Sunday Magazine

Peter Obi: Restructuring, state police vital for Nigeria’s survival

Labour Party Presidential candidate, and former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, has been passionate about the kind of leader Nigeria deserves to turn the nation around. In this interview on Arise Television monitored by ANAYO EZEGWU, Obi speaks about restructuring, state police, fuel subsidy as well as reasons behind his tour of some

 

Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, presidential flag bearer of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) said the North will not vote for you and that they would rather vote for a northern candidate, he also said that the South- East has problems such that the North would not be voting a person from the South-East, what is your take on that?

 

Well, the comment from my respected elder brother Rabiu Kwankwaso is the reason why we have 100 million Nigerians living in poverty, the reason why we have 18 million Nigerian children out of school, it is the reason why we have over 55 per cent of Nigerians in the under or unemployment ladde; it is the reason why we have all the problems and why Nigeria is in secured.

 

Because rather than vote for competence, we chose to vote based on a primitive consideration of ethnicity and religion. Tell me, today you can’t travel from Abuja to Kaduna by air, by road and by train. Is it because somebody from the South-East is in charge? You can’t travel from Abuja to Minna by road, is it because somebody from the South- East is in charge?

We had an attack by bandits on the presidential convoy in Katsina, it is because the president is from the South-East. Show me where you can buy food cheaper, where you have uninterrupted electricity or people are prospering in the north because northerners are in power, in the South-West because they are in power or in the South-East.

 

What we have chosen to do in this country is that we have consistently hired vehicle drivers to fly the Nigerian airplane in steady of hiring qualified pilots. My commitment is to lead our campaign and deal with issues of the problems of the country.

There are a lot of problems besieging this country. If you don’t know today, this country will soon default on its debt servicing, so that is what should preoccupy our attention now.

Our schools and universities are shut down and we are talking about who we will vote for. Let us deal with those issues because this election will not be based on my turn, it would not be based on ethnicity, it would not be based on religion, and it will be based on the Nigerian agenda to save this country for Nigerians.

 

Nigeria is in a coma and it needs a specialist and that is what I’m offering to save the life of this country. It is not about where this person comes from. I’m appealing to the people to vote to save Nigeria and to save Nigeria is to hire the best. I don’t want people to vote for me because I’m from the South-East.

I don’t want people to vote for me because I’m from South-South or I’m from South-West or North-West or North-East or North-Central. I want them to vote for Peter Obi because he is a Nigerian, who is competent to start pulling Nigeria out of the m

ess it is today.

 

Kwankwaso also said the Igbo is on the lower ladder of Nigerian politics, tell us everything about this NNPP partnership and everything. Is it still working or is it dead on arrival?

 

I’m not going to talk about the alliance because maybe some people are talking about the alliance but I want to look at their comments. Often a time, we tend to neglect those on the lower ladder but they might be the solution. And those comments are comments that should not be on the table today because we have a problem.

My candidacy is actually meant to solve those problems. They should stop comparing those on the higher ladder with those on the lower ladder because those on the higher ladder are the ones that brought us to where we are today. So, we need those on the lower ladder to be able to deal with it. Let me take on Buba Galadima’s comment which he said I’m competent to be the Vice President because of my knowledge of the economy.

Let me tell you, Nigeria’s problem is the economy. So, why do you want somebody who has the knowledge of what the problem is to be Vice President? That is what I’m saying because he wants to use the people who should be on the reserve bench to start the match. He mentioned that I have knowledge of the economy and the Nigerian problem is the economy.

It is economy because people don’t have jobs and means of livelihood; you push them into criminality, agitation and all sorts of problems we are facing today. And that is what I’m saying that I have the knowledge to start pulling these people out of poverty. My candidate and the team I want to assemble, young sharp people would start mitigating the dangers we are facing today.

And we will start cutting costs in order to pull Nigerians out of poverty. What Buba Galadima said, I will say that everybody has said not just Buba Galadima but what is the problem of Nigeria? We have an economic problem.

