- Okupe: APC’ll run into trouble soon
Dr Doyin Okupe is a medical doctor and politician. A member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Okupe has served three different presidents and believes he has enough experience to run and change Nigeria for good. In an interview with GEOFFREY EKENNA in Lagos, Okupe speaks on his dream, the PDP, the fate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), among other issues
It is less than two years the 2023 presidential race. People are still hesitant to declare. For instance, in the All Progressives Congress (APC), nobody has come out to say they want to run. It is somebody like you and some other persons that made their intentions known. Why is this time very different?
It is not different. It is just the culture of our people. They want to be seen as not being ambitious. It is an African thing. There is a proverb in Yoruba that says it is the patient person that gets crowned in the North. It is a culture Nigerian politicians have generally imbibed. Instead of saying they want to run, they will opt for mobilizing people to come and beg them to run. These are all ridiculous things. That is not sign of people, who seriously want to do something. There are about to two or three categories of presiden-tial aspirants in the country. There are those who want coronation. Having been everything, they feel the country deserves to honour them by making them president. It is not a question of service but of gratification. They believe that they deserve to rule over Nigeria.
There is another group that feel that they have been everything and this would be a crowning glory. There is nothing else for them to aspire to; that it is a natural step to them to take. That is the second group, who feel that with what they have done and have been doing, the only thing remaining is to become a president of which they must not fail to get.
The third is the group that wants to be known. They want to do it for the record, to get attention, or to get recog-nition subsequently.
Where do you belong out of these three groups?
I don’t belong to any. I am applying for a job from Nigerians. I am asking them to allow me serve them because I have something to offer. I have a pas-sion that I want to fulfill; the passion is just to establish a government that will specifically and especially concen-trate on the welfare of the poor and the needy among us.
There has never been that kind of government before. That is my mission. All other things like infra-structure will come. I am volunteering myself for the real people of Nigeria. I mean the 80 to 85 per cent, who are ordinary and lower-middle class. I am going to be 70 next year. My children are virtually all educated. I don’t need houses any more. I have driven some of the best cars. I have had a good life and a good public life too. I don’t have issue with anything but things have got so bad that it will be a waste if with all that I have gathered and garnered, I cannot boldly step out and say this is what I will do and to ask people to support me to get it done.
I am not waiting for those people that are expecting people to give them a crown. I want to crown the poor. I don’t need the crown but I want to serve the poor. I want to relieve their necessity. I want to relieve their pains. I want to help lower-middle class. What I observed is that people from 45 to 50 should be enjoying and winding down, that is when their children start universities, taking up new responsi-bilities of bringing up an adult. I will take that away from families. Any Ni-gerian child that passes the qualifying exams into a university will go to the university by himself/herself. There will be no need to take money from the parents; an education bank will be created. I will get the Central Bank of Nigeria to capitalize. Once admitted, one can apply online; once the admis-sion is confirmed, there will template and agreement with the bank. Money will be disbursed at regular intervals until you graduate. After graduation, the certificate will be given back to the bank. Then, you go for job searching. Once you get a job, then you can then start to pay back the loan and this can be paid over a period of 10 to 15 years at ease. We need to do things like that in this country.
That is the way it is done in other climes
My son went to Queen’s University in London. He told me that 70 per cent of British citizens in his class think I am multibillionaire to have been able to pay his school fees because all of them are on student’s loans. It doesn’t mat-ter who their parents are; that is one of the ways we can build responsible children. Once a child attains the age of 18, he/she has become an adult and should start fending for him/herself. Parents having sent them through nursery, primary and secondary schools can now begin to enjoy their lives. It won’t be necessary for parents to struggle until old age. People go through life just suffering in the coun-try. This is why I want to run. I want to do my best to put an end to all phases of suffering.
Your idea sounds laudable.
In 2013/2014, the current president came out with laudable ideas for the poor…
He didn’t come up with any laudable ideas. Go and do a checklist of what they said. They were all propaganda like bringing naira to equal a dollar and giving out of N5, 000 for the needy. They were not sincere. They were po-litical gimmicks. I am not talking about gimmickry. Anything I say I will do, I will do it. I have a commitment to it. Nobody is forcing me to run. I am deliberately stepping out and saying that this is my mission.
How is it possible that the govern-ment came in with propaganda and not laudable proper programmes and they won election in 2015?
It was easy. They came out with heavy propaganda and de-marketed the administration of President Good-luck Jonathan very severely and they were successful. They got the best hands for it. They used $10 million to pay Axlerod and they came up with some fantastic packaging. It worked. I am also a professional publicist. What they did worked. On our end, we suf-fered for what we didn’t do and I don’t want to go beyond that. It is not that we didn’t see it.
