By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
Presidential candidate of the Labour Party(LP), Mr Peter Obi, has promised to cut Nigeria’s debt profile by 50 percent if elected in the forthcoming general election.
He made the promise among other things at the Chatham House in the United Kingdom.
Kenneth Okonkwo, spokesperson for the Obi-Datti presidential campaign Council, on AriseNews Morning Show of Tuesday, January 18 in this interview, analysed the Obi’s outing.
What’s your verdict on how your candidate performed at that particular event which it seems like every aspiring Nigerian leader would be going to go eventually?
Well, when we first got to when I started working on this person for these great Nigerian, I was affected with his affection. But today, as the days go by, I am now infected with this personality. This man has just dazzled the world with his brilliance and conveys the work with clarity. I have not seen a man who has started rewriting the history of Nigeria, beautifying Nigeria even before he’s sworn in as the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as I know he will by May 29th. I am proud of a principal who became so stingy that you could not even share his questions to other people. He answered all of them. We have witnessed in Nigeria, where some candidates went on an international molestation of our common psyche and in their generosity, shared all the questions and answers. Have you not seen the difference between a man who is responsible and responsive, a leader who is going to bring transformative and purposeful leadership in Nigeria with a man who shifts all the responsibilities to others. Because of course, like I said, on Arise Television, Tinubu is incapable of granting any interview, he is incapable of national debate, he is incapable of being the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
So, I have a principal who has summarized in Chatham House, in a sentence what he wants to do for Nigeria; secured, united, and productive Nigeria. That is totally a summary of what he has told the world. He will provide security, he will unify Nigeria and he is going to shift emphasis from consumption to production by running a production centered economy, driven by agrarian revolution, and export-oriented industrialisation. So he went to Chatham House, to elucidate his seven point agenda, putting flesh and describing how he’s going to achieve each and every one of them.
Let’s dissect some of the things that he said and what he had said he was going to do for the Nigerian people while responding to questions. The first is this conversation around structure. The PDP chieftain and a former President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, brought up this issue around structure of the Labour Party; he said indeed Peter Obi has gathered a number of people in the last few months. However, if he is indeed elected president come February 25, and sworn in in May 29th, that he doesn’t have the numbers in the National Assembly to push some of these promises that he’s making to Nigeria, which can only be effected by the legislature. How would you respond to this? And the fact that he said, oh, it’s just a few months campaign; Labour Party doesn’t have structure, just one person is driving the entire party and campaign. It’s not going to work. How would you respond to that?
Well, first of all, as you can see, the structures that PDP and APC have, is a structure of criminality, structure of corruption, structure of fuel scarcity, structure of poverty, structure of insecurity, structure of bad leadership, and will go on and on. So if Obi is part of the structure, you will not see me being a spokesman to him. And that is why he’s coming in to destroy such structures.
Let me tell you, Obi is a man that is already used to providing democratically engineered disruptive change. When he was the governor of Anambra State, he had no member of the House of Assembly; none. But he was able to get everything he wanted approved by the House of Assembly, he was able to get everything you wanted, in Anambra State. And within four years, he became the number one in the whole Nigeria in all indices of measurement. In Millennium Development Goals, he was declared number one by UNDP. In the poverty rate, he was scored number one, by the DG of NAPEP, the poverty alleviation programme by PDP. In the network of roads, he was scored number one, he built 800 Kilometer of roads. In the debt management strategies, he was called number one by DFO. And in every other indices, yet, it did not have one member of the House of Assembly when he came in as governor. This is what Obasanjo described as track record of ability and performance. What you need to be in control is not having members in the National Assembly, as pleasant and as important as it may be; what you need is political will. What you need is strong institutions. In America, independent candidates have become president in America, but they went in and delivered on the job. Obi is going to provide leadership, he is offering a new brand of leadership that is less transactional, that is efficient and effective, that is responsive and responsible.
