My life as activist, development expert, cleric –

My life as activist, development expert, cleric – The Sun Nigeria

My life as activist, development expert, cleric –

Dr. Otive Igbuzor is a well-known figure in and beyond. He is a pharmacist, human rights activist, policy analyst, development expert, author and cleric. He is the Executive Director of the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD). On September 5, 2023, friends, comrades, colleagues and family gathered at Yar'Adua Conference Centre, , to celebrate “OTIVISM, the ideas and philosophy of Dr. Otive Igbuzor” as he turns 60. In this exclusive interview with Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, he speaks on a mirage of issues including activism, cleric, development work, why gender bills were thrown out and the remedy and  his days as Chief of Staff to Deputy Senate President.

You have had an illustrious career spanning various fields including pharmacy, human rights activism, policy analysis, and development. What inspired you to embark on such a diverse journey?

You know, I think the foundation is that all my life I've been influenced by two major things, Marxism and Christianity. When I was in university, I joined the League of Patriotic in the early 80s. And my whole mission in life, then, was how to transform society, through the establishment of a workers . I wasn't moved by anything else. I read pharmacy in my first degree, but it is this desire to transform society that made me leave a very thriving in pharmacy. I sold my pharmacy to go into development work with the Centre for Democracy and Development in the year 2000, after operating my pharmaceutical company for 10 years. I was the chairman of general practice pharmacists in Borno State. I was a distributor to many pharmaceutical companies, but I didn't feel fulfilled, because I wanted to be involved in transforming society. And of course, in 1993, I gave my life to Jesus. So, why I am involved in many things is the realisation that transformation of society involves many things. It involves strategy, policy, networking, movement and values.

As a mentor to numerous individuals in the development sector, could you share a particularly inspiring story of how one of your mentees made a significant impact?

I have mentored a lot of people, and a lot of them have made impacts in society. I have what we call Otive Igbuzor mentees, who are mentees that I meet with regularly and many of them have made tremendous impact in business. I have a mentee from State who is doing extremely well in business. I have mentees in Delta who are doing well. There's a mentee who went to establish leadership school in Delta, which is arguably one of the best leadership schools. I have a mentee who was sent to me as a mentee about 11 years ago. You know, he's still working in African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD) till today, and has become the programme coordinator and great development worker. I have mentees everywhere from the time of my work in CDD, who have gone to work in the United Nations system. So in fact, I am very proud of the network of following that I've built over the years. I'm always amazed. Incidentally, I meet many of them at airports. People walk up to me, some of them I have even forgotten. But thank God for , they follow. So my ideas, my presentations, my nuggets, they follow and I cannot thank God enough for the opportunity given to me to impact lives.

Has it all been rosy with your mentees? No disappointments?

I would not say I have not had anyone disappoint. There are some that are not able to take the mentoring, especially in the church and what they do is run away. So, yes, there are some who will not want to follow the advice. Because the mentoring I give to people is, how they can do their own career. Second, they have to plan their life and I have a template that covers eight areas where everyone will plan his life, spiritual, health, family, career, relationships, business, which covers all aspects of life. I mentor people in the area of spirituality, especially Christians, how to live a triumphant Christian life, how to live a life of service to God and humanity, how to reign as kings and priests on the earth as the Bible tells in Revelation 1:6 and Revelation 5:10. So what I see is that people who are not able to imbibe these ideas and ideals, run away from the mentorship relationship, because you know, mentoring is a system where the mentee wants to be mentored. If the mentee does not accept your mentoring, then no mentoring relationship can take place.

Your contributions as a writer and researcher are well-known. Can you highlight a few of your publications that you believe have had a lasting influence on discussions around democracy, gender, , and development?

You know, all my publications are structured to transform society. I've always said that I don't write to make money. I don't write to impress people. I don't write to show that I'm intelligent or brilliant. I write to change society. As a matter of fact, it was around 2005 that people actually came to me and said, look, your ideas are good, why not put them together in a book form? So that is when I started the series of the Selected Works of Dr Otive Igbuzor after the tradition of Vladimir Ilich Lenin of the Soviet Union, who had a lot of collected works. And I'm happy to say that today I have 10 volumes of collected works. Three of the volumes are on religious issues. Seven of the volumes are issues of democracy, governance, public sector reform, national and policing. And all of them have a tremendous impact on governance and development. And my aspiration is to at least publish 20 volumes in my lifetime. Interestingly, on my 59th birthday, the co-chair of the occasion, Dr. Jummai Umar-Ajijola, suggested that my ideas and reflections on society are so profound that they should be collated so that people can study them. And it will impact this and future generations. Luckily for , the keynote speaker at that birthday celebration, took up the challenge, and has produced the book called “Otivism”, which encapsulates my ideas and philosophical reflections on how society should be governed. And that book, “Otivism” is shaped by the two things that have influenced my worldview, Marxism and Christianity.

