Anambra guber race 2021: Why Valentine Ozigbo is the man to watch

Fri, Jul 17, 2020
By publisher

Featured, Profile

By Maureen Chigbo

VALENTINE Ozigbo, the immediate past president and group CEO of Transcorp is a governorship aspirant under the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.  A businessman per excellence and a philanthropist, Ozigbo is leaving his comfort zone in the business world to foray into the murky waters of Nigerian politics.

A native of Amesi in Aguata, Anambra state, he is motivated by his hunger for a better Nigeria and a better place for the black man in the world. Ozigbo is a political neophyte, but he will lean on experiences he has acquired nationally and globally in boardroom politics plus a very strong competitive spirit he has horned over the years to scale all hurdles to clinch the top job in Anambra State in 2021.

Already, he has a blueprint to turn Anambra State into an Eldorado. But first he has to secure the ticket of his party – the PDP known for habouring all manner of big wigs, especially in Anambra State, where political banana peels can trip even the most experienced politician in a blink not to talk of the enervating years of rancor within the party. But Ozigbo’s sense of purpose and strategy has primed himself on how to unify the party and emerge as consensus candidate. Can he achieve this uphill task?

Going by how he overcame his humble origin to climb to the apex of banking halls, business world and the academic successes that have trailed him, he stands a very good chance of achieving what both hawks and angels of politics will mostly record dead on arrival for a novice, especially in Anambra State’s PDP. What is driving him to succeed is far greater that than any stumbling block – the Grace of God and hard work. This is in addition to very strong conviction that he is on a mission to right whatever is wrong with the black man. Widely travelled, Ozigbo has been exposed to conversations around the world where people are just asking ‘what is wrong with a black man?  Where people have argued from both sides of the divide, and he is convinced that absolutely nothing is wrong. “God didn’t create us unequal. We are not deficient and we are not incapacitated. Whatever, we need to improve our circumstances, I believe that we are endowed with those. If nothing else, even more than those we probably seem to feel that they are better placed. And this is even more relevant to what is going on around the world,” Ozigbo said.

According to him, other questions that agitated his mind are: Why must the black man always be the victim? Why must we always be at the shorter end of the stick? Why did even our forefathers allow themselves to be colonized? And why do we keep repeating this story? “The people who have the kind of history that we shared, they’ve moved on. Why is our case the same all the time? And when you ask this question, you’re almost tempted to believe that there’s something wrong, especially when you hear the words of the former leader of Apartheid, Botha in South Africa. ‘Give them freedom, give them power and they’d kill themselves’.

And we keep doing things and acting in the manner. And even in the corporate world, we even face the same thing. But lots of things happened in my life. I have been to a UK University, I’ve done well there, better than other students. And we have even better stories than that across the board. And I start to wonder,” he said, noting: “Sometimes, we do well individually, but collectively, we seem to have issues.”

After mulling the questions and a critical analysis, Ozigbo concluded that all we need to change in the narrative of a black man in the world is through leadership and imbibing the culture of continuous improvement.

“We are living in a competitive world where you have to run faster than those ahead of you if you must catch up. And we are comfortable with being last and doing nothing. I said this because I don’t see sufficient hunger for the change. And this is part of what is driving me into going for politics. And I feel that if the story of a black man can ever be changed, we must get it right in Nigeria. If we must get it right in Nigeria, the Igbos have a bigger role to play for many reasons that I don’t want to go into,” he said.

According to him, “If you must change the story of the black man, Nigeria is crucial. If we must change our story in Nigeria, the Igbos have a bigger role to play than we are currently playing. We have to strategically position that opportunity and change Nigeria for good in many ways and not necessarily just when we become presidents. But there are many other things we can do. And the starting point is looking at us at the state level. And for me, I think Anambra is so crucial to talk about what we can bring as Igbos. I think Anambra is pivotal to this change that we’re talking about. And I think that we are so blessed as a people with the intellect, resources, capacity, whatever we want to make of our areas, the South-East.”

Ozigbo describes himself as a man of humble beginning even though his grandfather, called Ozigbo Eze Ego, was one of the richest in town. “But my father became a teacher, a headmaster, a catechist. Which meant we didn’t have a lot of money to play with.  At some point, I carried sand, I did everything menial to augment whatever I got as school fees. I went to the farm in the morning before later going to school in the morning. So we went through all these experiences. And I grew from multiple villages. I was born in Umuomaku in Old Aguata, Orumba. I moved to Akpu and everywhere my father was posted as a headmaster, we would move.”

Born right after the civil war, July 20, 1970, he completed his primary school in Amesi. “So because of that disciplined background, I learned much early the meaning of hard work. I learned very early that actually in life it is he who hungers the more that succeed and not necessarily the most endowed. Because I knew, I had people, who were far more brilliant than I was in my school days. But because I always wanted to prove to my dad, I wanted to make him proud, I’d go the extra mile. I would follow a teacher at his home. I would beg him to clarify certain things. He would give me assignments and I’d fail and I’d go back to him. So I worked hard and all of a sudden, a subject that I considered difficult, I ended up becoming the best in that class. So I knew the meaning of this much early in my life. So when I went into a village secondary school, Christ the Redeemer College, I again put in my best and I started to represent the school in the quiz competition and debate society and all kinds of things.”

At the University of Nigeria, UNN, where he studied Accountancy, Ozigbo won all the prizes in the Faculty of Business Administration and also bagged an MBA. As a Chevening scholar, he studied MSc in Finance and also graduated with distinction. He has done several other professional management programmes.

Last year, for instance, he was part of the Global Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Programme for Africa for the first time by the Lagos Business School, SBS, in Nairobi, Kenya and IESE in Barcelona, but at their campus in New York. He has also been to GE Crontonville for management courses. Because of his excellent performance in the Global CEO Programme, Ozigbo was elected the pioneer president of the class, a position he still holds up till today.