Do you know, he was impeached by the House of Assembly, wielding their tyranny of majority; what happened? He went to court and the court said, no, you cannot vilify a politician, because you have majority in the House, there must really be a proof of misconduct. And since there is no misconduct by this great politician, you must let him be and he went back to his state.
Obi has committed himself that he will never be corrupt, indeed, he is incorruptible, so no national assembly, even if he does not have one person can move against him, because he has to misconduct himself first. If he has not misconducted himself, in Anambra State for eight years, not even taking the land that he is entitled to or pension that he’s entitled to, how can he misconduct himself when he becomes the president? There’s a proverb in my place, you don’t learn to be left handed in your old age. Obi is coming, he is going to have members in the National Assembly, but what we are interested in is a new Nigeria and by the executive power, political will, institutional strength which he is going to engender, he is going to provide, his leadership and his standard which Obasanjo said, that we have not experienced something like that, and it will not be deleted from Nigerian history; the kind of standard is going to implement in Nigeria. So with profound respect to Bukola Saraki, he made no point on that issue.
But let’s look at the facts as they stand. As at today, one of the things that’s been said is you don’t have candidates in most of the political offices that are open for election. Why is there that situation? Where is there that gap? Isn’t that you can’t find the right candidates to aspire for those offices, or you don’t have enough members that will seek for those offices? Why don’t you have the quality candidates?
Well, because I have committed myself to honesty, indeed, I do not even know how to lie. Recall, that Peter Obi entered Labour Party almost about two weeks, or three weeks, to the end of the nomination time. By which time the party has not become as monstrously popular as it has become now. So, the entrance of Peter Obi made it very attractive to Nigerians who are looking for an escape route out of these structures of criminality. So when he entered that, you discover that there were some offices that were not filled. And Peter Obi is not the man who in emergency used to pressure, there will still be commitment to the capacity, competence and character of each and every person. He will prefer that a seat is vacant, rather than fielding an incompetent person, or people who are not of character. So, in those areas where you’re not seeing candidates, is not because we couldn’t have drafted in anybody. But by the shortness of time, we were not able to certify that we can comfortably vouch for all the candidates that we are putting in there. Because when you want to bring a new thing, you must not succumb to the blackmail of the opposition to in a haste begin to come against the particular thing you want to preach against.
So we are prepared to do the right thing at all times. So whoever was qualified, was allowed to get in, within the short time that we had. Recall that we even have to go the way of placeholders. Yes, in order to have our time to even get the particular candidate we want, at the national level, to even be a vice president. And thank God we did. We’ve got a celebral Datti, who would not even agree to buy the property that was corruptly given to his fellow members when he was a member of the National Assembly. He refused because he said, it is public property. And he will not use the advantage of being a member of the National Assembly to acquire it. Datti was the person in the National Assembly who made the issue of the procurement to be sanitized in Nigeria. Datti has two universities, coming from a section where going to school is even difficult. We had to settle down to make a choice of health to make sure that we are in a new Nigeria we can be proud of.
Let’s talk about corruption since we are on that subject, at Chatham House, your presidential candidate Peter Obi, spoken on shoring up revenue and attracting foreign investments. And his response to this was that it’s like honey and bees. Bees naturally gravitate to where there’s honey; in essence, driving policies that make it attractive to investors to come in to the nation. And one of the ways in which he said he was going to do this was like fighting corruption. He’s spoken about, you know, his kick against corruption, the stance against corruption, how he’s going to do this, in a very complicated system here in Nigeria. And beyond that, talking about corruption. He also said he was going to eliminate fuel subsidy. I would like to find out from you how soon if he’s sworn in on the 29th of May, is he going to do away with fuel subsidy bearing in mind that the current provision for it ends at the end of June? Would he be willing to go with his fuel subsidy one month after he is sworn in?
