By Chukwudi Nweje
Mr. Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the 2023 election is very passionate about Nigeria, its economy and how to attract investments to the country.
He would not waste time in dissecting and analysing the issues holding the country back from attaining its full potential whenever and wherever he is given the opportunity. Recently, at a forum of the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), he discussed the ailing Nigerian economy and his plans for the country and the economy, if given the opportunity to lead Nigeria in 2023.
On the 2023 general election
The government that would be coming in 2023 will face an array of daunting challenges, both domestic and external. Our domestic challenges have accumulated over the years and, because of leadership failures, we have not been able to deal with them and they have impacted heavily on our unity, social cohesion and people’s trust in government, as well as the economic anchor, and these have affected us heavily. Our country today has the highest number of people living in poverty, we have the highest number of out-of-school children, our infant mortality rate is the highest in the world, and we have the highest youth unemployment. Coupled with this, the international challenge that we face, the war in Ukraine came with short- and long-term challenges, we are just coming out of COVID-19 problems, which put challenges on global commerce and supply chain, affecting even the long-term plans of global warming as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Nigeria must deal with all these issues and, as you know, our country Nigeria is not bereft of innovative ideas and plans, but institutional weaknesses and lack of political will to implement them have meant that, over the years, our challenges have worsened. For me, the overall task of our government in 2023 is to streamline governance and ensure that it is responsive, transformative and effective. These are lacking today, and we must show that good governance aims at providing needed services to the populace, receiving constructive criticisms and moving forward. Given the history of our country, our politics and governance challenges, securing and moving Nigeria forward will require a concerted effort and shift from a coercive to a consensus approach. Effective governance derives its impetus and strength from youths and strict adherence to the rule of law to consolidate democratic institutions and fulfilling the social contract between the government and the governed. All these confer political performance and legitimacy to any government. Experience has shown that inclusiveness is an essential part of public policymaking, which means that all groups, especially the ones underrepresented today in the decision-making process, such as businesses, youths and the venerable, would be consulted and their participation would be ensured. As a President elected by all Nigerians, the buck would stop at my desk, and I would be fully responsible for governance and national security, and actions undertaken by my administration. Against the backdrop of this, if I am elected President, my administration will focus on seven critical areas that we will prioritise while ensuring that we follow all the SDG goals, and those areas will be to ensure purposeful leadership; production-centred growth for food security and growth; securing and uniting Nigeria; effective legal and institutional reforms, rule of law, corruption and government effectiveness; liberating Nigeria from oil dependence to Fourth Industrial Revolution; expanding physical infrastructure through market-driven reforms; enabling entrepreneurship through market growth and enabling innovation, human capital development that empowers competitiveness; and propose foreign policies to restore Nigeria’s strategic development. Our goal will be to bring back the trust of people in governance.
The current administration made several promises during the campaign, but the first major problem it faced when it came in and which has crippled the administration for seven years was that it assumed that there would be stability and that its only role would be to spend money, but there is no money, so projects are stalled. How can we reverse and boost foreign direct investment?
I have always asked the same question, which is how the governments of other countries get their liquidity. They are going through the same problems as Nigeria. We keep complaining daily that our revenue is low, and that the revenue to GDP is low. My answer is that it is wrong, you cannot just get revenue like that. It is like the banking system where you must make a deposit before you can withdraw, you cannot withdraw money when you did not make any deposit. The job of the government is to invest in economic growth and create opportunities for job creation and employment, which would allow people to pay taxes. You cannot have 100 million people living in poverty and expect robust revenue. Nigeria’s population is estimated at about 200 million people and if you use the world average of people who should be gainfully employed at 50 to 60 per cent, you are talking about 120 million people, but we all know that as of today the number of gainfully employed Nigerians is about 40 million people; this means you have about 60 to 70 million unproductive Nigerians. What we need to do is to start pulling these people out of poverty, and have robust economic growth, that way, we will have the liquidity that the government needs to function. How the government generates money is to ask questions. A country like China, for example, has about a $4 trillion budget out of which about $3.2 trillion came from taxes, and 50 per cent of this came from taxes on micro and small businesses. This category of businesses creates about 50 per cent of the jobs in China. So, the government must support job creation because the more robust the economy is, the more tax revenue the government can generate, that is how the government can be liquid.
Nigeria’s coffers are empty, the country is in debt and the cost of governance is higher than what the country generates. Obviously, we need sectoral reforms and alliances with different countries, who do we have there that is able to help Nigeria get out of the mess the country is in? Meanwhile, the power sector today is almost dead, what do you say?
Countries borrow money but you borrow to invest, and this will lead to economic growth, which will in turn bring in more liquidity and revenue. Look at the power sector, for instance, everybody is talking about it. I know that the Federal Government has moved power from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list. If I am President, I will go farther than that. If you look at the sector today, we have privatized generation and distribution, leaving the critical link between these two, transmission. Transmission is where we have what you can call the ineffectiveness and problems that we must address. So, for me, the first thing I will do to ensure power supply is to liberalise transmission because it is critical, if you are going to deal with the problem of power. We can also assist the various companies in the power sector to ensure that there is a dedicated gas supply, which is part of the problem, and ensure that generation, distribution and transmission would be aligned. There is also a need for clear certainty of the regulatory environment; currently, there are policy summersaults, and they need support to have access to funding. We also need to start exploring renewable energy. The issue of power is an emergency we will approach from many angles to ensure stable power supply. How do we get the resources for these? We must involve the private sector; the government does not have to be entirely involved; where the government will be involved, like what happened in Egypt, is to give a sovereign guarantee.
