I would not be talking to you in Abuja today because if I take away what it costs me and my family, for me to come here and do what I am doing right now, I can conveniently go to any part of the world on vacation and enjoy myself. Nigeria is a great country,  blessed with abundant mineral resources, with human capacity. There is no excuse for us to be where we are today.

 It is sad. Leadership has been our problem. If we get it right with leadership, we will be far better than even the United States of America.

We are gradually growing our followership. I cannot tell you we are there yet but with the wave that we see from Peter Obi and the youth awareness currently and our party almost 90 percent focused on youths, so gradually people are beginning to identify with the party. And then, me being the candidate of the party, I have done a whole lot as an individual in the diaspora. I have contributed immensely to the socio-political issues that affect the Niger Delta region. So people are beginning to turn in because of me being the candidate for the party and I believe that by the time we unveil our campaign plans which begins this Saturday and then in the course of campaign and talking to journalists like you, more Deltans will start to know who I am, what I am bringing to the table and they will start to see for themselves if I have the capacity to run the state in the next four years. But one thing I want to assure everyone, if you undermine me, you do it at your own peril. I am coming not as a usual politician. I am coming because I know the problems of the state and I have used the last six years to plan a workable solution that when I talk about them, you will know that it is possible. And I want to also bring other contestants forcefully to talk about issues rather than blasting themselves and with this way we will win more support, we will get people who genuinely and truly feel that it is time for us to come together and make the Delta of our dream through a credible, trustworthy leadership which I am prepared to offer.

In your own estimation, will you say that 2022 Electoral Act is actually the motivation; that it has given a clearer picture that in the election, votes will count and therefore motivating most of the youths in this race?

Definitely, there is no doubt about it. Even the diaspora participation has increased tremendously and this is what we should be proud of. We that have gone out to get knowledge, to get exposure, it is time for us to come down and not being given leadership on a platter of gold but to compete with those who are here because the beauty of democracy is for every candidate running for a public office to bring in a manifesto and then under that manifesto tell the people, identify the problems of the people and tell them what you are ready to offer them. What has been happening over the years is that you see leaders who have no clue on how to externally generate revenue. All they do is wait for FAAC to come, wait for the so called mysterious internally generated revenue which they are never transparent about and then when they combine both together, if it is not able to run the expenditure and the overhead which most of the time are unnecessary. They run deficit, so they begin to borrow.

And when you borrow, you leave your economy worse. But this time, I am bringing to the table, an opportunity to use my contact, my network and the fact that a lot of individuals, entrepreneurs, the corporate world and then the regional and international institutions bring them in and say look, our people have been dying, if we are talking about the sustainable development, the sustainable project, we have teachers in remote areas that we as a government cannot provide all that they need, it is time for your NGO. I come from a civil society background. That is also another advantage that I will be bringing to the table.

This is why I will make civil society the fourth arm of my government to encourage them to come and go down to the locals, and follow my policy and bring results if they are working and to also tell us areas of improvements.

Are you perturbed by high cost of governance, will you do something about that?

Yes. I believe that some areas where we spend money as a government are unnecessary. First and foremost, in my time, I will never celebrate commissioning of projects because when you construct roads, you build schools, it is the very least of government responsibility. So, why announce to the world that I have just done a flyover; this is supposed to be governance. So, the only thing I can celebrate is when I can create a competitive atmosphere among my health workers, among my civil servants, then we can come down at the end of the year to say, we’ve all done well, let us come together and appreciate those who have done exceptionally very well, let us give them some reward which may come in the form of oversea trip, better training, then I can invite people and spend the state money and celebrate that because we are motivating our civil servants and we are motivating the private so that they can prepare for the following year. And again, we will make vacation compulsory.

You used to be an activist in the days of famous June 12. Talk to me about it briefly and tell me what took you to the Netherlands?

I am still an activist. I was very much involved in student unionism in my days as a student of the University of Benin and it was also in that time that we had this issue of June 12 presidential election that was annulled by the military government and then we came out protesting and that was the same time when the former REC, Mike Igini was my leader, my mentor, who was my student union leader at the time. I learnt a lot from him as a young man and then of course, in the military era, there were a lot of arrests here and there and then in that period I left the country. I went to the Netherlands in 1995. I sought political asylum and I started growing from there and then to see political refugee grow through the ranks in a society that I was 23 years old at the time. I didn’t know anybody and it was my first time entering a plane. I left from Kano and I had only $5 in my pocket. I was given some passport and visa to board the airline. One hour into the flight, I had to destroy the passport before I arrived Schiphol airport, without a passport, without a visa, with $5 in my pocket, 23 years old, I didn’t know anybody, so if there is anybody who understands the rudiments of a diaspora growth, I am one person. I am a living example of how Europe can torture you, how Europe can go through you and you can go through Europe.

