Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Presidential Candidate of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) during the 2019 Presidential Elections, Tope Fasua, holds a first class degree in Economics with domestic and international trainings. In this interview, he spoke on various issues, including what Nigeria can do to get out of the challenges brought about the COVID-19 pandemic, why INEC must not be allowed go scot-free after deregistration of some political parties, among others. Excerpt:
What have you been doing since after the 2019 presidential election in which you contested?
I have been trying to live my life the best way I can. I have businesses to run actually, most of them are Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) like the consulting firm, Global Analytics Consulting Limited. I also have some other initiatives like a recycling plant, where we recycle plastics, I have a printing press also. One interesting thing I am also doing is that I started three NGOs as a result of the presidential election and the lessons learnt. One of them is called TEACH Nigeria 100. TEACH Nigeria is an acronym for Targeting Education for All Children in Nigeria. We are trying to get used text books, novels, fiction books from children of middle and high class and take them to the deprived children in villages, who have never seen these books in their lives. You know, in many parts of Nigeria there is no teaching going on at all, especially in the North. If you go down South, there are some attempts, but if you go to those public schools in many parts of the North, you will be lucky to see two teachers. We also have an NGO which anchors the environmental initiatives, it’s called Global Environmental Sustainability for Productivity and Development. It is the one that anchors what the recycling plant is doing. I believe there is a lot of potentials for the environment in this country in terms of job creation and in terms of ambience. Ambience leads to tourism and is the one that brings in the dollars that the Nigerian economy is looking for. The third one is called Tertiary Education for Productivity and Development. This is one of my campaign issues and it is because of students of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, including colleges of science, agric and research institutes and so on. We cannot wait until they graduate and begin to have impact in this country. They have the energy, they are young, they have imaginations and they even have a lot of time in their hands. If you go to schools, they are involved in cultism and all sorts of things, so we need to get them very busy. We have a huge development deficit and we need to catch up with the rest of the world. For instance, I believe as students of civil engineering in a higher institution, as a group, your class should be able to say that, this is the small road that we have tarred in the city where your school is located. You see, it’s not everything that has to be a big contract. We need to get our governors on board. It is not every thing you issue big contracts, use these students. Let the big contractors mentor them. Let them know how to drive the forklift, graders and all others so that they can put that sign there, that this road was constructed by 300-level of University of Nigeria, for instance. They can be given to do it within the school, meaning even the Vice Chancellor doesn’t have to give out big contracts for everything. Even the students of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, we believe that those are the ones that will solve our electricity problems. I, personally do not believe in these things we do, today we are with Siemens signing big contracts, but you see, it can never work because we don’t own those process. We don’t own the machines that they will bring, we cannot maintain the machines, we don’t understand the technology. So, it’s just a waste of time, but unfortunately, it’s difficult to get us to change and that is what we have seen over time, that Nigeria is not really changing. Every student is relevant. Students of environmental sciences that will have to maintain the trees, we have encroaching desertification in North, we have erosion in parts of East and even in Auchi in Edo State. Unfortunately, what we try to do is go abroad, copy and paste and we think the white man will solve our problems, but it will never happen. There is no course that is useless, even students of literature, history, sociology etc. Nigeria has about 500 languages and a lot of them are disappearing. We talk about Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Ijaw, we don’t know that those ones have subsets of languages that are disappearing. For instance, if you go to Igbo land, every family have something that is different in terms of their culture and language, but nobody is documenting them. It is these students that will have to document them, while those in Information Technology will impute them into the computer. In fact, the only way you can preserve them is to impute them on the Internet, in fact, we can have a whole google on Nigerian information if we know what we are doing. And that is how countries take themselves serious. No matter the grammar that we speak, until we do what I have enumerated above, the world will not take us seriously.
So, are you driving that process?
I am actually. I have sent all these initiatives to the National Universities Commission (NUC), although I have not heard from them. I have also met with the TETFUND Executive Secretary and let him know. But of course, in our own little way we are already putting the information out there, we have website. We are trying to make the idea grow and if we are lucky, then it will germinate.
What lessons did you learn about Nigerian politics and elections; are you willing to take another shot at it in 2023?
