Tope Fasua is an author, columnist, economist and the presidential candidate of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, ANRP. In this interview with Akanni Alaka of The Nigerian Express, he expressed doubts about President Buhari’s willingness to relinquish power if he is defeated in the upcoming presidential election. He also spoke on the 2019 budget proposal, as presented to the National Assembly by the president and what motivated his ambition to be the next president.
You have been critical of budgets of Federal Governments in the past. What is your reaction to the 2019 budget proposal, as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly, especially in terms of the key assumptions?
Thrice I have been on the streets on this issue of budgets and I have been very clear with empirical evidence and every other thing I can muster and I’m thankful that people like you have noticed because at some point, it is just like I’m doing all those things and nobody seems to care. And what I was protesting was that there is need to fundamentally rethink our budgeting process itself as a whole.
And if you look at it properly, we are so far lagging behind that ordinary Angola, which is 25 million people, is doing double our budget. Even though Angola’s currency took a beating recently, but as at February 2018 when they approved their budget, it was 50 billion dollars, but the Nigerian budget which they tossed up and down was N9.1 trillion and by the time you divide it by 360, it is about 25 billion dollars.
So, I don’t know why Nigerians seem unconcerned. Nelson Mandela was the one that said in that interview with Hakeem Baba Ahmed that he didn’t know why Nigerians are not angrier than we are. But I think I know why – it is because of what these people (politicians) have done: they have activated that greedy, individualistic button in us; everybody is going around trying to make billions. And then, they come around and say ‘there is no work in government. Entrepreneurship is the way forward, go and open a business.’
They tell fresh graduates who have not been able to find their feet to go and establish business and we have our youths now going around feeling sorry for themselves. You go and tell them the story of Mark Zuckerberg and this one that makes 10 billion dollars and a lot of our criminal billionaires that are moving up and down here, trying to pose as if they made their monies in a clean manner, confusing our youth.
Now, they are reducing the budget for next year. I have been on the streets, I have signed a petition, sent petitions to the president, the Senate President, House of Reps Speaker, the committees in charge of public petitions, appropriations and what have you in the National Assembly. I have sent a petition to the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, the DG Budget, and the Ministry of Finance that it is unacceptable. Now is the time for us to rethink that budget and if we say they should move it to N15 trillion, it is just a compromise. There is money in this country.
On what basis are we the biggest economy in Africa when South Africa is doing seven times our budget for 58 million people? Algeria is doing about 60 billion dollars, Egypt is doing about 68 billion dollars, Kenya is doing 29 billion dollars. Nigerians are not slaves, but we have been treated as slaves for too long and now is the time for us to say never again. Now, they have reduced the budget to about N8.8 trillion, which is about 23 billion dollars if you use the market rate.
In 1983, our budget was 20.5 billion dollars, naira was at par with the US dollars. This same Mr. Buhari took the government on 31st of December 1983; Shagari read the budget speech on 30th of December 1983, the next day, they took government from him. We thought that we had, had it bad then.
They were talking of austerity measures in those days. Nigerian leaders deserve an award in knowing how to dehumanise a people. The other day, a trailer fell in Lagos and vegetable oil spilled on the road and vehicles were passing all over the place, and the oil flowed into the gutter, but our people were scooping the vegetable oil from the gutter. Is that not what Umaru Dikko said then that he would not agree that Nigerians are poor until they start eating from the dustbins and from the gutter? Now, we are eating from the gutter – some people were scooping that vegetable oil, putting it inside jerry cans to go and resell.
Well, the government will say the main source of revenue for funding the budget, at least, for now, is from the sale of crude oil?
I am running for the president today to change the thinking of Nigerians. So, how did oil become the major source of revenue for the country? It becomes a major source because those in government can sit in NNPC and then, they will get alert in their JP Morgan account and once they get that alert in billions of dollars, they begin to spend.
Why did Malaysia and Indonesia go into palm oil? Number one is that it costs a lot less to get. Our forefathers have been getting palm oil since the year 1200. The Portuguese have been trading in this country since the year 1400 in the same palm oil. And we know how many people it will employ, so, side by side with the crude oil, let’s also focus on palm oil.