There are allegations that during your time as governor of Anambra State you wanted northerners working in Anambra State to wear a batch of identification and that it was the intervention of Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso that you then back down from that idea.

There is also an allegation that you were the one pictured on social media dressed in Biafra wears standing on the Nigerian flag, can you address these two issues?

I would even add that they mentioned the issue of me sponsoring IPOB.

Let me tell you and I have said it, one, go and check the records and facts, I have never been involved in sponsoring any agitation be it IPOB or anyone. I have never. In 2017, which I’m sure they referred to, I made a comment that IPOB and all other agitations are a result of leadership

 

failure over the years that failed to address the critical areas of development. So, all these things are a creation of the government and I can say today that if I were in power I would deal decisively with all agitations through dialogue and through proper leadership. And when I finished with that if there are remaining of criminals in it, I will deal with it decisively because that is what is happening everywhere. I have followed issues of agitations globally because I do things with studies and how they can be dealt with.

On issue batch and identification that is a lie because it never happened. Let me tell you that throughout the time I was governor, Kwankwaso never visited me. In fact, I didn’t meet Kwankwaso until maybe after my tenure as governor. He is somebody that I see as a senior brother and I respect him but he never visited me as a governor or intervened in anything in the state.

And to tell you why it is a lie, all the commissioners of police that served with me throughout the time I was in office are from the north. I never had the privilege of having a commissioner from South-West, South-South because they are all from the North. In fact, two of them are from Kano. My ADC is from Kano. So, who will I order? Will I give them an order to go and deal with their own people?

No, every other governor appoints his brother, sister or in-law to be their ADC but my ADC is from Kano and we remain close till today. You can go and ask him. On the issue of my son, he is not my son. My son is a professional who is consumed by his work.

Let me tell you, I just came back from London and I couldn’t even see my son because he is consumed by his work. I stayed a week in New York and I could not see my son because he was busy doing what he is doing and he does not have time for that.

That flag thing happened in Germany and my son does live in Germany, he lives in the UK and he is consumed by his work. I can bet any amount for anybody to prove or say that is my son. He is shorter than my son.

Social media was agog that you have a presidential running mate already in Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, what is your take on that?

Again you were in Egypt and Morocco recent to study the countries but some people are saying why can’t you speak to the stakeholders here? Why you are going around to study?

The issue of the vice-presidential candidate, we are talking to a number of people and Datti that they mentioned is very qualified. I wish he is the one because it is people like him I actually would like to work with.

 

I wish I can work with somebody that is much younger because we need to start lowering these barriers and bring younger people fresh ideas, with something to offer rather than just keep recycling ourselves claiming we have been there several times or is our turn. We need to start dealing with this issue. So, we are talking to a lot of people and we will announce the person as soon as we are ready, which would be very soon.

 

And Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed is capable?

Of course, I want people who would   come in and say to me, you are wrong and you can’t do this because that is what we need. We need to save this country and you can only do that with a team. On the issue of my travelling, let me tell you, leadership and learning are inseparable.

If they tell you that somebody is doing something well, you go and learn. What are they doing?

 

What are they not doing? Since I started this experiment or got involved in politics, I have been to 31 countries learning. It is important and critical. You asked specifically, I was in Morocco, why did I go to Morocco, just to show you, Morocco is about 36 million in population and their export last year was over $50 billion and they don’t have oil.

 

On our own with oil, we did $30 billion and we are 200 million people. Morocco didn’t export any oil and their natural resources are small. Their export was mainly manufactured goods. The vehicle alone was over $10 billion. Morocco runs the best seaport in Africa doing twice the tonnage of all Nigerian ports put together. So, I have to go there because Morocco is doing so well today that if issues a Euro bond at 2/3 per cent, it would be oversubscribed.

 

But in Nigeria, people are skeptical of buying Nigerian bonds even at 14/15 per cent with a differential of bout 12/13 per cent. I drove from the capital to the port in three and half hours, no police or checkpoints and when you get to the port, you won’t even know that there is anything happening in the port. I was there and I interviewed the people and everything because that was why I went there to know what they are doing that we are not doing.