Well, I don’t think so. Number one, I try to keep to my words. Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) was a party we created from the scratch and we did that because if we had tried to join the other two major parties, they would actually have told us our history and asked us where we are coming from. Secondly, to buy their form for governorship is over N20 million, presidency over N40 million, House of Representatives N10 million. Where do they expect young people in this country to find that kind of money from? And unfortunately, it’s getting more and more elitist and it’s circulating amongst them and their own children which they have used stolen money to prop up. So, if we want a voice, we needed to start something of our own.
Did Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) survive the de-registeration by INEC?
It did not, but what do you expect? We are in court. We are the only party suing INEC for damages for N2 billion. What we have with INEC is a contract, it is not a joke and they had better take it very seriously. That is what we are doing and it’s all part of having a voice. See, we can do everything, but we should never take away the voice of the young people in this country. I am not that young, but we are doing this for posterity, for those that are coming behind us. If it becomes a case of for you to be a political party, you must have a spread all over the country. Where are we going to get that spread from? This is similar to what they say to graduates that just finished from school and you say, he should go and bring 15 years experience, where is he going to get it from, if you don’t give him an opportunity to start one day. That is part of the issues here we are talking about and it’s fundamental to the rights of our people. You can do that in the job space, but not on the political space. In the job space you can oppress the poor and tell him if he does not have 15 years experience he cannot get the job, when he just left school last year. And before you know it you will put your own children that also recently graduated in that space. But in the political front, you can’t because everyone is equal according to the constitution. And that is what we are now testing in court. You cannot tell us that because we contested once and didn’t win, then you are taking our license. No, you have to give us the opportunity. I have only contested once, where am I going to get the resources, meanwhile others are buying votes etc. That is why we are in court and we will show them that we are serious people. So, part of the lessons learnt is that Nigeria’s political system is very monetised. Part of the lesson learnt is that I was looking for the human factor everywhere I went. During my campaigns in my small convoy, anywhere I see a public school, I stopped, removed my agbada or cap and walked into that school incognito. Sometimes, I stand at the door listening to the teacher, sometimes they feel is this an inspector? The next thing, I am asking for the head teacher’s office and find out how they are coping, their challenges. Sometimes I give them money. I went to one school in Oyo State and I met the teacher speaking to a pupil, telling him, I said you should be coming to school. And the pupil was saying, we don’t have food in the house and I cannot be coming to school on an empty stomach. I saw children coming to school barefooted, some walking five or 10 kilometers to and from school. And the teacher was saying, don’t worry, if it’s food I will give you food, just be coming to school. I was shocked listening to the conversation between them. So, I gave her some money, but she refused, even N1,000 she refused to take until I spoke to the head teacher, who encouraged her to take it from me. I went to another school in Abia State, I saw one smart boy, he came to school barefooted. I had gone in to encourage them to continue coming to school and do their best to stand out. I was also in Katsina and Zamfara states. Zamfara was the worst, with children who have not had their bath for two to three weeks with catarrh dripping from their noses. There was a school I went to, there was no single teacher in sight, but the children were there to collect the government food that they were sharing and then go back home. The question is that, are we serious about this at all? Are we benchmarking to ensure the children are even staying in class at all? I learnt that a lot of the NPower volunteers don’t even report to the school to work. I never saw any NPower volunteers anywhere I went to. The locals will say the NPower volunteers were posted there, but you would hardly see them. I was there on a Monday morning till the afternoon, no one was being taught, the children were outside gisting and playing. Then I realize that education in the far North of this country is still not taken seriously, the governors are not interested. Their own children attend the best schools, going abroad to study, it is so unfortunate.
As an economist, what did you think led Nigeria to its present economic state and how do we get out of it?
