Billionaire oil mogul, Ifeanyi Ubah exclusive: I’M HIGHLY MISUNDERSTOOD
Dr. Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah is simply an enigma. Blessed beyond description, he is possibly the most generous man in his age bracket. The MD/CEO of Capital Oil & Gas Industries Limited, all you need to fall instantly in love with him is just an encounter. A native of Nnewi in Anambra State, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, had an awesome time with the businessman who is single handedly building a cathedral for the Lord on Thursday, May 28, 2015. This was at his magnificient home. Always a delight to talk to, we discussed Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President Muhammadu Buhari, Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), deregulation of the oil sector, Ifeanyi Ubah Football Club, among myriad other issues which we know you will definitely find exciting. Excerpts…
How does it feel to be the most talked about person in Nigeria now? On Twitter, Facebook, social media, everybody is talking about you…
I believe that one, I’m highly misunderstood and two, Ifeanyi Ubah means so many things to so many people. But the good thing about Ifeanyi Ubah is that Ifeanyi Ubah, for those that know Ifeanyi Ubah, is a straight forward person and I have a very strong character and again, I am not going to deny my name because I have a very strong fan base. So, anytime my name comes up with so many things, you will see so many people reacting – my fan base, those that love me and also those that don’t like me…
Some people see you as a hero, but some people say you are not. Is Ifeanyi Ubah a hero or not?
It is left for the public. But for me, I know that I do my best. I appreciate the fact that I come from a very humble beginning, a humble background. Whatever people think about me, mostly, reflect my personality and character. But those that don’t like me, they see me differently. But definitely, one of these days, as we continue to move, they will understand. I need also to appreciate one good thing – coming from a position where at a particular point there were about five different issues on me, which I don’t think any Nigerian has ever suffered and God helped me, I defeated all of them and still went further to complete the mission, because I was going on a mission and people wanted to stop my going for that mission. They used a lot of things at that particular time to rubbish my personality, but the beauty of it is that when I defeated them, going for that mission, they couldn’t come back or use that thing to stop me from going on that mission and I completed that mission – I was going for Anambra State governorship with so many people and I know each and everyone of them with their characters. Eventually, I was paid heavily because I continued to push for the case. I was paid heavily, but they asked me not to mention it in public and I signed a non-disclosure agreement, which I still have till date. So, anybody that wants to go back to my past, I may not have the opportunity, but if those who accuse me in the past come up with anything, I will now bring a document which they signed that they don’t want me to talk in public and I was paid for that. So, I have to respect the contract.
Most people appreciate the fact that during the fuel scarcity, you waded in and you were able to break the ranks of the callous oil marketers. Why did you single yourself out to do that?
The masses were suffering and because the masses were suffering, we needed to alleviate the plight of the masses and the suffering was getting out of hand. One is that we don’t even know who instigated the strike. In fact, it is coming to us now that the strike came from nowhere. So, if it was a scam on Nigerians; Nigerians need to know. I don’t know…
Could it be sabotage?
It should be. I said it earlier on that it’s a sabotage. I wrote it in my press release on Sunday that we cannot be part of the sabotage. But to me, it’s a scam…
Some of your colleagues who you took unawares by your action, are they not going to blame you or even fight you for deciding to do it all alone?
No! Everybody is on his own. Like I said when I took the action; I said I am under obligation to service people that are storing products with me. Because of the size of our operations, there are so many things. We have a facility that stores above Nigeria’s needs. So, there were so many issues bordering on our clients…some of these things could have led to people suing us. So, we looked at the options. But the most important thing is because of the sufferings of Nigerians…
Why is it that a lot of people are jealous of you, they talk badly of you, they always look for a way to fight you? Why do you have so much jealousy and envy and so on around you?
I strongly believe that as so many (people) like me, some will also not like me and like you know, the Igbo people say akubuilo (wealth attracts enmity). When God helps you and you become a success story, so many people will be there antagonizing you, so many people will be there appreciating you; so many people will be saying oh, you are good, you are helping, and when you don’t help them, they will start fighting you. So, it’s a normal thing in the society. Even Jesus Christ was not loved by all!