It takes almost $30 to drill one barrel of crude oil, which we will now sell at under $60, meaning that more than half of the price is the cost. And again, we don’t have any input into the technology for extraction of crude oil. So, the white men who own the multinational companies are the ones that hold the technology and if tomorrow, they said they are not drilling anymore, they want to go, we cannot drill one barrel of crude oil. In our budget, the first thing they put there is crude oil, how many barrels a day; benchmark price, but it doesn’t make sense – if you look at that, the budget is flawed from the first line. Why are they even budgeting on the entire production? And that gives Nigerians the impression that every crude oil that we get is ours.
A NEITI report that was released early 2018 stated that between 2015 and 2017, Nigeria got $104 billion from crude oil in terms of revenue. But out of that $104 billion, only $38 billion was due to Nigeria. The remaining $66 billion or thereabout belonged to the international oil companies, so only 36 per cent of the proceeds of the crude oil is ours.
But the Buhari government claims it has been carrying out a lot of reforms aimed at diversifying the country revenue base and increase the tax revenue…
They are not serious.
One of your opponents who is the candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has also argued against the plan of government on taxation?
The people that said they were diversifying are not diversifying anything and the people that are saying they should also not increase taxes are not serious people. Let me even start with the PDP man who is coming into government at this age and time and is telling us how he want to privatize every privatisable and he is saying everything is about Public Private Partnership and he is talking about entrepreneurship, SMEs and how they will be giving people loan. How many of those loans have they given people and look at where we are today.
The same Mr. Atiku said that in 1999, when they came into government, himself and General Obasanjo went to bring some white people to come and understudy the Nigerian electricity sector. He said it in his interview with Modele – Yusuf. He said when they brought those people, the people move round the country and recommended what they should do – things like mini grids all over the country, small, small producers and embedded electricity.
He said that he was for that, but the president said no and that was how they spent $16 billion dollars within eight years for nothing. And within that time and now, we have spent another $30 billion or more, over nothing. But why did they have to go and bring a white man to come and study our country when we are churning out graduates of Engineering and we have professors in the universities?
So, the first thing I can see is that the man has a sort of colonial mentality. The second thing is that I have seen his team go to pose with Alan Greensplan – a man who was disgraced out of the Federal Reserve in the US over what is called the subprime mortgage crisis, which took the world into great recession between 2008 and 2014. That means the man doesn’t know what he was talking about.
Are you against privatisation of state owned assets?
I think whatever you privatised; you have to keep your eyes open. We have sold too many of assets to people who are charlatans, who are profiteers in this country. I will not be putting privatisation as a state policy?
What of assets like refineries that have been major items of loss for the NNPC?
Let me say keep your eyes open. It is desirable to privatise refineries if you can. I am an economist and the way we think, as real economist is that you have to put all the variables on the table. You cannot just assume that there is a silver bullet – privatise, entrepreneurship- everybody will be okay. It doesn’t work like that. A bit of privatisation, a bit of entrepreneurship, a bit of social services – a lot of responsible governance is what we need in this country. If governance is irresponsible, there is nothing else you can do and that’s why some of us are in the fray.
So, what is your assessment of APC government’s bid to diversify the country’s revenue sources?
What they are trying to diversify usually is the revenue sources of government, not necessarily diversifying the economy. So, you can say you want to diversify from looking for crude oil money into solid minerals money. But what they should be thinking more, which is a longer term sustainable and more profound goal is to diversify the economy.
The way you can understand a diversified economy is to study a diversified economy – economies like the US, China, India. When you look at them, you will find that these are economies that are self-sustaining to a large extent. There is nothing wrong with self-sustainability. In fact, that’s what you must first of all work towards.
That for an economy to be diversified or to qualify as diversified, it will mean that whatever a people need, they can find within that economy. You see, as we were devaluing our currency, we ended up devaluing our people because by the time you take those essentials that they need away from them in the name of devaluation, you say you are going to reduce the value of the naira so that our people can produce, but if there is no marked improvement in productivity, innovation, in the complexity of the goods that are produced, you are only devaluing your human beings.
And that’s why we have seen increase in poverty in Nigeria to the extent that as we are taking those things away from them, people can no longer afford to drink milk, go to good schools, mobility, no public transport, we abandoned them in the village, everybody is in the city feeling ‘ghetto fabulous’ and all of that.
So, that was how we devalued our people. In order to diversify your economy, you must think in terms of the shock therapy – the shock therapy that you will use to increase the productivity of your people and you must stay on it. You cannot diversify the economy when the little money available from taxes, government is using it to buy Jeeps, buy Prado for themselves without any compunction; people who are nobodies get into political offices and buy cars of N200 million, N300 million. Why? Nigeria is the most mismanaged country on earth.