His excellent performance in academics caught the eyes Jonah Ezikpe, one of his lecturers in Financial Management, who was then an executive director in NAL Merchant Bank. Ezikpe’s cash reward for Ozigbo as best student in his class was converted to a position for him to do his National Youth Service at NAL Merchant Bank.  “So that was how I had already secured my place of primary assignment for my Youth Service year, while in the 300 level at the UNN.  So I ended up in Lagos and my first assignment at the bank was given to me by Mr. Peter Obuzo, he was from Anambra state and just passed away three months ago. He wanted to teach me something, not knowing that I had used my strike period during the university days to learn computing and other things, I undertook this assignment such that the man exclaimed that since his entire 20-something years in the international service, he hadn’t seen anybody, who did it so well,” Ozigbo said.

Ozigbo left NAL Merchant Bank and joined Diamond Bank. And within six months of joining Diamond Bank, he became the best staff of Diamond Bank in Warri, which coincidentally became the best branch of the bank that year. “And that’s how I became the best staff of Diamond Bank within a few months of becoming a banker. So all of that propelled me and what I can say to you that there’s an abundance of the Grace of God in everything that I have ever done in my entire life,” he said.

Within five years of being a banker in the Warri branch of Diamond Bank, he moved to a new bank that came into town after he was recommended by two big customers of theirs. He spent 17 years working in the banking sector and rose to the level of a general manager and head of offshore liaison for UBA, head of International Banking, head of Global Transition Banking for Bank PHB and regional manager at FSB among others.

“It was actually at this point that my international exposure started. After I came back from that Chevening scholarship, I had done 10 years before going for Chevening. So during my first 30 years, I hadn’t been anywhere outside of Nigeria. But from the moment I started handling those international roles, there are years that I would be in over 15 countries in a single year. So I was busy opening banks in different countries of the world, within Africa and beyond Africa. So I had interfaced with presidents of countries as a banker,” he said. He had met with the US Federal Reserve, the Financial Services Authority in the United Kingdom, the Dubai authority as well, China, India, and was moving into France before he finally got another role which was to head Global Transition Banking.

In 2011, he took over as the chief executive officer, CEO, of the hotel business of Transcorp Hotels Plc. He transformed Transcorp Hotels – starting with its human resources; changing their vision and imbue in them the Kaizen culture of continuous improvement.  To him, the Kaizen culture “is something that we lack in and it’s something that actually will help to change the story of a black man.”

He spent seven years in the hotel business, and became, perhaps, the most decorated man if not a black man in the hospitality sphere. He was voted the CEO of the year in Spain by the Seven Stars award in 2016.

In 2019, he was also decorated as the hospitality personality of the year and became the only black man to be so honoured in these gatherings “even up till today no one has beaten that record that we’ve set. And for the past six years consecutively before I left, we were voted the best business hotel in Africa by the World Travel Awards,” Ozigbo said. “And for me, it wasn’t really about these awards. It’s the fact that it allowed me to be truly be of service to people. Hospitality is the true meaning of service because what you care about really is how to make the other person happier now that he’s walked into the property.  So mine has always been how to leave a positive impression on anybody that I met in that period.

And I can say that if I go by my experience so far in politics, I thank God for the enormous goodwill he has led me to build over the years. Because I see and hear remarks from people and I see how they’re buying into this vision.

After seven years, Ozigbo became the group CEO and president of Transcorp, which now covered power, oil and gas, and hospitality.  He also established a foundation which he used for many things, particularly, leadership training and youth empowerment.

Ozigbo sees himself as the chairman of unusual entrepreneur, which started in 2018 when he became the chairman of Unusual Praise, the largest Catholic Gospel event in Africa through which he economically empowered members of the church. He also has the Feet ‘N’ Tricks International, a sports promotion company, the biggest promoter of freestyle football in Africa with a company he registered with the likes of Kanu Nkwankwo. The sports competition started in 2017 and last year, 30 countries participated in the event in Lagos. He said: “The idea is to create another platform to empower the youths. And it’s for men and women. This year, for instance, we are going to start up the competition virtually, from July 1,” he said.

The governorship aspirant aims to bring true leadership, excellence, competence in leading Anambra people if he wins the governorship election in the state in 2021. He promises to be accessible.  “I’ve learnt and I’ve mastered through nature and nurture, the deeper meaning of emotional intelligence. I know that one of the things you could do right in this world is your respect for humanity, for one another. And that comes from appreciating the diversity that we have.

“So when I run a company, for instance, I could pick my best idea from the gate-man because it’s not about his circumstances. And in fact, the table could turn, and if not for opportunities that some of us have we could be that gate-man. So if not anything else, remember that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and therefore we have one thread that runs across all folks.

“And I also have the tradition of giving back. I don’t just consider myself to have youthful energy. I’m youthful in everything I do. That means I’m also digital, I’m modern. And so I meet the youth that is coming at their level because both in spirit and body, I am one of them. I also have a deeper understanding of where the world is headed,” Ozigbo said.

Notwithstanding Ozigbo’s accomplishments, success in the well paved way of businesses where rules are entrenched cannot be compared with the slippery field of  Nigerian politics where the goal post is perennially shifted by party stalwarts.

This calls for extra vigilance on the part of the players, and especially the novice. With all the aspirants in the guber race in State shuttling about,  holding consultations,  Anambra people and the world are keenly watching to see whether Ozigbo can clinch his party’s ticket and go ahead to wrest the top job from other equally powerful contenders.

– Jul. 17, 2020 @ 11:49 GMT |