Vanguard (Lagos)

9 December 2012

Nigeria: How I Made It to the American Congress, By Capt Okunbor

interview

Benin City — Captain Hosa Okunbor is a business mogul and a lover of the less privileged. Last weekend, he bagged the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science Award from the University of Benin (UNIBEN). Eminent people across the country were in Benin-City to celebrate with him on the honour. The soft spoken Captain, who also is a close friend of President Goodluck Jonathan, spoke with Sunday Vanguard shortly after the award on his life and some national issues. Excerpts:

How do you feel bagging this award?

I am happy that people feel that I have done a lot, but I personally feel that I have not done enough. I don't talk about myself because what you truly do from the bottom of your heart without any thing attached to your action is not something you publicize. I believe in doing good and I always preach that we do good.

I also preach that if you cannot do good, don't do evil. I try to do good at all times. If you do good, don't go about talking about it because God will always reward you. I am happy that people recognize what I have been doing. I enjoy putting smiles on the faces of people. Thank God I have been so honoured.

People see you as a shy person. Are you also politically shy?

I will say I am publicity shy.

The American Congress recently honoured you. How do you feel about that?

When I was honoured by the Congress, I was very elated because I was able to stand before the Congress of America. The Congress of America is a very highly rated Congress, devoid of corruption. I was happy I was recognized by such an institution, I knew that character was better than money.

So many people who I know that are very rich are not able to bag such an honour from the American Congress. When you get honoured in such a place, people want to emulate you.

Like we know when we were growing up, we have role models but that is something that has completely eluded our youths these days. All we think about is money without values. So I think we must begin to bring our value system back.

People believe you cannot make impact in this country unless you are into politics. Why has it been difficult for you to join partisan politics?

One thing I have always believed is that you cannot play politics and, at the same time, do business. Neither can you do business and play politics together.

We should learn to be specialists in our fields in this country. What we have today in Nigeria is that politicians want to do business; when they get to office, they take business from the core businessmen.

And businessmen, in an attempt to be relevant, when they excel in their businesses, they now attempt to vie for political positions. We should know how to respect our core areas of competence. If you are a business man, remain in business and support politicians a'nd, when politicians get there, they should be able to support your business.

And if you are a politician, you are there to serve the people. Service is something we don't understand in this part of the world, you are there to serve, not to steal. It is not for you to enrich your self. And that is why when people ask me who is my hero, I always refer to Ahmadu Bello.

He was so blessed, he was a leader who knew what service was all about. It is unfortunate that they killed those great men and that was when they actually stabbed Nigeria. I have always believed in supporting politicians in my own constituencies and not what I will benefit from it.

It was rumoured that you may run for the governorship of Edo State before July 14, 2012 governorship election, but you did not indicate interest despite your solid support base. Is it that you are too shy to indicate interest?

It has never really crossed my mind to run for the governorship of Edo State. I am fortunate to have been doing my business and I have a lot of challenges in my business, I have always looked for what to do to improve my business. So I have never thought of contesting for the governorship of Edo State, it never crossed my mind.

How would you assess our aviation industry today looking back at those days when you were a pilot?

That place has been left at the mercy of greedy businessmen. When I was a pilot, I flew according to the books, I never compromised safety because I knew I was carrying lives. There are different categories of pilots. There are people who take their jobs seriously and who will always fly according to the laws. And you have airlines also who will ensure they do their maintenance according to the books. And for you to do that and make profit in this part of the world, it is always difficult and that is why we find ourselves in this mess.

Like the last crash that happened, I was on AIT, I was very angry. The greatest disservice we made in this country is for the Federal Government to have disbanded Nigeria Airways. Nigeria Airways was an airline that was established as a national carrier: To serve the entire nation. I saw Nigeria Airways as a social service to the people, just like the Nigerian Railways and also the Mass Transit. It is not every thing you make profit from, there are social services.

Even the people that came out to try to run airlines, it is not easy and that is why government must support the airlines in terms of tax, help them with their foreign exchange requirements. The aviation industry is very expensive. When we were flying, Nigeria Airways was the one flying the President, the President had no private jet. So, if the President has up to six jets in his fleet, the whole of Nigeria deserves more. So, I think the Federal Government should support one or two airlines so that Nigerians can have a choice on who they fly with.

Jonathan should focus on security/agriculture

I want the President to focus more on security and poverty alleviation. Poverty alleviation will eradicate insecurity in the country. It is easier for you to commit suicide when you have no hope; if you have no hope and they talk to you about suicide bombing, you will prefer to do it than staying alive.

So I think the President must tackle the issue of poverty; I will say let us concentrate on agriculture. Let us go to the farms so that our people can feed themselves and, as you know, agriculture creates jobs on a massive scale. We should go back to the land and farm for both our local consumption and export. That will help take people off the streets.

Constitution amendment

I wish they will remove the immunity clause from the constitution from the governors and President. If we do that, our elected officers will now begin to be responsible to the people who elected them because they will know that they can be arrested when they steal. Then security vote that every body plays around with will be treated as security vote. Security vote must not be pocket- money for any body.

I think they should amend the constitution in a manner that before security vote is used by the governor, security operatives in the state must have an input. But I pray that the National Assembly comes up with amendments that will better the lives of Nigerians; that is very paramount at this time.

Unwinding

I hardly relax. Once a while when I found myself in a place I have to rest, I try to grab as much rest as possible. But I unwind with my wife and my family. I relax with my children when I have the time.

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