One of the ways government is trying to increase its source of revenue is by reforming the tax system, bringing more people into the tax net. How well would say the Buhari government has done in this regard?
In terms of their tax drive, let me take the issue of VAIDS. They came and said they wanted to do VAIDS, But I said then, that this is too premature. You cannot just go and import policies from abroad and slap it on us here. Things like VAIDS – you bring it to a country where there is, at least, 70 per cent compliance with taxation. Not a country where there is less than 12 per cent compliance with taxation and people don’t even understand why they need to pay tax. The people also believed that you are not managing the taxes that they pay well.
But you now go and say ‘voluntary, if you don’t declare,” but that is like giving the people a slap on the wrist, whereas you should be shaking them. Of course, our government people were not even ready to do the right thing – they don’t want policies that will hurt their friends.
They brought that thing (VAIDS) in order to give their people a soft landing. But at the end of the day, it didn’t work. They collected less than 10 per cent of their projections. The last time, they announced that they made N30 billion out of N305 billion or thereabout that they projected. And the money they spent getting that is even probably more than what they realised. Of course, there is no disclosure.
Number two, the FIRS is bragging right now that they will close at N5.3 trillion, but what they are not telling us is that they devalued our currency. If you devalue our currency, you should be running at double the rate. In 2013, this country got about N5.007 trillion. At that time, the exchange rate was about N150 to a dollar or thereabout. In 2014, we got about N4.7 trillion. In 2015, when this government came in, they performed so woefully; they made N3.7 trillion.
In 2016, they made N4 trillion. In 2017, they made N4.3 trillion and 2018, which is where we are now, they are talking about N5.3 trillion. But you should remember that they devalued the naira in 2015, 2016 by almost half, which means they should be running at N10 trillion now if they were serious.
Equally, the Customs Service should be running at the double ( of what they used to make) now. The Customs is saying they made N1.1 trillion this year. But they’ve always made around N1 trillion in the past. Now, everything the Customs is getting is invoiced in dollars because almost all our import is in dollars.
So, if I needed N150, 000.00 to buy $1000 to import something before, now, I need N305, 000.00. Now, you are going to be charging me the same rate on N305, 000.00, which you used to charge on N150, 000.00. Now, when you are charging on N150, 000 you are making N1 trillion, now you are charging on N305, 000.00 and you are still making N1 trillion. There is fraud in this country; there is problem in this country and I will not get tired until all of these things are stopped.
Also, the current government is saying they must borrow if they are to develop infrastructure given the low revenue profile as you have also pointed out above. Do you agree with this and what are the other options you will consider if you succeed in becoming Nigeria’s president?
You can see what I have just said now. There are a lot of things you can achieve in terms of tax efficiency. Number one, the government should tell us why we are losing money to the extent that what we are getting in 2015, we are getting half of it now in real terms and we are bragging.
There is no reason FIRS is not making N10 trillion now given the same parameters and the devaluation of the currency. The currency was not worth what it was worth; give us the same value of what it was worth before you devalued it. That’s what we are saying.
There is no reason the FIRS is not making N10 trillion minimum; there is no reason the Customs is not making N2 trillion – absolutely no reason, apart from fraud or inefficiency. Or they want to confirm to us that the ports are performing at half the capacity?
There are also things like capital gains tax that we are not collecting in this country. Somebody will sell a building for N5 billion and just pocket the money. In other countries, when you sell an asset that is not in your area of business, you pay a certain amount of your profit – 26 per cent is what it is in the UK, they make five billion pounds on that every year.
I interrogated people who work in FIRS. They said it is a difficult tax to collect. But the fact that it is difficult tax to collect does not mean you should not collect it.
There is also the excise duty and that’s why I have a problem with what the PDP is saying because excise duty – which is what you charged on products produced in this country to provide for some of the costs associated with their consumption. For example, beer, alcohol, cigarettes – some people smoke, they have lung cancer or issues with their lungs and they go to your National Hospital or to your General Hospital, you have to make provisions for that.
So, you have to tax these goods. A packet of cigarettes in places like Canada is about N40, 000 in Nigerian currency. And here we are, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, LCCI will say it’s anti investment and all of that. But is not about investment, it is about the plan for the country. So, my government will make a lot of money from investment. I will not mince words – If I become president, smokers and drinkers will pay a little bit more money. And I am not a teetotaler myself. Nigerians pay the lowest price for beer in Africa and, perhaps, in the world.
