Datti Baba-Ahmed: Why I want to be Nigeria’s Next President

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Enigmatic, fearless and blunt on issues of security, education and bad governance, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, the founder/ Pro-chancellor, Baze University, Abuja, is motivated to fight injustice, throw off tyranny, and if he can, lay down his life for a worthy cause. This British-trained economist, just 48, speaks with Adedayo Adejobi on why he wants to become Nigeria’s next President

Why are you seeking Nigeria’s top job?
Because it’s only that office that has the power and authority for the work I want to do for Nigeria. Nothing less than the power of that office would allow me to do those grand designs I have for Nigeria.

What are those grand designs and what is the impulse behind them?
My grand design for Nigeria is not impulse. It’s a long built up desire to put things right. Firstly, Security which allows a country exist is my dream of a Nigeria where people would sleep better with less fear of households or communities being attacked at night or in daytime. I dream of Nigeria where there is minimal or no terror, militants groups or forces sabotaging the economy of Nigeria. I dream of a Nigeria where communities find no need to attack one another.

By my nature and design, I have always been on national issues like security, economy and education which cut across. None of my point of focus is regional, state or local. Everything about me is national. I’ve been a member, House of Representatives, Senator and I’m not cut out for governorship per- say. I have ticked all the boxes, constitutionally and locally. If you juxtapose that to the current situation in Nigeria, I am one of those who genuinely fear that we have only a couple of years, to total breakdown of law and order. And the economy that this government found standing is now on its knees.

The naira is 40% of its value, so is the full worth of Nigeria. I strongly hold that something drastic has to be done now, else only a couple of years before total breakdown.

Aside your professional pedigree and antecedents in politics and business, what other things do you think have prepared you for the top job?
Education; not to say that I am that educated but I’ve been in the world of education. I’ve built secondary schools and participated in the management of many. Ever since I left the House Of Reps in 2007, I’ve been working on promoting education nationally through Baze, a private university I established, so this has prepared me.
If you want to destroy a country, you don’t need to attack it by air or bomb, simply attack the educational institutions and you have succeeded. Nobody had destroyed ours, but we found our education system deteriorating. Along with it goes the whole Nigerian society because the security forces are not doing their jobs well. So are medical doctors, nurses’ engineers, bankers, and some politicians. I want to lead a quality revolution through education, training and a vibrant economy to solve our security challenges.

Could you kindly expatiate on this?
Explaining the steps goes beyond an interview. Education and training are what will make every key player do their jobs a little better. If the security forces, custom, nurses are fairly educated, trained and properly compensated they will do their work a little better. It’s a quality revolution such that everybody now committed to do better than they used to before. The people want a leader who will not sit down and say governance is about policy, speeches, appointments and award of contracts. We want a leader who will not pretend he was never a human or a Nigerian before he became a leader. I intend to lead a quality revolution that I want to identify with every Nigerian and I want everyone to identify with my principle we should just do our work a little better.

How are you different from other aspirants seeking the same office?
I simply think I’m different because I mean what I say and when I say it, I do it.  But I’m as human as they are, I’m not infallible, I’m not too special but when I say it, I mean it and I’m really going to do it. When I speak about living wage, within four years I aspire to quadruple the income of all federal public servants except of course, the likes of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Central Bank of Nigeria. Whatever they are paid will sustain them across the month and it includes good feeding, decent accommodation, clothing and mortgage. There can never be an egalitarian society without mortgages. I’ll use technology to stamp out ghost workers. I would eliminate waste and inflated contracts.
If a police constable is earning 25000 monthly now, in 2019 he would be earning 100,000 legitimately, and with that I can tell a police constable to stop collecting N50 on the road and he will listen.

I’ll equip them to fight crime, morally motivate and train them. The moment you have security agents doing their job, you already have a better society for investment to come in.
I intend to stabilise the naira for at least 10 years. Even if I serve one term, the naira must be stable and not fluctuate more than 5%.  We are going to flood the Nigerian banking system with loanable funds and mitigate the foreign exchange fluctuation risk. Banks can source cheaper funds and are now more comfortable to lend in the long term.

The second risk we have to mitigate is the identification of civic risks that individual or companies may disappear with scarce bank funds. The third risks we need to mitigate are business risk by building the economy, injecting money into the system, providing people with legitimate money to go and spend. Let everyone feel there is a bit of humanity and that they don’t have to engage in crime. Banks would lend for mortgages without affecting their profitability.

I’m offering leadership with new thinking and it is not rocket science. It will happen if we get the right people. Terror and insecurity will reduce. You cannot wipe out crime totally in any human society. Whenever I see a problem, I see the solutions.
The insecurity we are dealing with today will soak another 3 million not into the security forces, security communities, community services including all and everything, garbage collection, gardening and other things people can do and make legitimate income.
Nigeria needs a leader who identifies generally with the people and not the kind of leadership we have today. Leadership is beyond setting up committees, drawing up framework for three years when you have four years in government.

It is about action from day one and if you want to turn Nigeria around, the first thing you do is to end the award of inflated contract. Anybody who is fighting corruption and that person has not decisively ended it, you don’t need to go and draw up procurement law in seven to eight years to fight it. No, the person is joking.

Right now, the Nigerian economic order is who you have in government. The moment you change that, you have changed Nigeria overnight and I believe I’m the leader who will do that because I’ve done it before. Of all the people who went to the National Assembly, I’m the only one who sponsored the bill to stop inflated contracts in 2004 and what we ended up with is this due process certification which is another layer of bureaucracy that had added cost.