That is a historical question. You know, being an economist myself, but I love history. I will just quickly paraphrase. Part of what is wrong is that the system of economics that we are running is alien. Fundamentally, we come from the kabiyesi (king) mentality as a people. The king is there, the people work and pay taxes to the king, in some instances the king doesn’t bother collecting tax. In the eastern part of this country, it was more an egalitarian society. If you read Things Fall Apart by Chinue Achebe, you were judged by the size of your farm, how many wives and children that you have, how big your compound is and so on. You can see that translating to today that the Igbo are the most enterprising. In the North also, it was the Emir and Sultan that ruled and everyone else keyed in. We are now faced with a very egalitarian system where everyone is on his own. Capitalism rules the world today whether we like it or not. Even though I personally believe that the argument of socialism versus capitalism is dead. However, all the same everybody is a capitalist, today. China is more capitalist than the United States. The US is a huge capitalist country supposedly, but they have a huge social security system, ObamaCare is there, health for all, food stamps are being given to those who cannot work, there are hostels where if you don’t want to sleep on the streets you can go into. But in Nigeria, we don’t have that, we did not build that infrastructure and we did not lay down that foundation for human capital development. Meanwhile, human capital is our best investment. But in recent times, what has also happened is that we have also seen a lack of vision. Because, if you cannot imagine where you are going to then there is no point trying. Even for an individual, sometimes you have to sit down and say, if I go to school and graduate I can do this, I can get a job there, it’s a vision. Many of the people you see roaming the streets, riffraffs, living on the streets, it’s because they have lost that vision. Lack of vision is partly responsible for a scenario when somebody gets into the office, you realize you have just been bitten by the bug, you want to steal all the money meant for developing the entire space. Every nation has its own problems even America will tell you, we want a more perfect union, meaning that a nation should assume that it’s a union. A nation will continue to work on that union to make it more perfect. So, I believe Nigeria should work hard on this union to become more perfect, but it’s looking very slim, everyday hope is eroding. We need leaders who will be eloquent enough or even want to risk their lives, but what we have are leaders who are ready for power and are ready to kill to get that power and when they get that power they don’t know what to do with it.
What is your assessment of the federal and state governments’ response to the fight against COVID-19, especially with fears the country may go into recession?
Well, when you shut down a whole economy for months that means people are not producing and if the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – total of everything that people produce, goods and services in a country in a given year and you shut down three or four months of that year, only God knows when the economy will come back in full swing, certainly there is going to be a recession. It’s not going to be a Nigerian affair alone, the entire globe is expected to go into a recession. In terms of government responses, well, let’s look at it from the health angle. I have been saying from day one that we ought to know that given our kind of society, we should understand that this thing will go to a community phase level where, if somebody come in from China today into Murtala Muhammed International Airport, with begging which Lagos is very notorious for, I don’t understand them. So, if someone comes in from China with COVID-19, the first point is the way we mill around and queue up at the airport, then transmission is going to take place. You get to immigration, instead of him to look at your passport and stamp it, he is asking you Oga what did you bring for us, they are exchanging words and then to the SSS man, the talking continues and then the Customs man, the talking continues while going through the bags looking for contraband because they want to collect something from him, and then he comes outside the airport, 50 people are rushing him offering taxi service, at the end of the day if indeed he was COVID-19 positive, he would spread to 100 people just within that airport, so we are just deceiving ourselves. We ought to have taken this thing very seriously from day one. I don’t believe that we should have locked down for too long. You lockdown while working on the infrastructure, you lockdown and ensure that your primary healthcare centres are tooled to handle some of these issues, you educate them on what to do because you know that it’s going to get to that point. If you lockdown for too long it becomes counter productive because a lot of people who are down with other diseases are afraid to go to the hospital or they are living in places where there is no transportation to take them as a result of lockdown. And the hospital itself doesn’t even know how to sterilize its environment. So, we did not invest in primary healthcare centres which is a minus for government. But not only government, even the so-called experts from the World Health Organization did not advise the world right, they did not advise people on what to do and how to do it properly. Everybody was just panicking. So, we are investing in isolation centres when we ought to be investing in primary healthcare centres and then it becomes a community transfer issue. God help us in this country.
More domestic and foreign borrowings have been approved by the National Assembly for the government. Can Nigeria do without borrowings?
