As long as a governor can sit in his cozy office and decide all those to run for elections from Councillorship up, and his decision flies, Nigeria won’t get it right- Prince Lawrence Ezeh

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As long as a governor can sit in his cozy office and decide all those to run for elections from Councillorship up, and his decision flies, Nigeria won’t get it right- Prince Lawrence Ezeh

Prince Lawrence Ezeh is the CEO of Buzuzu Construction Company and the Crown Prince of Mburubu in Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State. In 2019, he ran for Senator to represent Enugu East Senatorial Zone. In this interview in his Enugu residence, he bared his mind on the tripod on which his life stands.

 

PFM: Tell us a bit about growing up. What was it like for you?

Prince Ezeh: Well, I will describe my growing up in two parts, the rosy part and the struggling part. The rosy part has to do with the fact that I was born into royalty as you rightly know. As a king, my father was doing well in his business in Port Harcourt. My father had a brand-new bus called Kombi bus; it was more like a private car, for my mum and also for driving us to school. It was fun then because very few families could afford such luxury. But business went bad and we had to relocate to our village Mburubu in Enugu. That was when the second part started. We had to trek some kilometers barefooted from our home to our primary school in the village because they could not afford us sandals then. I always work with my exercise books in a polythene bag, sometimes we use the bag to shade ourselves when it’s raining. That was what growing up was like for me. We continued like that until things got a little fair and my parents could buy us sandals and other things. I came from a large family of 12 children at that time. Three died and we were 9 children left at that time. But one thing my parents did well for us is that he swore we must all go to school. Some business men doing well then came many times to take some of us as their business apprentice, as their boi so that we go and learn trade; my parents would always reject the offer. They insisted we must all go to school, not minding that my mama was almost going on one wrapper. My mum is from Rivers State, leaving the busy and bustling Port Harcourt to my village was a hard decision for her, but she did it; because she loves my father, she stayed with him and they fought through it together to bring us up. After my secondary school in Nara Boys, I sought and got admission in the university to study Marine Engineering.

PFM: Let’s get to your business life. You are the owner of Buzuzu Construction Company, how did the company come about?