Do you see the possibility of a young president emerging with the not too young to run bill?
Absolutely, let me correct you. It’s not  that I’m relatively young to them, they are absolutely old to me because I’m at the right age. I would soon be 49 and this is the right age for me. If I don’t do it now, I’ll be categorised amongst the old later on. At the same time, I don’t belong to the young per-say. I’m not below 40 so they are absolutely old compared to me. People like Buhari have been in power for 40-50 years, what they haven’t done for 40 years; how can you convince me you are going to do it now. It is not possible. They have nothing to offer us; just ego. Now we are suffering the consequences of their own mis-governance for the past 40 years. If we don’t suffer now and make corrections, God knows how our children are going to be. In essence, I see the ideal age of a leader which is mine.

In context, there are people who have overstayed adding no value, doing same thing and disallowing Nigeria to move forward. It is now left for us to take our future and destiny into our hands respectfully, and in a dignified manner demand power and take it away from them.

It’s not out of disrespect that I’m challenging Buhari, but simply because he has not done what he’s supposed to do. He has served out his time again, and he is serving at our own time and destroying our future and our children’s. When Buhari came in, the dollar was sold in the black market for 220 and it went to 520 until Osinbajo brought it down to 360. That’s where education plays a role. Because Osinbajo is educated and he knows those in the southern Nigeria are those who are paying tuition fee abroad and not Buhari’s people in the north, so they are suffering more. Osinbajo is sensible. He knows what he’s doing and he listens to his people.

They were making profits at our expense. Parents genuinely want to send their children to study but somebody is trying to make profit out of the forex until Osinbajo reduced it. Even at this, there are so many out there milking Nigeria dry.

Your party has described the anti -corruption war as lopsided, gunning for the opposition party. What is your own assessment of his anti- corruption war?
Permit me to put it this way and categorically, and you can quote me, Buhari is not fighting corruption. He is promoting corruption. Logically speaking, if you are in government, public funds are with you so only you can be corrupt. If you are outside government, they are not with you, so you cannot be corrupt. Buhari has never bothered to decompose and understand how corruption happens. It happens through inflated government contract. Even if you want to start arresting, nobody stops you, but run a government that everybody can see as accountable, transparent and non- corrupt. For one year at least, let us know you are serious. Buhari is not checking his own government. The first thing you do is to make sure that those who have public funds are not stealing. Buhari’s fundamental error is borne out of his assumption that he is in government and his government is clean, case closed. The government before him were all thieves let’s go after them.
The other areas that corruption thrives are unremitted revenue from customs, Federal Inland Revenue, stamp duties and everywhere. Has he deployed techniques to ensure Nigeria gets 100% of our revenue? He is still not fighting corruption.

Has extortion ended? How about conversion of public properties, influence peddling, frivolities and mismanagement? No it hasn’t. Right from the life style of the president himself, I don’t know what to call it. But a country that is poor with all the health indices, imagine the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet. Is it not criminal? And it is not enough. When he’s going to Daura after using the aircraft, helicopter takes him into Daura just for Sallah holiday. Is that morally right, here in our hospitals there are no basic supplies?

Fighting corruption but promoting corruption by covering them in the world of their own against questions of probity. Anti- corruption agencies are after shadows and his political enemies. Why should an All Progressives Congress governor be delivering a lecture on Anti -corruption, commissioning EFCC buildings when PDP governors are arraigned and in court, why? Oshiomole was an APC governor. I saw him deliver lecture on Magu’s invite. El-rufai who was a minister, Director General and now a governor in APC was picked by Magu to commission the EFCC building. Why? Does it make sense? Have you shown us a categorical break from the past? Let me say it once again I don’t know if they will come and arrest me, but Buhari is not fighting corruption, but has promoted corruption.

What is your assessment of his seeming fight against Boko Haram, because he said technically, it has been defeated?
You’ll forgive me, I don’t discuss security in public and I despise anybody who plays politics with security. Because you asked and you are my friend, let me tell you that I know the meaning of an Army General. I cannot imagine that a self-respected Army Chief instead of bringing the sect leader, he is bringing the Quran of the sect leader. As a Nigerian, I feel highly insulted and for Buhari, a retired General to accept that an Army Chief to bring somebody and he came with his Quran, I have never ever seen Buhari descend so low. But in summary, the fight against Boko Haram has been a failure and it raises more questions than answers. But please mark my words, I don’t like to discuss security in public.

With splinter group, your party, the PDP doesn’t seem to have gotten its grip. How is your party holding it up together?
I joined PDP on 30th of November 2017 and comparatively as we speak today, PDP is more a national party than APC. There are many local governments and wards. APC does not have personnel and structure. PDP has in all of Nigeria, so it’s a national party. When my own political party is being frustrated and when I decided to quit APC, the prime consideration was that PDP has structures all over.

Secondly, for a party to be so persecuted by the successor, PDP has done well in keeping what it is today. First thing Buhari did was to start arresting them up till today. He is after them and they all know it is political. Everybody knows that his fight against corruption defies every form of human justice including going to attack the residence of Justices. It’s brutish! You cannot do that in a civilised society. We are not tolerating corruption, but do it in a sensible way. I’m very happy money is being retrieved and I believe in probity.

It goes without saying that the right decision by PDP will send that party out of power by presenting the right candidate. Who is the right candidate? The era of a former Head of State, former Vice President, former Governor, who have enriched themselves and think they can use money is over. It’s time for PDP to show the world that that’s no longer the case, by presenting the candidate whom Buhari will be no match. APC is over there is a new era for Nigeria

Who is that candidate?
Don’t push me to the point of immodesty.