By Iheanacho Nwosu,Abuja
Prof ABC Nwosu served as Political Adviser and later Minister of Health in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He was the Deputy Director-General in the 2015 Presidential campaign of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview, Prof Nwosu who is currently a Board of Trustees ( BoT) member of the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) spoke on key issues in the polity among which is the planned $30 bn loan by the Federal Government, the dwindling fortunes of the PDP and INEC in 2019.
Do you agree with those who argue that PDP’s recent defeat in Edo and Ondo governorship elections are signs of gradual eclipse of the party?
It was a very sad thing that happened to PDP in Ondo in my view. The PDP was held up in the court until 24 hours to the end of the campaign. That was when our candidate was again freed from the court. The APC relished this and said that it was self-inflicted. They were right. They didn’t take Jegede to court. It was the Sheriff faction that did that. However, to call it a faction is to glorify it. Sheriff does not have many people sitting with him.
Sheriff’s PDP took the main PDP to court and held it down there until it won a Pyrrhic victory in the court . It went to the election and the so called PDP candidate that was nullified by the court was , again, happy that he played a spoiler role. So, APC is right that it was self-inflicted. But APC is not right when it does not see that there was no level playing field. They can throw it back to PDP with other arguments. The fact was that somebody came out of court barely less than 20 hours to close of campaign, went to that election and came second.
Are you blaming INEC for the lack of level playing field you talked about?
That is self evident. An INEC that submitted Barrister Jegede’s name, again, substituted it with Barr. Jimoh Ibrahim’s name in the face of conflicting court orders. To a person like me, for INEC to say that it was obeying court order is laughable and stupid. I am a professor, I thought professors existed on logic and thinking through problems . INEC monitored one primary. The rules for the emergence of a candidate is clear . And all you did was the lame excuse that court said so and I must obey it. But another court also said something different. Unless the INEC chairman says, I sought advice and I was told to go the other way. But INEC is supposed to be independent.
Clearly to some of us, these are troubling signs from this new INEC.
Do these signs give you enough reason to worry about the ability of INEC to deliver a free and fair election in 2019?
I will only say that there are troubling signs. Under Jega, I also said, at a point that there were troubling signs. That was when Jega was trying to argue that the postponement of election was on the ground of security in the North East. I said no sir, look at the percentage collection of your PVC in the paper you presented to the Council of States. You would be disenfranchising almost half of the electorate through no fault of theirs other than the fact that they do not have PVC. I gave him one example of Yobe with about one million registered voters in an insurgent inflicted state, collecting 800,000 PVC. Compare this to Enugu with 1.5 million registered voters collecting only 700,000 PVC . And Enugu is a completely peaceful state.
I told him that something was wrong. Lagos didn’t have PVCs, Western states didn’t collect. However, in spite of the situation, Jega led INEC to make efforts to bridge the gap by accelerating PVC collection in the southern states. By the time of the election, the gross disparity had been reduced .
But for this INEC to simply not think is unfortunate. For the present chairman to just come out and say that court order is everything unacceptable. It was court order that led to the annulment of June 12 election in 1993. An Independent electoral commission should be able to say no this is right, no this is not right. It should say so especially when there are two court orders.
Do you subscribe to suggestions in some quarters that PDP’s chance of winning back the support and loyalty of many Nigerians to the extent that it can win elections is tied to the party changing its name?
I am a founding member of PDP. If you look at the newspaper publication announcing PDP to Nigerians in August 1998 you would see my name. I was the secretary of one of the founding associations that fused to form PDP. It was called PNF. So I have an attachment to PDP. But that attachment does not mean that when reality presents itself you continue to live in the past . PDP needs to do a reality check now. It needs it urgently. The ideals on which the PDP was founded , I believe in them and I will always continue to believe in them. Let me enumerate some of them. PDP came to bring back democracy to Nigeria at great risk . But most of those courageous men who did it are dead , some are old . They brought democracy by welding all political shades into one .
Secondly, the PDP was founded on the fact that power must shift. It emphasized zoning. All parts of the country are capable of producing presidents. All senatorial zones of the state are capable of producing governors. We agreed that it is proper for this to happen. PDP has tried to do that. PDP is the only party that has produced a president from the South west, from the South South and the North. That is a huge credit.
