‘Most Nigerian Politicians are Opportunists’

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Tope Fasua

Tope Fasua, an economost is the Founder and Chairman of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) and the presidential candidate of the party for the 2019 general elections. In this interview with Udora Orizu, he spoke  on a wide range of issues, including plans by his party to seek the deregistration of the All Progressives  Congress  and Peoples Democratic Party

The 2019 general elections are not too far away. President Buhari has declined assent to  the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. Many see this as a design by the All Progressives Congress (APC)  to rig the elections and remain in power. What’s your take?

Basically, the president has been hedging as regards any further amendments to the Electoral Act and from what I understand, there’s an aspect of the amendment that has to do with the timing, the use of card reader for example; whether we should be making it compulsory for people to use it or not. I think that’s actually the main provision of the amendment. It will be good to agree on one thing so that we can all be on the same page. The president had also declined  a reordering of the elections such that the smaller elections will come first. He insisted on doing his own presidential election first, which will probably colour up the rest of the elections and also put parties like ours in a position of disadvantage. And from what has happened in Ekiti State and few other places. We have seen the deployment of every and any strategy, fair and foul in order to remain in office by this very political party which is not too good because it shows that rather than making a solid progress, we seem to be in reverse in terms of developing our democracy so we will keep doing what we need to do to ensure that things go right, no matter the intentions of the incumbent party and their operatives.

Many Nigerians expect the opposition elements to form a formidable coalition to wrest power from the APC. However, the opposition is grossly fractured. How do you react to this?

Nigerians should not be too naive to expect that a certain opposition would be very coercive right from the beginning. It doesn’t happen. I read that all of the parties that have just come up should merge. It’s not going to happen because as each person was thinking in their room perhaps on how to make a difference and how to advance the course of Nigeria, you know you can’t replace someone’s dream for another. I think that there are two ways; if you realise that 70 people were thinking about a political project at the same time and now they all have their parties, you don’t criminalise what they have done. As much as you don’t want to support them , you can also look at it from a perspective that involvement of so many people in the political space is also a great idea, meaning that splitting the votes, what we need to look at the advantage is that splitting the vote in the event that all of these political parties are not able to come together, one thing that’s going to happen is that the incumbent which is Buhari, at the national level, maybe not be able to form government at first go and that’s important and also an advantage. But we shouldn’t despair, I think we should see the good side of many opposition people coming together as if 2019 will be a very determining year for our democracy and our country. For someone like me to get involved is something. And there are a lot of people also coming out, that means something will move and I think that’s the way to go rather than despair. I’m not seeking power by any means, I’m just seeking a better Nigeria. It’s a tough thing to seek but I rather keep it that way. There are several strategies, there’s strategy of who comes second. If Buhari wins, let us all push those people away. For every good person on the ballot box should grab their own share of votes. Whatever is left, we can rally round the person that comes second .  I’m not ruling out the fact that something very radical might happen.

The gale of defection among party stalwarts has become a disturbing trend. What does this hold for party democracy in Nigeria?

The defections are only in the two main parties, and what it just tells you is that most politicians in Nigeria are opportunists. If they see they can grab from here they run there, if they see they will lose, they will run to another place. There have been lots of opportunities between these two parties who are called big parties simply because they have been able to gain access to the commonwealth of this country by being in government. They used that power to grab wealth at the centre and generally use it to grow their parties. If you hear that they are in every local government and ward, it’s not because they got this money from their members; they don’t even care. They dip hands into state taxes paid by people and use it to grow their parties, whether or not the people want that or not. What my political party, ANRP is doing is that we are actually almost in court now;we are suing the APC, People’s Democratic Party (PDP)  as well as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We are asking for a deregistration of these two parties because that’s the only thing that will bring Nigerians back to their senses. Allow us to press reset, we don’t care how long it takes, we will keep appealing that case until  it’s thrown out because these guys are powerful. We are going to continue pursuing it up to any level because this needs to be done. The APC and PDP are special purpose vehicles where political contract meant for the grabbing of power at the centre. They  have perennially breached the constitution that outlaws the use of state funds or taxpayers’ money in the building of the party. In 1984 when Gen. Buhari came for the first time, that was what he did. He jailed several governors including people like Ambrose Ali for using state money to fund their party but in 2018, it seems to be normal. These parties have violated the Electoral Act without care. They bribe voters and that also is a criminal offence. We have to throw away the bath water, and they are the bath water. We need to start afresh; let Nigerians come back to their senses let’s see whether we can do this thing right at all.