A lot of people know how much you supported ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid. How did you feel when he lost that election?
I felt bad like somebody who had invested his time, his money, everything, resources…Now, let me even make it clear – when we came in to serve Jonathan Goodluck, it was him alone. Nobody had shown interest to contest against him. We publicized what he did to Nigerians which no one for one day faulted. So, we did our job by showcasing what he did. We ran this thing almost till the end of the year when it was also very difficult for him to contest and we started looking at the security situation in other states. We forced him and said you must run. Because at that time, he was the best candidate and to us, he was the best candidate. Because you can only talk about what you know. So, we ran this thing till the time they said okay, the opposition party was going to go for a congress. We looked at the whole analysis. But before then, we had endorsed him and it was becoming late, so we needed to start campaigning for him; the organization. We looked at the synergy, we looked at what Rochas Okorocha was projecting in his own strategy. He was projecting that he’s going to mop up South West, South South, South East votes and he may even encroach on South West knowing very well that there’s always a divided line. So, we looked at what if Rochas Okorocha uses his strategy to become the president? For me, Rochas Okorocha has issues; I have issues with him because I helped him in becoming the governor of Imo and he has not done well in Imo State. So, I won’t have supported him becoming a president. So, I was watching…You know I’m straight. If Rochas Okorocha had become the presidential candidate, do you think he would have defeated Jonathan? Another scenario is that the strategy on the Northern vote is that it will be split – that Atiku will split his own, Kwakwanso will split his own and Buhari will split his own. And you know in politics so much understanding goes on over night. If it was going to be like that and all the votes will be split, it meant that Rochas Okorocha would have had his day. It would have been between Rochas Okorocha and the rest of the aspirants. So, nobody anticipated Buhari. But immediately Buhari got the ticket, we knew there was an issue. So, we went back. But at that time, it was like a solider that was already in the battle field. You can’t come back. And that’s why we never criticized Buhari. We continue to respect him; we didn’t do anything that will harm him. We respect him…
How do you hope to cope and deal with this new administration considering the fact that everybody knows how much you supported PDP? How do you think you can maneuver your way in this new government if they decide to move against you?
One is that I don’t have any skeleton in my pocket (cupboard); two is that I don’t depend on government patronage. I have my business that sustains my livelihood as a family man and then as a person. I have never been a man that chases government. So, government will respect me. I have my fundamental rights, I have my business rights, I pay my dues (taxes), I don’t go to seek government’s patronage. And why must Nigerians be thinking that any time a new government comes in, then people…they will start jailing people? No! No president will start killing Nigerians. In America, there are divided lines during politics, but once the election is over or after politics, there is one president, there is one nation. Everybody respects the president. Or are you telling me that everybody that has done opposition to American president or British prime minister or even in other countries in Africa, immediately they get into power, they will just jail them and kill them? No! They will even like me for standing on my person, if really they understand this business very well.
Have they approached you to switch over?
Nobody has approached me. Maybe I’m not attracted to them, I don’t know (Laughing).
People believe that the politics of Abia is a very complex one. What role exactly did you play there to deliver it to PDP?
Well, I’m a party man. Remember I was in Labour Party. When I came, I became a PDP man and one thing is that I am like a soldier. I only know march forward. When the president lost, remember, I still went into Lagos, I fought for my party. I delivered my party in Lagos. I went into Abia, because during the time I was in Lagos, Abia was also on their own. So, I didn’t have the opportunity of playing in Abia, because I was concentrating on Lagos; because from Anambra State where I come from, we had no governorship election. So, immediately they had this supplementary election, I went in there and then I helped. I helped in many ways. The same way so many people went to Imo State. I know of Ngige, I know of Muoghalu, they are all from Anambra State. They were electoral officers for Rochas in Imo State. So, I went for my party in Abia State and by the grace of God, we worked over night and helped, using our structures, TAN, party, everybody to help deliver him…
In Lagos at some point, you became the issue, especially during the governorship election and when you threw your weight behind the PDP candidate, Mr. Jimi Agbaje. How do you feel that your candidate didn’t win and how will you feel if the APC candidate decides to move against your business or businesses?