PDP was founded on the need to rule the country with the best form of managing the economy. That was why it liberalised and allowed market forces to dictate the economy. Immediately, the party’s government sold state owned enterprise. In my view, the objectives for selling these state owned enterprises were not fully met. Examples are Ajaokuta steel etc. But that is why we are humans, we make mistakes . These state owned enterprises that were privatized can be examined and the mistakes I talked about can be corrected. The privatization is supposed to improve the management, lead to employment , greater productivity etc. These are things the PDP believed in. The party believed that nothing can happen without power. And the party invested enormously in electricity generation.
You can say that PDP wasted billions of dollars on electricity. You can probe corruption . But you would never say that PDP met the problem and did not to address the problem.
I heard the super minister saying there were so many containers left at the ports, that they were imported in 2014 but were not cleared. Does that look like big news? If you met them, why not clear and deploy them so that the power situation would improve. If you say these containers have been in the ports for many years, people will also ask you, but you have been in power for almost one and a half years, why didn’t you clear them?
Some of us have been advising that people should stop talking about yesterday. Yesterday is gone. Focus on today and tomorrow.
On corruption, I will say it and continue to say it in every media interview. I was the first politician hired by the President on May, 29 1999. Then President Obasanjo had never met me before the appointment . After we were introduced, he had on his right hand pocket, the NDDC bill . People had forgotten that Warri was a no man’s zone in 1999. There was insurgency in the Niger Delta. It is not new. Two critical parts of that NDDC Bill which he had in his right hand pocket were, first, a lot of contributions were to come from the oil majors that were deriving their incomes and profits from the zone. Therefore, a federal government was involved so that it would not be only Niger Delta States that would take the entire commission. That is why you have non Niger Delta states like states in the North in the commission. You can now compare it with North East commission which is also a federal project but there is nothing federal in it. It is strictly for the North. That is wrong.
Back to Obasanjo, on the left pocket he had the ICPC bill. And that ICPC, I remember clearly, it was an incorruptible judge, Mustapha Akanbi, from the Appeal court that headed it. When that did not have too much bite, EFCC came on board. These two agencies set up by the PDP are still the institutions that are being used to fight corruption today. The appointments -Ribadu, Farida Waziri, Larmode and Magu were all made by the PDP government. None is an appointee of APC yet. As they say, Ceaser was a dishonorable man. Oby Ezekwesili started in the villa with Steve Oronsanye in Due Process office. Due Process later metamorphosed into Public Procurement Act. It ended the chaos in contracts and gross overpricing of contracts which was a major source of corruption. The same PDP government introduced Fiscal Responsibility Act. Yet, Ceaser was a dishonourable man .
So, I believe in these principles. But the reality check is that there would be no principles if there are no persons to push them.The rate at which we’re losing elections, the rate at which people are defecting to the ruling party requires that PDP should do a serious rethink. It must be a life and death rethink. If the PDP gets its thinking right, it will reap the blessings of the rethink.
Does getting it right include fusing with other parties or associations to form a new party?
I’m an academic, I’m proud to call myself a professor. One of the things that we do in academics is that we leave no options. Once we begin to think, all options are open. In the university system, there are no heresies, no blasphemies. That man should walk on his two legs, the professor should be able to ask if he walks on his head what would happen? After you have looked at it, then you may quickly arrive that they should not walk on their heads.
The founder of thinking, in Ancient Greeks has taught us that an unexamined option is not worth looking at. So, I am not going to answer your question. What I will say is that all options are on the table. When we rethink and look at the options, if the options ask you to go in this direction, we will go toward that direction. Until that happen, I’m not going to make any pronouncement regarding the issue you raised.
What do you make of Obasanjo’s criticism of the incumbent administration? Were you taken aback? Should he decide tomorrow to return to the PDP, would the party embrace him with open arms?
Let me answer that question indirectly. Obasanjo, in my view, is a very remarkable and complex personality. I worked with him and I was amazed at his capacity for work. He could put in 18 to 20 hours daily at work. He was also a president who could read 500 pages and comment on the smallest paragraph. He was a president who could appoint anybody without knowing the person . I am one of the examples.Those are very good qualities. But he had also been a president who had criticized presidents – whether military or civilian. He criticized IBB, Buhari, Abacha. He was imprisoned for it. He criticized Jonathan whom he helped to the saddle. President Obasanjo is not somebody who would see something and keep quiet.
You question his motive but you can’t question his logic. His logic is usually right. I have the highest respect for Obasanjo . Would I work with him in the PDP again? The answer is no.
