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I Will Transform Edo in Three Years - Tom Iseghohi - TELL Magazine

I Will Transform Edo in Three Years – Tom Iseghohi

Tom Iseghohi
Tom Iseghohi

Tom Iseghohi, economic and transformation expert is one of the people running to succeed Governor Godwin Obaseki at the election scheduled for September this year. You may not have heard his name in any of the political parties prior to this time. No, he had not been a card-carrying member of any of the political parties until recently when he submitted his ‘application’, as he says, for the office of governor. Iseghohi, however, insists that not being a partisan politician before now does not make him a less political animal. For him, a description of politician by membership of a political party is too simplistic. He insists that his career successes could not have been possible with mere academic qualifications without deft political moves. That, he said, is what you need to survive and get things done in senior executive positions of any corporation the world over.

And he has had a handful of experiences there. First, at the top management of three largest world companies namely Ford Motors, Pepsi Cola and American Express at a time the turn overs of the companies were $196 billion, $227 billion and $200 billion respectively. And he has been a consultant and coach to companies like AOL Time Warner, Walmart and Shell, the oil giant.  

If given the opportunity to rule Edo State, he promises to give the people free education up to secondary school level, provide housing for all, implement a near zero unemployment, eliminate hunger, provide world class infrastructure, ensure international insourced dollar jobs and provide security for all. So, how will he get the money for all that? Iseghohi said he has seen the potentials in Edo that if he gets the job he would turn things around in three years. Now, a proviso, if he doesn’t do that, the people of the state are at liberty to sack him! That is to demonstrate his seriousness for the job for which he has tendered an application. Under his administration there will be an increase of 400% in GDP and 200% job creation. Tom sees a goldmine in logistics that will make Edo become a hub and, as partner to the federal government using one of the seaports close to the state, he plans to get warehouses across the country where goods will be delivered to cities in all the geo-political zones and Abuja. He sees this giving the desired life to the state economy, improving the internally generated revenue, IGR from where his administration will fund social services like education and healthcare.  

In this interview, conducted by Wola Adeyemo, Executive Editor, Iseghohi said Edo State is in urgent need of deliverance, and he has the magic wand to do it. Excerpts:

 You have joined the race for governor in Edo State. But you say rather than declare, you are applying for the job. What difference does it make, does it not amount to saying the same thing in a different way?

If you let us use a company as an analogy, the shareholders of the company are the owners of the company. What they do is that they appoint a board of directors that supervises management of the day-to-day running of the company. If they are not happy with how the board of directors are behaving, they fire them. And the same way, if the MD and the directors are not doing their job, the board will fire them. In a governmental setting, the MD is the governor, the chief executive and the commissioners are the one helping the MD. At the federal level, the MD is the president, and the executives are the ministers. The National Assembly is the Board, while at the state level the State Assembly is the board. Now, what happens in Nigeria is the opposite. One guy who has some money, it doesn’t matter where he got the money from, he shows up and declaring to be the governor and buys his way in. Clearly that guy will do nothing, has paid you off. So, you sold your right to him for the next four years. Usually, that guy is interested in (enriching himself from the state treasury). I don’t want people to have that in mind because that is not what I want to do. That’s not why I want to be governor. With that model in mind, I want to be governor, if the people want me to be governor. If they believe that the problem, they are having that I am the person that can solve it, then they should hire me to be their governor. One of the things that I intend to do is that they should sack me, if I don’t perform. Right now, it’s very difficult to sack a governor, because what the governor does is that he (buys) everyone (around him) with money so that he is able to hold on to power so he can continue to (do whatever he likes with) the treasury.

You said you will fix Edo State in three years…?

(Cuts in) No, I didn’t say I will fix Edo State in three years.

But that by three years they won’t recognize it again?

I said in three years they won’t recognize Edo State again. It doesn’t take a long time to do it. If you look at my background, I have a very unique set of skills.  I am one of the chief executives in the United States that has horizontal background, meaning that I am an expert, and I have run corporations, I am a financial guy, I am a chartered accountant. I have been in this for 28 years. I have managed…. people. I have done banking; I have done manufacturing.  So, I have a horizontal background and I know how to transform large organisations. And usually when you compare a state like Edo with corporations that I have transformed in the past, Edo State is very small.  And the type of (challenges we have here, like) the security issue in Edo State is just about putting the right security architecture in place.

