– Ifeatu Onejeme, former Commissioner for Finance
Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, CFR, formally received the resignation of the Commissioner for Finance, Mr Ifeatu Onejeme, on Thursday, 14th September, 2023 with emotional remarks and robust commendation for his contributions to his administration. But in spite of the cordial disengagement, mischief makers have been prowling the social media, spreading lies and figments of what they wished would have happened. Paul Nwosu engaged the former Commissioner of Finance in a very frank exchange to elicit directly from him the circumstances that led to his voluntary exit and his next move. Below are excerpts of the brief conversation.
Q: You resigned and Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, CFR, accepted the resignation on the 14th of September with apt commendation. This notwithstanding, some are writing that the reverse was the case. So, my question is: Why are you leaving in the middle of the game? Why didn’t you wait till the end of the tenure?
A: Thank you very much, Paul. I think the answer to your question goes back to nine and half years. In the beginning, the former Governor invited me to come. I didn’t want to come after we won the election. We’ve known ourselves since the Fidelity Bank days in the early 1990s. I told him that our place is a difficult terrain, and dealing with our people can be quite a challenge. But he said: “Look, if you don’t come, you lose your right to criticize.” And because of what he said, I decided that I must come so that I don’t lose my right to criticize. Also, that I can contribute my quota to the development of our state. That was how I accepted the offer to work under Governor Willie Obiano for two years. After two years, he refused to let me go. He said I should complete the one term of office. After the one term, he still refused to let me go. And each time, I had to go back to my family to renegotiate. When I initially came, I told my wife and children that I was coming to serve for two years and will be back. So, it’s been a huge personal sacrifice for me in the past nine and half years. I travelled to see my wife every two weeks, either by road or air.
Then coming back to your question… When this administration started, I knew it was going to be a huge task convincing my family that I have to go again. But I said to them that it is for a higher calling. We need to fix our homeland, and people have to make sacrifices. I have started making the sacrifices already. Just give me a small window to help the administration which I know would transform Anambra State to settle in, and this was what I said at the Executive Council valedictory speech. I worked to help many of my colleagues and counterparts to settle in because I know what the higher calling is. And when it was done, I felt this was the right time to rejoin my family, and they have been exceedingly happy (laughs) since the announcement was made. After nine and half years, I think I have contributed my quota. Someone else can come and build on what I’ve done. I feel a sense of fulfillment that I have been able to contribute something and that I have also contributed my time and effort in the process.
Q: So what’s your reply to skeptics who have been expressing figments of their imagination on social media as the real reason for your resignation?
A: I have been seeing a lot on my WhatsApp and SMS, and I just shake my head. I’ve been wondering – is this how people devote their time and energy doing negative things? First of all, to state facts and set the record straight. I did not fallout with Governor Soludo who is a visionary and transformational leader. In fact, he is a man I have tremendous respect for, who is a mentor to me. These skeptics need to understand that. This is a country where people have a sit- tight mentality. They don’t believe that somebody can wake up one day and say, “ I think I’ve served long enough; let some other persons play their roles,” and they start insinuating that there must be something – somebody is blocking him or trying to take his job, or he’s fighting with someone, and so on. I want to make it clear that there was nothing like that. I had a good relationship with the Governor, a very good relationship, a professional relationship. We also had a very good personal relationship. So what people are writing in the media is wrong. I’m even shocked to read these things.
Q: So if you are called upon in the future to contribute…….(Ifeatu interjects)
A: I’m an ambassador! A very passionate and committed ambassador of this administration! I believe so much in this Solution Agenda, and so people shouldn’t make that mistake. I’m sending this message out to the social media guys who are there to just misinform, disinform, and sell falsehood everywhere. They will fail with any message concerning me. People already know me. I have been around for almost forty years. People know my track record. So I’m not the typical politician who comes to sell lies. And that’s why they’re finding it difficult to deal with Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, CFR, our Governor because he shoots straight. He tells you this is what he’s going to do, and he comes out to do it and they don’t like it. They like it when you say you’re going left, meanwhile you’re going right.
Q: You have obviously not resigned into retirement. From your looks, I can see you’re still active and agile. What’s your next move after resting?
A: You got it right because that is what I was going to say. Everybody needs rest. So first, I will rest very well. After resting, I will be ready to work for Anambra, but not from a location in the state because I have been located in the state for nine and half years. So I’m open to such things. I’m also looking at private things that I’ve been doing which have incidentally suffered within this nine and half years that I was in public service. So, I will return to them and build them up. I intend to also tour the world. Our Igbo people are fond of “ oga alugido olu, lugido olu”, (they keep working, working………) until one day they drop dead. So, it’s okay to just pull back and tour the world and enjoy life, move around and that’s also part of living.
Q: What are the memorable incidents/challenges you can recall in the span of your nine and half years in public service career and the major roles you played?
A: There are several of them. Many are covered by the oath of secrecy that I can’t disclose because of the sensitive position that I held. Some of them are on the political platform under APGA. How we have contributed to getting APGA to start winning elections in both my Ward, my Local Government Area and the State. The second one is how we have funded Anambra State to get it to where it is today, both in the previous administration and the current one. You can see the prudent management of resources. People keep wondering how we’ve been able to accomplish what we have accomplished without breaking the bank. That took some financial ingenuity. When people have projects, they want it funded anyhow. They just want cash flow. But my responsibility as Commissioner for Finance was to advise government on the best way to finance those projects – how the cash flow will come. This sometimes brings me in conflict with them, but I don’t go there saying we can’t do this. I go there thinking we need to do the project, but what is the best way to fund the project? One such project is the Airport and partly the Convention Centre. So these are some of the things we did in the back office.
Q: Let’s have a peep into your career in the corporate world before venturing into public service?
A: I was in the financial services industry as it was then called. I started out after my graduation, training in Arthur Anderson which was then the foremost accounting firm in the world. They had an office in Lagos, Arthur Anderson and Co, which later metamorphosed into KPMG. After qualifying as a chartered accountant, the then president Ibrahim Babangida had started licensing some new banks in Nigeria. So a bank called Diamond Bank was licensed. I was one of the 25 pioneer staff that started the bank with the founder Chief Paschal Dozie. From Diamond Bank, I moved to Fidelity Bank. From there, I worked in UBA. I went to Savannah Bank to assist in the turn-around, but left them when their goals were not exactly the goals I saw that would turn around the bank for good. Unfortunately, a few months after I left, CBN closed down the bank. I went to UBA twice when Akeem Bello Osagie took over the bank in 1997. I joined the turn-around management team. Subsequently, I went to the Guardian Express Bank where I was an executive director. Later, when Tony Elumelu took over UBA, he brought me back. In UBA, I was the group treasurer and later in charge of African Expansion with my colleague and perfect gentleman, Rasheed Olaoluwa. Then I went on to head the investment and corporate banking as an executive director, and then retired in 2013. It was a few months after I retired that former Governor Willie Obiano invited me to come and work with him.
So in the corporate world, I have seen it all. I worked in various parts of Nigeria. I supervised the New York operations of UBA, the London operations of UBA, and Paris operations of UBA. So that was the kind of training and background I had before coming to Anambra State.
Q:Thank you very much, Mr Ifeatu Onejeme. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavour.
SIR PAUL NWOSU
Commissioner for Information