Why? Are we a country of drunkards? Sometimes, we have a scenario where foreign news agencies will come here and start profiling our breweries, saying the breweries will close down, the investments will go. But our priority is not breweries now. So, there is a lot of money we can make in terms of reorganising the society. We don’t have to borrow. Look at what borrowing has done to us – we are now sitting on $76 billion (foreign loan).
This government has added over $30 billion since it came into office, though they are lying. They said they added only $10 billion and unfortunately, Pastor Osinbajo is the one spreading that lie. PDP, under Jonathan moved the debt profile back to $63 billion and Okonjo Iweala was the one that did that. So, when Amina Mohammed (former Minister of Environment) was saying that Okonjo-Iweala moved us out of debt, we are back in it, she doesn’t know what she was saying. I was the first person that challenged that as factually inaccurate.
Indeed, Okonjo-Iweala was here in 2006 when we got out of the Paris Club debt and reduced our debt profile to about $5 to $6 billion under Obasanjo. But the moment they did that, they started collecting loans again. Yar’Adua collected a bit of his own but he didn’t stay long in office.
President Goodluck Jonathan collected a lot of loans and a lot of the loans he collected, using Okonjo Iweala – they were domestic loans, about $54 billion was in domestic loan; it was about N10 trillion in domestic loans as at that time. If you divide N10 trillion with about N177, you will get like $54 billion. But when this government came, one of the first things they did was to devalue the currency, so N10 trillion divided by 305 will give you over $30 billion. All of a sudden, we wiped off over N20 billion as a result of devaluation because the loans were in the domestic currency. So, now if you now add the over $30 billion, plus N10 trillion of foreign loans, that is about $40 billion.
It is that $40 billion that they have moved up to $76 billion today. So, within three years, we have added over $30 billion to our loans portfolio. And I can wager with you that we can never get out of that loan. These people have sold the soul of this country. We know their addresses; we know their names. I could never believe for the life of me that Mr. Buhari is the one that will put this country in the huge loan crisis and he is saying he wants to come for another four years, which is totally unacceptable.
But in the early stages, you seem to be in support of the Buhari government, offering the government advice in your weekly column, especially on the management of the economy…
We tried to offer them support.
So, what would you say is the biggest disappointment that has made you turn against the administration now?
Yes, I supported this government because I thought they knew what they were doing. I never believed Mr. Buhari would be the one that would ruin this economy fully. I never believed. But you know life gives you surprises and paradoxes sometimes. And that’s why I decided that the only thing I can do is to run for that same position because I am tired of supporting anybody.
Buhari disappointed me on everything – number one, in terms of wasting so much time in choosing those he is going to work with; number two, they did not motivate the people. In the early days, when they would ask Buhari that people were suffering, he would answer that question with a lot of disdain for the Nigerian people and tell you ‘is he the one who caused it?’
In terms of the management of the economy, he has been a huge disappointment, in terms of borrowing money all over the place that we cannot pay, he has been a huge disappointment, total mismanagement of the naira and productivity, failure to diversify the economy, in his appointments, mismanagement of the tax process, revenue and initiatives, in all these areas, he has been a huge disappointment.
His anti-corruption war is a scam – Maina was reinstated under this government, but he was only removed after strident protests by the public. In this same government, we saw Babachir, who was indicted – the president initially said he had no case to answer. The Buhari administration is more fraudulent than the people that have been there before. In war against insecurity, maybe we have seen marginal improvements but a lot of what is going wrong there has to do with failure of intelligence.
So, I cannot believe that anybody can be a big man from Northeast and did not know anything about Boko Haram. And people are using the insurgency to make money. Among the Jonathan people, we saw what has happened – how much money people like Badeh and co took. Unfortunately, the guy was killed a few days ago.
How would you tackle the issue of subsidy in a way that will ensure that Nigerians are still able to afford to buy petrol for their vehicles?
Like I said earlier, crude oil is overrated. A litre of crude is N115, but a litre of petrol is N145, but a litre of palm oil is N600 or more, a litre of vegetable oil is almost N1000, so, why are we subsidising petrol? What have we done for people, who are eating palm oil and vegetable oil? What have we done for people who are using kerosene to cook? There is no need for us to subsidise petrol. The so-called subsidy is a scam.