For the governor who knows what he is doing, it is not difficult to fix the state. What do the people want? They want infrastructure, they want security, they want an enabling environment to do business, they want you to bring in capital,… Click To Tweet

But you hinted on your experience in the corporate world in Nigeria, after a successful career in big companies in America. Thank God that you came out with your integrity intact. Politics is believed to be even dirtier. How do you hope to navigate it?

 No, let me explain something to you. Because people think of me as a technocrat, which I am. I am a professional. We have to understand that, unfortunately a lot of Nigerians have not really, even a lot of Nigerians in the diaspora, don’t have my background. What I mean is they have not experienced what it is like to be a senior executive in one of the six largest companies in the world. Those companies are bigger than countries. For example, at Ford Motor Company with an annual revenue of $176 billion, when I was there. So, in order to get to the senior level of management you must be very smart. And that level of management … When I left Ford Motor Company, I was on grade level 16. There are only five people (hired on that grade) in the entire company with 100,000 staff. A global company.  The CEO was on grade level 20, the vice presidents on 18, I was on 16. And this was 1996. You don’t get to that level in such a big company if you don’t know politics.

And in Nigeria, I was chairman of NITEL. And because of NITEL I ran into political problem with (late President Umaru) Yar’Adua. You will find out that federal government of Nigeria under Yar’Adua tried to frame me, charged me to court and I beat them. That’s politics. So, for the governor who knows what he is doing, it is not difficult to fix the state. What do the people want? They want infrastructure, they want security, they want an enabling environment to do business, they want you to bring in capital, they want you to train their children, they want jobs. Those things are not difficult to do.

In order to get anything implemented successfully, even in the United States, you have to understand who the key stakeholders are …, and you have to engage them. Click To Tweet

Those are ordinary people. There are some kinds of people that you will have to work with. Yes, as governor you could say that if he knows his onions he can hire and fire (particularly one who is not working in line to deliver your promises to the people). But there is…

(Cuts in) It is not even about hiring and firing. Let me explain something to you. Politics is about getting people to support your agenda. That’s what I have done in my entire career. Those people you are talking about, the politicians. They are going to do even better under my administration, if given the job. What they want is power and money. They will make more power and money. It is just that they will not just make the money, they have to do the work. So, if what they want is power, money and relevance, I am not here to fight anybody. But we have to give to the people what is due to them. It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Why does it have to be that you take the money and people don’t get infrastructure? Why should I allow that? If you say that what you want is to make money, even if you don’t have the capability to do the work, go and hire a partner that can do the work. Even the people are not against that, they just want you to do the work. They are not against you making money.

As long as the work is done?

As long as it is done. The majority just want to survive. They want to have good roads. I have spent a lot of time in Edo there are no roads. When I grew up in Edo, travelling from Benin to Auchi was about an hour fifteen minutes. Now, it takes six hours to do that. There are no roads. Interestingly, the two chief executives that you have praised for good governance in Edo, one was of the military and the other civilian. Isn’t that interesting that we believe that military personnel was one who could give good governance to the people such that decades after civilian administrations we still say he had not been surpassed. What does that say about our democracy?

What you have to remember is that a military man is a human being. The problem we are having, to be honest with you, is cultural. We have a culture that celebrates failure. We have a culture that celebrates criminality. You will notice that one of the things I believe should be worked on as a governor is the orientation of the people of Edo State. I don’t know what is going to happen with the rest of Nigeria but the Edo State that I grew up in did not celebrate going to do misappropriation of funds. When I was in the Edo College, that was when (late General) Murtala Muhammed was the military president of Nigeria. If your dad was announced to have been involved in the misappropriation of public fund, (… he did not really use the money for what it was appropriated for, but he used the money for what it was not appropriated for) the next day nobody will talk to you. They will say, “Get out, get out, your father is a thief.” But now, everybody will gather around you and say, ‘Where is my share?’

The bottom line is that in the Edo State that I will run, politicians would still have an opportunity to become rich. In fact, they will have the opportunity to be richer than they are now. Because I am going to bring in a lot of capital… Click To Tweet

Prince, does that not say something about the value system?

