By Kazie Uko

Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex C. Otti, OFR, turns 59 Sunday, February 18, 2024. This might come to many as a surprise considering that the name, Alex Otti, has been ringing a bell for a long time, more persistently and loudly in the last 10 years, the period within which he threw his hat into the ring of politics to contest for the governorship of Abia State.

Before becoming a ‘politician’, Governor Otti had made his mark in the private sector as a highly sort after banker, who eventually became one of the most successful and celebrated bank Chief Executive Officers in Nigeria.

With a humble beginning at the Nigerian International Bank (currently Citi Bank), where he honed his skill at the Operations Department, he traversed the banking landscape, stopping by, midway, at United Bank for Africa as a Principal Manager and later moving over to First Bank of Nigeria, where he became a ‘big fish’ as Executive Director after serving merritoriously as Assistant General Manager and Deputy General Manager.

His appointment in March 2011 as the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank (now Access Bank) left many wondering if Alex Otti had lost his mind. How does an Executive Director with a strong potential to become the Managing Director leave a formidable brand as First Bank of Nigeria to accept an offer to manage a struggling family business, owned by someone else? But this was Alex Otti thinking outside the box as he often would.

Governor Otti’s years as the Managing Director and CEO of Diamond Bank eventually became the crowning glory of his active banking career. He took the relatively unknown bank, which was stereotyped by many as a tribal, sectional entreprise, from its struggling loss position and built it into the fifth most profitable banks and one of the eight systemically important banks in Nigeria within a short period of about three years.

The former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Diamond Bank, His Royal Majesty Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe (the Obi of Onitsha), while extolling Alex Otti’s enviable achievements in the Bank at a send-off party, held in his honour at Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, described Alex Otti’s tenure as “the brightest years of Diamond Bank’s 24-year history”. Igwe Achebe, a respected traditional ruler, statesman and boardroom corporate titan, is not given to frivolous statements.

Governor Otti’s rise to the enviable height he currently occupies was a product of consistent hardwork, discipline and most importantly the grace of God, which he never fails to acknowledge at every given opportunity. He was born to the family of the late Pastor and Mrs. Lazarus Weze Otti of Umuehim village in Ehi Na Uguru Ancient Kingdom, Isialangwa South Local Government Area of Abia State. After primary school, he had his secondary education at Ngwa High School, Aba and later Secondary Technical School, Okpuala Ngwa, both in Abia State, where he finished as the best student in his set during the school certificate examinations. He repeated the same feat at the University of Port Harcourt, a federal university in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where he graduated with a First Class honours degree in Economics in 1988.

He later earned a master’s degree (MBA) from the University of Lagos and attended various international courses including the Executive Development Programmes of the Columbia Business School, Stanford Business School and Wharton Business School all in the United States of America. He also did an executive programme at INSEAD, Fontainebleau, France. In 2009 he was conferred with an honorary doctorate degree by Babcock University and in 2012, an honorary Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) Degree by the University of Port Harcourt. In 2013, he received yet another honorary doctorate degree, this time from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was this solid background that prepared and helped to propel him to the meteoric rise in the banking industry and corporate world at large before delving into politics.

Governor Otti describes himself as an interventionist in politics. Indeed, many had wondered why he was wasting his time, intellect, hard-earned money and reputation built on honesty, transparency and decency to play in the murky waters of Nigerian politics, as he battled career politicians for the soul of Abia State. But if events of the last eight months, as witnessed, testified and verified by many in and outside of Abia, are anything to go by, then Governor Otti’s persistence and insistence to intervene in the politics of Abia is already paying off.

Beyond the massive infrastructural upgrade of our roads, schools, hospitals and markets; unprecedented prompt and regular payment of workers salaries; ridding the environments of filths and sanitising the administration of the markets and motor parks; taming the ugly incidences of insecurity including the perennial activities of armed robbers, kidnappers, political thugs and revenue touts; one of the major achievements of the Alex Otti’s governorship in Abia, in the last eight months, has been the restoration of the pride and dignity of the Abia person. Abians, all over the world, are proud to claim their origin, once again. Now, a lot more people want to come home, either to come and invest in business or verify the revolution they hear going on in the state.

Truth be told. There is a lot more sanity in the streets of Abia State, whether in the capital and commercial cities of Umuahia and Aba, respectively; the burgeoning towns of Ohafia, Arochukwu, Abiriba, Umunneochi and Obingwa; or the rural urbans and villages across the 17 local government areas of the state. The joy expressed on the faces and mannerisms of the citizens at the sight of their governor, each time the Governor goes on his routine project inspections or visits an area, is palpable, and this to a great extent bellies the general economic challenges that Nigerians are passing through currently.

Times were when sitting governors in Abia State were rebuffed and resented by the citizens, sometimes to the extent of pelting them with satchet water, because such governors were believed to have failed in their duties and promises to the citizenry. But Abia, today, is wearing a new look and has a new face, and the citizens are thankful and grateful to God for the gift of their Governor, Dr. Alex Chioma Otti, the Face of New Abia.

Happy birthday, Mr. Governor!

Uko is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Abia State and wrote from Umuahia.