Prince Ezeh: These days people think life is so rosy; that you just wake up and become something. God in his wisdom made the world to be guided by order. There is a sequence to things and a foundation. Anything that has no foundation will not stand. I am into road construction too; foundation is not only about buildings alone. Before you build the road, you must take off the top soil; it’s called Stripping Away. When you are done stripping the top soil away, you start the layering. If you don’t strip the top soil away and start laying sand, asphalt and cement on it, the road will crack up from the bottom. Foundation matters a lot. The foundation you acquire in a business is the experience you gather in the practice. That’s why the Igbo culture practice the Boi Boi apprenticeship system. The years the person (boi) stays with an established business owner to learn a trade, the foundation is the experiences the person gathers within the years of apprenticeship. This makes him understand the business better, to be able to manage the business, to know the best commodity to buy and the best customers to sell to. When the ogas say there is no money to settle their apprentice, some of the apprentices opt to be settled that way, with or without money, then the oga will begin to lament that the Boi must have been stealing his money with which he would go and start his own business, but sometimes that is not the case. Most of those bois through experience already has a good understanding with most sellers that trust them enough to sell goods to them on credit, they will sell and pay off. There are also some of the customers from his oga that must have fallen in love with his person that would be happy to do business with him. He grows from there until he stands well; buys a motorcycle, then a car, build a house and then talk of getting a wife. That has been our practice as Igbo People. For me, I registered my first business in my second year in the university. I called it Buzuzu Organization, it was just an enterprise. Left for me, I wouldn’t have registered it, but circumstances made me to. Coming from a large family, catering for all of us was not easy for my parents. My father paid my school fees once, N200, N80 for hostel accommodation and N120 for school fees; after that, I never asked for a dime from my parents, I had to work to see myself through the university. I did souvenirs for people, then I had a contract to do for a company. I usually would go to Aba to get the souvenirs done and deliver them. After I delivered to the company, they insisted they would only write the cheque in my business name, the same name that my bank account should bear. I had no business name or a bank account then; I had to use the little cash I had on me to register my business and open an account in order to get paid and to avoid losing the contracts. I had no one to support me, to ask for money. My uncle from my mother’s side that I stayed with when I wrote JAMB had his own kids in the university, disturbing him was not in the option. I had to work it out myself. I told myself that it’s either I struggle and fight it or go back to the village. The choice was mine to make, and I made the rough choice. I did the souvenirs, customize brand names on them; people bought into it. I did them for so many persons, some paid me while some owed me till today. But through it, I always made enough money that would last me the next session in school. In fact, at some point I made enough to pay my younger brother’s school fees who was studying law in University of Jos at that time. It was that lucrative for me. At some point some Council Chairmen in Rivers State bought into it. I made souvenirs for some of them. One job led to another. Someone would see the ones I had done before, like it then call on me to do for them.
Someday I was going to meet with my cousin who was working with Shell in Bayelsa, when I had a breakthrough epiphany. By then I had graduated from school and already did my NYSC, bought a car, and was building a house at home. I was already making some good money from the business. The car was rickety, it almost turned me into a mechanic, it would always break down on the road, and I would start trying to fix it, but I did all that happily. On my way to Bayelsa, in a bus, I heard a voice say to me that I was going to meet my breakthrough there and some Bible verses accompanied it. In Bayelsa, I picked up a prayer book at my cousin’s place to pray and the exact verse that came to in the bus was what I opened to. I started making calls to Lagos, sent a company souvenir samples and payment. They later sent the samples to Port Harcourt. I picked them and went to Bayelsa. I got there, lodged in a hotel, then I started meeting people, making connections. Each person I met, the voice would say I hadn’t met the person I should meet until I met a certain man; the voice confirmed that the man was going to lead me to the person that would assist me. I met the man at Radio Bayelsa. I told him I needed to meet with someone that did souvenirs who was an S.A to the Governor of Bayelsa State. He said his friend was the SA to the Governor’s wife, that is Her Excellency Patience Goodluck Jonathan, then His Excellency, Dr. Ebele Goodluck Jonathan was the governor of Bayelsa State. I told him I would like to see the SA, he asked me what I wanted to show him, but I insisted that I would only show it to his friends. He kept postponing the meeting, I kept calling and praying until he accepted and took me to his friend. His friend, the SA was not settled and was reluctant to meet me, but on seeing the souvenir samples, his mood immediately changed, he was amazed. He asked if I made them myself and if I could make them in large quantity, and I replied yes. We went through many protocols and they eventually gave me a contract to make souvenirs worth thirty million naira. Then, they paid me fifteen million naira as down payment. That was my first big win because at that time I had never been given any contract worth five million; it was a milestone for me. I travelled to Lagos, stayed about three weeks to get the souvenir done. After that, I charted buses that delivered them to Bayelsa. The contract launched me into Bayelsa. It brought me in contact with Patience Jonathan, and I started making all her souvenirs. I started making some good money. It was in Bayelsa that met another of my cousins who worked with an oil and gas company in the hotel where I was lodged. He told me he was there with his superiors that they wanted to mount a gas pipeline. He arranged for me to meet with his boss, to see if I would be getting contracts from the oil and gas companies, too. I met with his boss, we discussed and he gave me a souvenir job of N5,400,000 to do for them. The man used the contract to register me with them. We stepped up from souvenirs and started providing gas to them; from there we went into the mechanical engineering aspects of the job in the oil and gas industry. It was from there we made money and decided we won’t limit ourselves to the oil and gas industry. We diversified into construction. I was already registered as Buzuzu International Limited, but when we wanted to go into construction, we registered as Buzuzu Construction Company, which forms a conglomerate of businesses. That’s basically how the company was birthed.

 

Lawrence Ezeh

 

PFM: You ran for the office of the Senator to represent Enugu East Senatorial Zone in the 2019 general elections. Have you had any political sojourn before then?

Prince Ezeh: Yes, in 2011 I ran for the office of the Local government Chairman of Nkanu East Local Government Area, I was the best man for the job. But at some point, the then Governor of Enugu State, His Excellency Barr. Sullivan Chime and the then Chief of Staff to the Governor Hon. Ifeoma Nwobodo met me and pleaded I step down for Hon. Pst. Iyiogwe. In the end, I stepped down for him and spent money to support him. In the end I got nothing, not even from the state after their promises. When it was over, I shared what was left to my supporters and held a party for them, then left to focus on my business.

PFM: What were the intrigues that led to your loosing the ticket under PDP?