I will surprise you by saying the issue of tackling corruption is the easiest thing to be done in Nigeria. And the reason is simple, like my principal said, is the state officials that are stealing oil. So, when you get into office and you employ people who are not corrupt like yourself, you have ended completely oil theft. Oil theft is not something you pilfer; is a liquid and so you cannot put it in your pocket. A ship cannot be hidden before the ship moves into our territorial waters. And I’m telling you, as a lawyer to some oil markets, before a ship enters our territorial water, if you know what it takes a ship, they will know that security agencies, government officials must be complicit before a ship can enter our territorial water. Do you know shamefully for any barrel of oil that Nigeria sells, 51 barrels are stolen and sold illegally? How do I know that? 51 pipes were illegally projected into the major pipe that carries the illegal oil for us to export. And each one takes as much oil as the major pipe. And this has been existing for nine years, telling you that corruption has become systemic. It was only when my principal voiced out that it is the state official that are stealing oil, that’s when they started making the discovery. The discovery has been there. But the lack of political will. And because the state officials are the thieves here, it is impossible to fight.
So the first strategy that my principal is going to adopt is that he himself is not going to be corrupt. And if he is not corrupt, who is he that is working for him now that will be corrupt?
In line with what you are saying, President Buhari has said when he went on the campaign trail in Yobe State that he does not have a house to his name in the United Kingdom; you can search him; he is not corrupt. However, this hasn’t stopped people around him, you have the AGF, we’ve had a number of high profile corrupt cases under this administration. So that’s not convincing enough. If one person in this case, the President says well, I’m not corrupt, it’s no longer strong enough for Nigerians to say that doesn’t mean your government is not going to be corrupt.
Thank you very much for bringing up that issue. Because you have reminded me the reason why I followed President Buhari, because in all honesty, when he tells you he doesn’t have a house anywhere, he’s being sincere about it. I can tell you, the closest I reached to President Buhari, I can tell you that there has not been any proof to any personal corruption to his name, no doubt about that. But that’s talking about character. And that is why we are saying the three C’s are the irreducible minimum for the next president because character is not enough. You must have capacity, you must have competence. President Buhari is lacking in capacity, maybe because of his age. I don’t know; because a man who has sat in a hospital for eight months outside Nigeria, when he is the President certainly will lose track of certain events. Maybe his competence may be questionable. As you know, his certificate is still being doubted whether he did his primary school or secondary school. So we need these three C’s. And my principal has them in excess. When we talk about competence. Hey, he was educated in University of Nigeria. He was educated in London School of Economics. He was educated in Oxford University. He was educated in Kellogg Graduate University. He was educated in Columbia University. He was educated in Massachusetts, Boston, Harvard University, all the best universities in the world. That is capacity. When he climbs the stair case, he jumps it, telling you he’s fit as fiddle. Not just that he’s going to be a leader. He’s going to supervise the people that are working under him. That is why it is dangerous to elect a president who cannot even come for a national debate because he is impaired in his reasoning, and he has lost his memory, his abilities, his experiences, he has lost all of them. And I’m talking specifically about Bola Tinubu, who is suffering from dementia and amnesia, it is dangerous to bring such a person on the position of leadership. And I am talking about Atiku Abubakar, who is now an octogenarian, who cannot climb staircase, and you can see the best they are already doing. And that is why we are saying that Peter Obi is the only option, not just an alternative option. When we talk about corruption, I’ve talked about the capacity, the competence, and then the character.
Peter Obi, I can tell you one thing, one of his aides met me when they were talking about corruption. He said, I am the one who took the parcel of land to His Excellency Peter Obi and I was shocked when he replied, and he said, it was not corruption, it was his entitlement. Just like, in Abuja, everyone is entitled to a plot of land, as a governor, he’s entitled to pension, plot of land. But he rejected all of that, in order to prove to the world that he came to serve, not for what he will receive but what he will give.
So he’s going to tackle corruption; why? He’s going to reduce cost of governance, he’s going to ensure the entrenchment of the rule of law, to establish an honest and efficient civil service, he is going to lead by example. So the structure of corruption, what did you hear about Obasanjo when he talked about Atiku? He said, this is a man that has propensity to corruption, tendency to disloyalty, he is a man that is unable to say and stick to the truth at all times. He’s a man that has poor judgment, a man who lacks transparency, a man who believes in marabouts, a man who believes in money to pay his way out of all the things he is doing. He has the readiness to compromise morality, integrity, propriety, truth, national interest for self and selfish interest; corruption personified. He has corrupted the older generation. He advised Obasanjo against tackling corruption. He has infected the next generation with special purpose vehicle of corruption.