Unfortunately, not at a time like this, you can see that every country in the world is borrowing. What they are doing in the UK, US and some parts of Europe, when you are in trouble like this because some people have also likened this to the Third World War, when you are in trouble as a nation, that is the time that you need to borrow, that is the time you don’t have a choice, but to borrow. When things are in the upswing, it’s arguable whether you need to borrow in order to take off or you should mind your borrowing and think in terms of your productivity. When things are in the upswing, you have two options – borrow and improve on your productivity or do both. Doing both will be good but sometimes, borrowing doesn’t really help your eternal productivity. You will realise that even as individuals it is when we are broke that we can think better. If you are not broke you will spend money anyhow, but when you are broke you will take some initiatives, you will make that productive call, create one new business and struggle. That is how we all got to where we are today. But when you are in a downswing, like a crisis situation, yes you try to be productive, but you might not be able to. For example, in a war time or this COVID period you find it difficult to increase productivity. I used to be of the school of thought that Nigeria was borrowing too much because, I’m sorry, there is this kind of fraud that is perpetrated in the system, where those who run the economy will always compare the debt with the GDP. The issue is not debt to GDP ratio, it’s debt to revenue ratio. How much money are you making in order to pay this your debt. But when you are paying almost 40 per cent of all the money you get to service the debts, not even to pay the loan, but to service the interest on the debts, then you know you are in trouble. But right now, we don’t have a choice, but to borrow. But the issue then becomes what kind of borrowing and what do we do with that borrowing.
Schools have been closed for a long time. What’s your advice to the government at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The truth of the matter is that all over the world, children are the least affected by COVID-19. They are more immune against COVID-19, I mean no child has died of COVID in the world. I mean it’s almost non-existent. They can be carriers, they can show symptoms, but they hardly die of COVID-19. But I pity our public schools. Some private schools are already having online lectures, they call themselves grange, American international school and all of that, but the public schools where will they start? Are we leaving them behind, is this another form of oppression? Why will they lose a whole year of their lives while others are saying we are teaching this children online and so we should continue? I think it’s unjust to those children whose schools are shut. What we should do is invest in the reopening of schools now if we are serious. There is a public school near my office, sometimes I drive there and I see nothing is going on. There is no form of renovation going on or preparation for reopening like repairing their toilets or bathrooms. So, you can lock them up for one year only for them to resume to the same kind of unhygienic conditions because this is the way we think. We don’t care about those people, everything is elitist, unfortunately we are a very selfish people. Those in government are thinking about where their own children will go and their children don’t go to those kind of schools. They go to schools with air conditioners installed in their classrooms, including my own children. But somebody needs to speak up on this. I think that like they have done in China and some other places that children have gone back to school, we have to start gradually. This time around people are afraid of taking responsibility for anything and so when it gets to that point, they say we can’t open schools now if children will start dying. We can’t take that stance if they start dying now. That is a stupid thing to say because it’s not based on data and students are not dying elsewhere. It is also not based on equity because you are not telling us for how long the schools will be on lockdown and we all know that the public schools are the ones bearing the brunt of this. And mind you, the devil finds work for idle hands and because most of these children are idle at home you begin to see cases of rape and all of that. It is clear that continuous seclusion of people, call it social distancing and all of that, I mean when we really had lockdown it was like we were in prison. You guys are part of the essential workers, so you might not understand that. But those at home were in prison and when you are in prison, mentally things begin to go out of balance. We have cases of suicides, depression, domestic violence, rape and all of that. Even when things are easing down you can still see some of those things baring out and it’s going to take a while to get to normal. Unfortunately, we are going to see a lot of chaos in the next few months.
Do you have an untold story about your life?
I write a lot, I have written six books even though none of that is about my life. Everyone has his or her life story, I was born an aje butter, but after a while I became aje paki. We went through our tough times. Going through secondary school, I was just an average child, I started secondary school too early because we were in Lagos State then, when Jakande Government moved those of us in primary 4-6 to secondary, I was just eight going to nine years, that was how my education became a bit hastened up. Thereafter, our family moved to Akure in Ondo and I went to Army Comprehensive High School. I was really very young through school, I was actually in the same class with my elder brother. Just before I turned 16, I got into Ondo State University to study Economics. I think it was around that time that my brain started opening up. Because, all of a sudden I was scoring A in Maths, B English, distinction everywhere. I wasn’t particularly a serious student, I think it’s just a gift. I just love to write a lot, I am very expressive even in class, even in exams, anyway that was how I made the best result in the school after four years.
