A former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress, Dr Obadiah Mailafia, explains his plans for Nigeria
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo adopted your party as the platform for his political group, but has endorsed the bid of his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party, for the presidency. How do you feel about the endorsement?
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is one of our most illustrious statesmen ever. I have enormous respect for him. It was my privilege to be received by him in Ota a few weeks ago. As far as I know, the meeting last week with the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was a peace and reconciliatory mission brokered by Bishop Matthew Kukah, Bishop David Oyedepo and Sheikh Ahmed Gumi. Bishop Kukah has explained as much. As far as we know, Obasanjo agreed to forgive his former deputy for whatever sins he might have committed against him. He went on to say that Atiku was as good as any member of the coalition to serve this country as president. If you consider that to be an endorsement, then, perhaps you were not reading between the lines. Obasanjo is the father of the ADC. Once he has formed an opinion about someone, it would take a miracle to make him change his mind. Watch this space: I believe that the real endorsement is yet to come.
What do you think is Nigeria’s biggest problem and why?
Our biggest problem, as the revered novelist, Chinua Achebe, said it long ago, is bad leadership. Leadership is our biggest challenge. If we had good and effective leaders, we would have been able to adequately confront our key national challenges. Sadly, the kind of leaders we’ve had have been the backward, ignorant, corrupt and wicked types who behave like masters rather than servants of the people. In our day and age, leadership requires the highest skills not only of intellect but of character and virtue. It requires courage and valour and passion. There are sociologists who argue that a society deserves the kind of leadership it gets. What they mean by this is that the fissures and pathologies of the society shape the kinds of leadership that emerge and determine the contours of the moral values and capacities. Unfortunately, the leadership traditions that we have evolved over the years ensure that only the barely literate and blood-sucking types emerge at the top of the greasy pole. Those with real gifts for leadership prefer to go into banking and finance or the oil industry. It is rare to find the best of our people in government. This is regrettable.
How would you rate Nigeria’s current economic standing in relation to its much-talked-about potential?
I wish I had something great to say on this score. The simple truth is that we have fallen abysmally short of our actual potential. Both the IMF and the World Bank, as you know, have recently revised downwards their growth forecasts for the rest of the year. Growth at year’s end 2018 is likely to be a mere 1.7 per cent. If you contrast this figure with our annual demographic growth of 3.2 per cent, then, you can see that we are actually experiencing negative growth in real terms. This explains why poverty and despair is on the increase. Our people are dying. Despair and fear has taken over the youths. This has been worsened by the genocide in the Middle Belt, supervened by wicked rulers who have a not-so-hidden agenda to kill, maim and commit rape and rapine against an unarmed and defenceless people. Insecurity has driven away the investors, in addition to geopolitical uncertainty, misrule, incompetence and sheer folly. After investing over US$25 billion in the power sector, we have little to show for it. Our roads are worse than ever.
Nobody is planning for the uncontrolled urbanisation that is generating so many hovels and tenements of despair and destitution throughout our major cities and towns. There are slums around Abuja that are frightening in their squalor and destitution. We have created hell on earth for the majority of our people. We have overtaken India as the world capital of poverty. We have the worst road carnage record on earth. Youth unemployment has attained a prohibitive level of 70 per cent in the worst areas, particularly Borno and Zamfara. Our public institutions are in a state of terminal decay. There is a vacuum in national leadership.
What would you regard as waste by this or any previous government?
It is good that you ask this question. Nobody within or outside government is talking about cost-saving or controls against waste and financial haemorrhage. In the past, there have been enormous waste in terms of the sheer entourages that follow government officials all over the place at the expense of the treasury. The billions spent on medical tourism is a gigantic waste. The sum of US$1 billion is more than enough to build a world-class medical facility that will ensure that nobody from president to governors and ministers ever have to go abroad for any medical treatment. The so-called constituency projects, being financed from the annual budget, are an iniquitous fraud which must be expunged at once if sanity is to return to our public finances. The so-called “security votes” given to state governors on a monthly basis are a catastrophic waste of public resources.