You've held significant roles such as International Head of campaigns at ActionAid International, Commissioner of the Service Commission, and most recently, Chief of Staff to the immediate past Deputy Senate President. How do these roles tie into your overarching mission of advocating for human rights and fostering development?

Anything I do must be focused on service to God and humanity. It must be focused on my own vision and mission in life. And my vision is a world where there is justice, equity, peace, and prosperity. And my mission is to touch lives, spiritually, politically, economically, socially, and knowledge wise. So in all these places that I have occupied, my focus is how to transform society. So my work in advocacy, whether I'm in the Service Commission, offers me an opportunity to make my contribution to transforming the police and making society better.

At the risk of being immodest, at the 2007 elections, policemen were accused of being responsible for rigging elections and they were publicly condemned. In 2008, I became a Commissioner in the Police Service Commission. One of the things we did was how to have oversight over police on election matters. So they were already documents on the conduct of police during elections. We brought those documents, issued them afresh, contacted the police authorities that issued those documents up to the police station level. All policemen were trained. I was the head of monitoring of police during elections. We trained the policemen and put a mechanism in place. Everywhere there was an election, we sent teams, who would publish the name of Police Service Commission people, and the statement was clear, that if you see any policeman engaged in any electoral malpractice call this number. That mechanism alone, go and check the records in 2011, policemen were publicly commended for their role in the 2011 election.

Despite the public commendations after the 2011 election, the police seemed to have returned to their old ways in subsequent elections, and the report that came out about their involvement was not so good. So are you disappointed that your efforts did not continue?

A lot of factors are responsible for that. You know, in this country, at times things are done in a very unusual manner. In 2013, I was re-nominated into the police service commission but the Senate refused to confirm me. The explanation they gave then was that there was no youth representation. And that I'm not a youth, so why should they confirm me? Which has no basis in law or in the law establishing the Police Service Commission, because I was representing civil society and the South South Zone. But as many funny things happen in , throughout that period, from 2013 to 2018, there was no civil society representative in the Police Service Commission. They just refused to confirm me, the executive did not send any replacement, they did not do anything, everybody just went along. Such things always have an impact in the organisation. But beyond that, there are many factors that are responsible. You see, there is continuous politicisation of everything in Nigeria, ethnic dimension etc. So there's a lot of things that are responsible for the kinds of elections that we have seen subsequently.

When I was going to the , I was clear that I'm not the Deputy President of the Senate. I am Chief of Staff. So, I had modest goals that I wanted to achieve. First, to provide access to civil society people, anybody who wants to come into the National Assembly for one engagement or the other, just call me and I would provide access. Two, to provide information of already gazetted laws, information of what is going on in the National Assembly, which is supposed to be public knowledge. Three is to continue internal advocacy.

So I was doing advocacy to the management through my principal. Luckily for me, my principal was a progressive; he was a gender sensitive legislator. So all the issues of engagement, Women had to bring in a consultant to work for the constitutional reform, you know, I facilitated all of those. I was joining teams to go and do advocacy. And then finally, and probably most importantly, I had a group of radical and progressive legislators both in the Senate and the House of that I was working with, who had three main agenda. Number one is to influence the agenda of the National Assembly, by bringing progressive ideas into it. Second, is to initiate progressive laws in the National Assembly and thirdly is to shut down any anti-people law such as NGO bill or media bill. So we were working. So everywhere I go, the idea of transformation of society is paramount. And I try to operationalise it as much as I can.

With all the work you did as chief of staff, including pushing for advocacy, gender inclusion and all of that, how did you feel when the five gender bills were thrown out?

I felt very bad. But I was not totally surprised. Because, you know, at the committee level, we had leading civil society activists. The Women brought in Professor Atsenuwa, as a consultant to the Office of the Deputy President of the Senate. There were other leading civil society activists who were consultants like Dr. Abiola Akiyode, Professor Joy Ezeilo, and many other people. And I was privy to the debates within the committees, and I knew that those gender bills survived till the plenary, because of the gender sensitive nature of the Deputy President of the Senate, His Excellency Senator Ovie Omo-Agege. But seeing the mood and the debate within the committee, I knew that a lot of work needed to be done. And I reached out to many people, we had a lot of discussions. But unfortunately, it happened.

