The presidential candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the 2019 general election, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, is a development economist, a former official of the African Development Bank Group and one-time Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). In this interview with WALE ELEGBEDE, he shares his experience on the polls as well as speaks on other national issues
You contested the 2019 presidential election on the platform of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and your party polled 97,874 votes to come fourth in the election. What was the experience like?
Well, going by what the Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) published, we came fourth in the presidential election. But if you realise that in my own region of Southern Kaduna, which is my political base, I was awarded zero votes should tell you something. I am very popular with the youths of Southern Kaduna and the fact that I was awarded zero votes should tell you that something was totally amiss.
If my votes were actually counted on my own home turf I would have emerged at least as number three, not four. We were short of funds and could not launch a serious national campaign. All the funds that we were promised by our sponsors did not materialise. I did not steal public funds, which I stashed somewhere with which to bribe the electorate. So, we were hamstrung. The fact that we got so far despite the challenges is a sign of hope in dark times.
In your assessment, how did INEC fare in the elections, especially with the outrage that trailed the one-week postponement of the presidential election?
I am sorry to say that INEC fared very poorly. This is probably the worst elections we have had in living memory. In the first place, millions were technically disenfranchised by just not being registered to vote. There were egregious anomalies in the registration process. Some regions were favoured over others. There were regions were INEC officials took the registration machines into peoples’ homes to get them registered. In the areas that were not favoured, on the other hand, people even resorted to bribing INEC officials in the hope of getting registered.
I personally witnessed expectant mothers waiting in the sun from dawn to dusk, under inclement weather, just in the hope of getting registered. Most were never registered. There is also the old trick of bringing voting materials deliberately late in areas that are not favoured. No one can convince me that INEC was an impartial arbiter. They were not.
With the experience garnered before, during and after the elections, what are the issues that you think should be addressed by INEC and the Electoral Act before the 2023 elections?
First of all, we must pass a new legislation to remove the power to appoint INEC Chairman from the executive. It should be a decision of the National Council of States. There was a constitutional convention that the chairman ought to come from the area other than that of the incumbent president. This was contravened in the current case. In addition, we must revise the Electoral Act to ensure that voting could be done electronically instead of the current expensive and wasteful approach. Registration of voters should be a year-round process, as obtains in all civilised democracies. It should be a right, not a privilege. There should also be stiffer penalties for the use of money during elections.
There are reports that the leadership of your party may expel you from the party. What is your take on the supposed crisis between you and some leaders of the party?
I am hearing this news from you. I am not aware of any crisis in the ADC and I do not have any problem with anybody as far as I am concerned. We were dragged into the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP). I was told of the existence of that possibility even before I went into the primaries. But I was promised that the process would take a democratic, open and accountable form. It is a moot point of this was the case. Whatever it was, I ended up being literally a lame-duck candidate. It is not my style to heap abuses on colleagues. I believe in collegiality and I will never knowingly cast aspersions on a political party that brought me into limelight politically.
During the electioneering period, we were also massively constrained financially. It was not the party’s fault. I am not blaming anyone. Maybe I should have done more rigorous homework before plunging into the political arena. Maybe, now that the elections have come and gone, this is the time for stock-taking and deep introspection. I have taken time off to pray and meditate on the meaning of what has transpired.
What is your take on the nomination of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for a second term by the President? Do you think it was deserved?
I congratulate Mr. Godwin Emefiele on his appointment for a second term. The work of central banking is a serious business. The prospects for the economy depend largely on the decisions that are made by the apex bank. It is the prerogative of the President to hire and fire. He must have determined that the incumbent has done enough to merit a reappointment. It is not for us to second-guess that decision. We wish him well. Like other economists, I worry about the multiple exchange rates, which open doors for corruption and rent-seeking behaviour.
I worry that CBN may be falling from its traditionally high standards. I also worry that we might have veered too much from the straight and narrow path and from the Old Religion of the core business. The mandate of the CBN is clear; fighting inflation and guaranteeing price stability; security the integrity and stability of our legal tender currency; safeguarding financial system stability; serving as adviser to government; and ensuring a safe and efficient payments system.
In our day and age, there is talk of a Dual Mandate anchored on promotion of employment and growth, which remains critical issues for Nigeria. In addition, the best central banks in the emerging economies understand that they also have a developmental role. That can only happen when we have an apex bank that is anchored on the traditions of excellence and professionalism. We need to reinforce policy credibility by ensuring that the apex bank is not captured by vested interests, whether banking or political.
Achieving all this will require uncommon leadership, vision and patriotism. We also need to think outside the box, for example, developing a long-term strategy to make the naira a semi-convertible international trading currency. We need to also assist in steering our economy away from over-dependence on oil. We need to diversify the economy and prepare for a post-oil world economy. As patriots, our duty is to support the CBN governor with good ideas, so that we can make progress as a country.
Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, recently said Nigeria might enter into recession again. Do you think he is right?
I am not aware that Governor Yari is an economist. I think he has enough on his plate than to worry about the economy going back into recession. But he has a point. Ours is a rather fragile recovery. If we do not build enough momentum, we could see the economy slipping back into recession. In his home state of Zamfara, we are seeing a gruesome level of violence that is unprecedented. It is taking a heavy toll on rural communities, especially on the peasant agrarian economy.
Other places such as Birnin Gwari and Southern Kaduna are experiencing the same carnage. If the phenomenon of rural banditry spreads it could have a heavy deleterious impact on agriculture, which is the mainstay for the bulk of our population. It could easily undermine the prospects for recovery and growth. There is also the problem of geopolitical uncertainty. A lot of the political elites have taken it upon themselves to heat up the polity in some guises. It has led to capital flight and rendered the capital markets rather comatose.