Rising oil prices seem to have made government at all levels ignore systems that are self-sustaining and they think that the way they can be the best is to spend money; for instance, if you look at the ASUU strike, it is common knowledge to all the parties that the system is not working yet all the emphasis is on money; how would you as President kick-start reforms that would lead to a turnaround and bring in a self-sustaining system in our national life?
Dealing with the systems is at the core of the problems we have in Nigeria today. So, we must streamline governance to be responsive, transformative, and effective. We have well-studied and discussed plans to solve most of our problems as a nation, and all these plans are documented. So, I am not saying that I am one superman that will invent the solutions to our problems but what I am saying is that I have the political will to deal with the issues, ensure rule of law, stop oil theft and other things. Who is stealing oil, we all know it is the government because, for one to steal oil, a ship must dock and load the oil. What I am offering is the political will to do the right things.
We have been talking about leakages in government revenue for some time now without figures on the size, today official documents like the medium-term expenditure framework mentioned figures; for instance, we have been told that fuel subsidy in 2023 might be more than N6 trillion, this is money that could have come in as revenue but did not. There are also the tax and duty waivers and, in the face of this, the government is moving to borrow, how would you deal with leakages in government?
All I can say about subsidy is that it is organised crime, 50 per cent of the subsidy is based on corruption and we must address it decisively. We must aggressively start thinking about local refining of petroleum products through modular and other kinds of refining and they should be the private sector. We must stop the dollarisation of our domestic economy, and, under my watch, if you want to operate in Nigeria, you must charge naira, and all expenditure would be based on the naira.
Every sector of the nation’s economy seems to be dull, whether it is economy or security or infrastructure, how would you deal with these; also the former governor of Edo State said that you couldn’t deal with insecurity in Anambra State as governor and, therefore, will not be able to deal with it at the national level, how do you react to that?
The issue of insecurity, which the former governor of Edo State raised on his Twitter handle, I think somebody also responded to him on Twitter, and he even mentioned Bakassi Boys, which was no longer in existence when I came into government. I can tell you that one thing that my administration would address when I become President in 2023 is the issue of security. Insecurity is the greatest obstacle to Nigeria’s economic growth, and we must deal with it as quickly as possible. People may ask how I will deal with it and the way I will deal with it is to overhaul the entire security architecture, and we will also have multiple-layer policing, federal, state and community, equipped with modern gadgets. As governor of Anambra State, every community in the state had a security system equipped with a vehicle and other gadgets and we will do the same thing if I become President. My administration will also take an inventory of all our assets, and we will ensure that all our assets are productive, our assets would be moved from consumption to production, and they will be private sectordriven.
How would you ensure institutional stability?
When I was invited to this forum, I was invited to come and present my plan, but I called the director-general and told him that I don’t want to present a plan because it is easy for me to call some experts to write something for me to present, it is also easy for me to let other people speak for me because some people will tell me to allow my spokespeople speak. This time, we want the candidates to speak. We are about to hire the next chief executive of Nigeria and that chief executive must come and answer questions. I want to assure you that the government I will run will not be supply-driven, the government would be demand-driven. I came to LCCI to know what they want; it is about the people. Throughout my tenure as governor in Anambra State, our government was demand-driven. I have said we will change governance from being public sector-led to private sector-led; we will consult the private sector and we will listen to them daily. The new driver of this vehicle called Nigeria must be competent; I assure you that there will be nothing like institutional instability.
It seems that whenever a new government gets into Aso Rock, they would lose direction, would your government subject itself to an international watchdog?
I will subject myself to Nigerians, not any international body. I have been through this before; as governor of Anambra State, I made promises, and I can assure you that nobody goes in there and things change; no, anybody that goes in there brings out his true self. If you are determined to do the right thing, you will do it. What I will tell Nigerians is to hold me responsible if they do not see changes with me as President.
What is your order of priority in dealing with the problems you identified?
I have said it that the major problem is insecurity; you must deal with it because it is the number one factor affecting all other things. If you can take the farmers back to their farms, you will quickly reduce the food inflation and we have expansive land in the North. The greatest physical asset we have is the massive land in the North. We are going to invest in education because our human capital is low, and we are also going to invest in health.
What would your government look like?
We are going to lead a government of Nigerians by Nigerians and for Nigerians; it will not be a government of organised elites and criminality, because that is the government that has kept us where we are. The 2023 elections will not be about ethnicity. We need a leadership that is committed. Poor Nigerians are suffering in every part of Nigeria. Do not vote on an ethnic or religious basis, and do not vote because somebody said it is his turn; it is not anyone’s turn, it is the turn of Nigerian youths to take back their country. Election 2023 should be based on a character you can trust.