One of the things we try to do is to make sure that the conversation here is fact based and that there is nothing you say that cannot be verified. If you did mention that Atiku cannot climb stairs, do you want to take that back? Knowing that you’re seeing the man climb stairs several times? And say that was a slip of tongue?
Oh. I’ve also seen Tinubu climb stairs.
I’m talking about being lifted like forklift? I’m saying let him come and jump the staircase. Like my principal, I’m not talking about being able to lift your leg. I’m talking about fitness. Let him come and do it.
The fact is the man can climb stairs but don’t let us dwell on that. But in terms of the state of Nigerian economy, the level of debt that Nigeria is trying to service is so much that it can be described as unprecedented level of debt that Nigeria is owing. Your principal, Peter Obi, how do you think he’s going to maneuver and walk through that process where we can say we have money to run the services and to develop the economy of Nigeria in a situation where we’re going so much on servicing debts as taking over a very high percentage of how we use our revenue? Where’s the money going to come from?
Good. First of all, let me admit that we do not have any effective government in place because this government is going to leave for the next government N77 trillion in debt. So it’s a terrible situation. But there is a good news. When Obi became the governor of Anambra State, he inherited debts from his predecessor, gigantic one, but you know what Atiku said about Obi when they were telling him about debt? He said thank goodness, Obi is with me, and he is good in managing debt. Is there in his Twitter handle. So, the issue here is that we have a man who is prudent, who has been prudent and who will be prudent. So, Obi inherited debt in Anambra State, but left them with N75 billion and I left them with $150 million, not owing any contractor, no pensioner was owed. Nobody was owed, go and verify.
So what does it take? Nigeria has money, we have materials; we have men. What is lacking is the ability to combine, to utilize and allocate our resources in the right way through planning, organizing, directing, and controlling, so that our national objectives will be achieved. This is what is lacking.
Obi is going to cut our debt by 50 percent immediately he comes in; why? Like I said, cost of governance. You can see how much is even in our budget on feeding alone. You can see how much they are budgeting for healthcare in Nigeria. The contracts are inflated by more than 50 percent. So when he comes in, and there is no inflation of contracts…you saw that one of the reasons he was impeached, was that what was to cost about N400 million in Anambra to build, he built it at about N120 million. So, by the time he removes corruption from the system, he would have gained 50 percent of the revenue he needs.
It’s important to mention that your principal did say that debt wasn’t the problem. It was what the debt was going to be used for. He cited the UK and some other nations and the United States of America and that we use our debts to service consumption, whereas he would use it for infrastructure development; just mentioned that in terms of inheritance of debts that you talked about.
What’s your assessment of INEC’s readiness for the elections come February and March because there are allegations around one party over vote buying and the likes and unfairness in terms of picking up PVCs; has your party experienced this?
Let me make it clear, I’m disappointed with INEC because people have personally reached out to me to say that some INEC officials collect N2000, N5000 from them before issuing the PVC; that some officials close their offices before the closing time just to frustrate some people. And in Lagos State, it is already there. If your name is an Okoro or Uju, they will skip your name and call other names, is in the open?
So, INEC should please be very careful about 2023 election; it is an election like no other. PVCs must be given to everybody and on time. They should come out and close even later than their time not before because of the exigency of the time, okay. NEC has not convinced me that some moles are not working in the midst and so they should be up and doing and the security agencies must provide the needed security for this election.
So we must be very careful in 2023. A lot of people are dissatisfied with this system and it is only an open, clean and transparent election that can assuage the feelings of everybody. INEC must rise up to the occasion, security agencies must rise up to the occasion; the chief of defense staff as you know has subtly confessed that there has been some pressure from some quarters, so we must be very, very careful.