What we needed to do to counter it was not done. That was
You don’t want to say what was not done…
No, I am more interested in what I want to do for Nigerians now.
Your party’s convention is coming up this weekend. The chairmanship is going to the North. It is expected by tradition that the presidency comes to the South but the way it is, it seems the party is playing a kind of mind game. Even with the chairmanship in the North, the presidency can come from anywhere. As a southern who is going into that race, how confident are you?
I am just believing in God. I am be-lieving in the wisdom of our stake-holders; that reasoning will ultimate-ly prevail over self-interest. I believe so strongly and eventually that the party will pick the presidential can-didate from the South. The party can say everybody can contest; they can also take another decision by saying another thing. There is a Yoruba ad-age that says when trees fall on trees, they are taken up from the top one by one; the one that has fallen last is one of the chairmanship. When that is settled, next is the presidency.
You talk about your social contract with Nigerians. Specifically, what is that contract?
I don’t care what people think and say. I have spoken to so many elderly and serious-minded people. The ques-tions I was being asked is where will I find the money? I am going to run a social welfare administration. I have no apologies for it. I don’t care and I mean it. I am dead focused on that matter. I am not here to talk about huge infrastructure high faluten projects- go-ing to space launching satellite. That is not my business. I want to work on the Nigerian people.
There is no way anything can be done in this country right now if some things are not put in place within the shortest possible time. The first thing is finding a way to heal this country. We have never reached this level of divi-sion before, and then, we have visceral anger against one another. People in government may not accept but every-body knows that this is a fact, and there is anger between the rich and the poor. There is also anger between the young and the old. It cuts across various strata of social living. Nothing can be done unless those things are attended to im-mediately. We will find a way in the first three months of the administra-tion and take steps to begin the healing process. We cannot be healed at once but we will begin the healing process. We first halt the visceral hatred that is going in communities everywhere. Then, we reunite the country…
When you talk of healing, is it about curbing this massive insecurity across the country?
Part of my programme is healing, re-uniting the nation and resetting it on the minimum baseline on which it can operate. Once healing starts, tempers are down, emotions are easier, then you can bring people together. Hav-ing done that, the next thing we would face is insecurity. I have written a letter which I didn’t publish to the President since last week Friday on some of the ways I think we can curb this menace. I didn’t write it as an open letter. I don’t want to discuss the content of the let-ter until there is an interaction between the presidency and I but the next thing to take is the insurgency. From what I have proposed, insecurity can be dealt it within 24 months. I can just give you one or two highlights. I will internationalise the war against terror. It is something that is beyond Nigeria alone. Let’s stop pretending, there is no shame in it because we are not fight-ing Nigerians alone. We are fighting ISWAP, Al Qaeda, nationalists from Libya and all sorts of people. It is an in-ternational thing. Unless help is sought for, we won’t get. The Bible says ‘Ask and you shall be given’. So, I will inter-nationalise and approach the United Nations, African Union and there will be some restructuring in the fighting architecture in such a way that in 24 months, it may not be quelled com-pletely but smudging smokes. Having taken care of that, the next thing will be power. I am not going to wait for that to end before facing another thing. They will be done concurrently. Presently, we are generating between 5000MW and 000MW of electricity which is abysmally very poor. The solutions to some of these problems are empirical but one will begin to wonder why gov-ernment cannot do them. For instance, for many years, pension was a major disaster. Without spending money or training, with just one policy that all pensions should be paid to PENCOM and as at today, PENCOM can boast of about of N5 or N6trillion in their ac-count. One will begin to wonder what had been done for 40 years. Such is the nature of governance in the third world country. What I am saying in essence is that I can increase the power genera-tion in one year from 7,000MW that it is presently to 30,000MW in one year. It is not magic.
I will change the law that says you must get a license once you are gener-ating 1MW. It will be changed to 5MW. The sector is already liberalized. If we say that you can generate up to 5MW without coming to meet government, there are over 3,000 Nigerians who can afford to invest in power because the commodity is high-selling. Everybody needs power, as we speak in Lagos. There is an estate after Isheri that pays about N65 KW/hr, whereas the regu-lar power is between N35 and N45. What they do is that there is a private arrangement with a private energy company for regular supply and light doesn’t go off in that estate. That is on a small scale. There are many Nigerians who are rich that can deploy $5mil-lion into this type of project or prob-ably raise funds from their fans and partners.
