Peter Obi is the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) and a former governor of Anambra State. In this interactive session with members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), he speaks on his agenda for the country if elected as president in the 2023 elections. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
You went into negotiation with Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), and it was reported at a point that you offered about N40 billion for Kwankwaso to become your vice presidential candidate. Is it true that you offered that kind of amount and who are the people funding you?
Let me tell you in clear capital terms, I have never knowingly or unknowingly offered anybody one naira and I will not do so in order to become president. I am not saying that I am not going to spend money for the campaign and I am not saying I am not going to buy launch for people but I have never knowingly in all my talks with Kwankwaso or anybody offered any money.
On people who are funding me,; I am happy that I have actually set up a team to oversee all donations and supports to our campaign and that is headed by a number of people and that is what brought Aisha Yesufu into what we are doing to manage the funds independently because I cannot be talking about being transparent in managing public money without starting with my campaign.
So, I can tell you that as of today nobody will say he is the one funding Peter Obi. I am funding myself because of my belief in our cause. All those things happening everywhere is just people who believe in our cause and they give whatever it is from their little resources.
I am encouraged and I assured them that they are doing it for the right cause and I will never disappoint them. There was a time they said I am getting $150 million from somewhere but till today nobody has given me anything. Maybe it will come but as of today, I have not seen anything. Some people say that Diaspora Nigerians are giving me billions but I have not seen any.
But if it comes I will take it and we will manage it very efficiently. We are not going to give it to anybody to step down for me or to work with me. I don’t pay people to work with me, and anybody who comes to work with me will do so because that is our work. I believe that if people are working hard, you should allow them to work with you and I don’t need to know someone before I work with him or her.
You have been talking about moving Nigeria from a consumption nation to a production one; can you tell us how you will do that?
When I talk about consumption and production, it is a very simple thing. Today, we are going through a series of problems but I can tell you that what we are facing is cumulative leadership failures and the foundation of that failure is that we are not a productive nation. If we are productive, three-quarters of your problems would be solved. We just saw the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which said that we have 133 million people living in poverty.
People talk about criminality; let me tell you, if you lock this door and we have no means of livelihood for one week, you will be shocked at how people here can change. Some will take other peoples’ cloth and others will take whatever they can lay their hands on. When people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they will go into criminality to survive.
We can’t have that number of people living in poverty and we will not have the level of criminality and banditry that we have. We can give any excuse but that is the foundation and we need to deal with that. The reason why it is like that is that we are not a productive country.
The only thing we do here is all about sharing. We must remove that sharing formula and replace it with the production formula. I have been to every state of Nigeria and I can tell you what every state can produce something. When I went to Benue, a particular tribe in the state told me that they mainly in Benue and Taraba and that their people are hungry and poor.
When they finished and all they were telling me was how they can get manna from heaven and I said to them, Benue is 34,000 square kilometres of land, fertile land and you are hungry. And they have a population of about 3.5 million, so there is so much space for farming and you are saying that you are hungry. I gave them the example that if you minus water, Benue is bigger than the Netherlands. The Netherlands is 33,000 square kilometres minus water.
So, you can say that Benue and Netherlands are the same size but the Netherlands has 17.4 people living there. So, they have less land space to farm than Bunue because Benue has 3.5 million people and more land space for cultivation.
Last year, Netherlands’ agricultural export was about $120 billion after they have fed themselves and you are here thinking that someone will come from heaven to help you. Just imagine if Benue can do one per cent of what the Netherlands did, it will be $1.2 billion but they say they are hungry.
Look at Taraba, the state is about 54,000 square kilometres of land. Taraba is bigger than Belgium and Israel combined. Belgium is 30,000 square kilometres and Israel is 21,000 square kilometres, if you combine the two, they are 53,000 square kilometres of the land but Taraba is more. Go and check their production but Taraba is waiting to get statutory allocation from Abuja.
Taraba is sitting on the bank of a fertile land, where you can grow coffee, tea and flower. Last year, Kenya made over half a billion dollars from export of flowers. Ethiopia exported coffee for over one billion dollars last year. That is what I mean by production because we have a verse uncultivated lands in the North. The oil we are talking about has given us nothing.
So, the theme of my commitment to Nigeria is to increase production because we are not a productive country. Unless we move into production, we cannot create jobs and feed ourselves. That is what I mean by moving the country from consumption to production. The best you can do as a country is to to feed yourself. If India can feed itself, why can’t Nigeria feed herself?
With Nigeria’s rising debt burden, are you not afraid to become the country’s next president?
If you are not afraid, are you willing to borrow more to carry out your own programmes? The first thing is that there is nothing wrong with borrowing because I have studied and compared Nigeria with so many nations. I told some people that all my life, all I have done is compare one thing to another.