INEC approved 23 more political parties, bringing the total to  91. Do you think that having more political parties in Nigeria is going to promote democracy or cause more confusion for the electoral body?

There’s a tendency to think it may be confusing to the electorate but you know that even in the advanced democracies, they have that multiplicity of parties. There are many parties you have never heard of in the United States so you can’t disenfranchise people who want to have their own party for their own purpose. Even in Nigeria, the whole idea of having national parties is wrong. It was in 1992 under Babangida that they brought the idea of every party must be national, and that was when they created SDP and NRC. So the multiplicity of parties is not such a big issue. Some that are not working hard to get members and keeping them are going to fade away. What we need to do away with these two bad legacies called PDP and APC. Let their members join other parties. Nobody can stop anyone from registering a party. I believe that INEC must continually try to explore ways and means to legally put a lid on it at some point, otherwise we know ourselves in Nigeria; people use it to gain relevance. People also think there’s money there. I can tell you that there’s no money. As the chairman of a national party, we have never been given one Naira by INEC. For those who think there’s money in politics, there’s none. INEC must find a way of reaching out to some of these parties and say, listen, what are we going to benchmark you on? If you are party is under four years, you must do this, under eight years you must have achieved this. You don’t necessarily have to win elections. For example, do things that put  structures in place, holding your state congresses or whatever the case may be. That discussion must start. We know that the politicians are very powerful but it further demands that we understand that we cannot just keep growing political parties.

Your party, ANRP is not known to parade big names nor the huge war chest to compete with the powerful names/parties in the political terrain. What’s your trump card?

We don’t have any of these big names. We started as a party of normal young people, professionals who have jobs that they are holding down and we have kept it that way. Our trump card is in our ability to communicate that to people who are watching us, especially the youthful population .Our trump card especially at the presidential level are our ideas. People may think Nigeria is what it is—people are not enlightened, but we believe that if we keep trying we will find those Nigerians who are enlightened. For me at the presidential level, we have won already. Why have we won? Some of the ideas we are pushing would necessarily be mainstreamed; some of these ideas include things I have worked on personally. I have worked on our budget level in Nigeria, I have brought out the fact that we are under-budgeting for our people. Our capital budget is absolute nonsense and I think that to push whoever is in  government by 2019, we are going to cause them to think differently. We are going to force a debate and I’m assuring Nigerians that the budget of this country will not be less than N12 trillion next year, becauae at N9 trillion, we are doing just $25 billion, and this is grossly inadequate and that’s $140 per person and in other countries in Africa like South Africa, the average is $2,700. They are budgeting $155 billion divided by 58 million people. Algeria is budgeting $60 billion  for 40 million people, Egypt is budgeting $68 billion  for about 90 million people and that’s where we are. So, we have won, and we are going to be pushing out a lot more of these ideas. We are the ones asking the questions that need to be asked and we are answering them and that’s our trump card. We are asking the question why is Nigeria this way today? Is this the best we can achieve? What are we supposed to be achieving, how fast are we supposed to be growing? How come we are not manufacturing anything? How can we recalibrate our educational sector to be solution provider? You have to take it through human capital development. From 1948  when we started the University of Ibadan, and continued having universities in Nigeria, till date, we can’t manufacture anything. So those are some of the ways. By the time we populate the space with some of these ideas, people will listen to us, except we don’t have a chance. But we are going to make our point and that’s going to be our trump card. We are not into all these childish politics where people go cursing people, rather we deal on issues and ideas and I think that’s our forte.