That’s why I say that the biggest problem is culture. Society gets what it celebrates. If you celebrate impunity, you get impunity. If you worship money at all cost, you will get money at all costs. The bottom line is that in the Edo State that I will run, politicians would still have an opportunity to become rich. In fact, they will have the opportunity to be richer than they are now. Because I am going to bring in a lot of capital than Edo state has now. But the thing is that you can’t steal the money. If you take the money, you have to do the work.

The job you are applying for, if you get it today, what are the immediate steps that you will take?

First of all, unfortunately a lot of young Nigerians are untrained.  I am going to organize vocational training for the young ones. And that is linked to income. I will immediately identify people who lack the foundation, and I will put them into vocational training. Do you know that about seventy percent of people in the United States are into logistic business?

Logistics, you say?

Yes, logistics. Employment. And because Nigeria is a trading economy, which means if you have about 200 (people) in logistics, you will make a lot of difference. Even in the vocation of Edo State youth…massive employment is going to be created. And those kinds of jobs do not require any (laborious training). And that’s something that can be done very quickly. Now, if you focus on logistics, you also have to focus on logistics infrastructure. Building warehouses. I will partner with the federal government to use either Warri Port or Koko Port. (From where we will move goods) going towards the west, that is Lagos, to the east, Port Harcourt and Onitsha. Going towards the north, with a warehouse in Abuja. In the northwest to Kano, northeast to Maiduguri and also Northwest to Sokoto. Get warehouses in all those places, and also toll the road in all those places. Somebody can be in Abuja and say get my goods across to me in Abuja. But what happens is that Edo State will have a share of whatever is made. The goods will first land at the port where we would have a joint venture with the federal government, either Koko or Warri. All these things will increase the GDP of Edo State. Then, we will focus on agro-allied, education and other things. We will mix these things with the commercial infrastructure of the state. That commercial infrastructure will grow the GDP of Edo State.  We will create jobs. We will get more IGR for the state.  We will then apply some of the IGR to social services, like education, healthcare and such other things. This is not rocket science. And one of the powerful ministries in my administration will be the ministry of culture.

Culture, and may we know the advantages you wish to derive from there?

To make the people of Edo State to focus on who we are. What are our values? What are the things we will not tolerate? And what are the things we should celebrate as a people?

You hinted at agriculture. And I remember the likes of palm produce, rubber that Edo State was known for…

(Cuts in) I grew up on a rubber plantation, at Ikpoba Hills.

I see?

Yes. The place they call Ikpoba Slope.

Now, what are the chances of bringing back those things in the scale they were in those days, and more?

All those things, you can start the process. That is not going to be my focus. First, we will focus on agro-allied to reduce the amount of food we import because we consume a lot of products that take our foreign exchange…Nigeria produces four million metric tonnes of rice annually, we consume seven point eight million metric tonnes. That means three point eight million metric tonnes are imported. If Edo State alone bags and distributes two million metric tonnes of rice, just think about how many people we will employ there.

Is it that administrations after those two golden administrations you talked about had not just touched those areas or they were doing it half-heartedly?

It is a combination of wrong objectives. Basically, what really happens in Nigeria is that the people focus all their energy on becoming the governor. Then when they sit on the chair, they now try to think of what to do. Then people like me are scared of entering the race or they don’t know how to go about it. But I have been around Nigeria politics since 2002. Though I have not been a politician, I have been around it. I have been dealing with Nigerian presidents since 2002. I know Nigerian politics very well. So, I am a technocrat that knows Nigerian politics very well.  

I know that you said you have had working relationship with the presidents and other political or public office holders but in most cases technocrats in government in Nigeria come with the full confidence of changing things, promising that they will not allow themselves to be distracted and all that but by the time they leave office, their failures are mostly ascribed to the kind of distractions that they get from politicians.

It means that those technocrats (never operated at executive level). The difference is that when you are at a very senior level, like chief financial officer, like the head of a corporation in a large budget company which is like a country, you just must engage, because you have to get people to agree with you on your agenda. What do you think consulting is at the senior level? Consulting is politics. Otherwise, you will never get a mandate or anything you recommend will never be implemented. So, the fact is people who say they are technocrats or whatever in Nigeria (cannot sell their programmes very well). If you go into office and the decision you take you never convince anybody, those decisions will never get implemented. In order to get anything implemented successfully, even in the United States, you have to understand who the key stakeholders are …, and you have to engage them.