 

I went to Egypt. Egypt, Vietnam and India, installed the fastest electricity in the past five years. Egypt moved their power generation and distribution from less than 20,000 megawatts in 2015 to 56,000 megawatts today. Those who are asking why I’m travelling don’t know what they are saying because we need to go and see what they were able to do.

Today, Egypt’s power requirement is 30,000 megawatts but its generation and distribution are 56,000. I went there to find out who did the plants, who are the contractors, and how did they get the funding and I have been able to ascertain the plant, went to the company that built it, met with the CEOs of the companies that are involved, went to the power holding company of Egypt, met with the top people in government and talked about the finances in Egypt. I have also gone to Europe to meet with the financiers.

What you see here is that the government always giving excuses for what they saw when they came in, it is better for me to see everything now, calculate the duration which I’m going to solve and then hit the ground running as I did in Anambra State.

 

Some people are saying that you have not talked to the stakeholders here?

I’m talking to the stakeholders in Nigeria and my travel was based on what they told me because I don’t want to enter government and start given excuses. The job of a leader is not to give excuses.

It is to solve a problem and I don’t want to be one of those who are hired to go there and start reminding them where they are coming from. You are hired because the person there is not doing well

 

So after talking to the stakeholders here you decided to travel to Egypt?

Completely.

And the local people did not provide any solution?

They have done their own view but we need to improve on what they have done. Let me give for example the issue of security, I was with the IG of Police the other day, and I asked him how we solve these problems because we must solve them. And there are other people I’m going to talk to because you have to know all these things before you get in not when you get there, you will start saying what you saw. You must see everything before you get there.

In Egypt, they have the same agreement we had with Siemens but it simply has not worked here, why?

Because we are not serious. It needs political will to work. Let me tell you, in Egypt, they conceive the power plant from the beginning to the end because they put power, security of lives and property and education as their national security issue. They found out that one of the things that contributed to riots in 2011 in the country was power.

Small businesses did not have power, so they collapsed and they are dealing with it decisively. If you go to Egypt and see what they are doing in education, health and security, you will know that they are serious.

 

In the last 10 years Nigeria has spent over $40 billion on fuel subsidies, what would you about subsidies, would you remove subsidies, and what is your definite answer?

We have spent over $40 billion in subsidies, but our total education expenditure in the past 12 years is about N8 trillion and N8 trillion is about $20 billion. Tell me, which country of the world, the most two critical engines of development in health and education and your expenditure in the past 10 years is about $20 billion and you spend $40 billion in subsidy.

 

To even add, if we have spent the next $20 billion in power we would have been generating and distributing today 20,000 megawatts.

 

The argument over the years has been that it is labour that is stopping the removal of subsidies and now you are in a party set up by labour and you are a free-market capitalist in the party called Labour Party that is another argument?

 

It is not entirely so; labour has never been against stopping subsidies.

Can you convince labour to remove the subsidy?

 

We will do it properly because if you audit what we are importing and consuming there is no way we will spend this amount and you have to convince the people.

Let me tell you why people are against the removal of subsidies, people are against the removal of anything because whenever it is done, they did not see the benefit. We did privatization, we didn’t see the benefit.

What we did was that we privatized profit and socialize loses. We did other things here that have been done everywhere without any result. If you say you are going to remove this, what are we getting here? The problem we have in Nigeria is that we remove this and nobody gets anything here. So, we are going to do it in such a way that it is going to be transparent.

This is the amount for are spending on our importation and this is the amount we are going to spend and if we reduce it, this is what you are going to get and you deliver that. People will believe you because I have been able to return schools in Anambra State to the missionaries and it was successful. Have read ‘Stinginess as an Engine of Development’ written by my former Chief of Staff?

 

He showed how we reduced government expenditure and showed what we used it to do. Because of mistrust and the fact that the whole thing has been embedded in transactional politics and stealing of public funds because we cannot spend this amount on subsidy when you have education and pulling people out of poverty is suffering.