What’s your party ideology anchored on?

Our ideology is called ‘positive pragmatism’ or ‘constructive pragmatism’. Our ideology didn’t fall from heaven; we discussed it and agreed on it as members of the party. We were already in the process of getting our licence; we were like 20,000 people from different backgrounds. Some of us capitalist to the core, some were socialist to the core. But realised  that what we were doing was  something new so we said,  listen, we need to discuss our ideology; what kind of ideology do we adopt?:And so, we did a research and found out that sometimes if you look at the USA, they have a  social system, social security. An average American does not have to go to bed hungry because they have a lot of food that they produce and they have found ways to establish food canteens, give food stamps and all. So what do you call a capitalist country; are they doing capitalism down to the letter and say look if you can’t struggle and get your own food, you are on your own? No, they are not. They are maintaining that capitalism thing and those who are making money can make as much as they want but they also understand that there are some people who are going to be vulnerable. They understand that the world is going to judge a country based on how it treats the vulnerable therefore they provide for them, they provide housing, food and some sort of clothing. Then we looked at China, which is meant to be a socialist communist country. But China today is very capitalist; you can see how far gone they are. We realised that we have to be sensible. We have to use common sense in determining our ideology so that’s the meaning of constructive and positive pragmatism because at every point in time you need to  think for your country. You choose what is best for your country. So let’s say our ideology is anchored on common sense and patriotism for our country.

We are almost in the fourth quarter of 2018, and not a dime has been released for the implementation of this year’s capital budget. Is this not  appear worrisome?

As far as I know, there’s nothing for the Nigerian people in all these budgets, there was nothing for Nigerians in the budget last year and there’s nothing in the budget for them this year and there will be nothing for the people in the budget next year if this thing could be continued. Every item you see in the budget is there because someone is benefiting from that; someone put it there. When it’s approved even if it  is a project, they will tell you go and see ‘so so’ person because he owns it. Every item in the budget is owned by someone. So it’s not an altruistic budget. No matter the preparation of that budget, it takes nothing into  cognizance, it’s doesn’t take into cognizance evidence that work is being done. Why do we have to continue with this? It doesn’t take into cognizance the feelings and desires of the people. In other parts of the world, they use big data. They can go on Twitter or Facebook and find out what the people discussing online; that’s what forms the budget. The people in Nigeria are talking in terms of electricity and stuffs like that, that’s what government prioritizes. Here, we are not looking at evidence base, we are not looking at the performance base, in terms of how they performed last year. What then are you budgeting for? They budget for this big man, director or perm sec to insert something in the budget so when the guys in the National Assembly are inserting even though they are the legislature. They don’t have to be executing budget but they insert things as well because they know that the guys in the executive have inserted stuff. So, there’s nothing in the budget for Nigerians. It’s not a wonder that four months on and the budget which was signed up in June/July and nothing has happened. Let me say this as an economist: there’s nothing too bad about recurrent expenditure. I think we have also demonised that term in Nigeria. For example, expenditure for the maintenance of roads, left to me, should be in the recurrent, because you can actually focus this country for the next five years on maintaining that which you have built. So I would rather we create some sort of recurrent expenditure which will be targeted at our universities and polytechnics, a scenario where the boys in engineering departments of the universities will be incentivised. Talk to your lecturer, take it up as a project, go to villages look for anything that you can find around you that can work, you can calibrate a car engine or whatever it is and use it to generate electricity, and if you put that budget in recurrent, it will actually boost the GDP more than anything else. We don’t have to have a scenario where every year we are building new stuffs, we are just playing into the hands of these people because to a large extent, these guys they know. According to what the  World Bank says, that most of the corruption happens in these capital projects. If the guy says listen, we are building this with N500 billion just know that somehow, N200 billion is coming to him somehow or will lead to different places. This country is not even at the level of those big transactions. Keep this small but let us be able to track it. Let us know the efficacy of the monies that you disburse. For five years, this country can simply and continually have recurrent budgeting that is aimed at maintenance– maintaining roads, hospitals, electricity, infrastructure, public buildings. When you travel overseas, you say wow, this is a beautiful country but the difference between them and us is that they maintain their stuff. If you go to Dubai, every bridge is painted: that’s how to run a country. It’s not rocket science. Part of the problem we have is that some of these guys have some colonial mentality. So I’m just saying that we shouldn’t demonise the recurrent budget; there’s a lot we can do.