I will not work with him PDP because we laboured for PDP , he came into the party, led it, tried to do good things for the party but at a point, the party started faltering, stumbling. He should have held it and not let it fall. Instead, not only did he leave the party, his party card was torn in his presence. It shook me to my foundation. So it is personal. I am a Catholic, I cannot go to mass where I see a priest who left as our parish priest but tear his baptismal card. It shook me that day to my roots. But do I respect him? I respect him enormously .
Will you leave PDP if he decides to return to the party?
I don’t think he can come back to PDP neither do I think I will remain in PDP in perpetuity. If according to the thinking and the options, there is need for me not to be in the PDP I will not be in the party .But I will remain steadfast to the principles. If I see another platform that protects those principles and espouses them and steadfast to those principles, I will embrace it.
Members of the PDP are in a thinking state . What I always say is that a party is made by human beings. It is not a party that makes human beings . The rest of my thinking is going to be with the majority in the party.
What is your take on the move by the federal government to obtain $30bn loan?
This government has no business seeking that kind of loan . Those who are promoting it have my serious condolences. The little loan the country took in the 1970s was about $10 bn and it was to develop infrastructure. It started growing because of delayed payment, penalty clause for not paying on time, interest rates, etc raised the repayments to thirty something billion dollars. Many of the loans taken, especially by states, were for questionable projects . Most of the projects were not even executed.
Before budgeting in the 80s, 90s , the minister would hold meetings first with London and Paris clubs and determine the debt repayment ratio to enable us have a budget . That was the burden that the PDP freed this country from by getting $18bn reprieve. And somebody is going now to take a jumbo loan. I don’t even know how they can get it. Even at that, you get a loan that your children, grandchildren , great grandchildren would continue to pay . As individuals, would we do that? Would anybody go to the bank to borrow money , build an estate with it , and get his children to pay the loan all their lives .I belong to the school that thinks this loan is unnecessary, uncalled for and should not be taken. It will enslave Nigeria . It is wrong for us to take such a decision not only for ourselves but for the future generations. Let us not tie the hands of future generations. We have alternatives, let us pursue the alternatives.
What are those alternatives you want government to focus on?
It is the duty of government to govern. It is part of governance to find alternatives. Let the government govern.
Are you implying that the government has not been thinking?
I have not said so. Let them think and solve the problems they have inherited. It may not be of their own making, but they have to find solutions to them. They were not forced to inherit the problens. They asked for it. Let them solve the problems. Somebody inherited the debt trap. When the PDP government came in, external reserves were less than $3 billion. Oil was not $100 per barrel. Let people stop these lie of oil at 100 dollars per barrel from 1999 . It is easy to go to the interment and google. Find out the prices of oil in the last thirty to forty years.
…Was the economy in a poor shape?
It was in a poor shape in 1999. The constitution was also hurriedly put together. But the PDP and President Obasanjo set out to work. What we did first, was to set up a committee of seasoned politicians to look at the constitution. I was the political adviser that recommended the meetings to the president. What I am saying is that, when you come into office, you quickly assess your problems and design ways of coming out of them. That is the job of government and those hired to lead. As Minister of Health, it was within two months that we held All Africa HIV submit. It was at that conference that the global fund was born. It was the ministry under my watch that recommended Late Professor Dora Akunyili. There were some people who were against me recommending another person from Anambra State. It was under my watch that we started HIV testing. It was also under my watch that we started anti-retroviral drugs.These were the problems I met including Dr Abalaka’s HIV vaccine. These were the problems that president Obasanjo directed me to tackle.
Would you say you are satisfied with the fight against HIV in the country today?
I cannot be satisfied. Nobody should be satisfied. There is a saying in my place that the jaw cannot rest until it has finished what it is chewing. All I know is that we met a situation and did something. Remember that It was shortly before I was appointed that Dr Abalaka claimed to have cure for AIDS. I refused to get myself involved in the controversy. We had 5.8 percent prevalence of HIV. We stopped further increase. Uganda beat us to it by having somebody on the board of the global fund. Senegal was making a case that they should join Uganda since Uganda was Anglophone and they were a Francophone country. I quickly moved for Nigeria to donate $10 million to the global fund. Thank God for Obasanjo. That was what gave us the edge. Professor Adetokunbo Lucas was nominated by Nigeria to the board of the global fund. Nigeria, at the end of the day has accessed so far over $600 million from the global fund for HIV, Maleria , TB and related diseases . It was the government of PDP that set up NACA. The point I’m trying to make all this while is that when you meet problems, you must try your best. Some of your proposals will work and others would not.