I am not one of those who believe that they know everything and I believe that whoever knows everything is an idiot and nobody should work with him. I have always believed that if I have to do something, I must compare it with other things and everybody around me knows that.
So, there is nothing wrong with borrowing because every nation I have studied in the world has borrowed. Individual businesses borrow all over the world. The problem is what you use the borrowed money to do. America is the number one economy in the world but they owe over 80 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The second biggest economy is China and they owe over 60 per cent of their GDP. Of course, the third is Japan and they owe over 200 per cent of their GDP in debt. Despite this debt, as of 2019, Japan is the highest holder of US treasury bills. They are borrowing and investing money into their economy.
So, what you do with the money you borrowed is always the challenge. If you borrow for consumption, that is where the problem is and the reason why Nigeria’s debt looks very high and difficult to service is that the money we borrowed has been thrown away. If that money was invested, it would have been a different thing and I can show you a third-world country that has borrowed like we are borrowing and what they have achieved with the money.
If I have the opportunity to lead Nigeria in 2023, I will start dealing with the issues of borrowing and investment. Let’s look at the year’s budget, which is about N20 trillion and our deficit is about N11 trillion out of which N6 trillion is for fuel subsidy, which is an organised crime. We have to throw subsidy away and when we do that, we have taken 50 per cent of our deficit.
And by the time we remove the corruption side of it; our deficit can come down to where it will be manageable. We will renegotiate with our existing debtors because we are not going to walk away from it. You can’t tell people that your father who caused a problem has died thereby you cannot pay your father’s debt. We will renegotiate with them because those who consumed the money are no longer there.
So what we need is to renegotiate it to an acceptable level. When you renegotiate, that gives you a breathing space to reorganise the system. We will come up with strict measures that will make sure that all our revenues come to the government and stop the stealing of crude oil. With this, we will get more revenue to be able to manage the government.
I won’t say that I will not borrow because I will only borrow for investment and I will explain to Nigerians the need to borrow. I will have to tell the people the way in and way out of the borrowing because every borrowing must be properly explained to the people because that is the job of a leader. One of the most critical jobs of a leader is communication. You must tell people like I always tell people; I am not saying it is all going to be good. If I get in there, some things could be bad but I have to explain to the people.
When a pilot runs into bad weather, he always explains to the passengers to stay put but what happens in Nigeria is that the pilot is just keeping quiet while the plane is under bad weather and he is not talking to anybody and nobody knows if they are going to live or die.
Imagine if the pilot would say, this is the weather condition, I am going to get through it, our prayers will become less. Because the pilot is not talking, people have already handed it over to God to take control but the person in control needs to talk to them. The job of a leader is to communicate and he must talk to the people because they hired him.
What we are looking for now is a job and when then people employ us, we must serve them. If there is a problem, you must go to them and explain. It is difficult but we will deal with it because nations have gone through issues worse than this and they came out of it. But we must have someone who is clean in the direction he is headed to.
If whatever happens, you don’t win this election and whoever emerges extends an invitation to you to serve to enable you to implement all these brilliant ideas in the interest of Nigeria, would you welcome the idea?
Let me tell you the problem of Nigeria; there is nothing like one plus one becoming eleven in politics because that is actually the problem of Nigeria. If you have a company, would you hire somebody who is incompetent and then allow him to hire somebody who is competent to assist him? That is the problem because you cannot get a conductor to be driving while the driver is at the back advising him.
We want a driver to be in control and the conductor to be where the conductor should be. In 2023, this election is an existential election for our country because we can no longer continue to manage things. The only way it can work and it works is when the person who is in charge understands the issues.
If you know my experience as a governor, you will understand why I said so because I have an idea of what I was going to do. Some people from Anambra will tell you that I quarreled with everybody. I recall that a very prominent man in Nigeria called me when I was impeached and asked me a question: Why were you impeached?
After I told him the reason which many Nigerians know because it is a case of a driver carrying passengers going to a good destination but they have all since pass their destination, so what would the driver do, throw away the passengers or what.
So, we need a president, who understands what the issues are. The reason why the country is not working is that we have seen competent people serving incompetent people, and where did we end up! Sometimes we see competent people confusing the person who is in charge. That is why people say that there is a charm in Aso Rock but there is nothing; it is just a case of incompetency. We want to have competent people in government, so that we can be able to know that this is it.
Nigerians cannot afford electricity for small businesses and so many other deficiencies; how who you address the issue of electricity if elected as president?