The nation’s mounting debt profile is a major source of concern. What’s your reaction?

It’s a major source of concern, We haven’t been around for too long. We are 58 years at most from 1960 till date since the white men left. We had political crisis in the mid-sixties which culminated just seven years down the line and we were in a war. We fought this war for three and years and ended up in 1970. In the next year or so, we had OPEC coming up because there was a dispute on crude oil and the Arab people felt that they needed to deal with the Americans and the West by increasing the price of crude oil. For so long crude oil sold at three dollars per barrel, it was around then that crude oil went to ten dollars and it was a big deal for the West and they also swore that they were going to get their revenge from those OPEC countries and they actually got their revenge. After about three, four years, the price of crude oil crashed and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, our taste have increased and become more sophisticated, we were giving different kind of incentives and salaries to different people, the issue was now how do we get out of this, so we went and started borrowing. Of course through the military regime in that time until the early 2000s it was now difficult to borrow but we were under a lot of debt burden, we were using a lot of our money to repay this debts, up to 50 or 60 percent of our revenue were used to service debts and not only us, that was when most of the Sub-Saharan African countries were in debt, they started appealing to some of the western banks and western multilateral relatives for cancellation. These debts were cancelled in 2006, Nigeria is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa and most of Asia and South America that was asked to pay something back in order to get a cancellation. As at that time, we were owing 35 billion dollars. Thirty billion dollars was to the Paris club and $5 billion was to the London Club. The London Club are those guys who lend money to you at a vulnerable rate will high is tied to the LIBOR what they call the London Interbank Offered Rate now. The Paris Club gives you more stable rate but they have been charging us punitively because we will not pay as at when due, so they asked us to pay $12 billion  which as that time was $1.4 trillion. So, by the time we paid, they cancelled $18 billion dollars. So we wiped $30 billion off the slate and was left with $5 billion. Today we have moved up to N22 trillion. We are now owing N22 trillion, up from N11 trillion that Goodluck Jonathan left with. Within three years, we have doubled our debts. So we are saying that as at the time we got our debt cancellation, we were owning $35 billion, but today we are owning over $60 billion. So, clearly we are back in another debt trap. Now there are some aspects that you have to consider, the strategy of the present government under the minister of finance is to move our debt from domestic hitherto, she believes that domestic debts is expensive which is true but the risk of foreign debt is also worth the current exchange risk because part of the reason why our debt ballooned is because they devalued from the 177 or so Naira to the dollar under Jonathan, this government devalued to 305 so the foreign component of the budget went up by more than 70 percent so if we continue with this risk, you need to ask yourself do you know what you are doing, because if this economy comes under another pressure that causes us to devalue again we will be owing over a hundred billion dollars or more which we have never done before. So you see it’s down to the incidence of thinking, where the Minister of Finance was saying rhetorically that if we introduce taxes you guys know what will happen and I’m wondering if its legal and in the law books of this country to we should have taxes who is she to say we will not have it, your role is to introduce the taxes, enforce the taxes no matter what anyone says, because if you look at it this country can actually finance the means from the legitimate taxes, the fees, rates, duties, fines and every other revenue that is due to government. All MDAs should publish comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFR) in newspapers and they should understand that this is serious business and I think if we can do that we can actually run away from this idea binging on debt. At the national level we are confusing our ability to borrow with our ability to earn. Borrowing is not a first line of revenue of a government, you don’t finance any sort of infrastructure, infrastructure that you should be financing is the one that can at least pay themselves back to a large extent. If you are financing an infrastructure that you can’t tell where the cash load is then you are in trouble. I will say let us get our acts together, borrowing is not for every kind of infrastructure, it should be for infrastructure that has cash flow attached to it.