That is the same thing that I’ve said – it is only when I have skeleton in my cupboard that I will be afraid. When it’s party business or politics, it is a party affair. In fairness to all of them, I tried to reach all of them. Tinubu is like a godfather to me, Fashola, His Excellency, is a very good friend. I reached all of them, but I don’t have a relationship with Ambode. I met everybody. I remember that even His Royal Highness (Oba Rilwan Akiolu) called me and I went to his palace. But the point remains that I asked a question when I was approached by some of the members of APC. I told them that I know that APC is very strong in Lagos, but we will not use because they are strong and run away from the battle. That we have some issues – the issue is this – one, we are in a place highly populated by the Igbos; you cannot give a ticket to an Igbo man or non-indigenes or where is highly populated by the Hausas; you won’t give a ticket to an Hausa man. But today in the world, an Igbo man is vying to become the British prime minister in UK, Mr. Chuka; a Yoruba man, a Nigerian bought Heathrow Airport, a terminal in London. The president of America today is an African. And we are preaching change, we are preaching democracy; change will start from this. And that is my position. Change will start from this kind of thing. So, if you start it, then other people will emulate, because you are the hero of change, you are the god father of change.
A lot of people are saying that because God has been extra-ordinarily nice to you; you have no business dabbling into politics. Why are you into politics? What are you doing in politics?
I went into politics for two reasons – one is this – I was attracted into politics because I was a bit lazy. The Nigerian government’s policy made me to be lazy. No good businessman will be doing this – government gives you allocation for 90 days, they will give you 2 days capacity for 90 days, so once you finish the 2 days, you will wait for 88 days, idle. So, if you are idle, you will have to look for something to do or do you want me to become an armed robber or do you want me to be going to parties? So, I had to look for something that is interesting. Politics is…
What is the second reason?
The second reason is that I care about my people. And the truth is that I know what I will do in politics to change the face of Nigeria. I would have been one of the first governors that would have introduced competitive governance, I would have been the first governor in Nigeria that would have made a change on the wheel of governance. Why? I would have been the first governor that will say I don’t need federal allocation. Federal allocation does not encourage competition. Government can keep the federal allocation to pay salaries and all those things while they give me bond, which I will go and use; go abroad and source for people that I will partner with. What we share here as federal allocation, if you can cumulate it for 12 months and give a bond, you can use that bond abroad to also attract investments that will be times two of that and you can reap it within 6 months. So, you use 12 months bond to generate times two or times three of that 12 months bond within 6 months. And that makes sense as a businessman to me and that is the way to go. It would have made me to re-engineer the infrastructural development of my state, where my state will be depending on our structures, not on federal government. And look at it today, who has done this among the governors? Can you show me any governor that does not depend on federal allocation? Today, the oil boom is over, everybody is complaining. I for-saw this and that was also why I went into politics to help my people. If I was interested in politics as a do or die affair, I would have been a senator. Ask the people in my state. Nobody would have won me as a senator in my state. And even those that contested, they were asked in public if they will win me, they said no. And that gave me…you know when you are humble – I left it for them. It’s not a do or die affair. Nobody in my state has emerged a gubernatorial candidate and never contested in the senate election. But I did it because I am contented, I don’t need to run for everything. There’s one that I want; if that one comes, if God says I should go for it, I will go for it. And remember, if I was desperate, I would have fought for APGA ticket, which was in my hand; I would have fought for PDP ticket, which I had a better structure to grab when I contested. It was about me finishing the race, establishing myself for my people and I was not doing it as if…That is why after the election, till date, I’ve not made one single statement or issued a press release. There was just a little statement we issued, saying that this is not correct. And remember – I did not participate in the supplementary election in Anambra State. So, when I saw everything, I handed them over to God and that is me. You may go back and investigate. Have I been fighting the governor, have I ever made one statement against the governor, have I done anything contrary or against the governor? So, I’ve remained myself and then what I did was to shift base and then I started marketing Mr. President. It’s all about projecting, marketing him, showcasing what he has done for Nigerians and at the same time making people to love him. Simple!