This government came and said there is nothing like subsidy, but they kowtowed under the influence of their big friends, who are making money from that. We can see they’ve made a provision of $1 billion for this year now. Now, you are budgeting $23 billion. One billion of that you are using to do subsidy, eight billion of that you are using to do debt servicing. How much is remaining? I don’t believe in that and I think we can do something about it immediately.
What government should do and what I will do is to incentivise other areas – agriculture, cheaper foods for people everywhere, even in the textile sector, provide incentives so that people can buy clothes at cheap rates. Housing – these are basic things that the people need – we have never had any plan for housing for our poor people. I was reading how Singapore was able to build housing for their poor people, starting from around 1927.
They established what is called the Singapore Investment Trust, which they started using to do this mass housing. But in this country, government will demolish the houses of the people without providing any alternative. Everything you see around us is luxury housing, and nobody is living in most of them now.
So, there are many things you can incentivise instead of this fixation with petrol. Our issue with petrol is that we are not refining what we need right here – in fact, almost the entire amount of money that we get from the drilling is also what we used to import refined products, so even though at the end of the day, people pay to buy, it is needless. And when you now talk about refining, is this not what these boys are doing in the Niger Delta?
What does it take to refine? All you have to do is heat up the crude oil and the distilling process will give you your diesel, your kerosene, petrol and all of that. It is not meant to be a big deal. My government, the first thing we would do is that all those boys doing illegal drilling, we will see what we can do to standardise the process for them.
The entire South-south of this country will be littered with refineries. We will build the refineries ourselves, nobody should tell us that nonsense that it will take $10 billion to build a refinery. Is it not the refineries that those boys are doing?
But they said their own is very crude?
The problem with their own is that they put all those crude in one huge vat and they begin to heat it up and the thing spills everywhere, damage the environment, but we can do something about that. All the problems of Nigeria are telling us one thing – that we have to begin to think for ourselves.
So, we will do that for them at that level. Then, every university in that area should be able to refine some crude. The only university that is refining any crude today in Nigeria is ABU – one barrel a day. ABU has a refinery. Meanwhile, Uniport, UniCal, University of Uyo, Niger Delta University, Ambrose Ali University, University of Benin – all of them in the Niger Delta – none of them is refining anything.
Even ABU has been refining that one barrel since they started up till now. Why can they not move that up to 100 barrels a day? But can we even blame them? It’s a shame on the universities in Niger Delta and the academia that they are not able to refine one barrel of crude in their universities. By now, each of them should be refining minimum 1000 barrels a day as a way of training their students and whatever they refined they should sell to the public. Eventually, what we should be looking at is no subsidy, deregulation, but improvement of local capacity in refining.
Then, we should be looking at the scenario where petrol doesn’t sell for the same price all over Nigeria. I would be scrapping Petroleum Equalisation Fund. It doesn’t make any sense. If you have to pay N2, N5 or N10 more between South-south and North-east, so be it. After all, we import fuel from Niger now – they put one refinery around our border in Katsina, which we are importing from.
How would you tackle the problem of education, especially at the tertiary level where most of the unions – ASUU, ASUP, College of Education Union and so on have been or strike or threatening to go on strike basically over inability of government to come up with funds needed to meet their various demands?
For education, the problem at the basic level needs to be dealt with and it is a major issue if we are thinking of the future of this country. And what I realised is that a lot of the problems has to do with lack of teachers. I was in Katsina State; I saw that they had schools, the students were eager, even though I didn’t see any table or chair in any of those classrooms.
The students were all playing on the field on the day I went there and that’s all they did and they closed from there, no teachers. We interviewed some of the teachers we saw and they said, sorry, we are overwhelmed. There is nothing they can do, and the students don’t even understand that they need to be in the classrooms.
So, the rigour being put into education down South is not in the northern part of the country. And even in the Southern part of the country – public education – you see that there are too many students to a teacher, you still have problems of infrastructure – classrooms and all of that. But education is an investment, which Nigeria must close its eyes and do.
Number two, those who killed public education because they wanted to establish their own schools up to the university level are very evil people and their agenda is to make more Nigerians ignorant and illiterate. Now, we will soon be having the highest number of illiterates in the world.