The first thing we need to do is to have a country where there is law and order. There is nothing in generating power but the problem is that we don’t have a leader, who understands what it is all about. I was at Prof Barth Nnaji’s power facility in Aba the other day; that facility was started over 15 years ago but it is not working because the people do not understand about tomorrow.
That is why I keep saying that you can’t use the process of yesterday to drive tomorrow. Yesterday is gone, that is what Nigerians are saying because technology has taken over everything in the world and you are bringing people who do not know how to use technology. That is where Nigeria is now.
So, we must change it and bring those who know how to use technology. Power generation is not rocket science because I have studied nations and their power generation. Three countries that have deployed the fastest power in the world today are all that you can classify as developing countries. In Africa, Egypt has improved their power generation from 20,000 megawatts to over 50,000 megawatts. And Egypt is about to export power to Europe.
Number two is Vietnam, from 38,000 megawatts to over 75,000 megawatts. Number three is India and people say I should stop comparing but you need to compare yourself to people in order to get better. If you don’t know, approach someone who knows to teach you and they will teach you because the world is open.
Don’t be arrogant about learning because a leader must be somebody of humility and somebody who learns from others. So, I am assuring you of my commitment that we will generate power and there is no way I can be part of the government and we will not generate power.
Today, we have over 12,000 installed capacity but we don’t have the transmission to move that and the distribution capacity to deal with it. So, we have to start with that and support those generating power and do everything possible and I can tell you that within years, we will move from where we are to 30,000 megawatts. That is where we will start because we need it for production because you cannot talk about production without power.
What role will technology play in driving some of these ideas and plans that you have, including addressing security challenges in this country?
You can’t drive production today without technology. We say that we are going to increase our food production because we cannot continue with the cutlass and hoe. We are going to do it by technology. We are going to invest in technology because today’s economies have moved from baggage to technology. If you are talking about security, you have to use technology.
If you are talking about education and every other thing, they are driven by technology and there is even a report that by the year 2030, we are going to have millions of vacancies in technology. So, science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM education is important. So, we are going to support it because all the jobs created today are driven by technology. It is something we must embrace.
What is important is that one of us will be someone you must trust because in all these things we are saying, the question is: Who do you trust to deliver? That is the difference that I am offering. When I was elected as governor of Anambra State, the schools didn’t have computers but it is on record today that I bought the highest number of computers by a sub-national of any country in the whole of Africa.
By 2023 if you resume at Aso Rock as the next president what is going to be the percentage you are going to allocate to women in your cabinet, and are you going to retain the office of the first lady?
Very simple, we are going to involve women and the youth because it is about their future. It is important that women and youths are involved if I am elected as president of this country because that 50 per cent of our population must come into production. About the issue of the first lady, you can only ask where I am coming from.
There is nothing wrong with the word ‘first lady’ but I don’t think that the first lady in America has an office. Her job is to accompany the president to trips and functions but there is no office called the office of the first lady. What we are going to do is to reduce some of these rascality and confusion all over the place and make the place work. And I happened to be the one involved in this issue. I’m happily married and we all have our difference like every other couple but I’m very close to my wife and we quarrel like every other couple. But the truth is that women are more productive than men because if they are determined to do anything, they will do it right. As a chairman of a bank, I had a risk officer, who is a woman and I also has a woman secretary. These are the two people who always disagree with me as chairman. And as governor, from my chief of staff, permanent secretary of government house, head of the service, commissioner for local government, commissioner for education, commissioner for finance and accountant general of the state were all women and I can go on and on. And I can tell you that they were all wonderful people and when they insisted on something they stood by it.
If you lose the election would you concede defeat and how would you deal with the issue of your supporters?
Let me be honest with you, if I can predict tomorrow, I won’t be here with you. I can’t predict tomorrow and I don’t even know who is going to be there in February. The only person who can answer your question is God. On my followers and supporters, let me tell you,
I don’t know them and I am being honest with you. All these people that call themselves Obidients, if I do what other politicians are doing, I will not have them. They follow me because they believe our cause. So, the only thing I can tell them is that I will not fail them and I would rather die than fail them.
However, I don’t know them. So, my job is to continue to assure them that if I have the opportunity, I will faithfully serve them. But how they will react if I win or lose, I don’t know. It has happened to me before, when I started my journey in Anambra State with a small party.
When I went to contest for governor; I have never voted and I was actually a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but when I came for their meeting, the way they were talking, I knew I was in the wrong place. I went to join a smaller party and I had the same kind of following.
People were saying to me that my supporters will do something if I lose the election. But when I lost the election, of course, some of them reacted but I told them that I will go to court. And, of course, I stayed in court for three years but I eventually won. And when I won, I decided that I’m going to serve the people.