When we spoke on the phone, you told me that you’ve never benefitted from the government; that TAN was or is not a profit-making venture. Why do you think people should believe that, because a lot of people believe that government was funding TAN?
That is why I said it wasn’t. You know the kind of money that TAN spent in this election, if anybody can come and say this is where the money came from…because the money, either it was given to me in Dollars, in cash or it was wired to me or it was given through a business and all these things…It’s even a very small issue, because for the 6 years of President Goodluck Jonathan; I even took it back to the onset – from the time he was acting president to president till the end of his term, if anybody, if anybody finds anything that can justify that government funded me, then I will know that my name is not Ifeanyi Ubah. That’s No. 1. No. 2 is this – I have been under pressure, I have been tempted to comment on all these issues. Remember, before the election, APC wrote that I should have my day in court, that I should justify N25 billion I had laundered for Mr. President. I never replied them. I remember also chairman of APC said once that I am subsidy, subsidy and I pitied the chairman because he does not understand. He’s acting. Two wrongs cannot make a right. And I also had to respect his age. I never replied him. When they did their advertorial, APC advertorial in Nation, I think it’s February 5, I never replied, I never commented. I was focusing on what I was doing and at the end of the day, I believe that it’s God that made Buhari to become president and you cannot change the moving hand of God.
You cannot take yourself away from the government of Anambra State. Even though it’s still too early, what can you say about the government of Chief Willie Obiano?
One, Willie Obiano, I don’t have anything against him. In fairness to him, he has done well. Why am I saying he has done well? It’s that I can see some bridges being constructed in Awka, our state capital and he has also sanitized our state in terms of flushing out criminals. He has done well. But also he has not done well in not accommodating or asking those that contested with him how they can work together and I’m not also asking him to…In my own village, in my own town, I have not seen the presence of government in the last 10 years and he would have asked me, and like he asked other people, what can I do for them? So, I have not done anything, I have not challenged him; not because I can’t challenge him, because I still have a case pending in court, where I said that I didn’t contest that supplementary election with him. But like you know, I don’t want to push it. I want it to go normally. If the court feels that I’m not right, they should discharge my case. But I’m not also publicizing it, trying to disturb the peace of Anambra State. But one thing I have seen is that so far so good, he has done well. In the things he has done, in terms of the development of the capital city, in terms of that road he is doing. We didn’t have things like that in the past and then his commitment to cleaning out armed robbery in Anambra State, he has also done well.
What do you think is the best way to tame the menace of fuel scarcity as a key player in that sector?
It is just the same thing like when we had only NITEL in Nigeria. There were times they will say oh, the switch is not working, but immediately telecommunication was deregulated, the problem was solved. Today, you see Glo, MTN, Airtel, Etisalat, all bringing different structures, different styles. So can it be if the sector (oil) is deregulated. Some people will be selling N88.50k, some people…Do you know that if you want today to look at (monitor) filling stations, take a jerry can, go to station A, buy; go to station B, buy, to know who is selling the right stuff. But many people don’t have time to do things like that. You will go here, you will buy the same N87, but what you are buying for N87 is 4 litres, instead of 5 litres. So, you need to do your checks. Now, if you deregulate, it will be very clean. Somebody will sell for N88.50k; that 50k matters to so many people; the other one is selling N89, the other one is selling N88.90k. It’s just 10k difference. But that 10k drives customers. So, there will be innovation now. People will also have different options, people will create labels that will attract people; people will start going into refinery, because the market is free; investors will start coming to go into refinery if the market is free. People will start building filling stations. At least, they will know that you are not going to build these filling stations in your village and there’s scarcity; people will start building depots in the rural areas where they will truck their products and then go and dump, so that people will be buying. So, there will so much interesting factors in the project and then there will not be this fuss about subsidy. Do you know how people get this money? People go in and claim billions and billions of naira without doing anything, and Nigerians are paying. But, is it reflecting? Buhari is coming into government now, so everybody must tighten their belts…
Are you for deregulation or not?