So for me, there are things I think that we should actually focus on going forward. And there are many things that are done in other countries, which we are not doing in Nigeria, with relation to the National Assembly. For instance, in other countries at the end of the year, media houses, civil society organisations do a kind of assessment of the National Assembly. They do it beautifully in Kenya, where they give you the number of times that each legislator attended sittings and give their views on different issues, and then this will generate public discussion.

, for those five gender bills, if I ask you today, who were the Senators and House of members that killed those bills, you can't tell me because it is shrouded in secrecy. So that's the first thing. But if you check, you will see some people who stood up and spoke against it publicly. What happened to them? Nothing! Even from the human rights and women organisations, was there any campaign against them? No! Democracy is not done like that. If you're pushing an issue, people will go against you, you also campaign against them. Go to their constituency, mobilise women and say, look, this person voted against our bill, vote against him. Even if you don't get a lot of mileage, next time before they vote against gender bills, they will think twice. So, I think we need a new strategy, a new approach to bringing back the five gender bills and ensuring that they are passed in the 10th National Assembly.

Do those roles sometimes create a sense of within you when people think you should be an activist, then you are sitting with politicians and advising them from the inside, and you are a pastor. Do these disparate roles make you feel tense or make others feel uncomfortable around you and are you confronted?

Yes, people confront me. You know, when you get to 50 is maturity. You do what you think is good. When you get to 60 you are an elder. You do what you want, which you know is right. You go to where you are valued. You know, you receive people who receive you. People have said it, but see, I've had experience in this country. Right from the 1980s. I told you what has shaped my life is Marxism and Christianity. And I've been involved in every major demonstration at the leadership level in this country, from the 1980s to the uprising in 2012, even though I was in the police service commission then, I participated actively because I've seen that there are different ways to bring about change. And when you get to a certain level what you want to leave is legacy. You know, I'm not just forming my values so you will only become uncomfortable or you will have challenges, if you think that your being involved in those areas is an avenue to make money. Once you remove money, that I'm here as chief of staff to make a contribution. And once people know that you are not running after money, they respect you. They hear your views, you are able to change things. You have not done a revolution, so you will not transform everything completely. But you will make an impact that you will be proud of.

You know, at a time after the 2011 elections, I wanted to run for governor of . By November 2011, I formed a group of 16 professionals called Delta Development Initiatives, who were working on how we can change the narrative in . By March of 2022, we formed what we called Delta Rescue Mission to rescue Delta State from the stranglehold of PDP that had held the state down. But, you know, as is in Nigeria. It was Dr Kayode Fayemi, who said in politics in Nigeria, you have to worship five gods, the god of money, the god of INEC, the god of judiciary, the god of , especially the police and the god of mobilisation. But for me, I couldn't worship the god of money. So I did not survive till the primaries. But I have a desire for service and I know my capacity, I know what I can offer. Even though I'm not opulently rich, God has blessed me with jobs, good salaries that I am able to save, invest and live a fairly good life.

So, for me, especially the remaining part of my life, is how to serve God and humanity. In fact, I took that decision when I turned 50, 10 years ago, and subsequently wrote a book titled: Called to Serve God and Humanity. So for me, the remaining part is legacy. And I'm very happy with the way I've lived my life. I can't thank God enough. In fact, I've always told people that the life I live today, I didn't know it existed. Because I come from a humble background, I grew up in the village, lived in a mud house, my bed was mud-moulded by the side of the wall with a mat on top. When I wake up every morning, the marks of the mat are on my face. But today, without engaging in any corruptible transaction whatsoever, God has been good. I don't desire the billion that people desire. I want to serve God, I want to serve humanity. I want to contribute to the transformation of society. And even , and in the future, any opportunity I have, I will make my contributions.

The celebration of your 60th birthday is being marked by the “#OtiveAt60” event. Could you tell us about the significance of this event for you and perhaps attendees?

You know, like I just told you. I don't usually celebrate anything, especially when I was young. But when I look back, I can't but thank God enough for the life I've lived. For the wife God gave to me, for the children He gave to me, for the ministry He gave to me, for the impact I've made. When I see people give testimonies about how I have impacted their lives, tears come to my eyes. And I say, look, this is probably one time that I can say, thank you, God. That's why the celebration was kicked off with 60 minutes of praise to God. We just want to thank God and appreciate my comrades, friends, family, brothers and sisters, for how God has been so, so great, and generous to us. So that's why we're celebrating.

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