Prince Ezeh: Well, the intrigues are not much. It’s just the act of blame-shifting even when it’s clear whose fault it is that I don’t like. The leader of the party in the state is the governor. Yes, we have the party excos, but there have little or no influence. Everything is on the table of the governor. What happened was very simple, the Governor had preference for Senator Chimaroke Nnamani and never told me on time. I don’t want go into the nitty gritty of what happened. I believe strongly that as a governor he has every right to support who he wants, but it should be done right. The Party went to members to reconcile matters arising from the election but they never came here. When the governor called me was when I had already moved to APC, and they already gave me the ticket to run. At that point it was too late. We went to APC and did our best, but our best was not enough and we lost the election. I am back, PDP has always been my party, and I have never been able to manage myself in another party; going to another party felt like walking into a strange room built by other people. These things are the bad aspects of politics. All these are in the past, I am back, and we have made peace. We are supporting the Governor and we hope in 2023 the best decision will be made.

PFM: One would say you wanted the seat at all cost, seeing that you quickly defected to the APC and now back to the PDP

Prince Ezeh: You know in politics people manufacture all kinds of languages to support whatever agenda they have. I don’t know why anybody will think or say such. I just explained to you that I was in the race and the hottest contender for that office and for things to play out the way it did that the incumbent Senator was in faraway United States of America and things was done the way it was done, the position was ceded to him outside those of us that were frontrunners for the position. They were able to set up a reconciliation committee that went to meet with Gil Nnaji and excluded me; does that give you an impression of a man who was desperate? There was no desperation, that I went to the APC was primarily for a reason between myself and the governor so if anybody feels I was desperate, what’s the desperation? Every contender works hard to get the office he or she vied for, like I initially told you, when I contested for Nkanu East Local Government Chairman, not minding how much I had already spent campaigning, when I was spoken to to step down, I did it wholeheartedly and even went ahead to support the party and the candidate’s aspiration. People who are desperate in most cases are people seeing politics as the only means to feed themselves but for me, I have a lot of means of survival, I have a lot of things that pay my bills-those who manufacture this language of desperation are those who feed fat from the party without investing anything. Anyone who is my genuine supporter knows this already. APC in Enugu state as it were, I don’t know about now, had no footing, there was no foundation. It was just a room for people who were supposed to be the opposition to sit down and try to negotiate with the state government. How would you explain the fact that on the election day, people who were APC agents negotiated and removed their tags, sat at a corner, drinking while the election was going on? So, the level of sabotage and non-commitment to the party ideals and success of elections that I saw there wasn’t something that encouraged me to stay in the party so I walked away and returned back to the PDP. Even if they were committed, I had lived all my life as a PDP man and had all my friends in the PDP. I am not the first to leave a and return back, I am also not the first that had certain things that drove them out of a party and most of these were as a result of lack of internal democracy. I have said this countless times that parties should have internal democracy. As long as a governor can sit in his cozy office and decide all those to run for elections from Councillorship up, and his decision flies, Nigeria won’t get it right. In some states like Anambra and Imo, it is different but in others, that is the usual practice. That someone is the leader of the party shouldn’t make him the party, we need to learn how to call what is white, white and what is black, black. The danger of this is that once the governor serves out his term, he is deserted immediately and could even be made irrelevant in party affairs by his successor.

PFM: If you had won the election, what would you have done differently?

Prince Ezeh: I would rephrase the question to “What actually propelled you to run?” You know, I have been able to set up a foundation that has given scholarship to over 100 students in rural areas with about 2 persons already in universities. I have been able to use my personal funds to maintain roads for years and embarked on construction of virgin roads totaling 4.5km in rural communities in Nkanu East. I have given electricity to my people but there’s a limit to which one’s personal resources can go. There’s also a limit to which one can keep quiet to things happen wrongly around you. If you come to Nkanu East, it is the most neglected and deprived Local government in Enugu state. Before that election, nobody in Nkanu East thought himself eligible enough to vie for such office. Our interests were just in the House of Reps, House of Assembly, Chairmanship and Councillorship seats. We didn’t deem it fit that running for Senate could attract more infrastructural development to your people and one that would cut across the six local governments of the senatorial zone. These were basically the drives I had to contest. Let me be honest with you, if I was the one representing us today, I am very certain that what we are having now won’t be what we will have. Why have the best you can go for and settle for less? Because of interests? Because some people will always prefer the old order. People advice one not to say the truth because they believe you need to do such to get political power. My father told me to always stand on the path of the truth and that’s what I believe should be the proper definition of politics.

PFM: You just concluded a national assignment for your party. You have also been on air numerous times commenting on state and national issues. People are saying you still have your eyes on the political ball. How true would this be?