I am totally for deregulation. Anything outside deregulation is killing Nigerians. It’s a virus on Nigerians.
The appointment of Mr. Lawson Obasi as the president of IPMAN (Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria), what is your take on that?
I am also part of IPMAN. I know that he has a judgment that gave him the mandate as the president of IPMAN and I also know that the issue about IPMAN, for me, is an issue of ego between two brothers – Okoronkwo and Lawson. Lawson, being the elder, Okoronkwo being the junior. So, I’ve tried to intervene, asking them to sheath their swords and then let us go in the interest of pece. But at the end of the day, government recognized Lawson who initially had the judgement.
We’ve been hearing about Ifeanyi Ubah Football Club, how you took over Gabros Football Club and rebranded it. Your interest in football, how did it start? When did it start?
I was once a footballer (Laughter) that is known. Not only in my village, but also in my town, Nnewi; in my school days and even Anambra State. I played YSFON for Anambra State, I was in the Anambra team, I was in Flamingoes of Nnewi, I also played for OMGS, my school…
I was a goal keeper (More laughter). I was a goal keeper, and a very strong goal keeper. I was one of the best in the whole state. If I can be the goal keeper of Anambra State, in my town Nnewi and then my school and at the same time YSFON, Anambra team, you can appreciate that. But eventually, as an Igbo man, an Nnewi man, I switched into business which is our second gospel and I’ve always enjoyed the game. I have my mates still playing. So, when I had the opportunity…and I now looked at the declining nature of football; a former champion of Africa can’t quality for the next edition. I also remember then – if Rangers is coming to Lagos to play Super Stores, you will see people, Onikan Stadium will be full. If Rangers is playing, everybody will leave from Nnewi to go and watch Rangers with Shooting Stars, watch Stationery Stores or Leventis or Abiola Babes. You know the old good days. So, I said well, we can bring in our CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility here and that is what dragged me into football. But I was very lucky. I got the club when they were in the lower division, so I helped the club to achieve their premier division dream, through my little sponsorship and things like that. So, immediately they won, they got into premiership and we struck a deal that I will take over the club from Gabros. So, the first thing I did was to send the players abroad, to Italy and Greece and they played seven matches and won all the matches. They came back to Nigeria, they played what we call Super Four and they won Super Four. Super Four is the first two from here, first two from there and they won. By winning Super Four, it is obvious that they can also win the league. So, we will continue. The more they are getting good results, the more I am energized to do more. And I hope that by the grace of God, we will make a great impact this season.
God has been extra-ordinarily nice to you, He has done practically everything for you. What is that thing that God still hasn’t done for you?