So you will remove the subsidy?

Like I said before, everything has to be, if this thing is going to happen this is the result.

Would you remove the subsidy?

We have to look at it critically. I will remove it but I have to offer them what would be equivalent to what we are removing.

 

So your answer to subsidy removal is yes and no?

Yes, because I’m going to use the resources to do something that will benefit the people but if I’m not going to do that, I’m not going to remove it. You must be able to offer something in respect of what you are trying to do. I cannot spend $40 billion on subsidies and spend 50 per cent of that on education and health. Even in security because our security budget has not been up to that.

 

Are you saying that subsidy is more important than the security of lives and property? These are things you must do. You must be able to say if we keep this, you will not get this.

But because of mistrust, I have said that subsidy is a scam and I still maintain that stand because we have to look at how much are we importing and who is consuming it. There are so many scams everywhere including in the cost of governance.

We are going to look at it because it is not going to be business as usual. And that is why they are telling you that I’m good at the economy and they know that I can say we cannot continue like this. If I’m qualified to be vice president, I’m also qualified to be president.

How would what you studied in Morocco impact us here should you emerge as Nigeria’s president, we have an underutilized economy how would you address issues of bottlenecks at the port, bottlenecks on the roads and infrastructure around the port?

 

I have been a businessman and I remain a businessman, so I know the enormous cost on businesses and trades because of the bottlenecks at the ports. And I can tell you that this would be decisively addressed. Not only just to remove the bottlenecks but to make ports become what they should be.

Nigeria has what it takes for our ports to contribute at least three to five times of what it is contributing today to our revenue because of our size and we can have ports turnaround and trans-shipment in Port Harcourt.

The deepest part of the ocean is the Port Harcourt area and that can be used for trans-shipment. There is a lot we can do with the port. Singapore today lives on their port and that port is generating around $200 billion in assets and that is what we need to do.

We need to open up the economy of the place and make it productive. Like I said the verse land in the north should be farmland while Kano and Kaduna should be processing centres where we are moving goods for export. In Nigeria, we have verse land and people who are looking for food.

 

These people can be supported to go into farming by having critical policies. If you generate power, you won’t know what power can do to an economy because you will have small businesses springing up all over the place, and small production plants that can help. When we talk about all these small countries that are doing well, go and see SMEs are contributing 60 to 70 per cent of both their economy and employment everywhere in the world except here because we have collapsed. Nobody is supporting them and they don’t have the power, even the big corporations are having problems with the issue of power.

So, we are not doing anything. We are not exporting enough and because of it, we don’t have foreign exchange even to service our debt. There is no reason Nigeria should not be exported at least $300 billion worth of exports annually. Kano used to be a manufacturing centre but all the manufacturers in Kano are complaining.

 

I visited the biggest rice processing plant in Kano last year and I had to support them financially. When people are talking about east or west or north, I visited Umza and we are supporting them financially and they are doing the right thing. That is what we should be talking about not talking about who is from a low ladder or upper ladder. If the man from the lower ladder would do the job, let’s bring him to do the job so that we can solve this problem.

Some of your supporters always attack people who disagree with you, how do you address that militant end of your supporters?

 

I don’t agree entirely because some of those people you are hearing attacking people are not my supporters. They are people who have been paid by my opponents to infiltrate my supporters and do wrong and then they say it is Peter Obi’s supporters. And today people are being paid, in fact, what they say and do to me is far more than what they do to any of my opponents.

People are being paid to say all sorts of things about Obi, labeling me incompetent and whatever it is. Just like the issue of my son. My son like I said is a hard-working young man. Since he left university he never asked me for one pound. As you know my daughter has even come back to Nigeria and started teaching in a secondary school here.

 

So that is how they feel. They are so passionate about doing good for others. That is why you see me apologizing to people and they have even stopped apologizing but this is me, I want to show people love when they show hatred.

 

When you say people in the north would not vote for me for example, they will vote for me because I’m going to solve their problems. I want people in the east to vote for people based on their competence not vote for Peter because he is from the East.

 

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