So, we have to begin to bring the public schools back. At the highest level, the tertiary institutions, it is very important because I have a different idea about that entirely. They are complaining of no funding now because they are still thinking within a certain box. We have to take that box away. Tertiary institutions in these country should not be victims, they should be the solution providers and my view of what we are going to do in my presidency is to begin to get those people, especially, the students involved in provision of solutions to the various challenges in the economy and that is the way we are going to find the funding.
As a matter of fact, we will be paying the students because there is work to do. The first way to look at it is to see that there are key developmental gaps in Nigeria right now – if you look around you here, you will not see anything produced by Nigerians – not the cars that we are seeing, not the clothes we are wearing – we don’t produce anything. But those tertiary institutions are coming up with ideas, which we have been dumping. And any country that does not take the ideas of its young people, intellectuals, very seriously is a country heading to nowhere.
So, it is something that we must do very urgently. This will mean that any student in the university, maybe from Year Two, the semester project, for example, and exams must have some level of practical inside it – things that we can use. Number two, that practical project needs not be done individually, you can do group work. I have seen where academics dump some of the projects and dissertations that have been done by the students inside gutters, dustbins and it is just a tragedy that that will happen in this country.
I think we need to change leadership to people younger because I think the ideas of these old people are already archaic. I told you earlier on that Atiku said in 1999, they commissioned some people and at the end of the day, they recommended mini grids to them. But mini grids is the future, it is today. Young people around the world are generating electricity in different kinds of ways. I have seen a situation in which in the middle of the road, they put wind energy equipment there and as the cars were going in this way they blow them and those coming the other way will also blow them and the thing is turning, powering some turbines somewhere. That is in Turkey.
And here, we still believe that education is a degree and our professors are sitting down there trying to victimise the students. That’s not the future. If we concentrate on the education sector, we are going to solve the problems of power, infrastructure and so on. Even, students of History, Sociology are useful – someone said Nigerian languages are disappearing – it is History, Sociology students that will go and sit down with those villagers – every villager has a history, but who is documenting them? After documenting them, who is putting them on the Internet? We can have a whole Google of Nigerian information, which will be raw data imputed by students of IT in this country.
All of these feed into the funding of the universities because when students do these projects, they should be paid. It is not going to be a lot of money – maybe N40, 000, N50, 000 every semester for those who get involved and you have to be able to check that they did some work. That will now give them a lot of dignity, happiness and enthusiasm to do some more. And in that way, we would be using that angle to fund education. The professors and the PhD holders will also get involved because they will supervise the students. They will get some more money. By the time a professor is getting N500, 000 more every semester for project work, he will be happy.
Then, the private sector can get involved – if we say we want to do this one-kilometre road, let Julius Berger come and supervise it under signed agreement. I have seen companies come from abroad in this country and they say ‘we have to bring our people from abroad because we got here and we couldn’t see anybody who could do the work. They don’t have experience.’ Let’s give those students the experience now so that they can put something in their CVs by the time they are leaving the universities and that’s how we are going to reposition education into a thing of prestige.
The entire system, model has to change and I think it is doable and that way, we can say that before you get into the university, know for a fact that you can earn in the university. And this will open the economy because we are going to be paying those students and by the time you get a contractor, we would have spent a lot more money. So, it is a way of moving expenses from the Works Ministry into Education.
We can actually move it to Ministry of Works and tag it Educational Incentive For Infrastructure Building, which will be disbursed to those students and then, you can actually see that investments in education has gone up, but in every practical manner. It is all about thinking. And these things I am telling you no other candidate is talking about them. Though I can see that some of these so-called candidates have begun to steal my ideas because they are not ready to come up with genuine ideas on their own.
But many people believe that you are just running so that after 2019, you will earn the appellation of ex-presidential candidate because you are not even campaigning…
Well, from the ideas that I am telling you now, you should know that I am crazy enough. I am in it for impact. I am running for presidency for one reason only – that this country needs to be disrupted positively from the top, otherwise, I should have gone to run for House of Reps or one position or the other. I’m not interested in a political career, appellations.
You can see that I’m alone. A lot of my colleagues carry mobile police and all of that. I am interested in this because Nigeria needs to be disrupted from the top with ideas. It will not be disrupted with guns, but with ideas. And those ideas are the things I am putting in place and I must be heard, I will be heard and I am being heard even though some people may pretend.
I have seen a scenario whereby I went for a debate in the Sheraton with the APC, PDP and a reporter reported that news as if we did not exist, very despicable kind of reporting and I am going to take them up on it. I want Nigerians to think differently. I am going to run once and that’s it, but these ideas must take hold. Somebody must remember them at some point in time.