Are you saying that the APC government has not handled the problems well?
I am not in the mould of judging people and governments. I am also not in the mould of assessing governments. I am only emphasizing that there are established ways of doing things.
Let me go back to 1986 as Commissioner for Health in old Anambra State. I met the biggest problem of guinea worm disease in the world in the Abakaliki zone. Today, not only has the problem disappeared from Abakaliki, but also from Nigeria and certified by the World Health Organisation . Anambra State government under late Commodore Emeka Omeruah also intervened in the area of education. He brought in Chinua Achebe for the ASET fund. In the end, Peter Obi gave the schools back to missionaries, and it has worked
Again, what I am emphasizing is that you try something and it does not work, you try something else. For me to start assessing the APC government would mean that I will be pointing out mistakes and proffering solutions. That would be wrong of me especially since the APC as a political party does not represent me and what I stand for .
Why would you dismiss APC in such a manner?
It is because their principles are different from mine. They say they are progressives but I am an unrepentant democrat that believes in the rule of law and human rights before every other thing. I don’t like people who flout the rule of law. I don’t want to be sleeping and someone will be knocking on my door. I do not want to lose my freedom. I do not want anybody to declare me guilty before I am convicted. For me, democracy is about freedom and human rights and ranks higher than corruption .
PDP fought for the return of democracy. Every human being on earth has his fundamental rights. I believe strongly that nobody is good enough to govern another person without his or her consent. Whatever we are doing in this country, we must agree that individual rights and freedoms and equality of citizens before the law matter. You cannot claim to be a good man, have good intentions and put the law in abeyance . It is subjective to assume this. It is for this reason that I will always go with democrats. I am yet to understand from APC government actions what progressive really means.
Would you describe APC as a party that says one thing but does another?
I do not know. What they say and what they do belong to them. All I know is that I believe in democracy and the rule of law. I have already said that I am not in the mould of judging anybody. Let each person judge himself or herself.
There are allegations of massive looting during the PDP government. Currently, there is the impression that large scale looting in government has stopped. Do you think so?
I do not know. I do not have records of government. But I know that under PDP, ministers and government officials were driving exotic cars. Under APC government, they are still driving them. Under the PDP, there were many private jets in the country. There are still many private jets in the country .
I recall that when the military government of Murtala Mohammed came, all the Mercedes cars were put in the stadium and auctioned. Everybody went on to drive Peugeot. As a Commissioner from 1986 to 1992, all I drove was a 504. We did not drive Mercedes. That was change. I am not prescribing that they do that, but I do not have the records. Nigeria has earned money since May last year. The oil price has always been more than $40 per barrel since May last year. Currently it is over $50 per barrel . Has anybody done the arithmetic to know what the APC government has earned since May 2015? We were told by a governor who followed the president to the United States that a PDP Minister had $6 billion in an account. That statement was not interrogated. They have not recovered that money. For me, the corruption arithmetic does not add up. You can see the current adverts on television . These are mind blowing sums of money . We need to verify these claims and until these are done, they will be mere propaganda. Truth is always there.
What has APC done right?
I insist again that I am not in the practice of judging people. If you must know, I am not APC. I have not been in APC. I do not wish to be part of them. I belong to the PDP. Why should I be saying anything about how APC has done well?
They have done well in 2015 elections by unseating the PDP and taken away many governorship seats from us . So, all my energies have been used for the PDP. My duty is make sure that whenever Nigerians are not satisfied with one party, they can run to another. Nigeria is too big to run a one party system. Sometimes, when the people are dissatisfied with you, they will sweep you away. A major contribution of the PDP towards democracy in Nigeria is to reform the electoral system and enact the electoral act. Finally , an incumbent PDP government handed over government peacefully to the opposition.
But some still maintain that the 2015 elections were not perfect?
Yes because human beings are not perfect. The APC maintains that many local governments in the North East were under the control of Boko Haram at the time of the elections. This is because they are unwilling to acknowledge that arms were really bought under President Jonathan and that Boko Haram had begun to be degraded substantially in the six weeks that the 2015 elections were postponed . Otherwise, how come elections were conducted in all the 774 local governments in Nigeria? There was nowhere elections were not conducted in the Nigeria in 2015 general election. There are records of who won and where they won. We did not have inconclusive elections. People should use their tongues to count their teeth.