Hmmmm! Well, I’m very grateful to God. At least, you know that I have a very strong religious background – my parents and myself. You know also that I’m building a cathedral for God, to thank God for His mercies and I am very pleased that God granted my request to have that opportunity. You know that nobody has ever built a Catholic cathedral in the entire country. Even in Africa. Except the former president of Cote d’Ivoire, and as a president; not as an individual. So, I said what can I give God? To thank Him for His mercies over my life. So many times you will hear that I escaped this, I escaped that…The Bible says thousands will fall on your right hand, 10,000 on your left. So, they come in their thousands and they don’t affect me. So, I said God, for all these things you have done, I need to thank you, I need to build a church. But so many people are building churches. What will I build? Can I give Him everything? So, I got…You know it’s not easy to do this; you don’t just go and say I want to build a cathedral and they will allow you – because cathedral is the mother of all the churches in your diocese. So, it was a miracle for me that I got the approval to build that cathedral. By the grace of God, we are looking at November 1 or November to see if God will help us to finish the cathedral and you will come down to Nnewi to understand why I have to appreciate God. I also have a very wonderful family. All these things that you hear, they are always at the background – my wife (Ebele) taking good care of my children. I have wonderful children, I have four boys and a girl. So, as an Igbo man, I have four big boys and you know what it means. Such wonderful gifts from God. I have people that will always be there, that will be around me, because if I had four girls and a boy, they will go away and I will only have one boy. But God gave me four boys. So, that time (in my old age), I will go to this boy’s house, move to that boy’s house and everything will be within my vicinity. But if it is girls, maybe one will go to America, the other one will go to Canada, because they must all follow their husbands. But for the men, our culture, we are always at home. So, you can see that God has blessed me in many ways and I will forever be grateful to God for all He has done. Today, outside two political parties in Nigeria, TAN is the next in term of reach. It’s a value – and this is somebody who has tasted politics for only 2 years. For us to achieve that with TAN; I mean, TAN is not just about me today; I don’t own myself, I have people, I have millions, millions, millions that are members of TAN, that are Nigerians. So, when you see Ifeanyi Ubah trending, No. 1, in the social media, in Nigeria, it is all about my members. On Sunday, we trended No. 1. You can go and verify this. On Wednesday, we trended No. 3; same Wednesday, Capital Oil & Gas trended No. 5 on Twitter. If you look at the statistics, it’s not because someone is talking, it is an international organization that owns Twitter. It shows that yes, this guy has followers. And I don’t talk to press. It’s not a hobby to talk to press. For one year, I never spoke to the press. So, for me to talk only on Sunday and I trended as No. 1 shows you that TAN people are all over Nigeria responding to their person.
Any advise for Buhari?
Buhari is a good man, he’s a righteous man. I pray that he continues being a leader that people can trust. He has demonstrated it before, but then under military. Buhari attempted this four times. Abraham Lincoln fought for this ten times and he remains the best president of US. So, for these four times, that is why I am in love with him. You see, today, I can say that because he has become our president-elect and my loyalty has shifted to him. And because I love him, I will not want him to be caged by politicians or by marketers or by any force. We will all be there to support him because you must support the president, you must support your nation. Remember, after God, it is the government, so we must support him and secondly, to show Nigerians again that people should live within their means. All these monopolistic tendencies of Nigerians, if he can do it, let him liberalize it. A tree cannot make a forest. But if he comes in to play sides with the monopolistic Nigerians; if I have something that is supposed to be a monopoly, let government tell me to deregulate it, let government create multiple people and let the Nigerian economy be deregulated totally, let us not leave essential commodities in the hands of individuals. American government cannot do it, no government in the world does it and Nigeria should not be left out, because this time around, we are going to focus on the economy, because the oil is not there again. Even the Nigerian oil is not the preferred one any more in the world. So, even if you produce, we will still have the difficulty of selling our oil. So, we must come back to the economy, we must come back to commodities, we must enhance competition in every sector so that it can promote…I don’t believe in the argument that says you have to protect one man, one mega businessman because he has invested so much. Let him sell it to the public and let them also give the public the right to do the same thing in their small capacity.
Lastly, what is your advise to Goodluck Jonathan as he bows out tomorrow?
The first is to look at who are his genuine friends and seek how to mend fences with them. No. 2 is that he should stay away from Nigerian politics and then take time to calculate his positions very well. For now! So that he doesn’t draw himself into unnecessary controversies. Three is that he must remain a friend of government and not create people that will be fighting the government on his behalf. Four is that I pray and wish that he will deregulate before Buhari comes in. But if he leaves it to Buhari, because Buhari is an honest man, Buhari will deregulate and Nigerians will still believe him. Because he (Jonathan) understands – he has fought the battle of deregulation. So, he should give us deregulation as a parting gift. That is what I have for him.