Even foreigners will come and invest. People will just have to agree with some private investors on what to pay and there will be regular power. With that alone, power genera-tion can be increased to 30000MW in just one year and all government needs to do is just a pronouncement. I will not stop at that. When we didn’t have the capacity to drill our oil, we invited the Seven sisters to help us do it. I will bring Siemens, General Electric and top power generating companies in the world. I will make condition that will be conducive for them to operate and repatriate their money. Nigeria is a big country of 200 million people. It
is a good place for business. There will be no encumbrances, just like when we started GSM. A deposit will be asked. Once the money is confirmed, the li-cense will be instant and they will get to work. Among five or six internation-al players, additional 20,000MW can be achieved in one year. It is not rocket science. It can be done. It is a matter of deep thought and good policy.
Does it mean no government has thought about what you are saying?
Have you seen any government do it? I am not here to represent any-body. I am just saying that I am going to do it. I have been to the presidency twice. There is no president that I have worked with that I have not been in sync with. We had very strong bond. I know what went wrong; I know what went right. God has prepared me for this position. I have been to the palace twice and I have studied great men who have ruled this country. I have also understudied their policymakers, ministers. I have seen their successes and failures. So, I can act based on that. That is why I am giving this sug-gestion because I have seen it before. I have seen where the lapses are. I have seen where they put emphasis and that were wrong, I have where low-hanging fruits are and they refused to take it. If they read this interview and they do it in one month, they will hail Buhari all the way to Daura when he is leaving because it is not rocket sci-ence. That is for power. Another one is youth unemployment. It is worse in the North. I was there when Boko Haram started. I was there when kid-napping started. It started in the East strongly and they were being criticized but it has now extended to the West. Insecurity started in a remote place and it has spread everywhere. We are like five fingers of a hand. Any prob-lem with one finger will eventually spread to the other one. It will make the hand useless and ineffective. My mindset is to envision the country as one, with God on my side, I will kill poverty in northern Nigeria. You can take that from me. The problem of northern Nigeria is that of sustained neglect and subsequent ravaging poverty. Anybody that wants to help Nigeria must face that issue squarely. Otherwise, one cannot move.
It doesn’t have to do with the religion and culture of the North?
It is poverty. What is the religion in Saudi Arabia? Is Saudi Arabia’s cul-ture not worse than our own? Women cannot drive? It is money. Money will answer the problem of the North. I am ready to invest between £200 and £250 million every year in the North under a marshal plan. I will do a special mar-shal plan for the North. You will ask me where I am going to get the money because there is no money. That’s the truth but there are devices. There are gold, tin, uranium and some precious metals in the North that people are il-legally mining. Foreigners are taking the wealth away. I am not going to al-low that. I am going to come into some terms with the state governments in the North. There will be an agreement.
The issue of state government not be-ing able to pay salaries will be a thing of the past. There will be a way we will generate revenue by jointly investing in mining. We bring experts to run it. Then, the proceeds will be shared based on percentage. I will use my own percentage to finance the marshal plan in the North. It will be a different country in four years. It will be a differ- ent ball game.
Development that will be feasible, available and operational in the North will even make the South envious.
The South will protest…
We are not going to work in the North alone. Equitability is something we must focus on. It is not equitable to do that but for one to rescue the North in the immediate time, otherwise the oil in the South will be useless. We will then address the issue of the oil in the South in terms of how we have also resolved the issue of natural minerals that are in the North. We have to come to some such of agreement with the South too; especially the oil-producing states. My main issue is looking after the poor and the needy. It is my ulti-mate goal, my total commitment, my irrevocable stand, and it will be the major policy thrust of my administra-tion. I am going to ensure that no less than 30 per cent of my national budget is spent on social welfare. If I have got to reduce the recurrent expenditure of government, I will do so because how many people does the government employ? The Federal Government employs less than 15million people nationwide but they are consuming almost 70 per cent of the resources of the country. That is insane. If 80 per cent of our population is poor, that is about 160 million people.
Why should the interest of 15million people over-ride that of 160million? That is why we are poor. So, we have to do something about that. It is not okay.
Where will the finance for the marshal plan come from?
We will look at the many businesses we will diversify into that will generate $200million a day for the government which is what oil does. Not even agri-culture can generate that. That is why this government is borrowing money because there is a huge deficit in what we have and what we need to spend. I checked the national budget which is N16trillion, that is about $27billion. I checked the budget during Shagari’s time in 1982, it was $25billion, in 1982. We budgeted $25billion. 40 years after, we are still budgeting $27billion. Our population has more than tripled. Ex-plaining our poverty is so easy. There is no magic about it. Our revenue base is too shallow, too contracted. It can-not serve us. Otherwise, we will be in perennial debt. I have a very drastic solution. We have to go back to OPEC. We also have to recognize that oil is a commodity that its value is fast dimin-ishing. 40 per cent of vehicles on Bra-zilian roads are using electricity, Italy also similar, Britain is about 20 per cent. In the next 15 to 20 years, few people will be looking for gasoline. The de-mand for fossil fuel is going to come down. It pays us to bring out as much as we can now, and even sell at a lower price than to be playing Ostrich. Like I earlier said, I will go back to OPEC to ask for more slots like one million barrels per day. If they don’t give us, I will leave OPEC because Nigerians are dying of hunger.