When you combine that with indecision and prevarication on the part of the government, then you have a recipe for economic disaster. We therefore must buckle up. The first duty of government since Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson is to keep the common peace and to enforce security for life and property. We must also put in place focused and comprehensive policies to spur growth and ensure long-term economic prosperity in an atmosphere of peace and social justice.
There have been reports of a plot to overthrow the government by some elements in the military. What is your take on that?
I have never heard of anything like that. May be you can tell me where you got your information from. I hope you are not waking up from a very bad dream. Please perish the thought. It would be an unspeakable disaster – a retrogressive doom for our young democracy.
How can the monetization of our politics be reduced to the barest minimum and are you also broke after the election like some of your colleagues, who were in the race?
Let’s be realistic; politics everywhere is an expensive proposition. In the United States, it runs into billions of dollars. Same goes for other mature democracies such as Britain, France and Germany. But what happens in those mature democracies is that there are clear rules. I do not think the resort to direct bribing of electorate as happens in Nigeria, where “stomach infrastructure” has become the norm. The monetisation process starts at the primaries, where a lot of money changes hands.
People haggle over how much candidates are to pay them. Some delegates openly told me to my face that I would not get their votes because I did not pay enough. They kept to their word. But there is also an encouraging sign. Some of my highest votes came from Ogun, Osun and Oyo states. The voters there are matured enough to look at the ideas, programmes and principles of a candidate rather than how much he is able to cough out.
There are posters to printed, TV and radio jingles, tee-shirts and other paraphernalia. There are also so-called “party agents” that must be paid. Electioneering campaigns are not for the fainthearted. There are also all sorts of political jobbers and free-riders. They will turn up at the wee hours asking for hotel accommodation or air tickets back to their destination. You do what you can and leave the rest to God. Some will be openly abusive. You need grace to answer them gently, so that you do not make enemies for life.
I took account of financial costs before throwing my hat into the ring. As a good economist, I try to manage my finances carefully. I am a father, a husband and a family man. I have to be responsible for the upkeep of my family. I have never believed in borrowing from a bank or selling my properties to do politics. By the grace of God, I am financially comfortable. I find that most politicians are not financially prudent individuals. Some of them are incredibly irresponsible.
They live from hand to mouth. They go for quick bucks. They will do anything, including selling their mothers for easy money. They are like the proverbial harlot. That’s why you can buy them so cheaply. For myself, I live a simple life. I live within my own means. Whatever I earn, I try to invest it wisely. I keep my politics away from my family life. And I try to live by what the Holy Bible teaches and what the Holy Spirit convinces me of.
Do you think the demand that the National Assembly should cut their salaries and allowances is in good faith, especially with the reported N4.68 billion to 469 members as a welcome package?
Last year, when I had an opportunity to speak to parliamentarians on the budget, I said it openly that they owe us a duty to be transparent about all their emoluments. If we believe parliament to be spring of good governance and the rule of law, then charity must begin at home. I told them I do not begrudge anyone how much he or she earns. What matters is that they come clean about it.
I start from the premise that we do not have to pay our legislators a pauper’s wage. But at the same time, it should not be an avenue to make anyone a billionaire. A major issue that requires legislative revision is the clause regarding the role of the National Assembly in the appropriation process. It has led to a perverse situation whereby the legislators can unilaterally increase the budget for whatever reasons. In most democracies, parliaments can reduce the budget, of course. But I do not think the spirit of the constitution is for them to increase the budget, especially where it favours them directly.
The recent appropriation of N4.68 billion that you refer to is a case in point. When you break it, it amounts to about N40 million that each of those 486 legislators can take home by way of severance pay. In all civilised societies, it is bad form in public administration for anyone to decide how much they ought to pay themselves. In our own case, the law requires the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission to assess whatever amount are payable to the National Assembly as emoluments.
In the matter of severance pay, there ought to have been recourse to a determination by the same commission. We therefore need to put in a new legislation requiring that nobody, not even legislators, should be in a position to determine any financial allocation to which they are direct beneficiaries. As to the total package for all our legislators, we ought to understand that we are not a rich country. As a matter of fact, in per capita terms, we are among the poorest countries in the world.
An average senator in the United States takes home US$174,000 per annum. In naira terms, this amounts to N6,264,000 (at a market exchange rate of about N360 to 1US$). By contrast, we are told, the typical Nigerian senator takes home N13.5 million monthly. So, a senator in a poor country like ours with a per capita income of US$2,000 takes home in a month double what an American senator, whose country has a per capita income of US$62,606, takes home in an entire year.
We must have a national debate on the matter. We, as a country must therefore debate in all honesty and transparency based on the dictates of prudence and sound public financial management what we can truly afford to pay our legislators as emoluments.
What do you think about calls for the pruning down of political parties in the country given the experiences from 2019 election?
In principle, I think it is an idea well worth considering. But let’s be clear about one thing: The multiplication of political parties has largely been because of the oligarchic nature of the bigger parties, particularly the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC). They have been hijacked by moneybags and godfathers. They have never pretended to any form of internal democracy. Nigerians, particularly the youth, have grown very sick and tired of them.
If you asked most Nigerian youths, they would confess to you that they are looking for their New Jerusalem outside the borders of the two big parties. Our political process has been stalemated by two Siamese Twins that have nothing new to offer Nigerians. You will of course mention the CUPP which has a standing arrangement with the PDP. The way the arrangement has operated so far is that the smaller parties are seen as junior partners rather than equal stakeholders.
However, I do not believe party mergers should be imposed from above. They have to evolve through an organic process of vertical and horizontal integration. They must also have a harmony in terms of ideologies and worldviews. As far as I know, we do not need more than three political parties at this time in our country, one on the left, one on the right and the third on the centre of the ideological spectrum.
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