What are your hobbies aside writing?
Writing is one of my hobbies, it’s my chief hobby I will say. I like a good movie when I can, I play scrabble, I love word games and when I can I do my exercises as well.
What’s your favourite travel destination and why and also what’s your favorite meal?
As cheap as it sounds, I like Dubai because some of the harassment you expect from other places cannot happen in Dubai. Some of the things happening in the U.S. now you will never see it happen in Dubai and I think is because they set out to be a tourist country and they have also input this into their minds that, look we have to treat these people well for them to invest their money. Go to some of the places like Dara inside the market or Dapca, you will find some of our brothers from Africa, making noise, misbehaving. But the Dubai system is run on intelligence, they know the bad guys and everywhere is CID. They just pick up easily, they won’t even make noise about it. Some of these other countries like US actually make you feel unwanted when you are trying to get their visa. I have been there when they will be telling 50 year-old professors that they will not come back to Nigeria. I have heard instances where some of them are even detained in the UK, they detained a vice chancellor of a university because the person who is attending to them at the immigration just happened to be ignorant, who probably doesn’t understand who a vice chancellor is. How can he know? He probably hasn’t been to a university. So, Dubai is okay, it’s easy to go to and I don’t mind the weather even when it’s hot, I like the architecture that I see there because, I am a bit of an artist, I see those things that are inspiring and I also wish we can replicate that in Africa. I also think the opening up of the UAE, Dubai especially was able to open the eyes of many of our people, who wouldn’t have had the opportunity of going abroad anywhere, so you see them. There was an instance where I was in Addis Ababa airport, because I flew Ethiopia, I saw people from Zambia and other places who have never travelled before, the security personnel doing the screening were telling them remove your wrist watch, shoes and all that and some of them almost strip naked. A guy wanted to go into the scanning machine. When you get to Dubai, you’ll see really a different world, you will see families taking their children to see a different world. Those messages are very important to shape their minds. Some of these people would have been maltreated in the British Embassy or American embassy, many times they will take their money and won’t give them visa. I know the white man, he will never want to lose one dollar of his money for a service he is not getting. This is totally unacceptable, we should find a way around that. But again, our best destination should be our country. If not the way things are, I mean when you go to any of these countries you will continue to look for your Nigerian food. So why can’t I take my family to the eastern part of the country, for instance, moving from one state to the other, staying in hotels and all that. When I was campaigning, I was the only one that went as far as this Boko Haram territory. I flew into Maiduguri on a Monday, and the next day I took a drive from Maiduguri to Yobe State, Damaturu. It’s a long stretch of road and it’s about two hours drive. This is where the Boko Haram people cross. There is this town called Auni, located along the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, there was a massacre recently there. There is Macantauni, there is Benisheik, in all these places there were flags of Boko Haram there, it’s a very dangerous territory. So I went in a golf car and came back in a golf car, dressed like one of them. I just wanted to see what it was like, I knew I could never campaign in that territory. But the interesting thing is that, that terrain was flush desert, desert on the right and on the left for as far as your eyes can see. I mean you will feel you are in Saudi Arabia. But it’s a country. The next day when I left there I was flying into Calabar as part of my campaign, and then when we were descending I saw the forest there, it was lush green, it was dark green, almost black. I mean that is what makes Nigeria a proper nation. In the United States that is what you see, go to Nevada you will see the desert, Montana you will see rolling hills and all of that, you go to New York you see all these sky scrappers, you want education you go to Machaussettes, that is where Harvard is, if you want some playing around you go to Las Vegas. That is why you have many Americans, they don’t bother to get American passports because what they need is in their country and that is what is called economic diversification. A diversified economy is one that has whatever your people need they are able to get within your country in excess. You will then take that excess outside the country to go and fight to sell it. And if you see that yours cannot compete out there with the likes of the United States, then you can open your doors for them to come in and produce here. That is what happens in World Trade Organization, that is why many people in Africa are supporting Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next head of WTO. It is a game and you have to understand how to play the game.
So, for favourite food, anything that has rice in it, I am okay with it.