While there is no doubt that you have some novel ideas, how can your party, the ANRP win presidency in a big country like Nigeria without the necessary structures?
Structures are not built in a day. Rome was not built in a day, but the building of Rome started in a day. We started the building of Rome – which is ANRP who knows what it is going to be? Which structures are Nigerians talking about? PDP was founded by the military government. I was talking to one of the founding members recently and he said when they started in Bolingo Hotel, they were very jittery. They didn’t know what was going to happen.
The military was not giving them money, but eventually when they brought out Obasanjo and said this is the man that is going to become the president, the military brought money. And INEC was also funding parties in the early days. Is that not how they got the structure? But ANRP has come at an era where no party is being funded and we said great, we are going to take up the challenge. We will get there one day with the so-called structure.
The fact that you did not have structure doesn’t mean you should not wake up every day and go and report for duty and say, ‘here I am, God send me.’ They say the harder you work, the luckier you get; so if we don’t set up these structures and start trying, how do we get lucky?
That’s number one. Number two is that there are different types of winning – we would have won if my ideas won – if this country can do that N15 trillion budget – in fact, I will not rest until N3 trillion is added to that budget and I’m going to be on the case of the Senate President, the senate appropriation committee chairman, we would be there and we would state our position, embarrass them with information to let them know that what we are doing right now is totally unacceptable.
If I get the budget increased, I would have won. As a matter of fact, I have started to win – when I started this campaign and I have already put it to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, who is a lawyer who should not be there – but he also put out a statement, saying this year, they would not be funding purchases of luxury cars as they usually did and we are watching that budget to see that nothing of that sort comes up there. I would have won if some of my ideas on education and all of these things that I’m talking to you about take root.
Anybody who believes that he must get to Aso rock before doing anything is a fraud. I’m putting all my ideas out there. I was reading what Atiku wrote about the 2019 budget and I saw there that he was also saying that the budget is too small compared to the size of the economy.
But I want to step forward and say I was the first person that drew attention to the dismal nature of our budget in this country. In fact, I have seen many articles where supposedly smart people would say they should go and reduce the budget. Where are you going to find the money? We are beginning to think like local champion.
What is your biggest fear over the 2019 election and advice for President Buhari for, at least, the remaining part of his first tenure?
My biggest fear is that Buhari is not ready to go if he loses. He has shown that he is a very bad loser; he has shown that we overrated him and he doesn’t have that so-called integrity.
But the president has repeatedly promised that he will ensure that the election is free and fair and abide by the result.
He is just promising – neither his antecedents nor his body language in recent times point to that fact that he is ready to do anything of that sort. He is not ready. He is not a democrat; he is not even a gentleman in my view. This is someone who went to the National Assembly recently to present our budget and he gets there and was playing politics with it, raising eight fingers, saying he wants four more years.
Is that befitting of an elder statesman in a country that is so much in dire economic strait, for somebody who admitted recently that the economy was now in deep trouble? So, my biggest fear is that Buhari is not even ready to conduct free and fair election. Another thing is this – they organised debate under the NEDG – this is a debate that in 2015, under Jonathan, they invited every party.
This is a debate that is partly funded by government – BON which is an amalgamation of broadcasting organisations – that agglomeration has Radio Nigeria, NTA and all the state-owned radio and television stations all over the country – meaning that the people’s taxes are there and in 2018, when there are 91 parties with a lot of agitations, many intelligent people on the plane, but they went and chose just five. .
But was that Buhari’s fault?
You say it is not Buhari’s fault, but it is happening under him. My people say a king will be known by what happened during his time. Buhari is very good at escaping responsibility and he shocked me when he admitted recently that the economy was in deep trouble. Is it the fault of Nigerians?
You went and told that to the Governor of Zamfara State, the same man that said God is punishing his people over their adultery by inflicting them with meningitis? He said the economy is in trouble and the next thing he said was that ‘I don’t know what happened in those 16 years of PDP…” But he’d better get down and do the work and that is the advice I will give him.
The young people of this country don’t want to be rude to him, but he should also respect himself – give us a level playing field, let’s say the what we want to say, don’t shut down the system and on this, I have written the United Nations, the US, UK Embassies, the McArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the IRI. They don’t have to listen to me, but we will be heard. That is all we need at this time.