Many are questioning the rational behind disbursing the $322 million recovered Abacha loot to the so-called poor by the Buhari’s administration and going cap-in-hand to borrow almost the same amount from China, what’s your take?

The truth is that this government hasn’t been doing things that makes sense at all. I questioned their attempts, but they are already implementing it but I think they are being fraudulent about it that’s just the truth. Being fraudulent in telling us that they have been disbursing money under the table to some people who are poor, who we don’t even know the criteria used to determine who is poor and I have not seen anybody collecting. We should let Buhari know that the fact that they are government today doesn’t mean that they own Nigeria forever. That fund was stolen from the whole of Nigeria and he denied, he believes that Abacha is his boss, Abacha was never wrong, Abacha didn’t even steal money so if he believes that’s the case and they now dropped the money which is still Abacha’s money and you say you want to use it to go and pay people, even if the people abroad because I heard that the Swiss people or whoever it was told them that’s how they must spend it and that’s what they agreed, those people of course they don’t even like us, they don’t have respect for us because our leaders stole money and came and kept it there, who tells you that they are interested in us making real progress. I can’t imagine that you say you will give it to people so that they can eat for no work done. You give people money, nobody can verify, nobody’s knows how it arrived at that decision and just for them to feed, I mean after feeding what next, when there’s work to be done, I would have rather if you want to assist them you can assist them for work done, you can give them the money and say ok plant a tree for example when the South Korea war ended, they planted about 50 million trees which is working for them today, so you can say plant a tree do something, do some work, clean the streets and earn the money. That’s how to unleash involvement not this present way. However the loan that was collected from China in dollars, I think it’s tied to the ICT sector which perhaps is a bit specific in terms of its use so let’s see how that one goes. The real issue is the recovered money is being wrongly spent and also the loan from China as much it is tied to ICT still shows that we are still dependent on loans to fund ourselves and African people should understand that until the day they are able to stand on their own and think for ourselves and generate our own cash flows, we wont go anywhere far.

As an economist and a presidential aspirant, what is the fulcrum on which your economic blueprint would revolve?

Well, one thing I want to say is clearly we are talking about taking 50 to 70 million people out of poverty and we are talking about achieving a growth rate of about 15 to 20 percent those are the kinds of things that I’m talking about. We are talking about generally reorganizing this country around a certain kind of economic restructuring. I’m an economist with a difference and I don’t buy any dogma and I believe that we must be commonsensical and we must know exactly what we want to achieve as the people. Clearly my ideas are formed around the questions of poverty in Nigeria, lack of growth, I’m trying to prioritize poverty eradication, double digits growth, massive employments especially for our unskilled labor and also prioritize a systemic view of the economy whereby one sector actually compensates for and grows the other sector of the economy, one sector helps in empowering the other sector of the economy, that’s the kind of way I view the economy so basically we are trying to run an economy that’s based on facts and figures, precision in terms of facts and figures driven economy, number two is an economy that’s driven by a sense of urgency, that understands that we are really lagging behind and we can do a whole lot better, an economy that’s here to burst the myth that says that we cannot grow more than two percent, we are trying to be a detail driven economy based on hard core data. That means that we are not going to be buying anything off the shelves, we have to commemorate our data and cleanse our data system, even our population figures and GDP figures are dodgy, every statistics in this country is dodgy and that’s the truth. There maybe a serious need to start afresh for a system driven, systemic economy and a strategic economy.