Another thing I will do is land clear-ing. I will ensure I clear about one million hectares of land nationwide every year. I am not saying my gov-ernment will go into farming but we will make sure we bring both local and foreign investors together. I have a land somewhere in Osun State and the reason why I missed the last dry season was because they asked me to bring N70,000 per acre to clear the land and if I have 1,000 acres, that will be about N70 million, for just clearing of the land; that amount is enough to do all the farming I have to do. But if somebody from Osun said ‘Doctor, do you have your seeds and fertilizers?’ and I say yes, then they tell me that ‘we will clear everything for you for free or when you harvest come and pay us’ and I will say to myself that in the next six months, I will become a multi-millionaire. The limiting factor here is land preparation and that is where I think the government can help you.
This is achievable. The same applies to the North. If we have hectares of land, we can do sesame seeds, gin-ger on large scale. At the end of the day, an additional $10billion can be generated from agriculture with the proposed $25billion from oil. That will make it $35billion. That is what I mean by increasing the revenue base. Our problem with foreign exchange is linear. It obeys the basic laws of the economy which is the law of demand and supply. The value of foreign ex-change depends on the supply and demand of foreign exchange. If one is able to drive down the demand, the value of the dollar to naira will fall. If it is the supply is increased, the same result is achieved. What are the things causing serious demand? One of it is petroleum products. CBN says 40 per cent of our foreign exchange is used to import petroleum products. If that one is out, that means there is 40 per cent out of demand pull. One does not need science to know that the value of the dollar to naira will crash. What we intend to do is to find a way of bring-ing in the products without foreign exchange. Let us pray the refinery Dangote is building succeeds. One, if it succeeds, our needs for importing petroleum products will cease.
Are people aware?
People know. Refineries are not working. They tried trade by barter be-fore but it was bastardised. I will stop paying for gasoline from abroad. I will go to major oil marketers for exchange. I will agree to give the 450,000 barrels for free in return for refined products. The other ones I don’t need should be sold. At the end of the month, we go for a review for the balance of trade. Let me tell you for a fact that NNPC is lying that we need 60million litres per day.
Secondly, the Nigerian government and local airlines have routes abroad. There is hardly any of the major airlines that don’t fly twice a day. That is about 600 people per day. If we look at the amount in dollars, probably $1, 000 on the average, that is about $6million in a day in one airline and there are three others. That means we will be needing about $25million in a day to service them in foreign exchange.
Instead of doing that, as president, I will call the local airliners; the ones that have the capacity to go abroad. The routes are already existing. We will negotiate and allocate the licenses to them, but there will be agreement on providing top notch services like that of British Airways and others. Also, their planes must be tiptop.
They should come if there are any issues in maintaining their business. We will give them a loan and they will pay us with tickets. I will go to the extent of telling them to sell at cheaper rates so that Nigeri-ans can come to use the local airlines.
For instance, if the economy is $1,000 which is equivalent to N520,000, I will tell the local airlines to sell at N400,000
and the Federal Government will take care of the rest. Our commitment to the foreign airlines will reduce and more dollars can be repatriated, further decreasing the demand for foreign exchange. Another consumption of our foreign exchange is the telecommunica-tion companies. Apart from Glo, all other ones are foreign and they have the right to repatri-ate their money. It is either they go to the stock exchange within six months or they stop op-erating. Once they go to the stock exchange, Nigerians become shareholders. Their equity will reduce, so is the amount of profit they will repatriate. That will also lower demand for foreign exchange. I will also increase ex-ports by encouraging more exports, provided one will be exporting through Central Bank and get your money back.
You have just encapsulated what Nigerians are clamouring for which is restructuring. If you are able to do all these, you would have restructured Nigeria without shouting restructuring…
That is why I said resetting the nation.
How optimistic are you about your party making you the candidate?
If I am the candidate, I am going to win.
Tell me how…
If people genuinely believe in all these proj-ects that I have highlighted, then 80 per cent of Nigerians will vote for me. If I can communi-cate it and I get to their hearts, if I can get them to understand and believe that this is what I am driven to do and that I will do it, I will win the election. It doesn’t matter whether APC is strong or not but if I am PDP candidate, I will win the election in 2023. If it is anybody else, I don’t know but if I am the candidate, I will win.
What’s your expectation about your conven-tion on Saturday?
This convention is a piece of cake.
Do you think APC might run into trouble after Buhari tenure ends…
Before Buhari goes, APC will run into trouble.