 And the beauty about my last 26 years of stay in Netherlands is that I have been actively involved in everything that I see as a motivation from 1995 till date. Today, I do an average of  70 flights. I am a platinum elite member of KLM Air France, I fly through the same Schiphol airport every two times in a month, the same airport where I entered without a passport, without a visa with $5 in my pocket, 23 years old, not knowing anybody. For me, it is a personal achievement. And then, I have been able to look at the society. I have seen that their development is not rocket science.

It is borne out of dedication, leaders who want to leave a mark behind, leaders who tell themselves that it is time  to serve their people, and what do I do, serve them and make them put my name on the annals of history. So, my activism has grown from there. And when I got to Holland, it was also about less than 2 weeks after the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and because of the role of Shell in all of the trial, execution and the aftermath of the execution, it was a burning topic in the Netherlands and then, a lot of questions were being raised by the people. They needed answers to those questions. So, I happened to fall into that time and then coming from the Niger Delta, understanding the role of Shell in our oil and gas industries and how they have polluted our environment because of corporate greed and then I started seeing the double standards. I came to a city where they have the refinery. I saw the benefits of people who live around those kind of environment. I saw how these oil companies are treating them. I saw how they are very prudent in their work ethics. I saw how they are very proactive in their environment policies and then I saw these double standards.

 And then, I started an organisation called the Hope for Niger Delta Organisation because I needed a platform to be able to tell the world that what I see here from this oil company is not what they are doing back in my country. And then, through that organisation, I was able to organize conferences. I was able to come back and say well, the issues of the Niger Delta cannot be sorted by just doing research. We need to bring practical information to the door step of European politicians so that once they get this information, it can help shape their policy on how they control the multinational oil companies so that when they in return do their activities in our country, excuses like government being corrupt, like we not being advanced enough to understand the human and environmental impact of their operation in our area, it is not a sufficient reason for them to continue to act with impunity in our society. So, I started exposing them through my knowledge as a young man from oil producing area and then through what I have seen that they do in those countries.

 So, in the course of my activism as well, I started getting close to international civil society organisations like Amnesty International, Green Peace, Friends of the Earth and all of that. I started becoming like a face in the course of what they were discussing as it relates to the Niger Delta region. So, luckily, it catapulted me into a level where, I’ve been called to speak on the Niger Delta issues at the Dutch parliament and also at the Italian Senate. I’ve also been called to speak on the Niger Delta issues at regional organisations like the European parliament. I have also every year appeared at the United Nation plenary session on minority issues where I talked about communities like Ogoni, communities that have been affected and devastated by oil production in the country and to some extent diplomacy and lobby become my tool with which I use to send home my information. And as a non violent activist, I have decided to toe the path of pulling the Europeans to make them understand that the Niger Delta people are human beings after all.

Like before I left this country, we used to thank Shell whenever we see gas flare because it was the only source of energy at night but little did we know that it was killing us, we were drinking acid rain, premature birth and all that; we didn’t know that it was connected to the carbon content that was being thrown into our atmosphere. So, most of the time we connect it to home trouble, witchcraft and instead of going to seek knowledge and going to hospital, we were going to churches and going to prophets who will want to see us through. So, this is the stage I have gone through and in the process, I have met European politicians from prime minister level, president level, to members of parliament and then in the course of discussion, I have come to see the driving force behind their leadership and that is what I am bringing to the table. And that is why I said that as a governor of Delta state, it will not be the usual politics.

Do you subscribe to this assertion that many Nigerians in diaspora are wiling to return home to help grow their country should good leadership evolve?

Definitely, if I didn’t fall into the category of those people that you’ve just mentioned, I would not be talking to you in Abuja today because if I take away what it costs me and my family, for me to come here and do what I am doing right now, I can conveniently go to any part of the world on vacation and enjoy myself. Nigeria is a great country,  blessed with abundant mineral resources, with human capacity. There is no excuse for us to be where we are today. It is sad. Leadership has been our problem. If we get it right with leadership, we will be far better than even the United States of America.

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