Except that the engagement in the United States and the engagement in Nigeria are different?

No, did you live in the US, or have you lived in the US longer than me? I lived in the US for 40 years. So, it is not different.

That commercial infrastructure will grow the GDP of Edo State.  We will create jobs. We will get more IGR for the state.  We will then apply some of the IGR to social services, like education, healthcare and such other things. This is not… Click To Tweet

Will you say that it is the same currency that you will use to do engagement in the US that you will use in Nigeria?

It is the same effect. You are talking to a human being who believes that he could be disenfranchised by what you are trying to implement and has the power to stop you or mess you up completely. You have to convince him and identify his interest as well. So, if you want to help some people you have to engage them to get their interest and tell them how that interest will be best served. Otherwise, you will never get it done. That’s what the so-called technocrats in Nigeria are lacking. That’s why they have problems. They lack the leadership and the required skill to get their ideas supported by the people. And in any senior level position you have to convince people to do the same. And that’s politics.

So, we should believe that because you know your onions, you can navigate the Nigerian politics anytime?

Let me tell you. I have been a politician all my life. I became a senior executive when I was very young. You can’t become a senior executive when you don’t have the ability to convince people to do the work you need to do. You will fail in the United States, and the same holds in Nigeria or anywhere you try to do it. Even with your wife in your house you have to play politics to get your own agenda in the house supported by her. Even the children. So, when you go into a political office, and you think that you know it… In the US you are trained on power. The strongest form of power is the power of influence. And that’s politics.

Let’s go into another area.  The federal structure we practice in Nigeria brings some limitations in the workings at the state level…

(Cuts in) Those are self-imposed limitations. There are things on the exclusive list that I have studied, and I know them so well. By the way, I studied political science in my undergraduate days.  The difference between the federal structure in Nigeria and that of the US is simply just the people and the way they operate it. The other difference is the way elections are run. In the US there is the county, what we call local government. It is the county that runs the elections, including the presidential elections. It is very difficult to rig because it is decentralized. … the federal government of Nigeria has the military, the police and foreign policies (in its kitty). But the economy of the state is in your hands (as governor). There are certain roads that are federal roads in the states. But a governor that uses the excuse that those roads are federal roads doesn’t know what he is doing. Because nothing stops you from negotiating with the federal government on it. As a private citizen I have negotiated such thing with the federal government before. If a federal road goes through your state and that road is critical to the economy of your state, go to the minister of works and say what is the problem that you have, and he says I don’t have a budget on it, then tell him, ‘Let me bring the money, and let us toll the road after doing it’. Then you go into a negotiation.

There are issues like security, I saw in your document what you want to do. The Constitution says that the governor is the Chief Security Officer of his state, but the security apparatuses are not under his control….

(Cuts in) That’s an excuse. The strongest type of power is the power of influence. So, if the governor sits down with the DSS and the IG of Police and says that I want my state to be more secured, what should I do to give support. The two of them will be glad. The IG will call the Commissioner of Police in the state and ask for the facilities that would be required to make things work. The same thing for the DSS. Why do you have to control them. If it works for you that’s all. If you have your own police, are you the one as governor that will be running the agency. You manage things through…

I am running for governor to save my people. I am not running for governor because I want to be governor, or because I want to make money or something like that. Click To Tweet

So, in a way the complaints about the Constitution not being fit enough for a true federal structure, you don’t buy into it?   

As a state governor, how is the federal government stopping you from developing the economy of your state? When you know that the biggest thing that causes insecurity is unemployment. Did the federal government or the Constitution stop you from doing that? Is it the federal government that told the governors to turn the state assemblies to house boys? I mean it is the governor that is doing that. The reason is because they don’t want to govern, they just want the title, the paraphernalia, and they want to make the money. They don’t want to govern. They don’t want to give the people what is due to them, which is to give the people a better life.

By the time you get the ticket of your party, what are those factors that you believe will work in your Favour, at the elections?