Prince Ezeh: The truth is that any politician who tells you he no longer has his eyes on the ball has lost his worth, he is no longer a politician. What makes politicians throw their hat in the ring is that they weigh themselves, their chances and their pockets. To contest an election in Nigeria is expensive, quite expensive, especially when you are not an anointed candidate. When you are an anointed candidate, the election becomes a walkover-people will always chant “ojebego” for you and i je be kwa na eziokwu. Once you have weighed yourself, chances and pocket, and they are giving you the right results, you will always contest. So, if anyone is saying that I still have my eyes on the ball, I may not want to dispute that, that is the people’s perception so I am neither accepting nor denying it. I wouldn’t want to say beyond that because 2023 is quite far to say anything. In politics, 24 hours is very significant for things to change. Between myself and Chimaroke things changed within one week. So, if you start now, it doesn’t make any sense. I know people are building bridges and making contacts and these things are healthy but in politics, when you start the race first, you will run for so long and get tired, so it is better to take your time and know whether or not your chances are fair enough.

PFM: The cliché everywhere is that the basic problem with Nigeria is the lack of good governance. What would you say are the basic attributes of good governance, seeing you seem to have what could be called an unusual view?

Prince Ezeh: We have failed to understand the intricacies and actual meaning of good governance. Good governance to me simply means giving to the people what belongs to the people. It is that simple. Good governance is about having the political will to look truth in the face and tell the truth. I’m sorry to mention names but if you have listened to the Governor of Rivers state, you will see good governance and political will. Political will is that I want to create a road here and I know that you are a senior citizen but your house is obstructing the project, especially because you built it without approval and encroaching into the road, and after I call you to do the needful yet you refuse, I go ahead to bring your house down as Governor. Political will is not just to want to please everyone, not injure anybody’s emotions and wanting to be friends with everybody. You can’t achieve good governance that way, it is not possible, how can you? When governors are sworn in, one of the lines in their oath of office reads “what is right for the state above my personal interests”, it is quite deep, but what happens around here is the reverse case. The personal interests of the governor override the interests of the state, so how do you achieve good governance? Do you why what has been happening in Enugu has continued to be a normal order? It is because there hasn’t been a vibrant opposition party. When there’s a vibrant opposition and you know you can’t easily rig elections, what will happen is that politicians will leave sycophants and look for the right people to help them govern better and make the system work but in the event that we continue to pilot this one party system, the ruling party won’t be on its toes. With all the lofty projects that Nyesome Wike is doing in Rivers, you still see the opposition firing him up daily and the more he works, the more he gains the people’s confidence. Over here, what you get is a chant of “our leader you are doing well, even though you are not doing anything, we know that you will still do”. Even religious leaders that ought to seek for God’s intervention in the state begin to also sing the leader’s praise. If you make me the governor of this state, I will pray for a very strong and viable opposition because they will help me to give my best. I think the governor is doing his best but this is not what Enugu ought to have gotten from him if there was a vibrant opposition.

PFM: The call for the next president of the country to come from the Southeast is high. What do you think the hopes are?

Prince Ezeh: Well for me, any hope that has no expectation is dead. We as Igbos are highly expectant and that is what is keeping our hope alive that by 2023 the president of this country will be of Igbo extraction. I think that if Nigerians are able to give an Igbo man the chance to be president, they are two major things it will help resolve. One, it will help the average Igbo man to put the issues of the civil war behind him completely but as long as this is not done, the issue of Biafra will continue to resonate and if you suppress one group, another will rise so the best way to go is to give an Igbo man a sense of inclusiveness in the Nigerian project. We should have a reason to continue to rust and defend the nation. If you give me the impression that I am not part of a system, why should I mortgage my life in defence of that system? Nobody does that, but if I know I have a stake in the system, I will defend it. Two, I believe that all other sections of the country have done their best in developing the country so give an Igbo man a chance to develop the country. The level an Igbo man will take the development of this country to will be quite different and will come with an unprecedented passion. Why do I say so? I one discussed with a South African in a hotel and when I told him I was from Nigeria, he said “Nigeria is the China of Africa”. When I asked him why he said so, he said Nigerians are everywhere; and you know that the Nigerians all over the world are basically Igbos. The Nigerian sate appears to be limiting the efforts and growth of the Igbos and this has been responsible for having lots of Igbos in diaspora. So, giving an Igbo man the opportunity will make him harness the potentials of the country, put those of the diaspora and things get better. The fact that the Igbos are scattered even in the remotest parts of the country will make him develop the country equally because he knows it would be to the benefit of all. The Igbo man is more Nigerian than any other tribe because he invests heavily in and even marry from other tribes. How many persons from the North and West can build mansions in other states?

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