The present administration has not implemented any real cost-cutting measures to speak of. They are also playing games with the lives of our people in the North East while secretly whoring with murderous herdsmen militias in the Middle Belt. We hold them responsible for being tacit accomplices in the genocide against our people. The greatest waste of all is the waste of human lives, which are beyond quantitative financial measure. When we are in power come May 2019, charity will begin at home. We will reduce the presidential fleet to only two. We will cut the waste within the administration. I will never leave this country for the first three months of our administration. I lived in Europe for about half of my life. Going abroad has become quite boring for me! I will also reduce the fleet of vehicles in the presidency. I do not plan to fall sick and do not ever imagine going abroad for any medical treatment whatsoever. I will insist on the same regime for cabinet ministers and other senior government officials.
What would you do differently than this government of previous ones?
I am sorry to say that the people running this country at present do not know the first principle of government or public administration. Their incompetence is beyond belief. What is worse is that they combine ignorance with bigotry and sheer wickedness. Anyone who allows the killing of innocent people is a wicked murderer himself.
I would call the bluff of the merchants of death. We will defeat them because light is on our side and God is mightier than they are. We will place topmost priority on security. We will re-organise the police and security agencies to tackle the menace of insecurity. We will institute a new culture of action. Talk is cheap. What matters is the resolve, focus and decision-making. We will institute at the heart of government a new strategy group made up purely of technocrats. All ministers and heads of government departments and agencies will have performance contracts. Those who fall below will be shown the door. Our government will be an inclusive government, not a sectional, nepotistic apparatus that alienates everyone except people from your home region. I will be a president for all Nigerians, with no hidden agendas. We shall be guided by the dictates of the common good and the national interest. I am Muslims, Christians and traditionalists. I am for men and women, young and old – Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, so-called minorities and all. I can never deny my Middle Belt identity, but I solemnly promise that I will serve all without fear or favour.
Ours will be a government for all Nigerians. But we would place a premium on merit and excellence. We will focus on performance. We will also restore the culture of planning through institutionalisation of a five-year economic development plan. This country does not have an economic administration. We shall employ 1,000 economists, engineers, statisticians and planners. We will deploy planning as vehicle for long-term perspective strategy and a framework for economic and policy action. We will make things happen. This country will know where it is going and our people will be able to anchor their rational expectations on a more positive direction.
What would be the focus of your administration?
We have only three priorities – security, nation building and the economy.
Our number one and most immediate priority is security. We are going to tackle head-on the lawlessness and banditry that have turned our country into the barbarous anti-civilisation that it has become today. We would use drone technology on our highways to trace kidnappers and armed robbers. We would place more controls on our borders to check influx of illegal and criminal migrants. We will build a safe environment for our children and our families.
My second priority is nation building. The word restructuring seems to scare some people. We intend to pursue restructuring through the framework of dialogue and nation building. We need a new form of constitutional re-engineering that places our republic on a more sound footing. We have to link the dialogue on restructuring as a part and parcel of nation building. We need to build a new sense of community where our people cherish our diversity as a source of our strength. We will mobilise the youth in particular to work in building the New Nigeria of our dreams.
A third priority is the economy. We need a stable macroeconomic environment, with effective institutions to deliver public goods and other critical social services to our people. We shall take bold steps to diversify the economy and wean it away from dependence on oil, with all its negative fallouts. We have to begin action today in building a diversified economy in preparing for an epoch when the hydrocarbon industrial civilisation is on its way out. Many people talk ignorantly about “going back to agriculture”. I think they are misguided. What we need is an agrarian revolution anchored on food security and upscaling the value chain for domestic and world markets. And we must link this process to mass-based agro-industrial revolution. We need to revitalise our iron and steel industry, building a heavy machine industry together with a vibrant precision engineering sector.
We will focus particularly on power and infrastructure. We shall pursue an aggressive policy of urban and rural electrification, with the objective of providing access to electricity for all our communities. We shall commit to deepening the reforms in the power sector. We shall liberalise power distribution to enhance investment and rural electrification. We shall institute an executive order to ensure that all government buildings across the three tiers of government have off-grid solar panels on their roofs. This would considerable ease the power deficit while boosting productivity. We shall go into partnership with foreign investors to manufacture the solar panels in our country while training thousands of our youths on how to install and maintain them. We shall introduce the public works approach to infrastructural development, particularly in roads, railways and other infrastructures. This has the potential to create an additional 2 million jobs within three years.
We shall also invest heavily in human capital and agro-industrial revolution. We will revamp our education curriculum to place more emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We shall provide more scholarships for youths, especially in the STEM disciplines while brokering loans for others. More technical colleges will be established to train young people in the kinds of skills that will enable them to stand on their own two feet. Punch