That’s a brilliant question, but to answer that question I am going to talk about what an election is. An election is a marketing project. First and foremost, you have a product that you need to market to the people. Those people are eligible voters in the state. So that’s the marketing project. In this case the product is you. That product is to be marketed to the people who are going to vote, so that you can convince them that you are the best person to run the state. I have assembled a team that can do that very well. In addition, I understand marketing and I have worked with a company that marketed a product for the entire United States. So, I know how to run a marketing project. That’s the first thing you need. I am not saying that my competitors don’t know how to run it but… When I ran campaigns for Pepsi, my competitor was Coke.  But I beat them. So, if I beat Coca-Cola company, I have enough experience to beat my competitors. In addition to that I have hired some of the best marketing team in Nigeria. First of all, it is a marketing project. Secondly, it is a compliant project, which means that you have to comply with the Electoral Act, and the Constitution of the party.  My job with the Bank of America was a compliant job. If you look at a lot of the people who ran for election, you see that they get thrown out by the court because of lack of compliance. An election is a marketing job and a compliant job. I have put together a brilliant compliant team.  They ask questions about certificates, NYSC and school. They will look at what does the Constitution say? What does the Electoral Act say? What does the Labour Party Constitution say? Third, it is a massive programme matching subject project. Fourthly, it is a mobilization, grassroots mobilisation project. How are you going to build your public profile? How are you going to communicate with the people, how are you going to move your agents to the polling stations that day? And then, if you win the election, how are you going to gather the evidence?

In the event of manipulations?

Yes. Look at how I waited and waited and waited before I announce my application for the job of governor. It was part of our strategy. And in a matter of 48 hours, in terms of election in Edo, we changed the narrative. We are running a very complex programme. And I am also an expert in progamme management. I ran manufacturing programme at Ford Motors. Do you know how complex it is to conceptualise and manufacture gas? I used to do that. An election is a very complex programme. One of the reasons people make so many mistakes is because they don’t know how to do programme management. And when you talk to Nigerians, they ask how much money you have. Of course, election requires money, but it is not how much money you throw at the election, you have to spend money on the right things.

I was actually going to come to that. Either in the US or Nigeria, you need some good amount of money to go into an election. Is it that you have friends that are, so to say, raising your hands up, by which I mean giving you financial support?

We have money in place. We didn’t just wake up one day to say we want to run for governor. Our first meeting was in October 2013. And we had that meeting at FOUR POINT BY SHERATON, on October 1, 2013.

And so, from there you started to strategise?

From there we started to strategise.  So, that’s why when people say ‘Oh, you are starting late’, I laugh. Because a lot of the things they talk about have to do with a general election. This is primary, and in the primary, you just need to convince the delegates to vote for you. It is a party affair. Why do you need billboards to do primaries? Why do you need to be the first to declare? What is important is that you have to play party politics. In my own case, I have to first of all figures out which party I have to even go into. You have to do it right. All the parties are fractured, so you have to look very well not to join any party that is fractured down the line. So, there is no advantage of declaring early. It takes a lot of strategy.

You had your first strategic meeting in 2013, about three major elections have been held between that time and now. I just wonder, why did you have to wait for this long?

Because the objective …., like I told you before, I am running for governor to save my people. I am not running for governor because I want to be governor, or because I want to make money or something like that. I have money already. I have been a big shot already.

Prince, I asked that question because of your professed love for the people. Why did you allow them to endure for this long before you decided to throw your hart into the ring?

Because the opportunity was not there. It wasn’t the right time. A good strategist waits for the right time. The right move at the wrong time is a wrong move. And to be honest with you a guy like (Governor Godwin) Obaseki, I had hope in him. Even now, if the people find a better person, I will support the person. What I am after is for my people to be rescued.

You had hopes in the incumbent. And you are disappointed that he didn’t do what you would have loved him to do. Were there attempts to give support or at least give directions or advice?

Well, I can’t speak for everybody. My own experience is that he was not open to working with me, so I stayed away. I am not going to waste my time criticizing him. The record speaks for itself. If you go to Edo State and say, ‘are there infrastructure?’, there is no infrastructure. If you say, ‘are people employed?’, No they are not employed. Is there security? We all read every day about cult killings and all that in Edo State.

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